A/N- I offer the readers following this story a sincere apology for the delay. Good reasons, real life demands, etc... but I know I hate waiting for updates, so..mea culpa. Once again, thanks for the reviews and PMs. Michaelfmx, merci for editing and your valued input.

"She was beholden to no man, held her tongue for none, she would stand before the gods themselves and inform them of what they could do with their immortal souls."

― A.H. Septimius, Crowns Of Amara: The Return Of The Oracle

From the Previous Chapter (17)

Sarah, without looking behind her, knew Carina was following her. When she opened the front door, she looked back and held the door open for Carina. Carina gave her an intense look, then quickly brushed past her. "I need a drink and we need to talk….agent to agent."

Sarah pointed to the drinks cabinet that held some cognac, single malt and vodka. She grabbed a corner of the sofa and waited for Carina to get a drink. Carina poured two vodkas, gave one to Sarah and curled up in one of the leather reclining chairs.

"Alright Sarah, what's the story with you and Chuck?"

"Story, what story?" Carina shook her head. "Seriously, you're going to try and deflect…?"

Sarah sighed, "…okay, as you can clearly see, we're together. When this mission is over and we head back to Washington, we'll be living together."

Carina took a healthy sip. "Sarah, how long do you think this little bubble you've created for yourself….will last?"

Sarah remained silent and sipped her drink.

Carina pressed on…Sarah, her best friend… was living in a fantasy world that couldn't last. "Does he know what you do, who you really are? Does he know about Bryce?"

Sarah smiled. "Carina, yes, yes and most definitely yes."

Carina's eyes widened with surprise, she sat forward. "How long before you grow bored with him? Sarah Walker, you're a spy….a great one…, you're meant to be out there, with your hair on fire. Not playing Chuckles' girlfriend….I mean, what comes next…marriage…children?"

Carina was almost standing. "Sarah, what about your career? You could one day be a deputy director or a station chief. Your destiny is to rise in the ranks and serve your country."

Sarah felt the uncertainty of her situation and their future. My God, she was just barely into the early stages of being with Chuck. They hadn't even had a chance to talk about any of those things. Carina's questions were good ones. But she also knew that Carina was projecting onto her…some of her own life questions.

"First, don't call him Chuckles…." Sarah paused until she got a nod from Carina.

"Carina, I won't be doing what I used to do for the CIA. Those days are over, they finally died when Graham perished in that explosion. I don't know what comes next for Chuck and me."

Two pairs of intense blue eyes locked onto each other.

Sarah broke the silence. "Carina, my destiny is what I choose. I didn't choose working for the CIA ….Graham coerced and manipulated me over these last ten years. Now I get to choose….and Chuck Bartowski will help me make those decisions."

{o}

Chapter 18

January 6th, 2009

2237 Cliff St. San Diego, CA 6:30am

Chuck was wide awake.

Sarah was snuggled in close to him with her arm resting across his waist. A soft snore escaped her lips. He gently changed his position without waking her. He was worried about this mission. The stakes were incredibly high, especially if there was a hybrid pathogen, a deadly virus... in the hands of an Iranian sleeper cell.

He and Tom had arranged to have the HD cameras at the three suspected sites. They were up and running. The captured pictures would be slaved into the NSA database, who would then make sure that the CIA, FBI and DEA also received the images.

Mac Showers had contacted his old colleague, 'C' in MI6 and the head of Mossad. Both gentlemen agreed to run the images through their facial recognition software.

Now they had to be patient.

Chuck reached out and touched Sarah's blonde tresses. They were silky and the lavender scent of her shampoo was now very familiar to him. When he'd come back in to 'their' house, Sarah was already in bed. But she wasn't asleep. She smiled at him. "Hurry up and get ready for bed…..Chuck." She then patted the space beside her with her right hand. That's all the encouragement he'd needed.

The welcome he received when he slipped under the duvet was…..to quote Devon….awesome.

Sarah drifted up through the layers of sleep and felt Chuck's touch and his fingers on her tresses. She didn't open her eyes; she played possum.

