Disclaimer: The only way I can profit from this is if I am somehow named in the estate of someone who actually owns this and they die.
A/N: Spoilers up to episode 2.06. Any events alluded to after 2.06 are sheer speculation.
Big thanks to verkisto and tshdow for their help beta'ing this oneshot.
Comments and critique are extremely welcome.
It struck Ellie that the apartment was unnaturally quiet, as she gripped her precious coffee with one hand, while navigating the LA Times with the other. Devon's shift had started three hours ago at five in the morning, so she knew he wouldn't be there. Yet Chuck should be up and about. She distinctly recalled his griping last night at dinner, that he was less than pleased with the prospect of opening the store at nine this morning, before he headed off to go see Sarah. A quick glance at the clock displayed the time of 8:03. Looked like it would be up to her to wake her brother.
With an audible sigh, she pushed her chair out while tightening the sash of her robe and began walking down the hall towards Chuck. She loved her brother dearly, but he continued to vex her with his capricious maturity. Words failed her at the joy she felt when it turned out he had been finishing the final twelve units for his degree from Stanford. Ellie would forever be in debt to Sarah for encouraging him to get off his ass and start to move on from the Buy More. Yet in the four months since receiving his degree, he had made no move to leave his Nerd Herd.
The unexpected and thankfully brief return of Jill certainly hadn't helped. Ellie snorted in disgust at the mere thought of that woman. The logic - or lack thereof - Chuck demonstrated in associating with her for a few weeks, made her suspect that her brother had been harboring an abuse of drugs under her nose for the past few years. No one with half a brain would try to get on good terms with that cheating harpy.
At least he still had Sarah. That woman was amazing the way she treated her brother. Despite the occasional strange vibe that Ellie picked up from the way Chuck and Sarah interacted with one another, Ellie hoped that one day she could call Sarah her sister.
A low moan accompanied by soft rustling could be heard as Ellie approached her brother's door. Lazy boy was probably resisting waking up. Without a second thought, Ellie swung the door open. And stared.
Her brother was half naked in bed being straddled by Sarah. Both were frozen in shock, as they stared back towards Ellie. Her face flushed, Ellie stared downward to avert her eyes.
Wait. That was blood on Chuck's torso.
Ellie snapped her head back up to further take in the scene. Sarah was fully dressed, with a clean bandage in her hands hovering above Chuck. Staring closer at the spattering of blood that contrasted sharply with Chuck's pale skin, she noticed a nasty gash that highly resembled a bullet graze.
"Chuck," Ellie asked in an all-too-calm voice as she fought the urge to cave in to all-out hysteria, "were you shot?" Sarah shifted in an uncharacteristically nervous manner exposing what appeared to be a brace of knives strapped to her ankle. "Sarah… Why do you have knives on you?"
The hysterical laughter that threatened to bubble up in her throat and escape at the sight of the wide-eyed panic, blatantly displayed on her brother's face was tempered by the alien coolness that overtook Sarah's face. Ellie's career revolved around the study of the human body, so the tension that overtook Sarah's muscles didn't fail to escape her gaze.
To her relief, after a few moments Sarah visibly relaxed and focused back on Chuck. They were communicating to one another silently; Ellie just couldn't tell for the life of her what exactly was being said.
"I trust you," Chuck grunted out before Sarah economically reapplied the bandage to his side. It surprised Ellie that a food service employee was so deft at applying bandages. But wait - what type of food service employees carried concealed knives? Did they even use knives at Orange Orange?
Ellie's stomach clenched as she connected the dots at the string of odd occurrences in Chuck's life over the past year and a half; correlating with the appearance of Sarah Walker. Unfortunately, beyond the fact that Chuck was hurt and Sarah was armed, she had no clue what it ultimately meant.
In a graceful motion, Sarah slid off of Chuck, her yoga pants concealing the knives once more. Sarah's face became oddly vulnerable before she turned back towards Chuck.
"Chuck, the only reason I'm telling Ellie this is because, after it became apparent that you were in this for the long haul last September, I started to advocate getting the proper security clearances for Ellie. It never hurts to have another doctor in the know," Sarah stated dryly. "Plus I know how much you hated lying to her," Sarah stated in a softer tone, which sent Ellie's stomach into a seesaw. Chuck had been lying to her?
