A/N1 Well, here we go.
Thanks for reading and responding. I would very much like to hear from you, even just to say you are enjoying the story.
Today's chapter title, as some of you may recognize, is the first line of Dorothy Parker's "Epitaph" poem.
A general reminder. Specific canon events have been reimagined as the story has gone along, and you will sometimes need to recall the reimagined events to make sense of what is happening or being said. For example, Chap 7's conversation about Lou matters to what occurs here.
If you have read any of my stories, you know that they routinely circle back on themselves. That will happen quite a lot in this one, given the premise.
Don't own Chuck.
The His, Hers and Ours Mission
Saturday, January 10, 2008
Romney, West Virginia
Overcoming Life Church (Abandoned Building)
CHAPTER 11 The First Time I Died
Chuck's gait was still unsteady as he walked down the center aisle of the abandoned church, toward the light bulb hanging over the table.
Parks was standing off to the side of the table. Coombs was seated on the floor, looking around the church as if he were frightened by it, frightened to be inside it. Parks watched Chuck cover the final few feet to the table. Her eyes were fastened to him, fear and worry gathered in the hunch of her shoulders.
Despite his stomach churning, and his heart beating as if it were empty, he tried to meet her eyes with a smile. He had scared her, he knew. He had scared himself—scared himself sick. Parks gestured at Coombs by shrugging one shoulder.
"He gave me the directions to the cabin. As soon as someone gets here to take him, we can go get Sarah." Parks was clearly trying to be upbeat, encouraging. She smiled through the other emotions playing across her face.
"No," Chuck answered gently. "You wait, Chris. I'll go after her. Every moment I lose is a moment during which…something might happen. I've got to go." Parks bit her lower lip, but then she pointed to a scrap of paper on the table.
"I thought you would say that. I wrote the directions down. Chuck, you understand who Lawton is, right? You understand that you are overmatched? Why won't you wait? Your chances will be better if I am with you."
Chuck closed his eyes and forced himself to breathe. "I know, Chris. But will Sarah's, if we wait?"
Parks' silence was her answer. She glanced at Coombs. He was slumped on the floor. She reached down and took a pistol from an ankle holster and sat it on the table, then she reloaded her other one, the one still bloody from Chuck's hands.
"Lawton's a killer, Chuck. But you are the better man. Hold on to that." She extended the gun to him and he took it.
She put her hand on his shoulder as he turned. "Stay alive. Save her."
Chuck nodded once and then left the church. Outside, he climbed back into the pickup. The smell of blood still filled the cabin, but he had no time to do anything about it. His hands were killing him, aching and stinging. He popped open the glove compartment. Inside was an old rag. He tore it in two and wrapped a half snug around each palm. It helped.
He started the engine, checked the gas. More than enough. He put the truck in gear and started after Sarah.
The headlights of the pickup bored twin holes in the darkness. Chuck was winding up into the mountains, higher even than he had been with Sarah when they were up above the abandoned mine.
Chuck's throat was burning. The acrid stench of bile and the sweet-sticky smell of blood hung around him. The feeling of loss and emptiness in his chest seemed to be expanding, threatening to swallow him from the inside.
The last time he had felt anything like this was when he realized that his dad was gone. His dad had been wonderful, and he and Chuck had a deep connection. They were so alike. His father was gifted, a computer engineer. He taught at UCLA and had his own lab in the basement of their home. Chuck spent the best hours of his childhood there, playing games with his father, later helping him solve problems, and develop new ideas. His dad's mind and his mind were attuned to one another. Like a Vulcan mind-meld or something.
Chuck loved his mother, but she was always…different from the other mothers he knew. She loved him and loved Ellie and loved his dad, but her love was always guarded and tentative, almost as if she were holding back some crucial part of herself that she could not or would not give to anyone else. That had never changed, not over the years. Chuck later believed that his mother was trapped between commitments, one to her family and one to the Company, to the CIA. She could not let go of either, and so each got only a part of her. Chuck never could decide whether it was her family or the Company that got the best part.
But Chuck's dad, for all his involvement in his teaching and research, had never been distant or partial. He'd been fully present, and not just to Chuck, but to Ellie too, even though she did not share his interests to the degree Chuck did. His dad's complete commitment made his mother's incomplete commitment bearable. But then things started to change.
