Chuck vs. the Watcher
With the virus, slips, and wedding still raising havoc, Chuck and Sarah both try to deal what they've gotten themselves into. Picks up right where "Chuck vs. Sweet Home Alabama" left off, Chuck/Sarah.
Rating: T, for some interesting romantic situations and sporadic use of strong language.
Spoilers: This story takes place through 2.07, "Chuck vs. the Fat Lady." Nothing occurring in canon after that has occurred here.
A/N: Project at work's over, folks. Time for some serious Chuck FF action. This chapter's a little short, but I wanted to get the ball rolling before launching into the fun stuff.
This story (literally) continues right where the other story, "Chuck vs. Sweet Home Alabama," left off. All the awesome readers/reviewers of SHA deserve special thanks (particularly sharpasamarble for multiple discussions about my geometry skills). I should especially thank the SHA reviewers for not killing me (though I know a few of you were rather tempted) with how it ended. We'll have to see how long it takes before I manage to inspire similar thoughts again with this story.
This sequel could have easily been extra chapters at the end of the first one, but a.) I didn't have this section of the plot entirely mapped out until recently, after I finished SHA, and b.) real-life time constraints made it rather implausible, as witnessed by this not being written until four months after the other story. "Watcher" will probably make much more sense if you read its predecessor first (which is posted here on FF in the normal place where Chuck stories live). The decision, ultimately, is yours.
I proofed the chapter a few times, but undoubtedly missed a few errors, for which I profusely apologize and promise to fix as soon as I find them. To stave off any possible confusion, be aware that several italicized words in a row tend to denote a character's thoughts (or, for this chapter, a flashback). And, last, I don't own Chuck, because if I did, a certain employer starting certain projects weeks early would have no impact on my life for months and my subsequent ability to write Chuck FF, since I would no longer need to be employed by said entity.
Day 3 of virus release: Sunday
Sunday at Casa Casey had been more low-key than the Sunday wedding planning madness at Casa Bartowski. Casey had cleaned all his weapons (three times) and was now lounging in his recliner, methodically sharpening his bonsai trees' pruning scissors. Pruning the actual trees would soon follow in an attempt to not think about any of the non-mission events of the past 48 hours. So focused was he on sharpening the pruning scissors at just the right angle that Casey did not notice General Beckman's face appearing, unbidden, on to the video monitor.
"Hope I'm not interrupting anything, Major."
Judging by the mountains of paper on her desk, compared to the cleanliness of her desk during the previous night's debrief, the general had not slept much the night before. Little sleep meant little tolerance for wisecracks. Casey opted for a suppressed growl while he surreptitiously palmed the small scissors into his back pocket.
"No, ma'am. Wh…"
"Where are the asset and Agent Walker?"
Being cut off in mid-sentence didn't faze Casey, but the tone Beckman was using was setting off all sorts of mental alarms. It was the sort of tone superiors used before informing you of a 'change in plans.'
"They are both at the asset's house with his sister and fiancé, ma'am. Should I go get them?"
Beckman almost fell out of her chair, eyes growing wide. Her answer was immediate and had more enthusiasm than Casey would have liked.
Casey's expression now mirrored Beckman's, despite his best efforts to keep his emotions under control. His eyes were not as wide as Beckman's had been, but he looked like he was about ready to leap through the monitor and have a…spirited discussion with the director of the NSA. Beckman noticed the shift in Casey's demeanor and backtracked as much as decorum would allow.
"That came out wrong, Major. No, do not go get them, because while they need to be briefed on the problem, getting them now will exacerbate it."
It was Beckman's use of the word "problem" that connected the dots. He thought back to last night's debrief after the warehouse raid:
Chuck had just left Casey's apartment, and Casey was about to begrudgingly mention to the general how valuable Bartowski had been on the mission. Instead, she had cut him off with a previously unseen amount of vehemence when he had started to say so, stunning both him and Walker. Seeing their shocked faces, Beckman's expression had softened somewhat as she sighed.
"We might have a serious problem."
