Author's Note: And we're back. Sorry for the delay in this latest chapter.

I would like to dedicate it to the memory of the fifteen US Marines and one US Navy Corpsman killed in the tragic crash of the KC-130 they were traveling in. Semper Fi and Fair Winds & Follow Seas. Rest in Peace.

Chapter 9

Sarah Walker's Hotel Room


Los Angeles, California

September 21, 2007

0905 hours

Sarah was desperately trying to control her temper as she listed to Graham berate her for her actions the night before, especially her "unprofessional and borderline insubordinate" behavior during the debriefing. In her past life, she would have been mortified and panicked at the thought of the words Graham was using. But not now. She was not the wide-eyed naïve teenager who had clung to the CIA and to her mentor like a scared kitten this time around. This time she was well aware that what Graham had wanted to do was illegal and unethical. She was also aware that according to the law, and the civil service regulations that governed personnel of the CIA, that she had done nothing wrong in her actions. It was true that this didn't always provide protection, especially from snakes like Graham who had a history of skirting around rules when they wanted to, but Sarah wasn't too worried. Yes, he'd be able to make trouble for her, but ultimately, she was more of a danger to him than the other way around. And thanks to the message she had sent late last night, it would hopefully only be a short time before he learned that the hard way. All she needed to do was string him along for a little while longer.

"Are you listening, Agent Walker?" Graham inquired.

"Yes sir." She replied.

"Well what do you have to say for yourself?!" he demanded.

"Sir, you know me. I'm very good at getting assets to do what we want them to do. Everything I said last night is true. This asset is very different from the ones we're used to utilizing. My usual approach wasn't working; the only way to ensure his cooperation was to make him think I was on his side with this. I apologize for the tone I used last night, and for not being able to bring you in on my plan, but there was simply no time. This asset, while naïve and trusting, also has a very honed sense of loyalty; if I had hesitated even a second, he would have doubted me." Sarah said, feeling sick as she said the words. Until Carina and Zondra had fully implemented the emergency play, she had to try and placate Graham, as much as she hated it. "Additionally, what I told you last night is true; if the asset was to suddenly disappear, with or without evidence of death, it would cause us a lot of heartache; he's too well known in the LA area due to his employment by his firm's clients – many of whom are wealthy and have connections – and his sister's fiancée and family, with their political connections, would ensure a lot of questions being asked. We'd probably be able to work out from under the scrutiny, but it would take time and resources. Better to string him along thinking we're on his side while we come up with a full-proof plan to make him disappear if necessary."

"So you're saying your little performance last night was for show?" Graham said, calmed down somewhat, but not completely.

"Yes sir." Sarah said.

"What about Casey? Was he in on the plan?" Graham asked.

"No sir." Sarah replied. "I was as surprised as you were at his stance. I can only surmise that he had come to a similar conclusion to what I had and was trying to position himself and the NSA as friends to the asset. I suspect at some point they will try and convince the asset that the CIA and I are the bad guys and try to pull him away from us. We need to be ready for that."

"Ok, Agent Walker, I'll forgive your outburst last night – this time. What you've said makes sense. I want you to start developing a plan to extract the asset from his life in LA – and the NSA – for when we need to use it. In the meantime, continue what you're doing to get the asset to trust you, and for Casey to think he's pulled the wool over your eyes."

"Yes sir." Sarah said, then decided to take a chance. "Sir, the asset does appear to be interested in me in a romantic sense. I think I can use that to further our goal, with your permission."

"Why do you need my permission?" Graham said. "I know you've used the honey-trap before. But I thought you said traditional methods wouldn't work?"

"You misunderstand sir. I'm not talking about my traditional methods. In the past I've been able to string targets along with the promise of sex. This asset is different. Everything I've seen tells me that he would not fall for that. He's had numerous opportunities over the years with women throwing themselves at him; in fact, several of his firm's female clients have been very forward in their attempts. He's brushed them aside. He is simply not interested in a purely meaningless physical fling." Sarah answered. "In order make this work, I have to convince him that I have feelings for him. Real, romantic feelings that could lead to a permanent relationship. That means I'm going to have to go slow and act like a woman falling in love and all that it entails."

