Author's Note: Here's the latest chapter of the story. Hopefully this chapter will answer some of the questions that several reviewers had asked in their comments. Once again, I want to extend my thanks to Cloud Zen, whose help on this chapter (as well as previous ones, has been invaluable).
Los Angeles, CA
September 19, 2007
"Hey, Ellie, Devon," Chuck greeted them as he entered the apartment they all shared. His sister and her boyfriend were seated on the couch, watching television. Both were still wearing their surgical scrubs, indicating that they had not been home long.
"Hey, Chuckster," Devon responded, not moving from his spot.
Ellie looked up from her seat and asked, "How was work?"
"Interesting," Chuck responded, grinning slightly.
"Oh? And why do you look like the cat that caught the canary?" Ellie inquired.
"I had an interesting meeting today. New client came in. Turns out it was someone I knew, sort of." he replied.
"What do you mean 'sort of'?"
"Uh, it means I've known her for a while, just not in the way you're thinking," Chuck explained. "I've only ever talked to her online."
"One of your gaming pals?" Devon asked.
"Yes…and no. Yes, she's one of the people I meet up with to game online but that's not all." Chuck paused, knowing he was about to cause an eruption. "It was Princess."
At Chuck's statement, both Devon and Ellie exchanged glances. They were aware of the long-standing online friendship that Chuck had with PrincessSLB1982, Chuck had not been shy in talking about her. Both had had mixed feelings over the relationship, albeit for different reasons. Devon had always been worried about Chuck choosing to interact with Princess instead of real people while Ellie had found her own advice ignored in favor of the words of someone she'd never met. Eventually, Devon and Ellie were able to admit that much of the credit for Chuck being able to get past what happened at Stanford had been because of the support given to him from his online friend. For that, both were thankful.
"So? What's she like? Why was she there?" Ellie asked, jumping up and launching into what was a typical interrogation for her.
"She's incredible," Chuck said wistfully. "I've told you about how smart she is and her computer skills, of course, but you know we've never exchanged so much as a picture. So, when I first saw her, not that I knew it was her, it was like getting hit by a freight train." He looked up and away, getting lost in a daydream remembering that first moment. "She's gorgeous."
"Way to go, Chuck," Devon offered with a wide grin, much to Ellie's amusement.
Refocusing on his sister, Chuck continued, "Anyway, she just moved here from D.C. She needs help locating a missing friend. Apparently, another of our clients pointed her in our direction. The boss thought most of the work was going to be cyber, so he brought her to see me. I was getting the basic information I needed which included her e-mail address. Imagine my surprise when she said her e-mail handle was Princess's."
"Impressive coincidence, bro," Devon said.
"Yeah, once I heard that, I asked her about it and told her who I was. She was clearly as excited to meet me as I was her. We talked over her case and caught up a little," Chuck smiled, "and then I asked her to dinner."
Ellie let out a squeal of delight, bouncing in excitement. One of the things that concerned her about her brother was his lack of a love life. Maybe, now that he had met the girl he'd been pining after for the last several years, that would change.
"That's great, Chuck!" she said. "I knew you had it in you! Where are you taking her?"
"I plan on taking her to Broken." He said. "I'm supposed to pick her up at seven tonight so I'm gonna hit the showers and get changed."
Forty-five minutes later, a freshly showered and shaved Chuck stepped out of the apartment and headed towards his car. It had taken recruiting Devon to keep Ellie from picking out Chuck's clothes for him.
"Chuck, wait!" Ellie called from the apartment. Chuck turned to see Ellie coming towards him with some flowers that had been left over from his birthday party. "Give her these. She'll love them."
"Thanks, sis," Chuck said, taking them from her.
"You've got this, little brother." Ellie offered with a relieved and encouraging smile. "You're aces, Charles, aces."
Outside Sarah Walker's Hotel Room
Los Angeles, CA
September 19, 2007
Chuck raised his hand to knock on the door, and then hesitated, taking a moment to compose himself. The constant encouragement and prodding from both his sister and PrincessSLB1982, whom he now knew as Sarah Walker, over the years had helped with his social awkwardness. Some remained but he could mostly control his tendency to ramble in his nervousness.
