A/n: My muse has been going crazy with plot bunnies lately and I decided I'd publish them to see how well-received they are. Don't worry about Life Imitating Art, because it's not ending anytime soon. I just wanted to focus on a Chuck story rather than Zachonne. This is a product of reading The Hunger Games (A great trilogy) and wanting to try a hand at that interesting writing style—first person, present. That, and there are some AU stories floating around and I wanted to contribute in my own way.
Basically, this timeline is if Sarah never completed her Red Test and ended up being recruited by Orion to help bring down the conspiracy that Agent Clyde Decker spoke of at the end of the Season 4 Finale. I really don't have much plot thought out, but I know there will be heavy Chuck/Sarah so that's all that matters, right?
Feel free to drop a review and give your honest opinion!
A/N 1/0/12: This is just a quick reminder that I've edited (and revised) Part I of this story. All of my mistakes—which shouldn't be so glaringly obvious anymore—are my own.
February 12th, 2003
"Now, I think that all of us are born with a hole in our hearts, and we go around looking for the person who can fill it."
They've been after me since Paris.
And I haven't stopped running. There hasn't been time for rest. No backwards glances or sighs of relief. To consider letting up—even just a little bit, is a luxury I cannot afford. I do want to live.
That much I know.
The plan for now is to avoid capture, and yes the always viable option of being killed too. The latter is a lot more likely considering what I've done, so anticipating the worst case scenario helps kick my most basic instincts into overdrive.
I'm running on self-preservation alone. Always thinking of what my next move will be. I like to pretend this is a game, a game that I will not lose. There's no such thing as a rematch after defeat. Defeat is a onetime thing. Defeat means death. And I for one do not want a knife in the back or a bullet to the heart.
I've come too far to die like this.
My pursuers are hot on this wayward trail of mine. Flames nipping at the heels close. I can feel them almost haunting me like some kind of persistent specter. Whether they're miles behind or countries apart, their presence remains. Lingering as a shadow would.
Distance is meaningless. You can't view it objectively as if it were a map. Not when your opponent is an omnipotent agency such as the CIA. They have the entire world at their disposal. This is their playground, their endless sandbox. I am just the new toy that they have chosen to busy themselves with.
Maybe they'll get bored of me. Its wishful thinking, but I can dream. I know that the odds aren't exactly in my favor. I'm pitted in pretty much what can constitute as an "unwinnable situation". But that's been my life story, and I've managed thus far. So I'll continue to do what I do best, hoping for some kind of miracle.
Until the very end.
I find myself running so much that I am beginning to think that danger actually enjoys following me around wherever I go. I suppose it's to be expected. I haven't led the most "honorable" life, thanks to all-around poor decisions that originally began with good intentions.
Is it so horrible that I wanted to redeem myself for my mistakes? I wanted that fabled second chance to start anew. What I got instead was quite the opposite. One god awful decision and now I'm watching my hopes crash and burn, my bright future winking out of existence.
I did a bad thing.
I stole a valuable asset from the CIA.
I have been the CIA's top operative for the last five years. I know, its hard to believe that someone like me (twenty-two, female) could ever be considered one of, if not the best spies in the business. But it is what it is. And I am what I am.
The Agency had put all their proverbial eggs in one basket with regards to me. They were generous with the funds used to train and educate me, so that I'd inevitably become their ideal solider—the wildcard enforcer, as I am often referred to as today.
I was only eighteen when recruited, and that's just a technicality. Daughter of a petty conman who sometimes got in over his head, I had no real ambitions in life except to avoid prison and plan for the next con. In the summer of 1998, my father was arrested. He left me a cache of money just in case for such an occasion, and I was about to flee from San Diego and start over.
Unfortunately, I was caught by the Director of the CIA before I could make a clean getaway. Langston Graham. He tracked me down, insisted I'd leave behind this unlawful lifestyle and use my talents elsewhere, for the greater good. And against my better judgment I reluctantly accepted his offer.
They call me Sarah Walker now.
It's a name I have grown accustomed to over time. I'm still getting used to it, as it's the longest I've ever had a single identity to keep track of. But I like it. It suits me. Director Graham was smart to choose it as my alias. Same initials as my birth name: SW. It reflects closest to who I used to be (a young girl with braided pigtails, a little too innocent for this world) and what I am. It helped me to realize that Samantha Lisa Weston died the instant I hopped into my father's beaten car all those years ago.
