A/N I took a little break, working on other stories for other publications. Not to mention that I'm pretty terrified now. This season of the story will be a recomposition of the good parts of the Back 6, S4, and S5, with all the dross left out. I've already used some parts of the Back 6 in the previous season, but I'll be creating almost a whole new story as I go. I hate doing that. I have some idea of where the story will end up, but no firm ideas of how it will get there.
"It's too late for that."
"Speaking of therapy."
Storm clouds were gathering.
General Diane Beckman could feel them, even though the view from her office window showed a bright sunny day outside. Beckman trusted her gut over any window, especially that one. Storm clouds were always gathering somewhere, and her gut had been warning her for days, ever since she'd gotten that phone call from the LA branch office. She'd been cursing the name of Daniel Shaw ever since, not only for what he was doing, but also for taking her best analyst away from her when she needed to figure out what he'd been doing.
Nor was she the only one, not for cursing Shaw but for needing Chuck. His sister had found out about his double life at last, as he was literally heading out the door to go after Sarah. Casey had jumped on that grenade out of necessity, and so she'd been deprived of all three of her best operatives, since Ellie was brilliant woman, a born interrogator, and fiercely protective of her brother. Not only did Ellie want Chuck under her microscope, and Sarah with him because those two went everywhere together, but Casey could certainly stand to be relieved of that duty for a while. Years, probably.
She'd told Chuck and Sarah just yesterday to get back ASAP, for Casey's sake if nothing else. They'd said they needed a little more time in Paris before returning, not for themselves but for Sam Jones, a new agent sadly abused by Daniel Shaw due to her unfortunate resemblance to his dead wife. Less than a day later they were in the air. Any longer and she'd have deployed Casey to hunt them down in Europe.
Her phone buzzed. "General, your guests have arrived."
Her guests. Not 'her team', 'her best team', or even 'her special guests'. One benefit of the events of the past few days was that, due to Shaw's psychotic and unprofessional conduct, the documentation was…inexact. Just as Shaw had kept Jones' flight to Paris (legitimate to the best of Jones' knowledge) off the books, Beckman had kept Shaw's presence on Sarah's trip to Paris off the same books. The first stage of Chuck's pursuit was accomplished through Air Force auspices, with nothing in NSA or CIA records to show he'd ever left Burbank, or had anything to do with yet another flight to Paris out of DC.
In short, the best that anybody outside the principal actors could tell was that somebody had gone to Paris and somebody had just come back. She pressed the button. "Send them in."
Agents Bartowski and Walker entered the room. "Wow, what a view," said Chuck, staring at her window.
"Thank you," said the General, watching how they moved together. Good for them that they could, sad for them that they needed to. She allowed herself to get distracted by trivia. "It's a monitor, actually, security considerations preclude having such a vulnerability in my office. It's got feeds coming from multiple sources, so it's like I have different offices all over the building." She waved at her guest chairs. "Sit down, please."
They sat, close enough that they could each touch fingers with the other, which they did often. Beckman wondered if they were even aware they were doing it, reminded of Jones' wry observation. 'Couples' therapy for a shooting', indeed. "How was Notre Dame?"
They'd told her they were going, of course. They had been told to return to America as soon as possible, but for Jones the visit had been necessary, and necessary trumped possible. "About what we expected it would be," said Chuck.
"Beautiful, calm," said Sarah. "Soothing."
Chuck nodded. "Like listening to a hymn sung in a language you don't know."
Sarah smiled. "Chuck nerded out about the architecture."
"Speaking of which, how is Agent Jones doing?" said Beckman, already beginning to regret the inch she'd given them.
"Better, I think," said Sarah, unofficially the younger agent's minder. "She went to confession, and came out looking better. Less standoffish."
"I didn't know she was Catholic," said Beckman.
"There are no atheists in foxholes," said Chuck, and Beckman granted him the point. "We left her to escort Shaw's body back to the CIA. She's got our redacted reports, so hopefully she won't get into any more trouble than he's already given her."
Beckman made a note to reach out to the agent's superior. "She shouldn't. I made sure they understood the peculiar circumstances of the case. She'll get the help she needs." She moved Agent Jones out of her inbox. The less said about Shaw the better, the investigation into his affairs having already brought a number of unsavory facts to light. "As will you, Chuck, although the security level of your therapist will obviously have to be much higher."
