A/N: Warning! This story starts out much darker than anything I've written thus far. Once we've hit rock bottom, there's no place to go but up, right? Well, welcome to Rock Bottom, population of 1, where things can't get much worse.

Hang in there. Your patience will be rewarded (I hope).

This story also contains some adult language, violence and descriptions of torture. Be forewarned.

Disclaimer: Don't own Chuck.

Chapter 1

It had been so long since he'd seen sunlight that he had no idea how long he'd been there. He'd had no regular sleep, often being forced to stay awake for long periods of time or repeatedly woken from whatever sleep he did get. Meals were equally as rare and irregular, causing painful hunger and desperate thirst. The only pattern he could discern to give him some semblance of a schedule was the changing of guards outside his cell door. Based on this, he suspected he had been here for at least a couple of weeks, but it felt like an eternity.

He was currently naked, handcuffed to a large ring mounted in the concrete ceiling of the cell. He was forced to stand on his tiptoes to relieve the immense strain on his arms, tracks of blood streaking down his arms from the handcuffs cutting into his wrists. He was past the point of exhaustion and if death was coming, he wished it would hurry up already. This was not the first time he'd had to endure this kind of torture, but it was the longest so far. Adding in that he was naked, regularly doused with icy water, and the room's temperature was akin to a late Autumn morning, his body hurt down to his very soul. He had endured countless tortures, beatings and interrogations during his time here, all in an effort to get him to admit to something he had not done. Despite his repeated pleas, they refused to believe him, so the tortures and interrogations continued.

He was in a constant state of fear, never knowing from one moment to the next if the sound at the door would be the last he heard. If it hadn't been for the thoughts of his sister, he likely would have given up completely and let death just take him. He worried for her, what she must think with him being gone for so long. Did she know what had happened to him? Given how their parents had left them as children, with no note and no goodbye, he couldn't imagine how Ellie must be feeling. Knowing that she must believe that he, too, had abandoned her, it left him in anguish, wearing away at his very soul. It would be so easy for him to just give up, for him to lie and say the words his captures wanted to hear, if only to end this hell. If he did, he knew for certain he would never see Ellie again and she would never get the closure she deserved. Worse still, it would make all of Ellie's sacrifices, all that she had done for him, be in vain. Giving up, giving in, was not part of the morals and values she had instilled in him. Although he had endured so much already, more than he ever could have imagined, he would continue to endure it, for her.

Drifting in and out of consciousness, he was no longer able to support his weight, now resigned to painfully hang by his wrists. A bright light caused him to recoil, squinting as the light was its own form of torture. He knew what was coming but was helpless to prevent it. A small whimper escaped with the anticipation, long unable to speak from hoarseness and dehydration, it was the only sound he could make. The deafening crack accompanying the searing pain in his stomach caused him to wince in pain, gasping for breath. They would often slap his legs, torso and face, especially once they were red and chapped from the frigid temperatures. Through a slit in his swollen eye, he could see his breath escape once the initial shock subsided. The swirling fog rising from his mouth was the only indication that he was still alive and not in some type of purgatory.

"Morning, Princess!" shouted the gruff voice, laced with contempt. This man seemed to enjoy inflicting pain on him. He had overheard one of the guards refer to him as "Decker" once, but the man never offered his name in any formal sense. In fact, this man rarely even asked a question anymore. The only thing he offered was pain. Pain for pain's sake. It seemed to match what he inexplicably knew about this "Decker". He had no idea how he knew so much about a man he'd never met, things he shouldn't know; just like he knew about the bombing. The images of the bombing and the aftermath haunted him. He somehow felt at fault for not being able to convince people of what he knew, even though he had no idea why or how he knew it. If they had only listened, so many lives could have been saved. Instead, they had written him off as a lunatic and cuffed him in a squad car. Only after the bombing had they taken him seriously, but still they wouldn't listen.

As if on cue, Decker slapped him across the face. The pain was excruciating, causing him to see stars, along with the all too familiar taste of iron. Oddly, it was a welcome refreshment for his parched mouth. Briefly cracking an eye to see his assailant, he took some pride in seeing Decker shaking and flexing his hand, a grimace on his face. A smile escaped his lips and that only served to infuriate Decker all the more.

