Authors Note: All first and second season episodes are considered in this timeline through Chuck vs the Dream Job. AU after.
Chapter 1: We Need to Talk
It was 10:00 in the morning when Chuck and Sarah pulled their car into a parking spot at the Palo Alto apartments.
"I'll get him, you can wait here," she told him. This was her idea and she wanted to take this first step alone. She tried not to let the tension show in her face, though she was sure, after all these years, she couldn't fool her husband.
"Oh I see, the old 'wait in the car' line," Chuck joked.
He was trying to lighten the mood, Sarah realized. She appreciated his effort and rewarded him by ruffling his short, graying hair. "I'll be right back."
Sarah was glad that she had opted for slacks and flats as she took the two flights of stairs up to the third floor. Counting the blue doors as she passed, she stopped at 307. She paused just a moment to steel herself and then raised her hand to knock.
A disheveled young man wearing a traditional cardinal Stanford sweatshirt answered the door. He smiled when he saw her. "Can I help you?"
"Is Charlie here?" she asked.
"Sure, he just woke up, come on in." The young man stepped back from the door granting her entrance into a sparsely furnished living room. He moved some newspapers from the sofa so that she could sit. "I'll go get him."
Sarah looked around. Typical college decorating, she thought. One very old Dune poster on one wall looked familiar. A large TV hung on the other wall. The coffee table was littered with various controllers of every kind. In one corner stood a large trophy; Sarah recognized it at the one Charlie had won at the California State Kung Fu tournament. Now it looked as if it served as a coat rack for his EMT uniform.
Over the faint music in the next room Sarah overheard a muffled conversation.
"Charlie, dude, there is a woman out there asking for you. You've been holding out on me."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," was the response.
"You didn't tell me you were into older women."
"I don't know, I didn't get her name, I just assumed…"
"Are you hung-over?"
Sarah heard the click of the bedroom door opening. She stood and turned, anxious to see his face. She was not disappointed. When he saw her his eyes lit up and he smiled. It was the same smile that had been melting her heart for the past twenty years.
He was tall like his father, with the same lanky build, the same goofy smile. His hair had a little of his wave but her blond coloring. And he had her eyes, blue grey like a stormy sea. Just the sight of him, the man that he had become, took her breath away.
In two large steps he reached her. Taking her into his arms, they embraced, mother and son.
Sarah heard a voice from the bedroom doorway. "I knew you had something going on."
Charlie stepped back and turned to his friend. "Brian, this is my mother, Sarah Bartowski," he said, emphasizing the word "mother." "Mom, this is my roommate Brian."
"Good to meet you," Sarah said and graciously offered her hand.
"Um…nice to meet you too, Mrs. Bartowski," the roommate said, taking her hand awkwardly. "I'm just going to go now and let you guys catch up." And he retreated back to the bedroom.
"So Mom, what are you doing in town?" Charlie gestured to the couch and, after moving a pizza box aside, took the seat next to hers.
"I can't stay long, you father is waiting out in the car."
"Dad's here too?"
"I'm sorry for us just dropping in on you like this, but there are some things we wanted to talk to you about."
"That's nice Mom, but you guys didn't need to drive all this way. You could have just called."
"Yes, but the things we need to say are best said in person."
Charlie looked concerned. "Is something wrong? Are you and dad all right? Is it dad's blood pressure again?"
"We're fine. It's nothing like that. Can we buy you a cup of coffee and we'll talk about it?"
Charlie straightened up and put his hands on his knees. "Sure, Mom, I just found out that I don't have to go into work until tonight, so give me five minutes to shower and get dressed and then we can get going."
"Sure, just come down to the car when you're ready."
Sarah walked back down the stairs and joined Chuck in the car.
"Is he coming?" Chuck asked.
"Yes, he's coming; he'll be down in a few."
"It's good he had the morning free. No work or anything."
"Yeah, well…I might have had a little something to do with that."
"I thought you might."
Sarah and Chuck lapsed into a comfortable silence. Chuck started absentmindedly tapping on the steering wheel, and Sarah nudged him. Chuck had changed a lot since she had first met him at the Buy More almost 25 years ago. He was still funny, but there was a serious side to him now as well. She would need both sides of Chuck today, if she was going to get through this.