One day, while playing a game together, Chuck's dad just…zoned out. Chuck at the time had no better phrase. The episodes started lasting longer each time. His dad would just lock up. He would not talk, not react. He stared forward but seemed to see nothing. Chuck's mom took him to doctors, but no one seemed to understand the problem. And then one day, he started to wander during the episodes. He left the house and walked around the neighborhood the first time. But after that, he would go farther, stay away longer. He seemed like a different man during the episodes, and seemed to only dimly recognize Chuck or Ellie or his mother. One day, he wandered away during an episode and never returned.
He'd promised the kids that morning that he would make pancakes. But they had no syrup. He went to the store to get some and never came back. A clerk at the store, a woman who had worked there for years, said that Chuck's dad had come through her line, bought syrup, and left. She said that he seemed not to know her and that he seemed like he might be walking in his sleep.
Chuck's mom became more, not less, distant after his dad disappeared. She traveled more. Eventually, she hired a full-time caregiver for Chuck and Ellie, and only came home on weekends and holidays. Ellie effectively became Chuck's mother and father, stepping into the huge gaps her parents left in her brother's life.
When Chuck graduated from high school and started at Stanford, his mother moved to DC, made official what had been unofficial. He saw her irregularly, now and then when he could find time to get to DC. They talked on the phone sometimes. But Ellie remained his real lifeline.
Chuck had never fully recovered from that day of loss, Syrup Day, as he and Ellie dubbed it. Pancakes became a meal they ate in memory of their father, and of the life that wandered away that day.
That day. That time. The first time I died.
Now, he felt like he was living out another version of that day, as if the life he wanted were being taken from him again. Chuck did not understand what took his dad. But he knew what—who—had taken Sarah. Lawton. Lawton Chuck could do something about—he had to. He had felt powerless, he had been powerless, when his father left. He was not powerless now.
He had to find a way to save her. He could not be too late. This will not be the next time I die.
Chuck stopped the truck at a long distance from the cabin. It meant a time-consuming walk in the dark, but he could not chance Lawton hearing the truck, hearing him coming. The chance of traps was slim. Coombs called this a hunting cabin. He and Lawton couldn't have had more than a couple of days to try to put the plan together. They'd clearly thought the night would go their way.
His hands were aching and throbbing. He unwrapped his gun hand, hissing quietly to himself as the cloth tore away from his wounded palm. Luckily, although it bled, the bleeding was not as heavy as before. He picked up the gun from where he had put it on the seat of the truck, and he started up the hill.
The night remained clear. Chuck was able, after a moment's adjustment, to see well enough to pick his way along the road. After many miserable minutes, he finally saw the cabin, and saw a weak light shining out of its one front window. Chuck worked closer to the cabin.
He made himself concentrate on each footfall. He would not let himself stare at the cabin, no matter how true it was that his heart was already in the cabin. He had never been good at this sort of drill at the Farm—because he just hadn't cared enough about the end to attend completely to the means. Saving a dummy just didn't matter to him and he was not competitive enough to care about turning in the best performance. He only cared about doing well enough to get through it.
Now, each step was a step for Sarah. Each movement a movement for her. He could not tolerate failure in the means because he could not tolerate failing Sarah. In complete silence, he reached the edge of the cabin. He controlled his breathing and listened. He could hear a voice—a man's voice. He was talking to…Sarah. Chuck heard the man use her name. His relief was so profound that for a moment he forgot where he was, who he was. There was only the consciousness of her, that she was alive. Alive!
But…Something was nagging at Chuck. What?
He had not heard Sarah speak. He had heard her spoken to but not heard her respond. He listened again. After a moment, he heard the man—Lawton, presumably—speak again.
"Come, come, Sarah. It is time to wake up. I know the dreams are bad. The hallucinations won't be much better. But it will all pass. And when it does, you will be so eager to…share. You will tell me what I want to know. Come, come, Sarah, this is really simply taking too long. Coombs will be here soon. Damn Coombs, he would build a cabin out of cell service. Talk to me, Sarah, I want to know the answers to my questions before Coombs arrives and starts making...demands..."
