March 17, 2003
Bryce Larkin wasn't entirely sure why the thought made him so angry. He wasn't sure why blood coursed violently through his veins and he could hear his pulse in his own ears and his teeth ground against each other when he gave the idea a moment's thought. For all practical intents and purposes, it had nothing to do with him. Or, at least, that's what his CIA trainers would say. Their line would be, 'The recruitment of other possible agents performed by Professor Fleming are at Professor Fleming's discretion. They have nothing to do with you, regardless of any pre-existing history with the recruit.' And Bryce didn't have a logical line of thinking to circumvent that logic. All he knew was that the idea made him angry.
The idea was that Professor Fleming was going to recruit Chuck to the CIA.
Chuck Bartowski, Bryce's best friend, was going to be recruited into the CIA. The goofy dork who he messed around with in the library, shooting each other with dart guns. The gangly, awkward nerd who he joined in programming Zork mods and watching Firefly and trying to figure out which piece of dystopian literature the film Equilibrium stole from the most. It didn't make sense in the same way that it made devastatingly complete sense. Chuck, his mind running a hundred thousand miles an hour, was able to discern patterns and figure out solutions to complex problems in the blink of an eye, all of the answers stuttered out joyfully, like he had unlocked a particularly elaborate safe. And, as uncoordinated as he could occasionally be, he also never made any attempt to be more physically competent. With his frame, Bryce admitted to himself begrudgingly as he stormed towards Fleming's office, he had a high ceiling for physical possibilities after a year or two of training.
But he was Chuck. Chuck, who freaked out about spiders. Chuck, who insisted that all of his fraternity brothers use non-lethal mouse traps and when they caught a mouse, release it into the woods a mile or so from campus. Chuck, who he hadn't ever seen throw a punch. Chuck, who encountered rejection so often that he usually expected it. Chuck, who routinely took the blame for things that weren't even remotely his fault, just to diffuse tension. He was the type of guy to take a bullet for you, even if you were arguing with him at the time.
Bryce recalled his first six months of lessons as a CIA trainee as he marched up the stairs of the Psychology department. Those six months were dedicated totally to what amounted to one lesson: Emotions get you killed. The idea went that emotions will happen, but you have to bury them if you want to survive. Emotions split loyalties between the mission and the person or thing you have emotions towards. Create a workable distance from the things you care about in your life. Distance yourself from true emotions, but not so far as to ostracize yourself from those relationships. Prior relationships may need to be called upon in the future, so a professional closeness must remain.
Chuck cared about everyone. Chuck went out of his way to have the backs of all his frat buddies. Chuck had emotions towards everything and that was what made him Bryce's best friend. Chuck's emotions were what Bryce so loved about hanging out with Chuck; he got the opportunity to see someone so selfless in day-to-day action, someone whose two biggest pet peeves were liars and needless infliction of pain. And those were two things the CIA would make him accept. And Bryce didn't know if he could watch that. Didn't know if he could see Chuck turn from the nicest, most honest person he knew (with a side of hilariously detailed sci-fi knowledge to boot) into someone who maintained "professional closeness" with possible assets (though Bryce doubted anything could drill the sci-fi trivia out of his friend).
Bryce had intercepted the call, the one made to Chuck's room phone. They had one answering machine between the two of them, and between Chuck's friends calling him up for homework advice and Jill calling him up for date plans and more than a few girls calling Bryce to get dates of their own, their machine filled up quick, so it was the duty of whoever noticed the thing getting full to jot down quick messages for the other. And when Bryce heard Professor Fleming's voice on the machine, asking Chuck to come in for an interview... Bryce didn't understand why it made him so angry, but he figured it was the idea of the CIA-- already insistent that he distance himself from his best friend-- wanting to change the best man he knew.
He saw Fleming's secretary, a work study student that he remembered giving him flirtatious glances as he rounded the corner, smiling politely at her as he sat down in a vacant chair. Other than himself and the girl, the hallway was completely deserted. Just as it had been when Fleming had conducted Bryce's first interview. Bryce wondered idly if the CIA had anything to do with that bit of voodoo.
