A/N: Presenting the somewhat-awaited prequel of Sarah vs. the FBI. It'll eventually be an Office crossover, but this chapter is pure Chuck.
I come not to own Chuck, but to borrow its characters.
Chapter 1: Necessitation
Sarah Walker sighed. In many ways, the last eight weeks had been the most fulfilling of her tenure with the CIA. Team Bartowski had spent that period blowing away its already-excellent performance record, dismantling nearly every aspect of Fulcrum's operations in the Southwestern United States. The formerly dangerous rogue splinter of the CIA was now on the brink of destruction.
The reason for the team's staggering success wasn't the new Intersect, to everyone's surprise. Since re-uploading the computer into his brain (and immediately stunning his partners by devastating an enemy strike team with spontaneously generated Kung Fu skills), Chuck had only occasionally been given new abilities. These were always short-lived, and usually borderline ridiculous.
However, the new version of the Intersect also had its benefits. Foremost among them were its significantly enhanced data access and processing functions. The improvement was so great that Casey, the NSA representative on the team, would now sometimes fail to notice Chuck's "flashes." Also key was the fact that Chuck had really learned to separate the raw information from his interpretation of it, which meant the team was misdirected a lot less frequently than it had been in the past.
The other major improvement to the team's performance arose from the addition of Orion's wrist computer. The gift from Chuck's technological genius father was an electronic marvel, and Chuck had mastered it unbelievably quickly. The team could now subvert any surveillance device, open or close any electrically operated door, and defeat any digital lock. Half the time, the most difficult part of the mission was staying alert enough to deal with the guards. And the other half, the guards never even knew the team had been there. Sarah imagined that several Fulcrum bases had held very awkward morning meetings after the discovery of inexplicably missing data and damaged equipment.
General Beckman, NSA director and project supervisor, was practically giddy during most of the team's mission briefings. Of course, giddy for the General meant that she occasionally looked like she might be thinking about smiling. More importantly, in this case, it also meant that the diminutive redhead had adopted an unofficial "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the matter of Chuck and Sarah's relationship. Sarah's memory drifted briefly back to that happy day.
"General, I had one more question before you go."
"What is it, Colonel Casey?"
"I was wondering if I might get a few days' vacation. It's been nearly two years since I last visited my family, after all."
"Well, normally that would go against protocol while you're on station. But the success of this team has been so far beyond any reasonable expectation that I'm willing to overlook some violations of protocol where you're concerned, as long as the current high quality of your results is maintained."
Sarah was sure that Beckman had stared directly at her as she uttered that last sentence. She'd headed for Chuck's apartment later that night with her heart pounding, planning on asking him for another chance at a real date. But when she'd seen the tentative smile that crossed his face as he answered the door, her nervousness had been swept away and replaced by some definite non-first-date-appropriate behavior.
The relationship had been… well, great. Not that Sarah had much to compare it with. Most of her previous experience had been predominantly physically focused. And she and Chuck had more than matched anything she'd ever done in the bedroom… or the kitchen… or the freezer at the Orange Orange. In fact, he'd proven proficient enough that Sarah privately wondered whether the Intersect was helping him out. And yet, with all that, she found herself enjoying the other aspects of the relationship just as much. It helped, of course, that Chuck was funny, and sweet, and had learned far more about her tastes than she'd ever expected. But it wasn't just that he was a great boyfriend. The two of them seemed to be perfectly in sync in every way – on missions, in conversation, in bed. Sarah had never imagined being as rapturously happy as she was with Chuck.
Which made it all the more frustrating when he closed himself off. It had been happening more often over the past week, and tonight was no exception. Reminding herself that she'd done the same thing for a year and a half, Sarah determined not to let him fence her out easily.
"Okay, Chuck, talk to me. What's bothering you?"
He hadn't been like this since… since Mauser. Sarah suddenly realized that Chuck only withdrew when she'd pushed him away somehow.
"I know you better than that. Is it something I did?"
Chuck looked startled, and Sarah couldn't help smiling at his adorable look of surprise. "What? No, God no. Nothing like that. I'm just… worried."
"About what?" she prodded.