All this waiting was making Sarah nervous. She had never been one to have heart-to-heart talks with her son. That had always been Chuck's job. It was easy to pawn off all the serious parent talks to Chuck because Charlie was a boy and needed a father for those sorts of conversations. Sarah was the motivating parent. She was the one that drove Charlie to football practice. She was the one told him to put down the video games and do his homework. She was the best Kung Fu sparring partner a boy could wish for. They were close. They just weren't close in the open-up-your-feelings-and-speak-from-your-heart kind of close. That made what she had come to say all the more unsettling for Sarah.
Soon Charlie came bounding down the stairs in jeans and t-shirt. He opened the back door and slapped Chuck on the back. "Great to see you, Dad," he said enthusiastically.
After a side trip to the local Starbucks drive through, Chuck pulled into the parking lot of Rinconda Park. They found a corner of the park that was relatively private from the busy soccer fields and picnic benches. A handful of trees shaded their area and they found a convenient park bench there. Chuck and Sarah sat on the bench but Charlie opted for sitting under a tree, leaning his back against the trunk, facing them.
Not sure where to began, Sarah swirled the hot liquid in her plastic cup. Charlie took a sip of his and then held it between his hands.
"So…" he began, "What's this all about?"
Sarah looked at Chuck, raised her eyebrows and tilted her head toward Charlie.
"Oh, yeah, I guess I'll start," Chuck said. He took a deep breath and looked down at his son. "Charlie, your mom and I want to talk to you about something."
Charlie looked up. "Is this about me deciding not to go to med school?"
"Well yes, in a way. That's what tipped us off. And then your mom asked me to do some asking around," Chuck said.
"Asking around? Asking around about what?" Charlie asked.
Sarah spoke up. "I wanted to confirm my worst fears. To know if you were being…recruited."
He glanced around nervously for a second with his coffee cup paused at his lips. "I'm not sure what you're taking about."
"It's okay. We know you can't talk about it. We wouldn't expect you to," Sarah said.
"We know that you would never betray a trust," Chuck added.
"Mom, Dad…" he seemed not to know what more to say, so he let the word float in the air and he looked out over the grassy park.
"Before you decide, there are some things we think you should know," Chuck said.
Sarah nodded in agreement "You need to have all the information before you make a final decision. You haven't committed to them yet, have you?"
Charlie looked down and shook his head in the negative.
"So... you need to know everything." Chuck took Sarah's hand in his and smiled at her.
Charlie looked up. "Everything about what?"
"Everything about me and your father. Things about yourself." Sarah said.
"Things we've kept from you," Chuck finished.
Charlie finished the last sip of his coffee and sat it on the ground next to him. He shifted his weight and made himself more comfortable. "I'm listening."
Chuck pulled his hand out of Sarah's and leaned forward towards Charlie. "If you're being recruited, then you'll understand why everything we talk about needs to be kept between us. "
"More importantly, if you're being recruited then you're old enough to understand why your father and I…" Sarah glanced over to Chuck and he smiled encouragingly, "especially me, have done the things we've done. And once you know the truth, I hope you'll find it in your heart to forgive me." Sarah took a deep breath and looked up through the branches towards the blue sky. This was going to be harder then she thought.
Charlie leaned forward. "I don't know what I would need to forgive you for. You've been the best mom a guy could have."
"And you've been more then I ever deserved," she wrapped both her hands around her cup, still mostly full, pulling comfort from its warmth, "but you can't say that until you know the whole truth."
"Mom," Charlie reached out with his foot and bumped Sarah's foot affectionately. "There's nothing you could tell me that would change the way I feel about you, I hope you know that."
Chuck smiled over at Sarah "I said that exact same thing to her once, and I don't think she believed me then, either."
"I believe you now, and that's what matters." She leaned over and gave him a quick kiss. Charlie turned away. With renewed determination Sarah decided she better just start from the beginning. "Did you know that I worked for the government before I met your father?"
Charlie thought for a moment. "I remember something like that. Dad, didn't you say that you met mom at work?"
"Yes, but when I met your mom, I wasn't with the agency, she was," Chuck supplied.
"What were you?" Charlie asked Sarah, "An analyst like Dad?"
"No, Charlie, I was an agent," Sarah nervously confessed.
"An agent, what sort of agent?"