Over the secretary's intercom, he heard the words "Send Chuck in," and instead of saying anything to the secretary (he remembered, suddenly, that her name was Stacey) he barged through the door, his face as stoic and impassive as he looked at Fleming for any sign of.. he didn't even know what. Malevolence? It would make the anger a lot easier to justify.
"Bryce?" Fleming asked, confused, "This isn't a good time, I'm waiting for another student."
"Chuck Bartoski?" Bryce questioned, his voice set on edge. Again, inexplicably, his blood coursed more viciously than normal, "He never got your message."
Now Fleming looked more suspicious than confused, and Bryce wanted to laugh internally. Bryce figured that he had more to worry about from Fleming than vice versa, "What are you talking about?" The professor asked.
"You put Chuck on the CIA recruitment track," Bryce said accusingly.
"It's not up to me, Bryce," Fleming justified, his voice annoyed and Bryce saw the older man roll his eyes, "But they want him for the Omaha Project."
Bryce knew of the Omaha Project, but not entirely of what it entailed. Something to do with encoded memories, millions of secrets embedded into single images, ready to be recalled given proper stimuli. It was very hush hush, but Bryce's performance in Fleming's class had him on a shortlist of candidates. A sudden doubt surged through him, as he thought of him and Chuck working on the project together, side-by-side, as they always had been since they met at Stanford.
But it was quashed as he thought of Chuck being broken down in training, a training that Bryce's ego and sense of duty could maintain his core personality through, a training that would alter Chuck into a different person, and the anger snapped up inside of him again, "That's a military operation," If the CIA wanted Chuck, he would be okay as an analyst, and Bryce had held out hope for that being the case, but the mention of Project Omaha squashed that remote possibility, "They'll turn Chuck into a--"
Fleming interrupted him before he could finish his sentence (what would he have finished it with, anyway? A weapon? A killer? He didn't even know), "I'm required to send all top test results to the agency," Fleming said patiently.
Fleming's patience only infuriated Bryce, "I want my friend out of this."
Fleming shook his head, both in defiance and seemingly in awe as he looked down at Chuck's file, "He's amazing. Key words in his essay responses correlate to 98% of the subliminal images in the exam!"
Bryce's patience had worn down to its last thread, "You don't get it," Bryce said, affecting his most intimidating tone, though he wasn't sure it would work on Fleming, "Chuck's a good person," He stressed those two words, hoping they would make Fleming understand that they were more than platitudes, but the lack of expression on the recruiter's face meant that Fleming truly didn't get it, "He's got too much heart for this kind of work," Bryce continued, a plea slipping inadvertently into his tone, "He's no operative."
Fleming's gaze was impassive and unimpressed, and Bryce slapped his hand on the table in frustration, "You can't put him out in the field! He won't survive!" And there was the crux of the matter, to Bryce. It wasn't so much the change. Or the idea of him losing his good nature. It was the idea of losing him. Losing the type of person Chuck was, the type of person the CIA was fighting to keep in the world. Bryce couldn't help but let a stifled gasp of emotion escape his mouth.
Fleming seemed at least slightly apologetic when he said, "The agency is not going to let go of a recruit this promising," Again, a slight sense of awe crept into Fleming's voice, "The amount of information he can retain?"
Bryce shook his head in exasperation and disbelief, "They're not gonna give him a choice?"
Fleming nodded, "He's in no matter what."
Bryce struggled, pushing down emotions both with training techniques and because he was searching for some way-- any way-- out of this mess. He looked around the office, desperate for some sort of argument that would appeal to the professor. Again, he recognized that pleading had entered his tone as he asked, "If he cheated on the exam, copied all the answers, it would invalidate the results, wouldn't it?" He tried not to be too hopeful.
"Yes," The professor agreed, "If that was the case, Bryce."
"But--" Bryce grit angrily, his last hope being extinguished.
