A/N Here begins the second half of nine2five. The next 10 episodes will be more of an arc than the last 10 episodes were. At least I hope so.
"Save it for the bad guys, Carmichael."
"And they used to call me a wildcard."
"I have to prove myself."
"I wasn't expecting all of that."
Chuck woke up in bed, heart pumping. Sarah snuggled closer, and he knew the knives were coming out. He wore a set now, too, so no matter what position they found themselves in she'd have access to one of them. He opened his eyes. No ninjas. "It's all right, Sarah."
Her fingers moved, pushing the blade back. "I beg to differ, Mr. Bartowski. Almost getting thrown out of bed does not qualify as 'all right' in my book."
"How can you talk like that first thing in the morning?"
She squeezed his arm, and the knives strapped around it. "The same way I can impale an alarm clock first thing in the morning."
"You said that was muscle memory."
"The knife-throwing is. The part about identifying and responding to the enemy isn't. An army of zombies isn't going to wait until I'm ready before they attack, I have to be ready right from the get-go."
He stared at her in wonder. "Did you just say zombies?"
She nodded. "It's called tailoring the message to the audience."
"Ooh, no complaints, I love it when you talk nerdy. Say some more. 'Ash Williams.' 'Army of Darkness.' 'Skull Moun–'"
Her hand pressed harder over his mouth as she pushed herself up into his field of vision. "You don't really think you've distracted me, do you?"
He shook his head as much as she let him, mumbling, "Mm-mm."
"Good." She removed her hand from his lips. "Spill."
"Just a nightmare. I dreamed Ellie was putting the skills back into my head." He didn't need to mention the Terminator and Frankenstein imagery involved, Sarah'd already had to hide those movies.
Sarah frowned. "She's doing that today." And you're worrying about it now?
"Duh. If she was doing it tomorrow I would have had the nightmare tomorrow!"
"You schedule your nightmares?"
"I have a remarkably efficient subconscious."
Let it go. "Chuck, you need the skills. Ellie may be on retainer, and Manoosh may be part of some kind of elaborate work-release program, but your detail isn't free and I'm not supposed to be here. Beckman didn't budget the extra manpower to protect you, and the CIA had an entire team they had to reassign at the last minute because I got sidelined." Oh, crap.
He watched her face fall. "You think I'm the sidelines?"
She dropped her head to his shoulder. "Can I take back what I said about waking up smart?" Her head came up and she looked him in the eye. "No, you're not the sidelines-if anything you're the referee who watches the referees-but only you and I know that. To everyone else I've been benched-I'm not even teaching-and sooner or later they're going to ask why."
The man pressed the odd electronic key into Carina's hand. "You do not need to know why, Agent Miller. You need only do as we direct. Complete your assignment by tomorrow and no one has to die."
Carina pondered the glowing key in her hand as her visitor let himself out. So they want a piece of the Intersect, do they? That was just fine with her.
Ellie smiled when Chuck entered the room for his checkup. "Hey, little brother, ready for the main event?"
Chuck didn't smile back. "Hey, big sis," he said, pointing over his shoulder at the Intersect Room across the hall, "You ready to turn me back into a lethal killing machine?"
She pointed, and he sat. "Well, for a lethal killing machine, you sure do have a terrible track record, Chuck." She started gathering the usual vital statistics. "Zero killed, practically no one even wounded in how many at bats?"
He looked down at the floor. "I think Pebbles might disagree with you."
"According to Sarah, Pebbles gave you permission. He practically gave you an order."
You take someone down, you're supposed to take them all the way down. But the thing that took Pebbles most of the way down wasn't him. "No, he gave the Intersect an order."
She grabbed his chin, pulled his head around to look at her. "No, Chuck, he gave you the order. Your unconscious mind interpreted it that way and passed it on to the Intersect."
"So what's the difference? He's still in traction."
"The difference is that the code Manoosh created was put into a pair of glasses and intended to be used at will, and that's the code we put into the Intersect, Chuck." She tapped him on the side of his head. "These skills will not be affected by your emotional state, and cannot be used by anything other than your conscious mind."
Now he smiled. "I won't wake up in the street, surrounded by ruins? That's great!"
It was her turn to not smile. "Well, good, but not great, Chuck. They won't work by reflex either. If you don't have a chance to flash on them you're as helpless as any other man." Except that most other men aren't pursued by every spy agency on Earth.
"I'll take that chance, sis. I'm not supposed to use them except as a last resort. And anyway, it's better than what happens now."
Knocked out, utterly helpless. "It is, but you're going to need to practice flashing, make it as much a reflex as Casey does with his guns."
His world hadn't changed this much since he'd woken up on the floor after reading Bryce's email. "Wow, I never thought I'd hear you say that."
