Author's Note: And I'm finally back. I apologize for the delay in posting this latest chapter. I also wanted to thank everyone for their reviews on the last chapter, particularly everyone's theories on who the new team member would be and who the mysterious figure at the end of the chapter was. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your ideas. I was particularly intrigued by one idea that was suggest, that is having Bryce be the new team member. But while it would definitely be original and interesting to write, explaining how he's still alive and General Beckman knowing he's still alive, along with the dynamics of him redeeming himself to Chuck, in the end I decided against it. Bryce is one of those characters that I love to hate (I never really bought the "he did what he did to protect Chuck" angle in the show, to be honest), so having him become a part of the team doesn't work for me. I have other plans for him (imagine evil grin and overlord laugh here). In the interest of honesty, when I wrote the last chapter, I had not yet determined the answer to either of those questions, so reading your ideas helped me settle on the eventual direction I would go.
Finally, I'm leaving for vacation in a few days, so I'm hoping that the next chapter won't be quite so long in coming. Without work and my Master's degree program getting in the way for a whole week, I think I should be able to write the next chapter pretty quickly, even considering the fact that I'll be spending a lot of time with the kids and wife. Although given the fact that I'll be sitting on beach at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico sipping free alcoholic drinks much of the time, I make no promises about the deadline or the coherentness of whatever I do write J.
Lecture Hall C
November 5, 2007
Professor George Fleming looked up from his notes, ready to continue his lecture on subliminal imagery, when he noticed a figure the lecture hall from the entrance at the back of the hall. While he didn't recognize the man, his demeanor immediately set alarm bells off in Professor Fleming's mind. Coming to a quick decision, he closed his notebook.
"I'm…I'm sorry, I'm going to have to end class early today. Have a good afternoon." He said, rushing to pick up his things. As the students began getting up from their seats, he headed for the exit on the side of the lecture hall. He continued walking towards his office, looking over his shoulder. He didn't see any pursuit, but he knew that man that had entered the lecture hall was coming for him.
When he reached his office, he closed and locked the door. Moving around to his desk, he pulled a cell phone out of the drawer and hit a combination of keys.
"This is Fleming. I've been compromised." He said. A moment later he heard someone at the office door. "Oh God, there here. I've got to go." He hung up the phone, grabbed several stacks of papers and made his way to the secret escape door he had built in his office.
Carmichael Security Services (aka Castle)
Los Angeles, CA
November 6, 2007
"Good morning team." General Beckman said via the secure video conference.
"Good morning, General." Chuck, Casey and Sarah replied.
"First a little bit of personnel business." Beckman said. "Your new team member will be arriving next week."
"And our new team member is?" Chuck asked. Next to him, Casey gave what Chuck had come to identify as Grunt #7 – Shut up. You'll be told when it's necessary and not before.
"I'm not ready to divulge that yet." Beckman replied. "Rest assured, I have vetted this candidate extensively, and considered how they would fit into the team dynamic. I will give you a full dossier at the end of the week. Is that understood?"
"Yes General." Casey said, shooting Chuck a look that clearly told him to shut up.
"Good. Now, as to the main reason for my call. We have a situation involving one of the CIA's campus recruiters. They received an SOS call from him yesterday afternoon." Beckman stated. "He indicated that he was enacting his escape and evasion plan. Agents were dispatched to the scene, but found no trace of the professor or his pursuers. They did validate that something happened, as the Professor's office had been broken into and ransacked. It appears as though the Professor has either already been taken or has deviated from his E&E plan. I'm hoping the Intersect may have something in it than can help us."
Sarah glanced at Chuck and silently prayed that the changes in his self-esteem and confidence, not to mention circumstances, that she had been able to affect since her return in time from the other timeline would be enough to help him with the shock he was about to receive. She thought so, since this time around he had readily accepted Awesome and Ellie's invitation to attend the upcoming UCLA/Stanford football game.
"Ok. Do we have a picture or file I can look at?" Chuck asked. Beckman hesitated a moment before answering.
"Yes Chuck, I'll send it to you in a moment. But first, I need to prepare you. The individual I'm speaking of is someone you have met in the past, though I was not fully aware of the connection until recently." Beckman said. She then typed on a keyboard. A moment later the screen spilt and a picture of Professor George Fleming appeared. "The professor's name is George Fleming. Of Stanford University."