"I see." Graham said, thinking silently for a moment. "Very well, Agent Walker. You have my permission to proceed as you have indicated. You've never let me down before."

"Thank you sir." Sarah said. "I think it would be best if we kept this between the two of us for now. If you were to let General Beckman know, she would probably try to use it against me with the asset. The same goes for Major Casey. At the same time, however, if they think I'm really falling for him, they will still try to cause trouble."

"Don't worry about that." Graham said. "I'll place a letter in your file immediately that should cover you if it comes to that." A moment later the screen went blank as Graham signed off.

Sarah turned from the video screen and walked into her bathroom, careful to keep her features neutral. Once she was inside, with the door closed, safe from any unknown surveillance, she grinned. "Graham, you stupid son of a bitch! How the hell did you get to where you are? And how the hell did I let you so fully manipulate me so easily last time?" she thought to herself. This was going to be too easy.

Office of the National Security Advisor

White House

Washington, D.C.

September 21, 2007

1100 hours

The President's National Security Advisor threw down the folder he had been reading in disgust. The packet it had come in had been delivered to him by an old friend earlier that morning, with the entreaty that he review it immediately. He had told him that the information had come from a source that he trusted implicitly and had the potential to cause a grave scandal if ever released to the public. It was not the first time in his thirty years of government service he had been faced with such a problem. The typical response was to find a way to hush things up, and then quietly and discreetly remove the problem. But that thought brought him up short.

"Shit. We can't do that this time." He thought. "That's exactly the kind of thing that's brought us to this." To be fair, that wasn't entirely the truth; true the penchant for Graham (and others) for taking the convenient way out of getting rid of problems rather than the proper way was a large part of it – people within the intelligence community had gotten entirely too used to operating that way. But at least, for the most part, many of those cases at least had the fact that the problems being removed were legitimate threats to the safety and security of the United States and its way of life. But the information in this file made it very clear that in Graham's case, the majority of his activities were not even remotely justified, though he had forged many documents to claim they were.

Then there was the fact that his friend had made it clear that the agents that had brought this data to his attention were among the best and most senior in the intelligence community; they could not be easily dissuaded to keep their mouths shut, nor could the country afford to have them sidelined to force their silence. Nor would he want to, the more that he thought about it. The intelligence game had always been a balancing act between staying true to the moral and legal ideals of the United States and the need to sometimes violate or bend those rules and ideals for the greater good. The National Security Advisor had always been uncomfortable with that balancing act, aware that it could be abused. And now he was confronted with proof of such abuse in black and white. Taking another minute to steel himself, he lifted the phone.

"Nancy, I need to see the President. Immediately. It's about a very serious matter." He said into it.

Office of Carmichael Security Services (aka Castle)

Secure Conference Room

Los Angeles, CA

October 7, 2007

1000 hours

"Good Morning, Agent Walker, Agent Casey." Director Graham said, hesitated a moment, then "Mr. Bartowski." Sarah hid a smile at the sound of reluctance in Graham's voice at calling Chuck anything but "the asset" or "the Intersect," not to mention the overall plan that had been implemented over the last couple of weeks. But Casey's support had helped in getting General Beckman's support and Sarah's wholly untruthful apology and explanation to Graham the morning following the attempted assassination of General Stanfield, had caused Graham to very reluctantly agree.

And so, in the weeks since that night, they had carried out Sarah's suggestion for a cover almost to the "T" as evidenced by the small office they now occupied. The best part about it was that this time around, her and Chuck were dating for real – although Graham thought she was merely honey-trapping Chuck and Beckman and Casey thought it was only as a cover. She was amazed at how much easier things had been this time around, with all the angst that had come between them the last time around. All in all, Sarah's plans were working very well.

