Lou DeBlasio was true to his word. Fulcrum shut down immediately.

Unfortunately for him, there was just too much to cover up this time. The helicopter crash on Ventura Boulevard, the mayhem in the Hollywood Hills, the bus explosion on Hollywood Way, the strafing of the hangar at Bob Hope Airport, and the shooting death of a state Assemblyman in the airport terminal – it was just all too big to cover up.

Reluctantly, Sam Tyler allowed the facts about Fulcrum to become public. An outraged America responded angrily – the people pretty much demanded the heads of everybody involved.

The President went on national television and explained Fulcrum, from its beginning to its end. He explained the plot the previous February wherein Fulcrum had tried to remove him from office. He explained his justification in not prosecuting the leaders of Fulcrum – and he explained why he was offering every remaining member of Fulcrum a full pardon, provided they all resigned their governmental posts immediately.

The President said that it was clear that Fulcrum acted as they did because they were trying to preserve, protect, and defend the Union. He said that he couldn't fault them for that, even if they were rather misguided.

Amazingly, the President's approval rating hit an all-time high the following week.

With Max Calijo dead, there was no longer anybody with any power to protect his family's name. As a result, the Los Angeles Times did a deep investigative story on both him and Alberto Calijo. They and the Firestone Boulevard Slayers were excoriated for all their crimes and misdeeds.

Chuck Bartowski decided that he could no longer be involved with the operations of Studio City Consulting Services – it just rubbed him the wrong way, morally. The deaths of Will Williamson and Mitch Tucker had hit him especially hard.

Chuck would remain the president of the company, but his day-to-day role would be limited to technical support. He would return to being the head of Nerd Cave Video Games for his primary job.

Sarah Bartowski remained the Chief Operating Officer of Studio City Consulting Services, while John Casey became the Chief Executive Officer. His first decision was to temporarily suspend all SCCS operations, while funds were gathered to replace the equipment and manpower lost when they were attacked by Max Calijo and by Fulcrum.

Bryce Larkin recovered from being shot fairly quickly – although he did lose a portion of his stomach and his small intestine, meaning that he could no longer eat large meals, but had to eat several small ones a day. "I can't even eat a steak in one sitting anymore," he griped one day.

Reese Mitchell Woodcomb was born on June 14th, 2013 – Sarah's thirty-first birthday. She was quite pleased when Devin and Ellie asked her to be their newborn son's godmother.

John Casey and Maya McCarthy were married in a small civil ceremony at the L.A. County Courthouse on July 4th, 2013. Casey had insisted on getting married on the fourth of July. He claimed that it was because he wanted to celebrate his marriage and America's birth at the same time.

Of course, everybody learned a little better when Maya started showing a bump not three weeks later. When the story came out that Maya's father had actually pointed a shotgun at John Casey on learning the news that his daughter was pregnant, there was no small amount of amusement among the Bartowskis and the Woodcombs.

"Who would've ever thought that John Casey would end up in a shotgun wedding?" Chuck asked.

On August 1st, the Bartowski home in Studio City was approved by Child Protective Services as being certifiable as a foster care facility. On that day, they were able to take custody of almost eight-month-old Alejandra Maria Calijo. She had been with a foster family in San Diego since Max Calijo had died in March.

After being told by Lou DeBlasio that Max had been raising Alejandra by himself, Chuck had almost immediately been sent on a massive guilt trip. He had spent the next two hours explaining to Sarah why they should try to adopt her.

At the end of his rant, she asked, "Are you done?"

"Well, I guess so," he replied, perplexed.

"Good," she said. "All you had to do was say, 'We should adopt her,' and I would've said yes."

And so Alejandra had arrived to stay with the Bartowskis on the evening of Augsut 1st. That first night, Sarah had stayed up almost all night with her, holding her, talking to her, singing to her. Chuck poked his head out in the living room around 3:00 AM. The look of happiness on Sarah's face was something he hadn't seen since the twins had been born.

The television series of Mindnode had continued to be a huge success. After the initial thirteen episodes in the spring of 2013, NBC had picked it up for a full twenty-two episode season the following year.