"I was a field agent for the CIA." Sarah watched him to gauge his reaction. She could see his eyebrows furrowed, like he was trying to piece it together.
"So let me get this straight. Before you even met Dad, you were like a spy or something?"
"She was the best looking kick-butt spy you ever saw," Chuck said with a smirk.
Sarah elbowed him. "Nothing as glamorous as that. Mostly it was dirty, lonely, work."
"So, did you have hidden guns and throwing knives and all that?" Charlie asked excitedly.
Sarah wondered if he even believed her. "Charlie, I'll try to answer all your questions. But there's a lot I can't tell you, even now. But don't think I was some spy like you see on TV."
"But she was awesome," Chuck added. "She maybe didn't think so, but everybody said she was the best agent the CIA ever had."
Charlie laughed out loud. "I'm sorry guys, but have you been smoking something?"
"No really," Sarah protested as she turned to Chuck for support.
"It's true, Charlie." Chuck said. "Think about it. Who taught you your first five years of Kung Fu?"
"Well, mom," Charlie answered.
"And who's taken you shooting since you were twelve?"
"Mom again," Charlie said.
"And who's gotten over 30 traffic citations but never been in one accident?" Sarah glared at Chuck. He quickly added, "Maybe that last one wasn't such a good example."
Charlie looked bewildered. "I mean, I always knew my mom was different from other moms. I just thought she liked to be very fit, and very…Republican."
Sarah rolled her eyes and reached down for her purse. "I'd hoped it wouldn't come to this," she said rummaging around in the bag. Finally she pulled out a battered leather ID wallet and handed it to Charlie.
He opened it up, his eyes got large. "CIA, I, I don't believe it." He whistled. "Wow Mom, you…you looked…nice!"
"Just nice?" Chuck asked. Sarah rewarded him with a punch in the arm.
"Do you believe us now?" Sarah asked.
Charlie kept staring at the ID. "Yeah…it's just…a lot to wrap your mind around, ya know?" He touched Sarah's picture with his finger. "This is so cool."
Sarah shook her head disapprovingly. "I don't want you to think that what I did was cool or fun. You need to know the whole story first. And then you'll understand how the CIA nearly ruined my life and your father's."
Charlie leaned back against the tree, obviously taken aback from the seriousness of his mother's response. He handed the wallet back to Sarah and held open his arms to show that he was ready to hear whatever she had to tell him.
Sarah sighed and turned to Chuck. "We better start with why I was assigned to you."
Chuck turned to Charlie. "Your mom's job was to protect me. I can't go into all the details, but let's just say that I accidently learned a lot of classified information, the type of information that many groups would kill me to get."
Sarah chimed in, "I liked your father right away and it quickly became clear how he felt about me. But we couldn't be together. I had a job to do, and romantic feelings would just get in the way of that job."
"So your mom tried to put her feelings aside,… and I tried my best to bring them to the surface," Chuck said smugly.
Sarah hummed her agreement. "It was always a balancing act, but we worked pretty well together. Your father adapted to being a spy better then I expected."
Charlie shook his head in disbelief.
"This is going to take longer than I thought. Maybe we should jump right to where we had to leave. You know more about what happened then I do, Sarah, so why don't you tell this part?" Chuck said.
"Ok," Sarah agreed. "Like I said, your dad and I were working together for the CIA. But I had another partner. He worked for another agency. It's hard to describe him…he…"
"He was not pretty," Chuck supplied.
Sarah ignored him. "He was a good agent, experienced and loyal. One night he pulled me aside after a mission and asked if Chuck and I ever thought about going on a vacation. I didn't have any idea what he was talking about and I told him so. Then he looked at me with real intensity, like he was trying to say something with his eyes, ya know. And he told me that your father and I should go somewhere where no one would find us, not even him." She fidgeted with the hem of her shirt. "I thought about that conversation half the night until I finally understood what he was trying to say. It was his round about way of letting me know that there was a termination order out on your dad."
"Terminate - as in kill?" Charlie suddenly stood. "The CIA wanted to kill Dad?"
Chuck raised his hand to try to calm Charlie down. "They didn't need me anymore." Chuck explained. "The CIA got a new computer and the stuff I knew became useless."
"That's no reason to kill someone," Charlie protested.
