summary: Exhausted from the events with her mother, the baby, and Ryker, Sarah takes a break and turns down Graham's next assignment. With her not there to intervene, Casey's Intersect plan is realized- Chuck is thrown into a bunker. When she learns the truth through a twist of fate, Sarah realizes all she missed out on in not taking that mission, and the gift she never got to know. Discovering the bunker has isolated Chuck and shut down the Intersect, she decides she only has one choice: to fix it. What she finds in him, and he in her, might just change both of their lives.

note: Here we go again! This one's a fun one, picking up right after last chapter. Please review!

disclaimer: I don't own Chuck, photo frames, lemonade or ID badges.


"How?" is the first thing he asks.

It's after a few, long moments of stunned silence. She gets it.

She didn't expect to get a hit so quickly. She'd set the search from her secure laptop, tied the notifications to her phone, and wondered how to tell Chuck what she was doing. That was yesterday. Then things had gone a little sideways.

And then he'd showed up on her doorstep and held her with apologies and she'd melted into him and, honestly, she'd forgotten all about the search ticking away.

They'd talked. He'd apologized so many times, clearly truly upset with himself for his choices with Orion. And he'd even said if the man gets back in contact, he'll be upfront that she knows, that Ellie knows, and if the scientist decides to cut ties then, Chuck will be okay with it. Which is a lot to lose. Partly just for her.

Clearly, it's worth it.

And while she's not quite sure what to do with that knowledge, she'd let it sit, and she'd held Chuck, kissed him, lost herself in him until her phone had pinged with the happy notification that Chuck's father's location had been found.

She sits beside him, slipping her hand into his while he hands her the phone back. His palm grips hers, holding tight. Like an anchor.

"I searched in the deep database," she explains. Or, that's it in a nutshell- the search was trickier than simply logging in with her access codes. It's a method she really shouldn't have been using to just search for a civilian. But she'd had the thought and decided to run it, before things with Chuck got so briefly rocky. "It took a while, I had to cover my tracks like I do when I'm finding files for Ellie. But it worked backwards from your Dad's name and found this address."

Watching him, she sees the struggle within him, clearly trying to articulate his thoughts.

"I've tried so many times, over the years," he sighs. "I've dug deep. Not into the CIA deep database, but close, Sarah. And I've never found him."

He sounds so drained, heavy, and she realizes how much all that searching has weighed on him.

"The CIA have a wide reach," she says, though it's not like he doesn't know that.

"But you found him. He's out there, and you found him, in..." He reaches out, and she shows him the phone again, the location onscreen. His face shutters a moment. "God, he's in the valley. Has- has he been there all the time? That close to us? Did he leave us just to move a little way across LA county? What-"

"Hey," she murmurs, interrupting gently. She dips her head to catch his eye. "You're spiralling."

And he pauses, nodding at her.

"I know."

But his questions are ones she can at least answer, even if to a small degree.

"I don't know how long this has been his address, it's not telling me. The search found the address because of some checks dated a few months ago, but I can't see past that." She hopes that's soothing, but she knows it's probably anything but. She leans in, knowing that just finding the man isn't where this stops. "You can ask him all that when you see him, though. If you want to see him."

He reels a little, and she realizes he hasn't even thought about that yet.

"I... god, I have to, don't I?"

And while this search was a lot, a risk, yielding results Chuck himself couldn't even find... she shakes her head, firm.

"Not if you don't want to," she reassures him.

If he wants, they can forget all about this, move on, go back to what they were doing before her phone sounded out...

"For Ellie, I have to." he says, and she's a little ashamed it drags her thoughts back from where they'd wandered to. And she realizes he's deciding to do this. "I have to ask him. I have to find out where he's been, why he left... God, I feel kinda sick."

She squeezes his shoulder, nodding.

"I know."

He takes a deep, long breath, and she watches as he steels himself, firm.

"I need to see him."

"Okay," she nods. "It's a couple hours' drive, we can go whenever you want."

It's not even surprising to her, now, that that isn't even a question. She'll drop it all to get him to his father tomorrow. The job is secondary, now.

And while he nods, too, she realizes she has one question more.

"What about Ellie?"

His expression fluttering, he crumbles just a little as he seems to process that.

"Shit," he curses. "I... God, she wants to see him so badly. I know she'll have so much to ask him. But I..." He takes a deep breath, gulps, pushes on. "I kind of want to see him first. Make sure he's all there. He was so lost, when he left, y'know? I..." He winces, clearly weighing it in his head. "I don't want to have to replace the memory of my Dad that she has in her mind, if it turns out he's even more lost than he was. Is- Does that make me the worst brother in the world?"

"No," she murmurs, rubbing her hand along his back, stroking the hairs at the nape of his neck. She knows, this isn't something he's taking lightly, at all. This isn't an easy choice for him. But she knows why he's making it. When their father left, everything fell to Ellie. She bore that weight. She took on the responsibilities, the bills, the support, she looked after her little brother. She got them out of where Stephen's departure left them. Now Chuck is trying to bear it too. To take the hurt, if Stephen doesn't want to see them. To deal with the pain that Ellie dealt alone with for so long. "No. It makes you a brother who cares."

Sighing, he looks back at her.

"Can we go? Tomorrow?"

She nods. She'll pull some strings, if a mission comes in.

"I'll make sure of it."

He runs his hands over his face, shaking his head.

"I need to go talk to El, about all this Orion stuff. Without mentioning this, because... Well." He sighs. "And all I wanna do is just stay here."

"You can," she murmurs. Because, oh, he can. "But you should speak to Ellie. At least about Orion."

He gulps.

"I'll try and not mention this. God, keeping things from her two days in a row, I'm a shitty brother."

"You're not." she says firmly. "Ellie will understand this. If he's the guy you remember, that's great. If he's not, you can warn her. I know she's strong and she could handle it, but... I think it's okay to want to protect her from this. Fathers... it's tough."

He squeezes her hand, and she knows he understands her. With her father, there's no one looking out for her. No one to share the burden with, to protect her from the turmoil he brings every time. No one to brace her, or even support her in the aftermath.

Until Chuck.

"Thank you. For that. And for all of this, finding him- I haven't even thanked you yet!" He makes a frustrated face, clearly upset at forgetting that, but she just shakes her head.

"Of course," she murmurs. "It's family."

And when he stands, she follows him, and when he leans in, oh, she relishes the kiss he gives her, so soft and wanting.

For a second, she imagines a night with his arms around her.

But she lets it go as he pulls back, nodding.

"Okay."

"I'll come by your place in the morning, we can head right there." He nods, and she forces herself to step back. "Go talk to Ellie."

"I'll see you tomorrow," he promises, opening her hotel room door and leaving before she can blink. And she finds herself leaning against the door in his wake, wondering why for a moment there, it felt like they both thought he might just stay.

A strange thought to have after the days they've had.

The hurt they've had.

Chuck's words to her just yesterday, still with such a sting in her chest. Sure, they've argued before. She's had fights with people she's had feelings for before- Bryce knows that very well. But nothing has felt the way this did. Nothing with that remaining ache, that bitter burn still deep within her. Not just his actions, or his words. Not just the lying. The idea that she didn't trust him. That her protection is just her job.

But just that for the first time, she realized just how much Chuck meant to her, right as it felt like things were falling apart.

Sure, they haven't named this. Sure, they're not really anything, together. But standing in his apartment trying to articulate why what he said hurt so much, realizing it was because of who they are, what they are together. And thinking that maybe he didn't even realize how she thought of them. How she viewed them, categorized them in her mind. Together. A couple, of sorts. Them.

His actions toward her as his handler? Sure, she'd get it. But as them? Oh, that hurt.

And yes, he'd held her and kissed her like something more. She knows he'd come to realize what she feels. But that there was even maybe a flicker of doubt for him, oh, that hurt more than anything.

