A/N: So not dead, which I suppose is a good thing. Just suffering from a really bad case of writers block. Finally decided to shoot this one and put it to bed. Hopefully you'll like it.
Thanks to everyone who reviewed. I know I normally try to reply to everyone, but this time around I didn't and I'm sorry about that.
So this chapter is a little bit of fluff and a log of dialog. I'm hoping to move on to Wookie next chapter. No promises as to when, hopefully significantly less time than this was.
Standard disclaimers still apply, not making any money at this, no betas were injured in the making of this chapter. If you're looking for canon, well you should know better by now. If you're looking for cannon you can try the Russell Military Museum off I94 between Chicago and Milwaukee. One of these days I'm going to stop in there rather than driving by on the way to the Ren Faire.
Chuck woke up and took a moment to determine where he was. The familiar walls and ceiling told him he was in his quarters at headquarters and the warmth on his chest and side told him Sarah was sleeping with him in their standard position. He smiled slightly as he reflected on how much his partner and girlfriend had come to mean to him in just the short time they'd been together. Having somebody he was comfortable just talking to about the stress and grind of the job made a huge difference, even to his few other relationships over the years. He'd been a little worried yesterday when the Doc had included Sarah in his post mission session, but it occurred to him afterwards that it was a silly fear. Sarah already knew his hang-ups and conscience issues and it had already been obvious they weren't going to scare her away. Maybe that had been the Doc's point. He'd have to ask the next time they had a private session.
Sarah stirred next to him. They'd actually gone to bed at a reasonable hour the night before. The debrief had been short and to the point, and the two of them had decided it was better to get a good night's sleep before facing Ellie and Devon so they had briefly checked up on his sister and Awesome and then gone straight to bed and sleep. Which meant Sarah was getting up earlier than normal for her.
"'Morning beautiful," Chuck said with a smile when she opened her eyes.
"Good morning Chuck," Sarah replied with her own winning smile. "How did you sleep?"
"Better than I probably had a right to," Chuck replied. "Thank you for that."
"What did I do?" asked a puzzled Sarah.
"You stayed with me," he answered.
"Hate to break it to you but that isn't something you ever need to thank me for Chuck. That is just how it is and you really need to accept that. In fact, it's really important to me that you accept it and stop questioning it. This is who we are now."
"Wow, that was really eloquent. And a bit arousing. Wish we had time to work on that," Chuck said now with a slight smirk as he gently pushed Sarah off and rolled out of bed.
"But we don't," Sarah groaned. "We have to get showered, dressed and pick up your sister and Devon for breakfast. Then we have to make our way back to L.A. We probably don't have enough time in the day to do everything we need to do and that includes the time change back to the West Coast." With that, she rolled out of bed as well and began helping him make it.
"Shouldn't be as bad as you think," Chuck stated. "While you were talking to the Doc, I talked to Sherrie. She's having the teams in L.A. set up another apartment in our complex for Carina, and one of the assault teams as a drill last night broke into her apartment in D.C. and gathered up clothes and luggage for her. I'm told that when they found out what the drill was there was nearly a brawl over who got to pack her underwear drawer, so she sent Anna. She could use some field experience anyway. That's already going to be in place when we get back. All we have to do is deliver her. We'll let her pick out a vehicle from the federal motor pool after we get everything else settled in. You two can go shopping for anything else she needs."
Sarah, looked at Chuck with something approaching horror, "She sent somebody into Carina's place to pack it up!? Is she insane? Anna is probably scarred for life now."
"Have you met Anna?" Chuck asked amused. "The only thing that scares me is the pointers she might have picked up. We need to do all in our power to keep those two apart, the whole planet's survival might depend on it."
"You do have a point there," Sarah conceded as they finished making the bed and Chuck headed to the shower.
After a few minutes the shower started to run and Sarah with a wicked grin on her face stripped down. "A bit arousing huh?" she whispered to herself. With that, she snuck into the shower with him.
Only a little later than they had initially intended, and a good deal 'cleaner' they headed down the room Anna had assigned Ellie and Devon where Chuck knocked on the door. A few seconds later Devon opened the door. "Hey Chuckster, Sarah, we're ready to go. El's just finishing making the bed."
