A/N: Hey all! Look, an update! So sorry this went on an unintentional hiatus for so long, but I hope to get more up soon. I've updated the first few chapters so that everything fits Season 3 into canon, but then it basically goes from there. This chapter brings a bit more of what Sarah and Chuck are doing, career-wise, into it and sketched out how I think season 4 would go (this would take place at the beginning of season 5, basically), and it does make allusions to my "Heart of the Matter" series that I've published here over the last few weeks, though reading that is absolutely not necessary (though you should anyways). The action/mythology/spy stuff is not hugely detailed, and this fic isn't going to focus on the mythology, but please let me know if something is so obfuscated that it cramps the understanding of the story.
Again, this is just kind of a personal lark for me. It's just how I start with a "what if?" and fill it in intuitively. Beyond having a sketchy connection to the show's spy/mystery/action components, that fact also means that these characters might be a little OOC, mostly because it focuses on their personal behavior/reactions and not how they're going to behave in the situations shown on the show. The two this would most obviously happen to are Sarah and Casey, due to the narrow window we have on their personal lives. But I've worked hard to make the dialogue especially seem natural, so let me know what you think about that (as per a few requests, Casey and Sarah talk). Otherwise, this is just kind of sprawly and personal-growth-ish and normal life-filled and a little on the long side. Let me know what you think!
Disclaimer: I wish I own Chuck; therefore I don't
Same day, post-Disneyland
"Don't freak out," Sarah whispered as she stared at Mama Margarita's. It would be OK, really. Maybe Ellie wouldn't feel well. Maybe Morgan wouldn't get Chuck's message. Maybe Casey couldn't be bothered.
"Samuel?" Andi asked, turning to see when, exactly, Sarah had stopped walking. "You … coming in?"
"Of course," Sarah smiled brightly. "Just … a head's up. Casey and Morgan are both a little … unusual."
"Samuel, I think we're more than a little equipped to handle 'unusual' lately," Jamie said.
"Very true," Sarah admitted. "Just a reminder, though — my name. Only Chuck really knows the whole story."
"Right, right," Andi said. "Question, though: Why Sarah?"
She shrugged. "No idea. I didn't pick it. I didn't really feel like a Sarah until last year, even."
They noticed the group immediately, though only the Disney segment had arrived. All three kids jumped up and ran to their respective mothers, and Jamie scooped up Colin happily, peppering his face with kisses. Emma, shrieking, had an entire list of things she wanted to tell her mother (half-written in Chuck's handwriting), and Andi stooped down to see what she had.
Laughing, Sarah headed to the table, where the guys were leaning back and watching. "Hey, Chuck," she said, leaning down to kiss him.
"Ellie texted me to say that they're on their way; I'm guessing Morgan and Casey are coming together," he said. "How was the spa?"
"Really, really fun," she replied, taking a seat. "How was Disney?"
"Do you even have to ask?" Chuck grinned.
She shook her head. "Of course not." Chuck loved Disney. According to Ellie, the year he was seven he and Stephen would go every weekend, to ride the rides and geek out to the pseudo-advanced technology. "Who had more fun, you or the kids?"
"Not sure," he said. "Hey, Emma," he called. "Who was more excited about Disneyland? Me or you?"
Emma looked a little nervous and embarrassed, but finally said, "You were kinda silly there, Uncle Chuck."
Sarah laughed. "Oh, really? What did he do, Emma?"
She giggled. "He bought a Mickey hat and wore it all day!"
"I got you one too. Minnie, though," he grinned.
"Sarah! Chuck!" Ellie called, and she turned to see Ellie dashing in, followed by Devon. "Sorry we're running a little late."
"Completely fine, I don't know where Morgan or Casey are yet." She beckoned her sisters and brothers-in-law to stand for the necessary introductions and re-introductions.
"Ellie, Andi and Jamie are going to be in the wedding in May," she said after re-introducing the women.
