A/N A few people have asked for this, a story about the interval from the end of season 2 to the beginning of nine2five episode 1.1, so here it is. I'm trying not to make it too much like an info-dump of backstory. As always, I'm pretty much making it up as I go, and as usual, with as little research as possible. So even though Casey isn't required by the strict rules of military protocol to salute, he does anyway.
This is not a new story. When I started collecting all the chapters of nine2five season 1 into a single document, I added them onto the original version of this story, rather than start a whole new file. This was perhaps a mistake, so I'm re-releasing this story as a separate episode. As usual I will not be changing the text, other than to fix minor things like new lines and stuff like that.
Eleanor Faye Bartowski–with a Woodcombe on top!–fidgeted in her seat, anxiously waiting for the plane to land. Two weeks of sun, Devon, surf, Devon, clean fresh sheets, Devon, and fabulous meals she didn't have to make herself, with a side order of Devon, ought to have been idyllic enough for any honeymoon, but with each passing day her anxiety grew.
Chuck hadn't called. Not once.
It's my honeymoon, of course Chuck isn't going to call.
Something was wrong. Since when had something like that ever stopped him?
"I'm sure he's fine, El," said Devon, but his warm loving baritone had said the same thing for the last few days and the comfort quotient had gotten a little low lately.
"I know he is, honey," she said. "Intellectually, scientifically, I know he has to be fine. He's there, Sarah's there, and if they really did disappear from our reception for the reason you think, they're probably still all right." She gripped his arm tightly.
"But they've disappeared together before, Devon, and those times they weren't all right, and that's the thing that's bothering the non-intellectual, non-scientific, freaking out substitute mother-figure that you also married."
Devon took the pain, raised his free hand to her cheek. "Better or worse, babe, better or worse. And if that's the worst you can do, I'm a lucky man." Ellie smiled and leaned into his touch. She wanted, needed comfort, and he was so good at it. "You'll see. We get on the ground, spend three hours waiting for our bags, another hour to get through the security, and he'll be right there."
Ellie relaxed her grip. Every second was bringing them closer. Closer to their friends, their lives. Not his life, not hers. Theirs. He was her husband now, he should be the center of her life, and he was, but the substitute mother-figure inside her wasn't ready to give up yet.
Tough on her. Any new husband could be forgiven a little jealousy, but hers was nothing but supportive, in every way. He deserved better. He was right, of course he was right.
He was wrong. They made it as far as the debarkation lounge before things started to go sideways from his confident predictions.
A man in a black suit and sunglasses came up to them, a photo in his hand. "Mr. and Mrs. Woodcombe?"
At their nod he put the photo away, and took off his glasses. "My name is Mr. Clark. I've been assigned to escort you home. If you'll follow me, please?"
Devon smiled. "Chuck sent a driver? Outstanding."
Ellie wasn't so sure. Why would a limo driver be waiting for them on this side of the gate? She followed, her husband's confidence and Mr. Clark's complete self-assurance pulling her along in their wake. To her surprise and a lot of people's annoyance they bypassed the line completely.
Mr. Clark showed something to the guard, probably a badge, and they were passed right through without question. Everybody on the line wondered what they'd done, and Ellie kept her head down as some of them tried to get pictures, just in case somebody would pay money for them. Another man in black stepped up behind the departing couple, though, so no one saw their faces.
Ellie looked back at the unsmiling man bringing up their rear. "And who are you?"
"His name is Smith, but please don't talk to him, Mrs. Woodcombe," said Mr. Clark. "He won't answer, but it might distract him at the wrong moment."
This was already the wrong moment. Ellie watched the luggage carousels as they went past without stopping. "Are we being arrested?"Devon took her hand.
"No, Mrs. Woodcombe. My apologies if I've given you any cause for alarm. Mr. Smith and I are here to escort you to your briefing. After today, I doubt you'll ever see us again."
Some kind of emergency? Why would the hospital need them? "What briefing?"
"I'm not at liberty to say, ma'am."
Devon waved back into the terminal they were just leaving. "What about our bags?"
Mr. Clark opened a door of a vehicle that in no way resembled a limo, and a third man got out. He spoke to Devon, though. "Give your tickets to Mr. Jones here. He'll collect your bags and follow after us."
Ellie was not about to get in that car with a bunch of guys in suits. "I want to see some ID."
