A/N: I'm sensing that this is the more popular arc, and that's OK. It is the more familiar story after all. And good things are happening more quickly. Especially this chapter.

Thanks to micahelfmx my beta for his continued support and ideas.

Don't own Chuck, et al.

Enjoy!

Sarah knows she just has to reach him, somehow. But she also knows that, right at this moment, words alone won't be enough.

So she boldly steps in and, before he can react, grabs his head in her hands, crashing her lips into his.

CHUCK VERSUS THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS

Chapter 5 Bartowski

He's clearly flummoxed by her actions, for he makes no attempt to reciprocate. Rather, he tries to pull away, is only prevented from doing so by the deceptive strength of her slim arms.

No, Chuck. I'm not letting you get away that easily.

Something's different. It takes Sarah a second to realize that, because he's sitting on the edge of his bed, she actually has to tilt her head the tiniest bit down to kiss him. It's a little strange, but it does nothing to dampen her efforts. So, with his spread legs on either side of her, she moves in even closer, virtually eliminating the last remaining space between them. Moving her hands to his hair and running her fingers through his thick curls, she leans in just a little more, pours all she has into her kiss, hoping he'll understand all that she's trying to convey.

He's still unresponsive.

Dammit, Chuck!

She parts her lips, and this finally elicits a reaction from him. He groans as he wraps his arms around her, drawing her even tighter against him. She feels his lips moving urgently, desperately against her own. And just like that, the kiss becomes a frenzied, almost frantic thing.

She moans as her legs suddenly seem to lose their strength, grateful that he holds her so tightly. Otherwise, she might fall to the ground. Or perhaps float away.

She's not sure which.

But after far too short a time (not that hours would've been enough in her estimation), he abruptly stops, pulls his head back a few inches and loosens his embrace.

He shakes his head, and breathlessly says, "No. No, Sarah. I can't do this. I can't." He turns away, won't look at her.

Chuck's action is so unexpected that Sarah, still trying to catch her breath, is rocked back on her heels. She'd believed that his impassioned response to her kiss was proof that she'd finally gotten through to him, so his words shake her to her very core. Unconsciously, she takes a step back, confused by his apparent rejection of everything that kiss had offered.

Fighting hard against her inborn urge to flee from these types of emotional confrontations, Sarah calms herself, takes a deep breath, and asks, "What, Chuck? What can't you do?"

"I won't be the man who ruins your marriage. The man you love deserves all of you." Sarah can tell he's making every effort to be firm with her, but his voice has nothing of the spiteful bitterness of just a few minutes ago. Instead, she only hears the disappointment of a man resigned to his fate.

She's frustrated by his dogged insistence that she has a husband stashed away somewhere. It's to the point that she almost feels like slapping some sense into him. That is, until she looks into his eyes and sees, just before he turns away, the anguish and shame that fills them.

Oh, Chuck! What have they done to you?

So, instead of carrying through on that first impulse, she moves in and places her hand on his cheek, turning his head back towards her. He fights her for a moment, but she's strong, so he gives in, albeit reluctantly, his eyes downcast.

Speaking quietly, she tries to inject a confidence she doesn't truly feel into her tone. "Charles Irving Bartowski." She feels him jerk a little at the mention of his name. "Look at me." When he stubbornly refuses, she sternly adds, "Now, Chuck."

He raises his head, looks into her eyes. Seeing the depths of his despair, her resolve almost crumbles, but she forces herself to carry on.

"Chuck, I've never told you this, but you know me better than any other person in this whole world." His eyes widen at that. "Yes, Chuck, you do. So I need you to listen carefully to what I'm about to ask you. And I need you to look into your heart before you answer. Don't pay any attention to what someone else may have told you about me. Trust your heart, Chuck. Can you do that?"

She waits, and a few seconds later he gives her a jerky little nod. "I'll try."

"Good. So, I ask you, knowing me as well as you do, do you really think that I would kiss you the way I just did if there was someone else? Do you honestly believe that I'm the type of woman who would cheat on the man I've promised myself to? I'm not talking flirting or other stuff for a mission, but out and out cheating. Do you feel," Sarah tentatively places her hand over his heart, "right here, that I'm actually that kind of person?"

