I'm still working on Different Drums but this idea came up for the next story, so I thought I'd run it up the flagpole to see whether it's likely to generate any interest.

This will be AU I guess, based around the possibility that Stephen did something right when Mary disappeared into Volkoff's world, so Chuck and Ellie didn't get abandoned quite the way they were in the series. Most of the back stories from my Where Do We Go To and Different Drum 'verses will apply here, too, along with some of the ideas, 'cause I likes them.

Usual disclaimer for the Land of Litigation, no rights to any characters portrayed here.

Chuck's head was killing him when he woke up on the floor of his room with Morgan yammering in his face, why had he been stupid enough to open that email from Bryce fucking Larkin, and what the hell happened to him? Of course, no matter what he said, Morgan just wouldn't shut up, the guy may had been a good friend when they were six, and even when they were nine, but shit, he was still fucking back there mentally!

Getting the phone call from Aunt Diane just as he got to work didn't help either, just what you need when your head's pounding so hard that you can hardly think, to be told that CIA Director Graham has sent his wildcard enforcer after you. Why Aunt Diane seemed to be enjoying telling him how much this Sarah Walker had done in just the past eight years or so, and that she'd left Casey's score behind ages ago he didn't know, did he forget to thank her for his birthday present? No, he hadn't gotten anything yet as far as he could remember. She finished the call by telling him that Casey couldn't be in sight when the CIA got there because they couldn't afford to show their just hand yet, so she described Agent Walker (5' 9", normally blonde, blue eyed, rather attractive), and told him that he'd need to work her to find out what the CIA knew and what Graham wanted. When he sighed and said "OK", she told him to look after himself and ended the call.

He briefed the other Nerd Herders about the new Irene Demova virus that had just started spreading, and which Morgan had already fried one of the store's demo laptops with (and that thing with all the info popping up in his head when that General was on the TV was just weird), then quickly filled Anna in about the Sarah Walker situation once Jeff and Patel had wandered off, asking her to fill Jeff in as soon as she had a chance. She said she would, but laughed about the idea of him seducing any information out of an agent "Chuckles, you're cute, I'd even say hot, but you'd have a hard time seducing anything out of any woman, let alone an agent, shit, the times I've managed to get you into bed with me you've hardly done anything because it wasn't "right" even though you know I'll jump you in a heartbeat, any time, anywhere, you really need to think of some other way of getting anything out of her, shit, here comes Morgan again, see ya!" With that she hopped off the Nerd Herd counter and ran off to try and find catch Jeff away from Patel so she could fill him in on the news.

Sure enough, Morgan turned up about ten seconds after she'd disappeared, looking around for her, but when he couldn't see her he just parked himself there and started rabbiting on again, like a five year old demanding attention. With Anna's warning, Chuck had grabbed some files as he'd walked up and was looking at them, picking up the phone to call one of their suppliers about when their order was going to arrive in hope that he'd get bored and wander off again, yeah, right, like THAT was going to happen! Scanning the files in his hands while he was waiting for the guy at the other end of the line to dig up the info that he'd asked him for, he vaguely registered Morgan saying something about "Stop the presses!" and "Vicky Vale", so he started doing a rap about Vicky Vale in hope that that would shut him up for a few minutes at least.