Leaning against the door frame to steady herself, Ellie waited impatiently for Sarah's explanation.
"I'm part of Chuck's security detail," Sarah said after several awkward moments.
Ellie snorted. "Security detail? My brother has a security detail? Why would Chuck need a security detail? And if you're his security detail, why does it look like a bullet grazed him last night?" Ellie blurted out.
Irritation flashed through Sarah's eyes, as her attention switched to Chuck. "If someone would learn to stay safe in one location, my life would have a lot less stress in it," Sarah growled at her brother.
"Hey! That man was going to shoot you. Do you expect me to simply sit and watch you get shot?" Chuck protested from his reclining position on the bed. To Ellie's fascination, Sarah's expression flickered from irritation to adoration back towards irritation.
"I was wearing a Kevlar chest plate, whereas you were clad in the not-so-bullet-proof Nerd Herd uniform," Sarah stated wearily, before turning back towards Ellie. "As to why Chuck has a security detail, for your safety you can't know."
Irrational anger flared in Ellie. Who was this woman to dictate terms between herself and her brother? "What do you mean 'I can't know'? Who are you to -"
The hum of a cell phone vibrating put the brakes on Ellie's tirade as Sarah blindly groped through her pocket for the device. Successfully grabbing the iPhone, Sarah jammed it towards her ear. "Good timing. Uh huh. You up to dealing with General Beckman yourself?" Sarah inquired into the phone, while subconsciously moving towards Chuck. "All right, just tell me when to bring Ellie in for her initial briefing."
"Sarah. Why don't you let me talk to Ellie by myself for a little bit," Chuck suggested while eyeing Ellie with a wary expression. "Don't worry, I know what I can or can't talk about. I just think that if we get out of the house - and maybe head down to the beach. It will be a nice neutral location, where the two of us can have a private conversation."
There was a double meaning there, but for the life of her Ellie couldn't grasp it. Her only concern was for Chuck.
"Are you up to moving?" Ellie and Sarah asked simultaneously and glanced at one another. The knot in Ellie's stomach eased slightly, at the sight of transparent concern on Sarah's face. It was not the expression of a cool professional.
"I'm fine, seriously," Chuck claimed as he pushed himself up into a sitting position. "It stings a little, but I don't see why I can't enjoy a ride to the beach, sit in the sand for a little chat and then head into work. As long as Ellie writes me a note that forces me to sit on my ass all day, I'll be all good."
"I'll write you the note," Ellie promised, eager to get an explanation.
Sarah studied Chuck for a few more moments before nodding her consent. "Fine, but don't move too quickly. I'll follow in the Porsche just to keep tabs on the two of you. Actually, Ellie, give me your keys and wallet before you head out. I'll keep watch over your car, Chuck, so it should be safe," Sarah instructed them before heading back towards Chuck. To Ellie's horror, after ruffling his hair once, Sarah reached beneath his pillow to withdraw a pistol that she stashed somewhere behind her back.
"Whom exactly do you work for?" Ellie asked in morbid curiosity.
A slight smile appeared on Sarah's face. "CIA. I'll help get Chuck dressed while you change out of your robe."
In a stupor, Ellie shuffled out of Chuck's room towards the master bedroom. Oh gods, her brother had a CIA girlfriend. Wait - she was part of his security detail. Was she even his girlfriend? Trying to not think too hard, Ellie shed her robe and quickly threw on a pair of jeans with a UCLA shirt.
As she exited her room, the sound of voices from the courtyard caught her attention. Peering out of the window, she saw Chuck in his Nerd Herd uniform sitting on the edge of the fountain, while Sarah looked as if she were being reamed out by her neighbor John. The knot tightened as Ellie realized that their surly neighbor appeared nearly simultaneously with Sarah's arrival into Chuck's life.
To Ellie's relief, after a cry of "Another Bartowski!" John pivoted around and stormed back into his apartment. Exiting the house, Ellie followed Chuck to the Nerd Herder while Sarah split off to her Porsche 911.