He sighed. "About the ring."
Sarah almost choked on a dumpling. Beckman had accepted their relationship because she was able to look the other way. If Chuck was thinking about… well, the General's tacit approval would practically leap out the window.
"What?" she barely managed to squeak.
"You know, the Ring." Chuck lowered his voice and continued, "'Spies, Agent Walker. The best.' Ambush in the Intersect room. Those guys."
Sarah shook her head slightly. That made more sense… although still not a lot. "Why are you worried about the Ring? We haven't gotten a hint of their existence since the upload."
"That doesn't bother you?" he queried.
She shrugged. "We can't do anything about them if they don't show up… unless you flash, of course."
Chuck nodded slowly. "That's what worries me." Sarah gave him a confused look, and he continued. "As a computer, the Intersect is supposed to recognize patterns, right?" She nodded. "But we don't have a computer. We have me."
"Okay…" Sarah replied dubiously.
"Well, there should be a pattern out there somewhere," he insisted. "I mean, these guys can't just have spontaneously appeared in the Intersect room, right? They have to be up to something."
"What are you saying, Chuck?"
He drew in a deep, nervous breath. "What if the connections are out there, and I just haven't made them? What if I'm not a good enough Intersect?"
Sarah barely managed to keep from scoffing at the idea. "Chuck, you're the only person who could handle this – even the planned upload into Bryce was a calculated risk, and there were no other viable candidates in the Agency. You've performed brilliantly for nearly two years, with no training to speak of. You're the biggest reason that Fulcrum's operational base in the Southwest has been devastated – even Casey admits that." It wasn't just Casey – despite her famed loathing for all things Bartowski, even Beckman had finally admitted that Chuck was now invaluable. "You realize they've had to send us outside of California just to find anything for us to do in the last two weeks? Our last mission was to freaking New Mexico. Chuck, nobody could do better than you, because there is nobody better than you."
Chuck hesitated before responding quietly: "Bryce found them."
Sarah fired off a mental fusillade of curses at her late ex for the way he managed to give his old roommate an inferiority complex even from beyond the grave. "Bryce could have been wrong – it did happen occasionally." Chuck creased his forehead doubtfully, and she pressed on, unwilling to concede to his lack of confidence. "Look, let's just enjoy tonight, all right? We'll finish dinner, and then we'll head back to my place, and we'll worry about the Ring tomorrow." Sarah punctuated her last statement by raising her eyebrows, and was rewarded with a blush and a grin. She smiled victoriously and leaned across the table, intent on completely taking Chuck's mind off anything having to do with top-secret spy organizations.
Chuck and his CIA protector made their way down the third-floor hallway at Sarah's hotel, hands linked and swinging loosely as they walked. As they reached her door, Sarah extracted her room key from her purse, and then paused.
"The hair's been moved."
Chuck had no idea what hair she was talking about, and his face clearly reflected his confusion.
"I put it across my door handle to let me know if someone's been in the room," she explained. Drawing her gun and stepping carefully to the side of the door, she unlocked it and pushed it open.
In response, three bullets embedded themselves into the wall on the opposite side of the hall.
"Chuck…" she started warily.
"Stay in the hall?" he finished. Sarah nodded, but without the small smile he'd hoped would accompany the inside joke. Ducking, she rolled through and across the doorway and into the small kitchen of her suite. That drew more gunfire from inside the room. As the noise died down, Chuck heard a soft, feminine grunt of pain from just inside the door. Then, he flashed.
Not only were the revised Intersect's ability flashes generally bizarre, but they were uniformly accompanied by an unpleasant bout of nausea. This one was no exception. Chuck closed his eyes as he fought the brief urge to vomit and assessed his options. Only one possible use for his newfound skills came to mind.
Waiting for a break in the shooting, he bolted down the hall to the fire stairs. Taking them two at a time, he bounded past the fourth floor and out onto the roof. Pausing to catch his breath, he walked to the edge of the roof and counted balconies until he found the correct location. He took three steps back, and stopped to stretch briefly.
Taking a deep breath, Chuck accelerated toward the edge of the building and launched himself into space.
