I just finished watching Coup d'Etat. It was Awesome. (Literally. With a 9-foot marble replica and everything.) And now it's time to post a new chapter, so yay all around! Lots of questions answered in this one, and of course many more raised. Also, just a warning, it gets pretty dark from here on out (as if it weren't already). Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go make some avatars from tonight's episode. mxpw gets cranky if he doesn't get his weekly icon dosage of Sarah Walker. :)

Many thanks to Frea and mxpw, who both pointed out that the first version of this chapter totally sucked (my words, not theirs). It was a pain to revise and edit, but this final version is much, much better.

March 28, 2011

11:58 p.m.

The "Chuck & Sarah" room, Providence Inn

For a long moment, Chuck forgot how to speak. Sarah seemed to be having the same problem; she simply stared at him, eyes wide, mouth half open and moving soundlessly. The next thing he knew, she had jumped off the mattress and was backing away from him, a hand buried in her hair.

"Chuck? How—what the hell are you doing here?"

Whoa. Of all the things he'd been expecting Sarah to say after seeing him for the first time in nearly two years, that was not one of them. Chuck pushed himself into a sitting position, wincing when his chest gave a particularly painful throb.

"What am I doing here? What are you doing here? You just attacked—I don't even—Sarah, what the hell is going on?"

"You shouldn't be here, Chuck. You can't be here, you're not—" Sarah broke off mid-sentence and froze, face completely draining of color. Then she did something that Chuck never thought he'd see in his lifetime: she began freaking out.

There was no other word to describe it. One moment she was gaping at him, on the verge of hyperventilating, and the next moment she was dashing around the room like a criminal trying to hide her secret stash from the cops.

It was quite possibly the scariest thing he'd ever witnessed in his life.

"Sarah," Chuck repeated, voice raising an octave, "what the hell is going on?"

Sarah ignored him. She whipped her head around as if searching for something, then ran back to the bed, crouching down and lifting the covers to scan underneath.


"You need to get out of here," she said, turning her attention to the nightstand. She reached behind it and swiped her hand across the surface. "This is the last place you should be, Chuck. Anywhere but here."

"First my dad, now you?" He fought back the urge to hit something. "Damn it, Sarah, where the hell am I supposed to go? I'm already on the run, and—what is that?"

Chuck's insides went cold as he took in the tiny device stuck to the bottom of the drawer Sarah had just wrenched out of the nightstand. Sarah sucked in a shuddering breath and carefully placed the drawer onto the ground.

"Get out of the room, Chuck." Her voice sounded strangled.

"Is that…" Chuck slid to the edge of the mattress. "Is that a bomb?"

"Get out of the room!"

She didn't wait for him to move. Wrapping her fingers around his wrist, Sarah yanked him forward; Chuck barely landed on his feet before she all but dragged him toward the door. Behind him, the device began beeping.

They made it about twenty feet past the front porch when the room exploded.

Sarah tackled him to the ground a split second before the heat from the blast hit them full force. Instinctively, Chuck tucked his face into his shoulder and clamped his arms over his head. His skin felt like it was blistering. Pieces of debris pelted his body like sharp rocks.

The pressure wave hit next. He felt as though he were being pounded into the ground; the gravel dug into his cheek, and his ears popped and began a constant, painful ringing. Sarah's arm suddenly tightened across his back; he felt her cringe against his shoulder.

Finally, the wave of heat faded as the last of the flying debris scattered around them. Chuck raised his head, coughing away the dust. Sarah had already bolted up, a hand clutching her shoulder. A thin trail of blood seeped out beneath her fingertips.

"Oh my God, you got hit—"

"It's fine," she interrupted through gritted teeth, "Right now, we just need to focus on getting out of here. You have your keys?"

"Yeah," he said, stumbling to his feet. At this point, his brain was the only part of his body that had gone numb. Every other limb was either throbbing or burning—nothing compared to his days of torture, of course, but still enough to seriously suck. Chuck willed himself not to think about the pain and dug the car keys out of his pocket.

