A/N: So, this is the finale. This update actually contains two chapters and the epilogue. I apologize for the length of time it took for me to get this out to you, but I felt that the cliffhanger would be too traumatic if I didn't have the next one ready to go right then and there.
Chapter 32: The Final Countdown
17 Minutes to upload
"Is it just me, or is this too easy?" Chuck said.
"It's just you," Sarah said. "If we hadn't got the airforce to shoot up two-dozen odd armored vehicles, we'd be so much Swiss cheese by now. Just because we haven't run into site security just means Kevin and Nastasha's diversion idea is working out. It'll get much dicier once we're inside the admin building."
"About that. What could they possibly have done to give us a complete clear run at this?"
16 Minutes to upload
"They stole my tank?" Alexei said, shaking his head as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing on the big monitor. "They stole my tank! My tank! I was going to drive that tank through downtown LA on my victory march." He turned, rage threatening to overwhelm him and took a deep breath instead of giving vent to his anger. Volkoff counted to five under his breath. "Alright. How many mechanized units do we have left now that those zhopa A-10s have buggered off."
"Half a dozen ZSU-23s-"
"Are not even going to scratch the paint on a T-90. Next? Do we have any other heavy armor on-site?"
"Aside from the 90, we've got maybe a dozen T-72s in various states of disrepair. But only crews for maybe half that. We bought them off collapsing regimes in the mideast over the last couple years."
"They'll slow them down at least... Frost, how much did you tell the CIA?"
"Everything, sir." She stood calmly to one side, hands clasped behind her. There was no hint of the animosity she'd shown before. Thankfully the re-upload hadn't had any adverse effects.
"Then they must be making for the antenna farm. Hangar two is in an interesting place. Have the 72s come across and cut them off here," Volkoff tapped the monitor. "Meanwhile, dismount the zsu crews and equip them with the TOW missiles and Laws rockets we've got lying around. Leave the drivers in their vehicles and send them out as mobile cover for the missile crews. Get them moving."
14 minutes to upload
"Okay," Chuck said. "You told me so."
"Shhh!" Sarah hissed. "Someone's coming. Can you get the door open or what? Between the two of you I'd have thought-"
"Got it," Stephen said just as the door hissed open. They had managed to disable every security camera they'd spotted so far, and the electronic locks the base sported weren't too great a challenge for Chuck or his dad. But there were more armed guards than they had expected. It was a miracle they had gotten as far as they had. But that luck was finally running out. On the other side of the door were a pair of men in black tactical gear, assault rifles slung across their bodies in appropriately military bearing.
"The hell-" one of them started to say before Sarah but a bullet through his throat. The second man had just enough reaction time to move his weapon halfway to a ready position before the second round roaring from Sarah's smg cut him down. He could barely hear the bodies thump to the floor past the throbbing echoes of the double tap in his traumatized eardrums. He swallowed bile; it had been a while since he'd seen Sarah in full avenging valkyrie mode. Especially up close like that and, as always, it was a little jarring. A week ago they'd been on the floor of their house playing jingle the keys at baby and now-
"Move, now!" Sarah hissed. "Somebody had to hear that. We need to find Volkoff soon. Any luck on a building schematic, either of you?"
"No, but the main control center's got to be below ground. They build them in bunkers for good reason."
"Sub-basement access, up ahead," Chuck said, pointing.
Sarah's head cocked to one side and she waved Chuck and Stephen down the hallway ahead of her, dropping to one knee and covering their backtrail. Chuck flinched at another mechanistic roar from behind him as Sarah ripped off a pair of three round bursts. "Pick up the pace, boys," she shouted. "There went the element of surprise."
12 Minutes to upload
"Crap," Kevin said softly to himself. "Crap, crap, crappity crap!"
Kevin tapped a button and switched the aux feed over to the main display. "The rear FLIR shows armored vehicles behind us. Looks like more Zeus tracks, and some foot mobiles."
"Yeah, but they're behind us..." the air force Captain said. "Can't we outrun them?"
"You ever try to outrun a missile? Bad question, I know you have. We happen to have our least armored side pointing in the direction of the people with- inbound! Brace for impact! And hope they bought the deluxe model!"
The tank lurched and rang like a bell. Talon lead patted himself down checking for injuries and Kevin snorted.
"What? I thought..."
"Volkoff sprang for all the addons. Including the anti-missile systems. Basically, it's a radar controlled claymore on the side of the tank. Missile comes in, boom."
"So we're okay?"
"Only got so many," Kevin said, and another missile hurtled out of the early morning grey behind them. "Crap, Nasty, we got to turn around and get some steel on those guys."
"Negative, comrade. Armor incoming front!"
"I see it. Traversing. Come on load," Kevin cursed some more under his breath. The american Abrams tank required a fourth crew member to serve as loader, where the T-90 had an automatic loading mechanism. It was a pretty efficient system. It was also just about a full second and a half slower than a human being doing the same job. That second and a half seemed to stretch forever, before the Russian fire control computer finally flashed ready. "Gotcha. On the way!" The main FLIR screen whited out momentarily as the tank rocked backward on its treads, shaking like a tree struck by a sledgehammer as the 120mm main gun launched a high explosive anti-tank shell at nearly half again the speed of a rifle bullet. Whatever armor Nasty had spotted, it wasn't up to the challenge. When the viewer cleared, the turret of what had once been a tank was flying through the air on a pillar of fire.