"I'm sorry, Bryce," Fleming said, his voice actually apologetic, "I know that you and I have worked well together during your time here, but the Omaha Project is too important to let go of a candidate like this," Bryce scoffed visibly, leaning back in his chair, defeated, "Not only for the military community, but the scientific one as well."
"The favors I've done for you..." Bryce began again.
Fleming once again interrupted, "Are much appreciated, and will be repaid to you in the future. But this is one thing that is just too important, Bryce," Fleming paused for a moment, taking a deep breath, and then said with a sense of finality, "Chuck Bartowski is going to be recruited for the Omaha Project, Bryce. I'm sorry."
Bryce let a sad laugh escape his lips, "Yeah," He agreed, "Me, too."
March 19, 2003
If Chuck were to be honest with himself he would say that his time at college had changed him for the better. In high school he had been nervous pretty much all the time. While Ellie had been incredibly popular and he, as her little brother, had some of that popularity rub off on him, he never was quite comfortable with anyone except Morgan. The other guys in his class didn't understand their interests and the girls in his class seemed to be more concerned with the other guys in his class. For much of his high school years he just seemed to fidget awkwardly in some in-between space in which he was never entirely comfortable.
But for four years now, he had a spectacular friend in Bryce and an equally amazing girlfriend in Jill that changed him from awkward fidgeting into a guy who, if not necessarily confident, was at least comfortable with where he was in his life. His GPA hovered between 3.93 and 3.98 and no one wanted to call him a geek for it. He spent much of his time with his girlfriend playing MMORPGs and not only did she not complain, she actually played them, too. He had one great guy friend in Bryce who embraced his same hobbies and got along well with his girl. In addition, he had a frat house full of brothers who he loved to spend time with, sometimes playing video games, but sometimes doing normal college stuff like partying-- he was a master at beer pong-- or playing ultimate frisbee or volleyball.
So, yeah, with all of that, his life was going pretty well at the moment. He had a degree in engineering on the horizon, a relationship growing into something more serious, and friends as dedicated to him as he was to them.
Chuck walked cheerfully, whistling aimlessly to himself as he approached Professor Fleming's room. He wasn't entirely sure why the professor was asking for him, there had just been a message in his room from Bryce saying that Fleming wanted a meeting with him. They had just had their mid-term exam in that class and Chuck had thought the thing pretty easy, when they got their exams back, he had his beliefs confirmed; he had got 100% on the thing. He smiled as Fleming's receptionist, Stacey, came into view.
"Hey, Stacey," Chuck said cheerfully, knowing her from a class they had shared a few semesters ago.
"Hey, Chuck," She said, smiling, "Professor Fleming is ready to see you right away."
"Sounds good, thanks," Chuck replied, entering the Professor's office.
"Hello, Chuck," Fleming said pleasantly, indicating that he take the seat across from the professor's desk, "How are you?"
"Uhhh," Chuck uttered as he sat down, "I'm, uh, good. I'm good," He said smiling, "How are you?"
"Oh, I'm fine, Chuck," Fleming assured, leaning across his desk with his arms crossed, "I just wanted to talk with you about your performance in my class."
"Ohhhhkay?" Chuck asked, confused.
"As you're aware of," The professor continued, "You scored perfectly on the mid-term exam."
Chuck visibly relaxed, "Yeah, yeah," He laughed, "Well, I was up all night studying; It was a monster," A look of fright crept into Chuck's features as he immediately assured, "No offense!"
The professor only smiled, the action unnerving Chuck a bit as Fleming continued, "You even aced the last section, Encoded Images."
Chuck grinned nervously again, unsure of his professor's intention, "Tha-uh, yeah. Those were just kind of a shot in the dark."
Fleming smiled again, this time more genuinely and it had the effect of relaxing Chuck, "It's fantastic, actually. I've been giving this same exam for years and no one has showed a level of aptitude that you seem to have achieved."