When he looked up and saw who it was standing in front of him he was so shocked he dropped both the phone and the files. For fuck's sake, "rather attractive"? She's absolutely fucking gorgeous, and I'm expected to work HER? Anna was right, I'm so screwed, I was lost in her eyes at first sight! The best banter he could come up with was lines like "It's from Batman" and "My parents were sadists, and carnival freaks found him in a dumpster." Luckily she came up with her prop for being there, a "broken" phone, so he could concentrate on that (for about fifteen to twenty seconds anyway) and avoid looking her in the eye as he'd be lost again if he did. Soon after he finished that he was saved again by an idiot father with his daughter in a tutu who'd barged in and demanded that they help him because there was something wrong with the camera that he'd tried to tape his daughter's ballet recital with. There was something wrong alright, terminal stupidity on his part, he hadn't even put a tape in the camera because it was "digital" and shouldn't need it. Chuck was about to tell him that there was nothing that they could do for him when he made the mistake of looking at the daughter, who was almost in tears because her father had screwed everything up. A girl's tears were always his kryptonite, but this at least was something he could handle, so he told Morgan to get control of the video wall and turned quickly to apologise to Sarah Walker (he was close to getting lost in her eyes again even in that brief moment, he was so screwed) before going to organise Anna and co to get things set up so that they could record something worthwhile for the girl. The girl was nervous, saying that she was normally put in the back because they'd told she was too tall and she blocked the other ballerinas, so he told her as if in confidence that real ballerinas ARE tall, and that gave her the pick me up she needed to dance with confidence. What he didn't realise was that the "wildcard enforcer" was standing behind him, listening to every word he said to her with a very unprofessional expression on her face, if anyone had seen her in that moment, they would have sworn that her heart was melting as she watched Chuck in the process of turning this girl's moment from a disaster, into a beautiful memory for her to look back on. They finished getting the girl's dance recorded for her and he went to return to Sarah and TRY not to screw it up by making a total fool of himself, but he got cut off (perhaps luckily) by Harry Tang, who was screaming at him in his normal crazy Asian Hitler mode for a few minutes. When Tang had stalked off again, Sarah was gone, leaving her card.

As he was walking into the apartments' courtyard after work, he still had Morgan yammering in his ear about calling the hottie, and only then did it occur to him to ask why he was there (the only way to survive too much time around Morgan was to put your brain on pause, because otherwise you'd strangle the idiot to shut him up), after a few stupid lines that failed so badly that even he could see that it wasn't working he admitted that he'd fried his own computer as well as the work computers with the Irene Demova virus, and wanted to use Chuck's. There was no way that Chuck was about to let that happen, but he was still trying to come up with a response that was firm enough to get rid of him without blowing his cover as they entered the apartment to find a ninja in there carrying his computer. As the "ninja" put the computer on the floor and assumed the stance, he took note of three things, 1) they were properly trained, as their form was quite good 2) the only logical reason that he'd have a trained professional like this in their apartment trying to steal his computer was that it was something to do with the current case, which in turn pretty much meant that they were CIA, and 3) from the profile of the figure he could see that it was a woman with her breasts tightly strapped in an attempt to disguise that fact, so going by the height (around 5' 9"), he presumed that this was Sarah Walker, which of course meant that he couldn't afford to let her see him showing any skills in hand to hand combat. At that point Morgan started picking up things and throwing them at the "ninja", who just deflected them all back into Chuck. After hearing how skilled Sarah Walker was, it HAD to have been intentional when she deflected one of those objects right back into his family jewels, what had he done to her to deserve THAT? Then to add insult to injury Morgan actually smashed a vase into his head and had the gall to scream at him why he wasn't helping? Shit! Given that anywhere away from Morgan had to be a lot safer, he slowly moved towards the "ninja" in hope that she'd put him down without hurting him too much, so much for that idea, she picked up the computer and threw it to him, them swept his legs out from under him as soon as his hands were occupied, kicking him across the room into some shelves and catching the computer before he'd hit the floor. Of course, then Morgan had to get brave and grabbed up a putter to attack the ninja with. The ninja put the computer down on the shelf beside them before engaging him, taking the putter off him and using it to knock him out in a less than twenty seconds so he landed on top of Chuck, just before the shelf (which the idiot had hung, of course) with the computer on it collapsed, smashing his computer into smithereens. The ninja gave up and left at that point, because what they'd came to get was now in a million (give or take a few hundred thousand) pieces across the floor.