"Sarah, I want to believe what you said, but a part of me thinks—"

She cuts him off, quite forcefully. "Don't think, Chuck. Feel. I know they've been filling your head with lies. But I firmly believe your heart still knows the truth. Listen to it. Please."

He looks closely at her, his eyes searching her face, looking, if she had to guess, for something in it that would lend credence to her words. Sarah knows how easy it would be to sway him with her tears, her choking, hesitant words, but she won't do that, even though that's exactly what a part of her wants to do. No, he must decide for himself what to believe. So she holds herself in check, clamps down on her emotions, and simply stares at him as she awaits her fate. Not unlike, she thinks, the accused awaiting the jury's decision.

His mental struggle is clearly evident in his expression, but after what seems like an eternity, he shakes his head. "No, Sarah. I don't believe you're the kind of person who would ever do that. That's not you." Hanging his head, blushing, he mutters, seemingly to himself, "It just seemed to make so much sense the way she laid it all out."

His abject remorse is very clear as he brings his eyes back to hers, then says, "God, I'm so ashamed that I fell for all that crap. Can you forgive me?'

She gives him a little smile. "Good. I'm glad you figured that out. And yes, I do forgive you." She pauses for a second, then takes his hand in hers. "Chuck, there are a lot of things we need to sort out. Lots of questions that both of us need answers to. But first, I have to know why you believed, even for a second, that I, that all of us, have been lying to you about who we are and what you mean to us. You said it seemed to make sense. Just what did she tell you?"

Before he can answer, there's a knock on the door, followed by a somewhat muffled, "Nurse Green, is everything OK in there? You've been a while."

Under her breath, Sarah mutters, "Dammit. Chuck, I'll have to stall him." She turns to walk to the door, but is held back as he grabs her arm.

She looks back over her shoulder, sees him point to his lips.

He whispers, "Sarah, your lipstick."

"Thanks." Embarrassed, she takes a tissue and dabs around her mouth as she walks to the door.

That would've been an interesting one to try and explain.

Opening the door a foot or so, she sees the guard looking at her a little suspiciously.

"Is there some sort of problem, Nurse?"

"No, nothing serious. When I went to take his vitals, he woke up right in the middle of a bad dream. It scared him pretty badly, so he wanted to talk about it. That's it." She shrugs her shoulders, smiles. "You know how it is. Everybody wants to tell nurses and bartenders their problems."

The man nods. "OK. Will you be much longer? My replacement comes on in fifteen minutes or so, and if you'll still be here, I'll need to alert him."

Shaking her head, she says, "No. I'll be finished before then. Thank you for your concern."

After closing the door, she quickly walks back over to where Chuck still sits, perched on the edge of his bed. She sits down beside him, and, as if it's the most natural thing in the world, takes his hand once again. Sarah, thoughtful as she looks towards the door for a second or two, doesn't notice Chuck's downward glance, doesn't notice his little smile at seeing their entwined fingers, her thumb gently stroking the side of his hand.

He quickly drops the smile as she turns to him. "OK, I've bought us ten minutes or so. So, quickly, give me the condensed version of what happened between you and Beckman yesterday."

He's obviously embarrassed, looking down at the floor as he starts to speak. "Beckman came to visit me after lunch. She insisted in addressing me as Agent Carmichael. When I asked her to use my real name, she told me that Chuck Bartowski didn't really exist, that I made him up when I became the human Intersect three years ago. She then told me that Charles Carmichael was my real name and that I'd been living a made up life as Chuck Bartowski, without knowing the truth of my real identity."

Sarah growls, "We thought it might be something like that." Softening her tone, she asks, "Chuck, why did you trust her?

He turns to look at her. "I didn't really, at least not at first. It just seemed like some horrible practical joke. But I was confused. I had no real memory of why I was brought here. I even accused her of trying to make me into some sort of weapon against my will. But she didn't get angry as I would've expected, instead was kind, patient, and seemed so sincere. All of which I felt was out of character for her, but it made me doubt my memories just a little. However, the kicker came when she told me who'd created the Intersect in the first place."

"Your dad, right?"

"No, Sarah." He smirks. "Me. Or, should I say, the Charles Carmichael me."

She's incredulous. "What?!"