Since formally joining the CIA, my career in espionage had been short, but active. When not staying stateside for mandatory training, I'd travel to perhaps the ugliest places in modern civilization. The greed, the lies, and the death were aplenty. The evil, it thrived on depravity and hatred. And the CIA was convinced that I was the corrupt one.
I had little to no reservations in what I was assigned to do on those missions. I'd dismantle terrorist organizations, or underground sex circuits without a single complaint. You could say that the post 9/11 world had played an integral part in heightening my patriotism. I wanted nothing more than to aid in the downfall of every last unjust genocide, brutal dictator or anti-westernized rogue bent on humanity's extinction.
My record with the CIA was impeccable. I completed over a handful of missions successfully. Yet, my status as an official agent was still pending. It didn't take long for Director Graham to see that I was ready for the final step in my training. He was impressed with my progress. He thought I could handle what came next.
The Red Test.
My final exam.
The objective of the Red Test is lethally simple: track and assassinate the mark. The mark in question was a woman with dark eyes and lushes, thick hair. No name. Supposedly, she was a double agent and extremely dangerous.
I was then given a time and place.
Paris, France. Midnight.
I remember all of it with terrible clarity. The deadline was fast approaching and somewhere in the dimly lit alleyways lurked my superiors. They were no doubt watching my every move. If I didn't act, they sure would. This caused for my burden to weigh heavier than before. My heart twisting like a rag, and I had no clue how it could continue beating in the face of this.
It was now or never. I had to murder someone that I don't even know.
I willed myself to take the shot, but pulling the trigger was never so difficult. My finger wanted to make that squeezing motion, but my mind wouldn't allow it. A bad case of cognitive dissonance or the miracle I had been waiting for, I didn't question it. I had my epiphany and understood exactly what to do.
This was my last chance to be free. I had asked myself why I'd waste this moment, especially when another opportunity like this may never come. I had to take it or else I'd always be a prisoner in life. Whether it'd be a prisoner to my father, or the CIA.
I'd never be free.
In the end, the mark did not feel the hot piercing of lead on that cold night. But she did get shoved to the ground, playing the role as my decoy while I whispered a warning to run. Everything became a giant blur after that.
She never replied but vanished into the darkness. Gunshots rang out an instant later. I managed to escape through a deserted street that emptied into a populated area. Finally I hailed a taxi. To this day, I continue to wonder if those bullets were meant for me, or the mark. I get the feeling they were probably meant for the both of us.
All of this happened a month ago.
As of now, I am currently hiding in a rural town in the outskirts of some Italian suburb. I am prepared to remain international for as long as I can. At least until my money and contacts run dry.
Sometimes I consider returning to the United States. But even as a spy, I know it's suicidal. If I go back, it won't just be me that suffers. Protecting the ones I love outweighs my desperation. I won't be going back. I'm not ready to put others in danger, and I am definitely not ready to die just yet.
So most of my days are spent holed in an empty café, reading the newspapers or catching a "footie" match. I try to relax before I'll have to eventually move on again. I'm thinking Spain or maybe Greece.
It's early afternoon; beautiful, cloudless skies leave me amazed at such pristine February weather. I enjoy some coffee while lounging at a table beside an open window. There's no football today. Just comfortable silence and the welcoming hum of an Italian melody.
When the song ends, I notice a pair of eyes watching me from afar. They belong to a shadowy figure sitting at the corner of the café, dressed in a trench-coat and hat. Well, that's not suspicious at all.
I am ready to sprint out of the door, even fight if I have to. I probably have stayed in Italy for far too long. But there is no need. The figure—a man, he comes forward and takes a seat opposite of me. He removes his hat and sets it on the table. I can now see his face and my concerns magically disappear.
He is middleaged with shaggy hair and guilt-filled eyes. I've never seen such hollowness in a person's gaze before. Its a bit unsettling. He has seen too much, done too much…lost too much.
We exchange pleasantries. He does not give me a real name, rather an alias instead. Orion. The constellation of the hunter; it's vaguely familiar but not enough to jog my memory. He isn't CIA, which is reassuring. He's also on the run, just like me, not specifying why, but its enough for me to feel somewhat safe. I can feel the beginning of a mutual trust building between us.
