A/N: Huge thank you to JoeltotheD without whom this story would never have existed. Joel, you rock!
Thanks to mxpw for betaing this chapter and making it 108% better. I'm still basking in your wonder as I'm writing this.
And finally, thank you to both LinShoe85 and BDaddyDL for reading and encouraging me. :)
Disclaimer: I don't own Chuck.
Chapter 1: The Plane
October 8, 2009
He was ready.
He had been training for this for months.
Shaw and Casey had told him he was ready. Even Beckman seemed impressed with his progress.
And for good reason. He had been nothing but the perfect spy ever since he came back from Prague. Shaw, who had taken over his training four months ago, had said it was time.
So why was he getting so nervous now? He wasn't even there yet. He was going undercover in Montréal. It was to be his first solo mission. It had sounded so exciting when Shaw had told him about it. He was traveling as Charles Carmichael, a successful business man. He'd make contact with the CIA once he landed and would receive further instructions for his mission. Plus, he had his nun-chucks. Although, Casey didn't seem to agree that it was a good choice of weapon.
They all thought he could do it, and he wanted to prove to them that they weren't wrong. He needed to complete this mission. Failure wasn't an option.
Chuck wiped his clammy hands along his thighs. He could do this. He took a deep breath and looked around him. He smiled when he saw that the man sitting next to him was reading a travel book about Hawaii. Morgan was well on his way to becoming a Benihana chef. Chuck missed him, but he was happy for his best friend. Although, from what he had told Chuck, Anna seemed to be spending a lot of time with the prep chef. Morgan should probably worry about that.
His thoughts were interrupted by a stewardess in a blue uniform holding a tray with champagne flutes. His neighbor was reading, so she looked at Chuck first, smiling. "May I offer either of you a drink?"
"Oh, uh, no champagne for me, thank you," Chuck answered. "But hmm, maybe a glass of water?"
"Of course," she said with a nod. "I'll come back with it."
The flight attendant turned to his neighbor who ordered water as well, and she left to get them their glasses.
Champagne… Chuck could certainly get used to First Class. It wasn't just the service, though. There was so much space too. Leg room was often a problem for him, but here he could stretch out his limbs even in his window seat. He could take a little walk if he wanted. Have a drink at the bar. The martinis did look good. And Carmichael loved them. He needed to stay focused, however: that's why he had opted for water. Casey had told him not to get distracted. He had said Chuck still had the habit of running into trouble—it wasn't his fault; Chuck didn't do it on purpose. Fortunately, Casey had also assured him that he would be fine.
He relaxed at the thought. Casey had been there for Chuck since day one. He knew almost everything that had happened; he had been there for most of Chuck's spy life. And even if he wasn't always the friendliest partner, he had supported Chuck since he had come back to Burbank. He had his back. Casey wouldn't have let him go on this mission if he thought it was too soon.
Maybe he hadn't been as ready as he'd thought.
The stewardess who had offered him a drink earlier was holding him at gun point in the middle of the cargo hold. Oh, and she had poisoned him as well! He should have known that it had been too easy.
Earlier, Chuck had flashed on a passenger on his way back from the little boys' room. Immediately returning to where he'd come from—it had earned him a sympathetic gaze from his neighbor—he had called Shaw, who wasn't surprised. At all. In fact, he had expected it. Chuck's mission had apparently been planned to happen on the plane. That explained why they had set up a sub-network on his phone so that Chuck would be able to text and call in flight. Still, Chuck was stuck in the air, and had had to take care of a Ring agent that looked like a professional wrestler. What kind of first solo mission was that? Chuck had told himself that Shaw would probably keep testing him until he officially became an agent, which meant that he needed to suck it up and accomplish his assignment.
And to his relief, it had gone well. The Ring agent he had flashed on was Hugo Panzer. He was moving a CIA crypto key to Montréal, and Chuck was supposed to retrieve it. He had nervously rumbled when he'd asked if he could sit next to him, but he had taken a moment to breathe, and steadied his hands. Using his shiny new tranq pen—KGB model—on Panzer's glass of whisky, Chuck had successfully put him to sleep (although he was a bit annoyed, as Shaw should have anticipated that pens don't always work on planes because of the air pressure).