The sound of breaking glass made him spin around on the spot. Not a good idea, since the movement nearly sent him crashing to the ground again. Cursing under his breath, Chuck looked up and promptly pressed a fist to his mouth in horror.

Sarah stood several feet away, balanced perfectly on one leg as she hacked away at the shattered remains of his car window with her boot.

"What are you—couldn't you have just waited for me to unlock the freaking door?"

Sarah at least had the courtesy to glance back in his general direction. "The explosion already blew out the windows," she replied shortly, reaching inside for the lock. She pulled open the door and began sweeping out shards of glass. "Get in the car, Chuck, please."

The numbness in his brain slowly gave way to anger. She had always been an expert at evading. He'd had enough of being left out of the loop, for God's sake, and the fact that he'd nearly been blown to pieces in the one place he thought he'd be safe did not help matters. Chuck all but stormed to the passenger side of the car and yanked the door open, intent on giving Sarah a piece of his mind.

All it took was seeing the dead set of her jaw and her whitened knuckles tightening around the wheel to make the words die right on his lips. Chuck's mouth instantly snapped shut. He handed Sarah the key, which she shoved a little too forcefully into the ignition before throwing the car into reverse. Chuck grabbed the roof handle and held on for dear life.

He'd forgotten how scary Agent Walker was in full mission mode.

March 28, 2011

12:46 a.m.

Heading East on I-40

Sarah had parked her own car in a deserted lot a little less than a mile away. It was there that they ditched Chuck's car, scratched and shattered from the explosion. Sarah had made sure to destroy all the evidence proving it was his, including throwing the license plate into a dumpster some miles away. Where they were driving now, Chuck had no idea. Judging by the distant, apprehensive look in Sarah's eyes, she seemed just as uncertain.

They hadn't spoken a word to each other since the explosion. The silence was unbearable, but Chuck had been smart enough to know that Sarah was dangerously close to her breaking point. The tension in her shoulders, like her grip on the wheel, showed no signs of relaxing anytime soon, and she hadn't looked in his direction once in the last forty-five minutes.

Patience was key here, and it was killing him.

Chuck focused on clearing his mind to pass the time. Closing his eyes, he straightened in his seat and honed in on his breathing. Inhale for four seconds, hold for two, exhale for eight, hold for three. It was a little more difficult to concentrate when a stab of pain shot through his chest every time he inhaled. He tried not to think about the fact that it had been Sarah who caused the injury, however unknowingly.

"I'm sorry."

Her voice was barely above a whisper, but the sheer weight behind those two simple words was enough to make him snap. The breath he'd been holding came flying out in a rush, and Chuck turned in his seat to gape at her in sheer disbelief. The human version of an Intersect flash smashed into him head-on. Within five agonizing seconds, the millions of questions he'd been forcing into a small compartment in the back of his brain had burst open and completely flooded his system.

"You're sorry?" he blurted, the cold, bitter words tumbling out of his mouth before he could stop them. "For what, exactly? For trying to crack open my chest, which, by the way, still hurts like hell? Or because I happened to walk into a room you were occupying that was rigged to explode?" His fingers dug into the armrest between them. "Or maybe for pulling a damn Houdini nearly a year ago and making me question whether or not you were a rogue agent, much less alive? Enlighten me, Sarah, because it seems to me like there sure as hell are a lot of things you could be sorry for!"

Sarah looked as though she'd been slapped in the face. Once upon a time, Chuck would have apologized profusely and done everything in his power to wipe that expression off her face forever. That was before he'd been dragged through the closest thing to hell and back again. Right now, his chest felt like it was well on its way to being permanently bruised. He was on the run from one of the most powerful agencies in the nation. He was scared out of his mind. And still, he knew absolutely nothing.

If there was ever a time to be justifiably pissed, it was now.

The stunned look on Sarah face, however, was quickly replaced with an icy glare. "You're right," she said, a slight tremor to her voice, "there are a lot of things that have happened over the past few years that I'm sorry for. But what did you expect, Chuck? You think I did any of those things on purpose? You think I wanted to disappear? I didn't have a choice!"

"You could have contacted me somehow, left some sort of message to let me know what was going on."

