A/N Hello? I look around the vast emptiness of my imagination, my flashlight small in the dark. Helloo-oo?
"Your guests have arrived."
"I'm not alone."
Casey waited until they were secured in his car and pulled out into traffic before speaking up. The rain drumming on the roof was better than any ticker. "That's called a handoff."
Ellie looked at him funny. "What is?"
The sound of her uncertainty was more than a little gratifying. "The handoff I just did." Casey chuckled. "When I bumped into Chuck, I handed off your car keys to him."
"I must have missed that part," said Ellie, sounding disappointed.
"If you'd been looking, you might have, but you were looking to your left, like I told you to," said Casey, not one to rub it in. Not too much. "Your part is called 'the magnet', and you did your job."
"Sure," said Casey. "Anyone who might have been looking at us–not likely but that's the sort of assumption I try not to make–they would most likely looking at you, plus it gave me an excuse to bump into him."
Ellie looked down at herself, her clothes, her…self. "I don't want spies looking at me, John!"
Yeah, that could have been handled better. "Relax. Think of it like a magic trick, and you're the beautiful assistant. Your job is to distract the audience."
Her breathing sped up. "An audience full of spies out to kill us!"
"Give it a rest," snapped Casey. "That whole 'spies out to kill us thing' is TV stuff." He waited until she seemed to be listening before he continued. It took a while. The steady drumming of the rain helped. "The business of intelligence-gathering is the gathering of intelligence, which is about as interesting as watching paint dry. It's sleight-of-hand, good timing, and never being noticed. What it's not about is killing other agents, that's Walker's problem in a nutshell." And that was all he was going to say about Walker's problem. Let Ellie dig into that one with Walker, and Chuck too. He sighed regretfully. "Not to mention that you can't have a good clandestine operation with a lot of alarms going off and dead bodies everywhere."
"Not even at the end?" She sounded doubtful, but then she'd seen his gun collection.
"That's covert," said Casey, with some degree of relish. He liked covert ops. Honest, aboveboard, violent. "Assassination. Terrorism. The kind of stuff we stop, and by 'we' I mean Chuck. A good operation, clandestine or covert, is invisible at least until the end. He's got a gift for sniffing them out." Not that he would or could tell her the specifics of that 'gift'. Let her believe what she would.
"Sounds like a curse to me," said Ellie. She didn't sound completely unhappy, though. Casey had already told her what a bad operation looked like, knowing how she would react. As a doctor she understood the need for the occasional surgery, but the metaphor was far from perfect and he never pushed it that far.
"He's said the same many times," said Casey. "Didn't stop him. Thank you for that." Chuck's parents may have given him his brains and maybe some other stuff too, but they weren't here and Ellie was. He'd met Orion, their father, and knew what he had to contribute, which was a lot but not nearly enough. For a second Casey pondered the mystery of Chuck's mother. She must have been a heck of a woman, to have turned out two kids like these.
"I didn't do it for you," said Ellie, pulling him out of those speculations.
She hadn't done it for anybody. She'd had no plan other than to survive, to stay together. "Didn't say you did." She'd succeeded on both counts. A pair of diamonds instead of a handful of gravel. "The important thing is that you did it."
Back in DC…
"Can you do it?" asked General Beckman.
"Of course I can do it," said a man's slow, gravelly voice from the speaker of her phone. With her workload Beckman couldn't waste a hand holding the receiver, and with her hair those headsets were uncomfortable. "You should have called me long before this. This is new technology, an incredible opportunity, and there's a facility in LA I can work out of. Unfortunately, it will take some time to shift my current workload to the other staff. They have to be matched pretty carefully."
"Understood," said Beckman. There was an old saying, 'all sane spies are alike, but crazy spies are crazy in their own ways', which she doubted somewhat. It seemed to her that even the sane spies were crazy in their own ways, but as long as it was a useful sort of crazy no one cared much. "Best speed possible, then. Keep me in the loop on your progress, so that I can let them know when to expect you. Until then I have to keep Agent Carmichael benched."
"And you don't want that."
