Solving Burbank, Prologue (1/9)
Summary: The road to the altar will be a bumpy one for Chuck and Sarah. It's not because of their relationship, though-it's their jobs causing the problems. Old friends and new enemies will appear as they try to eliminate Fulcrum. Will two spies get to live happily ever after? Continuing the story of Discovering Omaha and Building Rome.
Disclaimer: I don't own Chuck. No copyright infringement intended.
Author's Note: So here we go, with the start of the third story in the universe I've named Finding Home. I so appreciate anyone who's reading this new story, sticking with this version of Chuck and Sarah through a lot of ups and downs. I'm really excited to share this with all of you.
I know a lot of people really don't like Bryce. I happen to think he's fascinating and I'm really glad that I'm getting a chance to write him in this story. However! The presence of Bryce does not mean, in any way, shape or form, that he will be breaking up Chuck and Sarah. That is the last thing you have to worry about in this story. Okay? Okay. Then let's get this show on the road!
As she stepped through the deserted office building, its large windows revealing a snow-covered cityscape cloaked in darkness, the only sound was her boot heels hitting the marble floors. There was no reason for her to do this task now, in the middle of the night; in her position, no one could touch her. Not even the most powerful terrorist in the world.
But there was something about the late-night hours that made the distance between herself and her past seem much smaller. It was when she could fool herself into thinking that someday, she might return to her old life.
Once she was in her office, she waited until the door was locked and the cameras were looped before opening the envelope hidden underneath her coat. Turning the envelope over, she watched as its contents fluttered out and spread over the desktop.
They were photos. Stills from surveillance cameras mostly, with a few candids pulled from websites and printed on glossy cardstock. A beautiful brunette woman, wearing a wedding dress on a beach and smiling at a handsome blonde man. A tall man with the same coloring as the woman, dancing with her at what appeared to be the wedding reception. A shaggy-haired older man with hunched shoulders, standing between the clearly-related man and woman and smiling brightly.
The woman looked over the photos slowly, observing everything she could about the interactions of this family unit. For clearly, that's who these people were: a family. A father and his two children. She didn't miss the appearance of a stunning blonde on the arm of the son, a woman who had never appeared in these family photos before. But from the way the blonde looked at her date, it was equally obvious that she was part of the family now, too.
Accompanying the photos was a single half-sheet of paper. All it had was the name of the blonde and what was known about her.
Sarah Walker. Born Samantha Singer in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Daughter of currently-incarcerated con artist Jack Burton. CIA agent since the age of seventeen. Partner of Charles Bartowski for the last year.
She looked at the photos again. The blonde was much more than Bartowski's partner. They were obviously together. Perhaps thinking about a wedding of their own.
Letting the photos fall to the desk, the woman turned in her chair to gaze out the window. The snow was falling faster now, blotting out the lights from the city. Yet the woman could feel sunshine on her face and sand under her toes.
Daydreams were as close as she would get to the moment captured in those photos. For fifteen years, she had been watching this family. Seeing the girl and boy grow up, seeing the man become even more tired and unhappy. Observing how the man disappeared as the girl and boy became a young woman and a young man. And now, here they were, together again. Together and growing their family. Totally forgetting about the woman who used to be part of their little circle.
The woman straightened in her chair and turned back to the photos. Her memory was nearly photographic; she would not need to keep the visual evidence. As she had done every other time her source sent her this kind of information, the woman took out a large glass ashtray and a book of matches. Slowly and methodically, she burned each photo and crumbled the ashes into the envelope, the trash to be discarded as she left the building. Last was the piece of paper. The flames ate up the page, burning brightly as it ate the words "Charles Bartowski."
If she had been a different kind of woman, she would think it was a sign. But instead, she emptied the ashtray one more time, then removed the looping from the security cameras before leaving for the night.
The baseball cap was the male spy's best friend. Hid you from cameras, made you look younger, caused eyes to slide away from you. Only a good pair of sunglasses did more.
So of course, Bryce Larkin was wearing both sunglasses and a ball cap as he made his way through the streets of downtown Seattle. Even though he was dressed no differently from the other men on the street-jeans, a windbreaker, sunglasses and hat, sneakers on his feet and a backpack over one shoulder-he still felt conspicuous. Like he stood out too much.
Perhaps it was the sunglasses, even though Seattle was experiencing a rare sunny day. Or maybe it was the simple fact that ever since he had left Washington, D.C., he knew there was a target on his back. Invading CIA headquarters to take out a double agent would do that to a spy suspected of being rogue, Bryce admitted to himself.
As he crossed Fourth Avenue, he glanced over his shoulder. He felt somewhat reassured there was no sign of anyone following him. He joined the crowd waiting for the doors to open at Seattle Public Library's central location, a soaring multi-story structure of glass and steel.
Within five minutes, the library was open. Bryce made his way to level five, feeling disgruntled at the thought of taking five flights down if any trouble developed. But since all the computers were on that level, he had to deal with it. And at least with all the glass, he could see any aerial assaults approaching.