"Don't you think I would've done that if I had the chance? I went off-grid, Chuck. The moment I disappeared, the Agency set their sights on the closest connections they knew I had!" She jerked her head in his direction, eyes still glued to the road. "One message to you and they would have either taken you in or tracked me down and killed me on the spot. Maybe both. Then where would we be?"

Chuck threw his hands up in exasperation. "Probably not here, smack dab in the middle of nowhere! Sarah, you have no idea what the past year has been like for me, okay? How do you think I felt when I got that last e-mail from you? When my dad contacted me three days later to tell me that you'd been declared rogue? When they sent me through their so-called 'relapse therapy?'"

Just the thought of the government's thinly veiled brainwashing sessions made the corners of his vision burn red. They'd turned his life into psychological torture. The first week had been straight interrogation; wanting to know if Sarah was keeping in contact with him, if he had somehow helped her with her little "disappearing act." When that had proved moot, they'd switched tactics and began feeding him things: she wasn't coming back. She'd betrayed her country. More importantly, she'd betrayed him. If anything, she was probably already dead. There was no point holding on to a lost cause.

Those weeks had been by far the worst, where nightmares plagued him nightly and the bitterness and frustration of not knowing what to believe took over the better half of his mind. Those were the times where even his blind faith in her had slipped, if only for a few moments.

Sarah looked halfway between spitting out a particularly biting retort and a frustrated apology. She chose neither, clenching her teeth together instead, her eyes stormy. Chuck surfaced from his bitter memories to pin her with a hard gaze.

"I've gone through my fair share of hell in the past two years, Sarah," he said, quiet but firm, "and I'm sure you have, too. But the difference here is that I spent mine in complete darkness. Before we start talking about anything else, the least you could give me right now are some answers."

Sarah sat silent for a long time. Chuck waited; he could practically hear the war raging inside of her head. Judging by the way her eyes flickered with resolve, it was only a matter of time before her walls came crashing down, one piece at a time. Finally, after what felt like hours, Sarah took a deep breath and began speaking.

"It was sometime last year, right around this time. We were doing so well with tracking down Ring cells, and the Intersect…" She hesitated. "It was…very different from the version you had in your head. He still flashed on information, but he could flash on certain…abilities, too. Whenever we were stuck in a tight situation, the Intersect knew exactly what skills to give him to get out of it, almost as if it had a mind of its own."

A chill that had nothing to do with the cold sunk deep into Chuck's gut. A computer with a mind of its own? He'd seen his share of sci-fi movies with a similar premise, and the events that unfolded never ended in rainbows and unicorns. Chuck shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

"What kind of abilities are we talking about here? I mean, aren't you guys already superspies? What could the Intersect possibly give Bryce on top of that?"

"Precision," Sarah said, her expression darkening. "The ability to shoot and kill without fail. With this new version of the Intersect, emotions control the outcome of its success. The government took your father's designs and altered them knowing that Bryce was an expert at keeping his emotions in check. In essence, the Intersect turned Bryce into the ultimate human weapon."

Chuck slumped in his seat. Forget similarities, this was exactly like a sci-fi movie. Which could only mean…He almost didn't want to hear the answer when he asked, "Sarah, what happened to Bryce?"

She seemed to be dreading the question, too, because it took her a long time to respond. When she finally did, her eyes were staring far off into the distance, her voice a little shaky.

"Every time he flashed on an ability, he seemed to lose a piece of himself in the process. It wasn't even noticeable at first. The more he flashed, though, the longer it took for him to…well, go back to being himself."

"What do you mean?"

Sarah's expression became somewhat haunted; if it were even possible, her knuckles went even whiter around the wheel. "In order to flash on an ability, Bryce had to push away his emotions, no matter what kind of situation we were in. And he could do that. But after he flashed, it was like he lost them entirely, like he couldn't feel anything at all. Almost like…"

"Like the Intersect was starting to take over," Chuck finished in a horrified whisper. Sarah nodded.

"Bryce wanted it out of his head, but the government insisted that he keep it in a while longer, that this entire operation had cost them millions to fund, and that if he took it out now, The Ring would only rebound as a bigger threat."