Chuck finally heard her. A soft moan. No words, but—he had heard her. Lawton must have drugged her. A truth-serum. But Sarah could resist the serum. She had done it in Burbank. So had he.
None of that mattered now. He needed to get to Sarah. How? He thought of the weak light from the window. Could he get to the window and get a shot off?
The cabin was built on a cinder block foundation. It had a front porch, also standing on cinder blocks, but on pillars, one pillar on each front corner. There were steps on the front of the porch, but none of the side where Chuck was. Chuck eased himself up onto the porch. He stopped once his weight was resting on there, hoping it would make no sound. It didn't. The night was still. Staying as low as he could, he moved deliberately to the window.
"Sarah, Sarah. Oh, you are shivering. I have been so intent on you that I have neglected the fire. Let me see to that, while you rouse yourself." Chuck did not hear Sarah respond, but that might have been because he was scrambling quietly back off the porch. There was a woodpile under a wooden lean-to on the opposite side of the porch and Chuck heard Lawton striding toward the door.
At just that moment, the air was rent by a strange, yodeling cacophony, a mixture of baby cries and yelps and howls. Chuck jumped involuntarily. It was the howling of a coyote pack. The sound continued for a little while as Chuck dismounted from the porch and crawled underneath it. Lawton came out onto the porch and stood and listened to it for a moment. Through a crack in the floor, Chuck saw him smile at the sound—a feral smile. For a second, Chuck expected Lawton to howl. But then Lawton went down the steps and over to the lean-to. As he gathered up pieces of firewood, Chuck got out from under the porch and stood, the pistol pointed at Lawton's back.
For a moment, the upwelling of horror and despair he felt when he threatened Coombs returned. Chuck tightened his finger on the trigger, aiming for the left side of Lawton's back, for the heart. One shot and it would be done. Lawton would be dead and Sarah would be safe. Chuck could do it. One final contraction of his finger and it would be over. Kill him. One final contraction. One final. One. Kill him!
Chuck felt his finger begin to uncoil. There had to be another way. He could just wound Lawton. Maybe.
Lawton must have heard something, felt something. He spun and hurled a small piece of firewood at Chuck. Chuck did not anticipate the movement, and he pulled the trigger involuntarily. The shot shattered the stillness of the night. Lawton's aim was remarkable. The piece of firewood hit Chuck in the forehead like a hammer. He stumbled and fell to his knees. He heard Lawton vault onto the stairs, heading back into the cabin. Chuck's shot missed. A gun, he's going for a gun.
Chuck forced himself to get on his feet and then he leaped up onto the porch. Lawton had just gone through the door. Chuck's vision was blurry. He realized the firewood had split open the skin on his head. He was bleeding from the gash.
He wiped his eyes as he ran through the door, using his still-bandaged, non-gun hand. Lawton had reached the sink on the other side of the main room. He reached for a shelf over the sink—a gun. Chuck felt the Farm take over. He stopped, extended his pistol using both hands, gently blew out a breath and he fired. He hit Lawton in the spot he had aimed at outside, in the back, in the heart. If he let Lawton turn around, he or Sarah would die.
The gunshot was deafening inside the small cabin. Lawton stumbled backward. He never managed to turn around. He slumped onto the floor. Chuck stared at him for a moment, at the blood already beginning to coat the floor around him. He did not move. Chuck knew Lawton was dead. He had killed him. Chuck saw a leather bag on the counter. He looked inside and found a scalpel.
He heard Sarah gasp suddenly behind him like she'd been pulled up, heaving, from the bottom of the ocean. He rushed to her. Her eyes were open, but glassy, unfocused. She was still in the grip of whatever drug Lawton gave her. Her expression became horrified. She looked at Lawton, then off to her side. She was talking to him, to Chuck. But as if were beside her, not, as he was, in front of her, cutting her restraints with the scalpel.
Still staring off to her side, not looking at Chuck, Chuck heard her speak clearly for the first time. "I love you, Chuck."
He leaned in, next to her ear, and responded, plaintively. "I love you too, Sarah."
