I still don't own Chuck.

I'm going start to post the rest of this story here. If I get a bunch of anonymous personal attacks, I'll rethink that.

This is a chapter that was written by me and Lucky47 in a series of emails several months ago. We're finally at the point in the story where it is relevant.

Back Pay

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Sarah took Chuck to the hospital while the rest of the team frantically searched for Joey. Since she had absolutely zero regard for silly things like speed limits or public safety, she had him there in a very few minutes. And in even less time than that Ellie was barking orders and had him in a room, hooked up to every machine that modern medical technology could provide.

But that was now hours ago. And the only change was that he was getting worse. Sarah was holding his hand so tightly that she was almost afraid of hurting him. Except that he probably wasn't conscious enough to feel much except for the incessant throbbing in his head that overpowered everything else anyway. He was in far too much pain to hear her whispering into his ear how much she loved him. Watching him writhe there on that bed in agony was so incredibly heart wrenching. She had a real fight to keep from breaking down, a fight that she wasn't totally winning. "Please, Ellie," she finally lifted her head enough to plead. "This is one of the top hospitals in the world. There must be something… anything… please."

Ellie looked at the desperation in her sister's face. She felt it too. She was looking for any ray of hope, a miracle. It broke Ellie's heart to have to crush that hope. "I'm sorry, Sarah," she sighed. "I just don't know what to do for him. I've consulted with every leading brain expert in the world. I just got off the phone with the whole Neurological Department at John Hopkins. Devon is tracking down the people at the Cleveland Clinic right now. Nobody has ever seen anything like this. There is nothing physically wrong with him. It's just that his brain activity is off the charts. That's causing his blood pressure to go through the roof. We've tried all of the traditional treatments for hypertension. We've even tried sedating him to slow his brain activity. But nothing we've tried has slowed it down even a little bit. We're running out of options." That last part was maybe a white lie. The truth was unless something changed they were out of options. She just didn't want to say it so starkly.

Sarah already knew the answer, but she asked anyway. "How much hope is there?"

It was a fair question; one that Ellie knew was coming, yet one she had been dreading. She stared at her for a long time. One of the hardest decisions that a doctor ever faced was how truthful to be with a terminal patient's loved one. After all, you could always truthfully spin things a little and tell them that there was some hope for a miracle. And this wasn't just some stranger. This was Sarah, her sister. Someone she honestly loved as much as she loved anybody in the world. Not only that, the terminal patient in this case was her brother, the brother that she had raised since before he was a teenager. Ellie was honestly on the very edge of panic herself. But ultimately she decided that she respected Sarah too much to try and blow smoke at her. "We're not going to give up, Sarah," she said as calmly as she possibly could. "But I'm not going to lie to you. Nobody can survive with their blood pressure this high for any length of time."

The words hit Sarah like a blow to the gut. She decided that it was maybe time to accept the reality of the situation, climb into bed next to her husband, wrap her arms around him, and just hold him until the end. Then it would be time to hunt down Beckman, call on her torture training, and make sure that her last few hours of life were as fucking hellish as she possibly could. She was about to ask Ellie how much time he had when she was interrupted by the door opening and a woman that she had never seen before entering the room.

Ellie immediately took charge. "Can I help you?" she asked. "This is a private room."

Joan tried to stay calm. They had raced here from Vegas the second she got the call from Beckman saying that they had taken Chuck to the hospital and pleading for anything she could do.

Joan looked around the room. These ladies were probably scared to death. That's why they decided that she should come in alone. This was no time to get tangled up in daddy abandonment issues. But she also knew that in order to convince them that she was here to help, she had to not appear anxious. So she took a deep breath. "Hi," she said. "You must be Eleanor."

To say that Ellie wasn't feeling the most gracious in this situation didn't come close to reality. "I'm Dr. Bartowski," she snapped in a clear get-the-fuck-out-of-here tone. Then she looked at the smile on Joan's face and became even more hostile. "Is there something about this situation that strikes you as funny in some way?"

