Author's Note: I never really identified a timeline for this story in the Chuckverse, but with this chapter I need to clarify that point. This story takes place after Chuck vs. the Predator, but before Chuck vs. the Broken Heart.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters or any intellectual property related to Chuck. I'm standing on the shoulders of genius's until legal knocks me down.
He swirls the single malt scotch pretending to admire its robust scent but in reality he's looking beyond the other side of the glass, just observing. The amber hues of the liquor match the highlights in her hair. The rank and prestige of her daily life falls away when she unfurls the bun at the back of her head. The shades of her locks are harsher than he remembers, but it fits with who she's had to become. "Long day?"
She runs her fingers through her hair, feeling the tension abate as the muscles at her temple relax from the unfettering. "Like you wouldn't believe." It's rare to find someone with whom you can be yourself in this business and even more so, at their age.
He smiles deviously, "Ah, but you forget, I know Charles."
Her eyes narrow speculatively, "You know I can't talk about missions, Roan." She saunters around the desk, crossing her arms in obvious disapproval, but Diane knows full well the role she's playing…a schoolmarm scolding the resident bad boy. He thinks he can play her, and why wouldn't he? Roan Montgomery literally wrote the book on using seduction for intelligence gathering. So the question becomes, what is he after? Aside from the obvious, of course.
"Something tells me that the trouble brewing in L.A. is not professional," he tilts his drink in her direction before draining the contents, "In fact, I'd wager my pension that the problem is all about things being too personal." Her face gives nothing away, but her stoicism alone confirms that she knows he's correct. Sensing her unease, he adapts a new approach, complete with a penitent tone, "Are you terribly angry with me for not telling you about my observations sooner?"
"I suppose that depends."
"On what it is you observed Roan."
He places the empty glass on the side table and stands, "I saw a young couple in love, desperately fighting temptation and very bad men." He adds a wink on the last words, closing the distance between them throughout the exposition. Roan gently combs his fingers through her fiery tresses, "It reminded me of another time and place," she's not quick enough to suppress the shiver his touch elicits, "Of another pair of young and foolish agents."
"That was a life time ago."
"Yes," he cups her face softly, "but some things never change."
As he kisses her Diane can't help but wonder if his last comment is in reference to them or team Bartowski.
"Oww." Chuck hisses the word out through clenched teeth when Sarah pinches his roaming fingers.
"Shhh!" Sarah admonishes, "I told you before Chuck, your plan necessitates that we solidify our cover amongst your friends and family." She gestures toward the kitchen where Ellie and Devon are making popcorn for their double date night.
"And how does that translate into 'no touching'?" At her warning stare, he lowers his voice to a whisper, "I mean, now that we're a real couple why can't we…you know, act like a real couple. This should be making our cover easier."
"That would be true, if we hadn't been portraying our relationship as a slow burn with limited PDA's for the past 18 months." Sarah blows out a frustrated breathe, "Chuck, this isn't easy for me either, believe me when I say that I want nothing more than to ditch this evening and head back to my hotel room." To emphasize her point, Sarah gently scrapes her nails across the small of his back, causing his abs to clench and his grip on her waist to tighten, eliminating any distance between them. "But," she pulls back grinning wickedly at his grumble of protest, "it would look suspicious if we were suddenly all over each other."
Chuck frowns deeply, "Well that sucks!"
"What sucks bro?" Devon appears to their left bearing gifts of buttery carbs and caffeinated carbonation.
"Ah…" Chuck is completely thrown by Awesome's abrupt appearance but his feverish brain latches on to the opportunity presented, "ah…Sarah's place is being fumigated for stink bugs."
Ellie drops onto the couch beside her fiancé, "Ugh, I hate those things…you can't even scoop them up and put them outside without them spraying you. Remember when they had to close off the doctor's lounge last spring to control an outbreak?"
"Yeah, babe, it was almost a week before they got everything back under control."
"Anyway…" Chuck redirects the conversation back to the present imaginary circumstances, "I hope its okay with you guys if Sarah stays here for the next couple days."
Sarah plasters a hopeful smile across her face, but digs a nail into Chuck's inner thigh in reprimand. "I don't want to be a burden, I can just…"
"Sarah, I'll be highly offended if you finishing that sentence." The elder Bartowski levels the CIA agent with a look that brooks no refusal, "You're staying here."
Ellie is practically bouncing with excitement. Chuck has seen this side of his sister many times before, most recently when he and Sarah first began dating, and he takes the exit strategy her good-will affords. "Does that also mean we can reschedule date night for later this week?" Thankfully, the pressure of Sarah's grip weakens as she catches onto his plan. "I've got an early shift at the Buy More tomorrow, so tonight's the only night I could help Sarah pack."