Once the really muscular man had been out, Chuck had grabbed Panzer's plane ticket, and had gone to the cargo hold to find his luggage. It was a casket. A casket with a very, very dead man inside. Shaw had called it smart; Chuck had just thought it was disgusting. But he had gotten the key, and also probably a cold in the process, because it was freezing down there.
After checking that Panzer was still out, Chuck had collapsed in his seat, and called Shaw to tell him the good news. Glancing through the window and sipping on his glass of water, he could finally unwind. He had done it. He had completed his mission.
The water hadn't tasted really good though…because it was poisoned! Chuck had tried to throw it up—okay, to be honest, he hadn't gotten that far, that was disgusting—but the flight attendant had made him open the bathroom where he had once again taken refuge, and she had asked for the crypto key, pointing her nice gun at him the whole time.
So Chuck had then led her back into the cargo hold, and was now standing in the middle with alleys of luggage on both sides. He didn't feel good. He could still taste the sour finish of the poison in his mouth, feeling the need to swallow every two seconds. And he had started sweating. A lot. He definitely was going to get that cold.
"Who are you working for?" the fake stewardess asked. She had taken his jacket when he arrived, had offered him a drink, had mentioned the lobsters Chuck had been looking forward to. She had played her part well. He knew he'd need to be more cautious in the future. You never knew who to trust in the kind of life he had chosen. Chuck knew it, but he still needed to work on getting used to the fact.
"Alright, I work for the CIA, okay?" Chuck was really starting to feel dizzy. "I can't give you the key without my boss authoriz—"
They suddenly heard the hold's elevator being activated. Fortunately, Chuck was the one facing the entrance and the Ring agent had her back to it. She slightly turned her head at the sound. Not wasting the opportunity, Chuck used the distraction to strike. He hit the gun with his right hand and it went flying through the luggage.
He just needed to flash now. Inconveniently, he didn't like fighting girls. He had been taught to be a gentleman. Ellie had seen to it. His hesitation gave his opponent time to react. She punched him in the face. He lost his balance and it caused him to take a step back, turning to his right. That's when he saw his suitcase. Shaking his head in order to clear it, he reached for the luggage and dug out his nun-chucks. He had known that was a good idea to bring them. He'd make sure to tell Casey.
Chuck turned toward the woman and the loud crash he'd just heard. The Ring operative was lying unconscious on the floor. He shook his head again and blinked. He had forgotten what had caused the distraction: the elevator.
Someone had come down, and had taken care of the woman. His savior was now standing there, rubbing a hand with the other. Probably from the blow that had knocked out the Ring agent.
Because he wasn't sure what to say, Chuck just stood there and stared at her.
He definitely wasn't ready for this.
What was she doing here? Maybe the poison was getting to him. The Ring agent could have mentioned hallucinations as part of the symptoms.
She kneeled on the floor and started to search the unconscious agent. That's why she was here? She wanted something from this woman. When she seemed to have found it, she looked up at him.
"Uh, Chuck?" she said. If it was some kind of vision, it really sounded like her. He was surprised his brain would have a memory as good as this. It had been a while since he last heard her voice. And why was her hair looking different? He liked her hair the way he remembered it.
Her eyebrows went up at his lack of reaction. Chuck still hadn't moved. He just stared, probably wide-eyed. "Chuck, are you okay?" She rose to her feet and started to advance toward him. "You should probably take the antidote," she said. Her tone was flat, professional. Except, it wasn't her job she was doing. She didn't have her job anymore. "You're really pale." She handed him a little flask.
"Sarah?" he asked. "Is that really you?"
"Yes," Sarah said, nodding. "Hi," she added awkwardly.
"Hi." What was going on?
"Now drink," she ordered, waving the flask at him. When Chuck still didn't move, she took his left hand, the one that wasn't holding the nun-chucks, and placed the antidote in it.
"Drink. Right," he said looking down at his palm. The contact with her freezing hands had made him a little lightheaded. Or rather, more lightheaded than he already had been thanks to the poison. That's what Sarah had been looking for. The antidote. He blinked again. Why was Sarah here?
