A/N: So here is the first chapter of my sequel to Chuck vs. The Pacific Northwest. While you could muddle through this story without reading that one first there are a number of call backs and plot points that depend on that story. Don't worry, you'll probably like that one if you like this story.
Some acknowledgements first. Two people who helped early on were Coreymon77, who did some early read-throughs and offered good suggestions, and ne71, who made some great suggestions on how to reorganize the first several chapters.
A very big thank you goes to KateMcK for betaing everything, from the 1st to the most recent chapter, for cracking the whip when I need to get writing, and for general awesomeness. If you didn't know it, she's a great writer and you should check out her stuff (and bug her to write more).
I also want to thank Aardvark7734 for the shweet cover and for making ebooks out of TPNW and the existing chapters, at the time, of this story.
WARNING: More than 90% of this story will be rated teen BUT chapter 3 has some mature elements at the end (not smut, in my opinion, anyway). There's fair warning before that stuff comes up so you can avoid it if you want.
I don't own Chuck, obviously, or any business, or business's product mentioned in the story.
3:30 am, Friday, October29th, 2010
Sarah itched. In fact, that would be a substantial understatement of her problem. Sarah's world was defined by a constellation of itches: the gnawing pinpoint where her hairline met her forehead, the cruel drip of perspiration between her shoulder blades, the prickly crawling over her backside, and worst of all, the flaming-serpent underwire of her bra.
She was inching her way across a crawlspace she'd raced through only a few hours before in the opposite direction. She had been half way through her return trip when the motion sensors she'd previously deactivated had become active once again. Now she could only move a few millimeters each second and all she could think of was tearing off her clothes and digging with furious intent at her traitorous nerve endings. She tried her calm breathing protocol.
Relax, Walker. You're not here. You're taking a walk at the edge of the tide on La Jolla shores. The water's warm and … oh fuck the beach! God it itches!
She stopped her movement, clenching her jaw until the moment passed.
Shaw better hope, for his sake, this wasn't how he was planning to get rid of me. I will cut him just for insulting my skills alone. I don't give a damn what Beckman says.
Though there was some pride in the thought, it was mostly bravado to counteract her creeping paranoia, a constant reality of working with the traitor. She and Shaw had planned this mission based on the special agent's intel alone, which came from a source he wouldn't reveal. It was absolutely not how she liked to do business, going into a critical situation using unconfirmed intel, and worse, unconfirmed intel from a man who's game plan they still didn't know. Her team had spent months of secretly investigating him but had little to show for it other than a few wild goose chases. The suspense was beginning to eat at the three of them, as they knew, when Shaw made his move, they would all become liabilities to him. She'd spent a lifetime watching her back, knowing her life could change or end in an instant, but this time she had more than just her life to lose.
Despite the danger, Beckman had been adamant in her coded messages that they continue to work with the traitor to expose the Ring, even while investigating him. For that reason this mission had to go off without a hitch. Failure was not an option. In four days The Elders of the Ring would be meeting in the adjacent offices and Sarah needed to put surveillance in place with no trace of her passing. The bugs would evade an extensive sweep by the Ring's security, but if they knew she had infiltrated the location of the meeting it would be moved or cancelled altogether. Then team Bartowski would be back to square one.
Why couldn't this go the way we planned it?
It had started out with a fairly simple replacement op:
7:30pm, Wednesday, October 27th, 2010
Shaw had met Clarissa Marsberg at her favorite afterwork watering hole. Clarissa was a tall, raven-haired project manager who worked for Sherridan Holdings, a shady investment company with the offices of its research division on the same floor of the same building where the Ring meeting would take place. With a handsome smile and robotically affected charm that Sarah found sickeningly familiar, Shaw had worked his way into Clarissa's bed, and more importantly, piece by piece, gotten her to disclose the security protocol for entering Sherridan's building. The next morning Shaw had convinced Clarissa to call in sick and stay with him — an easy sell, since the rest of her division was at a three-day team building retreat in the Cuyamacas. That call had been intercepted at Castle where Chuck recorded and quickly isolated her voice saying her own name. At the same time, Shaw had cloned the memory of her RFID badge, sending it to Chuck to decrypt.
9:15am, Thursday, October 28th, 2010
Sarah, wearing a black wig, latex facial applications, and make-up — looking as close an approximation of Clarissa as they could manage — had walked right in to Sherridan's building amidst the late rush, the cloned card getting her past the security turnstile. She'd accessed Sherridan's 10th floor offices using the cloned card again in combination with the recording of Clarissa's voice, and glided calmly through the empty research division, entering Clarissa's office without so much as a query.
4:59pm, Thursday afternoon
Casey, looking like a shark in charcoal, silver tie, and Revos, had walked up to the security turnstile downstairs and stopped just as his cell phone rang. He'd taken the call, standing aside as a crush of people began exiting and "accidentally" clipped one with his elbow. While apologizing, he'd swiped another clone of Clarissa's badge across the reader, thus signing her out for the day and leaving Sarah upstairs, free to stay all night.