"Jesus!" Talon lead said hoarsely. There were other shapes visible on the infra-red scan, belching white heat as the other tanks tried to avenge their fallen brethren. The T-90 shook and rang from the impact of the shells. Alarm sirens went off but they were still alive, so the armor was holding. "How the hell aren't we dead?"
Kevin winced out of the flash. "Those are forty year old tanks, air force. Armor and tank gun tech have moved on a bit since the seventies. Still, fighting it out in the open's going to get us killed. Brace!"
The tank shook again, a near miss from one of the missiles from aft. "On the way!" Kevin fired another round from the big gun. Another tank erupted in flames. They were cut off. No way they could run straight through those tanks. And they were running out of time before that upload. The tank rang from more antiquated cannon-fire, but only two hits; another of the T-90s systems was in play, deploying IR masking smoke grenades that fooled the opposing tanks' computers. Eleven minutes and counting. Kevin's brain seemed to click, adrenaline lacing his thoughts with fire. They'd never survive trying to skirt around the main admin building to range on the antenna farm. "Nasty, ninety degrees hard right turn, now!"
"What are you talking about?" Talon lead shouted. They were all shouting to hear over ears ringing from the report of the tank guns and impacts.
"No time to go around," Kevin said, fingers flipping dials to change from anti-armor rounds to simple high explosive. "I'm gonna make us a door!"
12 Minutes to Upload
"What the hell do they think they're..." Volkoff trailed off as it sank in. "Zob tvoyu mat." The entire building shook, even in the undergound bunker.
"We got other problems, Pops!" Alex Jr. said from his computer console.
"Don't call me Pops, boy."
"Somebody's in our system. They're good. I think I only spotted them because that blast made them make a typo. Somebody's looping our cameras in subbasement 1 sector bravo. Christ, I've got gunfire!"
"What!" Volkoff rushed over. "Get me a visual."
"Working on it... got'em. It's the Bartons and some old guy."
"Some old guy," Volkoff shook his head and his eyes flickered with hate. "Barton, Bartowski, I should have seen it sooner. Why didn't you say something, Frost?"
"You asked me what I told them, not who they are." She shrugged as if it were unimportant.
Volkoff ground his teeth. "Take some men, Frost. And bring me Stephen Bartowski's head on a platter. Go!" He thought for a moment. "And Frost? Don't be so literal, it doesn't have to be on a platter. Any old plate will do."
11 Minutes to upload
Nasty was cursing creatively in Russian, and it was blue enough that Kevin was half wishing he hadn't gotten the Russian language flash along with the T-90 gunnery skills. But, some of it was fairly didn't have time to be letting that distract him, though. He cursed himself under his breath. "Nasty, bring us around 180, and back in. Put out front armor between us and those missiles!"
"Da, am trying!" Of course that was easier said than done. The wreckage from the heavy cinder-block exterior wall had washed into the building on the blast front from the tank shell and formed a layer of rubble. That wouldn't usually present any difficulty, but metal squealed unexpectedly. Damage from one of the missile strikes?
"Lost a tread!" Nasty said.
Kevin cursed and shouldered aside Talon lead. "Keep trying! Air force, get the turret turned around at least. You catch that much watching me?"
"Let's hope so," he said.
Kevin grunted, hefting the top hatch open and shimmying out. "The hell are you going?"
He hugged his rifle in tight and pressed his eye to the thermal scope. A second later, a bright shape appeared, and he fired a pair of suppressed rounds. Kevin quirked an eyebrow and rolled sideways off the T-90 turret. He had to scramble sideways over shattered cinder blocks and the ruins of what had once been office furniture as the tank lurched, its one good tread half-turning the massive bulk. Pre dawn gray was seeping in everywhere, but the hole blasted in the side of the main building was in shadow. Kevin had to squint, but he was sure- there. Another figure in the 'door', he flipped his rifle to line up the aimpoint sight he'd mounted to the siderail. Kevin's finger curled and he put another pair of rounds through the man.
He shuffled forward to keep his aim true and took cover at the edge of the breach, pressing aginst the wall. Kevin peeped around the edge and grimaced. "Awesome..." They were bunching up, thankfully, Zeus tracks which the missile armed infantry had been using as cover were the closest, which was obscuring the infantry's fields of fire. The tank was out of line of sight, for the moment, and only a couple brave souls had dared charge forward into the breach. That wouldn't last long.
Kevin ducked across the gap and grabbed for the first man's fallen launcher. If nothing else, he could turn those bunched ZSUs into a better roadblock with a return to sender TOW missile. He fired a couple quick bursts one handed, not caring where the rounds went so long as he made them keep their heads down. Thankfully the ZSU-23s didn't chop him into brisket with their 23mm flak cannons.
"Come on," Talon lead shouted from the turret, and Kevin staggered over under the stream of fire from the coaxial machinegun. He'd got the turret rotated, and Nasty seemed to have compensated for the lost track. It wasn't going to get them very much farther. Metal squealing against concrete floor and rubble alike told that story. He hooked an arm around the main cannon and held on for dear life.