"Oh, you're gonna smile at me, motherfucker?" The rage was overtaking Decker as he quickly undid his belt buckle, unfurling the long strip of leather from around his waist in one swift motion. He took no time before exacting his revenge. Folding the belt in half, Decker lashed out, whipping him about the legs, chest and back. Slipping out of consciousness, he hung by his wrists, slowly twisting back and forth. Decker's bloodlust sated for the moment, he stood back, panting to catch his breath. Looking rather pleased with himself, Decker walked to the heavy steel door and pounded on it.

When it cracked open, spilling bright light into the room, Decker addressed the guard. "Douse him again a few times and turn the temperature down another five degrees. We wouldn't want him to bleed out."


"Agent Walker, have a seat." The tall, imposing man gestured with a flat expression toward the chair in front of his desk. She nodded and took her seat, sitting ramrod straight with her legs crossed at the ankle. "The investigation into your … relationship with your former partner, 'Mr.' Larkin, has concluded. As you stated, we found no evidence that you had any part in the events that took place, resulting in the death of several agents and security personnel, not to mention the untold damages from the theft of the Intersect. Despite there being no evidence, the DNI is still out for blood. They aren't satisfied with our findings, so for the time being, I'm putting you on special assignment."

'Special assignment, Sir?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Agent Walker, I need you to be out of sight and out of mind, taking you off of their radar. With Larkin in the wind and the DNI up my ass, I don't need to give them any more cause to dig into our affairs. However, you're too gifted an agent to just let you rot on suspension, so I've found a special place where you can put your skills to good use." While her skillset was vast, the Director knew there were certain lines she would not cross.

"Which skills would those be, if you don't mind me asking, Director?" Her tone was a warning, as much as she dared give to a man in his position. It wasn't lost on him either, giving her a wry smile before continuing.

"In part, I will leave that up to your discretion. The assignment is at black site 4327, a little hole in the ground outside Bonners Ferry, Idaho. There's a detainee there that seems to be ... 'uncooperative'. Special Agent Decker believes him to be supporting a terrorist cell responsible for the bombing of the Sheraton Grand in Los Angeles last month that killed twenty-seven people and nearly caused the death of General Stanfield. Decker has thus far been unable to get any information from the prisoner. I fear he's lost his … objectivity. You have proven yourself to be exceedingly efficient at extracting information. Whatever it is you deem necessary, do it. I trust your judgement." Graham slid a file folder across the desk, stopping in front of her. "Your reading material for the flight out. I'll have a jet ready for you. Wheels up in two hours. This may take some time, so pack accordingly. If there's no questions?" he asked rhetorically, giving her a raised eyebrow.

"No, sir. I do, however, have one request, … Sir." His brow furrowed, looking slightly agitated, but gestured for her to continue. "With all due respect, Director Graham, Decker is certifiable. I understand he may have had his uses, but I don't trust him. If I'm to work with him in that facility, I'll need to have autonomy. After the incident with Ryker... you can understand my apprehension." Graham studied her, his jaw working back and forth as he considered her. After a long moment, he nodded with a chuckle.

"Agent Walker, I'm not sending you there to work with Decker. I'm sending you to replace him. He's coming back to Langley for … evaluation. His methods have become increasingly worrisome, even in this line of work. To be clear, during your time there, you will answer only to me. Decker will debrief you and then he'll be leaving on the transport that drops you off. I will caution you though, while he's still there, choose your battles wisely. He's not someone to be trifled with. Decker is like a dog with a bone. I fear he considers this a personal vendetta now and wants this man to give up his sources, by any means necessary. He will not be happy about having to abandon that pursuit. That's not your problem to bear, though you may have to suffer some of the blow back. And Agent Walker, he really doesn't like you."

"Understood, Sir. Thank you." Sarah stood, pulling the file from his desk and turning to leave. As she reached the door, Graham called to her.

"Sarah." The use of her first name was highly unusual; unheard of really. She slowly turned to face him with a confused expression. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry about what happened with Bryce. He was a good agent and you two seemed to … work well together." Looking down at his desk, he cleared his throat, patting a large file. "The investigation showed what I already believed to be true. He betrayed us all and left you dangling in the breeze to take the heat for it. You're a damn fine agent, Sarah. The best I've got. Once this blows over, there'll be lots of work to do. Bryce wasn't working alone. The encryption on his communication was so strong, even the NSA was unable to determine where he sent the Intersect database. If it falls into the wrong hands, and they discover how to use it, we'll lose this war. Keep me updated on what you find. Good luck."