"Oh, my god, that's so exciting! I've been trying to get her to make a decision about dresses for weeks, now you guys can help me out with that," Ellie smiled.
"That reminds me, Ellie — I think I want to go dark brown, not green."
"Whatever you want, Sarah, I swear. Just need to get moving on those."
She was about to make another excuse (work, of course), when Morgan appeared, along with the surprise-but-not-really guest of Alex. "Oh, thank god," she said. "Did you guys ride down with Casey?"
"Yeah, but check your phones, you're both needed in the van," Morgan said under his breath, and she immediately fished out her phone, as Chuck did the same. Warner and Mackenzie hit a patch. ETA 3 mins, meet me at van. Shit. "Hi, how are you? Morgan Grimes, Chuck's other life partner. Pleased to meet you. My girlfriend, Alex."
After her sisters introduced herself, she said, "Um, excuse me — and Chuck — we'll be just a minute, everyone order appetizers, please." As Chuck's arm went to the small of her back and they went out the restaurant, she caught Ellie grabbing Morgan's arm and ask him what was going on.
Shortly after they'd brought down the Ring, shipped Shaw off to a highly secure underground bunker, and discovered the Bartowski Family Batcave, they'd made a deal with Beckman: The three of them would lead a search for several interconnected rogue factions, using the considerable resources of the American intelligence communities combined with the valuable intelligence collected by Stephen Bartowski during his Orion years.
There were considerable downsides to taking on this assignment. They'd adopted Mr. Bartowski's code-name Hydra to cover these overlapping cabals, networks, and insurgent intelligence factions for a reason. They were more complex, and more amorphous than anything they'd ever encountered, meaning more dead-ends, travel, and long days and nights than they ever had experienced; as the leaders of the task force assigned to take them down, they had to do a considerable amount of mission design and intel and data analysis, which meant that sometimes they were barely in the field; what they were doing was so ridiculously hush-hush that they knew that if they got caught, Beckman and the intelligence community would deny any knowledge of their activities and could never offer ransom or rescue, beyond what their team could cobble together. Plus, continuing with the government meant that Chuck, who still had the Intersect in his head, flashed pretty regularly. That fact still worried her slightly, even though he hadn't had problems since he'd gotten the Governor.
From their perspective, though, the benefits outweighed the long hours and dangerous situations: Most importantly, they had located Chuck's mother, Mary, in May. She'd been taken custody years ago by an inner sanctum of CIA agents years ago in order to protect her from those groups; while they had initially believed that Chuck's dad had been out of the loop, they'd eventually figured out that he had been a part of the plan, which was designed to protect their family. Mary was remaining in protective custody until Hydra was destroyed or reduced to a more manageable level, but Ellie had been able to connect with her as well, and Sarah was proud of her involvement in their reunion. And they were getting close, she could feel it, to being entirely done with the project and, perhaps, the government.
On a day-to-day, level, too, though, there were other pluses: They could be based in LA and not Washington (the farther from Beckman, the better); between missions, they got to act and be a fairly quiet, normal couple, which she found more refreshing or relieving than she had ever expected; while prices on their heads had increased, their day-to-day lives were much more stable. They could (and were encouraged to) assign smaller missions to their junior agents. Sarah, as the most professional and organized, was nominally the head of the task force, code-named Inheritance, and she'd assigned a smaller mission to three junior agents on Friday night, so that she and Chuck could get the normal day on Saturday. But when they got into trouble, it didn't matter that it was her day off — they were her responsibility.
"What's the situation?" she asked as she slid open the door to the completely-not-subtle-at all black tactical van.
"Relax, it's nothing huge. Just idiots hitting some roadblocks," Casey said, shaking his head. He did not appreciate their young and talented, albeit comparatively raw, junior agents. She rolled her eyes. All of them had been handpicked because they were exceptional and promising agents with their Red Tests and a few years under their belts — and they had not broken down because of Casey's barbs in their first day.