The T-90 lurched further into the building, grinding old furniture and debris into choking clouds of dust. They made it around the corner into a corridor that wasn't quite wide enough, before wedging the tank in tight.
"Now what, army?"
Kevin shrugged. "As good a defensive position as we can hope for, hold'em here," he spotted a sign and hefted his borrowed missile launcher. "I'll try and get to the roof for a shot at that dish."
10 Minutes to upload
"On my way," he said, pushing his chair back from the bank of computers. Upload's ready to go. Just hit enter when the timer hits zero, Pops."
"Don't call me pops."
He grinned. "Don't call me Junior," he nodded a pair of gunmen along in his wake.
9 Minutes to Upload
"Through here," Sarah said, and Chuck and Stephen ducked through the door as bullets spanged off the metal doorframe. Sarah growled and sprayed lead back down the corridor in response.
She popped back into cover and turned on Chuck. "Still too easy?"
Chuck stuck his P-90 around the doorjamb and let loose a long burst from the suppressed smg, firing blind. "Are you ever gonna let that go? You told me so, okay?"
Sarah managed a grin, despite the situation, reloading her UMP. They were bogging down, encountering more and more resistance. Stephen had shot a man almost off Chuck's back before they took cover in this side-room.
"Mmm, what have we here?" Stephen said with a grin.
"You say something dad, you've got to speak up!" Chuck said popping back into cover while Sarah started back up. He had to shout over the racket.
He didn't bother explaining, merely rooting through the room they'd sheltered in, which appeared to be a fully stocked armory, for the Semtex.
9 Minutes to Upload
Kevin poked his head over the railing and checked down. Some gunmen had got past Nasty and the airdale. That or they were on building security detail, but he'd have expected Chuck and Sarah to have drawn at least some attention to themselves. The building shook and he stumbled as he turned the corner, and found himself staring up the barrel of an m-4. There were two men above him on the stairs, weapons slung across their chests, looking just as shocked as he felt.
He shoved the missile launcher between him and the first gunman and tried to train his rifle on the second. But the jumble of limbs on the stairwell lashed out and knocked the weapon out of his hand, sending it clattering over the railing. The first gunman staggered back into the second with the launcher over balancing him. Kevin's left hand lashed out, 45 coming out of its holster and barking once. He shoved the dead weight of the first man again, keeping the second man off balance. But the man managed to aim over the falling man. Kevin had to reach out and grab the barrel of the second man's weapon and thrust it out of line with his free hand. The gunman got a long rippling burst out, chewing concrete chips out of a section of wall before Kevin shifted aim with his 45 and put him down as well.
And then he got buried under a combined four hundred pounds of dead gunmen, as the whole wretched tangle thudded down into the landing on top of him. "Awesome..." Kevin rolled his eyes from under the pile and started trying to free himself.
8 Minutes to upload
"Okay, is this going to work or not?"
"Only one way to find out," Stephen said.
"I hate it when he says that," Chuck said mournfully.
"Now you know how I felt every time you wouldn't stay in the car."
"I don't recall ever getting into the Semtex back in the old days," Chuck said.
"You blew up a nerd herder that time," She pointed out, ducking away from the doorway to dig a fresh magazine out of the ammo pouches sewn into the front of her vest.
"That wasn't- that's not a fair comparison and you know it."
Stephen rolled his eyes at them. "Fire in the hole!" he shouted, hitting the detonator on the improvised breaching charges he'd secured to the armory wall. Sarah and Chuck rushed over, and the three of them went through the huge hole in the wall, hoping to flank Volkoff's men who'd taken cover there.
Stephen's eyes widened and an armor piercing round lanced through his light body armor. "Mary?" he collapsed to the side amid the rubble, clutching the gunshot wound to his belly.
Frost stepped closer, centering her aim on Stephen's head and ignoring Chuck and Sarah entirely. Sarah grit her teeth, and prepared herself to shoot her mother-in-law. Chuck slapped Sarah's weapon out of line and shouted. "Mom, heads up!" Her head came around instinctively.
He let his smg fall on its sling and raised his left wrist, tapping the controls of his wrist comp as he did. The screen flared quickly, flickers of light filling the dust-choked room.
The other two gunmen who'd been with her collapsed unconscious. Frost fell to one knee and shook her head muzzily.
"Chuck? What's... oh god, Stephen!" Mary dropped her gun and darted forward, cradling her stricken husband and working the velcro on his vest so she could see the wound, between peppering kisses all over his face. Stephen tried only halfheartedly to fend her off. Some of that was the gunshot wound, though. "Oh, god, I'm so sorry Stevie!"
Chuck wrinkled his nose."Urk, 'stevie?' really?"
Sarah swatted him in the arm. "I think it's sweet," she said. Then they saw the blood.
"What the hell, Mom!"
"I had loaded with teflon rounds when I was going after Volkoff," She said. "Once he hit me with the re-upload, I never changed back to hollowpoints. I'm so sorry, honey."
"Sokay..." Stephen slurred. "You're back now. Our countermeasures work."