"Th-thank you, Sir." She gave him a tight smile and a nod before exiting the office.


Once the jet reached cruising altitude, Sarah pulled the file out of her laptop case and began to thumb through it. "OK. Who are you?" A picture of a man in his mid-twenties with curly dark brown hair, hazel eyes and a kind, although goofy, smile looked back at her. That smile was definitely the first thing to stand out when she opened the folder. This was not the face one would associate with a terrorist. Still, she'd seen enough to know that anyone, given the right motivations, was capable of almost anything.

"Alright, Charles Irving Bartowski, what happened to you?" Sarah read through the file and when she first glanced at the notes that had been compiled, there were lots of things that stood out as warning signs. He had few friends, an unstable family life, was a college dropout and was working at a dead end job. If he was disillusioned with his life, or got into the wrong crowd, perhaps he could be brainwashed into following some fundamentalist terror group. Intrigued, she looked more closely.

There were no records of juvenile delinquency, even though his mother seemed to have vanished when he was at a young age, and his father disappeared from the picture not long after. His older sister, Doctor Eleanor Faye Bartowski, seemed to take on the role of matriarch of the family at the age of fifteen. How Child and Family Services didn't become aware of this was surprising. According to Charles', or "Chuck" as the file noted, high school and college transcripts, he was extremely intelligent. Graduating from high school with a 4.2 GPA and scoring a 1590 on the SAT, he was certainly no idiot. His college records showed he was near the top of his class, on a full academic scholarship to Stanford, a very prestigious university. Seemingly out of nowhere, near the middle of his senior year, he was expelled for cheating.

Looking over his grades, she shook her head, "He was breezing through all of his classes; A's across the board. Why the hell would he need to cheat? Even if he phoned it in the last few classes, he'd still graduate with distinction. It makes no sense," Sarah said to herself as she thought aloud. Sarah's brow furrowed as she continued, flipping to look over his employment history. During high school and summers in college, he'd worked at a Buy More in Burbank, California, a big box electronics store not far from the apartment he shared with his sister. After his expulsion, he dropped off the grid for a few months then started work at the Buy More again. No criminal record, not even a parking ticket. Solid credit rating, always paying his bills on time and a low credit to debt ratio. A copy of his bank statement showed no signs of large deposits or withdrawals, besides the meager deposits of his paycheck from the Buy More, and all other activity seemed to be relatively innocent, if not a little juvenile. Fast food restaurants, movies, comic book stores and payments for online gaming services didn't look like the sorts of things that someone that was involved with a terror plot would be spending their money on. This made no sense. If this was a fake identity, it was terrible. The guy was entirely too clean.

Moving to the most recent reports detailing the Sheraton Grand bombing, the photos were horrific. Twenty-seven people dead and dozens wounded from a blast that originated in the ballroom, where General Stanfield was to speak. There was no confession from Bartowski, only the recountings of some local law enforcement, FBI and Homeland Security that responded to the incident. They all seemed to indicate that Bartowski was bragging about a bomb that would kill the General. Skimming through each account, they all said the same thing. So much so that it set off alarm bells in Sarah's head. The wording from each account was so similar, even the repeated use of phrases and descriptors, it went way beyond coincidental. Homeland Security had kept any information about Bartowski away from the public, citing national security, so there would be no media investigating his whereabouts or the validity of their statements.

She closed the folder, then her eyes, as she rubbed the bridge of her nose. Something didn't add up, like there were pieces missing. The question was, how was she going to approach this guy? Bartowski had been at this facility for almost three weeks with Clyde Decker, a sadistic megalomaniac, undoubtedly hell bent on beating the truth out of this guy. She wondered if there was anything left of him to interrogate.

The plane touched down at a small municipal airport, where a helicopter was waiting for her. The location of the black site was well off the beaten path, and while it was accessible by car, the trip would have been long and arduous. Having already been in the air for several hours, she was not in the mood for hours of travel down rural mountain roads.