It was monumentally hard not to move while Chuck was touching her ….finally she murmured, "Chuck, why are you stroking my hair?" He laughed, "Because, it's covering my bare chest….and I love the feel of it."

Sarah asked what time it was. Chuck told her it was 6:30.

She got up and brushed her teeth and did a quick calculation in her head. They were supposed to all meet at 7:30 for the operations meeting, per Casey's standing order. It would take her twenty minutes to get ready. Chuck needed ten minutes.

She smiled to herself. There was just enough time. She got back into bed. "Chuck, quickly….go brush your teeth and get back in here….hurry."

January 6th, 7:45am

398 C St.-Encinitas-San Diego

Esteban was dressed in his blue business suit. He hurriedly took a last sip of his morning coffee. He was ready to head out to work, that's when he saw the Crown Victoria pull up through a side window in his dining room. The four men who emerged from the car immediately caught his attention. They were all wearing black windbreakers, black pants, gloves and baseball caps.

The tallest man looked up at Esteban's house. Esteban knew he was in trouble. It was the sense that the prey had in the presence of the predator. Carina had told him what to do, if he felt in danger.

He rushed into his bedroom and grabbed the burner phone she'd given him. He sent a text and then called the number…"Come on…come on Carina ...answer….please…"

{o}

2237 Cliff St. San Diego, CA 7:45am

Carina's burner phone beeped with a text message and then the phone started ringing. Everyone around the table stopped talking as Carina took the call. In seconds, she was on her feet and walking towards the front door.

"Esteban…listen…I'll be there in twenty minutes. Remember, no matter what they do to you, admit nothing. As soon as you tell them anything…..a minute later they'll kill you…." The phone went dead.

Sarah, Chuck, Casey and Tom stood up, waiting. Carina quickly told them her asset was in trouble. Carina turned to Tom and gave him the address for Esteban's house. "Get the predator drone circling over that address….NOW!"

She turned to the others. "Casey, have you loaded the SUVs for action?" Carina knew from Casey's nod they were ready to go. "Okay, I'll explain in the SUV….let's go."

Casey had equipped each SUV with identical tactical equipment and a small armory. Inside each SUV there was a laptop that had a satellite communications link. They only needed the one SUV and piled in.

The route up to Esteban's house was easy, taking the I-805 and then the I-5. If Casey used the flashers and lady luck was with them, they could be there in twenty minutes.

Carina gave Casey and Sarah a detailed brief about the layout of Esteban's house. Chuck listened with one ear as he talked to Tom through the earbud with his other. The predator was in place and feeding them both infrared and regular images.

Everyone knew that they'd only have infrared images for another thirty minutes, then the sun would be too high in the sky and heat the roof, obliterating their ability to see inside the house.

Chuck interrupted. "Okay, I've got five people. Three images are in a room …looks like the dining room, hard to tell. One image is near the front door and one near the rear." They spent the next ten minutes coming up with a plan to breach the house and save Esteban.

A rough plan quickly emerged. Sarah and Carina would take specially shaped explosive charges and blow the back door. Casey would do the same to the front. The sequence would be back door, then front door, then a stun grenade, back door, then front door.

The three agents sorted out zones of fire in the dining room.

Casey had chosen the Heckler & Koch MP5SD3, a suppressed compact weapon, ideal for urban combat.

When they arrived at the house, Casey turned off the blue flashers and edged up into an alley that ran along the back of the houses. They'd all seen the Crown Vic parked on the street just outside the dining room window of Esteban's house.

The main problem was that the sun had risen at 6:52am. Carina could get everyone positioned but the final ten yards to the back and front doors would leave them exposed to the Sicarios posted at each door.

Chuck had an idea. "Casey, do you have the NSA incinerator in the armory." Casey looked offended. "Of course I do."

Chuck smiled. "Listen, give me one of them. I can slip down the line of cars and put it under the Crown Vic and then blow it remotely. That will distract everyone in the house."

Casey looked devastated. "What….are you mad ….you're going to blow up the Crown Vic?"

Carina cut Casey off. "Chuck, blow the fucking Crown Vic….we need to move….now! My asset is being tortured."