Ellie's ears perk up at the word pack. Things must finally be getting less 'complicated' between Chuck and Sarah if she's going to be staying with them…especially if she's bringing enough possessions that it will necessitate Chuck's help to pack. "No problem, I'm sure we'll have lots of opportunities for movie night."
"Yeah, it'll be awesome having you as a roommate Sarah."
Sarah doesn't miss the underlying implication of those statements; Ellie and Devon are giving her their blessing to move in with Chuck. She can feel a lump rise in her throat in response to their loving acceptance and it's a struggle to get even two tiny words out, "Thank you."
Chuck kisses her temple, giving Sarah the opportunity to compose herself in the crook of his neck. When the tremors in her body subside, he captures her lips in a sweet, but lingering kiss. Pulling back he sighs, "Well we should get going. I figure if we leave now we can stop by the Buy More and pick up some boxes for your stuff."
"Just let us know if you need any help." Ellie stands to hug them both, "I'm so happy for you guys." Before releasing her baby brother she whispers the same words of encouragement that she offered him before his first date with Sarah, "Aces, Charles, you're Aces."
Once the budding couple leaves the apartment, Devon turns to his future wife and offers her a brilliant knowing smile, "Go ahead, babe, I know you're dying to do it."
John Casey nearly goes deaf from the high pitched squeal that follows.
She slips her gun back into its holster, smiling as she considers that Roan is probably the only man she knows who isn't threatened by her. That fact can be either good or bad, depending on the situation. This morning, she's not sure what to make of his motives given his actions and questions last night.
"You know, green is a wonderful color on you."
She doesn't need to look up to know that his smirk is matching her own. He's flattering and disarming and Diane wishes that General Beckman was less attuned to the signs of manipulation. As it is, she can't help but sigh and turn to face him, "This has been lovely Roan, but we both know that this visit isn't entirely social." If he's shocked by her frankness, he doesn't let it show.
"No, it's not." When dealing with a wary and clever opponent, it's never wise to back yourself into a corner of lies. However, it's also ill advised to enter into negotiations and interrogations while so dangerously exposed. "Why don't we continue this discussion over breakfast," he gestures to his lack of attire, "when we're both dressed."
She suppresses a smile, but rakes her eyes over his boxer and undershirt combo as she brushes past him in her neatly pressed uniform. "There's a café two blocks north of here. You have twenty minutes." There's more Beckman than Diane in that decree, but it's important that she keep control of this situation. It's a futile effort.
Roan smartly salutes her, "General."
Her bid for a power-play is abolished with that single word. But it's the image of him saluting her in his underwear that turns the tables in his favor. Despite her best effort, Diane Beckman knows that Roan heard her stifle a laugh as she rushed to exit the room.
"Bartowski!!" Big Mike is used to the cavalcade of slackers working in his store, but the sight of Chuck Bartowski half-asleep behind the Nerd Herd desk on today, of all days, is ruining his calm.
Chuck recovers beautifully from nearly falling out of the chair, sliding into a standing position, "Yes, Big Mike."
"Chuck, why in the hell do you look like…well, hell??"
"Uh." He makes the split second decision to go with the truth and prays that his face doesn't get too red in the process, "Well, I was at Sarah's last night and…ya know."
"I don't want the details Bartowski. What I need is for the supervisor of my Nerd Herd to be alert and professional as he serves as the ambassador to the public relations specialist from Roark Industries."
"That's today?" At their robust leader's paling complexion, Chuck alters his inflection on the prior statement, "That's today. And, and what time should I expect him?"
"He'll be here in less than an hour with the Roark 7 Gaming computer. Your job is to work out the details of the public unveiling this Saturday, and for God's sake keep Jeff and Lester away from both the hardware and the rep from Roark." He takes a couple deep breathes to re-establish his Zen.
Chuck nods, "Do you mind if I enlist Casey's help with the Jeffster containment issue?" Big Mike visibly relaxes at that proposal.
"Deploy the troops as you see fit. I'll be in my office."
Chuck mock salutes, "Yes sir." In the background he can see Casey giving him a dirty look and he quickly pulls his hand back down to his side. Chuck's got a better shot of getting Casey to help out if he's not insulting the traditions and values of the US military.
He approaches with caution. A grumpy Casey is never a good thing, and it appears that today he's all Bear and no Sugar. "Hey big guy, how you doing?"
Casey turns an infuriated gaze onto his asset, "How am I doing? Are you referring to the fact that I lost partial hearing in both ears because your sister hit notes that only dogs could hear after learning about your plans for cohabitation with Agent Walker?" He closes in on the target, steering his awkward charge into the privacy of the home theater room for a proper dressing down. "Or are you asking about the fact that you're making huge gambles with this teams' future, without even consulting me? I want to know what you've got planned Bartowski and I want to know now."