Carina had informed her, through code that the information packet had been delivered to the appropriate people, thanks to Zondra, and an investigation was well underway. In fact, Sarah had received a back-channel encrypted communication earlier that morning, informing her that an investigative agent would be arriving in Los Angeles the next day to interview her, with the strict admonishment that she was to tell no one, especially Graham of the appointment. Normally she would have been wary of going to a meeting without someone to back her up, but she knew the agent coming to interview her; he was a straight shooter and one of the absolute boy scouts within the intelligence community. That was not to say he wasn't dangerous if you crossed him or you were a traitor or committed a crime.

"It's too bad I didn't trust him last time around." She thought. In the previous timeline, Sarah had encountered him several times, and it had been clear he was investigating Graham. But, blinded and brainwashed as she had been at the time, she brushed him off. "I could have saved Chuck and I a lot of heartache if I had just talked to him."

"Good Morning, General, Director." The three members of what was being referred to as Team Intersect responded.

"Team, we've arranged for an NSA scientist to fly out to Los Angeles to evaluate the possibility of removing the Intersect from Mr. Bartowski. He will be arriving tonight." Beckman said. As she did so, Sarah felt herself tense. She knew this was coming; she had thought about finding a way to expose Dr. Jonas Zarnow, the scientist that they were sending, as the traitor he was, long before this, but had decided against it. First, because she couldn't come up with a good explanation of how she knew he was a traitor that would satisfy Graham or anyone else. Second, because she realized that Beckman needed to see Chuck as a valuable team member as fast and as often as possible, given that Graham's days were numbered. That wasn't to say that she was going to let things play out exactly like they had before, though.

"General, no disrespect, but perhaps we should have Chuck review a picture and some basic personnel data on this scientist? Just in case?" she said. Seeing the General about to leap to the blind defense of the NSA scientist, she added quickly. "I know you trust him, and I'm sure you're right. But how many times over the years has the CIA or NSA been burned by someone we trusted absolutely?" Beckman glared at her a moment longer, then her facial expression relaxed.

"You're correct, Agent Walker." She said, sighing. "As much as I hate to admit it, it's happened too many times. Very well, I'll forward a redacted version of his file to you. Mr. Bartowski, as soon as it arrives, I want to you study it. If you flash on anything, let Agents Walker and Casey know, immediately."

"Yes ma'am." Chuck replied. "Just what kind of testing is this scientist going to do on me? It doesn't involve needles does it? I hate needles." Sarah felt a wave of warmth as she listened to him.

"That's my Chuck, brave to a fault when trying to help people, but a baby when it comes to needles." She thought fondly. It was one of the best things about the whole situation. Despite all the changes she had managed to make in his life and the confidence she had helped him gain this time around, deep down he was still the same lovable Chuck.

"Not at this time, Mr. Bartowski." Beckman said dryly. "Though at some time in the future, it may come to that."

Office of Carmichael Security Services (aka Castle)

Operations Office

Los Angeles, CA

October 7, 2007

1700 hours

"What the hell is taking Beckman so long sending that file?" Sarah asked, frustrated. "We're due to meet the scientist in two hours. If we don't get that file soon, we won't have any time to formulate a plan if Chuck finds something?" Casey looked at her.

"Relax, Walker. I'm sure the General will get it to us shortly." He said, amused. This was a side of Walker he was sure rarely broke through her agent persona. "I doubt you're boy-toy is going to find anything anyways. If the General says this scientist is trustworthy, I believe her. Unlike the CIA, the NSA is pretty good at ferreting out traitors within the organization." Sarah ignored both jibes in Casey's words, and mentally cursed herself for letting her emotions show in front of him. While this John Casey was already slightly different than at this point in the previous timeline, they had not yet reached the point where they were friends and she could feel safe in allowing him to see her emotions. Instead, she just returned her gaze reading the daily reports from Langley.

