A/N: I know A/U stories aren't everyone's cup of tea. This one will be completely A/U. No spies, no lies, just plenty of Charah. You asked for Charah, you're getting Charah!
Chuck is a former US Navy medic who leaves the service after being severely wounded in Afghanistan. Sarah is a former supermodel trying to turn her life around from a tabloid smudged past. As in canon, it's a story of two broken people who form a bond, and look out world! Yeah, it will be as fluffy as it sounds. Consider this story my attempt to conquer a fear about writing fluff. Having said that…remember, I like a good plot twist or two, so don't get TOO comfy.
I would like to thank charahkids for tirelessly serving as my Beta reader. Charahkids offered a wealth of suggestions, and kept me honest during the edit phase. My sincere thanks to charahkids!
Chapters 1 and 2 will be posted at the same time as a double-feature. Considering Chuck is a Navy Veteran in this A/U, I felt it befitting to begin the story on Veteran's Day. To all who served, thank you.
It is my sincere hope this story is enjoyable.
Disclaimer: I don't own the rights to Chuck. Not my pond, I just swim in it!
Chapter 1: Sea Change
Camp Leatherneck, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, November 2009
"Ow! Jesus Christ, Doc! What the hell did you inject me with, a fucking ice pick?" Bellowed Sergeant Jonathan Cassidy.
Chuck sighed heavily, after removing the needle from Cassidy. "Look, Sergeant. If you don't want a tetanus shot every time you step on a rusty nail, start wearing your boots out here in 'the suck.' It's bad enough controlling ringworm and sand mites."
Cassidy pulled up his trousers, rubbing the injection site with his hand. "Sorry, Doc. That's the pain talking."
Chuck grinned. "I thought Marines were immune to pain?"
Cassidy winced. "Not this Marine. I can whine like a little girl under the right circumstances. Doc, no offense, but that shit feels like cold cement."
Chuck slid off his latex gloves, and tossed them in a nearby trash can. "I'm sorry about that. We have to keep penicillin cold. Just keep rubbing the injection site. That should help with the muscle. You'll be sore, but not as sore if you rub it in, and walk around for a little while."
Cassidy nodded in understanding. "Thanks, Doc."
Chuck smiled. "You're welcome, Sergeant Cassidy. Come back before you hit the rack so I can change the dressing on your foot."
Cassidy left the Connex box, shaking his head with a smile.
Chuck sighed heavily. This was his third combat deployment since enlisting in the Navy in 2003. He was accustomed to serving on deployment, but he still missed his sister and brother-in-law.
Chuck glanced at his clock, and panicked. "Oh, geez. Ellie is gonna kill me!"
Chuck bolted from the Connex box, currently used as Bravo Company's medical facility. Well, more like a "band-aid hut in a box" as Chuck affectionately called it. At least it had an Air Conditioner, unlike the Connex box used in Iraq in 2005.
Chuck lowered his eyes, and swallowed the lump in his throat. Fallujah was his second, but worst deployment. He lost five Marines, and watched two of them die in his arms as he desperately tried to revive them. For his efforts, Chuck was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with "V," but he didn't even want a medal. It was his job to render life-saving medical aid to Marines. His Company Commander saw things differently. Chuck exposed himself to enemy fire, and pulled one badly injured Marine from a rooftop.
Chuck didn't even notice the shrapnel from a stray enemy round embedded in his shoulder, which earned him a Purple Heart. Chuck considered the wound only a scratch, but the DOD doesn't categorize "wounds received in combat."
Chuck took a seat on a small box he used as a chair, and activated the video chat program on his laptop. Ellie's smiling face materialized. He knew it was early back home, but Ellie insisted on video chatting at least once a week.
Chuck narrowed his eyes at his sister's appearance. "Hey, El. I take it you just got off your shift?"
"My shift ended six hours ago. We had a multiple car pile-up on the 405." Ellie cast her eyes away after the statement.
Chuck softened his tone. "Bad?"
Ellie nodded. "Yeah. No matter how long I practice medicine, I will never get accustomed to watching a child fight for their life."
