A/N Okay, here we go, last chapter. I think I got everything into this that I needed to get. The Woodcombe's are adjusting to life in DC. I also addressed a few darker issues that got sort of ignored in canon.
"My dad is Orion?"
"Because he's Chuck."
"I thought she'd crack half an hour ago."
"The Doctors Woodcombe have joined the team."
Ellie Bartowski stood tall and silent, hair whipping in the wind as the helicopter neared the ground in front of her. She felt nothing, she saw the strands coiling and snapping in front of her eyes. The propeller blades of the helicopter likewise moved in slow motion (lubdublubdublubdublubdublubdub), flinging sand all about, stinging her arms and face, anyplace on her body not protected by her bridal gown.
Suddenly the helicopter lurched to one side and she reached forward, a shriek of "No!" echoing in her mind, not a word so much as a violent negative emotion, as Sarah appeared, shouting unheard instructions into a radio.
Devon and Orion grabbed her arms, holding her still and steady as the machine rose and righted itself. Sarah stood unflinching as the chopper came down, down. Skids touched the Earth and Chuck hopped out, racing past Sarah to her side. The chopper blades continued to spin, moving as the sand as the helicopter continued its downward journey. Chuck held out his hand as the helicopter descended itself into the sand. She reached for him and took his hand, but he only put something in hers and let go. Her wedding rings. She looked up as he walked away from her, hand-in-hand with Sarah.
I didn't forget, sis. I can't forget.
Ellie woke and sat up, shocking herself with the sudden chill of air that had never known California warmth. Devon shifted in his sleep and she immediately got up, shivering as she drew on her robe and stuck her feet into her warm fluffy slippers. She knew from experience that there was no point in trying to sleep some more, even though her dreams were getting better.
What she did not know from experience was the layout of this new house, how very far she had to walk just to get to the kitchen, or anywhere else. She shuffled to the door, annoyed by the way the slippers she'd never had to wear before dragged on the carpeting she'd never had.
She had to do something, but she didn't know what.
Her earlier estimate had been wrong, her father was eleven kinds of a genius, but none of them seemed to be a neurologist. He'd applied engineering logic to a neurological problem, and she had to become a programmer and engineer to fix it. The MRI staff at Devon's hospital were close friends now.
She needed tea.
The doors to the other bedrooms stood open, like choices she'd already made. One was stuffed with still-packed boxes, and Devon's exercise gear. The other was set up as a guest bedroom, maybe someday a child's room. Maybe. Someday.
She had to save Chuck. How could she get on with her life if he couldn't get on with his?
She left the electric kettle buzzing behind her in the kitchen, knowing she had a few minutes before it would be ready for her. Boiling water in five minutes. Once she would have thought that was a miracle of technology. Once she'd been twelve, and allowed to be a little girl.
Her personal demon sat on the dining room table, a shiny metal box keyed to her thumbprint. Inside was a computer, a nightmare of modern technology with part of the code to the Intersect on it, never the whole thing. The box was unopenable, the computer unhackable, the only way they'd let her take even a part of it out of the building.
Her pocket buzzed. Her phone, set on vibrate. Hopefully the hospital, no sane person called at this hour of the morning unless it was to deliver bad news. "Hello?"
"Ellie?" said Casey's voice. "Are you all right?"
"Internal sensors detected unexpected movement."
"I couldn't sleep."
John Casey's primary concern was Chuck, but he'd had to learn Ellie's patterns of behavior anyway. This was new, and new was usually bad in his book. "Anything you'd care to talk about?" She'd had to take as much in the last month as any soldier, with less support, and Casey would never let any of his men suffer alone.
She sniffed. Compassion from him always got under her armor somehow. "Just… bad dreams."
He grunted over the phone. "I've had my share."
"What do you do about them?"
"Shoot things the next day. Blow stuff up."
Unexpectedly, she laughed. "I don't think that would work for me."
Ladies were allowed to have lady-feelings. "For you we have therapists, although finding one with a high enough clearance might be a problem."
Like she'd talk about her dreams to a CIA shrink. "No thanks, John." Not Casey, not Colonel. Those names sounded too…military. "They're getting better anyway." Bryce wasn't piloting the helicopter into the ground anymore.
"If you say so." Back to business. "Will these midnight walks be a regular thing, something I can brief my men to expect?"
Oh, God, I hope not! "Ask me after I've rescued my brother, John."
"Okay," he said. "I'll have the guys here make you a cutoff, that way if you do feel the need to walk about you can let us know not to worry about it. Fair enough?"
She wiped at her eyes. "Yes. Fair enough."
"Good night, Ellie."
Not likely. She pressed her thumb to the case.
"I owe you twenty dollars, ma'am."