Casey chuckled to himself as he watched Sarah return her attention to her work. Contrary to what many people who met him thought, he wasn't a burnt-out robot and was actually quite observant when it came to people's emotions. As a result, he was well aware that there was something going on with Sarah Walker, and it had to do with Chuck Bartowski. Oh, it was clear that Chuck Bartowski was taken with the CIA agent, not that he could blame him – Sarah Walker was a goddess after all. But it was also clear to Casey that Sarah Walker was easily as taken with Chuck Bartowski. But so far everything that the due had done, minus the rather unorthodox methods on those first two days, had been proper and professional. In fact, Casey had to admit he was impressed with Chuck Bartowski. He didn't think he would make it as a regular agent, but for someone who had been thrown into this life against his will, he had been rather competent so far. He was clearly intelligent, and from what Casey could tell, was very good at what he had done when working for the private investigation firm. That was the reason Casey had gone along with Walker's suggestions for the operation and backed her with Graham and Beckman.

However, he was also aware that Walker and Bartowski were hiding something. Several times over the last few weeks, he had caught comments and looks that spoke of people who knew each other much better than they were letting on – in fact he had noticed it on that first day. And they seemed just a little too good at the boyfriend/girlfriend "cover" that they were using. He had decided to keep an eye on things and confront the two at some point. He didn't intend to report it – yet. For one, he knew that crossing Sarah Walker could be hazardous to one's health. For another, whatever was going on, neither seemed to be letting it get in the way of the mission. And finally, deep down in his heart, the idea that an agent like Walker could possibly have something of a normal life gave him hope of his own.

A beep startled him out of his thoughts. He went over to the closest terminal.

"Looks like the General finally sent the information." He said after a moment. Sarah nodded and got up from her chair and walked into the next office. A moment later she returned, with Chuck following behind her.

"Here's the file that Walker requested." Casey said to Chuck. "Take a look through it and let us know if anything pops." Chuck nodded and sat down in front of the computer. Casey looked at Sarah. "You got this? I want to do an inventory of the armory."

"Yeah, go ahead Casey." Sarah said. Casey walked out of the office. Sarah went over to the small fridge in office and pulled out a bottle of water, then retrieved a bottle of aspirin from the desk and handed them to Chuck. "Just in case." Chuck smiled at her. Over the last couple of weeks they had discovered that, depending on the size of the flash, he often suffered from a headache afterward. As a result, Sarah had made sure to have aspirin readily available in the office and even carried some in her mission kit.

"Thanks." He said, smiling. "How about a kiss before I open this? For luck?" Sarah grinned; since that fateful night of the assassination attempt against General Stanfield, she and Chuck's relationship had progressed nicely. It was as enjoyable as she remembered from the previous timeline, though this time there was the added happiness (too Sarah at least since Chuck didn't have her memories of the old timeline) that there was no enterable period of dancing around each other, and that because of her playing of Graham, Beckman, and Casey, they were able to carry on right in front of the surveillance.

"Of course, Chuck." Sarah said fondly, then leaned in and gave him a quick peck on the lips. Seeing the look of disappointment on his face, said, "You'll get more afterwards." Chuck nodded and turned his attention back to the computer. He typed at the keyboard briefly and the file of one Dr. Jonas Zarnow opened up. He began reviewing the file while Sarah held her breath. About half-way through the file, she saw the tell-tale sign of Chuck flashing, his eyelids fluttering rapidly, his breathing becoming deep and labored. A moment later it passed, and he put his head in his hands, clearly in pain. Sarah opened the bottle of aspirin and pulled two pills from it, then opened the water and handed both to Chuck. Chuck took the pills and popped them in his mouth and took a swig from the bottle of water. After he had swallowed, he placed the bottle down on the desk and turned to Sarah, concern in his face.

"Sarah, get Casey in here." He said. Sarah walked out of the room and returned a moment later with Casey.

"What did you see, Bartowski." Casey said, alert.

"Guys, we've got a problem." Chuck said seriously. "Zarnow is a traitor."