He did his best to act like a college student. He settled in at a computer, using an ID for Jackson Peoria to gain access. It was the name that had been on his college fake ID; a rare moment of nostalgia had made him use that name for his current identification.
Launching the word processing software and pulling a few books out of his backpack, he bent over the keyboard, his fingers flying over the keys. After twenty minutes of typing gibberish, he paused and leaned back in his chair, acting like he was taking a break. Then he opened the web browser and pulled up a variety of websites: Yahoo! e-mail, a Google search page, the online New York Times, and the homepage for the Seattle Public Library. He also accessed AIM Express.
Within fifteen seconds of logging into the instant messenger program, a chat request came in. Bryce raised his eyebrows. He hadn't given out his username; he had set one up for Jackson Peoria only to protect his cover if he was being electronically monitored. It appeared that he was.
Glancing around idly, he didn't see anyone watching him. He ran a few web searches on Google and skimmed an article in the New York Times before looking at the chat request.
TonyTesla: Pulling out the old favorites?
Bryce blinked. He knew that name. When he looked around this time, he didn't try to be smooth. He stood up a little and searched the library, looking for the only person he knew with that name.
TonyTesla: I'm not there, but I can see you. Nice ball cap. Didn't think you were a Mariners fan.
When had Chuck become so cocky? Bryce frowned a little. Or maybe it wasn't Chuck. The tingle on the back of his neck, the one he got when danger was approaching, was pinging like mad. He quickly typed a question into the chat window.
J_Peoria: How do I know who this really is?
It took a moment for the reply to come and Bryce felt that tingle increase with each second. But the response allayed most of his fears.
TonyTesla: Perhaps I should have used Dick Jobs.
It was all Bryce could do to hold back a snort of laughter. While he had always used a president's last name and a city name to create the name on his fake IDs, Chuck had used superhero first names and scientist last names. And one night their freshman year, while helping Chuck brainstorm, Bryce had come up with Dick Jobs. Ever since, it had been an inside joke for them, something they only talked about in private. Because Chuck always turned red as a beet when he said "Dick Jobs."
J_Peoria: Okay, so I believe it's you. But this isn't a secure line.
TonyTesla: I know. You need to come in.
TonyTesla: You can't hide forever.
J_Peoria: No other choice.
TonyTesla: There's always another choice. Come to Los Angeles and find out.
For Christ's sake, Chuck was the freaking Human Intersect, shooting up the ranks of the CIA, and had a hot girlfriend who was also an agent, according to the scuttlebutt. But he was still a Boy Scout. How was that possible? Bryce took off his hat and ran his hand through his hair.
If Chuck was still as earnest and forthright as ever, it was likely he was still as stubborn as he used to be. So there was little chance he'd let Bryce keep putting him off. He didn't know what Chuck knew about him. And he didn't know if this conversation was about an old friend finding him or a CIA agent tracking him.
Bryce blew out a breath. Either way, he needed to find out more. And he couldn't do that on a library computer.
J_Peoria: I'll think about it.
TonyTesla: Think hard, please. :-)
With a snort, Bryce closed out the chat window and began logging off the computer. Only Chuck could disarm you unexpectedly with an emoticon.
So maybe in the year and a half since they had seen each other, Chuck hadn't changed that much. Not like Bryce, who felt old and jaded well beyond his twenty-five years. Part of it had to do with how his career opportunities had dried up after what he had done at Stanford. First being sent to a listening post in the Falklands, then a low-level assignment in Canada-Bryce knew he was being punished for what he had done. For trying to sabotage Chuck. But he'd do it again if the opportunity presented itself. He couldn't wrap his mind around funny, goofy, exceptionally nice Chuck Bartowski as a spy. Sure, he was brilliant, but that wasn't enough in the field.
Shoving his books into the backpack, Bryce began preparing to leave. If Chuck had been able to find him, so would Fulcrum. After being on the run for a month, he wasn't about to let them get him. It would be a death sentence. But that's what you got when you shot Fulcrum's hand-picked choice to upload the new version of the Intersect, thus destroying a major operation that was their last chance at success.
He would have to find someplace new. As he walked out of the library, looking around, he wondered if he should go in. Meet Chuck someplace, find out what he wanted. LA was as good a place to stop as any, and if things got too hot, it'd be easy enough to slip away into Mexico. Of course, he could just head north and go to Canada, but after nine months there, working out of the Toronto field office, Bryce had gotten his fill of snow and hockey-although not Tim Hortons.
No, Los Angeles was a better choice. Even if he didn't feel safe talking to Chuck, it'd be good to see what he was up to. Because he missed his old friend. And he was more than a little curious to see just what kind of spy Chuck was.
Shouldering his backpack, Bryce began walking down Fourth Avenue towards the main Amtrak station. Taking the train would be easier than flying, and it would give him plenty of time to develop his strategy for approaching Chuck.
It was the middle of the night, but thanks to an unexpected January warm spell, Chuck was wearing just a short-sleeved black t-shirt with his dark jeans. His arms were extended in front of him, holding a tranq pistol and flashlight while he swept his eyes over the room filled with cubicles. He moved slowly, putting his Chucks-clad feet down carefully to eliminate any squeaking rubber against the still-shiny hardwood floors.
