A/N: We're moving closer to a showdown.
Thanks so very much for reading and reviewing!
Many, many thanks to my patient beta micahelfmx. Any errors you see are my fault.
Don't own Chuck, et al.
She can't hold back her smile as she reaches up to take his head in her hands and give him a quick kiss. He tries to put his arms around her but she quickly backs away, laughing quietly.
"No time for that, mister. I really have to go. Goodnight, sweetie."
She walks to the door, and just before opening it, she turns and says, just loud enough for him to hear, "Chuck."
"Save you later."
CHUCK VERSUS THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS
Chapter 6 Bartowski
With the hospital safely in her rear view mirror, she finally has a few moments to contemplate the magnitude of the commitment she's just made to him. No, she hadn't made any promises, nor uttered any pledges, but, to Sarah, that which was implicit in those three little words is as solemn as the most profound vow could ever be.
After all, she's only said the words a handful of times in her life, almost always when a mark needed to hear them (therefore making them meaningless) before spilling his secrets. Only twice had she uttered them with any degree of honesty. Once to her father, who'd replied with a "Thank you, darlin'" before quickly returning to the plans for his latest con. The other time had been with Bryce after one particularly difficult mission, one where his actions had saved her from almost certain death. She'd spoken them quietly, almost shyly, when his back was turned. To this day, she doesn't know if he didn't hear or simply chose to ignore them. In any case, there'd been no response, and she hadn't done it again. She's often wondered where they'd be right now if he had responded to what she knows now was a momentary lapse of judgement. Still the globe-trotting Andersons, gallivanting around the world while simultaneously saving it?
But, of course, that would've meant never meeting Chuck. Would've meant never knowing what it finally felt like to say those words and really mean them. Would've meant never knowing the deep, abiding joy she'd experienced from hearing those words said back to her with that same conviction.
She would've never known what it was like to actually be in love.
So, even though the uncertainty of their immediate future gives her pause and her own inadequacies scare her, she's absolutely convinced that Chuck Bartowski is her endgame.
On this subject, Sarah has no doubt whatsoever.
So, before Beckman tries something desperate, they'll have to figure out a way to get him out of there. As she pulls into the driveway, Sarah feels a small amount of pity for anyone who tries to stop them.
But only for a second or two.
As soon as she walks through the front door of Karen's house, she finds herself surrounded by her anxious friends.
"How is he?"
"Did he tell you what's going on?"
Holding both hands up, palms forward, she says, "Hold on a minute, guys. Let's sit down and I'll tell you what happened."
With a grumble or two, they all gather in the living room and sit down, eagerly facing Sarah.
"First of all, our suspicions were correct. Beckman is trying to convince Chuck that he's Charles Carmichael. That Chuck Bartowski doesn't really exist, that he's just a byproduct of the Intersect download."
Ellie asks, getting to the point quickly, "Did he believe them?"
"He told me he didn't at first, but admitted that Beckman was very kind and patient with him while she told him the story of Carmichael. He said that threw him for a bit of a loop. But the clincher came later."
Devon asks, "What was that?"
"Well, they told him that he, as Charles Carmichael, had created the Intersect."
"You've got to be kidding!"
"Why would he believe that?"
Sarah lets the uproar go on for a few seconds before holding her hands up once more. "Please be quiet for a second and I'll tell you."
They quiet down, with a few mumbled apologies.
"He said he wouldn't have believed that either, except for one thing. He had, what seemed to him, a crystal clear memory of meeting the General for the first time and her approving Project Omaha."
Morgan, with a smug look on his face, says, "See. I told you so. They did that 'Total Recall' thing on him."
Sarah just shakes her head tolerantly, amused by the man's antics.
Ellie nods. "So they did manage to implant at least some false memories."
Sarah replies, "That's the only one he mentioned, but it's possible that there are others as well. However, that one was the cornerstone. Because he believed that memory to be accurate, he was inclined to accept the rest of the story as well. And, as you'd surmised, Ellie, she told him we weren't who he thought we were, just strangers, each of us playing a part. She even managed to convince him that I was a married woman." Too late, Sarah realizes she probably shouldn't have mentioned that last part. Hopefully, no one will ask how she convinced Chuck otherwise.
