A/N The trainyard is a representation of Chuck's own mind, as perceived from the inside. I hope that didn't need to be said.
"I'm so glad you're here."
"Didn't want you to be alone."
"That degree of irony would probably make the universe implode."
"Lucky for you I don't mind long sleeves."
He sat on a bench in the train station, watching the yard. He liked watching the trains, not really wondering where they were going but aware that they were going somewhere, not interested in what they carried but he knew they carried something. It was the coming and going that pleased him, the constant motion, and all that it revealed. The yard appeared to be such chaos on top, but there was such order below, patterns. He liked patterns, liked finding them.
So many trains in motion, so many not. Tracks buried, unused, unknowable. He hated the idle trains for not showing him what was under them or where they went. But trains follow tracks and tracks follow… what did tracks follow? What was the pattern of the world beyond the trainyard, the world that patterned the tracks? Only the tracks could tell him that, and only the trains could tell him about the tracks.
He had to know.
He followed them as they left, felt them as they went wherever they were able to go.
The patterns changed. They both noticed.
"Is he coming out of it?" asked her assistant, fooled by the activity. There was always activity.
It had only increased, not changed bands, and she settled back to watch. "Not yet."
"Then what's all this?" He pointed to the suddenly busy wave.
Just an alpha. "He's dreaming." She sent a text to the group.
He saw things, in the trainyard. Some of them stayed, and danced for him. Most of them flickered in and out of sight, never there when he looked at them but teasing at the edges. Once he heard footsteps, and he knew fear, so he looked, knowing that what he feared would not be there when he looked.
"Please, Chuck, please come with me." He turned, and saw a woman, beautiful but ugly with fear, standing there talking to him, pleading with him. He guessed he was Chuck, it felt right. "We have to go away, we have to run away." She pointed to a train, battered and beaten. He didn't know where it went, it was one of the ones he hated.
I'm not going with you.
She came up to take him by the arm, but she couldn't touch him, couldn't move him. She was just a figment, a part of a life he might once have chosen. The trains doors opened and pulled her in, but he sat where he was, unmoved. The train closed its doors and left, and he tried to know where it went but wherever that was he couldn't follow. Where do figments go when no one imagines them?
Another train went by, slow and sedate. He turned to look at it. She was there again, in the window, hair glowing gold and blue eyes bright with happiness. Still beautiful but no longer afraid, she smiled at him as the train took her away and the sight moved him as no others had. Chuck stood. He had to follow, he wanted to follow, but the train was already going and the woman of his dreams was going with it.
He felt something, a shift in the air rather than the ground, a train that moved so fast it almost flew. He leapt on a box, jumped up and caught the edge of the roof, flipping his weightless self up on top of the roof as the train bore down without stopping. He ran as the train came in, he reached the end of the platform as the train went out and he jumped onto the roof of the last car. Fast as a bullet the train carried him along, faster than the other train, the train with the woman on it.
He had to find her, he had to be with her.
He saw her train up ahead and knew hope. He saw the path of the train he was on and knew despair. He had to hurry. The train he was on moved fast but the tunnel her train was going into was coming up faster. He leapt from car to car, train to train, desperate to find a hatch, any way to get inside before— That tunnel sure was taking its time getting here.
Was it his imagination or was this train getting longer?
Suddenly aware it had been noticed, the tunnel mouth leapt forward, swallowing the car voraciously.
Crap. The rear of the train was too far, the tunnel roof too low. He raced to the edge and did a handspring, holding on the flanges at the edge as–
Time slowed down and he hung upside-down in the still air. The fast train was moving, the only thing that was, and he looked over to it. With the clarity of dreams he saw a window and a man standing behind it, tall, curly-haired, brown-eyed. His face frozen in an expression of cold and furious resolve as their separate trains took them away from each other–
The air moved, the train moved, his body moved, completing its arc to hang against the side.
Somewhere down around chest level the window he was up against opened. Two strong arms wrapped around his waist and pulled him into the car as the train entered the darkness.
Manoosh knew he had the best job and the best boss in the whole world. She didn't care what he did, as long as he had what she needed when she needed it. Did she care that he stole sodas from the machine? No, she just fixed it so it was harder to do the next time. She didn't care if he read webcomics while waiting for his code to compile. She understood him, she grokked his essence. She was…awesome, scary awesome.
He would do anything for her, like modify her father's brain scanner to note changes in activity, as well as the activity itself. And then he added an alert to the new sensor. When it became quite clear to him how concerned she was for the Host, he added an alarm to the alert.
Which he could only barely hear over the sound of music in his earphones as he watched youtube videos while reading his webcomics and drinking stolen soda while waiting for his code to compile. The downside to multitasking.
He kicked his chair over to the machine and verified the readings. Betas were kicking up, alphas going down, the other two were the same as always. "Boss, he's surfacing!"
He got up and locked the door, so he couldn't accidentally go out where he might see the Host as she moved him out of the Intersect room. Then he went back to his desk and turned off the music and shut down the comic, now that his code was done. She'd need something from him, he was sure.
Somewhere in the midst of all these preparations he managed to lose the mildly annoying awareness that something was wrong. The perils of multitasking.
Chuck found himself lying in bed, so comfortable, the rhythmic thump of the train beneath him soothing and soporific. Or it would have been, if he hadn't been in bed with the most wonderful woman in the world, which gave rhythmic bumping and thumping a whole different meaning. He reached out.