Chuck nodded in understanding. He had treated countless Iraqi and Afghan children. His heart shattered at the cost of war on civilians, especially children.
"I'm sorry, El." Chuck smiled sadly at his sister.
Ellie stared her brother in the eyes. "I miss you, Chuck. Is your unit still coming home next month?"
Chuck nodded. "I should be home in time for Christmas."
Ellie smiled. "Good. I can't wait to see you, little brother."
Chuck's eyes moistened. "I can't wait to see you too, sis. How's Awesome?"
Ellie wiped away a stray tear. "Still awesome." Ellie chuckled at her attempt at humor.
Chuck grinned. "Careful, El. Keep cracking jokes, and you might develop a sense of humor."
Ellie smirked. "Smartass. I'll have you know I have a great sense of humor."
Chuck laughed at the statement. He was about to respond, when a Marine from his company, Corporal Chad Davis, hurriedly poked his head in. "Doc, we gotta move."
Chuck spoke quickly. "Gotta go. Love you, sis."
Ellie nodded with a look of concern. "Love you too, Chuck. Be careful."
Chuck disconnected the feed, and donned his equipment. Bravo Company, Second Platoon was on QRF duty, and he was the Corpsman on-call.
Two Corpsmen presented themselves outside Chuck's tent. They would help man the triage if any casualties were in-bound from the action.
Chuck, as a Leading Petty Officer, was responsible for managing other junior Corpsmen while on watch.
Chuck spoke with authority to the Corpsmen. "Foster, Adams, maintain contact with the helo if we have to do a CASEVAC. Assess, and be ready. Who's the surgeon on duty?"
Hospital Corpsman Second Class Foster spoke for the men. "Commander Stacey."
Chuck nodded. "Good. Adams, after Foster receives instructions from me, I want you to personally brief Commander Stacey. Is that clear?"
Hospital Corpsman Seaman Adams nodded quickly. "Yes, Petty Officer."
Chuck pat both Sailors on the shoulder. "Stay frosty."
Foster put a friendly arm on Chuck's shoulder. "Watch your ass, Chuck."
Chuck winked, and ran toward the departing convoy of Humvees.
6 Hours Later, Echo Park, California
Ellie dropped the telephone in her hands, and let out a hysterical cry. Devon, standing close-by, caught Ellie as she collapsed to her knees.
Ellie latched on to Devon, crying into his shoulder. Devon picked up the telephone. "I'm sorry, my wife is a little upset."
The caller, a civilian representative with Navy Casualty Assistance, replied sympathetically. "I understand. Is this Mr. Woodcomb?"
Devon nodded. "Yes."
The representative spoke calmly. "Mr. Woodcomb, as I explained to Mrs. Woodcomb, Petty Officer Bartowski is alive, but he is in critical condition."
Devon closed his eyes. "Ma'am, Ellie and I are both doctors. Do you know his prognosis?"
"I'm sorry, Dr. Woodcomb. The latest news I have on Petty Officer Bartowski, is he was airlifted to Germany after he was stable enough to move. What I can tell you, he was severely wounded, but he is alive. That's the important thing."
Devon bit his lip as tears streamed down his face. "Is there anything we can do?'
The representative spoke reassuringly. "I will update you as soon as I can. I have been informed once Petty Officer Bartowski is stable enough to return stateside, he will be flown to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington. Once he is stateside, you and Mrs. Woodcomb will be provided transportation to visit Petty Officer Bartowski."
Devon nodded. "Thank you."
The representative responded politely. "It is my pleasure, Dr. Woodcomb. My name is Ashley Kazinski, and I will walk you both through this from now, until Petty Officer Bartowski arrives at his final hospital destination. I will also give you my direct number. I will keep you apprised of any changing developments, but feel free to call me if you have any questions or concerns."
Ellie whispered in between sobs. "Please don't die, Chuck. Please be okay."
Devon tightened his hold on Ellie, and whispered in her ear. "Chuck will be fine, Ellie. I know he will."