"We can hear you," Lindsay Mackenzie, a 25-year-old agent that Chuck had privately nicknamed Carina Jr., huffed from a monitor. She and Theo, Chuck's personal favorite, had been assigned to retrieve a data drive containing information from a Hydra financier's bank account the night before, which would give them leads on possible group agents and activities.
"Are you guys in Clubhouse?" Sarah asked, squinting and pulling back her hair. Really? They were calling from the base because they were in trouble? "This couldn't, you know, wait?"
"We were able to get the drive with the schematics lifted no problem, but when we started hacking it, the hack set off some sort of failsafe and it looks like it wiped the information," Theo said, looking defensive and embarrassed. He was a CalTech-educated engineer and a great white-collar guy, and usually pretty good at hacks, too, though he had nothing on Chuck. "I've tried like, 60 different ways to recover the information." In the background, Mackenzie looked impatient and irritated. "I'm really sorry, guys."
"It's fine, Theo, you did the right thing by calling us. Is there any way that the hacking attempts could have triggered a homing device?" Sarah quizzed.
"I scanned pre-hack and it didn't look like it, and it was a pretty messy hack job, so if something was there it would have happened. Plus, we've been working on the drive for about two hours already and nobody's surrounded the complex."
"I was able to put a trace on his phones, too, and re-open the lines we had into his security cameras last night, and it doesn't appear they know what's going on," Mackenzie added. That was a good sign. It was a weekend and the information wasn't incredibly time-sensitive — the financier's contacts would still be his contacts in 12 hours — and so dinner could still happen, provided nobody's life was in danger. Even Sarah-of-four-years ago would recognize that fact.
She looked at Chuck. "You got his?"
"Of course," he said. "Theo, pack up the computer and the drive and bring it all to Mama Margarita's. Text me from the parking lot, wait in your car, and I'll crack it later tonight. I'm sure you did just fine, buddy, some of these things are beasts."
"And Mackenzie, stay and monitor his house and phone lines for another few hours. You're still heading to Guatemala tomorrow morning to meet with the station agents there on that arms shipment lead, right?" Sarah added.
"Right. I meant to ask, if I wrap up by Wednesday can I go with Bradley to Nigeria? I'm more familiar with the region."
"We'll see. One mission at a time," she said. "OK, we're out."
"Is it just me, or do the noobs get noob-ier every year?" Casey huffed as they walked into the restaurant.
"It's not so much that they get noob-ier, Casey; I think you just get old-fogey-er," Chuck needled. "Hey, a few more years and the youngest ones could call you Pops and sit on your lap to hear stories about that scary old Saddam Hussein dude."
"Chuck," she said warningly, because really: A grandpa joke would only make Casey think about the fact that Morgan and Alex were having sex, and that would make him testy and irritable and very likely to smash guacamole in Morgan's face in front of her entire family, which wouldn't be good. When did I start thinking and sounding like Ellie? She wondered. It was borderline scary.
"Hey, everyone, sorry about that," she said as they approached the table. "A little work thing we needed to take care of."
"Is everything OK, Chuck?" Ellie asked, leaning forward a little.
"Absolutely," he said, putting a hand on Ellie's shoulder. "OK, everyone, this is John Casey, my and Sarah's partner from work. Casey, everyone. Alright, let's eat!"
Despite the fact that she had a huge extended family to entertain and introduce, Sarah couldn't help but let her mind wander to the data drive. It was kind of an occupational hazard, especially given her "only mildly controlling" (Chuck's words) mentality. She hoped that she'd made the right call. Maybe they should have gone over, taken a look at the drive immediately. Hell, they probably should have gone to the party to retrieve the damned thing the night before, instead of staying in to play Settlers of Catan with her sisters and brothers-in-law. Just as she was letting her mind wander, though, she felt Chuck's hand tug hers under the table. "It's fine, relax," he murmured into her ear. "They're going to start getting worried if you start withdrawing." He was right. She needed to focus. They needed to play off their jobs as normal, ordinary, non-dangerous, non-life-interrupting occupations.