"Okay little brother, it's time to spill," Ellie demanded as she buckled into the passenger seat. "There will be no avoidance of you telling me whatever the hell is happening."
An incredulous look greeted her. "You really don't get why I'm trying to talk to you down at the beach, do you?"
Ellie quickly wracked her brain trying to find an answer. To her dismay, she couldn't follow Chuck's logic.
"Let's just say, I want to talk to you without having anyone else listen in," Chuck said with a half-smile forming on his lips.
Her house was bugged! What the hell gave the government the right to bug her house?
"I know, I know, it freaked me out too at first," Chuck offered in an attempt to calm her down.
Ellie snorted. Good luck calming her down.
The drive down to the beach took far too long. Thankfully, the 10 westbound had relatively light traffic for rush hour. Eastbound looked like it was a complete disaster though. There were at least three lanes blocked off in an accident near the on-ramp for the 405.
Chuck winced slightly, as he turned the wheel while merging onto the PCH.
"Chuck seriously, should you be driving right now?" Ellie asked with concern.
"Ellie, you do know that I was only mildly grazed," Chuck said while shaking his head. "You're a doctor; this shouldn't be freaking you out. I was hurt worse when I bailed on my bike at Ojai when I was fourteen."
She knew that she was overreacting. The wound wasn't that bad. Still, Ellie couldn't stop from freaking out that someone had shot at her brother. "It was a bullet," she protested weakly. "You were shot."
"Wouldn't be the first time."
"What?!" Ellie shrieked, turning to face Chuck.
A small part of Ellie took pride in the fact that she could still make Chuck cringe, as if he had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. The larger part was trying not to throttle him for his comment. "I was wearing body armor," Chuck said meekly. "It just left a nasty bruise."
Pinching her nose, Ellie tried to clear her mind and focus on taking deep breaths. She had the sinking feeling that this would be one of many unpleasant revelations coming up.
Fifteen minutes later, Chuck pulled into a parking lot for Will Rogers State Beach. The beach was virtually abandoned, despite the sunny weather and temperature in the mid-70's. Then of course Ellie had no clue what the turnout would usually be like in late February. Parking at the edge of the sand, Chuck waited patiently for Sarah's Porsche to arrive.
To Ellie's fascination, Chuck quickly stripped his pockets of their belongings and removed his watch. "Is this really necessary Chuck?"
With a wry smile Chuck stared at her. "You would not believe the places I've found bugs." Giving a quick wave to Sarah, who had parked a few spots down, he exited the car.
Shivering at the concept of having her privacy violated (was there video surveillance in their apartment?), Ellie walked down towards the surf before plopping down onto the sand. "All right, you've dragged me out here. Brother of mine, what exactly is going on?"
Ellie had to fight the urge to smile as Chuck nervously played with his tie. "Well, the truth of the matter is - I've kinda sorta been working with the CIA and NSA since right after my twenty-seventh birthday."
"How did you get involved?" Ellie asked. Did one of the friends she invited to his birthday party drag him into this nightmare?
"I can't say." Chuck's left eye twitched and his face clouded over in a manner that was all too familiar to Ellie. Only two people elicited that reaction. And one of them died right after that birthday.
"Bryce did something, didn't he?" Ellie asked.
"I can't talk about it."
Ellie snorted. That was as good as sworn testimony affirming the statement. That bastard had placed Chuck's life in danger. As if Bryce hadn't done enough already. Wait - there was all that weirdness around Jill's appearance. "Is Jill involved as well?"
A scowl appeared on Chuck's face. "I really don't want to talk about her."
"Well good, I don't either," Ellie said while ruffling Chuck's hair. "At least you have Sarah. Or do you? What is the real deal between you two?"
Chuck's mouth opened, then closed. His eyes flicked back towards Sarah's Porsche. "It's complicated," he said at last. Ellie gave him her best death glare. "What? What do you want me to say? I love her? Fine, I do. But I can't be with her. We need some emotional distance between the two of us."
Reaching towards Chuck with her left hand, Ellie quickly cuffed him from behind. "That makes no sense whatsoever. Why do you need emotional distance?"