Beckman was silent after that, deep in thought. Casey's guess was that the "problem" had something to do with the phone call the general had received a few minutes prior while Bartowski was dealing with his own phone call from his sister. When the general started talking again, any vestige of her prior concern was gone, as if she had never mentioned anything about a possible problem at all…
"Is this the possible serious problem from last night, ma'am?"
She nodded her head in appreciation of Casey's recall abilities before her face became drawn.
"This would be actual serious problem from last night."
A single sentence description of the problem was enough for a curse to slip from Casey's lips before he carefully amended it.
"I couldn't agree more. Your orders are as follows…"
Maintaining an impassive exterior while listening to the new orders, Casey's interior was only slightly less impassive.
This is not going to end well.
Across the courtyard, Chuck's thoughts echoed Casey's own for a completely different reason.
"So, Chuck, have you and Sarah talked any about…you know…"
Ellie's gleeful expression as she emphatically pointed to her left ring finger to punctuate her sentence confirmed Chuck's fears. After the look her and Awesome had exchanged once the wedding planning had concluded, Chuck figured the conversation was heading this way. Sarah was currently in his room, gathering her things before she left, leaving Chuck to singlehandedly fend off the none-too-subtle engagement hints from the soon-to-be Awesomes.
"What? Oh, yeah yeah, we've talked a lot about how we both like having fingers. It makes typing easier, and definitely makes driving much safer with all this city traf…"
Ellie looked like she was about ready to throw something at him. It was enough to send Chuck scurrying into the kitchen just in case she did.
"Oh, you mean m…marriage? It's come up in passing, yes."
And she does NOT need to know that "in passing" means talking about how to not get Sarah reassigned. The agent and asset's precarious half-peace from the previous evening was holding, but just. …because neither of us has had a chance to completely blow it to pieces yet.
Zeroing in on the towering stack of dishes soaking in the sink as a way to drown out any more questions, Chuck began preparing to wash them all. He had no sooner turned the faucet on when Ellie's hand appeared to shut it off. The look she gave Chuck as she did so and perched on the counter next to him was not the one Chuck wanted to see. That look had implications that would not help the current situation.
"…and what, exactly, came up in passing, Chuck?"
Ellie's on a mission. Great. Just what I need today—older sister love life interference. In case CIA and possible NSA interference aren't enough. He elected to plaster on a smile while attempting to end the conversation again as he noisily shifted and sloshed around the dishes in the sink. His smile grew slightly larger as he shouted to be heard over the racket he was making.
"You know. Wedding stuff. It's all very technical and very top secret. If I told you, I'd have to kill you."
Trying to focus again on the dishes, he was up to his forearms in soapy water before Ellie pulled the sink's plug. The acute lack of water in the sink forced Chuck to finally look up at his sister with a less-than-amused expression. Her hands were up in front of her at shoulder level in mock surrender to placate him while she talked.
"I don't mean to pry, Chuck, but I see you two when you're together. Especially lately. You're both crazy about one another. It just seems like it's moving in that direction, and I'm just curious if it's come up, that's all."
Forgetting that his hands were covered with soap suds, the surrounding area soon became covered in suds as he gestured somewhat emphatically. The words were out of his mouth before he had a chance to think them over.
"Look, there's nothing I would love to do more than to propose to Sarah, but there are things beyond our control right now that makes that impossible, OK?"
Awesome repeatedly—and loudly—clearing his throat from his position in the living room preempted the confused squeal that was due to erupt from Ellie. Chuck spun to find Sarah standing in the kitchen doorway with a pleased-shocked-sad expression on her face. She had obviously heard a good portion of the conversation, if not all of it.
And THAT is the sound of our precarious peace fracturing into teeny tiny little pieces and scattering across Burbank. Damn wedding! Ellie was already looking at him apologetically after Sarah had given Ellie and Awesome a hug goodbye and was heading for the door. Dish towel in hand, Chuck was mere steps behind her as he tried to get rid of the last of the suds. Stepping out into the courtyard after tossing the towel back into the apartment and calmly closing the front door, Chuck had to half jog to catch up with Sarah—she was several steps ahead of him already. She hadn't said a word, nor had she looked at him, since returning from his bedroom and overhearing. It worried him. Not talking was getting them into as much trouble as talking was.
