A/N I just want to say thanks from the bottom of my heart for all the comments I've received about this story and the series as a whole. It really fills me with terror, knowing what I have to live up to. Be warned, this story is much more of a sequel than the other stories were, it really helps (a little) if you've read Larger Than Life. Now that we've got the basics of this AU set up, it's time to get started with the larger story. So here we go.
Sarah couldn't hear the sound of her alarm clock over the pounding of her heart, beating in the same panic-stricken rhythm that explained why the annoying thing (the alarm, that is, not her heart) did such a great job waking her up in the morning. She rolled over and smacked it, only then realizing that it wasn't on. One of his jobs had given him the day off. The other one had decided that full daily uploads were perhaps not in his, which is to say, their best interests, and were experimenting with smaller, targeted data-sets. No need to get up early this morning.
"Hey! Watch the arm!"
Oh no. Chuck's arm, wrapped so tenderly and lovingly around her at night, was now trapped beneath her flailing body. Even worse, she'd woken him up doing it. This was not how she liked her days to begin. "Sorry."
He closed his hand gently, softly squeezing the part of her body that had naturally fallen into it, not an expression of lust but of comfort. "Rough night? I can feel your heart pounding."
"That's not the only thing you're feeling." She rolled back over, snuggling close. "Nightmare."
"Mmm-mm. I was killing Carina."
"Must have been a doozy of a bad dream."
"That was the good part."
Chuck gestured at the screen with the videos playing, sound muted. Sarah didn't need to hear any of it again. "I can't believe she made you watch all this. I thought she was your friend."
"She is," said Sarah, from her refuge in the kitchen, practicing her breakfast-making skills. "She said something she thought I needed to hear. Friends do that."
"Did you need to hear it?" Me, whining like a baby?
She paused in her chopping. Razor edges and contemplation don't mix. "I think…yes. I can't imagine I would ever have listened to any of that on my own, and I don't think it would have bothered me so much if it weren't true, at least a little bit."
If he'd known they were recording the scene as prep for their incursion, he wouldn't have said any of that, for fear that his comments would get back to her. As they had. He wanted to go back to sleep, so he could dream of beating up Carina himself. "I should have known you'd be riding to the rescue, kept my big mouth shut."
"Are you kidding?" she called. "You're the hero!"
"I was unarmed, tied to a chair, and had a bag over my head the entire time," he snapped. "Explain to me how that makes me the hero."
She missed the snappage, focused on carrying his heroic meal out to the breakfast nook without spilling anything. "It was a hostage situation, lots of guns and violence in the air, but he lets Carina run up, kiss him stupid, and whack him in the head with a brick."
He sat down and started eating slowly, making sure to enjoy everything as per her explicit instructions. "Sounds to me like that makes her the hero."
She came around behind him and draped her arms over his shoulders. "Alright, so maybe you didn't exactly talk about her, feed his delusion, and blind him to the truth on purpose, but it was the right thing to do and you did it. Do you really think Stromberg would have let her get anywhere near him if it hadn't been for that?" Let Carina have that much. His little confession of total intergalactic love more than made up for it. The best lies have a hefty dose of truth in them.
"Oh." I'm Kryptonite-Man. "No, I guess not."He forced a smile. I weaken my enemies to death. "Yay, me."
She leaned down and kissed him on the cheek. "Absolutely yay, you." She sauntered back to the kitchen, letting him get a good look at her lingerie-clad butt as she stripped off her apron.
I've domesticated a goddess. Maybe it was for the best that he was locked in the most thoroughly insulated room on the planet during their missions. Unless… he thought with fading rationality, his gaze focused on the shifting material. Unless this is one of her seduction techniques and she's using her feminine wiles to domesticate him which really made a whole lot more sense when he thought about it. Maybe it's just as well she was locked out of the most insulated room on the planet during their missions. Between the view and the food he started to drool, but he shook himself out of it. "I really appreciate the, uh, yeah. Oh, boy. But… don't I have to look at that thing they, um, wanted me to look at?"
Thud! Is not normally a sound-effect associated with aprons, but somehow Sarah managed it, as she dropped the frilly cloth item on the countertop. "Yeah," she sighed. Then she smiled. "We'll just have to make our after-breakfast delight an after-lunch delight instead."
No, I just don't know what else to do. She'd never had a life before. "Or, we could…go to a movie. Or a museum. A zoo. A baseball game." She looked at him, sitting there dazed. "Cold? Warm?" Give me a clue here, Chuck. What do normal people do with their lives?