"That's ridiculous," Chuck hissed, furious. "They're always going to have 'the next biggest threat!' Hell, a supercomputer taking over someone's mind is even worse! How could they take a risk like that?"

"We think that they knew all of it going in," Sarah said, "and that they were willing to take the chance anyway. Bryce had shown the most promise with utilizing the Intersect, and they were right: our success rates went off the charts. Most likely, they planned on having him eliminated as soon as he went over the edge."

Chuck's hatred for the government cut even deeper. "Is that what they would've done to me, too, if my dad hadn't gotten the Intersect out? Burn me after everything we did to keep the country safe? What kind of—" He broke off, the realization hitting him like a ton of bricks. "My dad! Sarah, why didn't you guys contact him, he could've gotten it out!"

Sarah was already shaking her head. "We tried. We couldn't find him. After I was able to track him down the first time, your dad made sure to cover his tracks permanently. No one knows where he is."

"You're looking at someone who does!" Chuck thrust his hand into the emergency pack at his feet and pulled out the phone. "Or at least someone who can contact him. Why didn't you guys come to me? I could've helped!"

"And risk putting you in danger all over again? Absolutely not, Chuck."

"Yeah, and where do you think I am now?"

"But that's just it," Sarah said, exasperated. "You shouldn't be here, and you definitely shouldn't have been at that motel. So why were you?"

Chuck let out a sigh and dragged his hand through his hair. The day was really starting to take its toll, and there were still a thousand questions in his head screaming to be answered. Still, Sarah had that look in her eyes again, and it looked like she wasn't going to tell him anything more until he filled her in on his side of the story.

He took a moment to think back on the past several hours before recounting everything to her: how his father had contacted him after work and warned him about the agents heading over to his apartment, and how he left despite not knowing what their reasons were. He left out the reason why he'd chosen that particular motel room, though. He figured that it'd sound a little pathetic, choosing the room just because it was a memory they'd shared, though a small part of him wondered if she'd had the same idea. It was an eerie coincidence, after all. What were the odds that they'd end up in the same place at the same time, and one that had been conveniently rigged to explode while they were in it, no less? He asked this last question aloud.

Sarah looked troubled. "I honestly don't know. I know it seems that way, but how could they have known you'd run off and end up at the motel? Though if you hadn't shown up when you did…"

She didn't finish the sentence, which was good, because it was the last thing Chuck wanted to hear right now. Shoving the images out of his head, he plowed on ahead.

"Okay, so maybe the bomb was for you. But how did the government know you'd be there?"

"Maybe they didn't," Sarah said, "but Bryce probably did."

Chuck turned fully in his seat to gape at her. "Bryce?"

Sarah gave a small smile, though there was nothing humorous about it. "You haven't heard the rest of the story."

"Bryce has been trying to kill you? But…but I thought…"

"Not Bryce," she said quietly. "The Bryce you know disappeared months ago."

Horror bubbled in his gut like acid, and Chuck sank further into his seat, head in his hands. This couldn't be happening. Bryce Larkin? Lost to the Intersect? Through his shocked haze, he was vaguely aware that Sarah had begun talking again.

"He went insane. That's really the only way to explain it. He flashed one day and he just…never came back. Ripped my own gun out of my hands and shot everyone in the room, Ring members and CIA agents alike. He kept going on about how it was all of the government's fault that it had come to this, how corrupted they had become, how it was time to change things—" she broke off and bit her lip, blinking hard. "He asked me if I'd join him. I think there was still a small part of him left, the part that still cared about me. And when I refused, he took it as a betrayal. He told me that I'd better start running and hope that he didn't catch up, because either way, he was going to make my life hell."

"What is this," Chuck breathed, "some kind of sick game for him?"

"That's exactly what it is." Her tone was full of resentment. "As soon as I escaped, Bryce went back to the Agency and somehow convinced them that it had been me who broke away and killed those CIA agents. Once he got the government on his side and the clearance to track me down, he began the world's most dangerous game of cat and mouse."