Joan mentally kicked herself for the silly grin that was plastered over her face. It was exactly the wrong thing to do in this circumstance. So she took a deep breath. "I'm sorry that I'm smiling, Dr. Bartowski," she said. "I totally understand how serious the situation is. It just struck me that now I'm a Dr. Bartowski too. I'm here to help Chuck."

"Okay, Dr. Bartowski," Ellie snapped sarcastically. "I don't know what kind of sick game you're playing. But you're not touching my patient until you can prove to me that you're a doctor. Tell me where you went to medical school."

"I'm not going to touch him," Joan said. "I'm not a medical doctor. Someday I'll happily show you my degrees. But we don't have time for that right now. I promise that I can help him."

Ellie was tense and close to panic. Now you could add furious to the list of emotions. The last thing that Sarah needed right now was to be crushed by any false hope. She stepped between Joan and Chuck's bed and squared off on her. "I'm going to ask you once nicely to leave before I call security," she said firmly.

Joan fought the temptation to ask if Ellie was currently asking nicely, what did asking harshly sound like. She was under a lot of stress. What good would getting snippy back at her do? Maybe she'd have better luck with the wife. She looked past Ellie to where Sarah was sitting next to Chuck still holding his hand. "We've never met," she said. "But yesterday my name was Dr. Joan Cole."

Seeing the surprise in Sarah's eyes, Joan reached past Ellie to hand Sarah her CIA ID. "I see that you've heard of me. Believe me. I've heard plenty about you too." And that was true. Of course none of what she had heard was particularly comforting in this situation.

"I have heard of you," Sarah said. Then she turned to Ellie. "She is the head of the CIA Intersect Project," she explained. "She is supposedly working on a process to extract the Intersect from Chuck brain." Then she turned back to Joan expectantly. "Can you do that before it kills him?"

Joan could see the hope in her eyes. Maybe that would be a good way to get through to her. She shook her head. "No," she said. "I'm sorry. We're not all that close to a workable extraction process. That's not why I'm here. But we do…"

"Then why are you here?" Sarah cut her off. "I think you can understand at this point why I'm not exactly a big fan of yours or the agency."

"I do understand," Joan said. "I don't blame you any for that. In your shoes, I'd feel the same way. I'm actually not a big fan of the agency right now either. In my defense, I've never authorized any testing on a live subject and certainly never against his will. I can't tell you how wrong I believe that was. I'm ashamed of my role. The Intersect was always just science to me, Sarah – a theoretical problem to solve. I never thought about how real people were being hurt. It took falling in love to make me see it. I wish there were some things I could go back and do differently. I think that you of all people can understand how the CIA works. When they want something, ethical conduct goes out the window. That's a lot of why I'm actually no longer with the agency."

Sarah just stared at her. She really couldn't find much there to argue with. "If you're no longer with the agency, why do you still have an ID?" she asked. "That's the first thing they would take."

"Because they don't know that I'm no longer with them yet," Joan replied calmly. "They'll soon figure it out." She gently pushed past Ellie and went to stand by Chuck's bed. "Sarah, I get that you love him," she said gently. "It's a wonderful feeling, isn't it? I'm just coming to a point in my life that I can understand how intense the feeling is. That's why I also understand just how much you're scared right now. You should be. Unless we do something, I'm afraid that there isn't any hope. But I can help him if you'll let me. The Intersect has a design flaw." She showed Sarah what she had in her hand. "This will fix it." Responding to Sarah's skeptical look, Joan smiled softly and touched her arm. "I'm not going to hurt him, Sarah. I promise. I'm just going to put this on his wrist. You can do it yourself if you prefer."

Sarah still looked more than a little skeptical that simply wearing a watch would help Chuck in any way. She made no attempt to wipe the tears from her eyes, instead reached behind her back and pulled out a very large knife which she held up for Joan's very close inspection before placing it on the table next to her. "If you hurt him…" Her voice trailed off as she struggled to keep from breaking down. The warning needed no further explanation anyway.

