Chapter 2 – Back in Black

October 12, 2009
5:35 PM, Eastern Time
Comedy Central World News Headquarters
New York, NY

The lights flashed three times, and a chime sounded. As the audience fell quiet, a cameraman looked over at the two men seated behind the desk and raised three fingers. A red light went on over Camera #2, and the cameraman counted down -

3... 2... 1...

"Welcome back," Jon Stewart said to the camera. "Senator John Casey will be joining us in a minute, but first... whenever a news story falls through the cracks, Lewis Black is there to catch them for a segment we call... Back in Black."

AC/DC's eponymous song played briefly in the studio as the light over Camera #2 went out and the light over Camera #1 came on.

Without any further introduction, Lewis Black dove headfirst into his rant. "Texas's new adult consent law has a lot of people outraged," he practically bellowed at the camera. "Some more than others."

The light over the camera went off briefly, as a clip from Fox News played on the studio screens. "Some have likened lowering the consent age to sixteen to establishing a new Amsterdam in the heart of Texas," anchor Bret Baier explained.

The camera went back to Black. "That's a little bit of a hyperbole, to compare Texas to the Netherlands," he said. "First of all, it's legal to smoke pot in the Netherlands!" Then he frowned. "But now, all this outrage has people outraged at the outrage!"

Once again, the camera went off, and Keith Olbermann appeared on the screens. "You're out of your MIND," the MSNBC pundit exclaimed. "Are you REALLY comparing a red light district, chock full of brothels, to lowering the legal age of consent so that high schoolers don't spend the rest of their lives carrying around the albatross of 'sexual offender'?"

Lewis Black looked back at the camera as the red light came on and sighed. "No, Keith, perhaps they're just saying that it's a BAD IDEA for sixteen year olds to be getting freaky in the shadow of the Alamo!" He shook his head and pointed a shaking finger directly at the camera. "I sure as hell know that I wouldn't want MY sixteen year old daughter running around Texas with some Friday Night Lights MISCREANT!"

The screens came up again, this time showing an interview with the governor of Idaho. "I sure know I wouldn't want my sixteen year old daughter running around Texas with some Friday Night Lights miscreant," she explained, her odd midwestern twang coloring her voice.

"DAMMIT!" Lewis Black shouted as the camera came back on. "You plagiarizing..." He calmed down from his mock rage. "Anything else, Governor Powell?"

Sheila Powell reappeared onscreen, Greta van Susteren facing her this time. "It just seems like a bad idea to be tellin' kids that it's okeedokee for them to be havin' sex when they should be studyin' and getting' ready for college."

The camera went back to Lewis Black, who was feigning stunned silence. "My God," he finally said. "Who the hell let June Cleaver out of Mayfield?"

Camera #1 turned off as Black turned toward Camera #2. "Now, what about that one guy... the Marine Corps pilot, that one gentleman from Texas... oh yes, the PRESIDENT. Tell us, President Santos, what do YOU think of the bill?"

The White House Briefing Room appeared on the studio screens, President Matt Santos standing behind the podium and looking distinctly uncomfortable. "I think it's probably for the best," he stated. "I mean, the last thing we want is for eighteen year olds who made an unwise but not necessarily, um, immoral choice to carry around a label for the rest of their lives."

Camera #2 came back up. "Clearly the President has forgotten that his own daughter will be sixteen in three years," Black said. "Oh yeah – AND SHE'S A LEGAL RESIDENT OF TEXAS!"

Black turned back toward Camera #1 as the lights changed. "Look, folks, here's the deal. I'm not saying that our teenagers shouldn't be allowed to have fun. I'm just saying, unless you want to start getting called Grandpa before you turn 45, maybe you don't let your teenage daughters go to Galveston for Spring Break, huh? Jon?"

Jon Stewart looked over at Black, a barely concealed smirk on his face. "Thank you, Lewis. We'll be right back."

"That was interesting," Chuck Bartowski said, looking over at John Casey.

Hannah Metzger shook her head. "Ten to one says Stewart's gonna ask you about it," she said.

Casey frowned. "I'm from Maryland."

"Doesn't matter," Hannah shot back. "You're one of the Republican candidates for President, this is a hot-button issue – you're gonna be expected to have a point of view on it, preferably a conservative one. What are you going to say?"

Casey opened his mouth, and then closed it again, shrugging. "I really... I don't know."

"Oh, well, that's lovely," Chuck replied sarcastically. "I've been wanting to go back to Burbank, permanently."

"Chuck, look, I'll play it by ear, alright?" Casey replied irritably. "If he decides to ask me about it, I'll figure out what to say then."

Chuck sighed. "Senator, that's all well and good, but if you give the wrong answer, you're going to lose the Texas primary. Do you REALLY want to risk one hundred thirty-seven delegates just because you don't have a good answer?"

Casey grunted – grunt #37, Chuck realized with alarm, shut up or die. "Look, Chuck," Casey snapped, an edge to his voice, "I'm the one running for President here. I've been elected to public office four times already. I think I have a good idea of how to do this, alright?"