"What? Wasn't that an accurate assessment of where we are at the moment?"
Glaring back at him, she wasn't anticipating Chuck's completely open and concerned expression. Or his spirited attempt to chase her down. Both worked their normal magic as she sighed and slowed down to a near stop so he could catch up. Damn him and his adorable self. She heard him sigh in relief as he rapidly closed the gap and stood just close enough to assuage any fears from the future Woodcombs that Ellie's prodding had caused a major blowout. A quick look back at the apartment window confirmed that the both were watching them intently, with Ellie looking distraught and Awesome undoubtedly assuring her that everything was fine. Chuck noticed it as well, lowering his voice as he leaned closer.
"I mean, please, if you want me to tell something else to those two, I'm all ears."
His voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper as he slightly tilted his head back toward the house, eyes wide, still talking so fast that Sarah couldn't get a word in edgewise.
"They're out for blood! I thought she was going to stick my head under the faucet!"
That earned him a genuine laugh and a smack in the stomach as she finally looked at him, prompting a grin to spread across Chuck's face as he looped his arm around her waist. Both slowly resumed their walk toward her car. Leaning into him slightly, agent mode began screaming at their combined slip. He had slipped in the kitchen with his answer to Ellie, and had just done so again with the arm around the waist; she had slipped by leaning into his embrace. They were supposed to be trying to simplify their situation, not complicate it. Agent mode was going so far as to bark out orders. Walk faster! His arm around you is not going to help matters any! A slight nudge from Chuck pulled her back to the present. He was still waiting for an answer. After a beat or two, she had one.
"No, I suppose that's accurate."
Its accuracy was exactly why she had felt so compelled to get out of the house—and away from him—as fast as possible. She needed distance to think through everything. The current situation wasn't helping. That much she was aware of, even without her inner-agent having a coronary. They'd only taken another step or two in a somewhat comfortable silence when it was broken.
"About last night."
How Chuck's head was still attached to his neck, given the speed that it had whipped in her direction, was a mystery. She was as surprised as he was. Agent mode was fit to be tied. What the hell prompted that little outburst, Walker! They could have easily walked the rest of the way to her car in silence. There was no need for a conversation topic, especially that one. She could feel his eyes on her, and felt his arm tighten around her slightly as she leaned more into him. The words started coming out of her mouth again, as if she had no control over them.
Casey entering the courtyard with an unusual amount of flourish and noise killed the rest of Sarah's sentence. Both stunned by his blatant entrance, the NSA agent crossed over to where Chuck and Sarah were now stopped. Casey looked unusually cheerful and…human.
"Hey there, Chuck. We still on for carpooling to work tomorrow?"
Chuck wondered if there was a secret moat hidden somewhere in the courtyard underneath an innocuous patio tile. If there was, he found himself wishing that Casey would accidentally fall into it—his timing left a lot to be desired. What the hell! Where is this coming from? When don't we carpool? And since when do I have an actual name? Chuck's answer came out with a grimace as he ground his teeth and attempted to smile, if only to put on the show for the doctors. He could still see them hovering near the window out of the corner of his eye as he turned to face Casey.
"Sure, John. Same time as normal?"
A momentary snarl crossed Casey's face at the use of his first name before it disappeared. Subconsciously, Chuck drew Sarah slightly closer because of it, figuring that the proximity of one agent would offset the anger of the other. Calling him "John"…not smart. Another thought emerged only after he realized which agent he had drawn closer. …and neither was that.
Sarah was thinking the same thing. She still had no idea why she felt the need to bring up last night. She needed to get away from Chuck, and needed to do so quickly. At the rate they were both going today, she was going to be reassigned by sunset. Casey's flamboyant entrance gave her that very opportunity. Planting a quick peck on Chuck's cheek, she loosed herself from his hold as she continued toward her car, walking backwards a little bit while she said goodbye, trying her best to keep as much teasing out of her voice as possible, given the amusing sight in front of her.
"Sounds like you boys have lots to talk about. I'll see you tomorrow during lunch hour, Chuck?"