Joan tried hard to not think about what Sarah was going to do to her if this didn't work. After all, it had never really been tested on a person. That simply wasn't possible. Then again, neither had the Intersect. "I just realized something," she said, more to change the subject than anything. She pulled Chuck's hand gently but firmly out of Sarah's grasp, placed the watch on his wrist, and placed his hand back in Sarah's. "Ellie and I are both Dr. Bartowski. You and I are both Mrs. Bartowski."

Almost the very second that the watch hit his wrist Chuck let out a huge groan. Sarah, assuming the worst, picked up her knife. But when she went to get up from the chair, Chuck's unexpectedly strong grasp stopped her. "That feels so good," he said, his voice little more than a whisper. "Oh my God, that feels so good."

Ellie wasn't going to make any effort pretending to be friendly to whoever this person was, but at this point she would have made a deal with the devil himself to save her brother. She quickly walked to Chuck's other side where the monitors were. The brain activity chart had been pegged at the very top since he had been here, indicating it was higher than the machine could process. Suddenly it fell to the exact middle of the normal range for a person at rest. His blood pressure had already dropped a couple of points and was clearly still falling. As long as there were no other effects, the results so far were clearly positive. "What is this device and how does it work?" she demanded. "Are there side effects?"

Joan didn't know all that much about Dr. Eleanor Bartowski. She knew a little bit about Chuck because of his being the Intersect, but Ellie, nothing. Steven couldn't help much. He hadn't seen her since she was a young teen. So she had taken a few minutes to read her profile on the hospital web site. Joan knew that she had been an ER attending physician for a couple of years and that Neurology was her specialty. The very fact that she had put herself through medical school on her own while also raising her younger brother said plainly that she was a very brilliant, focused individual. They actually had a lot in common. Hopefully someday she could get past the anger long enough to allow them to try and be civil to each other, maybe even something approaching friends someday.

She also knew from the five minutes she had known her in person so far that her tolerance for any bull was… pretty low. So she was very careful in how she responded. "I'm not trying to hide anything from you, Eleanor," she said cautiously. "Or be condescending in any way. I'll gladly tell you anything you want to know. But any scientifically accurate explanation would take a few days. This is a gross oversimplification but in layman's terms, the CIA Intersect had a design flaw. It kept the brain in constant activity, sort of like a computer in a tight loop. That loop was ever increasing the frequency until over time it finally reached the maximum rate possible. The human nervous system simply was never intended to tolerate that level of activity for extended periods continuously without a break. This device acts sort of like a governor. It keeps the brain activity in the normal range until the intersect is actually engaged. We don't believe there will be any side effects. He probably doesn't have to even wear it all the time, just for a few hours every now and then."

"So," Ellie said, still with no warmth in her voice. "The CIA finally did something right for once."

That got a grin. She thought about how Steven always described the CIA. Maybe that would be the best way to say it. "Not really," Joan said. "I'm afraid that the CIA I know couldn't get out of its own collective way. Like my husband always says, they are pretty much as worthless as tits on a boar hog."

"So if not the CIA, who? Did you invent this?" Sarah asked.

"Well," Joan said hesitantly. "I sure didn't do it by myself. My new husband did most of the heavy lifting. It was his idea. I just helped him flesh out the details. If I do say so myself, we make a pretty damn good team. We've been working on it pretty much around the clock for the past week, once we figured out the flaw, and whose life we were trying to save."

"Your husband?" Ellie asked.

"He's waiting in the hall," Joan replied. "Can I let him in?"

As soon as Joan opened the door and he stepped very cautiously into the room, she sided into him and put her head against his arm affectionately.

Ellie's mouth literally dropped open for a long moment. "Dad?" she finally whispered.

Steven ignored Ellie for a moment. "So it worked?" he asked.

"Of course it worked," Joan said as she put her free arm around his waist and hugged him tight. "Did you have any doubt?"