Chuck's eyes widened. He nodded, and was about to answer, but Casey plowed ahead. "Furthermore, I heard you were seen rather late at night in Arlington with the National Security Adviser," Casey growled. "Is there a particular reason you were having a late night rendezvous with Sarah Walker?"

"I – uh -" Chuck's mouth went dry and no more sound came out.

"Because Chuck, if there's one thing I hate more than the idea of your chocolate getting mixed up with company peanut butter, it's the idea of that peanut butter coming from the WHITE HOUSE."

Taking a deep breath, John Casey turned away from Chuck and strode over to the edge of the stage, awaiting his introduction by Jon Stewart.

"Walker's pretty," Hannah deadpanned.

Chuck sighed, regaining his voice. "I am not doing anything illicit with Sarah Walker," he said. "We're just friends."

Hannah raised an eyebrow. "Just friends don't go running off in the middle of the night to meet -"

"They do when one is the National Security Adviser for a Democratic President and the other is the campaign manager for a Republican candidate for President," Chuck shot back. "It's not like we can just show up at Ben's Chili Bowl at lunchtime. The Huffington Post would have a damn field day."

A look of patient amusement on her face, Hannah looked up into Chuck's eyes. "Chuck," she said, "can you look me in the eyes and tell me that you're not shtupping Sarah Walker?"

Chuck rolled his eyes. "Hannah -"

"Chuck... come on."

"Fine," Chuck grumbled, looking back down at the speechwriter. "I'm not shtupping Sarah Walker." Not now, at least.

October 1st, 2008
1:37 PM, Eastern Time
Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC

Chuck was late. He was very late.

Not that that surprised him these days. It seemed like ever since Lehman Brothers had taken a nose dive directly into the crapper, Chuck hadn't been on time for a single appointment.

Mostly that was because Senator Casey had gone into full-on Marine Corps battle mode. He had already had three interviews that day – one each with ABC, CBS, and NBC – and now he was gearing up for one with FOX News. And after each one, Chuck had to do damage control – especially after the ABC one, when Senator Casey had whole-heartedly trumpeted his support for President Santos' plan to force the breakup of AIG instead of bailing them out, despite the fact that the official position of the Republican Senate caucus was very much against that idea.

Goddamn maverick, Chuck thought disgustedly. John McCain, you ain't got NOTHIN' on my guy.

And so distracted was Chuck with trying to keep Senator Casey from saying something that would incite the Republican Senate caucus to fetch the pitchforks and torches, he didn't even notice the tall blonde walking at a considerably slower pace than he as he barreled through the hallway. As a result, despite her last minute attempt to get out of the way as she heard his footsteps, Chuck ran over US Army Captain Samantha Scheuring with all the grace and finesse of a runaway water buffalo.

Down went Chuck, and down went Captain Scheuring. Chuck's iPhone bounced out of his hand and skittered away down the hall, his briefcase exploding and vomiting briefing papers everywhere as it hit the floor. Stunned, he lay on the floor for a brief moment before even trying to get up.

But Captain Scheuring beat him to it. "Are you alright?" she asked, extending a hand to Chuck.

"Yeah, uh, I'll live, but I think my dignity is going to be dead on arrival," he cracked. "I'm really sorry about that. I usually don't run people over unless they work for Pat Robertson."

Captain Scheuring raised an eyebrow. "Not a fan of the 700 Club?"

"I'm not a fan of anybody who uses religion to fan political insanity," Chuck replied. "But that's just me."

Samantha grinned. "It's an admirable point of view," she said. "Probably one that not too many people in this building share, though."

"My boss does – well, most of the time," Chuck amended. "He grew up Catholic, so every so often the whole abortion thing gets his back up."

"Really," Samantha replied. "Who do you work for?"

"John Casey," Chuck answered. "Junior Senator from Maryland. I'm Chuck Bartowski, his chief of staff."

"Well, Chuck, you can show me the way to Senator Casey's office, because that's just who I'm going to see," Samantha replied. "I'm Sam – uh, Sarah Walker. But you can call me Sam."

Chuck gave her an appraising look, then raised an eyebrow. "Can I call you Sarah instead?"

Samantha was taken aback. "Uh, well, sure, I guess," she replied. "May I ask why?"

"You don't look like a Sam to me," Chuck said with a shrug. "I think Sam, I get a mental image of Sam Seaborn. You're much better looking."

"Okay, Sarah it is," she replied, a look of mock horror crossing her face. "God forbid I be compared to one of the most attractive men at the White House."

"Oh, please," Chuck shot back. "He's virtually an antique. He's been working in Washington since Jed Bartlet ran for President the first time."

"An antique... well, hmmm," Sarah said, thinking for a minute. "Yeah, I guess I did graduate from high school the same year Bartlet was elected."

"Exactly my point!" Chuck replied. "So did I. Sam Seaborn, on the other hand, had been out of Duke Law for seven years by that point."

"Which would make him..." Sarah did some quick mental math. "Jeez, you're right. He is kind of an antique."

Chuck grinned and laughed. "See? Exactly what I was saying."