Ellie took his face in her hands, eyes glistening. "Chuck, I hate the idea of using words like 'you' and 'weapon' in the same sentence. But you have these weapons now, and the only thing I can do is help you control them so that they don't control you." Ellie released his face, stood and turned, wiping her face with a tissue. Doctor Woodcombe turned back around. "I hate this, Chuck, but you promise me you'll do your best to master these damned things."
He nodded. "'Cause the zombies aren't going to wait until I'm ready."
She made an exasperated sound. "This isn't a video game, Chuck."
"You say that now…"
"No, now I say get across the hall. We'll do the full upload, but Beckman's authorized a short session, with a full workup on the skills afterward."
He stood up with a sigh. "As old as we both are, and you're still sending me to my room."
She sent him to his doom with a smile. "What can I say, it's a perq."
"Ladyfeelings, this is Tough Guy."
Casey actually looked at his phone, making sure it really was the super-secret one. "What the hell are you doing on this channel?" Only Graboid should be calling on that phone. "Haven't you uploaded yet?"
"Not yet, Ladyfeelings, but soon. I wanted to float an idea past you before upload, in case I forget to ask it later."
This was the first live test of that little traitor's new code. Sure they all trusted Ellie to catch any little bugs he might plant, but Casey could see why Chuck would be concerned. "I'm listening."
"Doctor says the skills won't work automatically anymore. She thinks I need to train myself to flash on them as a reflex, like you do with your guns, so I was wondering..."
Okay, not what he'd been expecting. "You want me to set up a training program for you? Not a problem."
"Oh, don't thank me yet, Tough Guy," said Casey, with what can only be described as some hideous flavor of glee in his voice.
"Sure thing, Dirtnap," said Stampede. "I'll be glad to help." She ended the call, but the message hung in her mind. Chuck wanted to train. Perfect.
"Good afternoon, team. I have some interesting news for you, but before I deliver it I'd like to hear from Doctor Woodcombe on the status of the skill set upload."
Ellie's image expanded to dominate the screen. "The upload proceeded normally, General. Manoosh's contributions to the code integrated smoothly. We had a short session today, with no noticeable statistical deviation from the Intersect's behavior on other days. All test cases passed successfully, and several new cases were reported to the appropriate analysts for confirmation.
"The skill set testing was conducted by Agent Bartowski, with Manoosh and myself monitoring the Intersect's behavior and stress levels remotely. As we expected he failed the reflex test. Previously observed pain and other physical reactions were not observed in any of the same scenarios, such as lock-picking. Most important, the weapons skills appear to have survived intact."
"More intact than the tester, it appears."
Sarah lifted her bandaged fingers to gently touch the bruise on her cheek.
"I'm very surprised that Chuck would harm you even this much, Sarah."
"Uh, it was…my fault, General. I slipped, lost control of my flail…Chuck used his staff to prevent even worse damage."
"Yes, General. Ellie also made him flash on the first aid skills and treat the injury himself." Waste not, want not.
"Well done. Would you say that he was in condition for more extensive, less structured testing?"
Sarah rose out of her seat. "That sounds like a combat scenario, General, and if so, Chuck will never–"
"It is not a combat scenario, Mrs. Bartowski, we are all agreed that your husband is not cut out for those." Beckman waited until Sarah settled herself. She didn't wait for the angry, suspicious expression on her face to go away because that would take a really long time. "We recently had an attempted break-in at our LA facility, a 15-story deep secure vault."
The word 'attempted' covered a multitude of details, but not all. "Do we know what the target was, General?"
"An electronic key was captured, Colonel. The target is need to know, and you do not need to know. However, as part of the fallout from this raid, we have been tasked to verify the security of our own facility here in DC. My thought was to have that job undertaken by Mr. Bartowski, with some members of the team as back-up. Under the three-man rule, that leaves you and Agent Miller to settle it amongst yourselves, as I assume Agent Bartowski will be the second member."
Sarah nodded, but Ellie overrode her. "I would recommend not, General. Even though her injuries are minor I don't think it's advisable to use Agent Bartowski for this, not when alternatives are available."
Beckman ignored Sarah's shocked protest and nodded. "As you wish, Doctor. The team will consist of Mr. Bartowski, Agent Miller, and Colonel Casey. Details will be sent, but the mission is a go for tonight. Try not to break anything." Her image blinked out.
"The answer is no, Sarah." Ellie's image blinked out too.
"Damn! Gotta go, the third floor men's is acting up again. Damn accountants, you'd think they'd know how much a roll of toilet paper costs–" Casey's image blinked out.
Carina smirked. "How does it feel to be benched, Sarah?"
"Yes, Agent Bartowski?"
"We've been friends for years, Carina–"
"Sarah Walker was my best friend. I don't know who you are. Don't worry, Agent, I'll take good care of your nerd." Carina smiled as she cancelled the connection.
The very best.
A/N2 By the way, just so you know, I'm collecting these chapters up into a single document which I will be turning into a PDF when it's all done. The image in the header is the cover art for that.