He had gone on a number of dates in college and afterwards. Sometimes it was due to his own initiative, other times it was thanks to intervention from his fraternity brothers on behalf of some girl. Even Ellie had gotten in on the "Find Chuck a girlfriend" action. There had even been a few girls he'd started to get serious with only for something to go wrong. He did his best to end things amicably with them but hard feelings were difficult to avoid. Chuck didn't like leaving a trail of broken hearts behind him. It was a testament to the kind of person he was that only one ex-girlfriend felt truly jilted.
Part of his difficulty in dating he laid at the feet of Princess, Sarah. It wasn't anything she did but simply the fact that she existed. Her handle gave away that she was a girl but their decade of conversations made her more than a friend. Consequently, every young woman he encountered was compared to Sarah and Ellie and their infinite patience and never ending encouragement.
None ever quite measured up, though a few were close.
He'd never planned on actually getting a chance to meet Princess. She had always been an ethereal entity, an abstract concept. The idea that a mere door separated him from one of the two most influential women in his life, and that he was about to go on a date of all things with her, brought back that childhood nervousness.
"Okay, Chuck," he muttered to himself. "Don't freak out. You can do this."
Finally getting control of his nerves, he knocked on the door.
On the other side of the door, Sarah was staring at her laptop. On the screen was a window, showing a live broadcast of the hallway outside her room. Being able to set up such things without technical support from another operative was a pleasant consequence of her new friendships back at James Buchanan. They taught her enough to get started; the CIA and self-study did the rest.
Watching Chuck confidently walk up to her door had been worrisome. Seeing him pause and psych himself up, mumbling something that her microphones struggled to pick up, caused a smile to break out on her face. It was nice to know that despite his increased confidence and social skills, deep down he was still the same Chuck. His hesitation also gave her a chance to center herself. Ten years had gone into preparing for their first date. Try as she might to control herself, anxiousness crept in.
There was also the issue of breaking the news about her job and why she was here. She knew from past experience that being upfront and honest with Chuck would be critical. Her inability to do so in the past had cost them so much time and brought so much heartache. It might be their fourth or fifth first date, depending on how she counted, but it would be their first to Chuck and she needed to establish a foundation of trust so they could avoid repeating all of the old drama.
She had resolved to tell him about her job and the Intersect before the night was out. The only question was when and how to do it during the night. Part of her wanted to get it over with as soon as he showed up but she had thought better of it. She intended to have a pleasant evening first, then take him to their spot on the beach (not that he would know his spot was their spot) and explain it to him.
"I just hope it doesn't destroy any possibility of us," Sarah thought. Her greatest fear was that no matter how she told him, it would push him away. Even though her guardian angel had told her that things would work out, she couldn't help being nervous. She'd been told that things were in her hands, that she could influence the when and how. Yet, delaying things further due to messing things up was too painful to contemplate.
The one item she would not, and could not, tell Chuck was the truth about her knowledge of the other timeline. Her guardian angel had been adamant about that. It was too dangerous for anyone else to have that knowledge, at least for the time being. As a result, Sarah had reluctantly promised not to reveal that secret until much later. She wondered if her guardian had intended to delay the matter until it was no longer important enough to bother mentioning. Sarah had tried similar tactics with various marks in the past, relying on people's tendency to forget details and questions with time and distance. It was sneaky to try to use her own tactics against her but it was a valid strategy to attempt.
A knock at her door drew her out of her thoughts. Closing the laptop, she checked her appearance one last time before approaching the door. Out of habit, she grabbed her gun. Even knowing Chuck still had an aversion to them, considering how every other "first" date of theirs ended, she wasn't going to go without.
A quick check through the peephole caused her heart to skip a beat. Seeing him on a video monitor was one thing. Seeing him with her own eyes, refracted through glass as it may have been, was another.
Taking one last breath to center herself, Sarah donned a smile and opened the door.
"Hi Chuck," she said shyly. Only some of her tone was acting.