"Why?" asked Chuck. "There was nothing about the Intersect in the whole case."
"That we know of," amended Beckman. "When the Intersect killed, it crashed and almost took you with it. I can't imagine what it might do to you when you're the active agent, or what you might do to it. You haven't flashed since the event?"
"Good," said the General, "We'll try to keep it that way. It will take some time to arrange for a proper therapist, and Casey can't wait. You will return to Burbank to deal with your sister directly. For now, though, please wait outside. I need to speak to Sarah confidentially."
Three of Chuck's fingers curled around three of Sarah's. "General," she said, "Unless it's mission related, I assure you there's nothing you need to say to me that you can't say in front of Chuck as well."
"This isn't about Chuck, it concerns you alone."
Fingers flexed. "I'm not alone," said Sarah, with a certain I'll never be alone again note to her voice.
Beckman examined Sarah's face–calm, still…soothed–her gaze moving down Sarah's arm, the joined fingers bridging the gap to Chuck, doing his best Carmichael impression. "I see." She looked back to Sarah. "You'll remember then that Col. Casey called me about the events in the train yard…?"
Sarah nodded. "Yes, ma'am."
"He also mentioned that there was more to it than what he'd told me, but when I pressed him for details, he said that I should hear them from you."
Sarah tried to remember back that far, so long ago that she was practically a different person. "I'm afraid I don't…" Train yard. The Red Test, Chuck's red test, not entirely fake. His face, trying so hard to resist, but the program…His program.
And then later with Casey. Her program. I'm the landlord. "Oh." She sat up, her hand rotating under Chuck's as his rotated over hers.
Beckman pounced. "'Oh'? That sounds…significant."
Her boss really liked being kept in the loop on significant developments. During one of Chuck's TNG marathons, Sarah had commented that Data should have gotten Picard's permission before installing an emotion chip. Operatives don't just go around altering themselves, especially for personal reasons, and if they find out they've been altered they should tell somebody. "Um, yes, uh, ma'am." She'd told Casey. He was there, and he wouldn't want someone watching his back that he couldn't trust completely. He would have alerted Beckman, he had, if he thought there was anything to be concerned about. Thank God for Casey.
Beckman kept her face stern. The Ice Queen was dithering. Terrific. Thank God for Casey. She could hardly expect Sarah to tell her about a rip tide while she's drowning in it, but with him as her lifeguard..."Perhaps you'd be willing to share it with me while you're sharing it with Chuck."
Sarah had already shared it with Chuck. "Um…"
"Agent…Sarah," said General Beckman. "Report."
Thunder rolled. The leaders of the Ring were technically equals, but as always, some were a little equaller. "C, report."
"Agent Shaw is no longer in LA," snapped C. "His name is no longer listed as being assigned there, but it's no longer listed as being assigned anywhere. No transport out of LA has his name on any manifest. Agent Walker left LA for DC the same night as their attack on D, in the company of a civilian, currently unnamed."
A sounded dubious. "Shaw?"
"Doubtful. More likely someone from the Buy More, we know they have an asset hidden among the crew there."
"Hm," rumbled A. "Continue."
"Walker's flight continued to Paris from DC, no one got on or off her plane. No one could see who got off the plane in Paris. Not long after her departure from DC, another flight also took off for Paris, one passenger. Today a flight returned from Paris to DC with three passengers, none of them Shaw."
"None with a high probability," said C. "Most likely is that Shaw is now in Paris. The cipher component is missing from D's safe, and some of its parts were fabricated near there. If so, he's on a wild goose chase. The only other possibility with any likelihood is that they were looking for the source of the footage that D revealed to Shaw."
"Good luck to them," said A, sounding almost human in his amusement. It didn't last. "That weak link has already been cut."
"As usual you acted too hastily," said B. "The loss of Sydney Prince's database has devastated our western operations. We need men like Zevlovski to rebuild."
"Zevlovski wasn't killed by one of ours, or even one of theirs, a sure sign that his usefulness had come to an end," said A. "Rebuilding our operations in the west will be a good test of Team Bartowski's effectiveness."