Chuck continued to be amused by the amount of fanfic written about the show – although he was less amused when slash fanfic with Rick McCune and Robert Johnson started appearing. When Casey found out about, he was even less amused.

"This is not right," he growled. "Me and YOU, Bartowski? What is wrong with these people?"

"They're not talking about the two of you," Sarah interjected, looking up from feeding Alejandra. "They're talking about fictional characters. FIC-TION-AL CHAR-AC-TERS."

Casey had left the house rolling his eyes and grumbling something about "see how you like it." Two days later, slash fic involving Tara Pierce and Mary McCune (the character based on Ellie) had appeared on the Internet, curiously authored by an individual whose handle was "Ron Macy".

Sarah threatened to put Casey in concrete boots at the bottom of Long Beach Harbor.

8:30 A.M., Pacific Daylight Time

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

State of California Children's Court

Los Angeles, California

"ALL RISE!" the bailiff boomed. "State of California Children's Court now in session, the Honorable Kristin Hacopian presiding!"

Judge Hacopian stepped up behind the bench. "Please be seated," she said, taking a seat. The occupants of the courtroom sat.

"I understand that this morning, we're here to discuss the matter of the adoption of Alejandra Maria Calijo by Charles Irving and Sarah Lisa Bartowski. Is that correct?"

Kelly Mathison, the case worker who had been handling Alejandra's case rose. "Yes, your Honor, that is correct."

"Very well. I wish to ask the potential parents several questions. Would that be permissible?"

Mathison seemed surprised, but said, "That is permissible to Child Protective Services, as long as Mr. and Mrs. Bartowski are okay with it."

Chuck hadn't expected this. He turned to Sarah, who nodded. "We'll do it, your Honor," he said nervously.

"Very well," Judge Hacopian said. "Mr. Bartowski, I wish to ask you several questions first."

"Go ahead," Chuck replied.

"First of all, can you please describe what you do for a living?"

Chuck smiled. "Mostly, I sit at my computer all day long, your Honor. I'm a video game programmer, and I've been very successful at it. Lately, I've taken to working from home, mostly so that I can spend time with our children and they don't have to be in day care."

Hacopian raised an eyebrow. "So, you would describe yourself as a stay-at-home father?"

Chuck considered it for a moment. "Yes, I suppose you could say that, your Honor."

She nodded. "Alright. Now, I understand that there are a number of weapons present in your household. Is this correct?"

Chuck nodded uneasily. "Uh, yes, ma'am, it is… however, they are all registered in the name of my wife, who has been publicly acknowledged to have been an officer of the Central Intelligence Agency. She and I have both been extensively trained in firearm use, and they are kept in a triple-locked gun safe."

Judge Hacopian looked at him with narrowed eyes. "Mr. Bartowski, is it true that last year you shot and killed an intruder in your home?"

Chuck's eyes had gone wide. "Yes, ma'am, that's correct, but –"

"Mr. Bartowski, how can you –"

"Excuse me, ma'am, but I need to finish my statement."

Kristin Hacopian was very evidently not used to being interrupted in her courtroom. "Mr. Bartowski, I would watch myself if I were you. You are coming very close to contempt."

Chuck could feel his ire rising. "Your Honor, you asked me a question. I would greatly appreciate it if you would let me answer it completely before interrupting me."

Judge Hacopian stared at him for a moment, and then made a hand motion indicating that Chuck should continue. "Thank you, your Honor. I shot and killed Louisa Beckman because she had shot my wife and had indicated that she intended to abduct one if not both of our children."

Hacopian looked at Chuck, then down at the file on her desk. "There's no indication of Ms. Beckman stating that in the file."

Chuck looked at the ceiling for a moment, and then said, "That's because Ms. Beckman was General Beckman, former head of the National Security Agency, and the fact that she said that to my wife is part of a top secret investigation being conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency. You may not repeat that outside of this courtroom, or you will be subject to federal charges."