"Oh, well," Chuck stuttered nervously, his inability to handle compliments showing itself, "Like I said, I was just kind of, you know.. Not guessing, but..." He flailed, looking for the word, "The answers I put just seemed right, I guess? I don't know."
"It's okay, Chuck," The professor assured, "That is, in a way, the nature of that portion of the exam. It's designed in such a way where those who don't have an aptitude for encoded images won't feel comfortable with their answers, while those who do will be able to answer correctly, but not necessarily understand why they know those answers are correct."
"Yeah, well," Chuck verbally floundered again, "I guess that's a good way to describe it."
Fleming's affable expression suddenly went serious, and caused Chuck to stiffen in his seat, "Chuck, I want to tell you something that cannot leave this room."
Chuck blinked, smiling nervously and uncertainly, "Alriiiight," he drawled.
"You are aware, of course, of the Central Intelligence Agency, yes?" Fleming asked, his expression completely serious.
Despite that, Chuck's first reaction was to laugh, "Uh, the CIA? Or some other Central Intelligence Agency?" the younger man's amused smile slowly deteriorated as Fleming's expression remained stoic, "I mean, yes, I am aware of the CIA."
"I understand your reaction, Mr. Bartowski," Fleming said calmly, "Let me make this perfectly clear: All of what I am telling you is true, and one hundred percent confidential. In fact," Fleming paused, taking time to open a drawer and pull out a single document, along with a fountain pen, and push them across the desk towards Chuck, "For me to continue, I need you to sign this confidentiality agreement. It basically states that anything discussed in this room cannot be discussed outside of this room."
Shocked, Chuck looked down at the paper, the CIA letterhead and the long-applied signatures of Langston Graham, whom the letter noted was the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Professor Fleming, who was described as Agency Recruitment Liaison for Stanford University, and a blank spot for Chuck's own signature. His eyes widened as he noted his descriptor was "Recruit." Unsure of what else to do, Chuck grabbed the writing utensil, muttering something inconsequential about "Fan-er, Fancy pen," before scrawling his signature along the allotted line.
"Thank you, Chuck," Fleming said politely, filing away the paper and putting it in a different drawer than the one from which it had come. As his eyes came up to meet Chuck's own, Chuck couldn't help but whisper a mantra to himself: Don't freak out, don't freak out, don't freak out. It wasn't really helping.
"As you no doubt read," Fleming began, "I am the CIA Recruitment Liaison for this University. While most of the classes I teach are merely normal classes, others, such as the one you are currently enrolled in, we use to discover those who we believe could do well working for the Agency," Fleming took a moment to pause and consider Chuck, who couldn't find the presence of mind to reply in any capacity, "Your test scores in my class, particularly your scores on Encoded Images, indicate to us potential success as a member of the CIA."
That statement seemed to loosen Chuck's tongue, as his eyes bugged out, "Uh, m-me?" He stammered, "You want me to be a CIA agent?"
"Yes, Chuck," Fleming confirmed, "Specifically, we want you to be involved in a special project codenamed Omaha, where your ability to recognize and use encoded images will be examined and utilized."
Chuck took a deep, uncertain breath, "Ex-examined? Like, with needles?" At Fleming's odd, confused look of response Chuck continued, "I don't really like needles."
"Well, I'm not sure of the examination process," Fleming explained gamely, "But I believe it's more of an observational nature."
"Oh, okay," Chuck said softly, still obviously overwhelmed.
"Additionally, since the Omaha Project is primarily a military operation," Again, Chuck's eyes bugged, though Fleming seemed not to notice, "You would also be trained as an operative. The training would take one to two years, and would run simultaneous to your participation in the Omaha Project."
"Woah, woah," Chuck seemed to finally come out of his shocked state of inaction, "This is all happening really fast. I just- I'm sorry, Professor Fleming. Are you asking me to be a CIA Agent? Like, a spy?" Chuck asked, trying to understand the situation.
"Yes, Chuck," Professor Fleming asserted, "That is exactly what I'm asking."