Because she's never been in this deep with anyone before. Never been so all-in, committed, feet first. To decide on no more secrets, between each other. To put each other first, in that regard. And yes, that's terrifying, and new, and almost consuming. But it's also warm, and thrilling, and right.

So right.

So she forgave him the misstep in not telling her about Orion, they've moved on, and now they're here, about to go find his father, to eventually, hopefully, regain contact with the scientist so critical to ending all of this. And after that... sure, it's uncertain.

But for the first time, Sarah can't help but be hopeful for whatever is facing them when this assignment comes to an end. For whatever future is out there. For them.


The last vestiges of darkness are still clinging to the Echo Park sky as he stands on the sidewalk, waiting for the familiar Porsche to drive up. The morning has that still-lingering chill to it from the night before.

It's early. But it's meant to be early- they want to get to the trailer before his Dad might have left for the day.

Plus, even if they weren't wanting to leave his place at 6am, he wouldn't be asleep anyway.

He couldn't sleep last night. Not with the thoughts in his head. The mess of the past few days are weighing on him, and his talk with Ellie last night only made him feel worse. His sister had been hurt at his choice to keep Orion's contact from her, and Sarah. She'd asked him why he felt he had to side with the mysterious scientist, even when he knew it didn't feel right. And she'd asked him what they do now, since Chuck hadn't reacted to the last message from Orion, and now they're just in a waiting game. What he'll do when the scientist next reaches out. It had been a heavy conversation, filled with apologies but understanding too, and Ellie had got why he did what he did. She'd reassured him about him and Sarah, rooted for them.

And the whole time he'd been keeping yet another huge secret from her. An even bigger secret, honestly. That Sarah had found their Dad.

He has his reasons- and Sarah understood them, too. To try to shield Ellie from some harm, in case this goes south, after she had to deal with so much when their Dad just left. He still thinks this is the right way to deal with it.

But that doesn't make it any easier.

He snaps out of his thoughts when Sarah pulls up in her Porsche, rolling down her window.

"I have coffee," she greets, and he has to hold back his instinctive reply, which is simply: "I love you."

Instead he grins.

"My hero."

"That's the job," she smirks, and he heads around to the passenger side, sliding in next to her and taking the americano from her hand. He takes a sip, the black coffee filling his veins, and lets out a happy sigh as he turns to her.

"Good morning."

She nods at his greeting, but he sees a subtle look in her eyes. Which is why he's not surprised when she asks,

"You still want to do this?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I do."

So she nods, sets down her own coffee, and pulls out into the road again.

When they're on the freeway, she reaches for his hand, and he holds tight as they make their way out to the valley.

The sunrise is beautiful, and not for the first time he thinks about how amazing it is to see such a sight again, Sarah by his side. Thinking back to those bunker days again, and how unlikely this all seemed. On another day, he might indulge in that feeling more. Share it with Sarah. Tell her what he's thinking. But today, he keeps it inside, his unease for what's about to happen winning out.

They don't say much as they keep driving. There's no music on, either, something he's come to expect with Sarah. And with what they're driving toward, the silence isn't exactly comfortable. But it is easy. It's not something he has to fight against, not something that discomfits him. And he's never really known that before. That sort of silence that only comes with understanding. With connection. And he lets that warm him as they get closer to the valley, as they make it through, as Sarah turns off onto a thin dirt road and he knows this is it.

No matter what happens here, he has Sarah. He has Ellie. He has a family.

And still, god he hopes this goes well.

They pull up, slow, at the trailer. It's a simple trailer, atop a hill, morning sun lighting up the space in warm tones.

It's so empty. So quiet.

Strange, to think of anyone living here.

But especially his bright, light father.

Sarah looks at him across the console as she shuts off the engine.

"You okay?"

"I don't know," he admits, and she nods.

"Any time you need an out. Any time. Let me know."

And he believes her.

They step out, even the sound of the car doors shutting somehow echoing in this empty valley. And when he rounds the car, he slips his hand into hers, needing to anchor himself to her touch. They walk up to the trailer, and he looks for signs of life inside. It's silent, unmoving, dull. Harder still to think of his Dad living here.

Instinctively, he thinks back to their big, wide house in Encino. A neighborhood. Friends next door. A wide back yard. Plastic swingset, a sandpit. Bikes toppled on the grass out front.

How different this lone, lonely trailer is.

He almost hopes his Dad isn't inside.

"I..." He begins as they stop a couple feet from the door. Sarah looks at him, encouraging. "I don't know if I can do this. I mean, all this time... Sarah, I tried so hard to find him. He didn't want to be found. What if-"

"Chuck," she interrupts, so soft. And she eyes him, smiling just a little. "It'll be good to see him."

And despite himself... he has to agree.

He misses his Dad. So, so much. That crazy engineer. The messy hair. The quiet laugh. His mind, always running a mile a minute. The way his eyes would crinkle every single time he smiled, like his whole face wanted in on it. Aces, Charles.

He's missed so much. And Chuck misses him so much.

And so he steps forward, and knocks on the rusting metal door, once, twice, three times.

He steps back, standing next to Sarah as he waits.

A moment passes. And then another. And his heart sinks as another, then another.

When a full thirty seconds has passed, he has to sigh, heartbreak blooming.

God, he didn't think disappointment would hurt this much.

And just like that, Sarah's hand is gentle on his neck, thumb swiping up and down in comfort. Comfort he needs. He reaches for her hand, keeping it against his skin, turning to look at her.

Her expression is so open. Sorrow. Sympathy. Apology.

"I'm sorry," she murmurs, and he shakes his head.

"It's okay," he finds himself saying. "Thank you. For getting us this far. For bringing me here."

He needed it, he thinks. Some kind of closure. Seeking him out, finding he's moved on- it's okay. He tried. He got so close. It's bittersweet, but...

But she's here. Sarah is.

All he needs, always.

And oh. Oh, how she's everything. How she always will be everything.

"Sarah," he finds himself murmuring, and she steps closer, her other hand on his chest, looking up at him. So open, so everything. And he can't help the words that bloom on his lips. "Sarah, I l-"

The door swings open with a creak, interrupting; he looks over, instinctive, at the noise. And finds, illuminated by lousy trailer lights...

"Dad?"

Before him, his Dad gapes, eyes wide.

"C- Charles? Chuck?"

His vision blurs with tears, immediately, unstoppable.

God, he looks just the same. Older, messier.

But there's that crinkle to his eyes. Ellie's grin. Chuck's own features.

"Dad," he breathes again, and before he knows it, Sarah's pulling back and he's stepping forward and toward his Dad, and his Dad- his Dad- is wrapping his arms around him in a tight hug.

How does he smell the same? Feel the same? How does Chuck feel just like a kid again, in these arms, surrounded by such familiarity.

"Dad," he chokes out, and Stephen pulls back, cupping his cheeks.

"Look at you. You're so grown up!" He barks a wet laugh, ruffling Chuck's hair, and a weird, alien-like thrill, straight from the past, runs through him. "How did you find me?"

"It's a long story," he deflects, stepping back just enough. His Dad's eyes drift to the right, and he jolts, remembering Sarah again.

Shameless, he knows. But he thinks she'll understand.

And he's surprised to find her eyes shining, smile a little watery.

He slips his arm around her waist.

"Dad, this is my girlfriend, Sarah."

His Dad smiles, warm, eyebrows raising.

"Great to meet you, Sarah," he says, and Chuck wonders why he'd thought his Dad would react any other way. No shock, no quip about how much this has changed, no joke about Sarah. Just warmth. Welcome.

Beside him, Sarah clears her throat, reaching out a hand.

"Great to meet you, too, Mr. Bartowski."

"Oh, Stephen, please," his Dad corrects, before he steps back, gesturing to his trailer. "Well don't just keep standing there. Come in, come in! We should catch up, Charles."