"Hi Sarah," he responded. "This is a nice hotel."
"It's ok," Sarah commented. "I'm looking forward to when I can find a place to call home."
Chuck quirked an eyebrow slightly at this statement. There was something in the tone of Sarah's voice that seemed to indicate something much deeper in her statement then merely finding an apartment or a house.
"Yeah, I know what you mean," he said. Unsure of whatever hidden meaning she might have had, Chuck continued nervously. "I'm still living with Ellie and her boyfriend at the moment. You know about my problems with Stanford that forced me to move back in with her. Even though everything was straightened out, Ellie hasn't so much as hinted she wants me to move on. As for me, I just haven't found the right place yet, though I haven't looked especially hard."
"Well, you and Ellie have been there for each other through thick and thin. I can understand her not being in a rush to change that." Chuck smiled at Sarah's understanding. She'd been the one person, other than Morgan, that didn't find it weird how close the Bartowski siblings were.
"Anyway, I'm going to be sticking around for a while," Sarah said. "I'd be happy for any help in finding a place since you've probably done at least some apartment hunting already. I'm guessing you know where the good places are and where to avoid, given your job."
"I just might." Chuck replied, a small smile on his lips. "Anyway, are you ready to go? Our reservations are for 7:45. With traffic the way it is, we should probably get going."
Nodding and locking the door behind her, Sarah had to resist the instinctual urge to take his hand. "I have to pace myself. Come on too strong and I'll scare him away." It was her second time through the most important night of her life. Unfortunately she was the only one who saw it that way.
Broken Spanish Mexican Restaurant
Los Angeles, CA
September 19, 2007
"Dinner was wonderful," Sarah said as the waitress handed Chuck his credit card back. She had been pleasantly surprised when they ended up at the same restaurant as their "first" first date. Knowing what she did after years of working together and even a couple of marriage, she realized how much that first date must have meant to him.
Given his old Nerd Herd wages, Chuck had spent a miniature fortune on their date. He'd worn the nicest clothes he had short of a suit, chosen with the assistance of Ellie, Sarah had later learned. He'd acted like two days wages spent on food, drinks and the bar where their date went to hell was nothing because the time was spent with her. Sarah hadn't given it a second thought in her first life but knowing better now she felt guilty for how hard he'd tried and how her job had first been to investigate and kill him if necessary.
"We're not quite done yet," Chuck replied, smiling. "Do you feel like some music?"
Sarah had to hide her knowing smile. The first time he asked her that question, she knew next to nothing about music. She never went out of her way to avoid it but it was never important enough for her to pay attention to. Even the flute she used to carry around at James Buchanan was little more than a prop.
Her Chuck had spent years introducing her to music, helping her find her own tastes and learning to appreciate other styles. Knowing how much he loved it, she'd spent a significant portion of her new life continuing that growth. It was as much for him as it was for her.
Laughing, Sarah wrapped herself around one of his arms as they left the restaurant. "As much as I'd enjoy that, I have something else in mind."
Feeling Chuck tense, she relaxed. He was still her Chuck in so many ways, even his tendency to get nervous and freeze up when confronted with a forward woman. He'd eventually grown to where the freeze ups were less frequent and for shorter periods but they still happened even up to the last day she saw him.
"Nothing like that, Chuck," Sarah laughed as she playfully swatted at him. "No matter how much I would enjoy it."
"Ah, well," Chuck stammered, "in that case, what were you thinking?"
"How about a walk on the beach?"
Chuck took a moment to think before remembering one key factor. The woman on his arm was Princess. She knew just about everything about him, laughed at his jokes, even the ones he knew were stupid, and seemed to be enjoying their date as much as he was.
He'd often told her in their online chats about his special place. "Maybe it's time she gets to see it for herself."
Playa Del Raya Beach
Los Angeles, CA
September 19, 2007
Sarah had broken out into a massive smile when Chuck had pulled up to their spot. Knowing how much the place meant to him in both lives, she couldn't help but be excited that he was sharing it with her once more. If she had her way, it wouldn't be long before it was once again their spot, not just his spot.