No such luck.
Morgan jumps in. "Whoa! That must have just about killed him? How did you talk him out of that crazy idea?"
"I reasoned with him. Asked him if he believed, in his heart that I really was the kind of person who would cheat on someone I'd committed myself to." She keeps her voice intentionally unemotional, hoping no one will notice the faint blush that tinges her cheeks.
Again, no such luck.
Ellie, looking at Sarah curiously, asks, "Sarah, there was more to it than that, wasn't there?"
Sarah, trying to be evasive, replies, "I'm not sure what you mean. He was actually quite reasonable once we discussed the matter."
Everyone is looking at her as Ellie says, with a slightly stern note in her voice, "Sarah..."
Realizing, helplessly, that there's nothing for it, she capitulates. "Oh, alright. He was being foolishly stubborn, so I kissed him, hoping that would smarten him up."
There's a small squeal from Ellie, a huge grin from Karen, but only groans from the three men in the room. All three, pretty much simultaneously, reach for their wallets, each pulling a couple of bills out.
"Hand 'em over, boys," Ellie says gleefully.
Reluctantly, they all stand, then proceed to give both Ellie and Karen a ten dollar bill each.
Sarah, bewildered, asks, "What's going on here?"
Karen answers, "After you left for the hospital, we got into a discussion about whether you would kiss Chuck tonight. The boys thought there was no way that was going to happen. That, given the situation, Agent Walker would be all business. Ellie and I disagreed. So we made a little wager."
Smiling, Ellie says, "And thanks to Sarah, we're now both thirty dollars richer."
Casey grunts disappointedly, but then suddenly raises his hand. "Hold on. I just realized something. I don't believe you actually won."
"Excuse me, John. Are you saying that she didn't kiss him?" Ellie asks.
"No, what I'm saying is that Sarah didn't kiss him."
Casey points to Sarah, still in nurse's scrubs. "I believe a case could be made that, technically, it was Karen who actually kissed Chuck, at least from his point of view. In my opinion, that means you lost the bet."
Morgan and Devon pipe up, supporting the Major.
"Yeah, man, the dude is right."
"I have to agree."
Sarah stands up, a little annoyed. "Hold on there, guys. That's not—"
Karen, also standing, interrupts her, looking thoughtful. "No, Sarah. I think we need to investigate this further. So, the question here is who did Chuck believe he was kissing, right?"
The men nod.
Turning, she winks, making sure that only Sarah and Ellie can see it.
Karen then addresses Sarah, saying, very seriously, "I don't know if you're aware of just how strong the nurse/patient bond can be. I didn't tell you this earlier because I wanted to avoid upsetting you, but ever since Chuck woke up, there's been something growing between us. A definite attraction."
Ellie looks appropriately furious. "Are you trying to tell us there's something going on between you and Chuck? How could you do that? You're supposed to be a professional!"
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean for it to happen. It just did."
The alarm in the men's expressions at this unexpected turn in the conversation is quite evident to Sarah, but she has no intention of letting them off easily. So, letting a few tears run down her cheeks, she chokingly asks, "Is…is he falling in love with you?"
"Yes, I believe he already has. After all, you didn't visit him after he woke up, so he felt abandoned. He also told me that things didn't seem to be working out between the two of you, that he felt he should move on."
Sarah stammers, "Are you saying that he…he only kissed me because he thought I was you?"
"Yes, Sarah, I am." Karen replies smugly, her arms crossed in front of her.
Ellie, rising from her chair, practically shouts at the nurse, "You hussy! Sarah and Chuck were meant for each other. How dare your stick your nose in his life?"
She shoves Karen out of her way, hastening over to Sarah, who by this time has her head in her hands, apparently weeping profusely. Ellie takes Sarah in her arms, trying to console the agitated spy.
Sarah wails, her head buried in the doctor's shoulder, "Ellie, I've waited too long, and now I've lost him. What am I going to do now?"