Which is how he finds himself stepping into the tiny, tiny space his Dad apparently lives in.

The first thing he notices is how small it is. Liveable, but small.

The second thing, is that there are photos all around. Of him, and Ellie. Posed elementary school photographs against generic blue backgrounds. Sports shots of them both as kids. Candids his Dad took, on vacations, back home.

He wonders why it feels so emotional to realize that they weren't just forgotten.

His Dad didn't leave and forget them. He didn't move on.

He kept them, here. He remembered them. He thought about them. He recognized Chuck, on his doorstep today.

It's all a little much.

"I'll make some coffee!" Stephen declares, and he manages a strangled "Mm-hm" in reply as he stumbles to the seating area of the (to repeat) tiny trailer.

And, just because he's not quite sure what his Dad would do if he fully broke down here, he presses it away as he flops onto the seat.

Sarah follows, sitting by his side, hand tight in his.

"How are you doing?" she murmurs, and he wonders how to answer that. He watches as his Dad shoots him a grin, then busies himself with making coffee.

There's a photo frame on the coffee table; Chuck picks it up, seeing his younger self, next to Ellie, both in determined Little League poses.

"You played Little League?" Sarah asks warmly, and he looks at her, unable to resist the smirk.

"By Fifth Grade I had the longest arms of anyone in class, I crushed Little League," he murmurs, but then he has to sober, setting down the picture. "Sarah, I gotta be honest, I'm kind of freaking out here."

"I know," she murmurs, because of course she does. "But he's your father, and he seemed happy to see you."

Chuck gulps.

"He did," he admits. "But... he also seemed shocked. Like he never thought he'd see me again."

"You take cream?" Stephen calls from the kitchen, and he panics.

"Yeah! No. Whatever's fine, for both of us." He winces, turning to Sarah. "I can't even remember if I take cream!"

"You do," she reassures him, squeezing his hand again. "Just relax."

And he knows it's sound advice, but fuck, it's hard to do that.

"How? I- I haven't... I haven't seen my dad for, like ten years, and now I'm sitting in his living room-slash-kitchenette? While he's making us coffee? Sarah, this is crazy. I didn't even know if he was actually alive yesterday, and now this."

"I'm sorry, I know this is a lot-"

Looking over, he sees her expression, heavy with apology, and he has to interrupt.

"Hey, no. No, this isn't your fault. Please don't... I'm not ungrateful here, at all. Just... fuck, I'm confused. By the time he left, he was kind of..." He winces, but there's no real way to sugarcoat it. "I hate to say it, but crazy. Conspiracy theories and- and conversations that never made sense. It's why we weren't surprised when he just left. But now he seems normal, and I haven't known him normal since I was 9 years old, and I just... I don't know how to figure this out."

But his Dad approaches, three cups in hand, and shit- Chuck knows he's going to have to.

"There," Stephen says happily, setting the cups down on the table. There's cream, thankfully.

"Thanks," he murmurs.

"Thank you, Stephen," Sarah says, and Chuck watches as his Dad grins for a second before looking back at him. Almost inspecting.

Chuck gets it- he wants to do the same. Track the wrinkles that weren't there before. The gray around the temples. Has he lost a little weight? The stubble on his jaw, a little patchy. His Dad must be doing the same, but seeing the child he once knew, now a man before him.

"It's good to see that face again," he murmurs.

Chuck gulps.

"Yeah. You doing okay?"

"Eh, who cares about me?" Me, Chuck thinks. But his Dad keeps going. "Tell me about you!"

"Uh, well, you know, not- not much to tell." He swallows through the lies. It feels wrong to feed his Dad a cover after all this time... But he'd never believe the truth. "Graduated, went to Stanford. Moved to D.C. for a bit. Moved back. I work at a... a tech firm, now."

Stephen smiles.

"Stanford, not bad." And then he looks to Sarah conspiratorially. "He always was a genius, this one."

And god, it feels so strange for his Dad to be gossiping with his girlfriend.

But Sarah just smirks.

"Oh, I know."

Chuck shrugs, both uncomfortable at the praise and genuinely not believing it.

"Not a genius like you, Dad."

"You're right." Stephen nods- and then he looks to Sarah again. "He was smarter."

And he wonders how it can feel so good to hear that kind of praise, from a man he gave up on years ago.

For so, so long now, he's told himself: he and Ellie are enough. Their successes are their own, their triumphs, their pain, their losses. They are who they are, no matter their parents.

But for his Dad to be proud of him, now...

How can it feel so important?

"What about Ellie? How is she?" His Dad asks, and he takes a deep breath, takes the out.

Takes their purpose here.

"Really great, actually. She's a doctor now, a neurologist, and she just got engaged to, well, an awesome guy. He's a cardiologist and the nicest person I've ever met."

And, maybe as he'd expected, his Dad sits back. Takes that in.

"Ellie's getting married?" he asks after a while.

"She is. That's why we're here, actually. Why I wanted to find you. Ellie wants you to walk her down the aisle at the wedding, when it happens."

And he's not surprised when Stephen immediately shakes his head.

"Oh, I don't... I don't think I should." he begins, clearly not wanting to cause a fuss, cause hurt, generate attention.

For Chuck, it just spills out:

"I don't think you should either." he finds himself saying. His Dad blinks, surprised at that, but Chuck just shakes his head. "Dad, you left. You left a long time ago. And I don't think you deserve to be part of that ceremony, and I don't think you can just walk back in to our lives like that. I don't... honestly, I don't think you've earned it. But Ellie wants you there. Ellie wants you to walk her down the aisle."

"Chuck-" Sarah tries to interrupt, but he just looks at her, silently telling her he's got this.

He loves that she found him, for him, for Ellie. He so, so appreciates that she's the reason they're here, talking to him right now.

But he's dealing with a dozen different emotions at this second, anger, betrayal, hurt, love, loss, so much more. And he has to let his Dad know about that. They can't just smile and reminisce like nothing ever happened.

She nods, and so he looks back at his Dad, seeing the slight vein of hurt and confusion in his gaze. But he continues.

"When you left, all I had was Ellie," he begins. "We only had each other. And we spent so long struggling without you. We had to fight so much, every damn day, to eat, and to keep the house, and to stay in school." He swallows a moment, pain rising up in his chest as the memories from those days assault him. "Ellie gave up everything for me. To give me some kind of normal childhood. I had sleepovers and summer camps and birthday parties and she had nothing, Dad. She gave it all up for me. And she's never asked for a single thing in return. Until now."

His Dad sighs, but he does the same.

"Please," Chuck asks. "She wants you there. The least you can do is go see her."

And Stephen again looks at him, knowing.

"I'm glad you- you still had each other, both of you. I like you coming here, fighting for her. She doesn't know, huh?"

"I couldn't hurt her anymore if you wouldn't come," he says quietly.

And his Dad nods.

"I'll pack a bag."

With that, he turns around, starting to do just that, and Chuck reels.

He did it. He'll come back with them.

"You okay?" Sarah checks again, and he nods, reaching out to her wordlessly, squeezing her hand. "I know that was tough."

And despite himself, he hopes he wasn't too harsh on the man. He hopes he didn't hurt his Dad too much. Because for all the pain he caused them, Chuck knows why his Dad left. He knows his mother leaving crushed him. He knows that his already struggling mental health nosedived with Mary's departure.

But he left two kids. He just left. And since Stephen does seem more stable, more grounded, more cognizant now, Chuck can't pretend that didn't all happen.

He gulps.

"I need to call Ellie," he murmurs. "I can't just surprise her with this."

Sarah nods.

"Go, outside. I can handle small talk with your Dad."

And he can't help but grin.

"He likes you," he finds himself murmuring. Strange, to be experiencing this meet the parents feeling for the first time ever. "It's so fuckin' weird, he never had the chance to meet anyone I dated. But... I'm glad it's you."