5 Days Later, Walter Reed National Military Hospital, Washington, DC
Devon decided to leave the room, and visit the cafeteria for a cup of coffee. It had been an exhausting 5 days, and neither he, nor Ellie slept much.
The couple finally slept a couple of hours on the long flight from Los Angeles to Washington. They were met at the airport, and driven to Walter Reed.
Devon never wanted to serve in the military, but he couldn't help but feel the compassion displayed by every representative they met, was second to none.
Devon couldn't help but admire the level of honor, respect, and compassion shown to service member's families. One nurse even held Ellie for almost an hour when she first arrived, and cried when she first laid eyes on her unconscious brother, with bandages all over his body.
Chuck underwent three surgeries from the time he was wounded, until now. He was shot five times, three times in his left leg, shattering his femur, and severing his femoral artery. If not for Chuck clamping off the artery off himself, he would have bled to death.
Chuck was also shot in the left hand, and arm. These wounds would heal with no complications.
Chuck's prognosis was good, but the doctors were concerned about Chuck's leg. Had Chuck lived during previous wars, a shattered femur and severed femoral artery would have resulted in amputation. In modern times, multiple surgeries, and physical rehabilitation would lead to recovery. The catch, however, is Chuck would be disabled for the rest of his life.
Chuck's eyes fluttered open, and he immediately winced. His whole body ached. Ellie shot across his body, and kissed her brother on the cheek, hugging him gently.
Chuck's mind was in chaos. He couldn't remember much, except arguing with Gunnery Sergeant Pearce on CASEVACing his four patients before loading him on a helicopter. Chuck lost consciousness when the last patient was on board.
Chuck's natural instincts focused on his sister, now latched on to him, and crying. Chuck spoke in a hoarse voice. "Ellie, are you alright?"
Ellie half laughed, half cried at the question, but took a deep breath before responding. "I am now, little brother. I am now."
New York, November 2009
Sarah Walker had it all. The beautiful, pampered supermodel was considered the biggest catch of the modeling industry. She was a seasoned veteran of both American and European designers. Every major fashion show showcased her as the star model.
On this chilly evening in the Big Apple, Sarah could not stop crying. Last night, she tried to surprise her boyfriend, Cole Barker, while he was shooting his latest action movie in New York. Instead of Sarah surprising Cole, she was in for the surprise.
Sarah arrived at Cole's Manhattan hotel room, and found him in bed with his co-star. This wasn't the first time Sarah caught Cole in bed with one of his co-stars. It happened four times, and each time, Cole would beg Sarah to forgive him, they would sleep together, and he would leave, not to be heard from again for several days. It was a constant cycle of heartache.
This time, Sarah had enough. She had a meltdown, stormed out of the hotel, and screamed, "IT'S OVER!"
Sarah found herself the next evening, in her own hotel room, staring at a news story about Afghanistan. She hadn't really paid much attention to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it really didn't affect her all that much. She was simply looking for a distraction, and the headlines was a place to start.
"In Afghanistan, last night, Marines with the First Marine Division were ambushed in Helmand Province. Two Marines were killed, and four others were injured, along with a US Navy Corpsman, when their convoy was attacked by a large Taliban force. Sources tell us the firefight lasted an hour."
Sarah sighed heavily. She was a pacifist by nature, and hated war. "I wish they would bring those people home."
Sarah was jarred by a knock at her door. She scrambled to the door, and sighed before opening the door. "Hey, Carina."
Carina stepped inside. "Hey, girl. I heard about Cole. I'm sorry."
Sarah returned to her couch. "I can't say I didn't see it coming."
Carina walked to Sarah's bedroom, and returned with a short cocktail dress. "Go take a shower, and get dressed. Zondra and I are taking you out tonight."
Sarah grabbed a pillow, hugging it to her chest. "Carina, I don't feel like going out."
Carina took the television remote from the coffee table. "Come on, Sarah. Cole was a beefcake. There's no denying that."
Carina's smile turned wicked. "But honey, where we are taking you…you'll forget all about Cole."