"Ellie, the maintenance staff is going to strip and reset the room as soon as you go," Chuck called into the room. "You don't have to remake the bed."
"Did you make your bed?" Ellie asked walking out as Devon held the door and then followed allowing it to close.
"Well yeah, but that's my permanent room. Maintenance doesn't go in there unless there's a specific need. This is one of the guest rooms. It gets turned around every time somebody uses it." Chuck started leading the way to the same private conference room they'd used the day before.
"It's still polite to be neat when staying in a guest room. There's no reason to be a slob," Ellie answered primly.
"She does have you there Chuck," Sarah commented. As they passed the next room, Casey appeared as if by magic at the door and followed on with them.
"She actually does," Chuck admitted. He was trying to gauge his sister's mood and wasn't having much luck. A quick glance at Sarah revealed she wasn't having any better time of it.
"Well it's good to know some of your sister's good manners rubbed off on you enough for you to recognize that Bartowski," stated Casey.
"Hey, I learned my lessons eventually," Chuck defended himself.
"Yes you did," Sarah said as they finally reached the conference room. "And thank you Ellie for drilling them into his head. I appreciate the effort you must have had to go through."
"What is this pick on Chuck day?" asked Chuck.
"I'm pretty sure that's on Monday's now," Casey jumped in. "So this is just a bonus for the rest of us."
Chuck and Sarah both stopped dead with their mouths open and Casey chuckled to himself at his joke.
"Quick we better check on the temperature in Hell," Chuck recovered quickly.
"No, the joke wasn't that good," responded Sarah.
"Har Har," said Casey, "I can tell a joke. I wasn't hatched."
"Well it's good to have the confirmation anyway," said Sarah with a smile and a wink at Casey.
Along the side of the room, a small buffet with pastries, fruit, coffee and juice had been set up. The party quickly filled plates and sat down at the table to eat. They were waiting on Sherrie.
"Chuck, can I ask you something?" Ellie asked.
"You mean besides the question you just asked?" Chuck replied with a smirk.
"Smart ass," responded Ellie, "I'm serious here. I really want to ask you something and it's important."
"You can ask, whether I answer depends on the question," said a now more somber Chuck.
"How do you do it?"
'Well, here it is,' Chuck thought. What he answered was, "How do I do what El?"
"How do you do what you do? How do you knowingly put your life on the line and how do you… kill someone? I thought I knew you, but the person I knew couldn't have done what you did. After thinking it over, I get what you and Sarah told me yesterday, but I don't understand how you, my little brother, does this and I'm a little scared," Ellie expanded. "They let us watch the feeds from operations. I saw the beginning. I saw you drop off Sarah. I saw what you did to try to make the area safe for her and the other agent. I saw the pickup and I heard what you all said in the cockpit, and I don't know how my little brother did what you did yesterday. So how do you do it?" Ellie was clearly pleading with him to make her understand.
Chuck thought about his response for a few seconds watching his sister's and Devon's faces. There was curiosity tinged with worry and not a little bit of fear, but there was some trust and hope there too. He took a quick glance at Sarah who obviously had her agent mask up, but she gave him a little nod of encouragement. Finally he answered, "I do it because if I don't then it's very likely good people will die. It really does boil down to that. I do it because if I don't someone else will have to and from experience that someone won't be as good as I am. That's not bragging, I'm very good at what I do, if I thought somebody else could do the job better I'd stand aside and let them. What we do makes a difference and I can't simply turn away when somebody like Agent Miller can be successfully extracted instead of left for dead. I will not, I cannot walk away from that."
"But how do you know that you're not hurting people who don't deserve it?" Ellie asked.
"Sometimes I don't, but Ellie there is something you need to understand, if I and the teams end up at your door, you have done something to bring us there. We don't get sent in on maybes El. If we're tasked it's because we are very likely the last chance somebody has to make it out alive. We're not talking about some hiker lost in the woods here. We're talking about trained agents who are every bit as capable as the movies lead you to believe. If they're calling for help or it's being called in for them, it's because they've come up against an extremely dangerous adversary and without our help they don't think they're going to make it. That tends to take a lot of the guesswork out of who the bad guys are."