Three minutes later, Chuck was back in the van. Carina and Sarah were as close to the back door as they dared. Casey was waiting in a bush to the right of the front door.

Chuck blew up the Crown Vic, which bought them the extra ten seconds they needed, as all the Sicarios rushed to the side window in the dining room.

Casey, Sarah and Carina laid the breaching charges and executed their plan. The stun grenades bought them those five precious seconds of sound, smoke and chaos. The four Sicarios, still reeling from the explosions and stun grenades, still managed to get off two shots at the harbingers of death rushing towards them. One bullet hit Casey in the middle of his vest. It slowed him down for two seconds.

No prisoners would be taken this day. Carina, Sarah and Casey cleared the room and took out the Sicarios with precise three-shot bursts from their suppressed MP5s.

Esteban was tied to a chair. He was bloodied but still conscious.

Sarah noticed that as soon as he saw Carina, relief flooded his face. Carina's face reflected back Esteban's look and she gave him a warm and genuine smile. Sarah didn't miss the strong connection between them…..I wonder?

Carina rushed over to him and, a knife materialized in her right hand. She cut him loose and took his face in her hands. "How are you?"

Sarah and Casey, after checking each body and clearing away their weapons, walked over to Carina.

She was talking softly and urgently to Esteban. She helped him out of the chair. He stood up slowly, leaning heavily on her. All the while Carina was checking him out to see what damage the Sicarios had done to him.

Sarah's eyes widened when Carina opened her arms and gingerly hugged Esteban and whispered something into his ear.

While Sarah had been on the CAT squad, she had seen Carina with any number of men, including former assets.

This type of reaction was a first. Carina was being tender with Esteban, she rushed into the bedroom and grabbed a blanket from the bedroom and draped it around his shoulders.

Sarah saw the cuts on his bare chest and arms. They'd also burned him with cigarettes.

The Scicarios had broken two of Esteban's fingers and his nose.

The team had gotten to Esteban before the Scicarios started to use the blowtorch sitting beside the now empty chair.

Casey looked over at him, Esteban may not have felt it but he was a very lucky man.

Sarah caught sight of Carina's eyes, they were moist. "I assume you want to go to the clinic with Esteban." Carina nodded and turned her full attention back to Esteban, her asset.

Carina looked down on Esteban and reached out and hugged him again. She knew that Esteban's life had changed forever, and she had been the author of his future misfortune…. by recruiting him.

From this moment on everything he knew would change. His safety, and his family's safety, now depended on him staying dead for a couple of years. He would be given a new identity and put into witness protection.

Esteban was close to his family, Carina knew that. Not being able to see them would crush him.

She made herself a promise in that moment that he wouldn't lose her. He needed her help him to survive the future loneliness and separation that was his reward for helping the DEA.

Tom Corrigan, back in the safe house, had arranged for medical aid and a cleanup team. They had just arrived. This was now a Federal Crime scene. The local police sealed off a two block area and kept everyone else out.

One hour later, the local news station KGTV broke the news that a resident of Encinitas, a young man, named Esteban Lopez had died in a natural gas explosion. Ten minutes before the announcement, an LAPD patrol car arrived at the Lopez home, in Los Angeles, to tell the parents of the tragic loss of their second son.

{o}

Four Hours Later on route to 2237 Cliff St. San Diego, CA 1:00pm

The drive back in the SUV had been an interesting one. Carina had gone to the special CIA clinic with Esteban. Sarah and Casey were sitting up front and Chuck was in the backseat, but leaning forward to catch the conversation between Casey and Sarah.

Casey asked the obvious question. "So, what's with Carina and her asset, she seemed awfully concerned about him. I mean, the guy got a tap on the shoulders, he'll be right as rain in ten days….no permanent damage."

Sarah was aware of Chuck. "Casey, Esteban isn't a trained agent…..I mean….you're right, physically everything will heal nicely…."

Chuck jumped in. "Sarah, he needs someone like Dr. Ow…..". Chuck caught himself, that information was private. "…He needs a therapist trained in trauma to talk him through things…."

