A/N: Recently, there have been a lot of excellent, intriguing stories that start with a canon event, but then take a decidedly different path.
This is a story along those lines.
A tale of "What If".
What if events had taken a radically different course very early on?
Don't own Chuck et al.
Chapter One: Dying
She stares hungrily at the door.
Her path to freedom.
If she can only hang on for another minute.
But it's tortuous. Agonizing.
Time has actually seemed to stop.
Then the inevitable happens.
The minute hand moves.
She logs off her computer and rises from her desk, absent-mindedly brushing the crumbs from her black skirt as she comes to her feet. She looks down, sees the small stain on her blouse.
I should really stop eating at my desk.
She laughs at herself, scornfully.
I've said the same thing at least a hundred times this year.
As she turns to retrieve her suit jacket hanging from the back of her chair, the familiar pain in her leg momentarily flares up.
I should run more often. That seems to help.
Again, she laughs at herself, bitterness now mixed in with scorn.
And just how many times have I told myself that?
She slides open her desk drawer, pulls out her purse and her sidearm, its familiar weight a comfort to her.
It never let me down. Unlike the people I once depended upon.
She jams the S&W forcefully into her purse, snaps closed the flap.
It's the weekend and there's that nice bottle of white wine cooling in my fridge. Time to go home.
She corrects herself.
Home? That's a joke. Time to return to where I stay.
Settling the purse on her shoulder, she walks toward her office door. But just as she nears it, the door swings open, almost hitting her in the face.
Her young office assistant, seeing what she almost did, blushes, stammers out an apology, "I'm…I'm sorry, Agent Walker."
Sarah growls, "Next time, knock."
The woman takes a step back. "Yes, Agent Walker."
When she says nothing else, Sarah impatiently asks, "What do you want? I'm off until Monday."
The young woman appears to gather her thoughts. "Oh! The Director wants to see you."
"When?" She thinks for a moment. "Now? Yes, that's right. Now."
For a moment hope flares up in Sarah's chest.
Maybe Graham finally has a miss—
She stops the ingrained mental response.
Get hold of yourself, Sarah. Graham's been gone for over a year.
Sarah realizes she's been silently staring for a few seconds, making her rather incompetent OA very uneasy. Obviously, they'd scrapped the bottom of the barrel when they'd assigned this… person to her.
Just another sign of her current standing in the eyes of her bosses.
"Thank you. You can go home now. I'll see you on Monday."
Looking relieved, the woman mumbles her thanks and, gathering her things, flees from the outer office, leaving Sarah standing contemplatively alone.
She's puzzled. There's no love lost between her and the current Director. Ever since her accident, but especially since the demise of the previous director, it's clear the CIA has no idea what to do with Agent Sarah Walker.
And she understands their dilemma.
How do you handle a person who was known by so many in the American intelligence community as Langston Graham's personal enforcer? A sanctioned assassin who'd been personally groomed by a man who, in his death, and in the revelations that followed his demise, became an embarrassment to that same community?
Times had changed. The new administration was trying to portray the CIA, at least on the surface, as a kinder, gentler organization. There was no place for a throw-back like Sarah Walker.
Firing her would appear vindictive (and possibly illegal), so they'd shunted her off into a meaningless job—assistant to the Assistant Director of Logistical Appropriation—hoping the problem would just go away. That she would just do her time and then be presented with a nice plaque before being dumped unceremoniously out into the world.
They'd even offered her a deal where she could retire with full benefits after fifteen years instead of the usual twenty. Counting from when she was seventeen (which they'd finally confirmed as her recruitment age after a careful search of Graham's previously hidden files), it meant she had three more years to go.
She had no idea if she had the strength to hold on that long. Some days she felt like she might literally die of boredom long before then.
But what options did she have? She'd been what she'd been her entire adult life. And the last two years had not exactly instilled any degree of self-confidence.
Once or twice, she'd even imagined sitting across from a potential employer as the person read over her resumé.
"It says here that you were an assassin for the CIA. Am I reading that right?"
"And that you're good at disguising who you really are?'
"And lying, you're good at that as well?"
The woman shakes her head. "I'm sorry, Miss Walker, but that's not the kind of person we're looking for here at Denny's."
Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Sarah buttons up her suit jacket, making sure it covers the stain on her blouse. Then, closing the door behind her, she starts her long journey. As befits her reduced stature, Sarah's office is about as far away as possible from the Director's while still being in the same building. It'll take at least ten minutes to get there, thus giving her time to think back to the night it'd all gone wrong.
So, so wrong.
"I have a new assignment for you—something stateside."
Sarah looks down at the photo in the file Graham had just pushed her way. The man in it is a little goofy looking with his curly hair and odd smile, but there's something about his eyes…
"You think you can handle this one?"
"Yes, Sir. I'm sure I can."