9:16pm, Thursday evening
Shaw's intel had said that at exactly 16 minutes after nine the security cameras and motion detectors on Sherridan's floor would shut down to allow the guards to check for spoofed signals and video loops. Sarah had quickly entered the crawl space, hoping the intel was correct, and made splices to the video and motion detector feeds, connecting them to an adapter hooked up to her laptop. From there, a program Chuck had developed would either pass through the actual feeds or send a looped signal, depending on Sarah's needs. Apparently it had worked since, when the cameras had powered back up she'd seen no alarms, silent or otherwise.
She had then been free to crawl over to the ceiling above the conference room where the Ring would be meeting and installed the listening devices, and most importantly, the fiber optic cameras which would capture the faces of the Elders. Shaw's intel had turned out to be perfect, as the devices, which had been fashioned to replace the framing for the ceiling panels, exactly replicated the color and consistency of the original pieces. Except for her poor choice in clothing, everything had gone like clockwork, just the way Sarah liked it. But then, while she was crawling back to her entry point, the motion detectors had gone through an internal reset that Shaw's intel hadn't predicted and Chuck's program hadn't known what to do with. Now here she was, inching, itching, and losing her mind.
She slowly brought her head up to gauge her progress and saw that the laptop's keyboard was nearly within her reach. Slowly, she stretched the length of her body, her index and middle fingers poised above the control and Q keys, the toggle for the motion detectors.
So close … come on … a little more … I got this …
With no warning, the sweat-slicked palm of her other hand supporting her upper half slipped on the conduit beneath. She fell forward, her right foot kicking the support for one of the motion detectors.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck!"
Smacking her head against the conduit in frustration, she began recalling her exit protocol, continuing a stream of hissed profanity from between bared teeth. She looked at the screen to see if her exit was clear and was brought up short. It indicated that no alarms had been set off and that the background signal loop for the motion detectors was activated. She was safe. With a relieved laugh, she realized her fingers, hovering above the toggle keys, had come down on them just as she slipped, cutting off the signal from the detectors.
The writhing, flailing seizure took her instantly, as she attempted to scratch all of her itches at the same time. She stopped a moment, panting, looking to see that she was still safe, then furiously resumed, resembling several angry wolverines tussling in a black spandex body suit. Finally, rolling onto her back, she regained her composure, thankful for the moment that she was alone. She had a disciplined image to protect, after all.
She brought her watch around in front of her face and sighed at the backlit numbers. She had planned her exit from the building to be timed with the lunch rush so she would attract less attention from the guards at the front desk. It was now 3:40 am. A line from the old Snickers commercial came to mind as she contemplated the next nine hours of sitting in Clarissa's office, waiting.
I really hope Chuck put solitaire on the laptop.
She had been somewhat insulted at how hard Chuck had laughed when she'd made that request. He had suggested several alternatives but she was adamant that it be solitaire. She didn't need the brittle tension that Chuck's zombie splatter games could bring on and couldn't afford to become engrossed in a strategy game like chess. And besides, what was wrong with solitaire?
Focus, Walker. You're not back in the office yet.
Minutes later she had buried the splices among the other wires in the conduit and was back on the floor of Sherridan's offices by way of the access panel in the ceiling, spooling out her connection to the splices as she went. Making her way towards Clarissa's office, she let herself imagine how good it would feel to peel off her itchy clothes. At some point during her creeping trip through the crawlspace she had made a vow never to use an underwire on an op ever again, regardless of what kind of top she needed to wear for cover.
Nearly twenty feet from the office, a sound caught her attention. It wasn't that the barely discernible beep from the door at the end of the room held any particular menace but something about it reminded her of …
Key card lock! Shit!
She dove under a table and behind three stacks of boxed printer paper, yanking the cables connecting her to the video and motion detector feeds from their quick release tabs and through the cracked open access panel. It slammed shut from its own weight and the cables snaked under the table just as the door opened and a guard stepped into the room. Sarah held her breath, tensing for a fight she didn't want.
"Got me, Mike?" The guard paused, listening. His walkie-talkie grumbled with static, then …
"We gotcha. Don't know what that flicker was but we can see you. Wave with your left hand … yep, we gotcha."
Sarah relaxed and quietly let out her held breath.
"Alright, I'm gonna make a quick walkthrough. I'll be down in a few."
"Take your time, we'll keep Marie's pie company till you get back."
"Hey, you fucking vultures better leave some of that for me."
"What do you think we are? Cretins?"
"As a matter of fact …"
"Heh, heh. You damn well know we are. Alright, don't worry; we won't cut into it till you get back, just hurry the hell up."
Yes, for the love of god, listen to Mike and hurry the hell up.
The guard holstered his walkie and began a slow ambling survey of the cubicles, checking the offices as he passed them. Sarah controlled her breathing, hoping that she had been as thorough as she always was in silencing all of her gear. Several minutes into his circuit he made his way to the table Sarah was hiding under causing her to become as small and as silent as she could manage.