"Yes, she told me his story and the idea he'd come up with. About how he joined the NSA after graduating from MIT, wanting to use his talents to help protect the country."

Sarah shakes her head, disbelievingly. "I'm sorry, Chuck, but surely that must have seemed far-fetched, even for someone who likes science fiction as much as you. Why on god's earth did you ever believe her?"

"I don't think I would've, but something happened immediately after she told me that little tidbit."

She asks, dubiously, "What?"

"I remembered being in Beckman's office, meeting her for the first time. The very moment she told Charles Carmichael that Project Omaha was a go. Sarah, it felt like I was right there. It was all so crystal clear. So convincing. And, if that had actually happened, and it certainly seemed like it had, everything else suddenly became believable."

Nodding, Sarah says, "The big lie principle." She makes sure she has his attention before she adds, "Chuck, you have to believe me, that meeting never occurred."

He nods. "I do now. And since that was the foundation for me believing the rest of her story, everything else tumbles to the ground." Shaking his head, he adds, "I just don't understand where that memory came from."

"According to Ellie's best guess, that memory was snuck in, implanted during the procedure you were brought here for."

He's excited. "Ellie's here?" He jumps from the bed, turns to face her. "Is she OK? When can I see her? Is the rest of the group with her?"

She also stands. Taking his hands in hers, she gives them a squeeze, trying to calm him down from his exuberant, almost childlike eagerness. Looking up into his eyes, she says, chuckling gently, "Hold on there, mister. That's a lot of questions. Which one do you want answered first?"

"OK. OK. Is Ellie alright?"

"Yes, she's fine. She's just a few miles away. And yes, Morgan, Devon and Casey are with her. And before you ask, they're all fine as well."

"Thank god," he says, his relief obvious.

She asks, "Why were you worried, Chuck?"

He sits on the bed once again. "Since none of you visited, and you had to change your appearance to get in here, I was starting to worry whether Beckman had thrown everyone else into a bunker or something."

"No, Chuck, nothing quite as bad as that. First of all, we did visit you, every day before you woke up. But afterward, Beckman set up roadblocks to keep us away. Gave us a bunch of lame excuses to stop us from seeing you. As for me, you've probably guessed that Karen helped us, just so I could get in to talk with you."

He grins, "Yeah, I kinda figured that. That doesn't surprise me. She's a really great person."

"Yes, she is. She's put her career on the line for us. Maybe her freedom."

He sounds worried. "Could it be as bad as that?"

Sarah shrugs her shoulders. "Not sure. It depends on what Beckman's trying to do and how vindictive she'll be when we stop her. Speaking of the General, what else did she tell you?"

"Well, she said I inadvertently downloaded the Intersect when I found Bryce Larkin, Fulcrum agent, mind you, in the lab stealing the data. And after that, I created the whole Bartowski world in my mind as a way of mentally protecting myself from its effects. She also informed me that none of you really existed. That all of you were basically figments of my imagination. Characters I made up, played by volunteers in order to keep the whole Bartowski Intersect world going. People who had their real lives, real families to return to."

Shaking her head disgustedly, she says, "That woman's fiendishly clever. She knew that tossing in Bryce as a villain would push your buttons, perhaps enough to distract you from any of the holes in her story." She pauses, "OK, I've got the basic idea, and that's enough for now. We'll discuss the rest of the details at some later time. But, Chuck, the most important question right now is what Beckman's planning. What is she trying to talk you into doing?"

"That came toward the end of our discussion yesterday. I was told that they brought me here because they saw some signs that Carmichael hadn't completely disappeared. They'd thought by removing the Intersect, he would resurface. But Beckman, as well as the two doctors with her, admitted they'd made a mistake. They told me that they'd come to realize the Intersect was, in fact, critical in bringing him back. So they asked me to think about downloading the current version, and then use it as I did before while waiting for him to reappear on his own."

Suddenly, all Sarah can see is red. Yes, they'd discussed that this was likely Beckman's end game. But to actually hear it confirmed by the man who would likely pay the ultimate price for her perfidy, sets off a raging fury within her. She spits out, "That bitch! Chuck, that thing damned near killed you and now she wants you to download it again?"