Steven turned to Ellie. "Hello, Eleanor," he said softly. "It's good to see you again."

Ellie didn't respond to her dad. She turned to Joan. "Husband?" she asked in shock. "How old are you anyway?"

Joan's grin lit up the room. "I'm thirty-six," she said. "I think that's something like five in dog years. But don't worry. I've been told that I'm very mature for my age."

Ellie clearly wasn't in the mood for any humor. "I think that's sick," she said in disgust. "I'm thirty-three. My dad has a trophy wife who is only three years older than his daughter."

Joan's grin didn't waver. "A trophy wife?" she asked with a laugh. "I'm not a trophy wife, Eleanor. I've never thought about it like that. I actually think there's a compliment in there someplace, so thank you. Maybe I haven't explained this very well. The plain truth is that I really don't care too awful much what you think about our age difference. I understand that maybe that sounded harsh to you. I get that you probably have some resentment towards your father. I find it hard to fault you for that. Those issues are for you and him to work out… if you both ever choose to. But that doesn't change the fact that I love him very much."

She reached up and gave Steven a quick peck. "And Eleanor, if you believe this or not, I know for sure that he loves you very much as well. So that means that I'm going to be willing to give you every possible benefit of the doubt. Maybe someday soon, I'll be able to honestly say that I love you too. I think that I might like that. But make no mistake, I'm not prepared to take any crap from you for being in love, not from anybody really, especially not on my wedding day. It simply feels too wonderful to apologize for."

Ellie just stood and glared at them.

"Look," Joan sighed as she pulled away from Steven a little. "I understand that this is a lot to hit you with. I understand that we're not friends, that you're probably protective of the childhood memories of your parents a little. I'll try my best to be supportive. If we could make a deal, your dad is a little sensitive to the age thing. I've had to work pretty hard to convince him that it really wasn't important. So I'd appreciate a little discretion in not making him feel guilty about it, for both of our sake. In return, I'll be very sensitive to not showing him any physical affection in front of you. Deal?"

"Deal," Ellie sighed reluctantly. "Anything for that."

Joan's smile was clearly relieved. "Thanks," she said. Then she turned to Sarah, looked into her now hopeful eyes, and started softly laughing. "Um," she said. "What I just said maybe wasn't totally accurate. For the record, I will take a fair amount of crap from you. If only half of the stories I've heard about you in the lunch room are only a quarter true, then you still scare the hell out of me. And that was before you showed me your very large knife."

Sarah also wasn't yet in the mood for any humor. She had all but given up hope. Well now she had found some renewed hope… and the fear that always came along for the ride.

Chuck had been rapidly recovering and was now feeling good enough that he wanted to join the conversation. He was struggling to sit up but Ellie and Sarah each had hands on his chest keeping him where he was. "Damn it," he finally snapped in frustration. "Let me up. I feel fine." It was at least relatively true. The blinding headache had already faded to something more like a dull throb. In another hour, there would be no trace.

Sarah had already taken her hand away. She was far to relieved to put up much protest. Anyway, Chuck being annoyed with her was not high on her list of favorite things.

Ellie was still pretty much on the emotional edge. But the immediate medical crisis was clearly past. She took a quick glance at the instruments. His blood pressure was already out of the danger range and still plainly dropping. So she flashed Sarah a brief nod with a reassuring smile, handed Chuck the controls to the hospital bed, and turned her attention back to Joan. "Dr. Cole," Ellie said. "Do you really…"

"Eleanor," Joan interrupted. "You can call me anything that you'd like. But I'm begging you; please don't call me Dr. Cole. For one thing it's not true. That's not my name. You've had the privilege of being a Bartowski your whole life. I'm jealous. For me, it's only been about four hours now. I want to enjoy the feeling. Dr. Cole sounds a little obscene to me. She was a different person than I am now, one that I don't particularly like very much."