And she melts before him, reaching out and kissing him so briefly, and his heart flips as he suddenly remembers what he was about to tell her, before that door opened. The words on his tongue, three simple words, brought forth by surging emotion and the sense that she's everything to him.

He debates telling her now.

But there'll be time, he knows.

So he nods, stands.

"I'm calling El," he says, and his Dad looks over at him from where he's shoving a shirt into a bag. Right behind his head, young Ellie, hair that bit blonder, cheeks rosy from her grin, stares back at Chuck from a picture frame.

And he can't help but wonder if maybe, maybe they can repair all of this. Maybe, that little girl didn't lose her childhood for nothing. Maybe they can fix this so, so broken relationship.

God, he hopes so.

Stephen nods, saying nothing. Chuck gets it- what could he say?

So he steps out instead, pulling out his phone as the breeze from the valley whips around him, and he calls his sister.

"Hey, Chuck!" she says happily, and he takes a deep breath.

"Hey, sis. Can you hear me okay?"

"Yeah," she chirps. "It sounds windy, though, where are you?"

"I'm in the valley. With Sarah."

"Why are you in some windy place in the valley this early?" she laughs, and he takes a deep breath.

"Sarah dug into the CIA database for me. I- I was looking. And I couldn't find anything. And I didn't even ask her to, but she looked into the database, and... she found him."

Ellie hums, sounding apprehensive. Like she already knows the answer to the question she's about to ask.

"Found who?"

"Dad."

She's silent. Deathly silent. And he just waits. And waits. And waits. Until-

"Dad?" she asks, a little choked.

Swallowing down the lump in his throat, he explains.

"I didn't want him to hurt you. If he was crazy, or angry, or didn't wanna see us. I didn't know what he'd be like."

"You, you've seen him?"

"Yeah," he breathes, and Ellie sniffs.

"How-?"

"He's okay," he answers before she can really ask. He knows it'll be her first question: it was his, too. "He's living in a tiny trailer out here and he's older, but... El, he's Dad. He's still Dad. I told him, about you, and Devon, he wants to come see you."

She sniffs again.

"He does?"

"Yeah," he chokes out. "And- and I know there's so much you wanna say to him, I've... I've tried to not be too angry. But you should see him, say what you want to."

She breathes slow, shaky, audible down the line.

"Okay."

"Okay?" he checks, and she hums, tight.

"Yes. Bring him here." She says it so quick, rapid, he knows she's scared a second longer and she'll change her mind.

"Okay. El, I'm sorry-"

"I get it," she says, before he can finish. "I... I'd wanna protect you, too. Just in case. And thank you. For not just surprising me."

He nods.

"I almost did. But... a surprise of this magnitude."

He hears her laugh, tight.

"Chuck, in the past year you were basically abducted by the CIA and forced to live in a bunker. You have a computer in your head. I've had enough surprises to last me a lifetime at this point, fuck."

"Point," he murmurs with a laugh.

And then she sniffs again, and he knows the weight of all of this isn't lost on them.

"I'll see you soon?"

"Soon. I love you, sis."

"Love you too, little brother," she murmurs, and with that, he hangs up. And prepares to reunite most of his family for the first time in a decade.

Nothing major, then.


Her first impression of Stephen Bartowski is that he's a quiet, but brilliant man. Something about him, his awkward, shy nature, hunched shoulders, messy hair- it's like looking at a future Chuck. But if Chuck had remained in the bunker for years. Becoming subdued, skittish, not as effervescent and bright. There's something she can see within Chuck's father that's hidden, in the background. Suppressed by all the years of isolation.

And yet he's charming. When Chuck leaves to call Ellie, Stephen must realize that the silence could become awkward- and he doesn't let it.

"So, Sarah. How'd you and Chuck meet?" he asks as he packs.

Since Chuck used their cover, she sticks with it, too.

"We actually met when Chuck lived in D.C. I was out there, too. His company consulted with mine, and we had to spend the whole day together. I'm not good with technology and I thought it'd be agonizing to spend hours with an IT guy, but... Well, he's Chuck. He charmed me in seconds."

Stephen grins.

"Always been like that, that boy. Never lets his passions isolate others."

She nods. It's certainly something she's noticed- but she didn't realize his Dad would know that, too.

"That's exactly it," she murmurs, more real than she really notices. "We dated for a while, and when Chuck wanted to move back here, I... I took a leap. And moved with him."

Stephen hums.

"Big move."

Lifting a shoulder, she shrugs. Finds some truth spilling between her lips.

"I grew up in California. For a while, anyway."

And for some reason, he looks surprised at that.

"Really?"

"Yeah. San Diego. My Dad and I, we moved around a lot... I lived all over." She's not entirely sure why she's telling the man this, but maybe the Bartowski trait of being trustworthy isn't one Chuck and Ellie gained after their parents left. Maybe it's hereditary. Inherited kindness. "But I always preferred it over here. It... it felt like coming home." And he nods. "But... really, it was Chuck."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. I... I knew he was special. I couldn't leave. I couldn't lose him. I'd follow him anywhere," she finds herself murmuring, and his Dad just nods.

"You really mean that," he seems to realize, and she nods.

"Chuck- and Ellie... They're something special."

And she wonders why, yet again, his eyebrows raise in surprise. Like he didn't expect her to say that. To feel that, even.

But there's no time to ask; the door opens and Chuck walks in again, nodding. When she looks back at Stephen, the man's features have schooled into that upbeat smile once again.

"Good to go?" Chuck asks, and she knows the call with Ellie went well. As relief fills her, though, Stephen hums, moving toward the windows.

"Let me check... Looks all clear. But they could be watching."

"They?" Sarah has to ask, but he just keeps looking out the window.

"They're always watching." he says simply.

Chuck sends her a look- like some things never change.

But she has to say, she's surprised. Until now, he's seemed perfectly sound. Maybe it's the thought of actually leaving that has him feeling this way...

And she can tell that Chuck doesn't know what to say, here. So she steps forward, clears her throat. Whether this is genuine, an act, or something else, she can get them out of here.

"Trust me, Stephen. The way I drive, nobody will be able to follow us."

Chuck laughs.

"It's true. Just hold onto the side and you'll be fine, Dad."

She sends him a look of outrage that's only a little exaggerated. Stephen still doesn't look fully at ease again, but she must have convinced him- he nods.

"Okay. Let's go see your sister."

And with that, they leave the trailer, and head back to Burbank.

The drive is quiet, the elder Bartowski not saying much as they make their way back to the city. Sarah supposes it must be hard to know what to say when driving home to see the daughter you left behind as a teenager, the son that was even younger in the front seat.

And as she drives, can't help but think about her own father. His own sins. It's hard enough to forgive what he did, and she never will. But she has some sort of relationship with him again now. Some connection. Especially since he last showed up, and met Chuck, and for the first time ever seemed to understand a part of her. Not that long ago, she wouldn't have been such an optimist... but now she's sure Chuck and Ellie can make that connection with their Dad.

If they want to. If he wants to, too.

Much like Chuck when she showed him the address yesterday, she also can't quite get over him being so close by, but never checking in. Thinking about all the things she now knows about young Chuck, young Ellie, those first few years, struggling to get by, Ellie filing taxes and Chuck forging signatures, avoiding prying neighbors and giving Peaches 2 to a neighbor kid... Her father put her in danger so often, yet she finds even his mistakes seem easier to forgive than what Stephen did.

"You okay?" Chuck murmurs, and she jolts out of her thoughts, seeing her hands white against the steering wheel.

She clears her throat, loosening up, letting go with her right hand. Chuck reaches for it, and she twines her fingers with him as she rests their hands on the console, the freeway endless before them.

But after a second, she feels eyes on them. In the mirror, she sees Stephen looking at their hands, frowning a little.

And she doesn't know what to make of that.