After he'd turfed Morgan out and secured the apartment, he went into his room and initiated a video conference to Aunt Diane to find out what the hell was going on. Aunt Diane was actually General Diane Beckman, the head of the NSA, and his godmother. When Chuck's mother, Mary Bartowski, had been manoeuvred by the CIA into the position where she was trapped in Alexie Volkoff's organisation because Langston Graham made sure that Volkoff was told that she was a CIA Agent, Chuck's dad had gone more than a little nuts, largely ignoring their two children as well as everything else while he tried to track Mary's location down, one of the few things his dad did do right around that time was to contact Eleanor and Charles' godparents (two of Mary's oldest friends, Diane Beckman of the NSA and Bryan Mills of the CIA) and ask them to make sure that his children were kept safe. Diane and Bryan (Bry) pulled a few strings and tried to make sure that at least one of them (or failing that, Diane's partner, Roan Montgomery) was "in-country" to keep an eye on the kids at all times. Over the next couple of years, Chuck's dad slipped further and further away from his family, and reality, as he became more obsessed with finding Mary. The most stupid thing he'd done was loading the prototype of the Intersect (the project he was working on for Langston Graham) into himself after Chuck had accidentally loaded it and it appeared that he'd handled it fine. When Stephen loaded the Intersect prototype though, it screwed up his brain even more than it had been before, he spent the next year and a half or so trying to come up with a fix for what the Intersect was doing to his head, but in the end, given that he could feel himself coming apart at the seams, he told Diane that he was going to leave to try to save his kids from having to see him turn into a drooling vegetable, just before he up and disappeared.

Because the CIA (well, Langston Graham) was obviously hanging the kids out there as bait in an attempt to lure Stephen back (he didn't care if Stephen collapsed into a puddle of goo as long as he gave him a working Intersect before he fell apart), they had to be very careful about being seen around them, but "Uncle Bry" was one of the best agents there was, so he could slip in to see them at night without anyone knowing. They made sure that the kids were covered as far as money went and redirected any welfare/social services etc types who were sent their way, but it was still hard for them, the only contact that they had with their godparents was when Bry slipped in at night to see them, or they talked to them on the phone, and considering that Chuck was twelve and Ellie was still fifteen when Stephen left, that was really rough on them. In the meantime, Diane and Bry had managed to set up lines of communication with Mary in Russia, and used these to give Ellie and Chuck some contact with their mother (and Stephen as well when he sort of straightened himself out and came in from the cold). They kept this up for the next eight or nine years, watching over them, making sure that they had enough money and getting them into the academic streams that they wanted. In the months after he left, Stephen had managed to finish building himself a device that he called the governor that managed to regulate the on-going effect that the Intersect was having on his brain, it seemed to halt the degeneration and may have brought him back to a more lucid and functional state, but it couldn't repair the damage that he'd done to himself. When he was functional again he got in contact with Diane, and she used her family connections to get him engaged as a technology consultant in an obscure branch of the Defence Intelligence Agency's Science and Technology Directorate. Their father's state of mind was a large part of the reason that Ellie chose medicine, and specifically Neurology, quite early on as the path that she was going to follow. When Chuck chose to follow his father's path into engineering and technology when he was barely into highschool, they could tell that part of his reasoning was the same as Ellie's, to try and help come up with a fix for their father.

The Bartowski kids' brilliance showed up early, while they were still in highschool, and some of the ideas that Diane passed on from them attracted a lot of attention. In order to make use of their abilities and keep them safe, Ellie and Chuck were attached to a branch of the Defense Clandestine Service and received full training for working with them while they were still in their early to mid teens. What the government wanted them for was their analytic abilities, but they both got special ops training so that they could protect themselves in whatever situation they may find themselves in. Ellie was engaged with a little known DCS unit and often did work for the Analysis Directorate as well, while Chuck was also engaged with the same DCS unit and often worked for both the Science and Technology and Analysis Directorates. Over 99% of the people they were dealing with never saw or talked them, and certainly had no idea that they were teenagers, they'd have requests for analysis or solutions passed to them by their Case Officer (one Diane Beckman), and they'd return their results via the same path.