Shortly after the food arrived, Chuck excused himself, only to return 5 minutes later with a laptop bag slung over his shoulder. He left and came back unobtrusively, but there was a change in the atmosphere's charge as the civilians all, one by one, realized what might be in the backpack. "Just a laptop, people," Chuck finally said, and his forthrightness cracked the ice and dissolved the tension. "And a pretty boring one at that. I mean, come on, it's not even a Mac."
Besides that, the dinner was almost suspiciously hitch-free. The two of them fielded a lot of questions about the wedding, and had answers to about half of them. Ellie and Andi absolutely hit it off, and Dan seemed to think that Morgan was fascinatingly quirky. Alex, who was about to take the LSATs, lapped up every word Jamie said. Mitch, Dan, and Casey spent most of the night discussing football and their workout regimens and favorite protein shakes. They stayed at the restaurant until the kids passed out; then, somehow, Ellie and Awesome and Morgan and Alex managed to invite themselves over for after-dinner drinks. Damn it. They had data to hack.
Chuck could basically see her thought process, of course. "I'll hack it after everyone goes to sleep," he said as he pulled wine glasses from the cabinet.
"Warner spent three hours trying to hack it," she said, studying the bottles of wine they had available. One pinot noir, of course.
"Yeah, but he's Warner. You forget that I am Chuck Bartowski, Hacker Extraordinaire," he smirked.
"That's a new member of the Justice League, right?" she flirted, running her hands up his chest and linking them behind his neck. She kissed him lightly.
"You know it. I went from saving the lives of small electronic devices to saving them from the world's most ham-handed hacker."
She laughed. "He's really that bad."
"Well," he contemplated. "It could be worse. Mackenzie could have tried hacking it." Off her look, her look, Chuck burst into laughter. Mackenzie was great with a gun and a knife, but somehow managed to break her personal laptop so often that she'd saved Chuck's number as "Lifesaver" in her phone.
"You guys got everything in here?" Ellie asked, walking into the kitchen, one hand on her just-beginning-to-swell stomach.
"Yeah," Sarah said. "Just getting everything together."
"I really like your sisters, Sarah," Ellie added in a low voice, with one of those irrepressibly Ellie smiles.
"Yeah, they're, uh, really great, aren't they?" Sarah smiled, handing her a plate of cheese.
Chuck handed her the bottle of wine, kissed her temple and said, "I'm going to be right back." He grabbed the laptop bag from the counter and walked to the basement entrance.
Ellie bit her lip. "Is everything OK?" she demanded. Ellie always wanted to know that everything was OK in spy world, putting Sarah in an awkward position. Sometimes, honestly, she still felt like she was handling a Bartowski — and Ellie was 10 times more exhausting than anything Chuck had ever put her through. At least she could actually tell Chuck things.
"Yeah, he's just dropping something in the office," she said. "He'll be right up." She grabbed the remaining bottles of wine and headed into the living room. "Here we go," she announced to everyone. "Everyone all set?"
"Yeah, we're great. Kids all tucked in. We were thinking about playing Pictionary, what do you think?" Andi asked brightly.
"Or we could watch a movie," Jamie countered.
She looked at Casey, who had followed them there for some reason, and looked like he'd just swallowed a golf ball. "I'm really sorry, but we don't have a Pictionary board. We definitely have a ton of movies, though. About 70 percent are science fiction —"
"And made of awesome," Morgan interjected. "Eh, sorry Devon, for crowding on the phrase."
"It's totally Awesome, Morgster," Devon shook his head.
"Anyways, we have that." Sarah smiled.
"A lot of older ones, too," Chuck said from the doorway, arms crossed under his armpits. "Mostly courtesy of Sarah having taste."
"Oh, my god, I love Notorious, do you have that?" Jamie said.