"I totally agree, Charlie. Boy, do I agree." Chuck said, "Just sit down and hear your mom out on this, we're only at the beginning of the story."
When Charlie sat down again, Sarah continued, "Charlie, what you need to understand is that those two years with your dad had made me see what I had missed out on. You've met Grandpa Jack, so you must have a pretty good idea of what it was like for me growing up with him." Charlie nodded. "And then I went into the CIA right out of high school. Life with your father made me see how much more there could be to living. He made me part of his family. Aunt Ellie and Uncle Devon too, they just accepted me, flaws and all. I can't begin to tell you how much that meant.
"So when I figured out about the termination order, I was torn. I had to ask myself, what did I love more, my life with the CIA, or my life with your father?"
Sarah stopped again to organize her thoughts. Across the field she saw a father and daughter playing soccer. The little girl was trying to kick the ball through the father's outspread legs. Sarah smiled to herself and then turned back to look at Charlie. "It didn't take long for me to make my decision."
"I can remember that night that your mom came for me like it was yesterday." Chuck said. "In many ways it was the end of one life and the beginning of another one. Let me tell you what I remember."
A tapping sound woke Chuck from his sleep. He focused his eyes on the alarm clock. It was two in the morning. "Go away." he mumbled. But the tapping sounded again, and again. "Ok, ok, just a minute," he moaned and rolled out of bed. After pulling on some pajama pants he went to the window. There, through the glass, he saw his handlers face looking back at him.
"Sarah!? What are you doing here in middle of the night?" he asked, lifting the latch on the window.
"Shh. Keep your voice down," she said. Even in the fog of his brain, he realized that it wasn't an answer. He noticed that she was dressed all in black. She looked great in black.
He suddenly felt under dressed. "What? Do we have another mission? So soon?" He opened one of his drawers and pulled on a t-shirt as he spoke.
He felt her grab him by the shoulders and spin him to face her. "Chuck, listen to me very carefully. We have to get out of here. This is life or death. Do you understand?"
"What?" Chuck said confused, "Has someone gotten loose? Someone from that CIA prison? Who is it? Fulcrum? La Ciudad? Or that pita delivery girl, what's her name again?"
Sarah has gone to his closet; she pulled out a duffle bag. "Chuck!" Sarah warned. She started packing Chuck's jeans into the bag. "It's much worse than that." She paused for a moment, her hands trembled slightly, she opened her mouth and then closed it again. Her eyes searched the room and then she stuffed another pair in the bag. "It's the NSA."
"The NSA?" Chuck echoed. It felt like he'd been kicked in the gut. "The NSA-who-protects-me. NSA?"
"Yes," she confirmed, "and we only have five minutes before Casey is going to figure out that I jammed the bugs in this room."
"Casey? Five minutes? Sarah, I can't leave in five minutes." He stood watching her grab his shirts off hangers. "Why would the NSA want to kill me?"
"I did some checking on that," Sarah answered. "A new Intersect went online last week. A fully functional Intersect." She emphasized the words "fully functional." This one was not a Fulcrum trick.
"So what? They're done using me so…so… they just execute me?"
"Looks that way." Sarah confirmed."That's why we need to go, now!"
"This has to be some sort of mistake, Sarah. What about Ellie? What about Morgan?"
Sarah grabbed him by the shirt and stood on her tip toes to see right in his eyes. With controlled intensity she said, "Listen to me, Chuck. If we do not leave now, there are going to be some men here with very big guns, and all of them will have one thing on their mind - 'kill Chuck Bartowski'. Now I'm going to do my best to keep that from happening. But you have to trust me. Now pack!" The command in her voice was unmistakable.
In a trance, Chuck grabbed a suitcase from under the bed, set it on his bedspread, and started filling it with socks and underwear. He looked around for things to pack. What do you take with you when you run from the government? He spotted his IPod and cell phone on his night stand and tossed them in.
His eyes continued to move around the room. Was this the last time he would see it? At his desk he paused and picked up the picture of him and Sarah with Ellie and Awesome. His sister was going to wake up tomorrow morning and he would be gone – forever?
He might just be sick. He sat down heavily in the desk chair. Had it come to this? he wondered. Is this how his story was going to end?