Sarah was no longer paying any attention to Joan and Ellie's bickering. It barely registered that she had just gotten her first glimpse of her father-in-law. There would now be plenty of time to think about how Chuck had his father's eyes later. With Ellie's reassuring smile, it was maybe finally starting to sink in through her all consuming fear that her soul mate was no longer going to die here today in front of her eyes. And that realization caused her to block everything else out of her mind as she totally lost it. She normally would have fought breaking down in front of other people, especially complete strangers, with every fiber. But that was out the window in this situation. So she buried her face into his side and openly sobbed uncontrollably in pure relief. "Please don't leave me," she sobbed. "We still have too many things to share."

Chuck finally had the bed raised and was sitting up. His first priority was to comfort his wife. He took a long moment to rub Sarah's back while he whispered into her ear assuring her that he was okay as she continued to sob. Then he turned his attention to Joan. Okay, yes, he was every bit as pissed at Dad as Ellie was, truthfully probably quite a bit more. But none of that was really this poor woman's fault. And for just having saved his life, she probably wasn't being treated very well. He had faced a pissed off Ellie himself far too many times to not have some empathy for Joan's plight. "Dr. Cole may sound obscene," he said with his classic grin lighting up the room. "But how about mom? I'll bet that sounds a little obscene as well."

Joan winced a little. She could feel the blush already hitting her face. In her bliss somehow it hadn't registered until this moment that from the moment in Vegas when she said 'I do' she, technically at least, now had two brand new step-children who were just a little younger than she was. But she also quickly realized that he was teasing her. She was actually quite grateful for the gesture and single truly friendly face she had seen so far today. So she flashed a grateful grin at him. "You're right, Chuck," she said. "I'm honored to finally get to meet you. For the record I'm very sorry that you've been used so cruelly. I'm happy to see that you're feeling better. I'd love a chance to sit down with you and talk about your history and experiences with the Intersect a little later if you're willing. I'll try very hard to not be the wicked step-mother you've always read about."

She turned her grin back to Ellie. "Please don't call me mom either. How about another deal? Can we settle on Joan? In return I'll call you Ellie."

Chuck's grin was now even broader. Sarah's heaving sobs were finally mostly under control. "Hey," he said as he put his hand under her chin and lifted her head gently to look into her eyes while she made no attempt to wipe away the tears that were still streaming down her cheeks. "How are you doing? I'm very sorry that I scared you so badly. I'm looking forward to sharing those things much more than you are." Once the long kiss finally broke, he turned back to Joan with a grin. "So, step mom, is it too early to talk allowance?" he asked.

Somehow in her suddenly relieved mood, that stuck Sarah as funny. Now the sobs had turned into laughing as she again buried her face into him. As miserable and panicked as she felt just a couple of minutes ago, she now felt every bit as wonderful and downright giddy as he continued.

"I think that I may have an obscene amount of back pay coming."

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At first Joey thought for sure that she was dreaming. Finally she woke up enough to realize that someone was, not so gently, slapping her face. When she was able to pry open her eyes she quickly realized this was no dream. The full memory came back of looking down, the horrible feeling of seeing the dart sticking out her chest, and the blackness quickly consuming her. She instantly realized that she had been captured… by someone. She also had received enough training to know what that probably meant. Indeed, she was wearing only her bra and panties and was hanging by her arms with her bare feet barely touching the cold cement floor. In fact one of the first things that she noticed was that the room was cold.

Once she was conscious enough to look around the room, she saw the older, distinguished looking man. In another circumstance she might have even noticed that he was quite attractive with the graying around the temples making him look rather worldly. Joey had always been oddly attracted to older men. The psych folks at the CIA called it a Father Fixation. But Joey instantly knew that this wasn't a social situation. He was just sitting on that chair grinning evilly. There was also a woman with dark hair who looked to be about the same age at the man. She was staring at her intently. She was also holding a syringe filled with some unknown yellowish substance in her left hand that was plainly meant for her.

"Hello," Mary said with sort of an odd smile given the circumstance.

"Welcome to Russia."

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