Title: Wounds

Summary: Two times Ellie takes care of her brother—and one time she can't. Timeline spans pre-series to post-season 2 finale.

Note: This is dark in parts and fluffy in others. There are mentions of character deaths. Also, not sure about the dates of certain events, so I guessed.

Disclaimer: Don't own Chuck.

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May 12, 1988

"Ellie!"

She looks up from her homework to see Chuck hobbling into the kitchen, face screwed up in pain. He's holding his finger tightly in one hand.

"Frodo bit me."

Ellie laughs. The family cat has the patience of a saint, except when it comes to Chuck. The mysterious enmity is a puzzling fact of the Bartowski household. "Did you pet her too hard?"

"Threw her," Chuck admits. He doesn't even have the grace to look ashamed. Ellie swings her braid over her shoulder, closes her book and beckons him over. He holds out the finger. Three beads of blood sit on it, the mark of Frodo's wrath.

"You know," she lectures as she gets up to find a band-aid, "it's your fault. Throwing the cat is mean."

"Not mean," he protests. "I was savin' her. Peterson's big old dog was chasing her. I picked her up and then he was chasing me, so I threw her over the fence so she'd be safe."

Ellie stops. Looks down at her little brother. He's small for seven, but sometimes she wonders who's taking care of whom. Today, Mom broke down and almost left again. Today, Ellie needed bravery.

She takes his finger and applies a cool layer of anti-bacterial lotion to it.

"You're a hero, Chuck," she tells him. "My hero."

He smiles at her, a brilliant, beautiful smile.

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November 27, 2009

A hero, they will tell her later. He was a patriot, they will say. She will watch their lips move and see the medals on their uniforms and wonder if any of them know what the word means. Patriot. The last time Ellie sees her brother, he is draped in his own badge of heroism, and it's staining her couch. As she cleans up the blood with trembling hands she notices the artistry of the clean cuts. They mark his body in long, deliberate swirls, almost hieroglyphs, and stand out all the more because there's no color to his skin. Even through the winter Chuck keeps the warm olive skin tone that is the only gift their mother ever gave them. Now he's white as paper, except for the vivid blue bruises blossoming delicately. Red, white and blue. Patriot. Later, she will remember the surreal horror of it and choke back an anguished laugh, and they will not understand. They never did.

Time moves in slow motion as Sarah and John Casey burst through the door, Chuck's arms slung across their shoulders. His head lolls, legs crumpling. He's bleeding. Bleeding. Profusely. A makeshift bandage around his head isn't stopping a steady trickle down the side of his face, down his spattered shirt, onto the creamy white of the rug. That will stain, she thinks distantly.

"Ellie!" Sarah shouts. "Help us! Chuck's hurt."

The dream snaps. Everything speeds up suddenly, as if to catch up the missing moments. She's helping Chuck to the couch, leaning him back, rushing to the closet to fetch what she needs. She drops the bottle of cleaning solution, spilling it. Her fingers are shaking too much to screw the cap back on. She closes her eyes. Draws a tremulous breath. She needs to be Dr. Bartowski now, cool and detached. Instead, she's Ellie Bartowski, the family member, and she's over the edge. Breathe. Breathe. She pulls out a second bottle and gauze and a dozen other items and races back to the living room.

He's talking. Neither Sarah nor John seem to be listening; John is pacing the perimeter of the room, stopping to peer out the windows, and Sarah is holding his hand, eyes wide and glazed. As she gets closer, Ellie understands. He's not speaking in English. It's not even just one foreign language…he seems to be flipping at random between a dozen.

Ellie can't focus on that. She's Dr. Bartowski now, and everything's in perspective. The patient is all that's in the foreground. A patient in very bad shape. She casts a critical eye over his limp body and kneels down next to him to start cataloguing the injuries. There are knife wounds. Many, many knife wounds. Some are crusted over, perhaps days old. Others were inflicted within the hour. The scarring will be tremendous. His nose is a mess. One eye is a deep, sullen red; Ellie's heart sinks when she sees it. There's a deep gash in the side of his head. With Sarah's help, she peels off his stained white shirt and slacks and has to cling to her professionalism to stave off a panic attack. He is a mess. She finds broken bones—collarbone, forearm, three fingers, kneecaps, four ribs, ankle. The blade carvings are everywhere. Blistering burn marks trace pustules across his back.

"Helfen Sie mir, helfen Sie mir. Ich bin nicht ein Held. Ich erkläre Ihnen, was Sie wünschen. Batente. Batente. Não fira Sarah. Eu di-lo-ei qualquer coisa. Je ne sais rien. Ne suis pas je ce que vous voulez. Je ne suis personne. Je ne suis personne. Hjälp mig. Räddning mig, Sarah."

She has no idea what the unintelligible stream pouring from his mouth means, but she can hear the raw desperation. The adrenalin is wearing off. She feels something bubbling up below.

Anger.

As she tapes down a gauze bandage, her gaze slides to Sarah's hand cradling Chuck's. Up, to Sarah's face, tear stained and stricken. Guilty. Something goes cold inside her. This is when the hatred begins for Sarah Walker that she will hold for the rest of her life.

"Talk to me," she hisses. "What happened? What went wrong? Are they still after him? Is he safe here?" Sarah comes out of her trance slowly, opens her mouth. At that moment, Chuck's eyes fly open.

"It's time, Sarah," he says. "Call in the extraction team. Time for me to go underground." He pulls his hand away from Sarah's and stares up at the ceiling, his good eye focusing.