The three men, who, up to this moment, have been rooted to the spot by this stunning turn in events, rush over to try and comfort Sarah, shooting daggers at the nurse as they pass.
"Sarah, I'm sure Chuck's just confused—"
"My man wouldn't do that to—"
"Walker, I'll go and beat some sense into—"
They all look helplessly on as Sarah continues to shake, almost convulsively. After a few more seconds, she raises her head to look at her would-be comforters, but instead of the distraught expression they expected, they see a woman whose only tears are ones of laughter.
Sarah grins. "You idiots! The first thing I did when I woke him up was make sure he knew it was me. Not that he had any problem realizing that after he got the sleep out of his eyes. And, as far as Karen goes, she's done nothing but encourage me to express my feelings for Chuck."
All three are bewildered, chagrined, their pride battered by the women's laughter.
Finally, Sarah's able to say, "Ellie, it's a pity you didn't add in a clause where they would have to pay for each time we kissed. That would have added up very quickly to quite a tidy sum."
Ellie looks back at her, surprised, Sarah recognizes, by her sudden openness in matters where she would normally be much more reticent. Sarah just grins and shrugs her shoulders. After all, she'd promised Chuck that everyone would eventually know how she felt about him. She might as well start right here.
Of course, she has almost immediate cause to regret that decision.
Devon booms out, "Way to go, Sarah!" He offers a fist bump which she somewhat timidly returns. "Did you and the Chuckster have time to do anything besides the kissing thing? As Ellie can testify, darkened hospital rooms can be quite conducive to romam—"
A shocked Ellie cuts him off. "Devon!"
He has the grace to look a little embarrassed. "Sorry, babe." He leans in close to Sarah and whispers (a "Devon" whisper, which, of course, everyone can hear), "You can tell me later."
Ellie just shakes her head as Sarah blushes.
And off to the side, Karen, watching the whole scenario, smiles, even more convinced that reuniting this family is worth her every effort.
Ellie says, "I agree, Sarah. We need to get Chuck out of there ASAP, before they try something desperate."
Sarah had explained how she'd asked Chuck to string Beckman along until the team could come up with a plan to get him to a safe place, away from the General's clutches.
"Ellie, do you think she would try to force the upload on him if he says no?" Morgan asks, the question apparently on everyone's mind, as all of them nod, paying close attention to Ellie's response.
She thinks for a few seconds before replying, "Before tonight, I would have thought it unlikely. But if they feel they can implant enough false memories to make him cooperative, they just might."
Casey grunts. "I wouldn't put it past her."
Sarah nods her agreement. Thoughtfully, she says, "Casey, I'm sure we've both been flagged by now, so you won't be able to use your own login to the NSA computers. Do you have anyone who would go backdoor for you?"
Casey ponders for a few moments. "There's a former Marine captain who works in IT. Saved his ass in Afghanistan, so he owes me. Why?"
"We need to know how many people Beckman has assigned to the hospital security detail. I only saw one at the gate and one by Chuck's room, but there must be enough to cover all the shifts, as well as a small reserve."
"SOP would be 8-10 if I had to guess. But she might have assigned more depending on how paranoid she felt. Not that all of them would necessarily be at the hospital at the same time."
"OK. It would be good if your guy can get us the exact numbers and shift details. In particular, we need to know who's on the front gate when Karen goes in tonight. Best if it wasn't the same guy who let me in. He might notice the differences."
"Got you. I'll get on it." Casey pulls out his phone and heads off into the kitchen for some privacy.
Sarah brings her attention to the nurse. "Karen, do you have an ER at the hospital?"
Karen nods. "Yes, we have a small, but first-rate trauma unit."
"So, if agents are hurt in the line of duty while in the D.C. area, they would be sent there?"
"Depends on whether they could get there without risking the life of the agent. If the injury was too severe, they'd go to the nearest hospital. Otherwise, yes, they would take them there."
"But if the injury happened nearby, they would go there for sure?"