Chuck was a quite a renowned hacker by the time he was in his mid-teens, one of the primary differences with him being that he was usually working for the government and playing around in the most secure systems that the government had, they'd recommended that he operate under a pseudonym like most hackers, so he'd adopted the name The Piranha before he was fifteen. Among Chuck's more common jobs for the government were to try and "hacker proof" government systems or deal with the more serious attacks and backtrack them to locate the hackers, that was how he got the job of tracking down Roscoe, AKA Jeffrey Barnes. Roscoe was one of the first (and only) hacktivists who had the skills needed to get into highly secured systems, and before Chuck the government couldn't get anywhere near him, when Chuck tracked him down and they'd captured Roscoe, they were going to throw him in a black hole, never to be seen again, but Chuck managed to make the case via Aunt Diane that it would be far better to use Jeff's skills and ethics for good than it would be to bury him somewhere, just because he was better than just about everybody else the government had, so Diane made the proposal to Jeff to work with the Piranha in the cyber-security unit and he accepted. When Jeff met the sixteen year old kid who'd taken him down he was floored, but also very impressed, and he and Chuck hit it off straight away. Because Jeff was going to be working with Chuck and Ellie, he was attached to the same DCS unit that they were, and was also put through all the same training they were so that he could handle himself in situations that he may find himself in with the Bartowskis.

Around that time, someone else was attached to their DCS unit, a Marine captain in the NSA, John Casey, Casey was engaged in other missions most of the time, but Diane had access to pull him from anything but deep cover operations on short notice if she needed to use him to protect the Bartowskis, because they were regarded as a very precious commodity by the higher ups, even if those higher ups had no idea who they were. The team had been working together in that format for about five years when it acquired its latest member, it was the result of another hacker tracking job, this time it was The Lotus, AKA Anna Wu. Anna was the daughter of a Taiwanese diplomat who was studying in the USA and had become a US citizen to thumb her nose at her father, her problem was that when she did dubious things in the USA, the US citizenship meant that she was subject to USA rules and her father's connections and diplomatic status could no longer protect her. Government and military lackeys rarely change their spots, so when Chuck tracked Anna down and Casey captured her, they wanted to throw her in a deep, dark hole, just like they'd been planning to do with Jeff. Once again though, it was Chuck who put together the case that they'd be far better off using the incredible skills that Anna had than leaving her to rot in some dark hole, and given the two choices available, Anna was happy to join up. As with the others, Anna was put through all the relevant training, but she did have a step up in that she was already an accomplished martial artist in Kung Fu and a few other disciplines.

Just as Chuck was on the verge of getting his degree at Stanford though, they got a reminder that not only was the CIA still playing its games, but also that, for all his brilliance, Chuck was a sensitive young man with a heart that was easily broken. Chuck's roommate, Bryce Larkin, had fabricated a cheating charge against him and got him summarily thrown out of Stanford. Diane and the DIA hadn't done much checking into Larkin since he and Chuck had entered university and were placed together, so they'd clean missed the fact that he'd been recruited into the CIA in his freshman year at Stanford. Much to Chuck's disappointment, it was decided by the powers that be that, for his own safety, the best idea would be to go along with the game that was being played out and allow him to be drummed out and sent home in disgrace. Chuck reluctantly agreed to follow his orders on that matter, but went back to Stanford to make sure that his girlfriend (and hopefully soon to be fiancé) understood what the truth of the situation was so that they could still have their future together. That was what really kicked him in the guts, when he found out that in the week since he left she'd already moved on TO THE ONE WHO'D GOTTEN HIM KICKED OUT, and was already sleeping with Larkin, that was enough to make him fall apart.

That weekend was the first time that Anna got Chuck into bed, she was a lot more of a free spirit than Chuck was, and was planning on being there to help him "fuck the pain away". Anna was rather disappointed that Chuck wouldn't do anything with her that night, but she truly cared for the beautiful person that he was, and was content to spend the night (and any other night) kissing and cuddling with him and convincing him that there was absolutely nothing wrong with him, it was that bitch and the bastard that she was screwing who were flawed, not him. It was really Anna who had prevented Chuck taking a total nose dive at that point. With his academic and professional career scuttled, the powers that be hit him again when it was decided that Chuck and the others should hide in plain sight, so it was arranged for them all to get technical jobs at the Burbank Buy More, near where Ellie and Chuck lived, so they could build a cover as losers who were doing minor technical jobs. On top of everything else, Morgan Grimes was "working" at the same Buy More, and when Chuck turned up he decided that it was fate that they'd be bestest buddies forever, and wouldn't leave his side! Anna was less than impressed with Chuck (even though she knew that it wasn't really his fault) when she had both Morgan Grimes and Lester Patel sniffing around her and determined to have her from the minute she walked in the store, not to mention the other perverts like Harry Tang. Jeff didn't miss out, either, Patel decided to latch onto as a fellow sleaze hound (as that was the cover that they set up for Jeff), so he could hardly get away from the disgusting little maggot. Casey still remained on call for their protection, but he was still placed as an active field agent (and rapidly clawing his way to the top of the NSA agents), so he wasn't subjected to being part of their on-going cover life.