Within thirty minutes, the helicopter landed on the grounds of what looked like a radio transmitter tower. There was a small building that sat at the base of the monolithic radio tower, which was supported by thick guide wires. With all the cellular repeaters and various smaller antennas that typically piggybacked off of these large towers, it was a great way of masking their own communications relays in plain sight. Entering the small building, she and her escort were greeted by two guards with assault rifles. Her escort, Brian Wilcox, an unassuming man in his mid-forties, flashed his badge. Sarah flashed her own and the two were allowed to pass. Opening the door to a storage room, the two walked in, her escort closing the door behind them. Pulling on the edge of what looked like a typical light switch cover revealed a biometric scanner underneath. He placed three fingers on the pad and within a moment, the entire room began to descend. When it came to a stop, the doors opened into a well lit corridor. Wilcox gestured with his head to follow as he started walking down the hallway.

"Agent Walker, your things will be taken to your quarters. Special Agent Decker has requested a meeting with you before he departs, if you'll follow me?" Wilcox asked over his shoulder. Sarah rolled her eyes at the mention of Decker and his 'request', but she followed. She was led to a small conference room with a large television mounted on one wall. "I'll let him know you're here." With that, Wilcox departed, leaving Sarah alone in the room.

After waiting for nearly ten minutes, Sarah's patience was running thin. She sat with her legs crossed, her foot bouncing at the same pace as the pen she was tapping on the table. The door opened quickly, Decker bursting into the room.

"Walker," he began, spitting out her name like an expletive. "Wish I could say it was nice to see you again. So, it seems in order to get a leg up in this business, you just need to betray your country. Or are you working your way to the top lying on your back?"

"Fuck you too Decker. I'm just as happy about me being here as you are. So, if we could skip the pleasantries?" He studied her for a moment, her stoic expression never revealing a thing. He let out a one note chuckle, shaking his head in disgust.

"Fine... You'll never get this piece of shit Bartowski to talk. I know he's dirty. He knows too much about that bombing to not be involved. He refuses to confess anything. He just keeps sticking to the same tired story that he had nothing to do with it. I could tell by looking in his eyes he was guilty. You could see the guilt written all over his face. Now the bastard just refuses to speak at all." Sarah watched Decker pace the room like a caged animal, his hands flailing as he spoke. As she studied him, she could see that there were small droplets of blood on the cuff of his dress shirt. She noticed some blood on his belt buckle as well and it told her all she needed to know. Decker was personally seeing to this man's torture, and it was likely not going well for this "Bartowski".

"So you thought that beating him with your belt was the best way to get the information out of him? What have you done to him since he's been here? Three weeks of nothing but torture? Did you learn nothing at the Farm? You've only proven to him that no matter what he tells you, he's going to get beaten. He no longer has any incentive to tell you shit." Decker seemed taken aback, surprised at how accurate she'd been with her assessment, but it quickly turned to rage.

"And what? You think you can do better? Graham send you here to fuck the information out of him? Is that it?" Sarah was used to arrogant assholes in this business, on both sides of the law. She found she particularly liked to throw gasoline on their fire, just to see how big the explosion could get. So, rather than meet his tirade with one of her own, she calmly smiled.

"Perhaps if you'd employed that technique yourself on day one, we wouldn't be in this predicament." She watched his face contort with fury, seeing his body language telegraphing that he was contemplating lashing out at her. Her smile turned to a cold, death stare, causing the temperature in the room to plummet. Her reputation within the agency, and beyond, was well known. The source of watercooler gossip within the areas that had the clearance to know she existed. The "Ice Queen", a chilling moniker with unknown origins, put fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned agents. The icy glare that she gave Decker seemed to douse whatever fire raged inside of him, causing him to step back and straighten his posture. The room grew deathly silent.

"I want to see him," she demanded, her tone offering no room for argument. She could see his hesitation, so she expected some resistance.

"I don't think that's a good-"

"I said... I want... to see... the prisoner. Take me to him. Now!" she growled, standing to her full height, bracing her hands on the table. He studied her for a moment, appearing to hold his ground, but the bob of his Adam's apple belied the fear coursing through him. Sarah pushed down the urge to smirk, keeping her icy mask in place. Begrudgingly, Decker opened the door and gestured for her to leave. She didn't budge an inch, but simply raised an eyebrow and waited. Finally, Decker broke, sighing with exasperation, and stormed out, Sarah calmly following behind.


They stood in front of a heavy steel door, flanked on either side by armed guards. Decker gave a nod to one of the men, who returned the nod and turned to unlock the door. The door groaned as it swung open. Sarah could feel the cold air wash over her, like someone had just opened a refrigerator. The room was dark and moist, and smelled of must, sweat and blood. She was no stranger to rooms like this, both as a hostess and a guest. Decker just stepped aside, folding his arms across his chest feigning indifference, looking everywhere but at her.