Anna had walked in while Chuck was talking and chose to speak up in support, "And we in ops aren't just sitting on our hands. We're doing continual satellite surveillance and background checks on the opposing forces while the teams and their support are en-route. We can, and have called off an operation because it didn't pass our background checks. Doesn't happen often but it does happen," she finished while she filled her own plate.
Sherrie had walked in with Anna and finished with, "We do the best we can. We are not God and as such, we make mistakes, but we do everything in our power to make sure we aren't causing harm to innocents. We take that very seriously at both a personal and an institutional level."
"Well, I wasn't expecting all the help," Chuck said with a slight chuckle, "but everything they said was true. We do our best, in the end it's all we can do. But our best is very good."
"Speak for yourself Chuckles, my best is awesome," came a wisecrack from the door as one fiery DEA agent was wheeled in.
"I'm not touching that with a 10 ft. pole," stated Chuck.
"The presence of ladies, requires that I not voice my own opinion of that statement," growled Casey. "And I'm not including you in that statement Miller."
"But you know me so well John," smirked Carina.
"Which is why I can't voice my actual opinions right now," responded Casey.
"Enough you two. You can work out your new partnership later," said Chuck to stop this before it turned into a playground brawl. The way that Carina shut up mid-way through opening her mouth for her next rejoinder, and the startled look on her face right before her mask came back down indicated that Sherrie hadn't told her that part of her new job.
Carina's eyes tracked over to Sarah for confirmation, and when she got a slight nod coupled to what was obviously barely withheld laughter, she got it. Turning to Sherrie she started, "You can't be…" but she was cut off.
"Actually I'm very serious," said Sherrie. "Casey doesn't have a partner. Chuck and Sarah are permanently assigned to each other. Like it or not you are going to be working with a partner to back you up. Any personal issues need to be put aside; I will not have my people out in the field without appropriate backup. Or do I need to remind you how you got into this position in the first place?" She looked from Casey to Carina. "Am I clear?"
"Crystal," answered Casey with a nod.
"Agent Miller?" Sherrie prompted.
"Good now we can get back to any questions that Dr. Bartowski has."
Ellie thought for a moment, "Is there anything you can tell us about the operation you're running and how you anticipate it could put us in danger?"
"Basically we're using Chuck, Sarah, Casey and now Carina as the focal point for a trap we're setting for some very bad people. We plan to capture them, roll up the organization and remove the threat they present. That's the bare bones plan, it's more complicated than that of course, but that's all you really need to know. It's also why we're concerned about your safety should they manage to breach Chuck's cover. Which brings us back to why you have a security team," Sherrie finished with a smile.
"How much danger are Chuck, Sarah and the others going to be in?" Ellie asked with some trepidation.
"No way to really tell," Sherrie answered. "However the security around them is significant, and that's not counting how dangerous each of them is on their own. They're going to be as safe as we can possibly make them."
Chuck added, "Remember sis, we're the ones setting the trap, we know what we're getting into, and we're doing everything we can to make sure we have all our bases covered." He then turned to Sherrie, "Not to cut this short, but we need to lift soon if we're going to get everything done we need to do today."
"Agreed, I'm going to give you some leeway to discuss things with Dr.s Bartowski and Woodcomb. Try not to push it too far, but I can see reasons why you might need to discuss elements of your missions with them." Sherrie then turned to Ellie and Devon.
"While I'm hopeful we won't need them, can I count on your professional services if we necessary? We have a very good medical staff, but you're going to be much closer than they will. We've built full medical suites into our bases, but it would be nice to have doctors of your caliber on call so to speak."
"Let's put it this way," Ellie said with a glare at her brother then sweeping the other members of the team, "if they need a doctor for anything and I'm not brought in there will be hell to pay later. Does everybody understand that?"
"Yes ma'am," came in four-part harmony from Chuck, Sarah, Casey and Carina. The last two showing some shock at the level of obedience Ellie commanded.
"Ok," Anna said getting up from the table finished. "I need to get back to ops. Have a good flight back to L.A. Chuck and Sarah, try not to scandalize Carina during the flight please."
"Wait," Sarah interjected. "I thought Carina was going to be in medical for at least another day."
"So did I, but medical gave her a release this morning with the instructions that she not do anything too strenuous. Honestly I think the CMO is just scared of keeping her around her domain, given her history with both hospitals, and guards," Anna answered.