"I… We…What we do requires total concentration," Chuck stammered out. "We walk a fine enough line as it is, or at least I do. We did start to actually date for real, you know? Too bad Sarah ended up in the hospital shortly thereafter. I can't be responsible for her getting hurt. Also, if being with me is stopping her from doing her job effectively, she'll be reassigned. Perhaps it's selfish, but I want her to stay in my life."
Wow, that sucked. Ellie quickly repressed a giggle. Perhaps Chuck hadn't been far off when he insisted that he wasn't built for relationships. At least it seemed Sarah hadn't screwed him over like Jill. "Wait, you've been going out for well over a year. What do you do on your dates?"
Chuck winked at her. "Missions, of course. You honestly think I would skip out on Mother's Day just for Sarah? Wait - don't answer," he said, eliciting a laugh from Ellie. "Seriously, practically every bit of strange behavior from the last year can be explained as preparation for some type of operation or another."
Relief warred with fear; relief that her brother wasn't wasting his life away and was making an incredible contribution to society; fear that Chuck had placed himself in the way of danger. "Wait, everything? What about when Devon taught you how to tango?"
"Yeah, let's not try to bring that up. It wasn't planned, but I ended up tangoing with an international terrorist. She was hot, but she tried her best to torture and or kill me later that night," Chuck answered nervously.
Deep breaths. Deep breaths.
"And you really don't need to know what your engagement ring went through," Chuck muttered softly. Too bad she heard him perfectly fine.
Gripping his shoulder tightly, Ellie made Chuck face her. "So what happened last night?" she growled out.
To her annoyance, Chuck just shrugged. "All you need to know is that I, Sarah and Casey walked away and the other people didn't. Sarah really didn't take me getting shot well."
Oh. Good, sweet Sarah had killed God knows how many people in order to protect her brother. Ellie really had no clue how she should feel about that. "Wait - is that Casey, as in our neighbor John? How does he fit in?"
Chuck pulled away slightly to stare out over the Pacific. "He's NSA, the other half of my detail."
Not knowing what else to do, Ellie drew herself close in to Chuck and just held him. She had been responsible for Chuck for so long, especially after Stanford. It hurt to know that he had been able to conceal so much from her. It hurt even more that she had drawn all the wrong conclusions about his erratic behavior, underestimating him.
"I gotta go to work sometime today sis," Chuck said at last. "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine."
"You sure? Traffic is going to be a disaster," Ellie said, releasing him from her embrace.
Chuck shrugged nonchalantly, as he stood up, barely wincing. "Ellie, seriously don't worry. I'll just take Topanaga to the 101 and loop back towards the Buy More. It's a longer route but traffic should be running much more smoothly than on the 10 or 405. You're the one who is screwed taking the 10," Chuck said lightly before walking towards the parking lot.
"Don't think that we're done talking, buster," Ellie chided. "I still want to know why you didn't listen to Sarah last night."
Chuck shuddered. "On the happy thought of the two of you working together to nag me, I'm off to a pleasant day at the Buy More. Love you sis. I'll see you after you get back from your shift tonight."
More than a little dazed, Ellie watched Chuck climb into his Nerd Herder. She made no move until he entered the stream of traffic heading north on the PCH. Her brother was a secret agent. It was hard to grasp the concept that her sweet, naïve brother tangoed with international terrorists on a regular basis. Literally, at least once according to him.
Spying Sarah resting in her Porsche a few spots over from the Nerd Herder, Ellie tentatively approached the 911. Emily Post did not even begin to address the issue of a bridesmaid being outed as a state-sanctioned killer, who would probably never be the sister-in-law Ellie hoped for. For a brief moment, Ellie wondered if she had fallen asleep while watching a Quentin Tarantino film.
"General Beckman will be waiting to brief you at noon," Sarah noted flatly, as she turned the keys in the ignition. "It shouldn't take more than twenty minutes, so you should easily be able to make the start of your two o'clock shift."
Ellie stared at Sarah incredulously, as she half-stumbled into the passenger seat and shut the door. An awkward silence permeated the car as it eased out of the parking lot onto the congested PCH. "Do you even care about my brother?" Ellie blurted out at last, no longer able to maintain the façade of politeness.