Sarah ignored the man and walked into the frigid cell. It was so cold that the hair on her arms and neck stood up, causing her to fight off a shiver. The room was made of dark gray concrete, illuminated by a single dim bulb encased in a wire cage mounted on the ceiling. Everything was wet, puddles of water still on the floor, reflecting what little light the bulb provided. As she stepped further into the room, she caught sight of him and she couldn't help but let a small gasp escape. Hanging by a pair of bloody handcuffs, she saw the profile of a naked, badly beaten husk of a man, his limp form slowly turning as his toes just barely dragged on the floor. His head was slumped forward with his chin pressed into his chest, appearing lifeless. If she hadn't seen the condensation in the air from his breath, she'd have assumed him dead. Maybe this man was guilty, maybe he wasn't. Regardless, the sight sickened her. Agent Walker had seen some horrific things in her career, but this was among the worst.

She spun on her heels and stepped out into the hallway. Turning to one of the guards, she barked out her orders. "Get him down from there and get him cleaned up. See that he gets medical attention and a cell with a bed. And get him some GODDAMN CLOTHES!" The man jumped in terror, rushing into the room, followed by the other guard. Decker turned to her but before he could utter a word, Sarah cut him off.

"I believe you have a helicopter waiting for you. Mustn't keep Graham waiting." She could see him contemplate some retort, but instead he just glowered at her, continuing to hold her gaze over his shoulder as he departed. Once he was out of sight, she blew out a breath.

Searching the halls, she found Wilcox's office. He seemed to anticipate her entrance, standing at attention as she stepped into the doorway. "Do you have medical staff on the premises?" she asked, not bothering with pleasantries.

"Some of the staff have basic field medicine training, but no medical personnel per se," he answered, looking a bit fearful.

"Well get some, and in a hurry. The prisoner is going to need medical attention so make sure he gets it. He's no use to us dead," Sarah spat, still fuming. Seeing Wilcox flinch before nodding his head in understanding, she took a cleansing breath, trying to get her anger under control. "What do you know about what Decker was doing with the prisoner?" she asked, her tone more even.

"Not much. I was never permitted access to his prisoner. I was only put in charge of the prisoners in the east wing. The west wing was reserved solely for Decker's purposes. I… I had my suspicions and managed to get a glimpse of one of his 'interrogations'," Wilcox admitted, shifting his gaze to the floor for a moment. "I was the one that informed Director Graham about Decker. I don't know what that guy did, but Decker wasn't interrogating anymore. It looked like pure torture to me. He went completely off the reservation."

Sarah nodded her understanding. She could understand Wilcox's apprehension about admitting that bit of information. Being a whistleblower was generally looked down on by your peers, but sometimes it was necessary, Decker being a case in point. "You did the right thing," Sarah reassured him, even going so far as to give him a slight smile. "Before you get a medical team here, could you at least show me where my room is?"

"Right this way, Agent Walker." He gestured for her to step into the hall and then led her through the maze of corridors to her quarters. It was a surprisingly warm and pleasant room, well furnished and decorated. It wasn't the Four Seasons, but it was nicer than her DC apartment. The thought that a bunker was warmer and more inviting than her own apartment was more than a little depressing. She closed and locked the door behind her, finding her suitcase sitting on the floor next to her bed. Pressing on the mattress, she was pleasantly surprised that it was softer than most hotel beds. There was a dresser, which she had no need for, never bothering to unpack, even when she was at her apartment. A small desk and chair sat against one wall and an oversized chair and floor lamp sat adjacent. There was a private bathroom which contained a walk-in shower and a soaking tub, which seemed quite surprising given their location. She supposed if someone was stationed here for long periods of time, some creature comforts could go a long way to staving off insanity.

After surveying the room, she lifted the suitcase onto the bed and unzipped it, digging into an interior pocket. Finding what she was looking for, she pulled out the small device and began to methodically explore the room, scanning every square inch. She did a physical search as well, examining places where she might hide a camera or listening device. Finding nothing, she turned off all the lights and pulled out her cell phone. Opening the camera app, she used the front facing camera to scan the room. There were no signs of infrared lights, and when she turned on the flashlight, there were no reflections. She was reasonably confident there were no bugs or cameras, although one could never be completely certain. Turning the bedside light on, she sat down on the bed and fell backwards in a huff.