Sarah nodded. "So, we should probably be getting to Senator Casey's office... my appointment is at 1:45 -"

"Which means he'll see you around 2:30, if you're lucky," Chuck interrupted. "He's running about 45 minutes behind right now, and given that he's about to spend some quality time with Brit Hume, he might NEVER get back on schedule."

"Maybe I should reschedule -"

"Oh, no, completely unnecessary," Chuck said. "He'll definitely see you today. If you're his 1:45, that means..."

Retrieving his iPhone from where it sat a few feet away, Chuck pulled up the daily calendar. "That means you're the US Army intelligence agent who just came back from Kazakhstan."

Sarah narrowed her eyes. "You... you really shouldn't know that."

Chuck shook his head and grinned. "Sarah, here's the thing – if you're going to work in Washington, you have to understand that if a Senator or a Congressman is cleared for something, then nine times out of ten, his chief of staff is going to know about it."

Sarah frowned. "That's somewhat disturbing."

"Hey, look at it this way," Chuck said. "First of all, it's how we keep the intelligence community in line. Secondly, we wouldn't know these things if we couldn't be trusted. Third, you want to get a drink once this crazy day is over?"

The first one made sense to Sarah, even if she disagreed somewhat strongly with it. The second one – well, that was logical, too. The third one – wait, WHAT?

Sarah looked at Chuck in disbelief. "Did you just ask me out?"

Chuck shrugged. "If you want to look at it that way. Or, you could look at it as me saying, 'Hey, I'm stressed out, you look stressed out, Fado's is a hop, skip, and a jump away, and they've got black & tans for half off during Happy Hour, so why don't we go?'"

In spite of herself, Sarah started to smile. "Well, when you put it that way, how can a girl resist?"

October 2nd, 2008
6:03 AM, Eastern Time

"Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down..."

Chuck sat bolt upright in bed. His iPhone was rickrolling him. That was not a good thing, because that ringtone was set for Senator Casey's cell phone – and why the hell was Senator Casey calling him at 6:00 AM?

And... well, it looked like he had brought a certain Army operative home with him.

As Chuck reached out to silence his iPhone, the head rolled over. "Good morning," Sarah Walker said with a sleepy smile.

"I don't know how good it is," Chuck muttered, pressing talk on his phone. "This is Bartowski."

"Bartowski, it's Senator Casey. You watching CNN?"

"No, sir," Chuck replied. "I was asleep."

"They're saying that AIG has agreed to President Santos' plan to break into multiple smaller units. I really feel like I should get out there and say someth-"

"Sir, hold on," Chuck said, stopping Senator Casey. "You were all over the networks yesterday, and you really didn't make the Republican leadership happy. I think it would probably be better if you sat this one out."

"Chuck, you know that I'm all for this plan. I feel like -"

"Sir, I know. Santos is a Marine, you're a Marine, you actually agree on something, hoo-ah. But now is NOT the time to be getting buddy-buddy with the White House."

There was silence on the other end for a moment – such a long moment, in fact, that Chuck was afraid his boss had hung up on him. "Senator?"

"You're right," John Casey finally admitted. "But if you ever use hoo-ah in such a perjorative fashion again, I will decorate your nostrils with your shoes."

Chuck shuddered at the thought of the Converse high-tops being shoved up his nose. "Yes, sir," he replied, as Senator Casey ended the call.

October 12, 2009
5:45 PM

Chuck's smile faded as he remembered what happened after that. He and Sarah had seen each other a few more times. She had admitted to having a lot of personal baggage, and he had immediately offered to be her baggage handler, something that seemed to have sealed the deal for her -

Until she told him that she had been offered a position at the White House. National Security Advisor Kate Harper was leaving due to an impending child, and President Santos had been sufficiently impressed with whatever black operation Sarah had conducted in south Asia that he had offered her the position – so long as she regularly consulted with Nancy McNally.

Well, there was no way they could carry on a relationship – not with him working for a rising young Republican Senator and her working for the President. It didn't matter that they were ideologically fairly similar, and that Sarah's job was reasonably apolitical – John Casey was a Republican, Matt Santos was a Democrat, and that was that.

Their friendship had remained, but over the last year, Chuck had had to repeatedly refrain from telling Sarah he wanted it to be more than that. He did, badly – but they couldn't. Not now.

Maybe once the campaign's over?

But it wouldn't be over soon. Not with the way Casey's polling numbers had jumped in the eleven days since he had declared.

As Chuck grimaced, he heard Jon Stewart's voice from the set. "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the junior Senator from Maryland and Republican candidate for President of the United States, John Casey!"

With a sigh, Chuck turned to watch Senator Casey walk out on stage on one of the monitors. No, he wouldn't be taking his relationship with Sarah Walker where he wanted it to go any time soon.

They were in this one for the long haul.

Jon Stewart – himself
Lewis Black – himself
Bret Baier – himself
Keith Olbermann – himself
Governor Sheila Powell (R-ID) – Stana Katic
Greta van Susteren – herself
President Matt Santos – Jimmy Smits
Chuck Bartowski – Zachary Levi
Senator John Casey (R-MD) – Adam Baldwin
Hannah Metzger – Kristen Kreuk
Samantha Scheuring/Sarah Walker – Yvonne Strahovski