She can't help but think that this will be a piece of cake compared to hiding the baby from Graham and everyone else in the CIA.
"What did he do?"
"We're not sure he did anything. Bryce sent some…data his way before he died."
Graham pauses, but Sarah manages to keep her expression neutral, even though she's hurting badly inside.
She manages to avoid cursing Bryce out loud…barely.
Her boss goes on, "He may be innocent, but we need you to either retrieve the data or make sure no else can get their hands on it.
"How do you want me to handle it?"
"Whatever means necessary, Agent Walker. I trust your judgement."
Sarah knows that she's just been given Carte Blanche, even to the point of eliminating the man whose file she currently holds in her hands.
"I understand, Director. I'll leave first thing in the morning."
"Good, Agent Walker. Please go over the file before you leave."
"Understood, Sir. I'll contact you tomorrow."
"Very good. Dismissed."
As she drives to her small D.C. apartment, after having read the file, she wonders what kind of information Bryce could have passed on to Bartowski, his former college roommate. And why?
And why had the bastard betrayed her? How could he have hung her out to dry after they'd been…what? She wasn't exactly sure.
Colleagues with benefits? Certainly not lovers in the sense she understood the word.
How can you be in love with someone to whom fidelity and commitment were totally foreign concepts?
The road home is sparsely occupied this late at night, so she may have been excused for driving on autopilot, her mind full with Budapest, the baby, Bryce and now this Bartowski guy.
But, in the end, it may not have made any difference if she'd been fully attentive or not. After all, who could've anticipated that a responsible parent would choose that night to give a brand new Lamborghini to an irresponsible eighteen-year-old boy, especially one who was trying his best to impress his brand new girlfriend?
It's only her quick reactions that save Sarah from certain death. In the fraction of a second she's given, she knows she can't avoid being hit by the yellow supercar running the red light, but if she can just gain a couple of feet she'll at least avoid being t-boned.
Not that she has time to consciously think of that.
She stomps on the accelerator.
The Gallardo hits the rear quarter panel instead of her door. Nonetheless, the energy being carried by the car traveling at least a hundred miles per hour is sufficient to spin her vehicle, violently slamming the Driver's side into a lamppost.
Despite the cushioning provided by the airbags, she loses consciousness as the femur of her left leg basically shatters.
The Lambo goes airborne, flipping tail-over-head before smashing into a concrete barrier and disintegrating, instantly killing both occupants.
As the elevator takes her from the basement up to the Director's floor, Sarah remembers the pain, the disorientation she'd experienced upon waking up in the hospital.
In the immediate aftermath of the accident, no one had come to visit her. In truth, it hadn't really surprised her. Who was there?
Bryce was gone. Her father was who knows where. Of course, she couldn't receive visits from the mother she'd worked so hard to keep concealed. And apparently Carina was on a long-term undercover mission somewhere.
The only acknowledgement of what had happened had come in the form of a secure text she'd found on her phone upon awakening.
Sorry to hear you've been injured. We'll see you when you've recovered. I've assigned Agent Forrest to take your place on the mission we discussed. Graham.
That was it. Clearly, she'd been dismissed by him as being of no use in her damaged condition.
That hadn't been the only part of the message that had disturbed her. While she had only a passing acquaintance with Forrest, Sarah knew her reputation as a shoot-first-ask-questions-later kind of agent. Mentally, she'd wished her good luck on the Bartowski mission, but, thinking back on the file she'd read last night, she hadn't believed that Forrest was the best fit for a man of his disposition and personality.
Still, it hadn't been her responsibility. Besides, she had her own problems to deal with, ones that had pushed Bartowski out of her mind.
She'd endured the numerous surgeries, the long rehabilitation procedure completely on her own, seemingly friendless. Almost. She was only saved from that ignominy by a four-day visit from Carina.
It had been an awkward few days. Carina's discomfort at seeing her best friend in reduced circumstances, glaringly obvious. Although neither had ever said the words, there was a tacit understanding between them that, if it had to happen, being injured, even dying, while on a mission would be looked upon as something honorable, even admirable.
But not this being brought low by random chance, of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was difficult to accept for both of them. Seeing Sarah walking around, leaning on the cane she'd had to use, even six months after the accident, have proved more than Carina could bear.
When she'd come to Sarah one morning, telling her that she'd just been given a new assignment and had to leave earlier than planned, Sarah had politely taken her at face value, even though she was quite certain Carina wasn't being completely truthful.
Even though they had texted and phoned each other from time to time, that'd been the last time she'd seen her friend.
She pushes that from her mind, trying to concentrate on the here and now. Except for one short visit with Graham's replacement, she'd never been called to the Director's office. She tries to keep her burgeoning excitement under control, but maybe now, two years after that night, Sarah is finally being offered a way out of her current stagnation. Honestly, at this point, she almost wouldn't care if they fired her. But hopefully they've got something for her to do, something meaningful, away from Langley and all her bitter memories.