He cut the final restraints and stood her up. She was very much under the influence of the drug. She wobbled. It was going to be a long trek back to the truck. She could stand, at least. But she kept looking around, as if she could not process her surroundings. Chuck grabbed the vial off the counter and put it in his coat pocket. Then he sat Sarah back down and dressed her, socks, boots, jacket and cap. He grabbed her phone and weapons, stowing them on himself wherever he could. Then they left the cabin.
They finally made it to the truck. Sarah had been able to walk a bit, but Chuck had carried or half-carried her the whole way. He got her in the cab and buckled in. He turned the truck around at the first spot he could, and they began down the mountain.
Sarah had babbled all the way to the truck. Most of it made little sense. Chuck could tell that whatever the hallucinations she was suffering involved, they were unpleasant. By the time they reached the truck, the babbling had stopped. She had mentioned his name over and over. But as he put her in the cab, she mentioned Carina.
"Sarah, how do you feel?" It was as though the question touched something in her. Galvanized her. She sat up straighter, although her eyes remained unfocused.
"How do I feel?" She spoke clearly, slowly, and smiled dreamily. "I'm in love with my partner... but I don't know how to be in love. I can't even...say the words to him…Carina, I love him...so much. I'm afraid of how I feel, but I am...even more afraid of getting it all wrong...ruining it. He knows about me, Carina, and he still loves me…He actually loves me anyway…How is that possible?" It was strange: Sarah was hallucinating but talking almost conversationally. Chuck wondered if Carina had been recently on her mind.
The whole situation was unreal; it felt wrong to Chuck. Sarah had just told him something he'd been desperately hoping was true and desperately longed to hear—and yet she had not told him. "Sarah, you are under the influence of a drug. It might be best if you tried to be still, be quiet, try to rest."
Long pause. Sarah wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand.
"See, Carina…for one thing, I don't know how to be in love and be on a mission. So how can I be in love with my partner?" Sarah's eyes were still glassy. Her tone was breathless. "I prepare for missions by shutting myself off, shutting myself down. I cannot allow myself to feel anything. I contract the world to what I can see through a scope. I contract myself so tightly that I can barely breathe...so tightly I cannot…feel…"
Sarah's chin fell onto her chest. Chuck thought she was finished talking. He could hear her breathing, slow and deep.
But then her head came back up. "No, Carina...Bryce doesn't count. When I was with him, I did not have a partner I loved. I could…contract…whatever I felt for Bryce…shut it off. Control it. I can't do that with Chuck. When I am with him, my heart takes orders from his heart…not from...my head…"
She was silent for a while, then she added softly. "He would be better off...if he never met me….He should be somewhere else...doing something else…with…someone else. Maybe I should let…Parks…let Chris...take him, have him. She is a spy…but she is also…a real girl.
"I am so sorry for Chuck—so sorry he is in love with me. How…can I...feel so sorry about the…greatest thing…that has…ever…happened to me, Carina?"
Her chin fell again. He heard her breathing regularize. She was asleep.
What was Chuck supposed to do with all of that?
She had told him all of it believing she was talking to Carina, not to him. He was a witness told by a judge to disregard testimony he had heard but that was…inadmissible. He now knew things he was not supposed to know. Sarah had told him things she had not really told him. It was like he had eavesdropped on a phone call to Carina.
He had felt guilty for a long time about pushing Sarah when they had been dosed with truth-serum in Burbank. He did not know whether she had been trained to resist it, and it was clear, while they were in the hospital trying to help Ellie, that she had not been trying to resist it. She had told him how sorry she was about it all. But he knew what she was mostly trying to say was that she was sorry that she had come into his life—into the life of Chuck Bartowski.
He knew that his mission objectives in Burbank dictated that he should have asked Sarah about Fulcrum and about Bryce. But Lou was in the picture, and Chuck was seriously thinking about quitting and pursuing something with Lou. He needed to know if Sarah really felt about him as he thought she might, hoped she might. Mission be damned. So, he'd asked. And, when she answered, he'd known she was lying, that she could lie despite the serum. She could resist it, and did. Still, she did have feelings for him. But the mission, the job, was her top priority. That was as bad, maybe even worse, than if she'd told him truthfully that there was nothing there, no real feelings. Because if he were still less import to her than her mission, then that meant he was not important to her as he wanted to be. It meant the interminable cover dating would continue.