Sarah poked her head out into the hallway. Clear for now, but there'd be more along soon enough. "How bad is he wounded? Can you get him out of here?"
"The men will still take my orders. I can carry him if nothing else," Mary said.
"Good. Where's the command bunker?"
"You were on the right track; there's only a couple more guard posts before you're there. "Maybe I should go; you two take Stephen and get out."
"No," Chuck said. "You're not going alone."
"And Chuck's not going anywhere without me," Sarah said.
"I can make it," Stephen said. "We'll do it. Listen to your mother, Chuck. Get out while you can. This is my fight... I'm getting up. Hnn-" his entire body shuddered with agony. "okay, no I'm not," he said, having to pant between words.
"Get him as far as you can. There's a flight of F-15 strike eagles with bunker busters coming through in..." he checked his watch, "eight minutes." Sarah watched the corridor while Chuck went to hug his mother goodbye. "While we've got you here, though? Do you know the wifi password for this place? The encryption's been giving us fits."
Mary grinned. "Of course."
Chuck worked furiously at his wrist comp while Sarah led the way. She stopped and shoved him into cover, firing wildly. "Last mag," she said, loading again.
Chuck shrugged out of his P-90 sling and shoved it toward her. Sarah popped out of cover briefly, blazing away with both weapons on full auto. "You almost done there?"
"Give me one more minute?" he said, and thrust his last P-90 magazine at her. "Last one." Sarah ditched the UMP and reloaded Chuck's P-90.
"A minute might be pushing it, Sweetie."
"I'm coding as fast as I can," Chuck said. "This has to be done right. It's the principle."
"You're hopeless," she said, spraying short bursts down the corridor. Even then, her 50 rounds were gone in a practical blink of an eye. "Chuck? Status?"
He grinned and flashed her a thumbs up. Sarah breathed a sigh of relief and tossed the P-90 around the corner. "We surrender! Don't shoot!" Then softer just for his ears. "You sure this is gonna work?"
She grinned. "I trust you."
5 Minutes to upload
Volkoff looked up and his eyes narrowed. "Mr. Bartowski, Ms. Walker, this is an unexpected pleasure. I'd have expected you to go down fighting."
"We ran out of bullets," Chuck shrugged.
"And it's Mrs. Bartowski."
He waved that away. "What of Frost? Did you kill her? That would be just perfect!"
Chuck glared icy death at him, and managed not to say anything.
"Ah, well. I'll have to watch the security tapes later. Speaking of which. Put the roof feed on the big screen. I want to watch when my boy kills your friend."
4 Minutes to upload
Kevin was panting when he finally clambered up onto the roof. It was nerves as much as anything, though he didn't remember how long it had been since he'd got any sleep. Probably the plane down from Detroit, but he didn't remember sleeping much more than a few minutes.
The detour he'd taken up the side of the building, when a grenade had collapsed the last two stories of his stairwell hadn't helped matters. In addition to wearing him down even further, it had cost him precious time rigging a sling for the launcher and smashing out the heavy duty safety glass on the sixth floor windows.
He took in the view briefly, cracking his back as he stretched, and checked his watch. Kevin had almost perfect sightlines to the antenna farm, less than a kilometer away. Easy range for a target that size with the missile tube he had access to. He wasn't in any hurry anymore. Three minutes forty-five seconds. The sunrise over the distant mountains in the east was breathtaking. Plenty of time to notice that fact and still knock out that satellite uplink before Volkoff got his upload out to overwrite everybody's brains. "Talk about television rotting your brains."
He'd never know what it was that warned him. Some betraying sound? A boot crunching on the gravel? A glint of reflection off a nearby air conditioning unit? Who knows, a smell? Kevin's hand went for his 45 without bothering to ask any other part of his nervous system, and he'd squeezed off two rounds before he even realized he was moving. He ducked and felt a bullet buzz over his shoulder almost as he heard the report. The duck turned into a stumble and he rolled around the edge of a bulky industrial sized air-conditioning unit. The thin sheet metal gonged with bullet impacts, and Kevin fetched up, spun to peek around cover and extended his hands as one. The 45 stung his palms, muzzle blasts etching spots in his vision. The slide locked back on an empty mag. He'd lost count somehow. Kevin ducked back into cover as another burst of fire lanced his way, punching into and through the air conditioner. One round punched him in the gut, but didn't penetrate the heavy ceramic trauma-plate over his vitals. The impact knocked him over, and Kevin log-rolled, reaching into his ammo pouch for a spare mag. Last one. How the hellhad thathappened? Bullets kicked up gravel and dust to his side as he rolled into new cover.
He fumbled getting the magazine out of his 45, and cursed under his breath. What the hell was wrong with him? Get it together, Woodcombe. The fate of the world is at stake, jerkwad! His breathing calmed, he slammed the full magazine home and thumbed the slide release. He came to one knee in a firing stance drilled into him until it was instinctual, leaned around his cover and rippled off two shots, then two more. There were three, two now. His second target had scrambled for cover. He grit his teeth and took up tension on the trigger as he brought the weapon down from recoil.