"Chuck, come on," she started to sound a little concerned now. "You need to drink it now."
It finally snapped him out of his daze. "What are you doing here?"
Sarah looked down at the question, the expression on her face unreadable. "It's a long story."
"I've got time," Chuck answered with a casualness he wasn't feeling. "We have what?" he glanced at his watch, "at least two hours of flight left."
"Not if you die from poisoning," she said pointedly before sighing. "This is serious Chuck, drink it or I will make you."
Chuck couldn't help but smile. It really was Sarah. He opened the flask, and drank.
"Good," Sarah said. She let out another sigh, before she turned and walked back to the unconscious woman on the floor. "We need to—"
A ringtone interrupted her. It was the standard one, so he assumed it was Shaw. Personalization didn't really fit his superior, and he'd probably tell Chuck that having an unremarkable ringtone was more inconspicuous. Chuck juggled with the flask and his nun-chucks to grab his cell in his pocket, and managed to put it on speakerphone.
"Chuck, are you alright?" Sarah narrowed her eyes when she heard Shaw's voice; she probably wondered who he was.
"Yeah, hmm…" He hesitated. What should he say about Sarah? He looked at her, searching her eyes. She shook her head slightly at him. "I, uh, I took care of the second Ring agent." Sarah looked at him with what was something akin to gratitude, relief. It was hard to tell. She seemed different, distant. Not the distant Sarah from their early days though, but something else. Chuck wasn't sure what.
"Good job, Chuck," Casey said. Chuck almost thought Sarah was going to smile hearing Casey's voice, but it was gone before it even started.
"Thanks, Casey. And uh, I got the antidote, so I should be fine," he smiled at Sarah while saying the last part. She was busy with the Ring agent, though, and had started to pull her by the arms. "What should I do with the second operative?"
"Where are you?" Shaw said.
"I'm in the cargo hold."
"He should still be in his seat," Chuck said. Sarah nodded at him.
"Okay, secure the female agent in the hold, and make sure Panzer doesn't leave his seat. I'll have agents retrieve them when the plane lands. Good job," Shaw said, ending the call.
"Looks like I'll never get to use these," Chuck said with a smile and waved his nun-chucks. Sarah looked up, but didn't say anything.
After putting them away in his suitcase, along with the flask, Chuck stowed his phone back in his pocket and brushed his hands on his pants. Why did he have to get poisoned the day he finally saw Sarah again? He was sweating, and probably looked like crap. He took off his tie to get some air, and tried to get a hold of himself. Meanwhile, Sarah had secured the female agent and had hidden her in a corner.
"Why did you put her there?" he asked.
"The CIA agents in charge of grabbing her will have to look for her." She wouldn't meet his eyes as she spoke. "It will buy me some time."
Sarah pulled a mini-flashlight from her pocket. She rotated the end with the bulb until they heard it click. A few other manipulations later, and Sarah had separated the bulb part from the rest of the tube. It wasn't the battery that was revealed, however. She applied it against the woman's throat, before pressing the on/off button.
"What are you injecting her with?" Chuck asked.
"Same stuff that they put in twilight darts. She won't remember that you weren't alone," she said, straightening up her shirt. Like him, Sarah was dressed for First Class. She was wearing a black business suit, without the jacket, and a gray shirt. And her hair was up and dyed brown. Not the happiest of colors. "I'll let you finish with her," she added, before he could ask any more questions. "Make sure you find her gun."
"Where are you going?"
"I took care of Panzer too," she replied, "but I should check on him." She disappeared into the elevator then, leaving a dumbstruck Chuck to himself, unsure of what just happened.
Sarah didn't wait for his answer, and pressed a humidified tissue against his bottom lip. Chuck winced.
"Sorry," she said.
He waved a dismissive hand in the air. "She just got in a lucky kick." There were all the forewarnings of a smile on her face, but just like down in the cargo hold, it never came.