Casey grunted, therapist for what..some broken fingers, nose and a few cuts…shit.

He saw Chuck's reflection in the mirror. "So, Carina looked….ahh…" He stole a glance towards Sarah. "…is Carina compromised with her asset….this Esteban guy?"

Chuck was confused. "So, what if Carina really likes him….isn't that a good thing, I mean to like your asset?"

Sarah spoke up. "Actually, it's frowned upon. A serious no-no in our business. It makes the agent less effective, if they're compromised." Casey nodded his head in agreement.

Chuck shook his head and reached out with his right hand and touched Sarah's shoulder. "Well, I'm sure glad I was never you're asset."

Sarah thanked all the gods that she'd never been assigned to be his handler, especially now as she felt the warmth of his hand on her shoulder.

{0}

2237 Cliff St. San Diego, CA 4:00pm

Carina was now back with them in the house. Esteban would be in the clinic for another couple of days. Everyone was sitting around the table getting an update on the day's intelligence from Tom.

"So, we've identified a person of interest from one of the sites we were monitoring. The information is coming in from MI6 and has been confirmed by French Intelligence, the DGSE: Directorate-General for External Security."

The energy in the room spiked with that piece of news. Tom handed out a printout to each team member.

Kazem Veisi (Name means: a man who hides his anger)

DOB March 23, 1977, Neauphle-le-Château, suburb of Paris.

French and Iranian citizenship.

Speaks French, Farsi, English and Arabic.

Special Note! Kazem's father, Sadegh, was a close friend of Ruhollah Khomeini.

Sadegh was born in Khomeyn, Markazi Province, Persia, the same town that Khomeini was born in. He went with Khomeini when he was exiled from Iran, by the Shah…for fifteen years to Neauphle-le-Château, a suburb of Paris.

Kazem recruited by Iranian Guards Corps- Intelligence in or around 1995.

Prior to being seen in San Diego (today) he was last seen by western intelligence services in Milan in 1997. We have no knowledge of his movements from 1997 until now.

Suspected involvement in three bombings, Baghdad, Milan and Beirut.

Casey sat back and smiled. "Okay, let's put our two surveillance teams on this guy. We need to find out where he works, where he lives, where he eats and where he shits."

Casey and the team had access to the best resources available to the federal agencies. The FBI had two surveillance teams that were, simply put, the best in the business.

All of the FBI team members were average height, average looks and average everything, except at following someone so they wouldn't be noticed. The teams were thoroughly trained in counter surveillance techniques and how to avoid them.

The teams had been briefed that Kazem was highly trained. He would be on the lookout for people following him. The ace in the hole was that the surveillance teams could hang back…..they had a satellite and a predator drone tracking Kazem's movements when he was out in the open.

Now they had to be patient and let the information come to them.

Casey then shared some more information with everyone sitting around the table.

"Okay, apparently USAMRIID has their own special forces team attached to them at Ft. Detrick. They, along with Colonel Cassandra Fremes, have flown out to San Diego and are in another safe house a mile from here. I'm going to see the good Colonel this afternoon."

Chuck piped up, "So, is Cassandra Fremes is now a believer….I mean, she was pretty skeptical back in Maryland. I don't think she bought into my theory."

Casey shrugged his shoulders. "She's here….my orders are if we find where these rats have a nest….. and decide to make an assault. The Colonel and her special forces team will be with us."

{o}

Next Day

2237 Cliff St. San Diego, CA 2:00pm

It had taken nearly a day but now the team knew several things. The FBI surveillance teams had done their job well.

They knew Kazem's cover name was Lajos Rolko. He had a green card and a Hungarian passport. He'd entered the US two years ago. Lajos was now working at an insurance broker down off Front St.

Discrete inquiries had been made, apparently Lajos worked in the mail room. He was conscientious, a good worker and had a perfect attendance record. He'd been with the insurance broker for seventeen months.

The HR manager said Lajos moved to San Diego from New York eighteen months ago.

Sarah addressed the group. "Okay, we have no record or hits on any database for a Lajos Rolko in the New York area going back two or more years ago. Looks to me like he assumed a new identity." Teams at Langley are still digging for information."