Sarah grimaced. She was down to her last magazine, and her shoulder was still sore from her awkward landing on the roll into the room. Her assailants – two of them, from what she'd heard – seemed to have no shortage of ammunition, and had managed to improvise pretty impressive fortifications out of hotel room furniture. She was pretty sure she'd been in worse situations, but this one was pretty bad. At least she could take solace in Chuck's escape.
Suddenly, the bedroom window shattered. Sarah's tormentors responded immediately, turning to pour bullets into the night air. Guessing that they'd also be seeking cover from the window, Sarah poked her head above the kitchen counter, and saw one man with his back exposed. Unwilling to gamble that her attackers weren't wearing bulletproof vests, Sarah went for a head shot, and was rewarded by the sight of her target slumping to the ground. She quickly ducked back behind the counter and listened intently for an indication of her remaining opponent's location. Leaning carefully out into the entryway of the room, she directed a single shot through the dust ruffle of her bed, and was rewarded with a thwack and a groan. Springing quickly into action, she leaped onto the bed, rolled across the mattress, and gave the second man a hole in the side of his head to match the one in his left knee.
Sarah advanced cautiously toward the window. Peering out through the hole, she found her erstwhile rescuer cowering in the corner of the balcony.
"Sarah! Thank God." He leaped to his feet and quickly climbed into the room. "Are you all right? You sounded hurt…"
"I'm fine. I just landed funny when I rolled through the door. It's nothing." She paused and eyed him suspiciously. "How did you get out there? You were supposed to stay in the hall!"
"Hey, I didn't come into the room. Doesn't that honor the spirit of the agreement?" Sarah's responding stare indicated that she was going to insist on the exact terms. "Fine. How did I get here? Well, uhh, let's just say that I've been an accomplished gymnast for at least…" Chuck glanced at his watch. "Three minutes now."
Sarah's face whitened. "You jumped off of the ROOF!?"
"I caught the railing…" came the sheepish reply.
The CIA agent's face abruptly regained its coloring, turning an angry red. "Are you insane? You could have…"
"But I didn't! I'm fine! At least I will be if you stop hitting me!"
She declined, instead punctuating each word with a smack to the shoulder. "Don't! Ever! Do that! Again!"
"Gah! Okay! Next time there are assassins waiting in your hotel room, I promise to create a distraction that allows you to kill them by climbing up to your window from the ground floor."
Sarah's angry glower was gradually replaced by a thoughtful frown as the implications of the evening's events sunk in.
She had been ambushed. By assassins. At home.
This was not good.
"It seems Agent Walker's identity has been compromised."
General Beckman never ceased to be amazed at how much of her time was spent stating the obvious.
"General, what does this mean?" Chuck asked.
"Normally in this situation, we would reassign a new agent to take her place. However," she added, quickly cutting off Chuck's nascent protest, "the importance of this team and the outstanding quality of its results allow me to offer you a more palatable option. Since Agent Walker has established a considerable… comfort level with the Intersect, it is very likely that Mr. Bartowski has also appeared on the radar of whoever sent those two men. In my opinion, that means that the best course of action is to relocate the entire team."
"Relocate, General? Are we being split up?" Sarah asked.
The General found herself once again questioning the wisdom of keeping such an obviously compromised team intact. But as it always had so far, their performance record won out. "No, Agent Walker. You'll be moved as a group. We've put together several possible bases of operations for the three of you in areas where the fight against Fulcrum has not gone as well as in California. I expect a decision within 48 hours." Letting the team choose its new location was highly unusual. Beckman hoped they appreciated the significance of that concession.
Of course they didn't. "Yes, Mr. Bartowski?"
"If these people know who I am, wouldn't they also know about Ellie and Devon?"
The asset's concern for his family was a predictable irritant. However, that concern also made their protection operationally valuable; if Fulcrum were to target them, the Intersect would fall apart. "That is a possibility, Mr. Bartowski. If you like, I can have your sister and her husband entered into the Witness Protection Program."
"They can't come with us?"