For the second time in the past few hours, Sarah has to strive to get her wrath under control. She takes a deep breath and starts to let it out, but when she sees the look of complete bewilderment on his face, her anger is instantly supplanted by empathy for his situation.

Of course, he has no idea what happened.

"Sarah, what do you mean when you said the Intersect almost killed me?"

"I'm sorry, Chuck. I was so absorbed in your story that I forgot you don't know why you were brought here. Basically, you couldn't handle it anymore. Your mind was crumbling to the point that you had trouble distinguishing reality from all that stuff you had in your head. So we brought you here to have it removed before it killed you, or, at the very least, caused severe brain damage."

His shoulders slump. "Oh. I had no idea."

Cupping his face with her hand, she asks, a little anxiously, "But you're fine now, right? You know what's real and what's not, don't you?"

He gives a rueful chuckle, self-deprecatingly says, "Apparently, I'm still having some trouble with that, considering that I believed all that crap they've been telling me."

She vigorously shakes her head. "No, Chuck. That's not the same thing. You were lied to by a master manipulator. Purposely isolated from the people who love you. It's no wonder you were confused, overwhelmed. But you know better now and we're not going to let her get away with it, right?"

He shakes his head, says in a determined voice, "No, we won't."

But then, very quickly, his mood changes and he seems hesitant, nervous as he asks, "Sarah?"

"Yes, Chuck?"

"I'm not certain I fully understand something you said a second ago."

"What?"

"You said I was isolated from the people who love me. I'm not exactly sure whom you meant."

Damn! Trust him to pick up on her slip of the tongue.

Her instinct is to prevaricate, so, before she can stop herself, that's exactly what she does. "Well, there's Ellie and Devon, of course. Morgan as well."

"You're sure that's all?" It's easy to see his disappointment, hear it in his voice. Let down by her defensive instincts once again, Sarah has trouble meeting his searching gaze.

Driving here, Sarah had been determined that this night was going to be it, the moment she admits to him what she's hidden for so long. But now that the moment has actually arrived, she feels like a swarm of butterflies has abruptly decided to take up residence in her abdomen. It's a feeling that's utterly foreign to her. So much so, that it gives her pause, making her wonder if it might not be better to put it off until all of this is behind them.

But then Karen's words come back to her. And the painful memory of so many opportunities thrown away for no real reason other than her almost certainly baseless fears.

It's time, Sarah.

What if he'd never woken up? What would it have been like to go through the remainder of her life bereft of this lovely man, carrying the burden that they'd never had their time, not even their moment because she'd lacked the courage to express what was in her heart?

Tell him.

She wants to, so much. But it's not easy for her, this honest, outright expression of genuine, deep-seated feelings, an action she's been taught to guard against for as long as she can remember.

So she casts about, trying to find some way of easing herself into it. Then her mind lights on something he'd said earlier, so she asks him, "Chuck, a little while ago you said that you feel the man I love deserves to have all of me, right?"

He appears surprised by the apparent change of subject, but after a moment he replies, nodding, "Yes, Sarah, I do. And you would deserve the same in turn."

"I agree. That's only right and proper. It would be cheating for two people to give each other anything less."

"And you're not a cheater."

"No, I'm not."

Sarah takes a couple of steps back, stands straight in front of him, her arms hanging limply by her sides. Vulnerable. Taking a deep breath, she softly says, "So, here, Chuck. Here's all of me."

He stares blankly at her, apparently unable to process her words. It's a few seconds before he speaks, or more accurately, stammers, "What…what are you saying, Sarah?"

"I'm giving you what you deserve." She adds, suddenly feeling a little shy, "If that's what you want."

A startled look of comprehension crosses his face. He asks quietly, disbelief tempering the hope in his voice, "Sarah, are you trying to tell me that you love me?"

She gives him a crooked grin, suddenly a little teary-eyed. "Yes, I am. And apparently, I'm doing a really crappy job of it, since you have to keep ask—"

Her words are cut off as he practically launches himself off the bed, covering the distance between them in a heartbeat. It all happens so quickly that she barely has time to close her eyes before he almost crushes her in his arms, kissing her, so fervently, so deeply, that she truly understands what it means to have one's breath taken away.

She feels tears wetting her cheeks. Wonders if they're his. Or hers. Maybe both.