Orion is straightforward with his demands. He wants to make a deal. I don't really approve of "deals," but I can make an exception. I remain seated and wordlessly confirm that I'm at least slightly interested in what he has to say.
He goes on to elaborate on the particulars, needs me to locate someone back in the US. I take a nervous sip from my coffee. Orion notes my ambivalence right away. He quickly assures me that I will be safe and wired the necessary funds to complete the mission successfully. He adds that this person not only has to be found, but also needs my protection.
"He's only a civilian," Orion explains hastily. I nod absently and cross my legs beneath the table, draining the remains of the coffee mug. "So it's imperative to be careful when first introducing yourself to him. Try not to attract suspicion, so refrain from guns or combat, and you'll need a cover as well…"
He rambles on about the logistics of my cover identity but I listen halfheartedly. This assignment is shaping to be more like babysitting a child. Now I'm questioning why I am even considering this.
The worst possible idea is to be gallivanting around the United States while their government wants me buried six feet under. Orion must understand the risks. It has to be why he's not collecting this mystery individual himself and rather enlisting in my help. Apparently he doesn't feel comfortable enough to return there either.
Which brings me to another interesting point.
Why me? What do I bring to the metaphorical table that no other freelancer can? Hell, I'm not even a freelancer. I am a drop-out spy.
Suddenly, I lower my gaze and see a manila folder magical appear before me. When I open the flap to reveal the contents inside, Orion continues describing where I'd rendezvous with his colleague.
A relatively thin dossier slides onto the tabletop. There is a tiny blurb of personal info as well as a snapshot attached to the file. I rifle through the pages and gloss over the miscellaneous information before settling on the photograph. My demeanor shifts from boredom to interest in a heartbeat.
The resemblance is uncanny.
The Polaroid depicts a man almost identical in likeness to Orion. They have to be related somehow. He appears to be somewhere in his early twenties, but his boyish looks suggests he can be a lot younger. A mop of curls flops over his bright eyes. His lips stretch into a wide grin that shows all of his teeth. It is a still image but the sheer happiness that the man exudes is captivating. I can't seem to pry my eyes off him.
Not good, I think.
According to the bio, he is six foot four inches (Sasquatch), twenty-one years old (frat boy), and Caucasian . His IQ is through the roof (gifted). He currently is a senior at Stanford University (granted a full-ride academic scholarship no less) and majors in Electrical Engineering.
Charles Irving Bartowski seems to be quite the guy.
I want to give Orion the impression that I am a professional. That I can be trusted, capable of protecting Bartowski. So I don't express my genuine fascination for the boy, and choose to react coolly instead.
However I can't help to chance another glimpse at the picture. It doesn't' hurt that Bartowski has that cute nerdy look about him. Even in high school, when I went by Jenny Burton, I was a bit of a geek myself. After these years, I still can relate to the stigma.
Lifting my eyes from the dossier, I find Orion smiling at me. He must've caught me ogling at the photograph. Dammit. That's unfitting for a former spy of the CIA. I mentally chastise myself, then vow to figure out how this man can play me so well.
"Where am I meeting with Mr. Bartowski?" I ask flatly, wanting to detract from the red flush against my cheeks.
Orion averts his gaze, mumbling. "There has been a change of plans. Charles was recently expelled from Stanford. Yesterday actually…he will be facing the College Judicial Hearing per university protocol during the weekend. Then he'll be leaving on a train from Palo Alto to Los Angeles that Monday at its earliest departure."
My eyebrows shoot up in mild surprise. He was expelled? It has to be foul play. I haven't even met the kid yet and I already feel obligated to defend his honor.
I ask. "Why was he kicked out?"
"It was my mistake, just trying to protect him….so please don't misjudge Charles as some sort of delinquent."
Orion says nothing more and I choose to not push it. I'll find out the rest on my own. "Alright, so what am I exactly supposed to do with an ex-college student? Is there a message that needs to be given, is he in danger…or?"
"—if you can give him these when you're somewhere private," he hands me an interesting pair of sunglasses. I examine them, frowning confusedly. "Make sure that they do not fall into the wrong hands….it is essential that you remember that."
