Timeframe: Chuck – Sometime mid Season 2, but no real spoilers. Middleman – Post Season 1.
Author's Notes: I don't own Chuck. And the only pieces I own of the Middleman universe are the DVDs and comic books…
Many thanks to my beta reader, ersk4!
I'll give mad props to anyone that can identify the theme I've woven throughout this story! ;-)
"Sarah, I'm going to be fine! It's just a Nerd Herd supervisor's convention in the middle of nowhere. I mean, what could possibly happen to me in Topeka, Kansas? Besides, Casey will be with me," Chuck Bartowski said, attempting to persuade his CIA-assigned protector and cover girlfriend, Agent Sarah Walker.
Sarah frowned at him. "I don't know, Chuck."
"You need a vacation, Sarah," Chuck persisted. "Have you had a day off from watching me since we met?"
When Sarah pursed her lips in thought, Chuck pressed on. "See? If you can't remember, then it's been too long. That can't be healthy for you. Now, Awesome is going to be out of town with some of his Frat buddies this weekend, so Ellie wants to go to a spa for some 'girl time' with you and to check it out for her wedding day preparations."
Major John Casey of the NSA snorted. "I can't believe it, but I think I'm actually getting the better end of this deal, having to watch Bartowski in his nerd-vana while you have to endure that."
Sarah was inclined to agree and opened her mouth to say that. Before she could speak, though, Chuck put on the puppy dog face.
"Please, Sarah? It would mean so much to Ellie," he begged.
She felt her resolve crumble. She couldn't get rid of the nagging suspicion that something was going to happen. But with teams of NSA agents already set up to work security and catering, she knew he would be well looked after. Besides, Casey was going as well, and she knew he would never let anything happen to Chuck. "All right," she finally acquiesced.
The smile Chuck gave her in return caused her heart to skip a beat. Oh, yeah. That was why she always gave in to him. Squelching the feeling, she put on her most stern agent face and started to lay down the ground rules. "You have to promise to call me when you get there and check in with me every morning and evening. And if you flash or sense anything amiss, I want you to get out of there immediately and contact Casey."
Chuck rolled his eyes. "Yes, mom," he sarcastically replied.
Sarah smacked him on the shoulder.
"Ouch!" he objected
Casey let out a grunt in amusement, and Chuck could have sworn he heard him mutter "wuss."
"We're just leaving the airport now, Sarah. Casey picked up our 'rental,' so we're on our way out, safe and sound. I hope you're enjoying your day with Ellie! I'll talk to you later."
"Walker didn't answer?" John Casey asked as he pulled their NSA-supplied Suburban out of the parking lot.
"Nope," Chuck replied. "They must already be 'getting their beauty on,' as Ellie put it."
Casey just grunted as he got on the highway and headed downtown. They arrived at the hotel and conference center a short time later. As they made their way inside, they were greeted by a gigantic "Welcome Nerds of America" banner. At the check-in desk, they were handed their room keys. Chuck was none too pleased to learn that he was sharing a room with Casey. At least they had two queen-sized beds, he was told. When they got to their room, though, he had to give the hotel some props; on each of their dressers sat a Big Gulp of Mountain Dew and a package of Wonka's Nerds candy.
Casey felt no such gratitude. "Bartowski, you're annoying enough without having to deal with you on a sugar rush or a caffeine high!" he grumbled as he stalked out of the room to verify that all of the security sweeps had been performed. "Stay in the room!" he called back over his shoulder as he left. "And don't even think about the sweets!"
"It's always the same with Casey," Chuck mumbled to himself. "Stay in the car, Chuck. Stay in the Castle, Chuck. Stay in the room, Chuck."
He flopped on his bed and flipped on the TV, clicking through the channels rapidly.
Half an hour later, John Casey returned to the room, satisfied with the security arrangements that had been made so far. He was pleasantly surprised to find that Chuck had actually followed his instructions. Chuck was sprawled across his bed, entirely focused on the TV. The candy and sodas were still on the dressers.
"Let me mark this on the calendar. Today, the moron actually listened to orders," Casey said.
The comment startled Chuck, who hadn't even heard the Major come in. He jumped and sat upright. "Casey! Look! MacGyver's on! It's the one where he makes a cutting torch out of a bicycle and-"
"Don't care," John interrupted gruffly. He tossed Chuck an earpiece. "Everything checks out. If we're lucky, this will be as boring as an evening watching you and the bearded buffoon play video games. But just in case something causes you to flash, put this in. You can talk to me on your watch."
Chuck immediately raised his wrist to his face and said, "Do you read me, Casey?"
"Idiot! What part of covert do you not understand?" the Major hissed at him. "You don't have talk directly into the watch. I can hear you just fine."
"OK, OK! All apologies!" Chuck replied, raising his hands in surrender. "I'm going to the bathroom and then I think it'll be time to head down to the first session."
When Chuck came out of the bathroom, he couldn't help but laugh. Casey had changed into a Nerd Herd outfit and put on fake glasses.
Casey was not amused. "Laugh it up, numskull," he growled.
"I'm sorry, Casey, but that look on you never gets less funny," Chuck replied, valiantly attempting to hold in his laughter. "But if you really want to play a nerd, the proper response is 'Laugh it up, fuzzball!' It's from Empire Strikes Back and-"
Casey let out another warning growl.
"You obviously don't care. Right, let's just get going," Chuck hastily said as he scrambled for the door.