Chuck jumped in. "I've just checked in with Ft. Mead. Guess what?"

Casey grumbled. "I hate guessing games…."

Chuck gulped. "Okay, no guessing…..There is no registered cell phone to a Lajos Rolko. In this day and age that's really unusual."

Sarah nodded. "Unless you're only using burner phones."

Tom was excited as he relayed the last piece of news. "Okay, we have an address…Lajos supposedly lives with his wife, named Sophia, and another couple at 5498 Burford St. It's northwest from here about two miles as the crow flies."

Carina speculated that Lajos' wife...Sophia, was probably Azir Shir-Del. The other Iranian Agent they'd identified who was the link between the Cartel and the Iranians.

Chuck pulled in images from the drone and the satellite and split the big monitor on the wall into two. The team gathered in close to look at the house, the street and the surrounding terrain.

Casey spoke first.

"Shit, this is a good place for the Iranians, it's in a cul-de-sac ….look to the right, there's a big valley and parkland. It's all open terrain. Plus, the neighbours aren't too close…..they'll be able to see us coming. And they've had almost two years to prepare.

"We need to get someone in closer to reconnoiter the area, without making them suspicious. Maybe even pre-position the assault team."

Carina looked at the house. "How the hell does a mail clerk make enough money to live in that kind of up scale house…..it doesn't add up."

Casey told Tom and Chuck to get all the information they could on the people living in the seven houses either side of 5948 Burford St.

Casey, Carina and Sarah sat down at the kitchen table and started to talk about options to get into the house without triggering an epidemic that might infect eighty or ninety thousand people.

Major John Casey, every inch a Marine said what Carina and Sarah were thinking. "There are over fifty Navy ships based out of San Diego, there are twenty-four thousand sailors, marines and coast guard staff on that base, plus ten thousand civilians."

{o}

It took Tom, Chuck and their counterparts at Ft. Mead and Langley an hour to dig up the information on who lived in the seven houses either side of 5948 Burford St.

Tom went through who owned and lived at each of the houses. In every case it would be tricky to move the family out. None of the houses were up for sale.

Tom left what he thought was the best possibility to the last. "A Mrs. Radford owns and lives at 5490 Burford. She's a widow. It's the house right next to the Iranian's house."

Casey started firing questions at Tom. "How old is she? When did she move in? Does she have a daughter or son?"

Chuck jumped in. "She's fifty-six years old. She moved in two months ago. She has no children.

Casey had one more question. "What do you know about her late husband?" Tom had the answer. "Her husband died of cancer a year ago…." Tom looked at his notes. "He was a Commander in the Coast Guard, he retired two years ago. They used to live in Seattle."

Casey looked over at Sarah and then at Chuck. They looked back at him and tried to guess what the look was all about. Casey stood up and started walking around the table.

"Okay, help me out. We need to get somebody in that house without moving her out. That would look too suspicious. What if Mrs. Radford had her son and daughter-in-law pay her a visit for say two weeks?"

Chuck looked skeptical. "Casey, she doesn't have any children and why would Mrs. Radford, all of a sudden, agree to help us?"

Casey actually smiled. "Because, once her husband's former commanding officer and I have a chat with her on the phone, she'll agree to a visit from her son and daughter-in-law. You and Walker will make a believable couple."

Tom suggested Casey didn't talk with Mrs. Radford on the phone. "You know the Iranians might've bugged the surrounding houses to make sure the people living in them are who they appear to be. We shouldn't underestimate their capabilities."

Carina had the bright idea to have Commander Radford's former commanding officer, Commodore Decker was his name, call her and invite her out for coffee at a local Starbucks.

Carina then turned to Casey. "Why not pick me for Chuck's blushing bride? I can do the suburban housewife to a tee." She gave Chuck a big loving gaze.

Casey didn't hesitate for a second. "Why? Because you're not in love with Bartowski…..Walker is….my God, they don't even have to act the part."

Sarah fought the blush rising up from her neck and decided to say nothing.