Not that it matters.

No, the only truly important thing is that she didn't get here too late. Her Chuck is still her Chuck. That's all that really matters.

Oh, that and the oft-repeated assurances of his love that he murmurs in her ear between heated kisses.

She finds that they also matter.

Quite a lot.

If she had her druthers, she'd stay this way in his embrace all day. But, of course, that's not possible, at least not right now. So when his lips move to her neck, giving her a chance to catch her breath, she takes the opportunity to speak,

"Chuck, sweetie, I'm so sorry, but we have to stop. The guard will be expecting me in a couple of minutes."

He doesn't even pause, apparently not hearing her. Or choosing to ignore her, which, to Sarah, seems much more likely.

She injects some firmness into her voice. "Chuck, we have to stop."

She hears, feels his groan as he pulls away. "I know. Sarah, do you think you could talk him into giving us a little more time? Like maybe a decade or five?"

She chuckles a little at that. "I suspect not. We'll just have to continue this at some future date. After we get you out of this place."

Eagerly, he asks, "You've got a plan?"

"We're working on it. Casey wanted to launch an all-out frontal assault, guns blazing. While it may come to that in the end, we're still hoping to come up with something a little stealthier and a little less like storming a beach."

"How will I know when and how?"

"We'll communicate through Karen. She'll be coming in tonight for the midnight shift. In the meantime, you'll need to stall them. Keep them believing that you're leaning towards downloading it again, but convince them that you still need more time."

Nodding he says, "OK, I can do that. So I might see you early tomorrow morning?"

"Possibly, if things go well."

"OK." He gently takes her hands in his. "Not seeing you for that long is going to be really difficult."

She swallows, unable to speak for a moment. "For me as well."

Stepping close once more, he softly says, "Before you go, I need to tell you something, something I should have remembered when Beckman was telling me her lies. I'm ashamed that I didn't, that I let her fabrications temporarily push it out of my mind."

She worriedly asks, "What, Chuck?"

"The night I came out of the coma, I was dreaming. Crazy, fractured, tumbled dreams that made no sense. Until a memory clicked in and then, suddenly, everything became clear. Everything fell into place. It all made sense."

"What memory?"

"Of you, Sarah."

She gasps, "Oh!"

"Sarah Walker, you're the constant in my life. You have been since the day I met you. You're the one who makes my life make sense. If I'd remembered that, I wouldn't have believed anything Beckman said about you, and I wouldn't have accused you of the things that I did."

She tries really hard to blink back her tears.

"So please remember this. Sarah Walker, I love you. I always have and I always will."

She chokes up even more, his face suddenly blurry.

She stammers, her head down. "I…I…"

Cupping her face with his large hands, he gently brings her head up and looks into her eyes. Softly, he says, "Hey, hey. Sarah, it's OK. Just knowing how you feel is enough. I don't need the exact words." He quietly chuckles. "Hell, if I hadn't been so caught up in my angry self-pity loop when you walked in, that kiss would have told me all I needed to know."

While Sarah appreciates his effort to let her off the hook, her reticence still shames her. Not only on this occasion, but also all those other times when she could have, should have said what was in her heart but held back.

Enough is enough.

She wipes away her tears. "Maybe you don't need the words. But whether you do or don't isn't really the point. The point is that you, Chuck Bartowski, deserve to hear them from me."

Sarah steps in closer, stands on her tiptoes and, taking his face in her hands, earnestly says, "I love you, Chuck Bartowski. Always have and always will. And when this is all over, I promise that the whole world is going to know how I feel about you." She gently kisses him.

"And I further promise that no one is going to keep us apart. You got that, sweetie?"

He just nods.

"OK, then. You get to bed. You're going to need your strength. I'll tell everyone that you're in good spirits and that you love them."

At his raised eyebrow, she amends her words. "Well, maybe not Casey. I'll find a way to rephrase that last part."

He chuckles lightly at that.

Giving his hand a squeeze, she says, "We'll be seeing you soon. Oh, and by the way," she gestures to her own mouth, "you might want to take care of that whole lipstick thing yourself."

"I will. I have to tell you, Sarah, that this whole kissing thing tonight, while really, really nice has also kinda weirded me out. It almost feels like I'm cheating on you."