"Casey, the thing with Sarah last night was an impulsive decision, I'll admit, but it's also a good tactical choice." Grunt number eight tells him the NSA agent is skeptical, but to continue. "Even if Beckman benches Sarah from field work, she'll be so deep in the relationship aspect of my cover that the General won't be able to replace her with this new handler."
"And you think Walker will be happy playing girlfriend of the year?"
"It's just temporary. I need to give my contact time to work on Beckman."
"You really think Montgomery is going to be able to turn her?"
"I think he'll…" Chuck pauses, "I never told you who my contact was. How did you…?"
Casey tilts his head, the ghost of a smile at the corner of his lips, as he points to himself, "Spy, remember?"
Chuck shakes his head, "Look Casey, I'm not trying to keep you out of the loop, I was just trying to protect you and Sarah. You know, plausible deniability and all that stuff, in case this doesn't go to plan."
"Huh! When does anything with you ever go to plan, Bartowski?"
"Exactly!" Chuck bumps his shoulder with a fist and quickly pulls his hand back in a gesture of surrender, "Sorry."
"Chuck!" Morgan pops his head inside the home theater room and squints into the dim lighting, "Chuck is that you?"
"Yeah buddy, I'll be out in just a sec."
"You may want to hurry, there's some guy in a fancy suit standing at the Herd desk with a suitcase cuffed to his wrist."
"Oh, no. Morgan, where are Jeff and Lester?"
"Lester is on a service call and I think Jeff is in his office, but it's getting close to noon so he'll be venturing out for fresh air soon."
"Morgan, can you go keep Jeff occupied for the next hour?"
"In his office? Chuck you know I love you man, but that place gives me the creeps."
"I know and I'll owe you huge, Morgan."
"Pizza and PlayStation night, no ladies allowed?"
Chuck smiles, "All the toppings you want and a bottomless glass of grape soda, heavy on the ice." He pats his nodding friend on the back and gives him a gentle nudge in the direction of the men's room. "Casey, can you run interference and keep Lester busy if he gets back from his service call before I'm done?" At his withering stare Chuck amends, "Without causing too much mental or physical harm."
"Mmmph." Casey stalks away, silently praying for God to keep the geek off-site and not test him today.
Chuck tucks his shirt in and tries to press out a few of the more stubborn wrinkles before walking over to the impeccably dressed man at the service counter. "Good morning sir, I'm Chuck Bartowski Supervisor of the Nerd Herd, I'll be your liaison for the launch event."
The older gentleman turns to greet him, his face a stoic mask, "Martin Bishop, I'm the Director of the Research and Technology division of Roark Industries."
Chuck is a little taken aback that the head of R&T for a Fortune 500 company would be tasked with the menial chore of delivering a piece of hardware. "It's an honor to meet you sir, your company's designs have been truly phenomenal." Under Bishop's quiet scrutiny Chuck can't control the nervous urge to babble, "I studied computer engineering at Stanford and I've read all the journal articles published about the technology behind the Roark 7." When that earns him nothing but a raised eyebrow, Chuck clasps his hands together, "Is that it?" He indicates the briefcase and notices that the man's grip on the handle turns white with exertion, before slowly loosening.
"Yes, but I'd prefer to do this in a less public place."
"Um, yeah sure. Why don't we go into the home theater room, that way we can limit exposure."
Marty follows the young man into a demonstration theater and takes the offered seat on the main sofa. He rolls up the sleeve of his right arm and begins to input the 6-digit combination for the handcuffs.
It's not the special made handcuffs that capture Chuck's attention, but a tattoo on Bishop's forearm. There's something familiar about the pattern of opposing and interlocking parallel lines. It echoes in his mind until finally he can see it clearly, blue lines on the black background of his computer screen…the trigger imbedded in the Intersect by Orion. Just as before he sees the flash, but this time he recognizes the images associated with it…the pictures in that flash are the specs of the Intersect mainframe left by Orion. But there's something else, something more than the first time…a litany of names. Constellation Sciences, Orion, Perseus AKA Howard Busgang, and Scutum AKA Martin Bishop.
Author's Note: Okay…I admit it…I suck at posting on a normal schedule! However, I made this chapter extra long (by my standards) as a way of saying I'm sorry and I hope you'll forgive me. I know this chapter was a little thin on Charah, but I promise more of that in future chapters. I needed to get a lot of pieces on the board in this chapter so I hope it wasn't too confusing or jarring.
Bonus point for anyone who can ID the movie character reference in this chapter – actor and film please. Also, if you're interested…look up what Orion, Perseus, and Scutum have in common and you'll get a little insight into where that part of the storyline is going.