"Yes, they would. That's happened a couple of times in the last year or so. However, we also received some stable, but serious, cases from The Farm."
Sarah's interest peaks up. "How does that work?"
"We're sent a notice that the patient is being brought in, usually by ambulance, sometimes by HEMS."
"Sorry. Helicopter Emergency Medical Service."
As Casey walks back into the room, Sarah asks the nurse, "But, in either case, you'd have advance notice, right?"
"Yes, we're sent an e-mail with the particulars. Name, extent of injuries, etc."
Sarah nods, thoughtfully.
Casey asks, "What's your plan, Walker?"
"Not totally sure yet, but I've got a couple of ideas." Turning to face the short man sitting on the couch, she asks, "Morgan, how are your acting skills? Do you think you could play a man in pain?"
"Yes, Ma'am. Nurse Green was logged in at 0306 this morning."
Beckman inquires, "Did she say why she came in at that hour?"
"I asked her, Ma'am, as I thought it was a strange time to start a shift. She told me she'd forgotten her phone charger and needed it in order to receive a call from her sister in Canada."
"Did she say anything else?"
"Just that she would be checking on a patient under her care, so she would be a few minutes late getting out."
"When did she log out?"
Agent Schultz checks his clipboard once again. "0337, Ma'am."
"Thank you, Agent." After consulting her tablet, she asks, "I see that Agent Semenko was on guard duty at that time. However, it seems that no knows his whereabouts, and he's not answering his phone. I was told you two are friends. Do you know how to contact him? I need to ask him some questions."
The man looks uneasy.
"Spit it out, man."
Nervously, he says, "General, Agent Semenko started his vacation at 0600. He'll be off grid for the next two weeks. Some fishing place so special that he won't even tell me where it is. No cell coverage."
Her expression is stern. "Agent Schultz, you know, as well as I, that agents are required to be contactable, even if on vacation."
"Yes, Ma'am. I've reminded him a bunch of times about that." He pauses. "General, I think I have an idea about how to find Agent Semenko."
"We both shop at the same sporting goods store. I could ask if he dropped any clues with the guys there. I could also find out what kind of gear he bought. Might help me narrow down what kind of fish he was going after. They might know the best places to catch them. It's a long shot, Ma'am, but it might be worth looking into."
"OK. Go and check it out. I'll replace you here."
Beckman glares at the man for a few more seconds, makes him squirm, before curtly saying, "That'll be all. Dismissed."
Agent Schultz, obviously relieved, quickly exits the room, leaving the General alone with her thoughts.
Diane Beckman has the distinct feeling that she's missed something. It had started when she woke up this morning after a restless night's sleep, which had driven her to check the security logs the moment she arrived at the hospital.
Diane acknowledges that the charger excuse is just plausible enough to be real. But the on-duty nurse said she hadn't seen Karen Green during the time the log indicated she was in the hospital, and had admitted that this was strange, as the two of them are close friends.
The security tapes had shown a woman who certainly appeared to be Nurse Green, (although the cameras never got a really clear view of her face) chatting with the currently unavailable Agent Semenko before entering Bartowski's room and staying there for twenty minutes or so. If the patient had been anyone but Bartowski, Diane might have entertained the idea that the purpose of the call was for some sort of romantic liaison. The nurse is certainly attractive enough, even with the age difference. And the two had clearly struck up a close friendship during the time they'd spent together.
But she'd pushed the idea from her mind as soon as it appeared. For the past year or so, it's been obvious how Bartowski feels about Agent Walker. Beckman knows the man well enough that he wouldn't risk that burgeoning relationship with some dalliance.
It's likely that the whole matter was simply a nurse wanting to make sure her patient was OK, but, somehow, Diane feels there's got to be more to it. What, though, she doesn't know. She just wishes she knew what had gone on between the two of them, cursing, for a moment, the regulations which disallow recordings in patient rooms.
She's probably just being paranoid, but it's a feeling she's learned not to ignore. So, as a precautionary measure, she makes a note to have Nurse Karen Green put under surveillance after her shift tonight. And to also have her home and phones bugged.