Chuck smiled at Sarah and mouthed the words….I told you everyone knows about us!

Next Day -10:00am

5490 San Diego, CA 10:00am- Residence of Mrs. Sandra Radford (Widow)

It had been a very, very long night for Sarah, Chuck and the entire team. No one had slept.

The first order of business was for Casey to meet with Mrs. Radford away from her house.

Yesterday evening, Casey and Commodore Decker(who was flown down from Seattle) met with Sandra Radford for two hours at the local Starbucks. It was agreed that Mrs. Radford's son and daughter-in-law would come for a visit the next morning.

Sandra Radford smiled at the idea of having a fake son and daughter-in-law come to visit. She didn't know any of her neighbours that well …..so…..no one knew a lot about her life. She dearly wished in that moment that Frank, her husband, was still alive to help her through this...but he'd want her to help Major Casey.

Chuck and Tom, with help from the FBI, CIA and NSA, created a social media presence for Chuck and Sarah Radford. It took the combined resources of all three agencies and an 'all nighter' to prepare background legends, birth certificates, drivers' licences, graduation diplomas, passports and furnish a condominium in Seattle where Chuck and Sarah Radford lived.

Hundreds and hundreds of people hours were needed to get the work done in time.

A legend for Chuck and Sarah Radford was now in place. Tom believed that when the Iranians caught sight of the young couple, they would quietly investigate… who the hell Chuck and Sarah Radford were.

Tom had zero doubts that the Iranians would be suspicious of new people on their street. Especially if they were in possession of bioweapons, they'd be hypersensitive and on high alert.

Tom hoped that the Iranians' online inquiries would detect an average couple who lived in Seattle.

An actual condominium had been quickly procured in the name of Chuck and Sarah Radford. Just in case the Iranians dug a little deeper into their background.

The last thing the federal agencies did was to scrub images and records of Chuck Bartowski and Sarah Walker from all known databases.

As of 7:30 this morning, Chuck Bartowski and Sarah Walker no longer existed, at least in the digital world.

Carina and Sarah had gone out shopping around two o'clock in the morning to purchase all the things a young married couple would need when visiting their parents for two weeks.

Sarah and Carina had access to five different stores that were opened especially for them. Bleary eyed managers had been woken up and driven by FBI agents to their stores to let a statuesque blonde and the beautiful red head wander around their shop.

Carina's one comment during the shopping expedition had been, "Now you get to dress Chuck the way you want him to look. Just like your own personal 'Ken' doll." Sarah snapped out. "I never had a 'Ken' doll. Did you?"

Carina laughed, "No, but ask me about men named Ken." Sarah looked at Carina. "What if I ask you about a man named Esteban?" Carina didn't answer and walked away from her.

Casey got the NSA to provide them with a minivan, which he loaded with surveillance equipment and another small armory. Mrs. Radford confirmed there was room in her garage for the minivan.

The unknowns of the situation were; Where was the Chimera? Was it in the house or somewhere else? How were they planning to deploy the virus?

Sarah and Chuck took their suitcases from their minivan and walked up to the front door. Before they got there, Sandra Radford rushed down the stone pathway and warmly hugged Chuck and then Sarah. Chuck's one thought was, she's a damn good actor.

Once they disappeared into the house. Sandra Radford dropped the act and looked nervous. "Was that okay, was I believable?" Sarah smiled at her. "You were great, Mrs. Sandford."

Sarah was wearing a green sundress. Chuck was wearing a denim shirt, jeans and sneakers, that she'd picked out for him.

The two articles that felt strange to both of them were the wedding rings and Sarah's engagement ring.

Sandra Radford looked at them. "Are the two of you really married ….or…. I mean…" Chuck didn't know what to say and looked at Sarah for help.

"Mrs. Radford, in real life Chuck and I live together…..back in Washington….so, yes, we're a real couple." Chuck beamed at Sarah and was rewarded with a smile.

Sandra looked at the interchange between Chuck and Sarah, and relaxed, yes they were a real couple. "Well, I guess you both need to call me mom…..for the neighbours….. from here on in…..not Mrs. Radford. Your room is up the stairs and to the left."