After being ushered into the office, the Director politely requests for her to sit.
"Agent Walker, it's good to see you on your feet again, so to speak. You no longer need the cane?"
"No, Sir. Haven't for some time now."
He glances at one of the files on his desktop.
"That's good. I see the doctors have declared you fit for light duty."
Sarah bites off the retort that they'd said that almost a year ago.
"Yes, Sir. I feel fine."
He nods. "That's good, because we have an assignment for you."
Her heart starts pounding, but she manages to keep her expression neutral.
She nods. "I'm ready."
He glances at another file, then looks her way.
"Agent Walker, I assume you're familiar with Project Omaha?"
She'd run across the name a couple times while performing her duties, but had never heard any scuttlebutt, let alone any official information about the project.
Sarah can he see he's taken aback. "That's surprising. I'd have thought that Graham would've filled you in on the details."
She's confused. "I'm sorry, Sir, but I don't understand why he would have done so."
He lets out a small sigh. "It appears I'll have to go back to the beginning." He looks at her closely, seems satisfied by what he sees. "Agent Walker, what I'm about to tell you is TS/SCI. Do you understand?"
She's mildly insulted by the implication that she might be unclear on the concept, but keeps her voice even. "Yes, Sir."
"Project Omaha was instituted in order to find a way to upload information, coded in the form of pictures, into an agent's brain, thereby making the possessor of that information a walking database, able to recall the data when needed. Data which then could be acted upon by the agent and his or her team. The computer program designed to accomplish this was known as the Intersect."
To Sarah, the concept sounds intriguing. A chance to do something meaningful. She wants to ask what her part might be, but knows better than to show her growing excitement.
She nods to show she's following. "I'm still not sure what this has to do with me."
"I'm getting there." He looks down to an open file, turns a page. "On September 24th., two years ago, you were assigned to retrieve some very important data that your ex-partner illegally sent to his former college roommate, a certain Charles Irving Bartowski. Do you remember that?"
How could she forget?
"Yes, Sir, I do. That's the night I was badly injured in a car accident. I was unable to complete the assignment."
"I know. As I'd mentioned, I was surprised that former Director Graham hadn't told what that data package actually was, considering how integral it was to the task he'd assigned you.
"You see, Agent Walker, that data was the encoded images from Intersect computer, and the only copy, given that Bryce Larkin," he pauses, a sour look on his face, "one of ours, had destroyed the original computer."
Her first impulse is to curse Graham for leaving her out in the cold on this. But it really doesn't surprise her. The man had always played his cards close the chest, only giving out the barest minimum of information.
Information is power.
"So Agent Forrest was able to recover this...Intersect and return it to its rightful place?"
The Director shakes his head. "No, there was nothing to recover. The images had inadvertently been download into Bartowski's brain and all traces of the file were destroyed.
"Completely by accident, he became the Human Intersect."
"So, you're telling me that the program actually worked."
"Yes, quite successfully." He frowns. "At first."
She waits on him.
"Have you heard anything about one of our teams, a particularly effective one based in California, unofficially known as "Team Forrest?"
Sarah thinks back, remembering a few snippets she'd heard around Langley.
"A little, Sir. The rumor mill talked about that team being instrumental in taking on Fulcrum." She pauses. "But I haven't heard much recently."
He frowns once more. "You wouldn't. Not any longer."
She waits for a further explanation but he doesn't offer one. Instead, he says, "Agent, that team was built around the Human Intersect, Charles, or as he prefers to be called, Chuck Bartowski. When Agent Forrest was sent in your place, she quickly found herself butting heads with Major John Casey from the NSA."
"I've heard of him, Sir. Old school killer. Brutal, obeys orders to the letter."
"That's a fairly apt description. Or was."
Sarah's puzzled by that, but the man goes on once again without elaborating.
"Casey had been sent by the NSA to recover the same information that Forrest was after." He pauses. "He's also the man who shot and killed Bryce Larkin."
Sarah, through sheer dint of will, manages to keep her anger from showing at this fresh reminder. Fortunately, the passage of time has done much to scab over the wounds Bryce had inflicted upon her.
"After a brief time, it was discovered that Mr. Bartowski had not only personally downloaded the Intersect, but that he could use it, quite effectively, given the right circumstances. With the right stimuli, he would 'flash', his words, on a person or situation, thereby providing valuable intel which could be immediately acted upon. The night after Forrest made contact, his actions were instrumental in saving the lives of hundreds, including General Stanfield, at a conference in LA.
"Agent Forrest wanted to place Bartowski in a bunker. To keep him safe from Fulcrum, yes, but also to utilize his ability free from distractions. However, the man refused and told Forrest and Casey he wouldn't help at all if they did so. He was supported by Major Casey in his actions, who, somewhat surprisingly, recognized that Bartowski would not only refuse to function in a bunker, but would likely be unable to do so.