Diane wonders if she should just ban her from the hospital altogether. However, she has no evidence the nurse has actually done anything untoward. There's no indication that she's disobeyed her orders and told the man about his visitors. Besides, it appears that Karen Green's protective presence has helped in keeping Bartowski stable.
Still feeling a little uneasy, the General turns her attention to the matter at hand: how to convince an understandably reluctant Charles Bartowski to download the Intersect once again.
So far, the carrot seems to be working, but if, for some reason, it doesn't, she may have to use the stick. This morning, her experts had come up with a modification to Summer Crest that they believed might make it more successful. If it panned out, the whole willing cooperation thing she's been trying to elicit from the man may become unnecessary.
It's a little chilly up on the hospital's roof deck, but his jacket and the patio warmer makes it tolerable. Pushing away his dinner plate, he marvels over the quality of his meal. An actual cheeseburger and fries. Ever since Karen had brought him those pancakes, his meals have gotten better and better, and he can't help but think that she must have somehow had a hand in the improvements. Maybe she called in a favor of some sort for him. That sort of kindness wouldn't have been surprising, even before Sarah had told him what the nurse was putting on the line for him.
Sipping contemplatively on his beer, he mentally kicks himself once more for believing all the crap that Beckman had so glibly spewed out. How could he have thought, even for a moment, that his friends, his sister, Sarah, for god's sake, weren't real, that they didn't have a deep and loving attachment to him?
The problem now is, of course, making sure that he doesn't give himself away. Beckman has to believe that he still feels utterly abandoned, that he's still grappling with the idea that he isn't who believes he is.
But to do that, he'll have to push the events of Sarah's unexpected, amazing visit out of his mind. It floors him when he once again thinks how, with just a few words and actions, she'd brought him from the depths of absolute despair to the heights of a never before experienced joy. Even now he has to pinch himself, so to speak, just to make sure he didn't dream the whole thing.
After she'd left, he'd slept fitfully, his mind whirling over the future that had suddenly opened up. A future he'd only dared to dream of before. The big problem, and the most immediate, is holding Beckman off until Sarah can find a way to get him away from here. Otherwise, that future will remain just that, a dream.
Chuck turns upon hearing the door to the rooftop garden open, sees General Beckman walking towards him. He stands.
Cheerfully she says, "Good evening, Chuck. How are you feeling tonight?"
"Good evening, Ma'am. Pretty good. Thank you for asking."
They both sit, facing each other across the table.
"Did you sleep well?"
"Truth be told, General, no, not well at all."
She nods sympathetically. "I guess you have a lot on your mind."
"Yes, Ma'am, I do. Even had a nightmare about the whole thing last night. Fortunately, Nurse Green dropped in about the time I woke up and I was able to talk some things out with her."
Beckman says, "I thought she was off duty until tonight."
"Yes, General, she was, but she happened to be in the building, so dropped in to see how I was." Too late, Chuck realizes Sarah didn't tell him the excuse she'd used to return to the hospital.
"Did she say why she'd come back?"
Thinking quickly, he replies, "No, Ma'am. I guess in the aftermath of helping me deal with of my nightmare, she forgot to mention it to me."
Somehow, Chuck gets the feeling that the General is suspicious. But all she says is, "I hope you were careful about what you said. You did remember that she's not read in on the Intersect?"
"Yes, Ma'am. I remember what you told me. I was careful, didn't let on about any details."
"Good." Pausing for a second, she asks, "I assume you know why I'm here?"
"Yes, Ma'am and I've been thinking things over. The idea of starting a new life is very appealing." He averts his eyes, stares over her shoulder at nothing in particular." He snorts angrily. "After all, what's left in Burbank to keep me there? Not a damn thing. Especially not her."
Bringing his eyes back to the General, he says, resignedly, "I might as well go somewhere else. Maybe I can find myself if I don't have to deal with the memories of that place." Quietly, he adds, "And after all the craziness of the past three years, a quiet place does sound pretty good to me."
"That's good to hear, Chuck. However, I do think I'm hearing a 'but' in there somewhere."