"You know, I have no idea. I grew up in a suburb of a city that wasn't exactly famous for its museums and zoos. Unless you count the celebrities, I'm sure they feel like they live in invisible cages sometimes. I suppose if we'd had any dates that were either remotely real or not violently interrupted by international arms smugglers, we would know this stuff already." Suddenly he stood and flung up his hands. "You know what. Screw normal. After I get done pinpointing this nuclear bomb, how about we go down to the CIA gym so I can practice deploying the Morgan's awesome offensive capabilities, or maybe the range, where you can practice your gun kata some more."
She shook her head. He's so cute! "You realize they just made that up for the movie, right? There really isn't a 'gun kata'."
"I've seen para-sailing in movies, is that fake too?"
"Just because some things in the movies are real—"
Chuck clapped his hands to his ears. "La-la-la-la, I'm not listening, but seriously—" He dropped his hands, walked over and kissed her gently on the lips "—it is so sexy that you actually remembered Equilibrium like that."
It was the only thing she remembered about the movie, because let's face it, a gun kata would be a really handy thing for an assassin to know, but she decided not to point it out. Instead she leaned forward on the counter, aiming her cleavage at him. "You find that sexy?"
"The Nerd-sexy of my people isn't like your Earth-sexy, which…ah… isn't to say that I don't find you incredibly Earth-sexy too, but really we should get going before my tongue digs the hole I'm in any deeper…"
"I do have better uses for your tongue."
He clapped his hands to his ears, running away. "La-la-la-la I'm not listening!
Nobody noticed them come in. Chuck's Matrix was parked over by the Utilities entrance, the humble janitor called in on his day off to take care of something. Nobody cared what, no one paid attention to janitors, which is just how The Janitors liked it to be. Besides, right after the poor zhlub in a car too small for him came the hottest blonde in the building, in a car made to suit. Within a few moments, no one saw either of them any more.
Down in Intersect Central, Sarah waited in Medical until things settled down in the room across the hall. "Ellie, can you do me a favor?"
"One second." Ellie checked a number of monitors and readouts, verifying that the data they'd gotten was the data she needed. "Okay, shoot." She could analyze it later.
Sarah handed over the flash drive. "Can you watch these, and tell me what you think?"
Ellie took the drive and started the first file, pausing when she noticed her guest's reaction to get her headphones and spare her the rest. "I think whoever gave you this is either a very good friend or a cruel and ruthless bastard."
"Okay, bitch. Or some unholy and incomprehensible combination of the two."
"You'd be right."
"I don't think I'm going to like this person. I won't have to meet her, will I?"
"Unlikely, but she's on the team now and she is a friend of mine, so you never know. One thing I do know is that you're definitely going to have to work at it to like her."
Sarah made a show of checking her watch. "Right about…now."
"What the hell? Is that Chuck?"
"She got him kidnapped?"
"It's like she has this…superpower."
Ellie kept silent until the recording ended. "Tell me."
"They were after her, and took him to trade. They had no idea who he was or what we would do. I almost felt sorry for them."
"No. They took my husband, I gave them what they deserved for it." Her voice got less firm. "Does that make me a bad person?"
It wasn't an idle question, and Ellie knew it. She put her own irritation aside. Someone was hurting and she was a doctor. "Sweetie, you're a wife and an agent. I'd be more upset if you hadn't done something. It's the same for doctors. Sometimes you have to do bad things to prevent worse things. It wasn't bad, just…necessary." She came around her desk and enveloped Sarah in a rare non-bone-crushing hug. "Is it bothering you?"
"Ah, and that's what's bothering you."
"No. Well, yes, but…" Sarah fell into a chair. "I'm more comfortable rescuing my husband from a hostage situation than I am just lying in bed with him."
"That's not surprising." She stroked Sarah's hair. "A hostage situation gives you an enemy and a purpose. Lying in bed, you look out over this vast indefinite future of things happening, but you don't know what they are or what you can do about them. You can't plan or prepare."
"I like to plan," Sarah said to her knees.
Ellie smiled. "You mean all those missions with my brother didn't give you a taste for making it up as you went along?"
"Please, he was worse than Carina. At least she had a plan, she just didn't bother sharing it with the rest of us. You're brother is a genius but he wasn't easy to work with." Suddenly her pocket buzzed, and Sarah pulled out her phone. She read the text aloud. "Grab your passport and pack your swimsuit, you're going to Hawaii!" She looked up. "Can I take that last sentence back?"
"He does know that's a state. I helped him study for his geography final."
"I can ask him…"
Ellie waved a hand. "Don't bother, he's on a roll."
"Okay." She started typing. "Why am I going to Hawaii?"
Even the buzz of the phone seemed more agitated. "The Ring's going after Morgan!"
And so it begins.