Beckman was beginning to hate this project too, and the things she got woken up to hear. "Ellie Woodcombe?" She'd cracked, a little, back in California, and that was good. No one thought she'd finished, though. The question was when, and how. "I predicted nightmares starting a week ago, Colonel." She had a psychiatrist all lined up, just in case, even though she'd had to go to the CIA to find him.
"Yeah, well, she called it a bad dream, and this is the first time we caught her walking about. My guess is she's been toughing it out in bed so far."
And working herself into the ground each day. Beckman had been keeping tabs. She made a note. "I'll call Leo in the morning."
Casey grunted a negative. "If Leo's any kind of a therapist, you can forget it, ma'am. I already asked."
"Dammit, Casey, we can't let her suffer through this alone. She has to talk to somebody."
"I agree, ma'am. I suggest you."
Maybe she needed more sleep after all, she couldn't have heard him right. "Me? I very much doubt she'll open up to me. I'm the enemy, in her eyes."
"Then make her a friend. You both want the same thing, just in different ways, and for different reasons. I suggest you apologize and go from there."
"Do you think Mr. Bartowski was enslaved, Colonel?" A month and more, and Ellie's accusation still rankled, and Casey knew it.
He wasn't really a good source for consolation. "Doesn't matter what I think, ma'am. What matters is what Ellie thinks." You're a General. Suck it up. His voice came over the phone cold and hard. "You did order me to terminate him, on more than one occasion." If not a slave, certainly disposable.
She eyed the phone like it was some kind of treacherous beast. "I ordered you to terminate an unstable asset, Colonel." 'Unstable' by your own accounts.
An asset, not a person. "You ordered me to commit murder, Diane." No way he would sully the title of General with that accusation.
"Better his living room than some warlord's holding cell."
If treason is a matter of dates, thought Casey, murder is just a matter of location. "I respectfully disagree."
"As long as you would have obeyed orders."
"Oh, I would have done that, ma'am." Faithful unto death, he was.
Something about his voice sent chills down her spine. "And then?"
"Are you wearing your uniform, ma'am?"
Of course she wasn't, but his question was his answer. All the answer she really needed. The rest was just details, but she found herself morbidly curious today. "No, Colonel, I am not. Are you?"
"No, General, I am not."
Of course he wasn't. "Your answer, please?" Diane was allowed to say 'please', when Diane was allowed to say anything.
"I would have committed acts of mercy, justice, and penitence. Ma'am."
Plucked brows rose. "Mercy and justice. I'm surprised."
"The mercy would have been for Agent–for Sarah. She was there. You would only have gotten what you deserved."
"Yes." Not by a long shot. She threw off the covers. She wasn't used to getting death threats before breakfast. "I guess we should both be glad the question is moot now."
John grunted acknowledgement. "Our boy became a man. If I'd known him getting dropped off a building would do that, I'd have done it myself months ago."
She cinched her robe tight. "It wasn't the getting thrown so much as the getting caught, I'd say."
Back to that again. "Do you see any way out of this situation, Colonel?"
"No, ma'am, but I'm not Orion's child, either. If there's a way out Ellie will find it, or else Chuck will come up with some lamebrained way to make his affliction useful."
Diane Beckman sat heavily on her bed, thoughts of breakfast for the moment forgotten. Chuck let loose on the world, with those skills added to his other demonstrated talents? What couldn't he do? What wouldn't he do, once he realized the power he held. "Let's hope it's the former." Otherwise John and Sarah would find themselves protecting the world from Chuck, instead of the other way around.
Ellie yawned and shivered, warm mug clutched in her hands. The house wasn't cold, though, just the time of day. She should be asleep, under covers, her body's thermostat set on low.
Too late now.
Too early. Devon would be getting up soon. He wasn't an intern, thank God, but he was the newest member on the staff, so he got the worst schedule. Or he would, until he found whichever cute young thing was in charge of scheduling, and made her his friend. Or an old, ugly thing. Or even a male thing. Devon was real good at making friends.
She was better at making breakfast, and Devon, bless his hungry heart, was very well aware of which side of the bread his toast was buttered on, or whatever the stupid saying was. And it had to be more productive that what she was doing now.
She hated studying code, it always put her to sleep. She'd much rather work her way through it with test cases, but the only sample was Chuck, and she really wanted to know what she was doing before she started experimenting. She spent days in the lab, examining the circuitry as it was being built and installed. Sort of like a brain, once she got used to it. A brain she walked around inside of, and tinkered with.
She spent nights reading code until her eyeballs ached, neat little folders with stupid names that only had to mean something to her father because he was the only one who read it. Sometimes they meant something to his daughter, too, and she could see connections between files that no one else had the family history to understand. Almost like a family code, almost…like he was there with her. Over the last few weeks she'd cycled through it twice, maybe, enough to get a feel for the structure of the files, to know what went where.