Then he rolled back behind cover and flat on his belly as more high power rounds whizzed by him, using some of Nastasha's creative Russian curse words as he low crawled, trying to flank around them. There was a sudden crunch of gravel ahead of him; somebody else had the same bright idea. He was looking up at them, his weapon out of alignment for a kill shot. Their weapon was still sweeping down at him. They must have expected him to be up on his knees ready to roll again. He probably should have been.
Kevin didn't waste the heartbeat it would have taken to shift aim. He simply shot the man in the ankle and rolled to his right. The gunman screamed and loosed a burst of automatic fire. Kevin double tapped him in the head. Crap. Only one left.
"How's your ammo situation, buddy?" a familiar voice called out.
"Name's Alex, remember?"
"You'll always be Danny to me. Danny the dufus."
"Name-calling? You've fallen so far." Judging by the sound of his voice, Danny/Alex was about thirty feet away. But there were a fair number of obstacles on this roof. He needed to funnel the traitor into someplace with a clear sight-line. Keep him talking.
"Says the guy who never lived up to daddy's expectations," Kevin stayed low, trying to keep the jumble of equipment between him and Danny.
"Not for all the pizza in Italy," Kevin tossed back. Then he waited for a response. But none came. He cursed mentally. That should have gotten him something. Must have figured out broadcasting your location wasn't the greatest idea in a fight like this. The first one with a clear shot would win it all.
"I'm hurt!" Danny said, and Kevin saw movement. He centered the white pip of his front sight on the target and squeezed. The 45's slide locked back on an empty chamber. He was bullet hit an already dead man in the throat. Somehow Danny had managed to drag one of the dead guys without making any noise. No, he must have just backtracked to the body and done a dead lift. That would require both hands. It all went through his minds in an instant. Realization, reaction. Kevin threw his 45.
Danny shielded his face with both hands, knocking the clumsy projectile aside. The dead man Danny'd used as a shield fell to the gravel again. Kevin vaulted over his cover, long legs eating up the distance. Danny recovered and started to unsling his rifle. Kevin went with a straight kick as he closed, knocking the rifle clear over the edge of the roof. Danny spun aside, going for his sidearm, but Kevin was already there. He grabbed the traitor's gun hand with both of his, ducked under and twisted the arm out away from Danny's body and drove his knee into the wrist. The pistol tumbled free, and Kevin stepped around, kicking the weapon backward so that he was between it and Danny, purely out of reflex. The move had brought Kevin up behind Danny, and if he could just get a good grip he'd snap the bastard's neck like a chicken's.
Danny saw it coming and sat down, used the momentum to snap a kick up over his head into Kevin's face. Kevin staggered back a couple steps and clutched a hand to his split lip. He shook his head to clear the cobwebs. Fine. Intersect 1, Kevin 0. Time for round two.
By the time he'd recovered, Danny was approaching with a knife. Kevin reached for his own knife, and found only an empty scabbard. His eyes widened. Okay. Intersect 2.
He had to keep ducking back, dodging lunges. Kevin knew Danny was toying with him now, never extending far enough that there was really any danger he couldn't get away.
"Nothin' to say now, huh?"
Kevin grimaced and beckoned for him to come on. Sheer Bruce Lee. Danny went for it. Kevin grabbed for the knife hand, and managed not to get stabbed. Now it was all balance and footwork. And fighting for the knife. They scuffled in a circle, punching with their free hands. Kevin blocked with his shoulder and tried a knee. Danny turned into it, stealing the power from the blow.
Then Danny had a foot behind his heel somehow and he was going over backwards. He hit with Danny on top of him and tried to roll. Danny matched the move and came out on top, knife inches from Kevin's throat.
"Nothin' funny to say now?" The knife inched down. "Just so you know, I'm gonna pay Laura a visit too after this. She always was too uppity for her own good."
Kevin smirked in response and spat the mouthful of blood he'd sucked out of his split lip right into Danny's eyes. Danny cursed, clapping his hand up to scrub his eyes clear. Kevin shifted his grip on Danny's wrist and thrust his foot up into Danny's gut and flipped him up over his head. Danny rolled to his feet with his back to the edge, Kevin just a heartbeat slower.
But he'd taken his knife back. Kevin slammed the blade up under Danny's sternum as he drove himself up to his feet. Danny's eyes shot open in sudden pain and his hands came down to grip the blade.
"You talk too much," Kevin said, and punched Danny right off the edge of the roof.
He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and staggered over to where he'd dropped the missile launcher. Kevin checked his watch and grimaced. He got the launcher up on his shoulder and aimed. "Come on, come on," he whispered, the wait for a solid lock tone seeming to take forever. The antenna farm was warm enough a heat seeker should be able to find it. What was taking so damn long.
Time seemed to slow down to a crawl. His watch alarm went off, signalling that Volkoff's satellite was over the horizon. The door to the roof burst open behind him. He finally got his missile lock tone and hit the launch stud. A bullet ripped through the air inches from his head. Wait, they missed?
Kevin let the launcher drop and glanced over his shoulder. One dead gunman slumping in the doorway. One very shocked gunman behind him with his eyes wide. Then shocked became dead and slumping as well. This was a strange and confusing development. Kevin scanned around, cupping his hand to shade his eyes against the sunrise.