There was a long pause, as the Professor and his student simply stared at each other. The answer seemed to knock Chuck back into silence, and the Professor waited almost a full thirty seconds before reaching into another drawer of his desk and pulling out another sheet of paper.
"If you're agreeable," The professor began, pushing this sheet of paper across the table, "I have some paperwork that you would need to fill out. This would essentially be another nondisclosure agreement, one that would extend beyond this meeting and extend to any and all further communications you had with me and with anyone else within the Agency."
Fleming held onto the pen for a moment, his expression again serious, "I want you to understand, that this is not a document that would employ you in any way. This meeting is the first of what would be a series of interviews that would determine if you were physically and psychologically capable of becoming a member of the CIA. This is merely saying that, in the course of those interviews, you will maintain silence on these meetings."
Chuck looked at Fleming seriously, his mind finally seeming to kick into gear, "What about my sister? Or my girlfriend? They can't know?"
Fleming shook his head in the negative, placing the pen down on the desk, "No, Chuck. I'm sorry."
Chuck didn't reach out to take the writing utensil, instead he just alternated between staring at the sheet of paper and his professor. Finally he spoke, "I- I'm sorry, Professor Fleming. This is just a lot to take in, you know? I just- Can I... Can I take like," Chuck laughed hopelessly, "A day to think about this? Or something?"
Fleming smiled wanly, "Of course, Chuck. Take the day, sleep on it."
A weight visibly removed itself from Chuck's shoulders, "Thank you, professor. Thank you," He said, getting up out of the chair.
"I appreciate you meeting with me, Chuck," Fleming said honestly, getting to his feet himself and extending Chuck his hand to shake.
"Thank you, Professor," Chuck said, taking it, "I- I'm flattered by your, or the CIA's interest." He laughed.
Fleming shook Chuck's hand firmly, maintaining his grip for a moment to give Chuck pause, "Remember, Chuck. Your country is calling you. There is a lot of good you can do. Protecting your friends. Protecting your family."
Chuck's startled reaction at being held there for a moment gave way to an uncharacteristically intense expression. It was as if he had, for the first time, considered the implications of working for the government in such a capacity, had considered the positive changes he could enact in the world as a spy.
"Right," Chuck said simply, his brow furrowed in focus, "Well, thank you, sir."
Fleming smiled gently, "I look forward to your answer, Chuck."
Chuck laughed, smiling, thinking that Fleming probably already knew his answer, "Yeah," He said, "Me, too."
A/N: So, this is my first attempt at a multi-chapter Chuck fic. Technically. I mean, Left Unsaid is a two-shot and Per Second Second and Other People's Words are drabble collections, but this is my first attempt at a multi-chapter story in the Chuck universe.
I've seen a couple of fics that deal with the idea of Bryce not being able to remove Chuck from the CIA's watch list (notably, the excellent When Fates Impose from Frea O'Scanlin), but when considering the idea for myself, I figured that the nature of Fleming's tests at Stanford seemed to be intentionally searching for an Intersect and that, if Bryce did fail at getting Chuck out of the recruitment path, he would likely be forced very quickly to be involved with the Intersect project. So, that's what this fic is going to explore.
Some of the storyline aspects I'll look at here include Steven Bartowski reacting to his son being in the CIA and part of the Intersect Project, Jill and Chuck dating while simultaneously being recruits for opposing spy factions, and Bryce watching his best friend change into a spy. I've got plans for Sarah to make an entrance into this fic, but that's a ways off, and as much as I love Casey I don't have a way for him into my storyline yet (he HAS to be here at some point though, Respect the Casey, plz).
So, yeah. I just wanted to get all of that information out of the way. I hope you enjoyed the first chapter of Chuck vs the Simple Twist of Fate. I know I haven't been very good in responding to my reviews, but I promise to take the time out at the end of every chapter of this piece to thank each and every reviewer. It means a lot to me, and I appreciate all the positive feedback I've received from all of my other Chuck stories. Thanks! Hope to hear your feedback!