"The country can't afford it," said the General. "Shaw's mishandling of his assignment hurt us and helped his subjects." A case of 'useful crazy' that had turned out to be less useful and more crazy than expected. "His notes are unreliable at best, and we need our best team to correct that."
The man sighed. "I'll do what I can, Diane. Until then, I would recommend reading the sister into these events. Her scientific background and devotion to Agent Carmichael's well-being should help with his healing."
"Already begun." Beckman smirked, unseen. "She interrogated Col. Casey extensively. I ordered him to be as candid as possible."
"I'll bet he enjoyed that."
"I had to call my team out of Notre Dame to save him from her."
"A location like that, they must have been even more desperate than you," said the man. "I'm not sure that was a good idea."
"They were there for an agent who isn't part of the team," said Beckman. "Shaw gave her a Red Test and then isolated her. They made me wait until she was ready."
"Good for them. Hm, yes, I see her. Not one of mine either," said the man. "So, not a bad idea, overall. A small rescue mission, just the thing to give them a purpose, without touching the areas we don't want touched. Do you have more?"
"I'll find some," said Beckman. She'd make some, if she had to, but she probably wouldn't have to. She had Daniel Shaw's career to pick over with a fine-toothed comb. "There's plenty going on in LA right now, but there are never enough people for all the cases, and the dregs are sinking to the bottom as usual. Going through that lot should keep even this team busy for a while."
"They're dregs, Leo, but they're Ring dregs," said Beckman, calling up the outline of planned operations on the west coast and scrolling to the bottom. "I'll do what I can, but no promises."
Somewhere, on a shielded, encrypted, and very secure conference call…
"Violence," said E. "Maximum violence."
"Yes, thank you for that completely unexpected contribution, E," said A, amused as ever by E's ignorant belligerence. "Does anyone else remember our overriding mission parameters?"
"Recovery of the stolen data," said C. Operations were his area, and with the death of D so was development.
"Restoration of our western operations," said B.
"Correct," said A. "Agent Shaw set us back years, gentlemen. That data still represents our best path forward, but I do not accept, as E seems to, that we should simply reach out and take it. Not only would a self-destruct doom our chances, there are better ways to use that data than E has apparently thought of. C, you suggested we use Team Bartowski, what progress have you made on that front?"
"Now that they have finally returned to LA, expectations are that General Beckman will put them to use in the ongoing western cleanup effort," said C. "As part of that effort, I have the list of those operations. I will arrange the proper revelations in the proper locations, to get them acting on our behalf for their own reasons. If they remain as effective as they have been, we should be back on our original schedule in a few weeks."
"You think highly of them," said B. Their original schedule, the one Agent Shaw had disrupted, had them in control of most of Asia by this point.
"You'll pardon me if I continue our current efforts to rebuild, regardless."
"It would be unprofessional of you not to," said C.
At home in Echo Park…
Chuck was in the kitchen making tea. He and Sarah were both in pajamas and robes, their wet clothing in the wash. Sarah sat on the couch under a blanket, watching him. She liked watching him, and he liked to watch her watching him. "Here we go," he said with a smile, picking up the two saucers and bringing them out to the table. "One soothing brain bath coming up, if the description on the box is to be believed."
"As long as it's hot," said Sarah.
Chuck mis-stepped, and one cup splashed on his thumb. "Ah! Ah. It is, yet it is." He put the cups down quickly and wiped his thumb on the robe. "I once knew a woman who could take dinner from the oven and put it on the table, and it would be cold. Not me, though." He pulled the blanket over his legs.
Sarah picked up her unspilled mug and took a sip. "Mm," she hummed. "Soothing." She put the robe's sleeves over her hands and held the cup around the sides.
"That bad, huh?" asked Chuck. He picked up the cup and sniffed the brew suspiciously.
"I would guess it was Devon's contribution," said Sarah. She looked around Ellie's living room. "Shouldn't we be in your place?"
"And make Ellie look for us?" asked Chuck. "Are you crazy?" Outside they heard a door slam. It wasn't a car. "Whoops." He threw off the blanket and started to rise.