She ignores the strange feeling, eventually, focusing on the road, eventually letting go of Chuck's hand as they get closer to Echo Park, slowing through the streets.

As they near the lake, Stephen pipes up.

"So, uh, how long you lived out here?"

"A couple years," Chuck explains. She watches him out the side of her eye, seeing him lost in memories as he speaks. "We left Encino once Ellie finished high school, moved to Brentwood. I'd commute back to school, she was closer for her UCLA classes. Then we moved to Echo Park a little while after she graduated. When I... came back from college, I stayed with her. And I got lucky, an apartment in the same complex opened up right as I was moving back from D.C."

Sarah picks up on the omissions. But she gets it. How to tell your proud father that you dropped out of Stanford, got expelled, no less.

Stephen doesn't seem to notice it, too focused on the surroundings.

"Nice neighborhood."

"Yeah, it is. Ellie and Devon both work at Westside Medical in Burbank, my office is in Burbank, too. But we like it here- I don't mind the little commute."

Stephen looks to his left as they round a corner- from here, you can just about see the Downtown skyline shining in the sun.

"L.A. looks the same," he murmurs.

"Yeah," Chuck murmurs. "It does."

Yet so much has changed.

The air settles, heavier again as they slow outside the apartment complex. And when Sarah shuts the engine off, silence falls for a while, nobody saying anything, not even moving.

"We should head in," she finds herself saying, driving things, and Chuck nods, clapping his hands together.

"Right, yes, we should."

He hops out the car, circling to the trunk and pulling out his Dad's bag. Stephen emerges, looking around again. She expects him to make another comment about people watching... but nothing comes. Strange, when they're in such a busier place, now.

Chuck catches her eye over the older Bartowski's head, but she shakes her own- just a strange observation, is all. He nods, shoulders sagging, and she wishes so much that she could reach for him, hold his hand.

But he steps past her, leading the way instead, and she knows she's better to bring up the rear. Slip in behind Stephen. Let Chuck step up first.

They walk around the courtyard, and she spies the curtain in Ellie and Devon's place twitch as they go. Despite everything, she braces herself.

Chuck knocks on the door, pushing it open a beat after, stepping forward.

"Hey, sis."

Stephen follows. And past them, Sarah sees Ellie, standing by the couch.

A jug of lemonade is on the coffee table, a few glasses, too. Ellie, meanwhile, is stood, wringing her hands, eyes wide. She looks tense, on edge- and Sarah almost thinks she can see her friend steeling herself, preparing.

"Hello, Eleanor," Stephen says.

And just like that, she switches.

Her tight, anxious shoulders slump. Her face falls. Her eyes start to shine.

"You were gonna make pancakes," she says quietly, and Sarah feels her heart fall to her stomach. Oh, Ellie.

"Oh boy," says Chuck.

"Oh boy," says Stephen, at the exact same time.

And Ellie rushes away, Chuck following.

Sarah blinks, only now getting into the apartment fully and closing the door.

"Hey, Sarah," Devon murmurs.

"Hi," she replies.

And then she realizes it's just her, and Devon, and Stephen.

There's a joke about in-laws in here somewhere, she knows.

Devon clears his throat, stepping forward.

"Mr. Bartowski," he begins, and Stephen looks away from the TV to look at the taller man. "I'm Devon."

He reaches out a hand.

"Nice to meet you," he says, genuinely, then plops his bag into Devon's outstretched hand.

The doctor blinks. But moves on, unfazed.

"You too. I've heard a lot about you."

Stephen smirks a little.

"Chuck says you're, uh, a cardiologist?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Hm," he says, positive, looking around again. "Big TV."

Sarah watches, eyebrow raised, as Devon sends her a look, as if wondering how that's the next natural point of the conversation.

"Oh. Uh, yeah, I guess," he ends up saying, and Stephen nods, shifting on his feet.

"I came up with the helix-shaped plasma crystals for TVs, you know. Long time ago."

She jolts. That feels off.

Devon does the same, but with far more innocence than Sarah has possibly ever had. Maybe eager to connect with the man, he grins.

"Whoa, really?"

"Yeah, back in high school," Stephen says, but he sounds more dejected than anything. "Gave it to a friend. He stole it, sold it."

She hums, catching Devon's eye: don't let him spiral.

"So, uh, Stephen, let me show you around." Devon offers, changing the subject as he points the older man toward the hallway and Chuck's old room.

Leaving Sarah alone, in Ellie and Devon's place, with a TV his father apparently invented.

After a while, she hears footsteps, turning to see Chuck and Ellie reappearing, Ellie's eyes a little shiny.

"Hey, Sarah," she says kindly, clearly mustering up a smile. "Sorry for just leaving you two with him."

She shakes her head.

"It's okay. Devon's just showing him around."

Ellie nods, folding her arms around her stomach. It's a move Sarah can recognize- protective.

"I didn't, uh." She pulls a frustrated face. "Didn't think it'd hit me like that."

"El, it's okay," Chuck murmurs, sounding like he's already told her that. Sarah looks at him- he, too, has eyes that are little red.

Only he and Ellie really know what they're experiencing right now, but Sarah can guess. It's not easy when someone steps out of your life on purpose, and then reappears. It turns you upside down no matter how prepared you are. And no matter how much you try to reassure each other, like Chuck may have done for Ellie, it can be hard to even let yourself feel a certain way about it. God knows she's not good at anything that involves feelings.

"He just... he looks the same," Ellie murmurs, and Sarah's eyes widen as she looks over her friend's shoulder.

"And you look just like your mother, Ellie," Stephen says. Ellie spins, gulping.

"Oh."

"Sorry," Stephen says awkwardly. "Just... spent so long wondering what you'd look like, now. Chuck grew into his curls. And you just..."

Ellie softens, smiling a little.

"Thanks," she murmurs, nodding toward the coffee table. "I, um, I made lemonade. We should sit. Talk."

Stephen nods, still holding his satchel, moseying over to the table as they all head there. Sarah grabs Chuck's hand before he moves, squeezing briefly, sending him a look.

He nods.

"We're good," he says, and that's all she needs to know.

"So," Stephen says, a moment later, sipping his lemonade. "Chuck was telling me you two are getting married."

Beaming, Devon nods.

"Yeah. We, uh, don't have a date set yet, we only got engaged a couple months ago."

"Chuck was very proud he knew for weeks that Devon was going to propose and he didn't tell me," Ellie teases.

Stephen laughs, shaking his head, lost in a memory.

"I remember what you were like with secrets. That year we got your mother that painting set... you got to Christmas Eve before you spilled about it."

Chuck splutters a little.

"I just like telling people good things!" he defends, and Sarah lets the family reminiscing warm her as she reaches out and squeezes his arm.

"I think sometimes it's good to spoil a surprise," she finds herself saying. "Just gives you something to look forward to."

Devon grins.

"See, that's why you two are perfect for each other."

And despite herself, she lets that warm her cheeks in a happy blush.

"Well, speaking of wedding surprises," Ellie says, tapping her knee, and Sarah turns to see the woman grinning happily. "Devon and I actually had something we wanted to ask you."

She blinks. What?

"Me?" she asks, definitely surprised. Today is about Chuck and Ellie and their father- what could Ellie have to ask?

"Yeah. I wanted to ask you even... before all this." She says, pausing at that, and Sarah wonders quite what this is. "We were wondering if... you would be a bridesmaid?"

"What?" she finds herself asking immediately, before the reality hits, and she jolts. "Oh! Oh, wow."

Ellie smiles softly.

"We want you to be there, and... I'd love it if you were one of my bridesmaids."

Yeah. This is a surprise.

She can't help but remember what she felt when Devon and Ellie got engaged. Being part of a memory they'd come back to time and again. Being there for something so important.

And now to be in the wedding? All those photographs and lifetime memories. All those stories for their future, their children, their friends...