Office of Carmichael Security Services (aka Castle)

Operations Office

Los Angeles, CA

October 7, 2007

1900 hours

"Agents Walker, Casey. A pleasure to meet you." Dr. Jonas Zarnow said, offering his hand to them. Both agents fought the urge to react with disgust to his presence. After Chuck had flashed and informed them that Zarnow had been providing information to the North Koreans for several years, they had reported it to their superiors, who had wanted them to arrest Zarnow immediately, and in Graham's case, raised the issue of whether it wouldn't be better to put Chuck in a bunker after all. Sarah, with Casey and Chuck's help, had successfully argued that arresting Zarnow right away would be a mistake. As Chuck pointed out, most of the information that he had flashed on was circumstantial and anyone who didn't have the Intersect in their head would be unlikely to come to the same conclusion about Zarnow. Casey had also pointed out that given the recent black eyes in the press both the CIA and NSA had received over the last few years, it would be better to have something concrete. So the decision was made to go through with the testing. They would plant a tracking and listening device on his car and hopefully be able to catch him in the act.

"Welcome, Dr." Sarah said.

"Where's Patient X?" Zarnow asked, looking around the room.

"He's at an alternate site." Casey said. "Because of the sensitive nature of things, it's better if you didn't know his identity. You can use this computer to upload the images and communicate with him. Of course his voice is going to be disguised through a voice modulator."

Unlike last time, Sarah was able to catch the very quick and slight look of annoyance and anger that crossed Zarnow's face. "If you're angry now, just wait until later, you traitorous bastard." Sarah said to herself. Knowing that Zarnow would be unable to resist trying to get information on who had the Intersect in his head, Sarah had decided to advance the timeline of events this time around. She would ensure she walked the doctor to his car. Along the way she would "accidently" let slip that she knew who the Intersect was, which would hopefully cause Zarnow to move faster than last time. That would give them the proof they needed. As an added bonus, she would make sure that the altercation took place near the office where Chuck was sitting (the statement that he was in another location being bogus). She knew when he heard the struggle he would come out to help her, and because of his martial arts training, and rudimentary training he had gotten from her and Casey so far, she knew he would be able to handle himself. Especially since she had no intention of letting Zarnow get the upper hand – she would be faking the whole thing.

Her reason for taking this chance was two-fold. One, it would give Chuck more confidence in his developing spy skills. And two, and perhaps most importantly, the whole thing would be caught by the surveillance, so there would be recorded proof not only of Zarnow's treason, but also of Chuck's abilities. Hopefully that would help with getting Beckman to more quickly begin looking at Chuck as a valuable team member, and not just an asset.

For the next hour, Dr. Zarnow tested Chuck, sending hundreds of images through the computer station. As Sarah expected from the last time, Chuck had perfect recall of the data and it was obvious that Zarnow was impressed.

Office of Carmichael Security Services (aka Castle)

Main hallway

Los Angeles, CA

October 7, 2007

2000 hours

"That was absolutely incredible." Dr. Zarnow said to Sarah as the two walked towards the front door. "Patient X had 100% perfect recall. Are you sure I can't meet him?"

"I'm sorry, Doctor. His identity needs to be a secret from everyone, for now." Sarah said.

"Such a shame. Based on his recall ability, I'd have to say he was probably very intelligent even without the Intersect. Please pass along my admiration."

"Here we go." Sarah thought as they approached the office where Chuck was. "I'll be sure to tell him the next time I see him." It took only a second for her meaning to sink in. In a flash, Zarnow had pulled a tranq gun from under his coat and brought it around to fire at her. Sarah moved to the side, avoiding the first dart, before knocking it to the ground. Soon, the two were engaged in a violent struggle. In truth, Sarah could probably have ended things fairly quickly, despite the surprising skill the middle-aged scientist was showing at hand-to-hand combat. But that would defeat the second part of her plan. So she allowed her opponent to land some blows that she normally would have blocked. "C'mon Chuck, be the hero that you are."

Office of Carmichael Security Services (aka Castle)

Spare Office

Los Angeles, CA

October 7, 2007

2005 hours

Chuck's hackles were raised when he heard the first sounds of commotion in the hall. It very clearly sounded like a fight had broken out, which meant that something must have gone wrong with the team's plan. For some reason Zarnow must have decided that he had been compromised or perhaps that he could kidnap Casey or Sarah to get them to reveal his identity. He sat, undecided for a moment. He had an emergency beacon in his pocket; once he pressed it, it would alert Casey and Sarah, and whichever one wasn't currently engaged in the brawl in the hallway would come running, and it would also alert a rapid response team from the local FBI field office. He knew that he should do it, then stay in the room; going out in the hall would potentially blow his cover and endanger his life, and the safety of the Intersect. And he had promised Sarah that he would not be reckless like he was the other night during the assassination attempt on General Stanfield.