"Anything yet?" Sarah's voice was soft as she spoke over the comms.
"Nope," Chuck said, looking around the room carefully before starting to open desk drawers and cabinet doors. "How about you?"
"Nothing so far." She sounded slightly annoyed. Chuck felt the same way; he had wanted to follow Bryce's path after their chat conversation, as his former roommate left the Seattle Public Library, but tonight was their only chance to examine this former Fulcrum base. But when Fulcrum had pulled out of the office building, it looked like they had removed all their equipment and supplies.
It had been a month since they had moved to Los Angeles, and while he and Sarah were all thrusters firing on a personal level, Chuck worried that they were stuck in neutral when it came to work. Although the CIA was eager for them to bring in Bryce, their major goal was to eliminate Fulcrum. In the time that Chuck had been working to find Bryce, both he and Sarah had been spending time trying to track down anything that would be the final nail in Fulcrum's coffin.
While they had recovered various pieces of data about Fulcrum's agents in the past, there was still the Holy Grail: Fulcrum's complete organizational structure and full agent list. In their last briefing, Director Graham had indicated that if Chuck and Sarah could get that, Fulcrum would be done for.
Considering the number of times he had heard that one, Chuck wondered if he should believe the hype yet again. But since eliminating Fulcrum-removing a major threat both to the world and preventing the terrorist group from getting the Intersect-would mean it would finally be safe enough for Sarah and himself to get married . . .
Taking a deep breath, Chuck told himself to stop being so paranoid. There was still no evidence that anyone in Fulcrum knew about him. Knew that he had the Intersect. They were as safe as two CIA agents could be, and he hated that he was letting anything dampen his enthusiasm about getting married. But in some prehistoric part of his brain, what Fulcrum might do to Sarah in order to get him made Chuck very worried. He wouldn't be able to live with himself if Fulcrum tried to use Sarah as leverage.
He knew how sexist that sounded. And he was more than aware of just how well Sarah could defend and protect herself. She could do that better than he could, that was for sure. But that didn't mean he wanted to risk her. And it was even worse when he thought about the danger to his family and friends, if Fulcrum found them.
"What's your status, Chuck?"
Sarah's voice made him realize he had been daydreaming. "Give me a few more minutes." He finished searching the cubicles and headed towards the line of offices along the back wall of the room. "Can I say it? I miss Casey."
"Casey hated this kind of investigative work," Sarah reminded him. "He would have been grumbling all night about the CIA's girly tactics."
"Still, I do miss him," Chuck said before pausing at the first door to flash on some lockpicking skills. "Ironic, since it took us so long to be friends."
A soft chuckle was Sarah's only response. They worked in silence for the next ten minutes, before Sarah blew out a breath softly. "I think we can bag the search. If we haven't found anything yet, we're not going to find anything."
Chuck paused. It was rare to hear Sarah sound as frustrated as she did right now. "You sure? There's still a few more offices up here."
"I suppose we should check them out," Sarah said, a bit grudgingly. "I'll be up there in a few minutes to help you search."
"Understood," Chuck said, picking up his pace. By the time Sarah joined him, there was only one office left, but they still found nothing. He holstered his tranq gun and looked at Sarah.
Even with messy hair and a plain black t-shirt, Sarah Walker was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on. It still made him catch his breath when he realized that someday, they would be married. That Sarah would be his wife. He didn't know how he got so lucky, but he was going to do everything in his power to make her happy, to love her as much as he could, and to make their lives together everything they wanted.
"Are you worried about Bryce?" Sarah asked, taking his hand. "Because you've been quiet ever since you made contact with him."
Chuck nodded. "Yeah. I don't know if I did enough to convince him to come in."
"These things move slowly. It's like a dance," Sarah said, giving his hand a gentle squeeze.
"I know," Chuck said, lacing his fingers through hers. He rubbed his thumb against the finger where her engagement ring would normally be, if they weren't on a mission. "But I could have stayed on his trail, been able to make the next move." He frowned. "Or would that scare him off? Make him go to ground?"
"It's possible," Sarah said. "But he's your friend. You'd know him better than I would."
"Honestly, I'm wondering how well I knew him at all."
Sarah gave his hand a gentle tug. "Hey, it's all going to work out. I know it."
He gazed at her. Somehow, her confidence in him never seemed to flag. And when he got discouraged, she always seemed to know how to pick him up.
So the only possible action was to kiss her softly. She smiled against his lips, but pulled back. "C'mon. Let's go home and get some dinner."
"Have I ever told you that you're really the one with all the brains in this partnership?" Chuck asked, grinning at her.
She laughed softly, her cheeks going pink. "Flattery will get you everywhere, Agent Bartowski."
"Like home with my fiancée, Agent Walker?"
"I would say yes," she said, her voice a little prim even as her eyes sparkled. "Let's get out of here."
His usual rule of thumb for his life was "Whenever possible, agree with Sarah." This was one of those times he was really happy with that rule.
"Yeah, let's go home," he said, walking hand-in-hand with her out of the office building.