"Don't say that, Chuck," Sarah whispers.

He coughs and winces. "You tried," he says, and there's no accompanying smile. "It's not your fault. It's all mine."

"Idiot," Ellie breathes. "Idiot little brother. That damn computer is at fault, not you. The god-damned government, and Bryce Larkin, and this woman," she jabs a thumb at Sarah, "and our dear loving father. Not yours. Never yours."

He looks at her. Looks her straight in the face. Seizes, compels her gaze with a power that's irresistible even as he lies helpless. What she sees chills her even more.

She's fixed him up so many times. Both before and after she found out about his secret life as a spy. (That was an interesting afternoon.) She's used to taking care of him. After Mom left and Dad disappeared…Ellie was everything to him.

And now she can do nothing for him. He's in a place she'll never be able to go. She's seen patients like this before. The broken ones. The ones whose injuries lie deep within, far beyond her power to heal.

Her brother will never come home again.

As the landscape of her new life rises up around her, harsh and hideous, she feels Chuck's hand on her shoulder. Comforting. He is comforting her.

"I have to go," he whispers. His voice is hoarse. She clutches his hand gingerly, careful of the broken fingers.

"Why?"

"Do you really want to know?" Something about the way he asks makes her pause. Does she? Of course she does…

"I died in that warehouse," he says flatly. His voice is stronger now. More controlled. She wonders if he's being metaphorical. The matter of fact way he says it convinces her he's not. "They had to bring me back a couple times…I'm not so good under torture."

From his post at the window, John laughs, a humorless bark. "Got that right, kid."

"The blow to my head…I couldn't focus long enough on anything for the intersect to help. Didn't help that I couldn't see very well. So they hurt me…and at the end of it, something knocked things back in order, and the computer took charge. It saw how to get out…I used the knife first, then their guns, then a bomb. It didn't want anything left alive this time." His voice diminished, contracted, darkened, like a dying star. "I killed Jill. With my own hands. It wasn't fast."

Ellie does not look at his face. She cannot bear to think of what she might see there.

There is a long silence. John Casey moves away from the window and comes to stand by the couch. His perpetually grim face has something of Chuck's whiteness to it.

"You served your country, Bartowski," he says quietly. "There is no shame in what you did."

Chuck closes his eyes. "We can play the blame game all day, Casey. The chicken or the egg. At the end of the day, I was the one who chose to take the intersect back instead of destroying it. Jill died because of me, even if I didn't consciously decide to slice her open. Dad was right. Bryce was right. It's too powerful. It has no conscience, and no soul."

"We'll take it out." Sarah is crying. "Your father did it once; he can do it again."

"My father is dead." Chuck says it in the same flat tone of voice he's used since switching to English. "He was in the holding cell next to mine. The intersect factored it into the calculations, and decided he was an acceptable loss. I couldn't save him. He died when I blew up the building."

Chuck turns those eyes on Sarah, those empty houses of eyes.

"Take me in. I want to go home."

This is how Ellie finds out that she has lost all of her family, forever.

At least they died heroes, the men in uniforms will tell her.

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April 8, 2003

When Chuck walks in the door, she has a moment of disorientation. Is it spring break already? She thought it wasn't for another week.

"Hi, Ellie," he says, and drops a duffel bag onto the floor. It's bulging suspiciously for one week's worth of clothes. Without another word he goes out, and comes back in with a box. Ellie lays her palms against the kitchen counter and stares at him hard.

"Chuck. What's going on?" He stops and looks at her, then takes the box down the hallway into the guest room he stays in over breaks. When he comes back in, a moment of déjà vu overlaps on the disorientation. He has the look, the same look he had that day he threw Frodo. Hurt, bewildered, but unashamed. Oh, no.

"I got kicked out," he says bluntly.

"Of Stanford?" She can't quite process what he's saying.

"Of Stanford." Chuck passes a tired hand over his face. "Bryce Larkin framed me for cheating."

"There are appeals, surely, something you can do! We can make some phone calls—"

He cuts her off. "The professor backed him up. It's done, Ellie. They don't want met there. Nobody does."

And there; she saw it. The other wound.

"Jill?"

For a moment, he's stricken, and Ellie's heart sinks; her brother's is broken.

"Oh, Chuck…"

"Bryce," Chuck mutters. "It's not enough that he has to have everything. Has to take what I have too."

"The bastard!"

Chuck's face comes up a little, eyes widening slightly; she doesn't curse often. Ellie's lips thin to a tight line. She's a doctor. The Hippocratic oath requires that she help this hurting boy out now. And Ellie knows just the treatment.

A therapeutic bottle of wine and medicinal viewing of Tron later, Chuck is snoring away on the armchair, face blissfully slack with sleep. There will be time enough to grieve for what is lost. Time enough to be brave. What Chuck needs now is to rest, to heal from what must have been a devastating blow.

Ellie gets up from the couch, grabbing a throw from the end table. She lays it over Chuck and frowns; his feet stick out. One day he suddenly stopped being elbow-height to her and sprouted into a man.

But he's never stopped coming to her with his wounds, and she's never stopped taking care of him. The odd thing about rescuing Chuck is that he's always rescuing someone else, and the wounds he gains are from healing those of others. She wondered, after their parents deserted them, if leaving was in their blood. If they would be able to stay together. What Chuck teaches her every day is that it's not leaving, but loving, that's written into their genes.

It's the way Chuck loves that will always make him Ellie's hero.

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End

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