She showed them the spare room. "I put fresh sheets on the bed this morning. It overlooks where….what did Major Casey call them…..oh yes….the persons of interest are living."

{o}

Eight Hours Later-6pm

Chuck and Sarah had worked nonstop once they were inside Mrs. Radford's house.

Sarah had quickly moved the minivan into the garage.

They'd emptied the van. Chuck hauled all the surveillance equipment, monitors and several laptops up to their bedroom. Sarah had taken care of all the weapons. She re-checked them all and made sure they were ready.

She knew Casey had already checked them but her training and experience told her to do it again. When she finished she went upstairs and helped Chuck drill several tiny holes in the bedroom wall and downstairs to position micro cameras, that looked across the lane towards the Iranians' house.

Everything was now up and running. The sun had set an hour ago.

Their bedroom was dark. They'd turned off all the lights and were dressed in black clothes. Sarah and Chuck were sitting in two chairs side by side but away from the window. They were sipping coffee and eating sandwiches that Sandra had made for them.

Chuck now had views from the satellite, the predator drone (which was now armed) and five micro cameras that they'd set up. The images were shown on five low light monitors arrayed around them.

Everything Chuck saw was also being shared with Tom, Casey, the NSA and the CIA.

For now everything was relatively peaceful.

There were three people in the other house, moving around in and out of the garage.

The curtains were pulled and the garage door was closed, so all they could see were blurry infrared images moving around, their images captured by the satellite.

They were still waiting for Kazem Veisi, AKA Lajos Rolko, to come home from his job at the insurance broker.

The FBI surveillance team had radioed that Kazem had just gotten off the number 120 bus and had transferred to the number 40 bus. He'd be home in thirty minutes.

Chuck was aware that the next few hours, the next few days might be his last. If they made a mistake, if the Iranians were successful in carrying out their mission. There were things he wanted to say, things he wanted to do.

Chuck turned to Sarah. "So, we're living together now…and we really are a real couple?" Sarah gave him a gentle kick. "Stop teasing me, we're living together…right?" Chuck smiled at her and touched her arm.

He wasn't finished. "So, ….after this is mission is over…I mean how do we make…..us work? Supposing and hoping we don't both get an Ebola or Bubonic plague virus."

Sarah turned her eyes away from the monitors. "Chuck, I'm new to this relationship thing…you know, making such a huge commitment to another person. Believe me it was never like this with Bryce."

They both lapsed into silence and checked the monitors. Chuck was very quiet and pensive.

After several minutes he nudged her foot with his foot. "What I was really trying to ask you…..and I know I'm saying it badly …was….would you be open to taking things to the next level."

Sarah sucked in her breath. "What level is that?"

Chuck held up his left hand up and wiggled his ring finger. "You know, the level where people wear rings."

Sarah's tone was sharp. "What….hold on a second….. in the middle of a dark room where I can barely see your face…are you asking me…."

Even in the dark, Chuck felt the intensity of Sarah's gaze. He nudged his iPhone off the table and got down on one knee to pick it up….but instead of picking it up…he reached over and grabbed Sarah's left hand.

He gently removed her cover wedding ring and the engagement ring. He then took the engagement ring and held it up, so she could see the light from one of the monitors sparkle off of it.

"Sarah, I don't want to ever go back to before ….when I wasn't with you…being without you?"

"Chuck, this is not the best time for this…we're in the middle of a mission….I…"

He asked her to bend down so he could whisper in her ear over. "Sarah, I love you…I know you love me….please, say yes….the rest is just details…"

Sarah dropped to her knees and grabbed his face with both her hands. She kissed him long and hard. "Yes, why the hell not…I don't think I'm a really good girlfriend…..maybe, if you're lucky, I'll be a better fiancé."

Chuck gave her a huge hug. "All we need is some music…next time we do this, I'll prepare a mix of songs…."

Sarah was smiling when she gave him a gentle elbow in the gut. "Chuck, shut up, get back in your seat….and focus on the mission."

There was a long silence as both of them reflected on what they'd just done. Sarah leaned over and whispered, "Chuck, you so owe me a really romantic evening once this mission is over."