"Be careful with the hands, Chuck," said his big sister's voice. His world shook with a loud accompanying thump!
"Aahh!" Chuck sat bolt upright, yelling into Ellie's face, but she simply pushed him back down again firmly. "Aah-ow!" A line of fire ran down the length of his back.
"And stay there until I get this thing locked down," she added, pushing the gurney through the doors to the recovery room. "You've had enough comas for a while, I don't want you falling out of bed and putting yourself into another."
"Where's Sarah?" he asked, eyes flicking side-to-side frantically but too terrified of his sister to move. "We were on a bed, on a train, and it was just going into a tunnel–"
She turned bright red. "I don't want to hear the rest of that dream."
He gave her an exasperated look. "Sometimes a tunnel is just a tunnel, sis."
"Or," she said, turning red again, "The tunnel was simply a symbol of transition, as you were becoming conscious and leaving the dream state." She pushed the gurney into its slot and set the brakes.
"Or…it was just a train."
She rolled her eyes. "Fine, it was just a train." She bustled about, reattaching all the little connections to all the little sticky pads, so her devices could tell her what her heart already knew. "How are you feeling, little brother?"
"Confused," he admitted. "Didn't I just leave here?"
"Only if your definition of 'just' means 'two days ago'," said Ellie. She got him another blanket, just to have something to do.
He recognized her need to fuss over him, and let her. "How did I lose two days? Did Carmichael get loose again?" He tried to remember two days ago, but all that came to mind was the trace-cell mission itself. Last night was popcorn and hot cocoa night, but if that really was two days ago, no wonder he was starving.
"Not exactly. I'll let Carina explain it to you, when they get here. Do you still remember the men with the gun, about to shoot you?"
Guns and needles combined, not likely to forget that. "Yes, and I remember waking up in the Intersect room."
"Very good. Anything else?"
"I remember the last time I ate. I don't suppose your assistant has any Geek Cuisine available?"
Now that took her back, but not in a good way. "Hot Pockets and Red Bull? I'll ask."
He was careful not to talk with his mouth full. "What?"
What 'what'? She was just sitting there. With a ridiculous grin on her face. "Aren't I allowed to be happy that my brother is out of his coma?"
He licked the grease off his fingers slowly. "You're staring at me."
"I'm enjoying watching you eat," she said, handing him a towel. All sorts of brain problems affect the appetite for the worse.
"And that's what's creepy about it." He wiped everything, including his face, twice. "You hate it when I eat this stuff. Whatever happened to my big doctor sister who was always nagging me to eat better?"
She couldn't scowl and grin at the same time. "I was not always nagging!"
"You put nutritional pie charts all over the kitchen."
Grrr. "Because I didn't want to nag you."
"Well, it didn't work." He tossed the towel at the 'soiled laundry' bin and missed. "All you did was give me a severe case of pie-chart-a-phobia. Probably why I went to work at the Buy More, no pie charts anywhere."
She settled back into her chair. "And would you believe that I was grateful, that you went to work at the Buy More? That first month after you came home from Stanford, all night gaming binges with nothing but this awful stuff to eat. I thought you were getting some sense of purpose back."
The curse of his perfect memory, he could remember those days just fine. He frowned at the blanket covering his toes. "Nah. Just trying to help Morgan out."
"I figured that out after the first year. You were there to help him out, and he was there to keep you company."
"He was developing his work-avoidance skills at the time. Not much of a career track in that."
Is he that stupid? "He was being your wingman while you were in a power dive!"
"I know, sis. I was being selfi—wait a minute, are you saying he was faking it?"
Okay, not stupid, just thoughtless. "Look at him. You're on cruise control, so is he. You move on, so does he. You got a girl, so did he, and then when you married her–"
"Wow. And here I thought you hated him."
"Oh, I did. For years, believe me, I did. I used to like Peter Cetera but Morgan just–" She clutched her fingers in her hair, then slowly let go. "But he's a great follower. He wouldn't let you lead him where he didn't want to go."
"Chuck?" Sarah's voice preceded here into the room but not by much.
Chuck put on a feeble, thin voice, raising a hand. "The thin, pale remnants of him, wife."
"Oh, well, then I guess I brought you this just in time." She put a foil take-out container on the tray-table.
"Is this a dinner I see before me, it's handle to my hand?"
Sarah drew back. "What?"
"Macbeth," said Chuck, bending back the edges. "One of the deleted scenes, I'm pretty sure. I'll check the DVD when we get home." He pried off the lid. "Oh look, salad."
Sarah pinned him with a look. "You need to eat better. Ellie says." She was really good at following orders, when she wanted to follow them.
"I love salad," he shouted.
She held out a plastic fork. "Good. And if you're a real good boy and eat all of that, I'll let you have the gooey burger-y thing all dripping with cheese and bacon that I left at Ellie's desk."
Chuck's smile was as plastic as the fork. "You're gonna watch me, aren't you?"
She stepped back. "I'm sorry. I'd love to, but…I'm not alone."
"You sure look alone to me."
"I'm not, but she's afraid." Sarah started to back away.
"Afraid? Afraid of what, me?" He held up the foil container. "I have this, I won't eat her."
"Just be gentle." Sarah left the room.
A second later, Carina was physically shoved inside. She waved at him. "Hi, Chuck."
A/N2 'Be Gentle'?How long has it been since anyone said that about Carina? Hopeful for comments below.