Sarah threw her hands in the air. "Okay. I'm in."
Carina pushed Sarah to her bedroom. "You won't regret it."
Los Angeles, California, March 2010
"Come on, Sarah. Hold that pose…that's it! That's it! I love it!" Said Max Greenfield, Sarah's photographer for today's shoot.
Sarah tried her best to hold her current pose, but her head still hurt. Clubbing into the wee hours of the morning, then nursing a massive hangover was taking its toll.
Max stopped, and frowned. "Sarah, what's with you today?
Sarah stood upright in her 4" heeled shoes, and sighed. "Sorry, Max. Long night. Maybe it will help if I took five."
"I agree. Drink a bottle of water. That helps." Max said, then handed the camera to his assistant.
Sarah walked to the dressing room, and took a seat in front of the mirror. She stared at herself for several moments before tears welled in her eyes.
On the outside, she looked like a supermodel, with her styled hair, make-up, and designer clothing. On the inside, Sarah felt dirty, and ashamed.
She was tired of her life. She was successful, but she felt anything but successful. The money was great, but the lifestyle was anything but great.
Sarah took a long moment to ponder her life. The partying, one-night stands, paparazzi, and destructive behavior was making her feel more and more inhuman.
Taking a deep breath, Sarah spoke barely above a whisper. "I won't let Cole destroy me. I won't be remembered as a complete and total mess. It has to stop."
With newfound determination, Sarah shed the designer clothing, and put back on her leggings and t-shirt. She stormed out of the dressing room, right into the photographer.
"Max, I quit." Sarah said as she walked right past him.
A stunned Max was right on Sarah's heels. "Sarah…what are you doing? You can't just quit!"
As Sarah reached the elevator, she turned. "I just did."
Minutes later, Sarah's Porsche sped out of the studio in downtown Hollywood. She drove for nearly an hour, until she arrived in a parking lot in Burbank, staring at a vacant Weinerlicious. The hot dog franchise closed recently.
Sarah always dreamed of owning her own business. She started modeling in Sydney as a teenager. She earned numerous scholarships, and decided to attend Harvard in the United States. While at Harvard, she did a few modeling gigs on the side, mostly for a local clothing chain, until she caught the eye of one of the biggest modeling firms in the country. Her life felt like a fairytale, until things recently came crashing down.
The stresses of a busy schedule, pressure to give and look your best took a toll. Many models resorted to substance or alcohol abuse to cope. She never used drugs, but after her break-up with Cole Barker, she joined two of her friends, fellow models Carina Miller and Zondra Rizzo, and partied every night. The trio drank heavily, and partied into the night. Sarah loved dancing, and found the club scene a nice way to escape.
Then things turned destructive. The alcohol, long nights, and one-night stands made Sarah feel dirty, and used. Sarah's conscience was in turmoil.
Sarah noticed newer models receiving most of the attention, and her work load started to decrease. She didn't realize at the time, her party lifestyle was getting a lot of attention. The tabloids turned her into a sensation, and she became "the" party girl of the LA club scene.
And now, staring at a vacant fast food lot, Sarah had an epiphany. It was time to change her life. Her behavior had to stop, and right away.
Sarah was broken from her musings when a blonde middle-aged woman approached her. "Hi…I'm sorry to disturb you…but are you…"
Sarah smiled. "Sarah Walker."
The woman smiled. "Wow. It's an honor."
"Thank you." Sarah said, holding out her hand. "And you are?"
"Oh! I'm so sorry. Alex Forrest. I'm selling the lot. The Weinerlicious just didn't make it."
Sarah shook Alex's hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Alex. How much do you want for the lot?"
Alex furrowed her brow. "You're kidding?"
"Name your price." Sarah said, making eye contact with Alex.
Alex blinked. "Uh…the lot was appraised at $250,000."
Sarah removed a checkbook from her purse. "I'll take it. Will a check do?"
Alex was stunned. "Absolutely."