She watched his legs as they stopped parallel with the boxes she was hiding behind. She gripped her tranq pistol as knees turn towards her. She held her breath, waiting 10 … 20 … 30 seconds before she slowly let it out wondering if he had silently called for back up. Then the sound of a turning page eased her fighting readiness.
Reading? Seriously? There's pie waiting downstairs and you're reading about ... what ... market research?
Several minutes later he had given up on his perusal, finished his walkthrough, and was headed back towards the exit when his walkie barked again.
"Yeah, go ahead."
"You're gonna love this. You're gonna have to wait on coming down for pie. We got a crew down here that need to be up in that office to re-carpet some spots that have water damage. I'm bringing them up but we'll both need to keep an eye on them."
"Copy that. Tell you what. I'll bring half the pie up too."
"You're a peach, Mike."
"Bite me. I'll be up in a minute."
The entire department is on a retreat all week and you choose now to do this? It's four o'clock in the damn morning!
Sarah's mind flipped through a few images of Mike and the carpeting crew falling to their death in the elevator or being pulled apart by rabid hyenas but then calmed herself with several deep breaths, preparing to settle in for the next several hours.
Shaw and his debrief can wait. There's a two-hour bath and maybe a Chuck massage — definitely a Chuck massage — waiting for me when this disaster is over.
And disaster it was, since she was not to leave her hiding place for quite some time. Several times the crew had to head back to the warehouse for items they "forgot", always leaving someone behind, working to keep them on the clock. And of course, because it annoyed her to no end, she was not surprised when the idle guards and eventually the carpet guys struck up a conversation about sports, first basketball then football.
Why? Every damn stakeout … every surveillance job. Do they even realize how inane they sound? I swear to god it would be worth it to blow this whole thing and tranq them all.
Finally after five and a half painfully cramped hours, it appeared to her that the crew was wrapping up its work. She let herself relax, thinking about the fairly simple pleasure of stretching out her body, taking the awful clothes off, and eventually the long soak that awaited her back at her room. The fact that she and Chuck shouldn't be together, that it went against both Shaw's and Beckman's plans, made the thought of it that much sweeter. She could almost smell the floral fragrance of the bath oil she would use, the one that made Chuck bury his face in her neck. The warm water and pillowy suds would soothe all those aches and wash away all the itchy salt from her perspiration, and Chuck's hands would melt the knots in her shoulders, and later she would sing to him as they floated out to sea, borne by gentle currents on their tiny island of suds, naked in the sun … so bright, that sun. Wait … it's supposed to be early morning?
Sarah's eyes flew open.
Walker, what the hell were you thinking?
Narrow, stark yellow parallelograms of sunlit carpet told her she had dozed until mid-day. Her watch confirmed that it was now fifteen minutes after noon. There was no time to wonder if the guards had reset the motion detectors when they left. She rolled out from under the table, her knees and back screaming, and crawled towards Clarissa's office. Keeping the cubicle dividers between her and the two, no longer looped, security cameras, she hoped for the best.
Good job, Walker. Now you're just praying for good outcomes. Maybe some day you can run a whole op on hopes and good intentions.
Drawing parallel with the door to the office she realized she wouldn't be able to make it inside without being caught in her black tactical body suit by one of the cameras. She could only depend on the likelihood that no one was watching the feed at that exact moment and lunged, snapping into a quick body roll through the open door. Once inside, she closed the door and changed into her "work clothes", then hastily applied the latex, makeup, and wig. Taking a deep breath and shaking off the previous night, she strutted out of Sherridan's offices. Back straight and chin up, she reset the motion detectors as she left.
The sight of the crowd in the elevator told her she had gauged the lunch rush correctly. As she entered, she let the hair from her wig fall forward to obscure her face. At the lobby, looking through the glass of the front windows to the light pole outside, she saw the red and black striped concert ad that was her team's signal. It indicated Casey had repeated his trick at the turnstile, checking her in for that morning. Swiping herself out, she strode past security and then out of the building without a second look from either of the guards.
As they had planned, she walked two blocks north and then waited mid-block for her ride to come get her. The black Prelude with tinted windows pulled up a minute later and she slid into the passenger seat, the sight of Chuck's face sending a rush of endorphins through her system.
"How'd it go?"
"Everything's in place and ready for Monday … but never mind that. We are going straight back to my room, taking an hour-long bath and then making love till I fall asleep for the next two days. Shaw and his debrief can kiss my ass."
As she spoke she removed the hateful underwire from under her blouse in four viciously efficient moves and tossed it towards the back seat.
"Uh … Sarah …"
Looking at Chuck, she saw horror plainly evident on his face. He indicated with his eyes toward the rear of the car. As she turned to follow his gaze only her years of training prevented the profanity in her mind from reaching her lips. The diminutive figure of Diane Beckman swiping the satiny bra from her face, a laser-like intense anger emanating from every pore, was a vision that Sarah's memory would never erase for the rest of her life.
A/N: Uh-oh. Only thing scarier than an angry Beckman is angry Beckman with lasers ... or a missile launcher.