She raises an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"

"Well, I don't recall ever having a fantasy about kissing an older woman, unless you count Donna in ninth grade and she was only three months older than me. But here I'm not only dealing with that scenario, but also the whole stereotypical caring-nurse/grateful-patient thing as well."

Sarah blushes, suddenly realizing what Chuck is talking about. "I'd forgotten who I look like."

"It's OK. But I suspect I'm going to have some pretty unusual dreams tonight."

When she glowers at him, he quickly adds, "Only about you, Sarah. Only you."

She nods. "As long as we're clear on that."

Smirking, he says, "However, in order to prevent any potentially embarrassing situations, could you please ask Karen to make sure she identifies herself when she comes on shift tonight. I don't think I could be held responsible for my actions if I thought it was you coming through the door."

She rolls her eyes. "Smart ass."

He grins for an instant before becoming serious once again. "Sarah, please promise me you'll be safe. It makes me feel sick to think that any of you might get hurt trying to rescue me. Promise me you'll be careful."

"Don't worry, sweetie. I won't say that nobody is going to get hurt, but you have my word that it won't be any of the people who love you." She turns to leave, but before she can, he gently takes her arm.

"Hold on. Before you go, I'm thinking I need a little more reassurance from you. You know, about who I really am and who you really are. The whole 'what is truth' thing. That kind of stuff."

Skeptically, she asks, "Oh? And how, exactly, would I go about doing that?"

He ducks his head a bit. "I was kinda thinking that one more kiss oughta do it. You know, at least for now."

She looks at him with mock exasperation. "Oh, alright. If it'll make you feel better. But I'll have you know that I'm doing this just for you. I just hope all this kissing stuff isn't going to become a recurring theme."

He grins. "I hate to disappoint you, but I think it very likely will."

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."

"Goodnight, Sarah."

She walks to the door, and just before opening it, she turns and says, just loud enough for him to hear, "Chuck."

"Yes?"

"Save you later."

"General, I've been instructed to inform you that neither Agent Walker nor Major Casey have checked in for their reassignments. Both have been officially flagged as being absent without permission."

"Thank you, Clarissa. Do we have any indications as to their current whereabouts?"

"No, Ma'am. The appropriate departments have tried contacting them through the usual channels, but have had no response. The department chiefs instructed me to tell you that all active security personnel have been alerted to be on the lookout for them. They were optimistic that they'll have some information within the next few hours."

"Thank you. That'll be all. It's late, you should head home."

"Not necessary, Ma'am. I'm quite willing to stay as long as the General is in her office."

Diane Beckman, gratified, as always, by the work ethic of her personal assistant, shakes her head. "No, Clarissa. I'll be fine. I'm going to stay just a while longer. I'll see you in the morning."

"Very good, Ma'am. Goodnight."

"Goodnight."

As her office door softly closes, Beckman turns her chair to look out over the mostly darkened city. Diane has come to appreciate her view of D.C. at night, especially this late. The city somehow feels less threatening, more innocent when cloaked by darkness. Picking up the glass on the edge of her desk, she takes a sip, feeling the scotch burn her throat a little as it goes down.

Diane hadn't had the heart to tell Clarissa that, if Walker and the Major have gone off the grid, (as she fully believes they have) the only way they are going to be found is if they allow themselves to be found. Both are far too good at this sort of thing to let some bumbling security officer track them down.

Beckman hadn't really expected that either of them would show up for their new assignments, so Clarissa's news was unsurprising. She had briefly entertained the thought that Major Casey might, out of his loyalty to her, obey orders, but never, not even for a second, had she thought that Agent Walker would do so.

It had become apparent, quite some time ago, that Agent Walker would defy anyone and everyone when it came to the matter of Mr. Bartowski's safety. Diane had come to understand that her fierce protectiveness no longer came from her sense of duty, but rather due to the deep personal attachment she'd formed with the man. To what degree Agent Walker had compromised herself, Diane is uncertain, but compromised herself she has. The General knows she should have reassigned the agent the moment she saw what was happening, but the team's successes had been such that Diane had decided to turn a blind eye.