Thankfully, the car was going only five miles an hour as Sarah visibly winced and jerked the steering wheel. She refused to make eye contact as she focused on the road. "Chuck is the primary beneficiary of my will," Sarah replied softly after a few moments. "I called legal at Langley last week to see if I could even offer to give him power of attorney, if I'm incapacitated for some reason. They haven't gotten back to me yet."
For a second, Ellie flashed back to last fall when KCAL News at 10 experts were trying to describe the difference between a civil union and marriage for voters with Proposition 8 on the ballot. Sarah was offering her brother at least the elements of a civil union. "Why?"
"He is the only person I unconditionally trust," Sarah answered hesitantly, with a tinge of wistfulness. "By the way, don't tell Chuck. I don't want him to worry even more than he usually does about me. He scares me enough as it is, with the risks he takes to keep me safe."
For the first time since she walked into Chuck's room that morning, an honest grin appeared on Ellie's face. She knew that there had to be something real between her brother and Sarah. "I'll keep your secret. I admit to being more than a little freaked out right now, but I'm so glad that there is a good reason that Chuck has been so damn flaky since you arrived."
The Porsche decelerated into a full stop as it hit the backup from the 10 onramp. With a sigh, Sarah turned to face Ellie. "I can't stress enough that this isn't a game. The reason I pushed so hard for you getting the security clearance is that, I need at least one doctor in the know that I can trust unconditionally to keep Chuck safe and healthy," Sarah said in a fierce tone. "Far too many of the CIA and NSA personnel have been compromised and would love to get their hands on Chuck for less than benign reasons."
The knot in Ellie's stomach returned with a vengeance. "I'm guessing that if I ask you how Chuck got involved in this, you won't answer either," Ellie murmured in a rhetorical fashion. All she got in return was an apologetic smile.
"Wait - why was my idiot brother so hesitant to bring up Jill?" Ellie asked as the thought struck her. "He made it sound like she was involved somehow."
A soft growl emitted from Sarah's general direction. "Let's just say I hope the next time I see that traitorous bitch, I'll be ID'ing her corpse," Sarah drawled out as she cut off a lady driving a tan Ford Explorer, merging onto the 10.
Ellie shared the feeling but felt as if she was once more missing part of the story.
Her brother was a spy or an agent of sorts. Ellie would have to research the correct terminology. His fake girlfriend now scared the shit out of her on an intellectual level but totally had the hots for her brother. For now, that placed her in the 'okay' column in her books. Thinking of the Catch-22 nature of their relationship made her heart ache for both of them.
Her thoughts turned to the surly NSA half of her brother's guardians. She didn't miss the unspoken tension when Chuck referred to him. The fact that Sarah had failed to verbally claim that he was to be trusted also compounded the uneasy sensation he invoked.
"He's incredible at what he does you know," Sarah said, interrupting Ellie's musings. "With no formal training, he's exceeded every expectation there was for him and then some. Now if I could only train him to stay in one safe place, I'll be able to stop the ulcer Chuck seems hellbent on inflicting me with."
Ellie chuckled briefly at the mental image that Sarah's comments invoked, namely, that of Sarah decked out like a commando, wielding a rolled-up newspaper and whacking Chuck on the nose instructing him to stay like a disobedient puppy. "Well if it makes you feel better, Chuck is already freaking out at the idea of the two of us tag teaming him," Ellie said, eliciting a chuckle from Sarah. "Thank you, by the way, not only for looking out for him but for letting me know."
Sarah ducked her head in an uncharacteristically shy manner, before focusing back on moving nowhere fast.
To her surprise, Ellie truly was thankful. Sarah had gone above and beyond to keep Chuck safe in this very scary new world.
"Well, at least this explains how you could afford the Porsche and your wardrobe on the Orange Orange salary."
Sarah laughed softly, putting Ellie at ease. Except for the business tone Sarah had used when Ellie entered the car, she acted like the same Sarah. Closing her eyes, Ellie nodded off to the gentle lull of stop and go traffic.