Staring at the ceiling, she knew she had to develop a game plan. It was entirely possible that this "Bartowski" would never talk to them again. After what she saw in that room, she wouldn't blame him. Hopefully, getting him moved into a better situation, and medical treatment, would start them off on a better foot. She doubted that seduction would have any effect on him, especially in his current state. It was the weapon in her arsenal that she hated to use the most. Even though it was only the promise of things to come, a means by which to make a mark pliable, it still made her retch to have all manner of creeps pawing at her.

Clearly violence, or the threat of violence, was a waste. Decker had done such a bang up job playing bad cop, perhaps a little nice cop might be the only way to go. She was surprised that Decker hadn't used Bartowski's sister against him. That sounded right up his alley. She hated to play that card, unless the situation warranted it. The problem with using family against someone in interrogation was that, not only did you lose any trust you might have developed with them, but if they called your bluff…


Sarah had spent the remainder of the night and the next day researching in her office. She re-read Bartowski's file cover to cover, finding only the inconsistencies that she'd spotted before. Regretfully, she watched some of the interrogation videos from when Bartowski had first arrived. At a young age, she had mastered the art of reading people; a skill passed down by her father. Within the first thirty seconds of watching those videos, she was convinced that this guy wasn't part of some terror plot. Bartowski was trying to be respectful when he addressed Decker, even though he was clearly scared out of his mind. He tried to answer the barrage of questions the agent screamed at him, but no matter his answer, Decker didn't buy it. When the interrogations began to take a turn, Sarah had to turn it off. Sure, she had used similar tactics in the past, but those were on evil, sadistic monsters, not on … guys like this. Bartowski was no zealot. He wasn't trying to cover up some master terror plot. In fact, if he were, then why was he at the location of the bomb telling people about it well before the bomb went off. Wouldn't that be a sure fire way of thwarting his "master plan"? None of this made any sense at all.

Doing more research, trying to get into the head of her subject, she found details on the prisoner's sister, Eleanor, who had made numerous missing person's reports and inquiries into Charles' - Chuck's- disappearance. Those reports were buried, "lost" or ignored, but she seemed persistent, even going so far as to take to social media. There were no notes that anyone had interviewed her. Perhaps Sarah could glean some information from his sister about what he was up to.

Closing the door to the office she was provided, she called the number Eleanor had left on file with the FBI field office in LA. It was just after 2PM Pacific time, so Sarah figured it was as good a time as any to catch the doctor. After three rings, someone picked up.

"Hello?" she answered, her voice sounding hoarse and devoid of energy. Something in Sarah immediately felt sympathy for this woman, but she still had a job to do.

"Yes, is this Dr. Eleanor Bartowski?" Sarah asked.

"Yes. This is. Look, if you're selling something, I'm really not-"

"No. No, Dr. Bartowski. My name is Agent Rebecca Franko and I'm with the FBI Missing Persons Division. I've been given the case of Mr…. Charles Bartowski? I was hoping that I could ask you some questions." She could hear the gasp on the other end and it gave her a pang of guilt.

"Chuck? Have you… have you found anything? Is he…." her voice trailed off, unable to complete the sentence.

"Dr. Bartowski, I have no new information to give you, but I was hoping that I could ask you some questions, maybe get some background that might help me in my investigation. Is now a good time?" Sarah asked, trying to sound understanding.

"What-whatever you need. I answered the other agent's questions but he hasn't returned any of my calls. It's been three weeks and it's not like Chuck to just disappear. It's just not like him," she reiterated, a quiver in her voice.

"I understand. I realize some of these questions may be difficult, but perhaps it could help us in our investigation. So… Chuck? Did he have any friends, maybe some new ones? Did he talk about anyone?"

"No. I mean, just the idiots down at the Buy More, where he worked. They were mostly just acquaintances though. Morgan is his only real friend. Morgan Grimes. They've been friends since elementary school," the doctor added.

"I see. Have you or Mr. Grimes noticed any changes in Chuck's behavior recently? Spending more time away? Maybe signs of anger or depression?"

"Depression? Pfft. Chuck's been in a slump for the last five years. Ever since Stanford. That ruined him. He didn't get off the couch for months. Finally, I got Morgan to get him his old job back at the Buy More. He's not the same Chuck as before, but he was doing better. He seemed happy… well, resigned anyway." She paused for a moment and Sarah could hear the other woman swallow. "I'm sorry. I-I'm rambling…"

"No. Please. Go on. The more information I have the better," Sarah reassured her, trying to sound sympathetic.