Chuck raised his head and stared out the windshield, too stunned, too horrified to speak. He'd gone through a fair share of torment these past two years, but this? He couldn't even begin to imagine the nightmare Sarah had experienced. When he finally found his voice again, it came out more as a croaky whisper.

"He's been chasing you this entire time? Tracking you down and setting up death traps and just…just waiting for you to make a wrong move? Why didn't you leave the country, go someplace he could never find you?"

"I wish it were that simple," Sarah said, her voice hollow, "but we both know that things never come easy with Bryce. When the Intersect took over, he lost every shred of conscience he ever had. If I went off his radar for more than a few days, he'd just turn around and start killing off people affiliated with the Intersect Project instead, one at a time, until I showed up again. He knew exactly how to toy with me, knew that the last thing I ever wanted was for him to go anywhere near—"

She abruptly broke off and shook her head. Without warning, she jerked the wheel to the right and pulled off the highway; startled, Chuck seized the door armrest as the car rolled to a stop on the uneven terrain. Sarah pressed the gear into Park and turned off the car before falling back against the seat, arms limp at her sides.

"What are you—?"

"Just," Sarah tilted her head back and closed her eyes, voice dangerously unsteady. "Just give me a second, okay?"

Chuck fell silent. His mind, on the other hand, was as loud as ever, echoing the words she had spoken and adding in the rest of her unfinished sentence:

The last thing I ever wanted was for him to go anywhere near you.

A wave of disbelief surged through him. Even after all this time, Sarah was still sacrificing everything—her job, her safety, her entire life—to make sure he was protected. Running for months on end, never safe, never sure, constantly living in fear…how could anyone live that way? How could she put herself through this? Sucking in a deep breath, Chuck reached over and placed his hand over hers.

"Look, Sarah…"

Sarah's eyes flew open. She visibly recoiled at his touch, though her hand hadn't moved an inch. He squeezed reassuringly, hoping to mollify her.

The reaction was instantaneous. It was as if all of the tension in her body had popped like a balloon; she melted into the seat, head falling back against the headrest and eyes screwing shut. Her breath hitched once before she bit her lip. Hard. Beneath his fingers, her hand tightened into a fist and began trembling.

Despite all her actions to keep them from appearing, the tears spilling over her cheeks were unmistakable.

Chuck withdrew his hand like he'd been scalded. Oh, crap, what had he done? He knew that Sarah was already at the end of her rope, but he was not prepared for this. Desperately, he wracked his brain for something to say. I didn't mean to touch you, Sarah, I didn't know it'd make you cry? He nearly slapped himself. What kind of apology was that? She'd probably punch him. Or cry harder. He was pretty sure the latter would be much, much worse.

The soft, almost inaudible sob that escaped her lips nearly sent him over the edge. Chuck dug his fingers into his jeans and opened his mouth to apologize, or at least say something to stop the tears. Oh, God, she was crying, he had made her cry, she never cried in front of him, he had to say something, anything.

Unfortunately, his voice chose that moment to betray him. Mute, utterly helpless and hating himself for it, Chuck sat and waited while Sarah let her crying run its course.

If he thought he'd felt horrible before, it was nothing compared to the way he felt now. It was never a matter of whether or not Sarah could handle the nightmares Bryce had created for her—she didn't even have a choice. It was either run or risk having the people she cared about killed off instead. How many times had she encountered Bryce over the past year? How many times had she barely escaped alive? She'd thrown away everything to keep him safe, and for what? He'd shown up anyway, accident or not, and now they were quite literally in the middle of nowhere, fleeing from death, two pawns in Bryce's sick little game of insanity chess.

All of her suffering, for nothing. What was he supposed to say to that?

Not much, it turned out. With one last sniff, Sarah swiped away the last trace of moisture from her eyes and let out a shuddering breath. "Sorry," she said, leaning forward to start the car. "It's been a really long day. But we need to keep moving. We can't risk being anywhere near Barstow when they investigate the explosion."