Mr. Clark and Mr. Jones immediately pulled out their wallets, and showed her their credentials. Mr. Jones went around behind them as Mr. Smith came forward to show his.
"NSA?" asked Ellie. "What does the government want with us?"
"Not within our purview, ma'am," said Mr. Clark, putting his wallet away. "Best if we don't know. Mr. Jones?" When Mr. Jones stepped forward, Mr. Clark looked back at Devon. "Tickets?"
If they really were NSA, arguing with them could only a not-bad situation bad, and a bad situation worse. If they weren't NSA, it was already worse. In any case handing over the tickets seemed like the most prudent course.
"Thank you, sir," said Mr. Clark. "Your bags will be waiting for you, when we're done. If you'll step inside we'll be on our way."
Ellie watched his eyes. He wasn't so anxious to get them in the car so much as he was to get them off the sidewalk. Hard to say if that was simply native paranoia or something more. "This is important, isn't it?"
"My immediate superior is an Air Force General, ma'am, and she wishes to speak with you two about matters of national security. That's all I can say."
The NSA drove them home. Not what they expected.
The courtyard boasted a few more men in black, but at this time of day no one was around to notice. With their irregular schedule at the hospital, Ellie was quite aware of how quiet the place could be.
Wouldn't it have been easier to do this in a hotel room? Airports have meeting rooms, don't they, so people can get together and meet without having to go anywhere else. Why not use one of those? If the idea was to get them in familiar surroundings, make them calm, it wasn't working. All she saw was how easily her familiar surroundings could become unfamiliar. Mr. Clark opened the door to their own home as if he…
What about Chuck? He knew they were coming back today, he wouldn't be at the Buy More, would he? Didn't he quit? Was he at the airport, waiting for them after they'd already left? Was he here, surrounded by unsmiling men who wouldn't answer any of his inevitable questions?
She pushed ahead, frantic about her brother. "Chuck!" She ran to his bedroom.
It was empty. His bed, his clothes, his computer, all gone. Even the Tron poster she so wished he'd get rid of. The wall looked so empty without it. "Chuck?"
"He's not here, Mrs. Woodcombe," said someone from behind her, someone female.
Ellie backed up, and turned around.
A woman was sitting in a chair, not looking comfortable. Perhaps the rather garish 'Welcome Back!' sign over her head had something to do with it, she certainly didn't look very welcoming. Devon sat on the couch, also not looking comfortable. Mr. Clark stood in front of the door, looking quite at ease.
"Where's my brother?"
The tiny woman said, "Chuck was relocated to Washington DC slightly more than a week ago, Mrs. Woodcombe. Or may I call you Eleanor? Please, sit."
She sank down to sit next to Devon, taking his hand. "How do you know our names? Why is Chuck in DC? What are all of you doing in our house?"
"Well, as to the last," said the woman, breaking into what threatened to be a long stream of questions with some skill, "I am here because your brother asked me to be here. Insisted, actually. I'm very glad to see that your greatest mutual concerns are for each other, that makes this much easier."
"I'm sorry, makes what easier?"
The woman stood up, straightening her clothes as if she were in uniform. "Mr. and Mrs. Woodcombe, my name is General Diane Beckman of the Unites States Air Force." She handed Devon her credentials, while Ellie looked over at Mr. Clark. He nodded. Ellie looked back and took the wallet, staring at the picture. Yes, this woman looked much more at home in a uniform. She handed the wallet back.
General Beckman took it. "Your brother works for me."
Devon said, "Chuck's in the Air Force?"
No, thought Ellie.
"No," said General Beckman.
"He's in the NSA?" asked Ellie.
"Not…exactly," said the General.
"I always knew he was good at coding, at computers and electronics. Is that what he–?"
"No," said Beckman again. "At least not primarily. Your brother came to work for me about a year and a half ago, under very unusual circumstances. It wasn't voluntary, on anyone's part."
"You were ordered…?"
"Not at all," said the General. "The circumstances of his…conscription…forced our hands. We could not simply remove him, nor could he be allowed to not work for us. I cannot tell you more at this time."
"Why not?" asked Ellie, more than a little disturbed by the casual way the General said 'remove'.
"Because everything about your brother's association with us is classified so highly that the classification is classified. Only your well-documented devotion to each other's well-being allows us to even consider making you aware of the true situation."
"Well-documented?" asked Ellie. "Who's been documenting it, Chuck?"