"Ok, but I make no promises about scandalizing Carina," Sarah said.
Chuck piled on, "See we were doing some research, and there's this position we want to try that the pilot seats will be just about perfect for."
Anna was completely unprepared for that and they could see her trying to sync what she just heard with her knowledge of Chuck. They could almost read the words 'Does not compute' on her puzzled expression. Chuck and Sarah burst out laughing at Anna's predicament.
"Turnabout is fair play after all," Sarah said when she could speak again.
"Oh it's so on Blondie!" retorted Anna once she recovered from her shock. "And you Chuck. You too will rue the day."
Chuck stopped laughing and looked up confused, "'Rue the day?' You did not just say 'rue the day.' Since when did you become a cheesy comic book super villain?"
"I did and you will," answered Anna as she left the room. "Probably at your wedding," she finished causing Chuck, Sarah and Carina to drop their jaws, and Sherrie, Ellie, and Casey to smirk in amusement.
"I think she got the last laugh there bro'," announced Devon. "And it was awesome."
"Et tu Captain? Et tu?" asked Chuck looking at his sister's boyfriend as if Devon had betrayed him.
"I call it like I see it bro'."
"Ok, let's get this show on the road people," Sherrie commanded. "We've all got work to do today, so get a move on."
Sometime later after dropping Ellie and Devon back at their apartment Chuck and Sarah arrived at their residential complex with Casey and Carina right behind them in Casey's Crown Victoria, he'd had it shipped out to him to replace his Suburban as his personal driver. "Probably good Casey drove the Crown Vic today," Chuck commented as he parked next to Sarah's Porche. "Less chance of Carina being dead because it would ruin the interior."
"True, on the other hand I'm not entirely sure Carina is disciplined enough to not kill the driver of the car she's riding in," Sarah replied. "The fact that they pulled in right behind us lends hope to the idea they both actually survived the trip back. I was a little worried that they didn't make it back before us"
"So any way we can keep this under control?"
"Oddly it's Carina I'm worried about in this mix," Sarah answered. "Casey is professional enough that under normal circumstances I wouldn't worry about this, but Carina is likely to just keep pushing buttons, for fun, until he snaps. We need to get her to control that impulse or it will likely get bloody."
"Ok, I think I need to understand something." Chuck said as they exited the car. "You had mentioned that she wasn't this bad before the CATS broke up. But she hasn't had a steady partner since, and I'm getting an impression that survival isn't high on her priority list. What the heck happened when the CATS broke up? You don't talk to either of the other two anymore, and Carina changed radically. I think I need to know what went on. After we get Carina settled we need to have a chat."
Half an hour later, Carina was set up in her new apartment with a huge bowl of popcorn and some sort of rom com on her TV, Chuck had just about had a heart attack when he caught a glimpse of what she was watching. He and Sarah left her to her movie and headed to their apartment.
"Ok, that just did no compute. Nothing I know about Carina would lead me to believe she'd be caught dead watching a romantic comedy," Chuck opined.
"Actually, she was the one that would put in the rom com and watch it. Amy would sit down and watch with her, Zondra and I would roll our eyes and then get back to work, but Carina would actually turn it on in the first place," Sarah answered.
"Does she put them on to make fun of them?" Chuck asked.
"Actually no, Zondra and I would, but she never did. I think she actually likes them."
"Ok, let's sit down and talk this through. In fact, just a second," Chuck got up and walked over to the house phone. He dialed Casey's extension and asked him to come over, then went and sat down next to Sarah on the couch.
Casey knocked and was told to come in. When he settled into a chair Chuck started again, "Ok, I'm trying to figure something out. The two of you have had more interaction with Carina than I have, so I'm looking for some help here. Something just is not computing for me."
"Miller has never computed in her life numbnuts," Casey replied. "I'm pretty sure that's the reality we have to live in now. At least until I end up in jail for killing her myself."
"That's not true Casey," Sarah chimed in. "She was an excellent partner when we worked together. Admittedly, she's a pretty lousy partner these days, but when we worked together on the CAT Squad, she was solid. Still wild, but solid as a partner. It was only after the CATS were broken up she earned her rep."