The problem was that staying hidden went against everything that Chuck believed in. Casey and Sarah were his partners; ignoring the romantic entanglement that he and Sarah were in, he liked and respected both of them as agents. And he had always tried to stand up and help people when he could. It was why he went to work in private investigations; it was why he continued with his martial arts studies even after high school, and it was why despite being dragged into the world of intelligence against his will, he had been giving his new job 120%. That, plus the thought that it could possibly be Sarah out in the hall in danger, meant that he would not do what was smart. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled the beacon out and pressed it. Then he threw it on the desk and made his way to the door.

When he got to the door, he opened it carefully and peaked out in the hall. He saw that his concern had been justified; Sarah and Dr. Zarnow were currently engaged in hand-to-hand combat. He watched for a second in awe – both of them were much more proficient then he was. In fact, he had just come to the conclusion that it might be better to let Sarah and Casey handle it; there was no way he could take Zarnow; when Zarnow landed a lucky blow on Sarah and sent her sprawling. Horror registered on Chuck's face as he watched Zarnow bend over and pick up a gun from the floor.

"Shit. Shit. Shit." Chuck thought. It took only a fraction of a second to make his decision. "I'm sorry for breaking my promise, Sarah, but I can't just sit by if I can do something."

Sarah's perspective…

Sarah almost sighed with relief when she saw the door of the office where Chuck was hiding open a crack and his face peak out. It was getting tiring holding herself back from wiping the floor with Zarnow. Now was the time for the piece-de-resistance to her plan. Steeling herself, she allowed Zarnow to land a rather brutal blow on her, knowing the reaction it would have on Chuck. She watched as Zarnow bent over and picked up the tranq gun, then as her nerd came rushing out towards the scientist.

"Zarnow!" he yelled as he charged. Zarnow turned in surprise and tried to bring the tranq gun to bear on Chuck. But he was not fast enough, as Chuck showed his martial arts training, disarming Zarnow with a moon kick, before following it up with a jab to the chin. Zarnow stumbled backwards, trying to defend against Chuck's attacks. Sarah watched with fascination; this was the first time outside of sparring sessions with her and Casey that she had seen Chuck actual use his martial arts training. He was impressive, though clearly not yet up to CIA standards. He had the upper hand at the moment against Zarnow mostly because of surprise. Nevertheless, the skill and bravery he was showing would accomplish her goal of getting Beckman to start down the path of looking at him as a member of the team instead of just an asset.

"I need to end this." Sarah thought, glancing around for the tranq gun that Zarnow had dropped. Seeing it a few feet away, she went for it, grabbing it and bring it up to bear on Zarnow. Behind her she could hear Casey's footfalls rushing towards them. "So Chuck activated the beacon. Good. The fact that he did that will help deflect any accusations of impulsiveness." She thought. However, it now made it more imperative that she end the fight; in another couple of seconds Casey would be within gun range, and he would kill the traitor. Not that he didn't deserve death; but they needed to be able to interrogate him and bleed as much information as possible from him.

"Chuck! Down!" Sarah shouted. Sarah felt pride go through her as Chuck immediately dove to one side without hesitation. It was a testament to how much he trusted her that he acted without hesitation at her command. A spilt second later Sarah fired, the tranquilizer dart hitting Zarnow in the back of the neck. He stood stunned for a moment, before collapsing on the ground, just as Casey arrived on the scene.

"Good work, Walker." Casey said. "Smart thinking activating the beacon, Bartowski."

"You can thank him for more than that." Sarah said. "Zarnow managed to get a hold of the tranq gun and was about to shoot me with it. Chuck was able to disarm him and keep him busy long enough for me to tranq him." Casey grunted and gave Chuck a nod of respect.

"Glad to see I wasn't wrong sticking up for you with the General." He said.