"Cary Grant? Are you kidding? Of course we do," Chuck rolled his eyes and grinned, looking pointedly at Sarah.
"I'm actually going to go hit the hay," Casey announced. "Walker, walk out with me?"
"Yeah, sure," she said. "Start the movie without me, OK?"
"Well, that request to talk was about as unsubtle as a gong," she remarked as soon as they were outside. "What's up, Casey?"
He shrugged. "Nothing. You just looked like you were two seconds away from needing a three hour session with your favorite punching bag."
She gave him a look, but finally said, "Thanks. I was doing fine, though." She reconsidered. "Basically fine."
They'd reached the Crown Vic. "It's kind of pathetically obvious how much you want this to work," he said.
"I'm sorry my and Chuck's lady feelings have been dragging you into these situations for the last five years," she apologized, leaning against the hood and suppressing a smile. Standing by the driver-side door, he faced the other way, his hands folded on the roof of the car, a cigar spinning between two fingers.
"It's not all bad," he said. "Ellie can cook. Alex can cook. You can cook."
"Well, I'm learning to," she said. "Trying to learn," she amended.
"Cut yourself a break, Walker. You're great at basically everything, but even you're not perfect at the beginning," he said, shifting next to her.
She smiled, peeling a torn cuticle back. "You know, I realized that, in all the ridiculous training, they never taught us any basic domestic skill. I can tie 50 different kinds of knots … throw a knife with deadly accuracy from 100 feet … speak nine languages, but 18 months after we move in together and my boyfriend still complains I don't make the bed neatly enough."
"That's not a domestic skill, that's Bartowski reminding the world he was raised by his pathologically anal-retentive sister."
She laughed a little. "You know what I mean."
"It's called growing up, Walker. The agency made you a spy. They never said you had to be an adult to do that." He pockets the cigar. "And we all grow up sometime. Hell, look at Grimes."
"I guess so," she smiled, hopping down from the hood. "Thanks, Casey."
"Night, Walker," he called. She walked into the house considerably lighter than she had been 10 minutes earlier.
"Everything OK?" Chuck whispered as she curled into his side.
"Yeah," she said, meeting his eyes so he would know she was telling the truth. He didn't look convinced, so she kissed him lightly as she ran her fingers through his curls. "Promise. Now shut up, I love this movie."
Luckily, Devon, Ellie, Morgan and Alex cut out as soon as the movie finished, and the other four couples headed to their beds. Chuck wanted to get a crack at the device, and she wanted him to look at it too, so they double-backed downstairs after hugging everyone goodnight.
"You know, you don't have to stay with me just so I don't accidentally stay up all night," he said as they headed downstairs. "I promise I'll come up in two hours."
She smiled indulgently. "Of course, sweetie. I'm just coming downstairs to finish a few reports." Which was partially true. They had a biannual trip to Washington coming up to reevaluate the project, and she needed to make sure she was on top of everything.
With a minor assist from the Intersect, Chuck was soon hacking merrily away, streaming the names through a database he'd built of known Hydra contacts, the CIA's larger database of terrorists and rogue/enemy operatives, and another program he'd designed of possible contacts listed by locations they were known to frequent, which was handier than one would think. He had the entire file hacked within 90 minutes, securely uploaded the data to the Inheritance mainframe, and emailed Theo. "Bedtime," he announced. "Put down the paperwork, Agent Walker."
"You don't need to ask twice," she said, shutting down her laptop.
"See? It's not even one," he said as they walked upstairs. "And you thought I'd be working on that thing all night."
"I'm sorry for doubting you, Charles Carmichael," she teased, leaning over to kiss him before pressing her hand to the scanner.
"Oh. Hey, guys. Where were you?" Jamie, sitting at the kitchen island in her pajamas, asked as they emerged from the basement.
"We — our home office is downstairs," she said, surprised. "Just needed to finish something up. Is everything alright?"