"I'll have to take that on faith Walker," Casey responded. "I only got to know her after that, and it wasn't a good experience."
"Ok Sarah, I need to know why they broke up the CATS. I think this may have something to do with that event."
"Pretty simple really, we had a traitor, and couldn't figure out who it was. We were going after Augusto Gaez and every time we got close he'd slip through our fingers. I'm still convinced it was Zondra, I found a transmitter in her boot, but she claimed she had no idea it was there, and she passed all the screens. After that, they broke us up and sent us back to our home agencies. Amy, Zondra, and I went back to the CIA, and Carina went back to the DEA. We never figured out who it was. Carina and I are still moderately close, and Amy still talks to everyone, but that was the end of it."
"Ok, I need some more info," Chuck said and picked up his cell this time.
"Anna, it's Chuck. Are you still in the DEA computer system?"
"Good, can you pull Agent Miller's missions for the year after she was returned to the DEA from the CAT Squad?"
"Full detail mission and personal logs from all participants please."
"Send it to my secure account, thanks." With that he hung up, and started his laptop and mirrored his screen to the large flat screen so Sarah and Casey could see. And there in the first set of mission logs was the answer they were looking for
"Ok, so she was partnered with another agent… Oh well that's craptastic. Did you know about this Sarah?"
"No, why wouldn't she have told me about this?"
"At a guess, because of the Gaez mission," Casey answered. "I'm guessing she was second guessing her ability to read partners, you were the last one she still had a good relationship with, and was afraid you would think she was either stupid or weak."
"I'd also guess he was more than just a partner, which probably made it worse for her. Two traitors in a row, one of whom she was involved with and personally arrested and sent to jail? Ok, I'd really love to get Doc in on this, but there is no way Carina is going near him. Trust issues is much to light a word here."
"I don't suppose you'd be willing to find out where he's being held so I can go and kill him?" Sarah asked.
"No, but that does make me wonder something else," Chuck replied as typed quickly on his laptop and Anna's face appeared on his screen.
"Anna, we need you to check something for me. I need to know the status of one DEA Agent Edward Burke. If I were guessing he should be in Marion."
They could see Anna checking some files on her screen and then he repled, "Well he's not in prison anymore."
"He's not?!" Sarah shouted. "How the hell did that asshole get out of prison."
"Well he didn't actually get out, he was apparently found dead in his cell a week after his incarceration. I'm sending you the reports."
"One week, that's some kind of record, and it smells. Run him through the Intersect for us would you please?" requested Chuck.
A bit more typing later and Anna's face grew bleak. "He's Fulcrum."
"Of course he is," snarked Casey.
"Start a trace for me will you?" asked Chuck. "I'm betting he's not really dead. And let Sherrie know."
"Will do, but the trail is going to be really cold. We'll do what we can do from this end," Anna said, but she didn't look very confident of it going anywhere.
"Thanks, and I owe you one," Chuck closed the connection.
"Ok," Chuck began looking at the reports Ann had sent. "Agent Burke, card carrying member of Fulcrum, died a week after he arrived at the maximum security facility in Marion, IL. No autopsy was performed and cause of death is listed as a probable stroke. The body was cremated and the ashes scattered."
"So he was sprung and it was covered up," Casey surmised.
"That would be my first assumption yes." Chuck sighed and looked at the table, "This probably complicates things."
"Maybe not," said Sarah looking thoughtful. "What are the odds we can find him?"
"Now that we're looking?" Chuck asked. "Probably pretty good, despite Anna's obvious pessimism. I suspect Anna will tap the vetting team to search for a brand new squeaky clean government supplied cover that matches his description. These people are good but very overconfident. I bet we'll have a solid track in 72 hours or less. What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking about giving Carina a shot at taking him down a second time with us at her back."
Casey grunted approval and respect. A rare grunt indeed.
"I like it," Chuck said. "But, you do know this will mean, Carina and Anna will need to work together rather closely to do the tracking. It's the best way to both build her confidence, and probably track this asshat down. She obviously has a personal knowledge of the clown in question. Are we sure the country can survive those two working together?"
"Maybe, maybe not, but I can't think of anything crueler to do the guy," Casey chimed in. "He's going to wish he'd never been born when those two are done with him."
Sarah and Chuck both shuddered.