Then he saw the parachutes, the tiny cloud of smoke still dissipating behind the shooter. His missile was largely superfluous, as a small passenger jet screamed out of nowhere and plowed into the antenna farm a few seconds later. Kevin waved to the parachutists in muted shock.
Eventually the nearest one, the shooter, resolved into the familiar silhouette of Lieutenant Colonel John Casey.
As the Colonel flared his chute for a landing, Kevin shook his head. "You're late," he said.
"Just in the nick of time, from what I saw," Casey said. The next chute down was Jarod, who came over and gave Kevin a well-earned fist bump once he'd got clear of this canopy.
"Nicely done, man."
Kevin waved his watch. "Ten seconds late, unless Chuck and Sarah came through on the other end."
"Well don't keep me in suspense!"
"Right," Kevin shook his head. Should have thought of that himself. He was going shocky. "Right!" he thumbed his mic to transmit. "Chuck, Kevin, come in, gimme your status."
"Chuck respond, damn it."
"Um, we got some way to warn off those F-15s? Cause, I don't want to be standing here when they start dropping bunker busters," Jarod said.
Kevin nodded mutely and passed him a smoke grenade.
30 Seconds to upload
Volkoff's eyes widened at the sudden reversal. He seemed to snap taut then shrink in upon himself as his son tumbled over the edge. "No!" That was all. A single shout, a single moment of rage unleashed, then he was back in control. The timer clicked inexorably closer to 0. "His sacrifice will be remembered," Volkoff said, as the counter reached zero and he tapped the upload button. The rage was suddenly gone, replaced by triumph as he smirked at Chuck and Sarah captive in the command bunker. Chuck closed his eyes briefly while intersect code flashed up on the bank of monitors and out across the country. For all of two seconds. Then it stopped. The gunmen watching the prisoners slumped to the ground, mostly unconscious. There was a brief flare of static before music began blaring from the speakers and a grainy video of a young man with a pompadour haircut danced across the world's television screens.
Volkoff turned slowly back to the screen as if in shock. "What in the world is this nonsense..."
We're no strangers to love
You know the rules and so do I
A full commitment's what I'm thinking of
You wouldn't get this from any other guy
I just wanna tell you how I'm feeling
Gotta make you understand
Chuck exchanged a glance with his wife. She rolled her eyes. Volkoff rounded on Chuck, eyes blazing as the chorus hit. Chuck fought the grin with every scrap and fiber of his being.
Never gonna give you up
Never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry,
Never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you
The grin was making headway in its campaign across his face now, but Chuck still struggled to keep a straight face. It was the principle of the thing. "I have no way of knowing for sure, you understand. But you appear to have been rickroll'd. Rather well. Of course, I personally have absolutely no idea how that could possibly have happened. But you might want to consider changing your wifi password." Then the wolf grin won the battle and stretched nearly from ear to ear. "Oh, and that little bit of intersect code at the beginning? That was me erasing all your goons' programming and then, you know how you used to be able to punch out the tabs on a VHS tape to avoid recording over your wedding video or whatever? Same basic concept. The worlds brains are now read-only. Boom. Game, set, match. Checkmate. Other assorted winning. Like That delta force team or whoever landing on the roof, with Colonel Casey leading," that with a finger pointing at the continuing feed from the roof. "Plus there's an F-15 wing... ninety seconds out, and half a battalion of very surly Recon marines a few minutes behind them. You'd probably better do yourself a favor and just surrender now."
"That's all fairly persuasive, I must say. Just one point you've overlooked."
"And that would be?"
The gunshot came as a surprise, fire lancing through Chuck's knee as his leg collapsed under him. He screamed and clutched at the ragged wound, blood leaking through his fingers. Volkoff turned the pistol on Sarah when she instinctively moved to go to him. "Ah, ah... not so fast. I have a gun and you don't, Mr. Bartowski, that was the point you overlooked. Though I'm sure you've realized by now. You've been a worthy opponent. I'll almost regret not having you to work against as I rebuild. And make no mistake, despite your efforts here today, I will escape. I will rebuild. And I will achieve my destiny. Goodbye Mr. Bartowski."
"No!" Sarah lunged and Volkoff's reflexes pulled the shot out of line with Chuck's head. She'd made herself the target, practically jumped in front of the bullet. Everything was a jumble, and Chuck couldn't understand it. Blood erupted from Sarah's chest and she collapsed on top of him. But her vest should have stopped- She turned in his arms, vest pulled half off for some reason. Dammit Sarah why would she- Then he saw it, a holster rigged underneath the protective vest, where a halfhearted search might just miss it. As it had been missed. The tiny little derringer in her hand, blood everywhere. She thrust it at him and her lips moved. "Too slow. I'm sorry."
Volkoff was slow following up the shot. He saw the blood and wanted to savor the moment, taunt Chuck some more maybe, but Sarah's bloody hand pressed the matte-black over-under .45 into his numb fingers. And Chuck's hands came together on the grip, sliding the pistol up around Sarah's back. The gun barked twice in his hands and lead smashed Volkoff just under the collar bone, then the second came just to the right of the bridge of his nose. The automatic in Volkoff's hand spat one last shot into the floor before it fell from his lifeless fingers and he collapsed bonelessly to the concrete.