I dubiously stow both the sunglasses and dossier into a backpack that I snagged while traveling the touristy cites around Rome from a week ago. This conversation has had its ups and downs, much like a roller coaster ride. Orion's eccentric behavior coupled with his cryptic instructions, is a tad worrisome. But much preferred over some sadistic bastard. So there's at least that to keep my concerns at bay.
There's a nagging part of my brain that wonders what I am getting myself into.
"Who's after him?" I ask lowly.
His response is clear and leaves shivers running down my spine. "The same people who are after you."
Keeping the pretense that I am calm and collected, I can only muster the strength to nod. "We will remain in close contact in case something does happen, correct?"
Relief crosses his aging face and he stands up. I follow and we shake hands. He grabs the hat and gives me a truly grateful smile, "Of course. Trust when I say that I'll have your back…"
I involuntarily chew on my bottom lip, following up with another question. "Why did you choose me? I mean, I still don't understand the importance of this or why I am even agreeing to it…"
"Charles won't believe what I have to tell him," Orion says with a touch of sadness. "We did not part on the greatest terms…but I thought after reading the reports about your stint in Paris last month, that you'd be the perfect candidate to help me with things that the CIA wouldn't dare pursue."
"And Charles Bartowski fits into this how?"
"He is very special," Orion taps his forehead with a finger and it leaves me even more perplexed. "Once you get the glasses to him, we can take this mission to the next step. Charles is the key."
This feels suspiciously like a conspiracy, I realize. "I hope we're not alone on this."
"No, I have others on the inside, so don't worry about any of that. Focus on the mission at hand, Agent Walker."
I interject for the last time, "after I give him the glasses…then what?"
"Keep him safe until we can communicate safely."
Orion has a pen in his hand and scribbles something onto my napkin. He folds it in half then pushes it across the table. I don't remove my eyes from him but take the napkin and hide it beneath my palm.
"I'll do my best," I say.
I'm startled by my words. Mostly because they actually sound sincere. That's a first.
He nods. "Help my son."
That's his son.
Before I can open my mouth to either confirm or deny that, yes I'll help his son, Orion is gone without so much as a goodbye. I am back to sitting at the table alone, this time rapping my knuckles against the hard surface while in deep thought. Lifting my palm, I unfold the napkin then flatten it out. In messy handwriting there is a message. It reads: 1 or 11.
I don't have the faintest idea to what it means. So I don't dare venture to guess. My head hurts enough as it is, muddled from being off grid and coming to grips with this unexpected meeting. Perhaps Orion's son could tell me the meaning behind those numbers if we ever do meet.
Orion, my brows scrunch up in concentration. Where have I heard that before?
It's on the tip of my tongue. Orion. Perseus. Yes, there were two of them. A pair of constellations that were also... Scientists? That's right. They were partners that worked concurrently on some classified assignment that I was supposed to be admitted to after completing my Red Test.
Director Graham had thought I was a perfect candidate for the program. It came down to me, and another fellow agent whom I met once before at the Academy. Some cocky rookie named Bryce...something.
Now this is really beginning to feel like a conspiracy.
I shake out of my thoughts and remove myself from the table. I need to get out of this place. So I collect my belongings and prepare to leave, possibly to buy some items for when I return to the United States. Fortunately, Orion was helpful enough to include a ready-made passport inside the manila folder as well as a wad of cash.
I sling the backpack over my shoulder and walk towards the front door. My fingers prod the photograph of Orion's son that I stashed in my jean pocket. I retrieve it, and study the image.
He looks so innocent and it drives me crazy. With questions mostly. Why does this guy have to be involved in something so dangerous? Looks can be deceiving. Maybe there's more to this? More to him?
I stare long and hard at the Polaroid. I commit his appearance to memory. His happiness is contagious; making the corners of my lips twitch into my first smile in months.
Charles Irving Bartowski.
I shut my eyes and draw a breath of oxygen, letting it fill my lungs.
Don't freak out.
When I reopen them, the glimmer of afternoon sunlight shines through the stain glass windows. I make my departure without a sound, shuffling outside the café to where the entire world is laid out before me. Certainly, I am ready to deal with whatever comes my way.
An: So how was that? Next chapter (if there is one) will introduce Chuck into it. The entire story will remain in Sarah's POV.