I'm going to kill you, John Casey. All Chuck could manage was a subdued smile as he nodded yes to Sarah before turning back to his other handler. The magnitude of Casey's smug grin while answering Chuck's question seemed to be directly related to the intensity of the latter's thoughts.
"Yep, I'll see you then, neighbor."
While Chuck and Casey returned to their places of residence and Sarah continued her focused walk toward her car, none of them noticed someone quietly slipping out of a hiding place behind an oddly shaped hedge with a horrible vantage point of the courtyard.
Day 4: Monday
Coffee mugs were not particularly good at blocking sunlight, Chuck had decided. Sunglasses would be a better bet. With the way shade-less Casey was driving, the glare coming off the road didn't seem to be bothering him any: it was surprisingly calm and very civilian-like. A passerby would never know that Casey normally drove as if a column of enemy tanks was in hot pursuit. Casey's odd behavior was starting to freak Chuck out, between yesterday in the courtyard and the soothing drive into work. Nothing a little chit-chat won't figure out.
"Something on your mind, big guy?"
The steering wheel sounded like it snapped in half as Casey tightened his grip on it. I wonder if that's what my spine's going to sound like when it cracks. Scrunching over against the passenger side door to put himself outside of Casey's human-throttling radius, Chuck was treated to a disturbing chuckle from Casey, coupled with a completely insincere smile.
"Just enjoying the drive, that's all."
Before Chuck knew it, Casey had cranked the radio up to its full volume and was talking in a very low tone with urgency, barely moving his lips.
"Not a word, moron. Don't change your facial expression any—we're under surveillance. Act like we're still having a pleasant drive into work. Take a sip of your coffee if you can hear me alright and understand."
You mean can I hear you with the radio on full tilt and you barely moving your lips? Oh I totally can. The Intersect provides me with supersonic hearing, actually…not. Sensing that Casey wouldn't appreciate the retort, Chuck instead chose to look thoughtfully out the window while sipping his coffee. Knowing that he could be heard, Casey gave Chuck the 45-second version of what was going on, pretending to love the song playing on the radio by turning it up even more while he did.
"Someone is getting curious about why Walker and I have been out here for a while. Beckman told me yesterday morning. Long story short, people are out here poking around to see what they can find. You need to assume that you are being watched at all times. Start singing along with me if you understand that."
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh do I ever understand that, but do we really have to sing? A rousing duet of the song's chorus confirmed it for Casey, who delivered the last little bit of the news before the song ended.
"You need to tell Walker. I can't do it without setting off more alarm bells. The Orange Orange has audio interference equipment so that whoever's watching us won't be able to hear what you say without physically being in the shop to hear with their own ears. They'll be able to see you, though, so you need to perform…convincingly so that you guys can both get downstairs to Castle without raising suspicion to be ful…"
Chuck cut Casey off with a coughing fit before taking a sip of coffee to calm his 'throat irritation.' As he pretended to sip the coffee, Chuck hissed out the very reason he had interrupted in the first place. He understood that Casey was telling him the heavily redacted version, but something more pressing wasn't clicking.
"Whoa whoa whoa, what, exactly, is 'convincingly'? I can't think of any way that both of us going downstairs won't look suspicious."
Chuck could make out the growl coming from Casey without trying hard. It had a distinctly different pitch from the radio.
"Moron. We can't get into this now, but they think she's your girlfriend—who knows why. You two going into the back room for alone time won't look suspicious."
The coughing fit was real this time. Chuck drained his entire coffee mug and was about to voice his protest when Casey finished talking quickly as the song's last verse began.
"Both of you need to get downstairs to be fully briefed by the general on your lunch hour, Bartowski. This'll all make more sense then. Sell it or else you'll be an expert on different shades of bunker concrete by the weekend."
Casey turned down the radio as the song ended and hooted a few times in appreciation. His tone of voice and cadence was back to what it was before Casey's Karaoke-and-Top-Secret-Briefing Hour.
"Good song, eh, Chuck?"
His tie felt like a literal noose after Casey's little bombshell. Chuck had no choice but to reply as he loosened his tie, holding in his nervous chuckle quite well as he raised his now-empty mug in the song's honor before taking a fake sip.
"It's one of my new favorites."