Chuck continued to stare at her, even as she visibly made the effort to ignore his gaze. What was she apologizing for? Surely she didn't still believe the whole "spies should never show weakness" thing, not after everything she'd experienced these past few years. Yet here she was, trying to act as though the last ten minutes hadn't happened, as if this entire nightmare wasn't as terrifying and traumatic as it seemed.

But it was. And that was the problem.

"Why are you apologizing?" Chuck burst out when his voice finally started working again. "God, Sarah, after everything you've been through, that's the last thing you should be doing. I'm the one who should be apologizing, I didn't mean to—"

"Chuck," she interrupted, voice laced with desperation. "Please, not now, alright? I can't…I can't handle this right now. We need to focus on getting out of here first."

Chuck opened his mouth to argue, then thought better of it when Sarah shot him an exasperated look. With a defeated sigh, he leaned back into the seat and folded his arms across his chest. Still so many questions, still so much to say. With nothing but deafening silence between them now, Chuck turned his thoughts back to Bryce.

It didn't make any sense. Bryce could have easily taken him and used him as bait months ago if he really wanted Sarah dead. And what about the government? Sarah had said that Bryce believed their higher-ups to be corrupted, that things needed to change, and yet the first thing he did was take their side and turn them against her. The only thing Bryce seemed dead set on right now was turning Sarah's life into a nightmare, simply for his own sick, twisted pleasure.

And then there was the question of Bryce himself. The old Bryce, at least. Because how could a person just…cease to exist? There was no way a computer could completely take over a person's mind; there had to be some sort of motivation, some type of humanlike conscience present. The last he remembered, the Intersect was a computer full of information. Government secrets. Abilities, too, but how was that any different? Encryptions. Ones and zeros. That's all they were.

Chuck raised a hand in front of his face and flexed it. Human Intersect. That's what they'd called him, back when he'd had their computer in his brain. Someone who hosted an entire system's worth of encrypted information in his mind. But was it really possible to have it the other way around? An Intersected human, an actual biological robot?

Chuck frowned. No. There had to be a piece of Bryce left, somewhere in the insanity that was the Intersect. Why else would this new Bryce be relentlessly hunting down his former partner instead of attempting to destroy mankind like they always did in the movies?

And if somewhere, deep down, the old Bryce still existed, then there was a chance that he could be saved, right?

Chuck flicked his gaze over to Sarah, who was back to being the living embodiment of tension, her eyes clouded over and calculating as they stared off into the darkness ahead. Sarah, who had seen firsthand what Bryce had become, who had probably tried numerous times to bring him back and failed. Who had broken down in tears right after recounting the horrors she'd had to face at the hands of her corrupted partner.

He shook his head and looked away. No, now was definitely not the time to bring up thoughts of saving Bryce. Hell, now was not the time to talk about Bryce directly at all. He'd have to keep that to himself for now, let it brew in his mind a little longer, at least until Sarah was willing to open up a little more.

But where exactly did that leave them? He could reflect all he wanted on the things he'd learned tonight, but he was still stuck in a hole that was getting deeper and deeper with every minute that passed. A hole, no doubt, that Sarah had been trapped in for well over a year. Again, he focused his attention on her. Beneath the layers of tension, determination, and fear, he could sense the very real feeling of defeat. She wasn't just tired; she was exhausted, mentally and emotionally worn out.

And that scared him beyond belief. Because this was Sarah Walker, the CIA's premier agent and the strongest person he'd ever met. The fact that she'd lasted this long was nothing short of incredible. But as terrifying as it was to admit it, even Sarah had her limits. How much longer would she be able to run and evade? How much longer before she gave in to impending hopelessness?

And what about him? How long would he last? Sarah had said that the government was on Bryce's side; didn't that mean that he was a target now, too? If Sarah had been a part of this for so long without any success, how was he supposed to handle it, now that he was stuck with the same fate?

Chuck rubbed both hands over his face. He couldn't. He simply wasn't cut out for this. There was a reason he'd opted out of the spy game two years ago, and everything that had happened since then only confirmed it. That didn't matter, though; just like Sarah, he didn't have a choice. It was either run or die trying, wasn't it?