Sarah Walker's Porsche
Enroute to Los Angeles from Stanford University
November 8, 2007
Sarah glanced over from her seat on the driver's side of the car to the passenger seat, where Chuck was sitting. He hadn't said more than a handful of words since they departed Stanford two hours ago. It wasn't surprising, given all that he had learned over the last forty-eight hours. Just like in the previous timeline, when Beckman had revealed the identity of Professor Fleming as the missing CIA campus recruiter, Chuck had been shocked. Unlike the last time however, he had not refused Beckman's request to use his relationship to try and extract him, even though later that night, in private, he had expressed to Sarah his uneasiness with helping the professor who had him kicked out of Stanford. He had also been just as confused and concerned that he has been in the Intersect, this time having flashed when Fleming's picture came up on the screen during the briefing. All in all though, thanks to the changes Sarah was able to make, he handled the situation much better than in the previous timeline.
Unfortunately, even with Sarah's memories of the previous timeline, they had been unable to prevent Magnus Einar from shooting Fleming with a crossbow or retrieving the coded message that Fleming had tried to pass on. The result was that the team still ended up in a confrontation at Stanford with Einar and his associates, though this time the team was able to take care of their opponents without activating the student-agents Fleming had listed on the disk he had hidden in the library.
Sarah flushed slightly as she recalled Chuck's actions during the confrontation; unlike the last time, there had been no visible panic when things had gone pear shaped at the University. Instead, he had made full use of his martial arts training, as well as the limited fire-arms training that she and Casey had given him. Granted, it was still obvious he was uncomfortable with the idea of using guns and taking a life, and had definitely not acted like a fully trained agent would have, but he had given a good account of himself, disabling several the attackers. As much as she loved and adored the Chuck of her memories, she was forced to admit that this new, more confident Chuck was causing reactions the old Chuck hadn't at this same point in time. He reminded her of the later Chuck, the one who had downloaded the Intersect 2.0 and had grown into his role as an agent.
And of course, after it was all over, she had allowed Chuck to view the file with his name on it; this time doing it while they were still at Stanford, and with Casey's knowledge. And that was the reason for Chuck's quiet mood since leaving Stanford. Sarah knew what Chuck was going through, from the shock of finding out that he was to be recruited into the CIA while at Stanford, to the confirmation that it was indeed Bryce's fault he was expelled, and Bryce's so-called explanation as to why he was doing it. Taking one hand off the steering wheel, she reached over and took Chuck's hand in hers.
"Talk to me Chuck." Sarah said softly. Chuck turned to look at her and smiled sadly.
"It's a lot to take in." he said after a moment. "For years I wondered why Bryce had lied and gotten me kicked out of Stanford, and why Professor Fleming seemed to go along with it. Now to find out that I was a potential CIA recruit and Bryce did it to keep me from being recruited? On the one hand, it's a relief to finally know. On the other, it makes me angry." Sarah looked at him in surprised; she hadn't expected that reaction. In the previous timeline, Chuck had almost instantaneously forgiven both Bryce and Fleming for what happened.
"Why angry?" she asked.
"It's hard to explain." Chuck replied. "I doubt I would have taken Fleming up on the offer of recruitment at that time – it wasn't the way I was wired. Even with my martial arts training and the lessons that Master Kearse had imparted to me about the need to sometimes fight, I was still pretty much as I had been when my parents left – a bit too naïve, to trusting and definitely not a fan of confrontation. But damn it, it should have been MY decision to make. Not Bryce's. Not Fleming's. His heart may – though I'm not so sure I buy the excuse he gave on the tape – have been in the right place, but Bryce had no right to make that decision for me. And even if I believed what he said, it sure as hell didn't give him the right to almost ruin my life to prevent it. If the appeals board hadn't agreed to re-look at my case and ruled in my favor, I shudder to think where my life would have been when you found me."
"What do you mean about not being sure about Bryce's reasoning on the tape?" Sarah asked, surprised again. Last time around, Chuck had believed it whole heartedly. Hell, she had believed it – and, she realized, she still did. Was she missing something?