Sarah wrote out a check while Alex contacted her attorney to prepare the bill of sale and deed. After handing Alex the check, Alex took Sarah inside to inspect the vacant building.
"If you don't mind me asking…what do you have in mind?" Alex asked curious.
"I don't know. Do you have any suggestions?" Sarah asked, leaned on one of the tables.
Alex thought for a moment before responding. "Frozen yogurt. This is a busy shopping center, and there is not a frozen dessert franchise. Lou's Deli put me out of business. Not that I'm mad. I like Lou. Hell, I eat there too. She tried to send some of her customers my way, but people are making healthier choices. Hot dogs aren't very healthy."
That's when an idea popped into Sarah's mind. "That's it. We'll call it the Orange Orange, or Double O. It's catchy, flashy, and people will remember it."
Alex smiled. "I think it will be a hit, Sarah."
Sarah turned. "Alex, if you don't mind me asking…would you like to be my General Manager? I'll work here too, but as an employee."
Alex's eyes widened. "I would love to. But Sarah…this is your franchise."
Sarah sighed. "I'm looking for a fresh start. I want to…blend in. I know people will recognize me, but I want a low profile. I'll be the owner, and you'll be my manager."
Alex nodding. "I think I get it. I'll be glad to help."
"Thank you. By the way, I'm also looking to buy a fitness club. Health and fitness is a hobby of mine. I want to stay busy." Sarah walked around the counter, and began visualizing the interior of her new yogurt franchise.
Alex winked. "I know just the place. The couple that owns it are looking to retire soon. It's not far away."
Sarah smiled. "Thank you, Alex. For everything."
Alex approached, and put a hand on Sarah's arm. "Don't mention it. I'll get started on the permits. And…Sarah…everyone deserves a fresh start. I think we just helped each other today in more ways than one."
Sarah lowered her head. "Thanks."
Sarah walked to the window, folding her arms. "All I know is…it's time to start over."
Echo Park, March 2010
Ellie gently knocked on Chuck's bedroom door, and waited for a reply before going in. Last night was a long night. Chuck went to bed, and woke up around 2AM screaming from a nightmare. Ellie stormed into the room, and Chuck was in a corner of his room, curled in a ball. It took an hour for Chuck to calm down, and return to bed.
Ellie's heart ached for her little brother. Chuck always had a big heart, and went out of his way to help others. Those traits, along with Ellie being a doctor, inspired Chuck to join the Navy after the heartbreak of Stanford, and become a medic.
Ellie noticed the changes in Chuck's normally cheerful personality when he returned home after his first deployment. He didn't want to talk about Iraq, and would leave the room when any news about Iraq aired. After his second deployment, Chuck started having nightmares. He would become very uncomfortable in crowded public spaces, and he even threw a fit about the neighbors leaving their garbage outside their apartment. That's when Ellie realized, piles of garbage is one of the means insurgents used to hide IED's.
Ellie was relieved when the Navy granted Chuck an Honorable Discharge after his last deployment, but she was jarred by the man who now occupied her brother's body. Chuck was withdrawn, and disinterested in the things that brought him joy, such as video games. All the things that made him Chuck, seemed to be gone, or at least, lost inside him. Ellie knew Chuck's wounds crippled him physically, but she now understood the emotional scars left on her brother.
Ellie walked softly into Chuck's room, and found him staring out his window. She took a seat on the edge of his bed, waiting for him to speak. He looked different with his hair growing longer, and the long beard covering his face.
Out of the blue, Chuck started crying. Ellie moved quickly to her brother as he hugged himself. Ellie put a hand gingerly on Chuck's shoulder, and he latched onto her, hugging her arm against his face.
Ellie wrapped her arms around Chuck's head, and hugged him close, her own tears now falling.
Chuck choked out through his sobs. "I…I'm sorry, Ellie….I'm sorry…"
Ellie's reply was soft, and motherly. "You have nothing to be sorry for."
Chuck took a ragged breath, and spoke softly. "I can't ask you to live like this…it's not fair to you and Devon to put up with me."