She'll be in it all.

And it should terrify her. After a lifetime of being incognito, untraceable, intangible, it should be petrifying. To make a mark.

But all she feels is warmth, and emotion, and joy and love. And that in itself is a little scary, but god, all the good feelings outweigh that by so, so much. How can she say no?

"I'd love to," she murmurs so genuinely, and Ellie beams, squeezing her tight in a happy hug as Devon and Chuck cheer happily. She finds herself giggling as she pulls back, Chuck pulling her in for a hug too.

But then she sees Stephen watching her, curious. After a beat, he smiles, but she feels like it's more because he got caught than anything.

"I'm sure it'll be great," he says, and Ellie smiles, a little tight.

Sarah knows she wants him at the wedding, too. But it's gonna take a lot more than one conversation to ask him to walk her down the aisle, she knows.

"Anyway," Ellie moves on, still smiling as she looks back at her Dad. "Chuck said you were out in the Valley? How, uh, how was the drive down?"

"Oh, good, good. Los Angeles hasn't changed much. Nice neighborhood you're in. Oh, and Sarah drove fast enough to avoid anyone following."

He says it so casually, like it's the natural continuation of the sentence about their journey, and not something so very dissonant.

Devon blinks.

"What?" he asks, and Sarah holds back a sigh.

"Tails," Stephen says simply. "They're always watching me, whenever I go anywhere. But they didn't follow us here."

Chuck clears his throat, sending her a look. They need to stop this before it gets out of hand.

"Hey. How about I order a pizza, or something?" He pulls out his phone.

Stephen hums, and somehow Sarah can sense that the conspiracy isn't over.

Strange. Just like in the trailer, earlier, how quickly the man has gone from so grounded to this, all at once.

"Got a, uh, an app? For that? Smartphones, huh? I proposed a smartphone prototype in high school- a device for calls, messages, a calculator all in one. Touch screen technology, that was one of mine."

Devon clears his throat, looking around at them all for a second, before he looks back at his future father-in-law.

"You know much about cardiology?" he asks, and Stephen pauses.

"No."

"I've got a rad patient story, let me tell you."

And in that moment, Sarah is very glad for Captain Awesome.

"I'm gonna get some more lemonade," Ellie murmurs, clearly disheartened, and Chuck goes to put down his phone. But Sarah reaches for his hand, squeezes briefly.

There's something she wants to say to Ellie, anyway.

"I've got it," she says quietly, squeezing his arm as she stands, and he sends her a grateful look. Devon keeps going with his story, a savior.

She heads over to the kitchen, walking up next to Ellie, who's now slicing lemons.

"Hey," she murmurs, reaching out to Ellie's arm, and the woman turns, sending her a tight smile. "You doing okay?" she checks, just like she did with Chuck at the trailer earlier. It's an overwhelming kind of day.

Ellie nods, tight.

"Yeah. Hey- all the better that you're a bridesmaid."

Sarah grins.

"Thank you," she dips her head in a nod, trying not to really think about the closeness she feels with this family. A part of their lives. The sisterhood she feels with Ellie. But it's basically because of her that today is so strained. As Ellie's smile fades, she sighs. "I... I feel like I should apologize."

"Why?" Ellie asks, genuinely confused, and she shrugs as the doctor slides the lemons into a jug.

"I found him. It's... I'm the reason he's here, and things are..." Like this. Ellie swallows, shaking her head. "I thought of a new way to find him, using the CIA database, I didn't realize it would work so quickly. I didn't get a chance to warn you, or Chuck, it was all so fast. And we just went right away. Maybe I should've just... written to him, contacted him first, not just taken Chuck and headed right to him."

Ellie frowns, stepping closer.

"Hey, no. Please don't apologize for finding him, Sarah. Honestly, I know that this is... weird." She wrinkles her nose, but then softens, earnest. "But I'm so glad you found him. It's... there were a lot of times when I thought I'd never see him again. And, and all the times I thought about what I'd say to him, if I did. You gave us that opportunity." She smiles softly, looking over at the man again. She sighs. "It's not your fault he's like this."

Sarah echoes the sigh, chewing her lip..

"I know. But... for a little while he wasn't. In the trailer, he was so normal. He was just..." A father seeing his son for the first time in decades. "But when we went to leave, I don't know, he... became this again. Maybe it's me- I don't know, he doesn't seem to trust me."

Again, the doctor frowns, making up the lemonade mix.

"Really? Chuck said he was... nice, to you, at the trailer. I haven't noticed anything."

It's true. But she can't put her finger on it- there's just something strange, uneasy she feels from the man, toward her, something she's felt a few times and can't shake.

"He was, nice to me. He is. But, I can't really explain it, he just seems sort of surprised that I care about Chuck, and you. And on the drive..." She shrugs, not sure how to even tell Ellie what she'd noticed, Stephen watching them uncertainly. So she dismisses it. Ellie has enough to deal with, she doesn't need her concerns adding to things. "I don't know, just a feeling. Chuck said he never exactly met any of his girlfriends before, and he thinks that's what I am- maybe he's just uncomfortable."

And yet she can't help but feel like it might be something more. Something she's missing.

Ellie stirs the drink and picks up the jug, throwing her arm around her, sisterly.

"Don't give a shit what he thinks about you, Sarah. You are way more a part of this family than he is now."

And with that the doctor leaves, and Sarah wonders how she's supposed to just go on after that.

After a moment to regroup, she heads back out.

"So, you were telling me about our TV?" Devon broaches. Stephen nods enthusiastically.

"Oh, yeah. Yeah, I came up with plasma TVs years ago."

Chuck frowns a little, though Sarah sees his lips upturning at the sides.

"Y'know, we never really knew what you engineered, back home. There was that, that crazy room you had, full of TV screens..."

Stephen smirks, clearing his throat.

"Created a lot of stuff. But... Ted Roark, he stole a lot from me."

She jolts; Chuck's jaw drops.

"Ted- Ted Roark, Ted Roark?"

Sarah sends him and Ellie a look. Of all the things for Stephen to claim, knowing one of the biggest names in tech today wasn't one of them.

"The IT magnate? Roark Instruments?" she has to clarify, but sure enough, Chuck's Dad just nods.

"One and the same." Stephen picks up his bag, rummaging through it suddenly. "I've got something in here, I know, the- the original equation." He takes out papers, scraps, dumping them on the coffee table. There's a 7-Eleven receipt, a grocery list, useless things. "I know it's here..."

One more piece- a flyer. It's for a convention happening a couple months from now, Sarah sees. It feels an odd thing for a man so disconnected from the world to have, but she supposes he could've picked it up from somewhere. The grocery store, the laundromat. She's less surprised still when she sees the Roark Industries logo in the corner. Keeping tabs on his rival, she supposes.

With a shrug, she looks up- and sees Chuck's eyes flickering. She gapes, sneaking a look at Devon, and Stephen, but the former is too busy watching the latter root around in his bag still. Chuck snaps out of it, just as Stephen sighs.

"I know I had it..."

Chuck gulps.

"'S okay, Dad." he says, breathless. Ellie looks at him, eyebrow raised, and he nods a beat before looking at Sarah.

A couple minutes later, they both manage an escape to the hallway.

"Roark?" she asks, and he nods, eyes wide.

"It's... god, it's complicated, I don't..."

"It's okay," she reassures him, seeing as he takes a deep breath, calms. She knows this day is doing a number on him, and she catches his gaze, focusing. "Is it urgent?" she presses.

"No," he murmurs. "No, it's the Roark 7 release and his new RIOS operating system, they're coming out a couple months from now."

She nods. That settles it.

"Okay. It can wait until tomorrow."

And she knows it's uncustomary, to put off duty. Reporting. Still, he blinks, eyeing her like he's misheard.

"What?"