"Again, it's nothing concrete I can explain." Chuck answered. "And it's entirely possible I'm being paranoid or just becoming jaded thanks to my work with Burbank Investigative Services – too many cases involving cheating spouse, embezzlement, etc. But looking back on things, there were hints that something was, I don't know, off about Bryce and more importantly, our friendship. Bryce as always really competitive, with everyone, but the last year before I was expelled, it was like his competitiveness went into overdrive where I was concerned. At the time I didn't think much of it, but now? I can't help but wonder if he had suspicions or knew about Fleming's plan to recruit me before he intercepted that phone message. And I can't help but wonder if at least part of his reason for taking the choice away from me was because he was afraid I'd upstage him somehow. I mean, think about it. Based on what you've told me, what's in the Intersect, and the video, its obvious Bryce was recruited fairly early on at Stanford. In fact, his records show he was one of the youngest to be recruited. And his scores on Fleming's subliminal messaging tests were higher than anyone's, at least until mine came along."
Sarah had to prevent her jaw from dropping open. Hearing Chuck reason his way through it, she wanted to mentally kick herself for not seeing it sooner. It was entirely possible he was right – or rather, that Bryce's wanting to save Chuck from the CIA life was only a part of the reason he did what he did. She was still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that there was at least some truth to the excuse he had given both in the previous time line and this one.
"Don't get me wrong." Chuck continued. "I'm still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, to a degree. I don't think it was all some Machiavellian plot to eliminate a potential rival – and frankly, I don't honestly believe at that point I was really that much of a rival to him, despite my test scores in Fleming's class. I'd like to think that there was some genuine feelings of concern for my well-being physically and emotionally involved."
Sarah smiled as she listed to Chuck reiterate her own thoughts on the subject. No, this Chuck might be more mature, more worldly then the Chuck in the old timeline at this point, but he definitely still retained much of the same qualities that had attracted her to him in the first place. He was just more, temporized would be the best word, than before. And it was driving her crazy in a way she hadn't expected.
"Dear God I don't know how much longer I can hold out before jumping him." Sarah thought to herself.
Carmichael Security Services (aka Castle)
Los Angeles, CA
November 9, 2007
"Excellent work, team." General Beckman said the next morning as they had debriefed her about the events at Stanford. "Especially you, Chuck. Both Agent Walker and Agent Casey had nothing but praise for your behavior and performance on this mission, although that shouldn't be a surprise by now."
"So you're not going to chew me out for putting myself in danger during the firefight?" Chuck asked, grinning slightly. "Who are you and what have you done with General Beckman?" Sarah stifled a laugh at Chuck's remarks and her look of surprise when she saw Beckman give Chuck a genuine smile in return. Next to her, Casey muttered something that she couldn't quite make out, but knowing him, it was probably some sort of groan at Chuck's unprofessionalism, though she knew it would only be a reflex reaction his part. Like Chuck, the Casey of this timeline was already significantly different at this point in time than in the other timeline.
"No Chuck." Beckman said. "Oh don't get me wrong, I did cringe inwardly when I first heard what happened – there's no doubt that you could have been killed or seriously hurt – but given the circumstances and the outcome, as well as your performance over the last few weeks, I believe that I might have been a bit too harsh at first about your tendency to go where angels fear to tread. And frankly, the revelations from the files that you retrieved from Fleming show that you were meant to house the Intersect all along. Project Omaha was the original code name for the Intersect project. It was discontinued after several candidates were unable to handle even a fraction of the Intersect data being uploaded and it was learned that the candidate that was considered as likely the best to house it had been expelled. I can kill Larkin for what he did, if he wasn't dead already. If he hadn't interfered, it's entirely possible we'd have been able to bring Fulcrum down a long time ago with your help. Although I shudder to think what that bastard Graham would have used you to do as well."
"Thank you General." Chuck said.
"Now on to other matters." Beckman said, typing at her keyboard. "I've just sent you an encrypted file with the name and full dossier on the agent I propose adding to the team. Please decrypt it and review everything and let me know if the Intersect pings on anything of concern. We will reconvene this afternoon at 1500 to discuss matters. If everything is clear, the new agent will arrive on Monday." A moment later, the screen went black as Beckman hung up.