And to know when it didn't. She could have sworn that a folder labeled 'Vanilla Fudge 8' hadn't been there the last time.
The phone rang, but Sarah's hand shot out and strangled the annoying trill before it could finish. Unlike alarm clocks, the phone was allowed to live. The caller, maybe not. "Bartowski."
Chuck rolled over and drummed his fingers 1-2-3-4 along the inside of her thigh. She reached down and moved his hand, pressing her fingers 1-2-1-2 against his palm as she did. "It's Ellie," she said, passing the phone over. "She sounds excited."
Chuck took the phone, pressing a kiss against the hand that held it. "Hey, sis." He listened for a second and sat bolt upright. "Yeah, sure, I remember. Roofers, huh?"
Sarah rolled out of bed and started gathering their clothes.
Chuck just kept talking, light and casual. "Yep, we'll be there, bright and early. Count on it." He pressed the 'end' button.
Sarah seemed to shake, and all her clothes fell off. "What's the message, Chuck?"
He hardly noticed her state of undress. "She wanted to remind us about her invitation to a special breakfast at her place, but could we please move it up because she had to meet with some roofers first thing." He got out of bed and started on his own pajamas. "Does that mean what I think it does?"
"With five keywords and phrases, it can hardly mean anything else." Something critically important, Intersect-related, and she had to run it past them quick so she could take it to the General pronto. Sarah swept up her husband's clothes and threw them at him. "Get a move on."
General Beckman looked up as her monitor beeped. She considered not answering, but maybe Colonel Casey had come up with some good news to compensate for this morning's little imbroglio. She pressed the button on her console that accepted the connection and blocked all other calls. To her surprise, not one but three people were looking at her, none of them a Marine. The Bartowskis looked pleased, but this wasn't their TV communicator. "What can I do for you, Ellie?"
Bright smile. Not what she'd expected, given the Colonel's report. "I have excellent news, General."
Some days, 'excellent' had a different meaning than others. Today was a high-bar sort of day. "Can you remove the Intersect from Mr. Bartowski's head and end my suffering?"
Ellie's face fell. "How'd you know?"
General Beckman stared at her.
Diane jerked, startled. Right. Civilians. "Yes. Yes, Doctor Woodcombe, that's…very good news." Her clenched fingers were white, it was so good. "I see you've informed your brother already."
"I needed a second opinion, General. He verified Orion's code for the removal process."
That would have been a fun surprise to spring on him, and it's not like her job gave her all that many opportunities to deliver good news, but Diane could see Ellie's point. "Congratulations, Chuck."
"I only confirmed her suspicions, General. She already knew what she'd found."
"Which was what?"
Ellie leaned forward, tapping her finger on a closed metal case. "A hidden folder on the secure laptop, called Vanilla Fudge 8."
Beckman wasn't a big fan of sweets. "This was meaningful to you?"
Ellie snorted. "Not very, but enough that I googled it."
Chuck moved at light speed. "Vanilla Fudge was a rock band a long time ago, General. Their eighth album was an homage to one of…um, another rock group's albums, called 'In Through the Out Door'."
"Mr. Bartowski, please make sense."
"The Vanilla Fudge album was called Out Through the In Door, General. A clear, well, almost clear, semi-transparent reference to–"
As a General she preferred the direct approach. "Taking something out the way it went in."
"How long would it take you to implement this code, Ellie?"
Ellie looked at her brother. "A week, would you say, for the data sets?"
Chuck nodded. "Something like that, yeah. Modify the code, tweak the emitters…"
"Just the data, Doctor?" asked Beckman. "What about the skills?"
Ellie looked apologetic, of all things. "My father didn't code those, General. They're built on a different framework, one that sort of…plugs in to the existing setup. I don't know how to remove them, not safely."
General Beckman made her career out of spotting and seizing opportunities. "It will have to wait, then. Mr. Bartowski's safety is of the utmost importance."
Ellie smiled. Sarah looked over at her man. Chuck looked…hungry.
There'll be no enslaving today. "Proceed with preparations for the extraction, Doctor. The sooner we can get those secrets out of his head, the better, for all our sakes."
Chuck thumped his head against Ellie's shoulder in mock-relief as she said, "Yes, General. Thank you."
"Thank you, Ellie." Diane Beckman smiled. "Are you free for lunch? I think we have a lot to talk about, don't you?"
A/N2 I made up the code based on a Tom Clancy novel. I'll let you guess which are the five words or phrases. I also had some variations on the dream sequence, a bit darker, but I figured this was supposed to be a happy story so I let them be.