Ellie lowered herself, and took Chuck's face in her hands. "Sweetie, you are not a burden on us. You are going to get through this, and I am going to be right here beside you. Chuck…we are all we have, and you are staying right here."
Ellie smiled. "I can't tell you how glad I am that you're home. Safe."
Chuck glanced away. "What will I do?"
Ellie sat on the edge of Chuck's dresser, and held his hand. "Let's work on you getting comfortable again going out in public, then we'll start looking into a job."
Chuck winced, and grabbed his leg. Ellie spoke concerned. "Are you taking your Vicodin?"
Chuck shook his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. "No. I'm rotating Tylenol and Ibuprofen. I need to learn to manage the pain without getting hooked on that stuff."
"Will an ice pack help?" Ellie asked, already heading to the door. Not bothering for a response, Ellie returned from the kitchen with an ice pack. She helped Chuck adjust the leg brace, and positioned the ice pack.
Chuck sighed. "I was thinking of…working at the Buy More with Morgan. I need to do something to help out around here."
Ellie smiled. "Sweetie, you already receive an income. The VA told me you'll get a check every month for the rest of your life."
Chuck huffed in frustration. "I need to do more, El! I can't…sit here on my ass all day doing nothing!"
Chuck closed his eyes. "Ellie, I'm sorry."
Ellie ignored Chuck's outburst, and took his hand. "I'll make a deal with you. When you can walk around the Echo Park lake using your cane, I'll help you put in an application."
Without batting an eye, Chuck stood up, much to Ellie's protest. "Okay. Let's do this."
"Chuck…what are you doing?"
Chuck grabbed his cane, and grunted when he put weight on his leg.
Ellie shook her head. "Absolutely not. It's too soon."
Chuck was already heading for the door, the pain was obvious on his face. "Look, it's going to hurt like hell either way the first time. I'd rather get the hard part over with now."
Ellie sighed, and followed him to the door. When the siblings rounded the corner to exit the complex, Ellie looped her arm in Chuck's. The two walked wordlessly for several minutes before Ellie broke the stalemate.
"God. You were stubborn before, but the Navy turned you into a monster."
Chuck laughed softly. "Your tax dollars at work, sis."
Ellie swatted Chuck on the arm playfully. "Smartass."
Chuck stopped suddenly, staring at an object off the path. Ellie noticed it too, and spoke reassuringly.
"It's not a threat, Chuck. It's just a pile of rubbish."
Chuck took a steady breath, and nodded. "You're right. Let's keep going."
As the pair walked past the pile, Ellie couldn't stop her tears. She realized her brother didn't just have a big heart, he was a fighter.
Once past the pile, Chuck stopped, and slowly turned around. To lighten the mood, Ellie gave Chuck a quick kiss on the cheek, and spoke like a damsel in distress.
Chuck smirked, and rolled his eyes. "I'm no hero, El."
Ellie smiled, turning serious. "Yes, little brother. You are."
A/N: Chuck and Sarah will meet in the next chapter, so stay tuned!
I by no means profess to be an expert on PTS, with the exception of what I have learned in an academic capacity. What I will say is this. My heart goes out to those brave men and women who suffer from PTS. It isn't an easy road to recovery.
Chuck is a Navy Corpsman assigned to First Battalion, Fifth Marines (1/5), during the unit's 2009 deployment to Afghanistan.
CASEVAC means "Casualty Evacuation." A "rack" is a bed. "The suck" is a term of endearment Marines use to describe tough deployment conditions. "QRF" means Quick Reaction Force. Navy Corpsman are affectionately called "Doc." I think that's it for the military lingo in this chapter.
The US Army and US Navy merged Walter Reed and Bethesda into what is known today as Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Each branch of service has their own Casualty Assistance program. In real-life, active duty officers inform the family of a service member their loved one was killed or wounded. If memory serves me right, it isn't uncommon for a phone-call to be the initial contact with family if a service member is wounded, and then they will be visited by a Casualty Assistance Officer. For deaths, initial contact is always done in person. I tip my hat to those men and women who serve on Casualty Assistance duty.