He nods. "Yes, Ma'am you do. Even with the assurances you gave me yesterday, I'm still afraid of what might go wrong. That I might be put into a coma that I don't come out of this time. Maybe suffer brain damage or something."
"I completely understand. The last thing we want is for you to feel pressured. Tell you what, if you can't make up your mind by tomorrow morning, we'll fly you up to Caspar to see the city for yourself. Let you spend a few days there. Maybe that'll give you a chance gain a new perspective. How does that sound?"
He smiles. "Thank you, General. That does sound good. It's nice not to feel pressured. I hope I'll be able to decide by tomorrow."
"That's excellent. Try and get some rest tonight. Don't worry about this too much. Whatever you decide will be acceptable in the end." She rises from her chair and Chuck follows suit.
"Thank you, Ma'am. I appreciate your patience."
"Think nothing of it. You deserve it. Goodnight, Agent Carmichael."
As he watches the General walk away, Chuck prays that Sarah finds a way real soon. There's no way in hell he's going to get on that plane and let himself be further separated from the people he loves. Who knows where they'll really take him?
As Diane Beckman enters the elevator, her gut tells her that tomorrow will be time for the stick.
"Chuck, wake up!" The quiet voice gradually rouses him from sleep. Opening his sleep-filled eyes, he sees a face framed by short blonde hair hovering above him.
Smirking a little, he just as quietly asks, "Sarah, is that you?" He sits up swinging his legs over the side of the bed.
Smirking back at him, the woman replies, "Don't be a smart ass, Chuck. You know very well who it is." She swats his shoulder.
"Alright, alright. You don't have to beat on me, Karen."
"Sarah told me that you'd be a problem." She grins.
"She did, did she? She tell you anything else?"
"Yes. She asked me to tell you that she loves you."
"Does Ellie know that you were to pass on that sentiment?"
"Yes, Sarah told the two of us in private. But Ellie did this odd squeal thing that may have given it away to the guys."
He chuckles. "That's my sister all right."
"More importantly, Sarah wanted me to give you this." She hands Chuck a small black box with a prominent antenna.
Taking it in his hand, he turns it over, trying to figure out what it does. "What is it?"
"Sarah told me it'll allow you to use your tablet on a secure satellite network, bypassing the hospital's restricted one."
"Yeah, I'd noticed I was pretty limited by it. But why now?"
"I was asked to tell you that we need the Piranha if we're going to get you out of here. She said you would know what that meant."
"Ah, yes. My old hacker handle." He smiles. "So what am I supposed to do? Shut down the power grid? Create a fake nationwide state of emergency which would draw all the security personnel away from the building?"
She stares at him. "You could do that?"
He chuckles. "Maybe if I had a supercomputer and a week to work on it, I could begin to make an attempt. With a tablet and what I'm guessing is just a few hours, no. I'm good, but not that good."
She nods. "It's just as well then, that all you have to do is send an e-mail."
"Why did you need me for that? Sounds pretty simple."
"Not quite. You'll have to hack into the hospital's system in order to make them believe that we got that e-mail from Fort Peary."
"Is that all? Piece of cake." He turns on the tablet and, using the black box, proceeds to establish a satellite connection. "You don't happen to have a bottle of Chardonnay handy, do you?"
The Nurse just looks at him in confusion. "Why on earth…"
"Sorry, just ignore me. Was there anything else?"
"You also have to make sure that if the hospital requests a confirmation, they'll get it."
"A little more difficult, but I think I can handle it. Where do I go for the details?"
Karen fishes out a piece of paper from her pocket. "Here's the address. The document is encrypted. Sarah said the password is the full name of someone you were tempted to kill after an incident in Barstow."
His eyes glued to the screen, fingers flying on the virtual keyboard, he simply says, "Morgan."
Surprised, Karen replies, "I thought he was your best friend."
Chuckling, he looks up and says, "He is, but let's just say there was a moment where I would have cheerfully strangled the little guy."