"Oh, god. Sarah!" Chuck cradled her carefully, gun forgotten. Volkoff forgotten. "Please, hold on."
"I'm sorry..." she coughed blood.
"No, don't you give up on me!"
"I'm sorry we'll never get to meet this one..." her hand fell to her belly and her eyelids drooped.
"No! Sarah, hold on!"
TO BE CONCLUDED...
A/N: see what I meant about cliffhangers?
Chapter 33: Hold On
Chuck could feel himself going into shock. He was starting to hyperventilate and if he couldn't get himself under control Sarah was going to die. The whiplash emotions of the last few moments were making his efforts more difficult than ever before in his entire life.
There was blood puddling around him. His, Sarah's, there was no way to tell which was which. He fought down the urge to vomit and forced himself into action. First he needed to tend his own wound. It was the only way he'd have a clear enough head to try and save Sarah. If he lost too much blood from his own wounds, he might just kill her in the attempt to stabilize her wounds. Chuck unbuckled his belt and wrapped it around his leg above the knee, using his pocket maglite to tighten and secure a makeshift tourniquet.
That should keep him lucid enough to do something for Sarah, as long as the delay hadn't already killed her. He fought the urge to ralph again and felt for a pulse. Chuck breathed again when he found it, and tore the hole in Sarah's shirt wide to expose the wound. Air was hissing out of the gunshot wound. Lungshot, sucking chest wound. But the positioning wasn't right for a heart shot. If he could remember Ellie's lecture on the subject maybe.
"Idiot," he said, punching himself in the temple. "Flash, idiot!"
"What the hell's going on..." someone groaned behind him. One of Volfoff's former minions, recovering faster than the others..
Chuck craned his neck. Then pointed. "Bad guy brainwashed you, shot my wife. Get me a first aid kit, hurry!"
"Brainwashed? You're kidding!"
"Just get me that first aid kit, dammit! We don't have time for twenty frakking questions, alright?"
"Oh, jesus," the man said, finally spotting the blood pooling around them.
Chuck put the man out of his mind. "Come on, Sarah. Just hold on. The marines will be here any minute, and they'll fix you up good as new, you just got to hold on a little longer." He punched himself in the head again. "Come on flash, you bastard." Finally the Intersect kicked into gear.
"Where's that first aid kit?" Chuck said when the images stopped flickering through his synapses.
"Here! Here, you know what you're doing?"
"Let's hope so," Chuck said. "There should be a rubber tube and a big needle in there somewhere, get them ready."
Chuck had to fight down another surge of nausea before he could set to work. Her lung was punctured and had deflated, air was coming in the gunshot wound and compressing her heart. He slapped a quick pressure bandage over the wound and checked for an exit. There wasn't one, which meant the bullet was still inside her somewhere. Even though Volkoff had stocked his first aid kits with full trauma gear, there was no way he could remove that bullet.
The air leaking into her chest cavity was only the first part of the problem though. Her lung was still deflated, and his fingers shook as he took the scalpel. Chuck made a tiny incision in her side and felt around carefully. He should have put on gloves, but there was no time. At least the Intersect skill upload let him know how to put in a chest-tube as if he'd done it a thousand times.
The tube went in, and suddenly her breathing was better. Not good, but better. He had no idea how much time had passed. Chuck checked her pulse and grimaced. Still weak. The bullet must have nicked something; she was bleeding internally. He needed more hands, trained hands. Even with the knowledge the Intersect gave him there was no way to go forward alone-
"Bartowski, you alive in here somewhere?"
"I need a medic!" he said. "Sarah's been shot."
Casey cursed softly and bellowed back down the corridor for "Corpsman forward! Hold the medevac chopper, we got more wounded."
Chuck collapsed to the cold concrete beside her and whispered. "Hold on."
The next few minutes were a blur. He had to fend off a marine corpsman who kept trying to mess around with his knee. That wasn't important. Sarah was important, they had to save Sarah.
"We've got three guys working on her!" Casey's face looming out of the haze. "Let us work on you, moron!"
"Your bedside manner could use some work..." Chuck mumbled. What was that sound? Helicopters? A needle went into his neck.
When next Chuck was anywhere close to coherent, he was in a hospital gurney, his leg swathed in bandages where they had slit open his pants all the way up. "Sarah? Where's Sarah?"
"She's in the OR," his mother answered. How odd that she'd be there. After all this time. "I don't know how bad it is. She crashed once on the chopper ride over, but they got her back."
Chuck felt his heart lurch. "Dad?"
"He's in surgery too," she said, "He should pull through. They say I somehow managed not to perforate his bowel when I shot him."
"You weren't yourself. Don't blame yourself..."
"It was still me behind the trigger, Charles."
"Everybody calls me Chuck."
"I'm your mother. I named you Charles. I'll call you Charles."
"Can I see her?"
"I don't know that's a good idea. They've got a viewing room, but-"
"I need to see."
She squeezed his hand. "I figured you'd say that," Chuck's mom pushed his gurney out into the hallway. "When you get up, don't put weight on the leg any more than you have to."
A man in scrubs frowned at them. "Where do you think you're taking my patient, ma'am?"