They had spent a half hour walking up and down the beach, gazing at the stars, and the low hanging moon's reflection in the ocean. It would be a few more hours before his father's namesake rose in the east, though Chuck had yet to learn about that detail of his family's past.
Despite her place as one of the CIA's best, she had been unable to do anything about the situation Chuck's parents found themselves in. Alexi Volkoff was too powerful and Mary too entrenched by the time Sarah had a say in her assignments and Stephen could put on the definitive master class on hiding in an increasingly digital world.
Sarah let out a slight breath as she prepared herself for the moment she had been dreading all night. Her early arrival meant Casey wasn't in position yet so she could control Chuck's first exposure to the darker side of life.
Somewhere during the night, she had gone from holding onto his arm to holding his hand. Chuck had blushed slightly but her action had brought the smile to his face that she had longed to see again after all these years.
After finding their way back to his car, the duo had sat down as close to the water as they could without getting wet.
"Chuck, there's something I need to tell you," Sarah began, "but I'm nervous and afraid."
"Why would you be afraid?" Chuck asked. "Whatever it is, you can tell me."
"Here we go." She thought to herself, and then began speaking.
"Before I get to what I need to tell you, I need to start out by saying that you've always been one of my best friends. I loved all the talks we've had and, to be honest, somewhere along the way I began wondering what it would be when we met." Sarah confessed.
"You say that as if you knew we would meet."
She smiled. "It might have taken longer than I wanted but I always knew it would happen. I just didn't think it would be under these circumstances."
Chuck furrowed his brow at her statement. "What do you mean? What circumstances?"
Taking a deep breath, Sarah said, "Chuck, I'm afraid I wasn't honest with you earlier today about why I was in Los Angeles, and why I came into your office. The friend I asked you to find doesn't exist. It was all a ruse so that I could get close to the person who received an e-mail he never should have been sent." Seeing Chuck's understandable confusion, she continued.
"My bosses have no idea that you and I have known each other for years. If they did, well, I wouldn't be here. When I was given a file on you and realized who you were and that you were the subject of an investigation, I had to make sure no one else got to you first."
Chuck was clearly unnerved. "You're starting to scare me here, Sarah."
Sarah, realizing she was starting to ramble, a habit she'd picked up from her nerd, took another deep breath. "I promise I don't mean to, but, because of the actions of someone else, you've been drug into a world that even working for a private investigator you have no idea how deep the rabbit hole goes." Thinking about what she had just said, Sarah chuckled. She and Chuck had many debates about things like lines from movies. Sarah generally liked to think of the literary source as the best when possible but her nerd always preferred the comic or movie version.
"Does this have anything to do with that crazy e-mail I got from Bryce? The one with all the pictures?"
She couldn't help but smile. Her Chuck was undeniably intelligent and quick witted. It had taken a long time for it to come out before, but it had always been there. She knew there was no way he would miss the obvious connection given her clues. It was actually refreshing to see it so much earlier without all of the extra trials.
Deciding to stop her stalling, she took the plunge. "You were sent an e-mail by a rogue intelligence officer of the CIA."
"Wait, are you trying to tell me Bryce, Bryce Larkin from Connecticut, is a spy?" Chuck's disbelief was palpable.
Sarah nodded. "I am. Chuck, I'm a CIA agent." She saw him freeze at her confession. Knowing what was likely going through his mind, she stated, "No, I'm not making this up and I can and will prove it later." At Chuck's slow nod, she pressed on.
"The reason I'm here is because Bryce stole some very important data and e-mailed it to his former college roommate, you. I was given the name of the said roommate, and the name of the place he worked. There was just enough background information for me to realize that you were Han, my best friend. As far as my orders, I was to go in undercover, find out if you still had the data and whether or not you were partners with Bryce, something I know would happen sometime after hell froze over given what he did to you."