So, the next morning he'd decided he was going to end the cover dating, break up with her. He would see what might happen with Lou. He wanted Sarah—but what good was it to go on wanting what you knew you could not have? Yes, he would have lies to walk back with Lou, and she might not get over them, might not give him a chance. But Sarah was not going to give him a chance. To her, he was an asset. At the end of the day, no matter what she might feel in her heart of hearts, that was all she would allow him to be. Of course, she was technically his asset—but he'd forgotten about that long ago, except when talking to Casey or during meetings with Graham and Beckman. Sarah was not able to forget that where he was concerned. She was a spy in a way he had never been, and never would be.
It was past time for him to get out of the spy life. So, he began the process. He went to the Weinerlicious and he ended the fake relationship.
He hadn't lied exactly when he told Sarah he had a list, a list of things he hadn't done that he needed to do. But the list was Chuck Carmichael's, not Chuck Bartowski's. And the first thing he needed to do was to get off the unmerry-go-round of their cover relationship.
Now, it was like his question in Burbank had been answered. But he shouldn't have asked the question then. He didn't ask now. His question about how she felt had not been a question about her emotional state. He could not unhear what he had heard. But he would have to do his best not to let it steer his actions unthey had a chance to talk. The last thing he wanted to do was spy on the woman he loved. Even if he had done so for months in Burbank.
Chuck pulled into the driveway of the safe house. He got Sarah out of the truck and took her into the house and to her bedroom. He put her gently on the bed and pulled off her boots. He covered her up. As he walked into the kitchen and took out his phone to call Parks, she came through the door. When she saw him, she ran her eyes up and down him and then threw herself into his arms.
"Thank God, you are safe, Chuck! Sarah?"
"She's in the bedroom. She's ok, but under the influence of a strong truth-serum. I have the vial." He pulled it out of his coat pocket. Parks picked it up and looked at the label.
"I heard rumors that Fulcrum had developed a new serum, but I wasn't sure it was true. It's supposed to provoke hallucinations, bad ones at first, but then ones that dispose you to share, answer questions. If you are asked." Parks shifted her focus from the vial to Chuck, and Chuck glanced at the floor. Parks looked at Chuck speculatively, then she put the vial down and went to Sarah's room. Chuck followed. Parks sat down and took Sarah's pulse, pulled her eyes open, and listened to her breathing.
Parks slumped a little as tension drained from her. "I think she'll be ok, although she may sleep for a long time. I had lots of training with these serums at the Farm. This one is new, but it seems only to be a stronger truth-agent, not a poison."
Chuck crumpled in the one chair in the room and stared exhaustedly at Parks.
"So, Chuck, Lawton?"
"Dead. I shot him." Park's gaze divided somehow, revealing that she both knew that had to be true and wanted it to be false.
"You, Chuck, the guy who barely passed my course at the Farm, you killed one of the world's deadliest hitmen."
Chuck shrugged, his face darkening. "Don't make too much of it. I was lucky. He never realized I was there until it was too late. He was…overconfident, I guess." Parks nodded slowly, frowning. She was silent for a minute, studying him.
"You look frightening, Chuck. Do you realize that your face is all bloody? The wound to your head has stopped bleeding. But between that, and the dried blood on your face and your hands, you look like an extra in a B horror movie. Go wash up. I'll take care of Sarah." Parks seemed to realize that her attempt at gallows humor was more gallows than humor, and her weak smiled collapsed as she finished. She quickly turned back to Sarah.
Chuck went into the bathroom. What he saw in the mirror shocked him. His face was smeared with dried blood, and there was a caking of it around the wound to his forehead. His hands were covered in dried blood too. He looked like a corpse.
He carefully unwrapped his other hand. When he got to the cloth next to his torn palms, he wet it a bit so that came loose more easily. He had multiple splinters in both palms; he could tell that once he'd washed his hands. The skin of his palms was torn in places and badly abraded everywhere else. He didn't think any bones were broken, but as the adrenaline wore off, he could feel his hands aching again, and he could feel them stiffening. He washed his face and cleaned the wound on his forehead.