When the Intersect had started to deteriorate, Diane had reluctantly agreed to the removal procedure, realizing that if they didn't do something Mr. Bartowski would either die or, at best, be severely brain damaged. In either case, the man would be of no further use to her. And, despite their best efforts, her scientists had never come up with anyone else capable of handling the burden of the Intersect. She needed him.

Therefore, she'd authorized the removal, but at the same time had implemented one of the many contingency plans that had been developed to deal with possible Intersect scenarios.

There was a kernel of truth in some of the many lies that Chuck had been told yesterday. Summer Crest actually did exist, but it wasn't hypothetical. It was a carefully hidden, active, ongoing project designed to do pretty much what they told him: allow them to download a complete, created persona into the subject's mind, overriding the person's actual identity. It hadn't been fully tested, but her experts thought it had a good chance to succeed.

Thereafter the ideal result would have been the man waking up, believing he actually was Charles Carmichael, a person who had no memory of his real life. A person determined to download the Intersect as penance for the damage that had been done under the project he'd headed. After he'd willingly downloaded the latest Intersect version, they would have then whisked him away to that NSA facility in Wyoming, a place obscure enough that none who knew him would ever accidentally run across him. An unfortunate fire in the hospital, a body burnt beyond recognition would explain his disappearance.

Her people had suggested that this version would be much less likely to damage the host's mind. When she pushed them on this, they'd reluctantly admitted that the chances were no better than 50/50 that this version would be safe.

Still, it was enough for her to give the go ahead. A few more battles won, a few more terrorist groups put out of action, another bomb plot foiled, any one of those things accomplished because they had a functioning Intersect was enough in Diane's mind to make the sacrifice of one man worthwhile.

Contrary to what many thought General Beckman didn't have a heart of stone. She'd actually hoped that when he'd settled in up there in Caspar, he'd find happiness, perhaps someone to love again, now that Sarah would no longer exist to him. She'd also empathized with the kind of grief that those who cared for him would undergo, thinking him dead. Even so, those feelings would not hinder her from doing her duty.

However, things had turned out to be far from ideal. When Mr. Bartowski had lapsed into a coma after the procedure, Beckman had thought the inclusion of Summer Crest in the removal procedure was most likely to blame. Or it may have simply been that they'd been too late in removing the Intersect, that the damage had already been done. Either way, all her experts had said he would probably never wake again.

Accepting defeat, she'd seen no good reason to prevent his family and friends from visiting, giving them the chance to make their farewells.

So she'd put Chuck Bartowski out of her mind, moved on to other pressing matters. That was until she'd been informed that, against all the odds, he'd actually woken from his coma. She'd rushed to the hospital, anxious to find out if their plan had worked, only to find out that the first word he'd uttered was the name of a person who didn't exist in the life of Charles Carmichael.

She'd been very disappointed by their apparent failure, but, never being one to take defeat lying down, she'd immediately racked her brain, trying to come up with some way of salvaging something out the mess. She'd thought that, if by some chance, at least some of the implanted memories had lodged in his brain, it might still be possible to convince him that he actually was Carmichael, not Bartowski. It'd been worth a try, in any case.

Of course, this would only work if she could prevent him from having any contact with "Team Bartowski". To accomplish this, she'd concocted a series of medical and security related issues that had succeeded, surprisingly, in keeping them from his side.

But now, it seems that the jig is up. Walker and Casey obviously no longer believed her stories. And by going off grid (and almost certainly taking the Woodcombs and Grimes with them), they've sent a signal that they're about to take matters into their own hands.

Diane shivers a little as she thinks about what their plans might entail. She knows their service records intimately, knows what they're capable of, and how efficient they are at accomplishing their goals. To think that they might now, in some way or other, be coming after her sends a definite chill down her spine.

Hopefully, Bartowski will agree to the download, thus enabling her to present them with a fait accompli, one which she hopes will defuse the situation.

But then a little voice reminds her that if the download actually winds up damaging Bartowski in some way, they'll be even more reason for them to go after her. And with considerably less restraint.

She looks out her window again, now wondering what threats the darkness might be concealing. And even though she expects she's seriously overreacting, General Diane Beckman is suddenly very grateful she spends so much of her life behind bulletproof glass.

TBC

A/N: If I had Sarah and Casey after me, I think I'd find the nearest bunker and hunker down. For a very long time. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.