Wait a second, Chuck thought, straightening. They were together now. Wasn't that was Sarah had been so worried about, that Bryce would come after him and kill him instead? If that was the case, then maybe there was still hope after all. There had to be somewhere they could go that was safe, anywhere, as long as they were as far away as possible from Bryce and his death traps. Maybe they could leave the country, get off the government's and Bryce's radars for good.

Except, Chuck realized, heart dropping into his stomach, that nowhere was safe. Even if they truly went off-grid, there was always the danger of Bryce turning his sights on the next victim, someone who never deserved to die, and it'd be their fault, all their fault for letting it happen.

The sickening realization came out of nowhere. Without warning, Chuck shot up and slammed his hands onto the dashboard. Sarah let out a small shriek and nearly swerved off the road; cursing loudly, she jerked the wheel back in place before whipping her head around to give him a panicked once-over.

"WHAT? What's wrong? What?"


"What? What about—" The name took a moment to register, and when it did, she let out a shuddering breath and frowned. "Chuck, no. Bryce hasn't gone after her before, there's no reason he would now."

"Why not? You said that the government is on Bryce's side. Well the government tried to take me in today, and I ran. What if Bryce is targeting me now, too? We have to go back, Sarah. I don't care what you say; Ellie's not safe in Burbank. She and Devon need to get out of there!"

"Chuck, the odds—"

"Aren't work risking." His eyes hardened. "She's my sister, Sarah. We have to get them to safety."

Sarah exhaled in frustration. "It's not that simple, Chuck. Do you know how dangerous it is for us right now? They've already got people looking for you, and I'm a rogue agent. If we get caught—"

"Then at least we tried!" Chuck said, slamming his palm against the dashboard again. "What if it were me, Sarah? Would you leave me behind, too? Let the government or Bryce get their hands on me first?"

Sarah flinched, and Chuck knew he'd hit finally home. It wasn't fair of him to say, and he'd probably regret being so harsh later on. Frankly, though, he couldn't care less at the moment. Because if Ellie was in danger, if she got hurt, or killed…he would never forgive himself. His hands clenched into fists.

"We have to go back."

Sarah's face was unreadable. No eye contact, no words. The only indication that showed she had heard him was a tighter grip on the wheel. Chuck waited, unwavering.

One fleeting glance in his direction sealed the deal. Chuck let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, then sprang up to clutch the door roof handle as Sarah screeched into a U-turn.

"We have to be quick," she said, her voice strained. "We'll have half a day's head start at best before Bryce realizes we weren't caught in the explosion."

Chuck eyed the speedometer as it crept past 85. "That's more than enough time, right?"

"Only if the government doesn't catch us first."

"Then we'll just have to play it smart."

Sarah's eyes flicked towards his. Her voice softened considerably. "Are you sure about this?"

No, Chuck thought, of course not. He was scared out of his mind. He could barely process the horrors she'd described to him, much less hope to survive. He'd woken up this morning thinking that it would just be another monotonous day, and now he was sitting in a car with the woman who'd disappeared from his life nearly a year ago, charging straight back into the chaos he thought he'd escaped forever. Of course he wasn't sure about this.

Chuck took a deep breath, steeled his nerves, and nodded.

Let's do this.

I'd like to take the time to bring to the light another Chuckfic author, William Ashbless! Kill Bryce's basic premise (now that it has been revealed) has a couple of similarities to his completed story, Chuck vs the Bête Noire, and while I assure you that Kill Bryce is running on a completely different track, I wanted to personally thank William for having his story serve as somewhat of an inspiration for this one. Thanks, Will! :)

And now for the slightly bad news. (Cue collective groans) Truth is, college is kicking my ass. I haven't been able to type up anything on the next chapter since school started up a few weeks back, which means my buffer is fading FAST. I'm going to try my hardest to make the bi-weekly update deadline, but at this point, I can't make any guarantees. (Sorry, school comes first. Unfortunately. Heh.) I've got a progress bar up for Kill Bryce over at our blog, Castle Inanity, so be sure to check there every so often to see how the chapter (along with chapters of other amazing stories) is coming along. For now, my apologies...no new snippets for you this time around.

See you on the 26th, hopefully!