Too late. The front door slammed open. "Charles Irving Bartowski," said Ellie, puffing like a dragon about to incinerate them. Casey, of course, was nowhere in sight. "What do you think you're doing, trying to hide from me?"
Chuck froze. "But," he said, gesturing at the floor and the table and Sarah and everything, "We were right here…"
"I don't care where you were, where were you?" said Ellie.
Chuck tried again, gesturing at the floor and the table and Sarah and everything, "We were right here…"
Sarah stood up behind him, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Don't bother with facts, Chuck, you'll just make it worse."
Ellie slammed the door shut and scooted right over. "Sarah!" She wrapped the blonde agent in a typically bone-crushing hug. "Are you all right?"
Sarah's eyes bugged out and she gasped. "I was."
Ellie let go, gripping Sarah's arms instead. "What's the matter? What's wrong? What did he do?"
"Chuck? He saved me."
"Of course he did," said Ellie, looking at her brother fondly. She looked at his hand. "Is that tea? Thanks, little brother, I am kind of dry," said Ellie. She took the mug and drank about half of it off in one swallow. Her face screwed up in disgust and she handed the mug back. "Ew! Where'd you get that?"
"It was the only tea you had."
"That's because I drink the good stuff," said Ellie. She turned back to Sarah. She blinked. "What was I saying?"
Sarah frowned. "Chuck saved me."
"Of course he did," said Ellie, looking at her brother fondly. She frowned at the mug in his hand, a little confused. She shook her head slightly, and refocused on Sarah. "So, you're a spy."
Sarah nodded, preparing herself an Ellie-class third degree inquisition. Casey had endured five days of it, could she do any less? "Yes…"
"So have you been leading me on all this time? You're not going to be my sister?" asked Ellie with a pout.
What? "Ellie, I've never led you on, at least not about that," said Sarah. "I've loved Chuck since day one…"
"A cover girlfriend for a real girlfriend?" asked Ellie, and Sarah nodded. "So would you also be a cover wife for a real wife?" Her grip tightened. "A cover sister?"
Sarah passed the buck, God help her. "Uh, he's…never asked."
"Chuck!" shouted Ellie, glaring at Chuck, and he recoiled, throwing tea all over himself while falling over the arm of the couch, to sprawl upon the cushions.
He didn't try to stand, or even wipe off the tea. "What?"
"Ask!" hissed Ellie in a savage whisper, as if Sarah wasn't right there, clenched in her hands.
"Uh…" He looked back and forth at the two ladies, stopping on Sarah. "Marry me?"
Sarah blinked. "Okay."
Chuck looked at his sister. "Okay?"
"Okay," caroled Ellie. Grinning maniacally, she pulled Sarah in for another hug.
Across the compound…
Casey threw his headphones against the wall. "God-dammit!"
Back in Ellie's apartment…
Ellie relaxed the hug but still did not let Sarah go. "You can go home now, little brother. I'll send her back to you when I'm done."
Chuck saw panic in Sarah's eyes. Torture she was trained to handle, but not this. He reached out to put the mug on the table and fell off the couch. "Ow."
"Chuck!" As one, the two ladies reached for Chuck, Sarah moving the table with effortless strength as Ellie lifted him off the ground.
Chuck moved to stand between his sister and his new fiancée. "I'm not going anywhere, sis, not for the General, not for you."
"I love you," growled Sarah from behind him.
Ellie looked over his shoulder at something he was probably just as glad he couldn't see. "Fine. Stay there." She marched off to the kitchen, rummaged in a drawer, and came back. "Hands. Left hands," she corrected as they automatically reached for her.
Ellie held up a patch of twist-ties and pulled two off. "This worked for me and Devon, it'll work for you." She wrapped one tie around Sarah's ring finger and twisted it firmly, then Chuck's. "There. Now, what I have joined together can spend one damn hour in separate rooms." She took Sarah's hand in her own. "Go home, little brother. My new sister and I need a little…girl time."
A/N2 I always thought the proposal plot of S4 was vastly overblown. After S3 they were so clearly together, I didn't see the point of them even getting married. Since canon insisted upon it, I can at least handle the matter more expeditiously.
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.