Once he had finished securing the scene and the stewardess, Chuck had come back up and found Sarah sitting in his seat. His neighbor was gone. Where, Chuck had no idea, but he assumed she had exchanged her seat with him. He had sat next to her and noticed that she'd been waiting with a bottle of water and a tissue. She had told him it was to clean up the dry blood he'd been sporting. With all that had happened, he hadn't even realized that he had the all too familiar metallic taste in his mouth.
"Here." She retracted her hand, and folded the tissue, before putting it in her pants pocket.
"Thanks," he said and ran his tongue along his lip. With the adrenaline wearing off, he was starting to get nervous. She was here, and Chuck had lied to Shaw about it. He didn't have a choice, though. To keep busy, he took his tie out of his pocket and started folding it neatly. "So, uh, how have you been?"
He inwardly kicked himself. How have you been? Seriously, Chuck?
Sarah bit her bottom lip. "Good." She paused. "You?"
"Fine, uh, Ring agents trying to poison me aside." She nodded, but he didn't get the grin he wanted. He lifted his messenger bag to his knees to put away the tie.
An uncomfortable silence set in. Chuck wanted to ask a million questions. Where had she been? It had been five months since they last saw each other. What the hell happened? "Sarah," he started again once his bag was back at his feet. She was looking out the window, fixing on a point in the horizon. When he paused, she turned to him. He gave her a tired smile.
That's when it hit him. She looked tired. She was beautiful, like she always was. (Although he wished that her hair was its natural color.) But Sarah also seemed exhausted. She looked away again, and he realized he'd been staring. He cleared his throat nervously. He had just caught a cold after all. "What, hmm, where have you been?"
"Why? What happened?" He had finally found her. Or, rather, she had found him. He had waited for this moment for so long and now he could finally get answers. Her mouth opened, but no sound came out. "Fine, then what are you doing here?"
For some reason, that finally got him a smile. A little one, but a smile nonetheless. "I came to make sure you were okay."
Chuck frowned. He hadn't expected that. "That I was okay? Sarah, the CIA has been looking all over for you."
She pursed her lips. "What did they tell you?" He could hear some sadness in her voice, and she shifted awkwardly in her seat.
"Nothing. They're not telling me anything," he said, letting his frustration show. "If it hadn't been for Casey, I wouldn't even know you're rogue."
Rogue. That was a weird word to associate with Sarah.
Sarah Walker: rogue spy.
It didn't look like she liked it either. She turned to fix on the seat in front of her. "If you knew, why didn't you tell him I was here?"
"Err, because the CIA's looking for you?"
"But you are CIA," she said, turning to him again.
That was a fair point, but Chuck couldn't just sell her out. Especially not when he had no clue why she was rogue. Who was he kidding anyway? He was the guy that had let his traitorous ex-girlfriend, a Fulcrum agent, escape from government custody. And this was Sarah. Surely she knew he could never send her to prison. Or worse.
At least, he thought she would have known. Right now, she seemed to doubt it. "So?" he asked. "You didn't go rogue, did you?"
She watched him intently for a few seconds. "No," she said with a yawn and a little shake of her head. Again, she looked away, going back to that point on the horizon only she could see.
"Why are you on a mission without back up?" she asked suddenly.
"It's my first solo mission."
"On a plane?" she said disapprovingly.
Chuck shrugged. "For the record, I didn't know it would be on the plane."
Sarah frowned slightly and returned her gaze to the clouds.
"What happened in May, Sarah?" Chuck asked, interrupting the silence again. He had waited for her in Prague, just like she had told him to. She never came.
"Chuck, just leave it alone, okay."
He brought up his hands in frustration. "Why?" he asked, his tone louder than he had intended.
"Chuck, please…" She looked at him and he could see the desperation in her eyes. It was his turn to look away, watching the bar.
After a moment, Sarah brought a hand to her mouth to hide a yawn. She really seemed worn out. The questions could wait. They could talk once back on the ground, he decided.
"When was the last time you slept?" he asked instead.
She thought about it for a second, but then just shrugged.
"Maybe we could just, uh, close our eyes for a little while. Get some rest." Chuck paused. "The little expedition in the cargo hold beat me up. And, uh, we've secured both agents, so we should be fine," he added for good measure. It wasn't true, he wasn't tired, but she probably wouldn't agree to get some sleep if he just kept stealing glances at her. And that was when he wasn't staring.