{o}

Later

January 7th, 2009

5490 Burford St. San Diego, CA 3:30am

Chuck gently shook Sarah's shoulder. "Sarah…Sarah…it's your shift."

Sarah rubbed the sleep from her eyes. She was lying fully clothed on the bed. In three seconds she was fully awake. Chuck gave her an update on what had happened over the last three hours.

"Two of them were in the garage until 1:45am, then they went to bed...at least I think they're sleeping. I only have three infrared images…..so one of them is in the house…maybe in a protected area."

All of a sudden, Tom's voice was in their earbud, he'd also been keeping watch from their safe house back on Cliff St., two miles away.

"I've consulted with Langley. Bad news. It looks like the Iranians have been changing things in the house. We think they've added walls and other materials that block infrared from getting through. Hell, they may even have constructed a safe room. Maybe their checking out who Chuck and Sarah Radford are."

Casey was also up, they now heard his voice. "Walker, we need to figure out how to see what the hell they're doing in that garage. Maybe you and I can get closer….maybe drill some holes into the garage wall and take a peek."

Chuck's eyes widened with surprise. His tongue raced ahead of his brain. "Are you both crazy, we don't have enough information….they could have motion sensors, cameras…hell, they could've planted IEDs on the approaches…they've had almost two years in that house…to prepare for almost anything."

Sarah put her hand on his arm to silence him. "Casey, give me ten minutes …I'll get back to you."

She signalled Chuck to pull the earbud out of his ear. She did the same.

"Okay, we need to talk…"

She gathered her thoughts. "Chuck, we're running out of time…my gut tells me they're ready to carry out their mission…we'll need to take some risks…"

Chuck felt his worry and anxiety surface. "We just got engaged less than eight hours ago…and you want to go out there and get yourself killed…?" He was now angry.

Sarah's temper flared. "How the hell do you think I've kept myself alive…over the years….of course I don't want to get myself killed…I can defeat motion sensors ….and they won't risk setting off an IED….they'd expose themselves…..and fail in their mission. "

Chuck stood up. "Okay, but what about trip wires….what if they have a drone up there feeding them images….you wouldn't get ten feet … Then they might just release the pathogens…please..give Tom and me some more time…"

Chuck stopped himself as an idea popped into his head. "Listen, I've got some tiny drones here. One is the size of a dragon fly. Casey knows how to make it land on a one inch ledge…light as a feather….then we'll get some good intel….please wait."

Sarah was lost in thought, Chuck might be right…mistakes might translate into thousands of deaths.

She stood up beside Chuck and put her earbud back in her ear. "Casey, get over here….. I suggest you use the park to get here. The back door will be open…approach from the southwest. You have a dragon fly mission to fly."

{o}

One Hour Later-4:30am

Sarah was positioned at the back door. She was cradling an MP5 with a suppressor and was wearing night vision googles. She had only been expecting Casey, but instead seven people showed up. Sarah saw the way they moved …there was no doubt in her mind….they were Special Forces….faces camouflaged…ready for action.

Sarah released the safety on her weapon…..the team stopped and one person slowly advanced….Casey stopped and gave Sarah a wave. Sarah took a relieved breath and put the safety back on the MP5 and quietly opened the back door.

Seven people quickly and silently slipped into the kitchen through the back door. The seventh person to come in was Carina.

Sarah gave Casey a questioning look. "Walker, the powers that be want the strike team pre-positioned."

He quickly did the introductions. The four man team from USAMIID was led by Commander Finny, who was on detached duty, from Seal team six. The surprise visitor….was Colonel Cassandra Fremes, all the way from Ft. Detrick.

Sarah blurted out. "I thought you said this was a wild goose chase?" The colonel smiled …."Changed my mind….if your Chuck is correct, then this is the place I need to be." Sarah sighed, even the Colonel knew they were a couple.

A/N2- Note of thanks to James Mowery for pointing out that USAMIID has their own special force unit.

A/N3- Right, next chapter will be a closer and an epilogue rolled into one, then 'tis done'.