"Oh, Heavens, no," said Beckman. "One of your brother's first and, thankfully, few demands was that you be left out of the loop. He would never have participated in anything so invasive." She looked over to Mr. Clark and nodded. Mr. Clark spoke quietly into his watch.
"You mean someone else has been watching us?"
"Quite a few people, actually." Someone knocked on the door, and Mr. Clark checked before opening it.
"Allow me to introduce Chuck's primary security officer, Colonel John Casey of the NSA."
Ellie stood as the neighbor she thought she knew walked in the door. "Colonel…?"
Devon smiled uncertainly. "John…?"
Casey drew himself to attention and saluted, a much more natural look for him than the ugly green shirt of a Buy More employee. "Colonel John Casey, United States Marine Corps."
Beckman nodded, and Casey dropped the salute. They all sat, none of them at ease.
"You're a spy?" said Ellie.
"We prefer the term 'intelligence officer', Ellie, but yes, I'm a spy."
Casey looked less than happy. "Not directly, no. I was tasked with Chuck's security and surveillance. I apologize that those concerns overlapped your own lives, but it was necessary. His safety was and is my greatest priority."
"A Marine Colonel and you're babysitting my brother?"
Casey smiled, trying to look human. "Actually, I was a Marine Major until a few weeks ago."
Ellie looked back and forth from Casey to Beckman. "What does Chuck do for you people that you have a…a…him…watching over him?"
Casey tried. "It's c–"
Suddenly Ellie was towering over him. "John, if you say it's complicated I swear I will reach down your throat and perform a double orchidectomy from the inside!"
Devon clamped his legs together and made a pained expression on his face.
John noticed, but didn't let that reach his face or his voice. "It's not complicated, Ellie, just classified out the wazoo. I think the paperwork you'd have to sign to be given clearance weighs more than you do."
"I'll sign it!"
"That may not be necessary, Doctor, Colonel," said the General.
"The Woodcombes are both doctors, Colonel, already constrained by oaths of confidentiality for their patients. We happen to have a patient in need of a doctor."
Somehow Ellie couldn't quite manage to tower over Beckman, in spite of her size."Chuck? What have you done to him? Is he wounded, injured? Why are we even talking about this?"
"Because this is just the entrance to the rabbit hole, Doctor Woodcombe," said Beckman inflexibly. "To be in, you must be all the way in, or stay outside forever."
"What do you mean, am I in? Of course I'm…I'm…" She couldn't speak, couldn't force the words out.
"She's in, General," said Devon, suddenly. "And so am I."
The pressure in her head suddenly released. "Devon?" She reached for him.
He took her into his arms. "Hey, I married all of you, babe. For better, for worse, and I guess now, for Chuck, too. He's your family, I could never make you choose like that."
She sighed. "I love you."
"Begging the General's pardon," said Casey, sounding ill, "But time is pressing."
"Quite so, Colonel," said Beckman, very pleased. "I think we can take your oaths as a given for now, Doctors. Perhaps you would like that explanation now?"
Ellie pushed on Devon's chest, and he fell back onto the couch, with her in his lap. "Yes," she said.
"Colonel, the floor is yours."
Casey looked less than comfortable. "Well, to be honest, General, I wasn't the AOS."
Beckman frowned. "She isn't here. You'll have to do."
"What's the AOS?" asked Ellie.
"The Agent on Scene," said Casey. "Until and unless an agent is designated in charge, the first agent on scene is in command. This mission wasn't exactly designed, it sort of just happened, and I was the second agent on the scene. Since it's a multi-agency task force, we generally stick to our specialties, but for the mission as a whole…"
"And she's not here?" asked Ellie.
Beckman shook her head.
"She could be," said Casey. "We've still got the hook-up."
"I want the whole story," said Ellie.
Beckman sighed. "Mr. Clark."
Mr. Clark went outside, but within seconds was back at his post, as a technician connected a laptop to a cable stretching all the way back to Chuck's former quarters. "All set, General."
"Dismissed. Mr. Clark, you may also withdraw." She stood, and Casey moved her chair and his own to be caught by the camera. When they were alone and settled, she said, "Agent Bartowski."
The screen suddenly produced a progress bar.
"Chuck's an agent?" whispered Ellie.
Casey grunted negatively, but all Beckman would say was, "That remains to be determined."
The screen lit up, with Sarah's smiling face. "Hi, Ellie."
A/N2 I also made up the whole AOS thing, because it seemed to make sense and other hierarchical organizations do it.