"Yeah," she said watching him. She gave him another smile, and there was a little twinkle in her eyes. "Yeah, that's a good idea." She shuffled in her seat again, to get more comfortable, and closed her eyes.
Chuck kept his eyes wide open. He wanted to make sure everything was fine. And he was afraid she wouldn't be here when he woke up. He'd already lost her once.
He watched Sarah's breathing steady, and it didn't take her long to fall asleep. He, on the other hand, felt restless. Sarah was alive. He had always known she would be, he could sense it, but… Now she was actually here. She had come to make sure he was okay. And she had. She'd helped him arrest the two Ring operatives. She wasn't telling him anything, though, and that was another question he could add to his list. Why didn't she want to answer him and tell him what was going on? Hopefully, he'd get answers in Montréal.
Sarah moved a little in her sleep, and her head fell on his shoulder. He froze at first, but then he smiled despite himself, and wrapped an arm around her.
For now, he'd take this.
He wasn't ready to let her go.
It was too soon. They barely had time to talk.
Shaw had called before the landing to tell him he had set up Montréal agents to take over the custody of the Ring operatives, and that Chuck was to stay on the plane. Shaw needed the key back in Burbank right away.
So now, Sarah was leaving, and he was stuck on the plane.
"Sarah, wait," Chuck said quickly. He was starting to freak out. He took a deep breath. "You can't just leave. Come back with me to Burbank so we can sort this out."
"Chuck, I can't go back." She had gathered her jacket and her purse, and rose. "It's not that simple."
"Then tell me what to do to make it simple," he said, standing up as well.
She started walking to the door. He followed her. "Chuck, no. You can't get involved in this." She seemed sorry about leaving like this, but her tone told him she was serious. It made him pause.
"Why not?" Didn't she get it? What was he supposed to do? Step back and let her die from exhaustion? Running away from who knew what?
Sarah stopped and grabbed his arm, pulling him to the side in order to let the other passengers pass them. "It's not just the CIA that's after me, Chuck." She bit her lips, obviously pondering how much she could tell him. "And those people… They can't know about you." She squeezed his arm. "I really need to go. I'm sorry." She aimed back to the exit.
"Okay, okay, wait. Just…" His brain was running. He needed to think of something. He couldn't just give up, not when he had finally found her. "Give me your phone," he said out of the blue, closing the distance once more.
Sarah came to a halt again, and turned away from the door. "Why?" she asked with a frown.
"I'll give you a number." She opened her mouth to interject but Chuck lifted a hand. "A secure number. I've set it up myself. Nobody knows about it," he clarified. "It's safe, I promise." He was pleading at this point, but he didn't care. She was clearly conflicted. He didn't know why she was hesitating, but he could tell she wanted to give him her phone. "Please, Sarah," he said and extended his hand.
"You're sure it's safe?" she finally asked.
"Yes. Yes," he said. "You can trust me when it comes to phones, remember?" He gave her an encouraging smile.
Sarah smiled back at the memory. It didn't last long, but it was the brightest expression he'd seen from her today. Then she sighed, shaking her head a little bit. "Fine," she said and handed him her phone, "but you need to hurry. I really need to leave."
He made a quick job of writing the number. "I entered it under 'Montréal'," he said, giving her the phone back. Before she could start walking again, he reached out for her arm, and caught her eyes. He wasn't going to back down now. "Sarah, listen. Whatever happened…I don't care, okay. I just want to help. Please, call the number I gave you and we'll figure something out. We need to talk about this."
When she didn't say anything, he took another step toward her. They were standing close now, looking at each other.
"Just think about it," he added. "Please. I can help." He swallowed. "You don't have to do this alone."
She turned her head to the door one more time, and then looked back, staring at his collar. He gave her a minute. She was considering it. At least that was something. "I'll think about it," she said.
Chuck nodded, but Sarah was already gone.
A/N: Thank you for taking the time to read my first story. I hope you enjoyed this first chapter! Next chapter in a week.
And everybody should be on the look out for an update to Joel's Chuck versus The World coming very soon. :)