"It can wait until tomorrow," she repeats. A release a few months away, a possible issue with a tech magnate, this is not a bomb about to explode tonight. This is not illegal merchandise about to leave the country. If anyone asked, sure, she has the excuse- she prioritised her asset's health, state of mind. But she knows that's not why she's doing this. Her friends are hurting. Chuck needs this time. And she knows she'll make this choice over duty, every time now. "Your Dad is here. I'm not making us leave to report this. We can deal with it tomorrow."

Something blooms on his face, so soft.

"Thank you."

She goes to nod, but he swoops down, kissing her gently before heading back to his family.


By the time he gets back into his apartment, he doesn't think he can ever remember being so emotionally exhausted before. Not when he was first in the bunker. Not when he first got out of the bunker. Not when he got expelled, not when Jill dumped him. Not when he and Sarah were fighting.

His father is back. And here. And present. And still, for lack of a better word, a little bit crazy.

Truly, Chuck thought his Dad's delusions were all as bizarre and constructed as they were before. The imaginings of an unstable man.

Until, when trying to find an equation for TV plasma, he'd pulled out a bunch of scrap paper from his bag, that included a flyer on Roark Instruments' NextExpo convention in a few months time, that Chuck had immediately flashed on.

And it turns out, even if Stephen never even knew the man, the tech magnate is up to some pretty shady stuff. His upcoming Roark 7 computers and operating system, not out for several months yet, might contain a virus. Chuck's not sure what it'll do, yet, but it seems to be deliberate, intentional, with both his CIA and Fulcrum Intersects raising red flags.

But Sarah had decided they can hold off on dealing with that for now. Sarah had let them stay, talk more with his Dad. Share stories, ask questions. Until they'd scattered, Stephen crashing in Chuck's old room at Ellie's, Sarah heading home, and Chuck coming back to his place.

And now he's here, the tiredness is setting in.

He grabs a beer from the fridge, heading upstairs to lose himself in some games for a while. Maybe he'll call Morgan, see if he's up for a little Call of Duty action.

And maybe this Roark mission will help. It's exciting, in a way; he's admired Roark's technology for years, now. For a little while in college he'd thought about getting a job with them, over other technology companies. That didn't happen, and maybe it was for the best, now, if the guy is corrupt. But the mission could still be fun; maybe they'll get to talk to some RI employees, he might even get a sneak at the Roark 7. Even if it's sabotaged, he knows that the nerd side of him will still think it's cool. He knows he's like his Dad in that sense- drawn in by the intrigue of it all.

Plus, it'll be something to distract him from the past few days. First the Orion situation with Sarah, now this... he's never been so in need of a break.

Sighing, he heads into his office, switching on his computer and reaching for his headset.

But his stomach drops as he spies his webcam light up, and sure enough, the telltale text flashes onscreen.

CHUCK.

Orion.

The man sure is persistent.

Shit.

"Not today," he mutters, grabbing his PSP and decidedly leaving, closing the door behind him and taking a deep breath.

Not today. Not after everything. Some things mean that getting the Intersect out of his head just isn't his biggest priority for the day. It's crazy, but it's true. He is too tired to deal with the scientist, his demands about keeping Sarah and Ellie out of things, to have to argue about it all over again.

Instead, he flops onto his bed, pulling out his phone and bringing up his conversation with Sarah.

Orion just contacted me again. he sends.

Her reply comes through only minutes later:

What did you say?

Nothing, he replies. After this Roark mission I'll contact him and see what he can do. But w/ my Dad today I just didn't wanna deal with that.

After this mission. she replies, and he decides then to hold himself to that. To doing something about all of this, once this Roark thing is over, once things with his Dad are hopefully settled.

He chews his lip.

Thank you, for today. I know I already said it. But thank you.

I'm sorry things didn't go better, she replies, and he rolls his eyes, since she can't see it. It's not her fault, or her responsibility to apologize for. And frankly, after decades without seeing his Dad, Chuck has definitely imagined scenarios in the past that go much, much worse.

It was always a long shot with him. But he's here. There were moments when he seemed ok. I think we can help him.

Was Ellie okay, when we first got back?

He smiles at her question. How much she cares for his sister, their whole family. His sister had freaked a little when she first saw their Dad, running, and he'd left Sarah and Devon alone with Stephen while he talked his sister down.

We both decided it's better to try than to hate him for the rest of our lives. Hating him would be easier. But we're gonna try.

Do you believe the Roark thing? she asks, and he hums, debating that himself.

The timing makes sense, they're the same age. But he never mentioned him, before. If they worked closely I'm sure Dad would have mentioned him, when he used to talk about his work. It's hard to not think it's just his delusions.

I think he might be more sane than he seems," Sarah says in response.

Frowning, he wonders what she can mean by that. His Dad's delusions about people following them, watchers, conspiracies out to get him... they're just imaginings, aren't they?

Why d'you say that? he texts back.

Just a feeling, she replies, and again, he frowns, watching her type more in a response. A few times, today, things just felt off. Like he was acting normal, and then he forgot he was supposed to be the way you'd expect him.

He supposes he can see why Sarah would look at it that way. How his Dad went from a regular guy to a conspiracy theorist and back again, all in a casual conversation. But still...

You think he's faking it?

Do you think he could? she shoots back, and shit, that's a loaded question.

He wonders if that's even the question, actually. Or if it's more, if his Dad is faking this, why? What does he serve to gain from all of this? And if he is just putting on an act, why has he been doing it for such a long time, long before he left them?

I don't know why he would. he has to say, even as he questions it himself.

Me neither. But I think we'll find out.

And somehow, that leaves him uneasy.

So he changes the subject. Focuses on the most joyful part of the day, replying:

Hey, congratulations on bridesmaid duty!

She takes a moment to respond.

Thank you. You knew, huh?

Oh, yeah he did. Ellie told him at his last brain scan. He thought he was going to burst with love, at the thought of Sarah there, in the wedding party, by his side. A part of that day forever.

You surprised? he has to ask.

And onscreen, she types, then stops, then he sees her type again.

I don't know, is what she says eventually. I've never been in anyone's life long enough to be a bridesmaid. I honestly don't know what I'm supposed to do as one.

And she sends a goofy emoji, after, so out of character he knows she's truly surprised by this. It's like she's wondering what to do, how to do a good job.

But oh, doesn't she see it's so easy?

Ellie loves you, he types. Again, he resists the urge to tell her what he almost did at the trailer today. That Ellie isn't the only one. She wanted you there from the start. You'll be perfect. You always are.

There's a long, long pause, and he almost thinks she's fallen asleep.

And then he sees her typing again.

Goodnight, Chuck.

He grins at the screen. Yeah, enough of this for today. Enough of all of these things tugging on their heartstrings.

He responds, Goodnight just the same. And then he pulls up his PSP, and loses himself in a game. Just for the night.

000000

He never thought he'd be walking back home after a day working at Roark Instruments. For so long, it was his dream job. And for so long, any sort of dream job felt so, so out of reach.

But then, there's a lot of things that have happened in his life recently that he never thought would happen.

A government computer in his head, for instance.

A complicated but thrilling relationship with Sarah Walker.

His father back in his life.

He smiles to himself, shifting his bag on his shoulder, adjusting the RI ID badge still slung around his neck.

Beckman had decided the easiest way to get into Roark Instruments to see if RIOS really did pose a danger, was for Chuck to interview for a place there. The NSA had rigged his credentials a little bit, but otherwise, he went in as himself, Chuck Bartowski.

Chuck can't be sure, but he thinks using his real name might have been a sort of bait. Beckman even told him to keep introducing himself as Chuck Bartowski, nothing else. It's like they were seeing if Roark would pick up on him. Weed him out.

Instead, Chuck barely saw the man. In fact, he'd met him just once.