That pissed Judge Hacopian off. "Mr. Bartowski!" she snapped. "How dare you tell –"

"Excuse me, ma'am, he's correct," a voice with a Mancunian accent said behind Chuck. "My name is Samuel Tyler, director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Mr. Bartowski is telling the truth about General Beckman's intentions, and as he said, if you repeat that outside this courtroom, you will be subject to federal charges."

Hacopian's face quickly went from red to white as she realized the enormity of what she was facing. "Uh… very well," she said quietly. "I have just one question remaining for Mr. Bartowski, then. How do you justify becoming the adoptive father of Alejandra Calijo when it was your friend Bryce Larkin who killed Maximillian Calijo in cold blood?"

Chuck cocked an eyebrow and gave Hacopian a rather nasty look. "Your Honor, aside from the fact that I resent your implication that Bryce is a murderer, he killed Calijo after being shot by him, and because Calijo was about to kill me. I would have done the same thing had our positions been reversed. As far as adopting Alejandra, I wish to do that for two reasons – number one, I feel a sense of obligation, and number two – my wife and I want to have another child, which was made impossible through natural means when she was shot by General Beckman last year."

Chuck stopped abruptly, as he realized that his voice had been rising throughout the entire statement, and that he had accentuated the last several words by jabbing a finger at Judge Hacopian. He took a deep breath and lowered his arm to his side.

"Thank you, Mr. Bartowski," she said. "You may be seated, and I will present my judgment."

Sarah stood up. "Wait a second!" she protested. "I thought you had some questions for me as well!"

"I have changed my mind, Mrs. Bartowski," Hacopian said frostily. "Be SEATED."

Sarah sat. "This is my judgment," Hacopian began. "I do not believe that Mr. and Mrs. Bartowski are fit to be the parents of Alejandra Maria Calijo. Therefore, I do not award custody or adoption rights to them, and I hereby request that Child Protective Services finds a new foster home for her as soon as possible."

A collective gasp of disbelief rose throughout the courtroom – all save for one individual. He was seated in the back, wearing a leather bomber jacket and a ballcap that said "USS Oriskany CVA-34". He stood and said, "I'm gonna have to go ahead and say you're wrong there, your Honor."

Kristin Hacopian looked at the man in disbelief. "I beg your pardon? Who the hell are you?!"

And at that, the man whipped off the ballcap and looked her straight in the eye. "I said, you're WRONG, Judge Hacopian," said the President of the United States.

Judge Hacopian's eyes went wide as she realized who she was dealing with. "Sir… uh, Mr. President, I'm sorry, but, uh, that's my judgment."

"Change it."

"Excuse me?"

"Call it abuse of power, call it whatever you want, but I'm telling you to change it," the President growled. "The Bartowskis have done more for this country in the last five years than you'll do in your entire life. The classified things they have done are beyond the wildest dreams of Hollywood."

He paused, sizing Hacopian up. "Now you listen to me. This country owes the Bartowski family a huge debt. You have a choice here – either you can change your judgment to grant custody of Alejandra Calijo to Chuck and Sarah Bartowski, or I can issue an executive order. If I do that, you're gonna look REALLY bad."

Hacopian worked her jaw for a moment. "Fine," she finally spat. "Charles and Sarah Bartowski, I hereby award you custody of Alejandra Maria Calijo and approve your adoption request."

She fixed the President with an evil glare. "This court is adjourned."

And as the gavel slammed down, a round of applause burst forth in the courtroom. Chuck turned to Sarah and wrapped her in a huge hug. She pulled back from him a little bit, and kissed him.

John and Maya Casey came up to them, each holding one of the toddlers. Lisa practically jumped into Chuck's arms, but little John was pointing toward the judge's chambers. "She's bad," he said somberly as Sarah took him.

"What do you mean, babe?" Sarah asked her almost three year-old son.

"The judge is Fulcrum," John said, a sad look on his face.

Chuck's jaw dropped, and he looked at Sarah. Shock registered on her face for a moment, and then she rolled her eyes.

"To hell with it," she said with a laugh. "Let's just go home."