"Sorry Chuck, the phone stays here." Sarah said, snatching the cell phone out of his case and throwing it onto the bed. "And grab any cash you might have, or anything else of value - we'll need it."
"Sarah, I won't just leave." He had made up his mind. "This is my life, my family… This can't be real."
"Dammit, Chuck," Sarah hissed. He had rarely heard her so angry.
"I won't go,Sarah," he declared. "I would rather die then leave Ellie a lifetime of not knowing."
She walked over to him and slapped him cross the face, not hard, but enough to get his attention. "They are going to kill you, and now they're probably going to kill me too. We don't have time for this…" she waved her hands in the air like a mad woman, "this…pity party," she spat. "Either you come with me now or you stay and Ellie finds you cold and bleeding all over your bedroom floor."
The image of Ellie finding him murdered flashed before his eyes. Would that be worse or better then him just disappearing? Or maybe they would take his body, and he would be missing either way. He focused on Sarah. She stood, waiting for him. He could tell she was holding her breath. Chuck was amazed by the expression on her face, her eyes were focused, her jaw was clenching. It was the same look, Chuck realized, that she had on the rooftop when he was being taken away by Longshore. But now she was more intense. And for the first time Chuck saw that it was fear that he saw in her eyes. The gravity of their situation suddenly hit home.
"I'll go with you," he said.
Sarah released her breath. "Good. Grab your ID's and passports. They'll have to do until I can get us new ones. And do you have good walking shoes? Boots or anything like that?"
"In the back corner," Chuck said, pointing. He grabbed the shoebox that contained his CIA identifications under his bed and shoved it in his suitcase.
A few minutes later, with zipped bags, they stood looking at each other. It was so final, what they were doing. Once they stepped out the window everything was going to change. "Is there anything else you want?" Sarah asked, "We can't come back here again."
Chuck looked quickly around the room one last time. There was only one thing he wanted. "Can I leave a note for Ellie?" He asked. "Just so she won't worry about me?"
Sarah shook her head. "Not a good idea, Chuck. The less Ellie and Devon know the better."
Chuck nodded. That's what he expected she would say. "Let's go then."
Sarah went to the Morgan door. "Keep against the wall, in the shadows," she told him. "I'll go first and set up cover for you. Hopefully Casey won't see us." Chuck saw a flash of panic in her eye when she mentioned Casey. What would happen if they were caught in the courtyard? Yesterday Chuck would have sworn that Sarah would never hurt Casey, now he wasn't so sure.
"Run for the parking lot," she continued, "and look for a silver Camry."
"What happened to the Porsche?" he asked.
"I needed the cash. Now, count to twenty and follow me."
Sarah drew her gun, quietly swung open the window and stepped outside. As soon as he saw her disappear into the shadows, Chuck quickly turned around and snatched up the notepad on his desk. He scribbled a quick note, and then wiping his eyes, he headed out the window.
He stayed in the darkest areas, up against the apartment building, just like she said to. His heart was beating so loudly, he was sure everyone in the complex could hear him. But he made it to the archway safely. Sarah joined him there and together they ran out into the parking lot.
If Chuck had turned around, as he darted out his bedroom, he might have seen the blinds shift ever so slightly in Casey's window. But he would have never heard when the hardened agent whispered, "Good luck, Bartowski."
When Chuck finished telling the story, Charlie sat up and stretched and rolled his shoulders. "That's unbelievable. So where did you go?" he asked.
"Mexico," Sarah answered. "It was a logical choice. I had spent several years in that part of the world, I spoke the language. I knew how things worked. I even still had a few connections I could pull on in an emergency."
Chuck looked down at his watch. "Well, I'm starving. What do you say we grab some lunch?"
Sarah looked at him gratefully. "I'm not that hungry but I could use a break."
"So you're just going to leave me hanging here? You're not going to tell me what happened in Mexico?" Charlie asked standing and dusting off his pants.
"Don't worry," Sarah said, putting an arm on his shoulder. "We came here to tell you everything, and we will."
Special thanks go to BillAtWork who looked at my first story and encouraged me to write more, and to Sharpasamarble who kicked my butt and pushed me make it better (Sharp, I have taken up the gauntlet.) I've used many of his suggestions in this story. Final thanks go to Arathorn who beta read this final version. Your advice has been invaluable! All mistakes are mine.