Beckman answered the absurd proposal with an incredulous stare. "We're already taking a substantial risk relocating a three-person team, Mr. Bartowski. Adding two more people to the group would draw far too much attention, and would contribute virtually nothing to the mission." Chuck stiffened visibly. "You will be permitted to contact your family indirectly through the US Marshals."
"It's a good offer, Chuck. It'll keep them safe," Sarah said quietly. Beckman happily allowed the CIA agent to argue her point in hopes that the unpredictable asset would react more favorably to a sympathetic speaker.
Chuck nodded after a moment. "What do we tell them, General?"
Biting back a sarcastic Why tell them anything?, the General considered the question carefully. "As I recall, your brother-in-law is already aware that you work with us in some capacity." The team nodded. "You may inform your sister of the same thing, and give both of them a general idea of what has happened to necessitate their relocation. No mention of the Intersect, and no mission details of any kind. Now, if there are no further questions…"
Beckman glared menacingly at the lastest interruption from the nerd. He really needed to learn when to quit.
The director of the NSA smiled thinly as she severed the connection with no response.
Colonel John Casey opened the door and greeted the rest of his team with the grunt Bartowski had once referred to as "the number 17 – 'great, you again.'" That one had actually stung, just a little. It might not have been a strictly friendly grunt, but the NSA agent didn't think it was anything more hostile than simple neutral acknowledgement.
"How was the talk?" Casey already knew exactly how it had gone, of course – he'd been listening intently. It had been smoother than he'd expected through the basic spy stuff. Then they'd reached the part about splitting the family up. That had resulted in a hurricane-force blast of Ellie's special brand of sarcastic anger, culminating in a slammed bedroom door and a tearful younger brother. Eventually, Walker had gone into the room and quietly torn Ellie a new one for the better part of ten minutes. Her efforts had improved the situation somewhat, but it was still a very tense afternoon.
Given all that had happened, Casey considered himself lucky that the only daggers Walker had used to answer his intentionally antagonistic question were in her silent stare. He wordlessly stepped aside and let the couple enter his apartment.
"Beckman sent our options over," he said, passing Walker a manila folder containing nine sheets of paper. She looked over each one, then passed them to the team's third member. Bartowski, in turn, laid the pages out in a 3-by-3 square on the coffee table. Casey figured the nerd was trying to set up some kind of pros and cons list… but that didn't explain why he was walking across the room.
"Sarah, can I borrow one of your knives?"
Or why he was asking for a weapon.
"Sure, Chuck… mind if I ask why?" the blond agent asked as she withdrew a three-inch blade from her ankle sheath and passed it over.
"Because I'm tired, and because there's not going to be any appreciable difference between any of our options, and because I don't think you could throw one of those things randomly if you tried."
The only thing that terrified Casey more than Bartowski with a knife was Bartowski with a knife that he planned to fling haphazardly around the room. He searched frantically for the best available cover, choosing to duck into the kitchen.
Chuck wound up and hurled the blade, sticking it through the paper in the upper left-hand corner of the group, a quarter inch deep into the table. He walked over to survey his handiwork.
"Scranton, Pennsylvania. The William Randolph Real Estate Group, a CIA shell company, has purchased an office building here, and is hiring a security director and an IT professional to better serve its tenants. I guess that leaves Sarah as the receptionist for the paper wholesaler that has its offices in the building – unless you'd rather take that one, Casey."
That drew a smile from one handler, and the number 23 grunt – grudging amusement – from the other. Casey suddenly realized that he'd used that one a lot more often on this assignment than ever before.
The team exchanged wordless goodnights, and Casey prepared to report the selected location to his superior officer. "Scranton, Pennsylvania," he mumbled in muted disbelief. "As if LA wasn't boring enough."
A/N: Bit of housekeeping down here... I'm planning on alternating the updates to this story between the Chuck and Office categories, so if you want to keep up, either watch for it in both places, or put the story on alert.
I debated back and forth over whether to include the actual conversation with Ellie and Devon in this chapter, and decided that it didn't exactly advance the plot of the story. But if enough people would like to see it, I could write it up as a companion one-shot.
Last thing - I'm looking for a beta on this story, so if anyone who's familiar with both Chuck and the Office would be interested in helping out, let me know. Thanks!