"H-He was the kindest, sweetest kid you'd ever know. He was always helping people. He'd give you the shirt off his back without a second thought. He always had a happy smile. I just… I miss him-" she choked out, sniffling as she began to cry.

Sarah stared up at the ceiling of her office, blinking her eyes. The years she'd spent as a CIA agent had hardened her considerably, but the anguish this woman was feeling was starting to get to her. Taking a cleansing breath, she gave the other woman, and herself, time to recover.

"Dr. Bartowski-"

"Ellie. Please."

"Ok. Ellie… Did he have a girlfriend, maybe? Someone else he might confide in? Perhaps go on a spur of the moment vacation with?" Sarah was pretty certain she knew the answers but she hoped that Ellie would start talking and perhaps divulge some new information.

"Girlfriend? Ha! No. I've been trying for years to get Chuck to start dating again. He's been on maybe three dates in the last four years and they were all a complete disaster. All he'd talk about was his ex, that bitch Jill. She and Bryce did a real number on him. God, if I could see that pretty boy Larkin one more time, I'd kick his fuckin' teeth in," she growled, seeming to be lost in her anger. It was just as well because Sarah was staring at her desk with her mouth hanging wide open. Bryce? Larkin? It couldn't be. It had to be some coincidence. There had to be more than one 'Bryce Larkin' in the world, right? For all she knew, Bryce's name was a made up alias. Lord knew she had plenty of her own. It was beyond farfetched, but she needed to do her due diligence.

"Ellie, this … Bryce Larkin. How did he know Chuck?"

"Bryce was Chuck's roommate at Stanford. I think they moved into the frat house together … sophomore year, I think. Then they lived together until Chuck got kicked out, partway through his senior year. I never really liked that guy. He was always so … so smarmy. He thought that million-dollar smile and boyish charm could get him anything; and it often did. He thought he was God's gift. Well… apparently Chuck's girlfriend at the time thought so too. When Chuck was expelled, Jill broke things off with him. Come to find out, she was sleeping with Bryce. Talk about insult to injury. Not only did he lose his dream of Stanford, but he lost who he thought was one of his best friends and his only girlfriend, all in one day. That's when he moved back in with me."

Ellie paused for a moment, the silence jarring Sarah from her daze. The man she described sounded like the spitting image of the Bryce she knew, to a "T". She would, of course, have to do some checking, but if Bryce did in fact know Chuck, there was no chance it was a coincidence.

"Agent Franko, I'm sorry. I don't mean to go on and on, but I'm really scared for my brother and I just can't help but feel that something really bad has happened to him. Chuck hasn't left LA in five years. Hell, he's barely left this apartment except for work, and maybe a movie or something with Morgan. That's it. We're all the family we have left. He would never leave me without a goodbye. Not after…. He just wouldn't," she confessed, sounding wrung out.

"Ellie, I know this is hard. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me. If I find anything, you'll be the first to know. If there's anything else, or if anyone reaches out to you, please call me at this number." Sarah tried to sound as reassuring and positive as she could, which frankly made her feel nauseous. His sister was mourning the loss of her brother, and as Ellie alluded to, he was the only family she had left. If Sarah could give her some hope, even false hope, it might give Ellie at least some temporary comfort.

"Thank you Agent Franko. I've been given the run around for so long, at least I know that someone is still looking for my brother. Please let me know if you find anything." With that, they said their goodbyes and hung up. Sarah had to stand up and walk around her office, shaking off the shitty feeling that sometimes came with the job. Lying to the scum of the Earth was one thing, but to lie to a grieving family member, when you knew full well that the topic of conversation was in a cell down the hall, it just felt dirty. Before she could dwell on that more, a knock on the door interrupted her thoughts.

"Come in," she called, sitting back down in her chair. Wilcox opened the door, just wide enough to peek inside.

"Agent Walker, the prisoner's awake." Sarah gave the man a nod, standing up and straightening her outfit.

"I'll be down in a minute." The man nodded and took that as his cue to leave, pulling the door closed behind him.

A/N2: So already, things are looking up for Chuck. Granted, he's still in a dark hole in the middle of nowhere, but his situation is improving at least. What does Sarah have planned for him? Stick around and find out in the next installment.