His 'boss' Drew (though it feels weird to call the guy that when the job isn't even real, and the guy is years younger than Chuck) had mainly showed him around the facility, explained the big event coming up in a couple months, NextExpo. It's RI's big convention, where journalists and nerds alike flock to the company's campus, play games, eat pizza, and Roark makes a major announcement or release. This year, the release is RIOS.

Which is what Chuck's fake job will entail, coding the operating system, following strict instructions sent by Roark himself. Chuck hasn't had a chance to look at anything yet, but he senses seeing the code, any flaws or errors within it, should be enough for him to know if Roark really poses a danger, or if his flash was somehow spurred by his father's delusions.

But during the tour, while Drew had been showing him to his office, doors down the hallway had opened dramatically, and Ted Roark had sauntered down toward them both. In a hawaiian shirt and baseball cap, while primly-dressed journalists bustled around him, dictaphones raised and notebooks poised, hanging off his every word. Drew had called the man over, and, with a smug smirk, Roark had headed their way.

"This is one of the new recruits," Drew had said, proudly. Roark, though, had only smirked, telling Chuck it was good to have him on board, so rehearsed and false. He'd paused, waiting for Chuck to introduce himself, and as Beckman told him to, he'd said: "Chuck. Chuck Bartowski."

The man hadn't blinked, just shaking Chuck's outstretched hand, then grinning down, telling Chuck not to wash his hand. He'd proceeded to make a vaguely sexist comment to the female journalist standing next to him, before heading away.

Throughout the encounter, there was a blunt kind of ignorance in the man's tone. Like he knew he was acting like an ass, making a terrible first impression to a new employee, but he didn't care. Making bad quips in front of eager journalists, acting god-like, being so disconnected to his employees. Childlike, frat-like, for the fun of it.

Maybe Stephen is as crazy as ever. Maybe he's completely delusional.

But Chuck knows that if they do find something that brings Roark down anyway, he won't mind. Never has he been brought down to earth by someone being so unlike what he'd hoped, quite so quickly.

Reaching into his pocket, he digs out his keys, heading toward his apartment.

"Chuck!" calls a once-familiar voice, and he jolts to find his Dad heading toward him, not from Ellie's apartment but from the passageway that leads out of the courtyard. He must've been out, maybe on a walk.

"Dad," he says, confused. He didn't expect to see his Dad at this time, right as he got home. They have dinner planned for later, with Ellie. Was Stephen waiting for him?

"You been at work?"

Again, Chuck can't help but feel uneasy. Why is that his first question?

"Yeah." he says simply.

But then his Dad steps closer, looking at him with narrowed eyes.

"What's that, uh, that 'round your neck?"

Oh, shit.

He jolts, tearing off the lanyard and badge.

"Oh, just a work pass, it's-"

But his Dad strides up, looking at the laminated card now between his fingers. The embroidered fabric, the pattern happily displaying the logo, bold and bright. And Chuck knows there and then- this is going to unravel.

"RI?" Stephen asks, looking closer. "Roark?"

He sighs, chewing his lip.

He should've known this couldn't go smoothly. Not with his Dad.

"Dad, I can explain-"

"I- I told you yesterday how Roark stole everything from me." He runs a hand through his hair, already so messy, and Chuck sees the look in his eyes. Pain, hurt. But also confusion. Anxiety. That sense of conspiracy. "Now today, you're working for him? What, what is this, payback? For- for what I did?"

And he hates that he has to lie, here. To fake things on the spot. But a lie comes so easy. It always does now.

"You think I would get a job overnight just to spite you?" he asks. "Dad, believe me, I got this job offer weeks ago. I didn't want to make you worry that you were here right when I was starting at a new place, so I didn't tell you. I didn't even know about Roark until you told me."

It tastes strange in his mouth.

His Dad just looks at him, sad betrayal still in those aging eyes of his.

"But I did tell you. And you still went."

"Dad, it's a job!" he says, feeling frustrated despite himself. "Come on, I couldn't-"

"But you didn't tell me," he interrupts, grave. Clearly, taking his personally. Taking this as a target.

God, has Chuck had enough of keeping things from those he cares about.

"I didn't want to hurt your feelings," he tries. "You... have history with Roark, even if he didn't seem to think-"

"You talked to him?"

Oh, shit. Yeah, he shouldn't have said that.

With a gulp, he tries to find a way out of this.

"Yeah. He- it's fine, he didn't recognize me," he waves off, the truth. "Didn't even react to my name."

Stephen shakes his head.

"It's a trick." he says, still so serious. And Chuck swears he can literally feel his stomach sink. "He knows who you are, who I am. He's lying."

"Dad, it was years ago, I'm sure-"

"No!" He jolts at the fury from his father. Always so quiet, never angry. Never this rage. "No, he knows. Dammit, I can't believe you're working for him."

And as he twists the knife, makes this all on Chuck, Chuck can't help but snap himself.

"It's my life. You left, Dad! You haven't been here for a long time!" What did the man expect him to do?! Just give up everything on day two after they found him? After Sarah had to dig into government archives to track him down? What does he owe a father who didn't want to be found? "You don't know what I've been through, what jobs I've had, what career I want to have. You don't know a thing about me! I can work for whoever I like- what you think about it doesn't matter!"

Silence falls in the courtyard, angry words echoing off the stone.

"I see."

Stephen steps back. And Chuck knows he went too far.

"Dad," he tries.

"No. No, I get it." He takes another step away, not meeting Chuck's gaze. Not even looking up. "I get it."

With that he rushes away, back out the way he came, too fast to stop him. And a devastating feeling swarms Chuck, a sickness.

Shit.

Across the courtyard, a door opens.

"Chuck? What is it? I heard voices."

He grimaces as Ellie heads over to him.

"I... Dad found out about today."

Ellie raises an eyebrow, looking down at the ID still in his hand.

"Working at Roark?" she surmises, and he nods.

"He didn't take it well. I..." He closes his eyes, just a beat. Why did he do that? Why did he let it get to him? "I got angry, and he left. I don't know where he's gone."

Ellie sighs, rubbing her hands over her face.

"Well, he's coming back, right?" She pauses when he doesn't respond. "He's coming back, right, Chuck?"

"I don't know!" he shouts, and she jumps a little, whether at his raised voice or at the fact itself. "I- maybe I just ruined all of this." He sits down on the fountain edge, head in hand. "God, I hate this. If I could've just told him the truth, this was an assignment... I didn't even like Roark, he's an ass. I'm only there because of this friggin' Intersect."

Ellie sighs, sitting next to him.

"But you couldn't tell him. I know that, Chuck." She looks across to her apartment, the man inside, so unaware too. "That's what we have to do."

And oh, Chuck is sick of having to think that way.

"I hate this," he mutters through grit teeth. "The pain this stupid computer is causing. All these secrets and lies. Devon, Dad. Even Morgan. And me and Sarah..."

"It has to be this way, right?" Ellie asks. "We can't tell Dad, or Devon- we can't let them know the truth."

But there's a way to stop lying anymore.

He straightens up.

"We have to end this, sis," he realizes. "We have to."

She sends him a look, not following, and he stands, pulling his phone out, dialing his speed dial.

"Sarah," he murmurs, as she picks up.

"Chuck? What is it?"

She can already tell something's wrong. Because she's Sarah.

"Dad saw my RI badge when I got home, he found out. And he got mad and he left... I don't know if he's coming back."

"Chuck..." she begins, trying to comfort him, but that can be later. Now, they need to act.

"I want to end this. I want this thing out of my head, Sarah. For all the pain it's caused. It's never gonna stop until it's gone." He looks at his sister. "Forget after this mission. We need to call Orion now."

And there isn't even a beat of hesitation, not one second, before she replies.

"Okay," Sarah murmurs down the line, and he nods at his sister. "Let's call him."


note: I think I've seen this episode before... But hey, Chuck doesn't know the twist, so let's indulge him a little. We're barrelling to big stuff here, so please review!