When he finished, the sink was covered in reddish-brown, bloody water. He wiped it down as well as he could with a clean towel. A spray bottle of bathroom cleaner was under the sink, so he grabbed another clean towel and scrubbed with it.
When he finished, he looked at himself in the mirror again. Did he know that man? Cleaned up, he looked like he had been resurrected.
For the first time in his life, Chuck felt like less like his father's and more like his mother's son.
He went back to Sarah's room and sat back down in the chair. Parks had taken off her coat and shoes, and she was sitting on the bed with her head in her hands.
"So, Chris, Coombs?"
"Graham sent a team of cleaners to the mine by helicopter. He then called local law enforcement and gave them their marching orders. A couple of state patrolmen came and took Coombs into custody a little while ago. Graham says the situation is under control, although I have no idea what they are going to tell as the official story or how things will go down at the compound.
"I am under strict orders to call and tell him about you and Sarah. When I told Graham what had happened, and where you had gone, I could tell from his tone he did not expect to see either of you again. At least there's some good news to tell him." Parks bent down and picked up her shoes. She grabbed her coat from the bed. She looked at Sarah, who still hadn't stirred.
"I'll call him now. Find out what he wants to do about Lawton. Lawton's body." She stopped by Chuck's chair. She put her hand to his face, rubbing her cheek softly with her fingers. "I wish I had gotten clearer, sooner, Chuck. About you and about me." Her eyes clouded, grew stormy and damp. She left the room.
Chuck moved over to the bed, taking the place Parks had occupied. He reached out and adjusted her blankets. She shifted position and her eyes opened just a bit. She giggled lazily, then whispered secretly, "No, Carina…no, we haven't….not yet. And I solemnly promise…when it happens…I will tell you…nothing." She smirked and settled back into her pillow. Chuck shook his head, smiling.
A little knowledge was a maddening thing.
Chuck walked into the kitchen. Parks was sitting at the table, a bowl of left-over chili in front of her, beside her phone. "Graham was relieved, really relieved, to hear that you and Sarah were ok. He knows that the mission was compromised somehow, by someone. He's putting together a list of people who were involved in the mission or knew anything about it. There weren't many. Some analysts. A few agents who worked with me in Europe. There's also your mom."
"I think we can eliminate her. And she would not talk to anyone."
"I didn't mention her to Graham. But we must at least keep her in mind. We need to know how she knew what our mission was, how it involved Lawton." Parks was insistent but she was also trying hard not to overstep.
Chuck nodded. "I agree. I never know how she knows so much. I've asked but, surprise, surprise, she never answers. She and I are going to have to have a serious talk when I get back to DC."
It was Parks' turn to nod. "When Sarah wakes up, we'll see if she learned anything from Lawton. Why don't you get some rest? Take some painkillers. You head and your hands are going to start hurting—a lot. I'll see to Sarah, and hold down the fort."
Chuck grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge. Parks grabbed her bag and took out a bottle of aspirin. She shook several into his hand, wincing when she saw his palm. Chuck took the pills and swigged some water to wash them down. Parks put her hand on his wrist. "Sit down. You need to get those splinters out. It won't take long." She grabbed the first aid kit from atop the fridge and sat back down. She moved her chili aside. Chuck extended his hands.
"Yeah, but you know I have a low pain threshold."
Parks looked at his hands, palms-up on the table, and at his head. "Right. You are the biggest baby the Farm has ever seen." She sighed and shook her head. Carefully, expertly, she bandaged his hands.
Parks had finished with Chuck's hands and was wiping hers clean when her phone rang. "Parks, here. Yes. What? How is that possible? Huh? Really? Ok. Ok. Yes, sir."
Chuck waited to hear the news. "Lawton's body wasn't in the cabin. The state troopers who took Coombs never reported in. Their car was found, empty. Coombs is gone, too."
A/N2 Tune in for more of the His, Hers and Ours Mission next time. Involuntary confessions will have consequences. And other stuff. The dead will rise to walk the earth. Zombies. Vampires. Werewolves. Ramp festivals. (That last one is really scary.)
Well, not about the consequences of the confessions.