Mary produced her sidearm and waggled it vaguely, not pointing it in any threatening direction, just letting the doctor see it. At the doors into surgery, a security guard tried to stop them. Mary darted around Chuck's gurney and smashed him with a fist in the solar plexus, then karate chopped the back of his neck.
She helped Chuck gingerly out of the gurney as they approached the entrance to the viewing area. Chuck put all of his weight on his good leg, and hopped along at his mother's side. Scrubs clad doctors rushed past them with equipment on carts talking back and forth. Then, they heard someone call something ahead of them and slowed down. They lost all sense of urgency. Mary tensed. Chuck wasn't near enough to hear what they said.
"What? Mom, what's wrong."
"Let's go back, Chuck."
"What did they say?"
She swallowed. "They're about to pronounce her. Chuck, you don't want to be in there for-" he plucked the gun from her hand.
"The hell they are. Come on. I need to lean on you."
Chuck burst into the operating room just as the attending physician was saying: "Time of death-"
"Don't you say another goddamn word," he said. "Shock her again."
"Who the hell are you?"
"I'm the guy with the gun. She's not dead. We've come too far. She's a fighter. Again. Or you'll be explaining it to her in the afterlife. And she's got nowhere near my sunny disposition."
The tableau held for a second, the high-pitched whine of the heart monitor blaring out a flatline, before the doctor cleared his throat. "Charge to three hundred."
Sarah jumped on the surgical gurney, and lay still. "I told you, it's no use..."
Chuck racked back the hammer on his pistol. "Humor me."
Before they could even manage to shock her again, the heart monitor bleeped. Then again. "I don't believe it..."
"Told you so..." Chuck said. His mother had to catch him when his good leg finally gave out.
She was hazy on painkillers, but she knew that feeling well enough to know she was alive. It was something of a shock.
Sarah cracked her eyes open and light poured in. She moaned slightly. Or tried to, instead she made a horrible choking sound, and tried to throw up her lungs. What the hell was going on?
"Relax, Sarah. You're safe. I'm here."
More choking noised instead of words.
"Don't try to talk, you've still got a tube down your throat to help you breathe. But you're gonna be alright."
Finally, the light was more bearable and she could stand to look around through squinted eyes. There was Chuck, at her bedside. She tensed, seeing the cast covering his leg, taking in the wheelchair. Sarah tried to talk again, before she remembered the breathing tube. Chuck winced at the sound. So she mimed writing. Chuck nodded and squeezed her hand. He maneuvered the wheelchair like he'd been doing it for a while, and trundled himself over to a little table, came back and slipped the pencil into her hand, held the pad out steady for her.
Chuck grinned. "Technically, no. They're fine."
Sarah's eyes widened, and Chuck pulled the pencil out of her hand, tugged the hand up so he could press his lips to the back. "Yup," he said. "Twins."
A knock at Sarah's hospital door preceded two standard CIA suit-wearing bodyguard types. Then finally the guest of honor, newly appointed Acting Deputy Director (Operations) Jane Bentley.
"Before you say anything," Sarah said, bouncing Lisa gently. "We put in our papers yesterday."
"I understand that," Bentley said. "I'm hoping I can change your mind."
"We're done at CIA," Chuck said. "After this whole nightmare, we talked about it. We're done."
"Look I don't need you in field ops. Laura's rehab is coming along nicely. And with Kevin and Jarod on the team, we won't need you in the field. Probably."
"See," Sarah said. "Chuck you owe me a dollar, she couldn't help but add in that probably. We're done."
"Look, with your experience, we really can't afford to lose you. Either of you. We can bump you up the pay scales pretty substantially," Bentley said, which didn't have any noticeable effect. "Anyway, you're both going to be laid up for months anyway. And frankly, both of your wounds are serious enough that they should almost certainly disqualify you from further active field ops. So don't give me your final answer now. Just think about it. See how you feel when you're all the way healed. No field work. Strictly office bound."
"That's what they told Myers, and look what happened there," Chuck said. "No, we're done."
"Also, notice how she said 'almost certainly'? Leaving herself just the teeniest wiggle room so she can drag us back again some day? You owe me another dollar, Chuck."
"Please just think about it," Bentley said. "You haven't even let me tell you the job."
"Okay," Sarah relented. "What's the job?"
She pointed at Sarah. "Station Chief Moscow," the finger shifted to Chuck. "Moscow Station S&T. Full diplomatic cover, diplomatic immunity, both of you. And the kids."
Chuck stole a glance at Sarah, and she was looking at him with that same speculative glint in her eye.
"Don't call us," Sarah said.
"We'll call you," Chuck said. "Maybe."
"Probably not," Sarah said.
Chuck grinned. "Almost certainly not."
A/N: So, this is it. Thanks everyone for all the reviews. You kept me going on this story and others when I was struggling with writer's block. But, this trilogy: Themselves, Bunker, Recruits, was the story that drove me into Fanfic writing in the first place, now that it's finished, I don't think I've got anything in this arena that I just have to write. So, in all probability this is it for me on the Fanfic front. At some nebulous future date however, you might be able to buy books I've written. When this becomes the case my blog will have the details.