He types in the name in question and starts to read the document that appears. After a few minutes of mostly silent perusal, punctuated only by a couple of chuckles, he turns to Karen and says, "I can tell that everyone, including you, contributed, but I see Sarah's hand everywhere. She's an amazing planner." Pausing for a second, he adds, "And a very determined one. I get the feeling that, come hell or high water, I'm getting out of here tonight."
Karen nods, her expression neutral. "Yes. She was quite firm on that point."
Smiling, he says, "I expect that's a bit of an understatement."
Karen grins back. "Yes, you're right. When she ran down the plan for us, there were more than a few expletives and oddly specific threats directed toward any person or persons who got in our way."
"Yeah, that's my girl. She gets just a wee bit upset when it comes to anyone threatening my safety."
"I've noticed," is Karen's dry reply.
"By the way, your girl? I very much doubt that Sarah is anyone's girl."
This time he laughs outright. "Your right about that. Definitely a woman, her own person, for sure."
Karen nods her agreement.
Returning his attention to his tablet, he says, "OK. I'd better get to it. These things don't hack themselves."
"And I'll get back to my duties. I do have other things to do aside from taking care of you."
He's already typing as he replies. "Good. Give me an hour and I'll run what I've done by you. See if you think it'll fool them."
"Alright. See you in an hour."
"Where will you be when they arrive?" Chuck asks.
"I'll be waiting in the ambulance bay."
He glances at his watch. "So now we wait."
"Yes. I guess I should get out of here before the guard gets suspicious."
"Before you go, Karen, I have one question."
"Why are you doing this for us? You're putting your whole career on the line."
She pauses for a moment at what Chuck thinks is an unexpected question. "It's a little hard to explain."
She doesn't immediately elaborate, but Chuck says nothing, just waits on her.
"I guess it all started when you were still in your coma. I saw how your visitors acted around you, how they felt about you. They're such a diverse group, but it was clear they all loved you, each in their own way."
"All of them? Even Casey?"
She chuckles. "Yes, even Casey. But especially Sarah. Chuck, I wish you could've seen her. She came every night, without fail, and sat by your bed, your hand in hers. Then she talked to you, for hours on end."
He's suddenly choked up, can barely ask, "What did she say?"
"She spoke quietly, bringing her head close to yours, so I couldn't hear the words. And I wouldn't have listened even if I could've. But it didn't take a genius to know she was telling you how much she loved you, how desperately she wanted you to come back. How much she wanted to have a life with you."
Not trusting himself to speak, Chuck waits for Karen to continue.
Looking into his face, Karen earnestly adds, "Chuck, there's a saying that you can tell a lot about a person by the friends he has. So I'd already formed an opinion about what you were like, even before you woke up and basically confirmed I was right. You're a good man, Chuck, and people like you don't deserve what Beckman is trying to pull off here. None of you do."
Her eyes drift away from his and she stares off into space. "I've seen far too many good men and women who, through circumstance or choice, have had their chance for happiness pass them by, all for the greater good, only to later find their lives empty of any real connections. Living alone. Dying alone in some hospital bed. Pouring out their lives into the ears of a sympathetic nurse because they have no one in their lives who cares enough to visit them."
He asks quietly, "How many times, Karen?"
Looking at him again, she softly replies, "More than I care to remember, Chuck."
Suddenly, a look of determination overcomes her face as she states, "And that's one of the reasons I'm doing this. If I can help someone avoid that fate, I'm willing to do whatever I can."
"You don't have to worry about me, Karen. If I have any say in it, I'll never go down that road."
"Chuck, I wasn't thinking primarily about you. I was mostly thinking about Sarah."
Surprised, he asks, "What do you mean?"
"Chuck, do you have any idea what would happen to her if you disappeared from her life?"
He gulps, thinking about that possibility for a moment, then says, "I guess she'd be reassigned back to the kinds of missions she did before. But she'd still have the rest of them to fall back on, she wouldn't have to be alone."
Shaking her head, Karen replies, "Maybe for a while, but eventually she would drift away, back to her solitary life."
The thought disturbs him. "No, you're wrong. If nothing else, she and she Ellie are very close. Sarah could always depend on her."