"Oh, yeah, of course. I'm just a bit of an insomniac sometimes," Jamie smiled.
"Well, this is kismet," Andi said from the door, also clad in flannel pants and a tank top. "I didn't expect any of you to be up."
"You couldn't sleep either?" Jamie asked.
"Nope," Andi took a seat. "Sarah, you?"
"Working," she said. "Why don't I make up some hot chocolate, though? Chuck?"
"I'm actually going to hit the sack," he said. "Disney, sun, you know how it is. Night, ladies." He kissed her lightly before disappearing up the stairs.
"You know, I never met any of your past boyfriends — besides Danny Dennehy in second grade — but god, you picked well, Sarah. Chuck's such a keeper," Andi said as Sarah set the teakettle on.
"I know, right?" Jamie shrieked a little. "Seriously, the way he looks at you, Samuel. How long have you guys known each other again?"
"Four years. We've been together for about a year and a half."
"God. Maintaining that level of openly liking each other is disgusting," Jamie grinned.
"And, Mitch said he carried Emma on his shoulders for like half the afternoon," Andi said. "Even Mitch won't carry her around that much. She pulls hair when she's afraid she's going to fall."
She smiled, slightly embarrassed. "Chuck's pretty special." She thought over Shaw, Bryce. God, if only her sisters knew. She let herself, picture, briefly, what a Jamie lecture over either of those boyfriends would have been like, because she can easily imagine Jamie vocally disapproving of them. Andi would have just asked her if she was happy, which would have been worse.
"So apparently my insomnia is genetic?" she asked. She'd always attributed it to the job.
Jamie shrugged. "I refuse to call it 'insomnia.' I just think we need less sleep."
Andi snorted. "Speak for yourself. It's genetic, Sarah. We're unable to let our minds rest."
"Which is why I need less sleep."
"That is an awful argument, Counselor."
"Whatever, it's been ages since I was in a courtroom," Jamie sloughed off the dig.
"Dad never slept much, I don't think," Andi said, in a tone that meant she'd suddenly just remembered that fact.
"How do you even remember?" Jamie said, her mood dampened by the mention of their dad.
"I just do, James. I remember him clomping around in the kitchen at 2 a.m."
"It's true. I don't think he ever got more than four or five hours a night," Sarah said, hoping to settle this quickly.
"Probably because he thought the FBI would come arrest him in his sleep," Jamie said. Which was probably true, and Sarah said so.
"Do you think he'll ever come back, Sarah?" Andi asked.
She deflated. "Probably. I don't know when though. Do you want me to contact you if he does?"
Andi paused. "I honestly don't know."
"Don't contact me if you want him to live," Jamie warned, downing her hot chocolate and raising her mug. "Toast? To the three of us one day being able to be normal sisters who don't have to worry about crazy fathers and crazier shenanigans."
"We are normal, just a different type of normal," Andi defended.
"What does that mean?" Jamie asked.
"We're normal because the three of us love each other and stick together. We're different because sometimes our lives might resemble a soap opera. But even Sarah, even your life is normal, even when it's crazy."
Sarah smiled wanly. Truthfully, she wasn't sure what Andi meant. She was so used to being a mild social burden on Chuck, and she wasn't sure how to react here, if she should apologize to them for being awkward. "Well it certainly is a little … unorthodox in a lot of ways," she said.
"Nah," Jamie said, her sunny disposition and crooked smile restored. "Andi's right. As long as you and Chuck are just a couple at the center of all this crazy, you're as normal as they come. That's what counts. And that's what's fantastic," she smiled. "Alright. Bedtime for me."
"Sounds good," Andi yawned. "Sarah?"
Sarah smiled. "Yeah. Thanks for today, you two. It was … really really great."
"Ditto," Andi said.
"I really think we're getting the hang of this again," Jamie grinned.
They walked up the stairs and bid their goodnights. After yanking on one of Chuck's shirts, she fell asleep immediately, contentedly exhausted.