She might be exaggerating things with Bryce, considering how forgiving a person Chuck could be. However, Sarah knew the whole truth about what had happened between the two former best friends. Because of that, she would have a much more difficult time forgiving her former partner even if the two men reconciled this time around. Regardless of her own feelings, she couldn't go without setting the stage for the two friends to reunite and patch things up.
"The CIA doesn't know why Bryce stole what he did or why he sent it to you. It's possible he was trying to do his job and protect the country or he could have been turned. Regardless, he had his reasons. Maybe we'll learn what they were, maybe we won't. What I do know it that I wasn't about to let the Company treat you like a potential terrorist."
Chuck's eyes widened. "Terrorist? What? Just because Bryce sent me an e-mail?"
"It's because of what was in that e-mail," Sarah explained. Gently, she touched Chuck on the cheek, simultaneously calming him and forcing him to meet her gaze. "You are a good and decent man, Chuck. I've known that for years. You don't deserve what happened to you and you certainly don't deserve what the CIA would like me to do to you." Seeing him begin to panic again, she hurriedly continued. "No, no bunker, no hole in the ground. Nothing like that."
Sarah looked down at the sand, afraid to meet Chuck's eyes. He deserved to know. She knew he could handle it, handle her past, but even the slightest chance of scaring him away ate at her like a pit in her stomach.
"Chuck, I'm very good at what I do. Many would call me the best but that's dangerous thinking. I know you know that there are bad people out there. Sometimes I help find them, sometimes I help expose them. Other times, I'm the one called in to deal with the worst of the worst," she hesitated, "permanently."
He remained silent at her explanation. When he didn't respond, she pushed onward. "One of the things I'm best at is getting close to people and convincing them to tell me things they'd never tell anyone. The reason I'm considered one of the best is because I can trick them into revealing critical information without even realizing they're doing it. My bosses wanted me to turn that skill on you, my best friend, something I could never do and still live with myself."
"Ok." Chuck said. "So what is this data that Bryce is supposed to have sent me?"
Sarah looked up sharply, her mouth agape. She'd been prepared for many things, fear, confusion, even anger. She knew her nerd. What she hadn't prepared for was complete acceptance. She had replayed this scenario many times over the last few years and had prepared herself for every possible scenario, every scenario except this one.
"Chuck...don't you have anything to say about what I told you about me?" Sarah asked. Chuck smiled nervously.
"Trust me Sarah; I have a lot to say." Chuck said his unease obvious in both his body language and his voice. "But I think before we get to that, and what it means for our situation, I need to know what the hell Bryce sent me or can you even tell me if it's some big government secret?"
Relief flooded Sarah's being. The hardest part, in her mind, was over. She knew they still had a lot to talk about, something she was much better at than before, but the fact that they would have that conversation meant she hadn't wasted a decade on a fleeting dream.
"Whether I'm supposed to tell you or not," she answered, "you both deserve and need to know. After 9/11 the CIA and NSA, and the FBI, DEA, DIA, everyone in the Intelligence Community really, were ordered to place nice with each other and share intelligence they gathered. There were lots of separate pieces of intelligence that if any one person had access to them all they might have been able to stop the attacks," Sarah explained. Chuck nodded in understanding.
"To facilitate things, they built something called the Intersect." Before Sarah could explain further, she noticed Chuck begin the telltale sign of a major flash. She'd seen countless flashes and even experienced some herself but this flash was much longer than she had ever heard of. The only thing she could think of that could have triggered one was her naming the Intersect but Chuck had never flashed on the word in the past. Seconds dragged into minutes. Finally, after what seemed like eternity, Chuck came out of the flash.
"Ow! That hurt!" Chuck exclaimed, grabbing his head. After a few moments of rubbing his temples while Sarah rubbed his back, he collected himself and looked up at Sarah, his eyes wide. "That's incredible! I saw the whole thing in my mind. Everything about the Intersect. That's what Bryce stole. And sent to me. And since I opened the e-mail and saw everything, that means...the Intersect is now...in me."
Chuck looked out over the ocean. Sarah sat with him, letting him process everything in his own way. Just above the waves gently rolling in, she heard him mutter something to himself, something that made her smile.
"Don't freak out."