At an airport in LA, some turbulence, long in the building…
One day became two. Two skipped completely over three and four, and turned into five. Five days. The longest week of John Casey's life, including those two fruitless weeks in the walls of a tropical fortress. In summer. The closer they got to the end of his time of trial, the thinner his patience grew. "If you don't stop that I'm going to shoot you."
"It's an airport, John," said his intended victim, with a laugh. She didn't stop her nervous pacing. "Do you really think that'll fly, pun intended?"
Airports have security. He might get arrested. For a brief moment he almost smiled, but then his natural mood reasserted itself. Nah. That would only be good for a day or so, then he'd be right back here again, only worse. Suck it up, Marine. Just a little longer, a few more minutes, and reinforcements, that is, Chuck and Sarah would be here to take the heat off of him.
Ellie reached the far end of her pattern, and turned back."What's taking them so long?"
Casey considered the last week with a shudder. "It's only been five days. It should be a lot longer."
Ellie stopped, looking dismayed. "Longer?"
"What happened in Paris was a tragedy."
"Chuck and Sarah...?" Ellie's voice crawled to a stop, unsure what to say. She looked around, unhappily aware of how some things can't be said, not that she wanted to say them. "You know," she said, looking at Casey with some new understanding.
Killed a man? Yeah, I know. Been there, done that. Casey gave her a grunt, the first of many. "That too, but I'm talking about years ago. That's when this all started, some REMF in DC tried to break Walker, but she doesn't break." Casey shrugged. "A lot of stuff around her broke, though."
Ellie came over and sat by him, tired of pacing, more than willing to put those energies to better use. The jargon slid by her, but she understood words like 'break' even so, and she was a doctor. "What happened?"
"Ask her," said Casey, with no small amount of personal satisfaction. Ellie was a real devil at weaseling little secrets, but this wasn't his story to tell. Chuck leaving him stuck with Ellie while Chuck went to save Sarah was the right move, but Sarah was saved and he needed some rest.
"Is that them?" asked Ellie suddenly.
Casey had already heard the approach of the crowd. I certainly hope so. The plane had landed a while before but airports are almost as bad letting people out as they are letting them in. He stayed in his seat, unlike Ellie. "Sit down," he said. "They'll know where we are before they come through the door. You're just calling attention to yourself."
"What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing," said Casey. "Except that you're also calling attention to me, and anyone who makes me makes them."
Ellie sat down. "Your life sucks."
Casey thought about Alex, working her way through school while he had a go-bag full of cash. "Don't I know it."
"There they are," said Ellie. "Where'd they get the luggage from? And the clothes? They didn't go Paris dressed like that, did they?"
"No," said Casey, pleased that she noticed. "Just props for the cover." He took the keys from her hand and stood up, saying, "We'll take my car." As he led the way across the floor he said, "You're fascinated by something over on the left."
Ellie looked left. "I am?"
Casey turned to look where she was looking. "You are." He accidentally bumped into a tall, curly-haired man, obviously going on or returning from a vacation with his SO, or whatever they were called now. The two excused each other politely and went their separate ways.
Chuck and Sarah walked out of the terminal. "I hope you remember where we parked," she said.
Chuck pulled a set of keys from his pocket. Ellie's. He pressed a button the fob and heard a beep, with a flash of lights, bright in the sudden gloom. "Just as I thought," he said, "Lot K-C."
Marine humor. "Of course."
As they stepped off the curb the skies opened up and rain soaked them through in seconds. With a wry smile, Chuck held out his hand. "Welcome home." She took it, and together they braved the storm.
A/N2 Anyone who's read my other stories knows how much I dislike the way they leapt into the sleeping car after killing Shaw. I thought Chuck at least should have gone to a church or a therapist instead, so here they are. I spent a bit of time trying to figure out how to describe the church experience, and reminded myself of a beautiful video I saw of a Psalm sung in Aramaic for Pope Francis, a hymn sung in a language I don't know, and it doesn't matter a bit that I don't know it. FF won't let me post a link but google 'pope francis aramaic chant' and you'll get it.
This will probably be the hardest story I've ever written. I hope you'll all help me get through it with some supportive commentary.