One of the first things that Chuck asked Aunt Diane was about what the hell Bryce Larkin had sent him, by that stage she had the full picture and could tell him that it was the CIA's latest version of the Intersect project that his father had started. Now given that Chuck knew quite well that the Intersect had almost melted his father's brain before he came up the the governor to keep things under control a little and he'd been having killer headaches all day, that news didn't make him feel one bit better, though it did when she told him that his father had pointed out that Chuck had loaded pretty much the same early version of the Intersect as he had in his head back when he was about nine or ten and it hadn't seemed to have any adverse effects on him. Neither of them had known about that little titbit before his father brought it up, so that certainly helped calm Chuck down and give him a degree of comfort that his brain wasn't going to melt down at the drop of a hat. Chuck did tell her about the strange information flashes he'd been getting since he'd loaded the Intersect (as that was what he did when he unlocked the email from Larkin), and she said that she'd run it past his father, he'd designed the Intersect, so he should be able to explain those.

With the Intersect discussion out of the way, he went on to Sarah Walker, and he went off at "Aunt" 'Diane, asking her why the hell she didn't prepare him better for what he was going to be meeting, fuckin' "rather attractive"? She was a goddess and if the fuckin' Intersect didn't make his brain melt down, seeing much more her probably would! How the hell could be expected to work HER when he could hardly put two words together when he was looking at her? He certainly wasn't prepared for her to laugh at that, or her response "You may be surprised, we were monitoring the whole thing, and from her expression when she was looking at you, especially when you were helping that little girl, which was really sweet by the way Charles, it looked like she could be putty in your hands, from her skin tone and heart rate just before she left, it looked very much like she was flustered and she left because she knew she was in no state to handle you." Chuck drew a breath, then said "I suggest you have another look at those recordings, because she was totally in control the entire time that she was there, I didn't have a chance against her." He looked down and then back up at the screen. "Anna was right, there's no way that I can seduce any woman, especially not an experienced agent at her level, we need to find another way to get the intel you want." "By the way, I saw Agent Walker again when I got home, she was pretending to be a male ninja and was stealing my computer, in the ensuing altercation initiated by Morgan Grimes I got enough things hitting me that I expect that I'll be covered with bruises by the morning, and I'll be sleeping with an ice pack on my sensitive bits." "What happened to you, what do you mean?" "Morgan kept throwing things at her and she kept deflecting them back into me with nasty accuracy, and she made sure one of the heavier items got me right in the family jewels, that doesn't sound like the actions of a woman who's as taken with me as you're trying to tell me. And after all that, the computer got smashed into smithereens and she ended up leaving with nothing other than the satisfaction of damaging me" When she laughed again he got pissed and asked her what was so fuckin' funny this time? She smiled at him as she told him "That's exactly what an agent as good as Sarah Walker is likely to do if she felt that she was compromised and that "feelings" may get in the way of her successfully completing her mission, if she thinks any feelings she may for you could possibly effect her ability to succeed, she's all the more likely to take out her aggravation on you, because she would regard it as your fault." "On the other thing that Anna raised, I'm afraid that we don't have any other way to get the intel, when you see her again, as I'm sure you will, just be your normal charming, sweet self, it works on far more women than you realize Chuck." "About the computer, you'll have to make a show of taking it in and trying to get it fixed, as with the money you supposedly get there's no way you can afford to just replace it." Chuck nodded, and with that signed off, took a box out to collect all the bits of his computer, cleaned up the rest of the damage in the living room and went to bed, because his head was still pounding.

A/N: So, any interest in having this story continued, or shall I just drop the idea?