"So an accord was reached between Graham and General Beckman. Bartowski would return to his normal routine. Forrest and Casey would stay on to watch over the Intersect, as he came to be known, and work with him. Both agents would be given a cover and inserted into his life.
"And in the months that followed, this unorthodox team accomplished great things. They not only played a major part in the virtual destruction of Fulcrum, but also pulled off an astounding number of other intelligence coups.
"But we noticed that slowly, over time, the success rate started to drop. In her reports, Agent Forrest blamed it on the Intersect, citing his increasing uncooperativeness. On the other hand, Major Casey's view was that Bartowski was being pushed too hard.
"Eventually, matters deteriorated to the point that the man stopped flashing altogether. That's where we find ourselves today, with an Intersect that no longer functions and team that's no longer effective.
"Agent Forrest has requested an immediate transfer, which has been approved." He gives Sarah a long look. "That's where you come in Agent Walker."
"I believe I understand, Sir. You want me to take Forrest's place and see if I can rectify the situation with Mr. Bartowski."
The Director appears to be a little embarrassed. "I'm sorry, Agent. I see that I may have given you the wrong impression.
"We've looked into the situation very thoroughly and believe the Human Intersect program is at an end. Our efforts to create more Intersected agents have all failed, including the attempt that led to the death of Director Graham.
"No, Agent Walker, your assignment is to simply be Mr. Bartwoski's…protector, to shield him from any attempts by the remnants of Fulcrum to capture or kill him. We owe him that much for the work he's done. The job will be more of a formality than anything else, as we don't believe Fulcrum has ever identified the Intersect. Or even if they did, whether they'd have any continued interest in a man who's now lost what made him anything other than average."
Try as she might, Sarah can't help but deflate, her shoulders sagging ever so slightly.
It appears being banished to the basement of Langley wasn't quite far enough removed for the powers that be. Now they're sending her across the country to be a glorified baby-sitter.
Still, it's away from here. Away from her windowless office where she does nothing but push around meaningless papers all day.
And at least the weather is better in LA.
"Sir, to do my job properly, I'll need to be close to him. How am I supposed to explain my sudden appearance in his life?" A disagreeable thought abruptly strikes her. "Wait. You're not planning for me to pose as his girlfriend, are you?"
The man winces. "No, not this time."
Frustratingly, he doesn't explain himself any further.
"No, Agent Walker, you'll be going in as yourself. One of the greatest areas of contention between Bartowski and ourselves was his continued reluctance to lie to his family and friends about his involvement with us. In light of that, and that the Project is at an end, it's been agreed that your role will be an open one. You are free to tell his friends and family why you are there and the gist of what Mr. Bartowski has been doing the past two years. We trust you to use your judgement in the matter, however, not revealing anything which would compromise national security or ongoing operations."
"Will I have that in writing, Sir?"
He sighs. "Yes, Agent, you will."
She nods. "When do I leave, Director?"
"We've booked you on a private government flight at 0900 tomorrow. I'll see to it that the complete file of the team's activities is on the plane. It'll give you something to read on the way to Burbank. Please leave it on the plane after you land."
He hands her a sheet of paper. "Here are the details and the contact information for both Agent Forrest and Major Casey. They'll be expecting you tomorrow afternoon. They'll bring you up to speed."
"Yes, Sir. Will Major Casey be leaving immediately as well?"
He shakes his head. "No, General Beckman has indicated he'll stay, for a while, at least. To help with the transition."
She rises from her seat. "Thank you, Sir."
He stands as well. "Agent Walker, I understand the last two years have been very difficult for you. You'll be posted there for a year. If, at the end of that time, we ascertain there's no further danger to Mr. Bartowski, the assignment will be terminated. And if we feel you've performed it satisfactorily, your discharge with full benefits will be effective from that date."
She blinks in surprise. "Thank you, Sir."
"Good luck, Agent Walker."
As she turns to leave, the man stops her, adding, "Agent, this should be a piece of cake. Relax and get some sun. You look like you could use it."
His words, accompanied by a somewhat forced smile, disconcert her. He's never shown any personal concern for her welfare before. But then she realizes that his smile is one of relief. After all, they're finally rid of her and it's unlikely he'll ever see her again, so he clearly feels he can afford to be magnanimous this one time.
She's not certain how to respond, so just nods, mumbles her thanks and leaves the office.
There's not a single item in her own office she cares about, so walking away is not an issue. She starts toward the building exit. As she does so, Sarah idly wonders what her assistant will do when she shows up for work on Monday and doesn't find her boss.
She snorts. Hell, the woman probably won't even notice her disappearance. And who knows how long it'll be before anyone else does.
If they ever do.
A/N: Sad, I know. But hang on. Better times will come…eventually. Next…Burbank.