"Well one thing has stayed the same," Sarah thought, amused. "When Beckman is finished with you, she doesn't waste time with pleasantries before hanging up." Casey was already moving to the computer console and downloading and unencrypting the file. A moment later he had finished, bringing it up on the monitor. Sarah smiled – she had guessed right. Staring back at them was the picture and dossier of Carina Miller. To her surprise, next to her Chuck showed the tell-tale sign of a flash, which confused her. She knew that Chuck had flashed on Carina back during the Peyman Ali mission, and between that and what she had told him since (which was more this time around then last time) she had thought he had flashed on all the relevant information about her in the Intersect. "Apparently not." Then she saw the details of Carina's proposed cover at the bottom of the screen and laughed out loud. Casey, who had already known the Carina was going to be the agent Beckman added to the team, looked confused until he read the same line. Beckman had NOT told him about this.
"Oh hell!" he exclaimed, then in an uncharacteristic manner, looked to the sky and said, almost as though he was talking to God, "What did I do to deserve this!"
Sarah Walker's Hotel Room
Los Angeles, CA
November 9, 2007
Sarah sighed as she relaxed in the steaming water of her tub and took a sip from the wine glass that was sitting on the edge. It had been a long but amusing day. After the revelation that Carina would be joining the team, and that her cover would be that of Casey's new girlfriend, she and Chuck had spent the day alternating between teasing Casey and trying to calm him down. To say he wasn't happy with the situation was an understatement.
"Not that I can blame him, after what happened in Prague." Sarah thought, disgustedly. Even in the old timeline, Carina's games had annoyed Sarah; this time around they had bothered her even more, given her knowledge of how it had hurt Casey and given that she had come to respect him and consider him a friend. So she had taken the opportunity to intervene, albeit not soon enough to completely spare Casey the embarrassment of being played by Carina in Prague, and retrieved the photos Carina had taken and gotten Casey freed from the handcuffs before he had been reported overdue.
Since then, she had tried to help Carina mature a little more, with mixed results. While not quite as impulsive and flirtatious as she was in the previous time line, she was still much the same as she had been before. This was made even more abundantly clear from the flash that Chuck had experienced in Castle earlier in the day, which concerned a couple of quasi-professional/personal antics that Sarah had not known about. Needless the say, Sarah was a little more than apprehensive about Carina joining the team. On the one hand, she knew without a doubt that Carina could be trusted and in many ways would be an asset to the operation. On the other, her past history with Casey and her wild tendencies could make things awkward for a while. "Oh well, at least this time she won't be trying to get into Chuck's pants."
THAT thought caused Sarah to flush, remembering the Peyman Ali mission. Like in the other timeline, Carina had attempted to seduce Chuck, and like last time he shot her down cold. Which of course had initially just made Carina more interested. But after some discreet "best friend girl talk" over a set of secure burner phones the two former partners used to keep in touch, Sarah had been able to get across to Carina why it would be a bad idea to continue pursuing Chuck. Mainly that to do so would be to invite the wrath of Sarah and her knives. And of course, Beckman's decision a little over a week ago to change the parameters of Chuck's relationship vis-à-vis the NSA and the official sanctioning of a relationship with Sarah, the nail had been put in the coffin of any hopes Carina had.
"Congratulations, blondie." Carina had texted her. "You're one luck bitch, I hope you know that. No man has ever been able to resist me like he did. He must really love you."
Sarah felt a flood of warmth, warmth that had nothing to do with the hot water she was soaking in, move through her as she thought about that. She recognized it immediately as something that was intimately familiar to her from the last time line and this one as well. It had happened almost a dozen times a day after she had met Chuck and fallen for him, even when she had been resisting it – intense love coupled with unbelievable desire. And it was only worse now because she knew from her memories just how powerful and wonderful it would be when they finally gave into their desires.
It had almost happened tonight, as a matter of fact. After the meeting with Beckman at 1500, the couple had decided to go out to dinner, followed by a long walk on what had become "their beach." Eventually they had found themselves sitting in the sand, engaged in one of the most intense make out sessions they had had in this timeline, and if Sarah was honest with herself, it even rivaled most of the ones she remembered from the previous one. Only the fact that they were technically in public, albeit on a deserted beach at night, and Chuck's stated determination that a) he didn't want their first time to be some hurried affair on a beach, but rather something more special and b) that he thought they should wait just a little while longer, had stopped her from forcing herself on him right then and there.
And so now, here she was, sitting in this tub, completely on fire now as she remembered their encounter on the beach. "Oh well, I guess I can settle for taking care of things myself for just a little while longer." She thought, as her right hand began to slowly caress down her body, before disappearing under the water. Moments later, all ability to continue any kind of coherent thoughts had vanished.