"You don't see it, do you?"
"See what?" he asks, puzzled.
"Chuck, you're the glue that holds that group together. I could tell after spending just a few hours in their company. No matter how hard they tried, if you were gone they'd fall apart in six months or less."
He blushes, his head down. "C'mon, Karen, I'm not that important."
Her words are firm. "Yes, Chuck, you are. Sure, Ellie and Devon would have each other. But do you think even Morgan would spend much time around them after you're gone? Casey would go back to his life, one that would, I suspect, never bring him in contact with the group again. As for Sarah, she would find it much too painful to be reminded of how close she was to having the life she wanted, only to see it torn from her grasp. Eventually, the visits, the phone calls, the emails would taper off and she'd be gone. If she didn't end up being killed in some godforsaken hellhole, she would wind up being one of those I spoke of, alone and unloved."
Shaking his head, he says, "No, Karen, you can't know that for sure. Sarah's a beautiful, incredible woman. Surely, there are other good men out there who could make her happy."
"Possibly, but that would only happen if she was willing to look for them. Willing to let them into her life. But, Chuck, I don't see it. From what I've learned of Sarah, I'm convinced that losing you would close that chapter in her life."
He ponders the nurse's words for a few second before firmly declaring, "Well, assuming that's true, that's all the more reason to make sure the plan works, isn't it?"
Nodding emphatically, she replies, "Yes, Chuck. It is."
Looking at her for few moments longer, he asks, "Karen, you implied there was at least one other reason why you were willing to put your career on the line for us."
"Yes, I did. They're personal ones."
Embarrassed, he quickly replies, "I'm sorry, Karen. I didn't mean to pry."
"No, Chuck. I didn't mean it that way. I meant that I have personal reasons for wanting the two of you to be happy." She pauses.
"It's OK, Karen. You don't have to tell me if it makes you uncomfortable."
"No, I don't mind telling you about them. Well, not too much."
He waits for her to speak, which she does after a few moments of silence.
"I told you I was married very young. In fact, I wasn't quite eighteen. We were OK for a year or so until we began to realize we were completely unsuited for each other. Foolishly, we thought that having a child would make us closer. We tried for a year with no success. In the end, it was discovered that I couldn't get pregnant."
"Karen, I'm so sorry."
She shrugs a shoulder. "Anyway, that was pretty much the end for us. We drifted apart and got divorced a few years later. But for years afterward, I imagined what it would've been like to have a little girl of my own, with blonde hair and blue eyes. I imagined her starting school, graduating, finding a wonderful man to settle down with. Me at the wedding as I watched her make her vows."
"I can't even imagine how difficult that was for you, Karen."
"Thank you, Chuck. I've kept myself busy over the years, have put those thoughts behind me. That is until the two of you came into my life." She stops, makes sure she has his attention before adding, "You see, Chuck, Sarah is just about the right age to be the daughter I never had. She even looks a bit like me. On the night you woke up, I finally realized why I felt so protective towards her. Why my heart broke as I watched her speak with you. Right then I knew I would do whatever it took to help her find happiness, even if that meant putting myself in harm's way."
Chuck looks at her for a few seconds, says very earnestly, "I told Sarah that you're a great person. I now see that description was completely inadequate."
The nurse blushes, her head down.
Fortunately, she's spared further embarrassment by the ding of an incoming text message on Chuck's tablet. He picks it up, quickly scans the screen.
"That was Sarah. They'll be here in 30 minutes or so."
"OK, Chuck. I'd better get to my position."
"Yes, Karen. You haven't seen Sarah and Casey in action yet. I can assure you it's something you won't want to miss."
"Looking forward to it. There's one more thing Sarah asked me to tell you before the action started. She was quite adamant that I say it exactly the way she said it and to make sure I had your full attention before repeating it."
"You've got it. What did she want to tell me?"
"Stay in the room, Chuck!"
A/N: Some action coming next chapter. And a little tete-a-tete between two important characters, one of whom will definitely not enjoy said conversation.