Casey let out grunt #17 ("Still annoyed, but now amused and no longer in danger of violating primary mission objective.") as he followed Chuck into the hallway. "I've arranged our seats so that we are close to the exits but not too close if someone were to storm the room. Plus you'll be out of my line of fire for any of the doorways."
"Thanks, Casey. That's really... disturbing," Chuck offered weakly.
They reached the conference hall a few minutes later. After picking up their name placards with their seating assignments, they were directed into the room by hotel employees wearing cowboy hats and holding lassos.
"Boy, they're taking this nerd herding theme a bit too seriously, aren't they?" Chuck whispered to his companion.
Casey grunted #42 ("That's an understatement!") as they reached Chuck's seat. "I'm over at table D-7, so do me a favor and don't do anything dumb."
"Oh, don't be such a downer, Casey," Chuck shot back. "Everything's going to be fine!"
Casey gave another grunt as he went to his seat.
Thirty seconds after Casey left, Chuck's iPhone rang. A quick glance at the caller ID had him answering with a gigantic smile.
"Hey, Sarah. How's it going?... So are you and Ellie are enjoying your day of luxury and pampering?... Good to hear it... Yeah, we're fine. No problems so far, like I told you there wouldn't be... Well, I'm sure the store isn't going to fall apart if I'm not there for a couple days... Yeah, I know very well what the 'animals' will do while the 'zookeeper' is away. But really, when has me being there ever stopped them before? It'll be fine, don't worry about it... Alright, I'll see you when I get back!"
"The Big Cheese calling you?" a strange woman's voice asked, interrupting Chuck's thoughts and causing him to jump.
"Was that your boss? Mine is always calling me up and interrupting my life at all hours, too," the girl said. She stuck out her hand. "My name's Polly, Polly Wright."
"Chuck Bartowski," Chuck replied distractedly. "No, that was my girlfriend Sarah."
Polly raised her eyebrows. "Wow, a Nerd Herder with a girlfriend. That's gotta be a rarity."
Chuck finally turned to look at her. She stood almost a foot shorter than him with slightly wavy shoulder-length brown hair and eyes almost the same shade as his own. She was in what looked like a slightly modified Nerd Herd Assistant Manager uniform consisting of a long sleeve white shirt, black tie, grey vest and black slacks. She was also carrying a messenger bag. He noticed that her hand was still stuck out and took it to shake. "So, Polly Wright, huh?"
"Yep," she replied, flipping open a wallet to show a Buy More ID.
"Your parents were big Doctor Who fans?" he asked with a smirk, deciding to give back as good as he was getting.
Most people wouldn't have detected her almost imperceptible flinch. Chuck Bartowski was not most people.
"Yeah, well, what can I say?" she answered with a shrug as she sat down next to him. "It's my cross to bear."
"So, what do you think of Topeka?" Polly asked, trying to both redirect and keep the conversation going.
"Honestly, I haven't seen much of it. We got to the airport, picked up our rental, and came right here," Chuck said.
"Who're we?" Polly wondered aloud.
"The scary-looking guy a couple tables over and I both work at the Burbank branch," he replied.
"Whoa," she gasped upon seeing the imposing man with a scowl on his face. "Forget selling Beast Masters, he looks like he could be the Beastmaster. Very ape-like."
"Yeah, he can be a bit of a curmudgeon, but deep down, he's a good guy," Chuck agreed.
Chuck heard a growl in his ear and then Casey muttering, "I will kill you if you don't stop talking about me. Death by a thousand paper cuts, Bartowski. Change the subject. Now!"
"Did the rental company stick you with a lame car, too?" Polly asked as she turned back to Chuck, unknowingly saving him from an unspeakably painful doom. "I got a Hruck Bugbear. I mean, what are the odds?"
"What's wrong with the Hruck Bugbear? It was considered the pinnacle of Cold War Balkan engineering!" Chuck objected.
Polly rolled her eyes. "My boyfriend said the same thing! I just get rid of the one at home, and here another one is shoved off on me! They're OK when they're running, but good luck finding replacement parts or anyone who knows how to fix one. And let's not even talk about the lack of space!"
Chuck couldn't help but laugh. "At least you have a car. I'm stuck taking a Nerd Herder anywhere I need to go. And nothing says street cred like a giant red and white egg on wheels!"
Polly thought for a moment and then nodded to concede the point. As she opened her mouth to say something, though, her watch started making noises. It was a synthesized dual-toned klaxon. Chuck also heard a man's voice come from it and say "Dubby?" Polly slapped her hand over it and punched a button as quickly as she could to shut off the video signal, but the damage was already done. Chuck was staring at her in disbelief.
"Did your watch just squawk and talk?" he asked incredulously.
"It's just an alarm," she tried to justify.
Chuck was having none of that. "My spidey sense says that something isn't right, Polly Wright, if that's your real name."
"What's going on, Bartowski?" Casey's voice thundered in Chuck's ear. Chuck, still staring at "Polly," didn't immediately respond.
Again, as "Polly" started to speak, she was interrupted. This time, it was by her cell phone. Holding up one hand, she grabbed her phone with the other, glancing at the caller ID and flipping it open. "What, Boss? I'm kind of in the middle of something here… Oh. Alright. I'll be ready."
She snapped the phone closed and looked back at Chuck. "You're right," she admitted with a sigh of defeat. "My name isn't Polly Wright. It's Wendy Watson."
"Who do you work for?" Chuck demanded angrily.
"I don't know. I'm just the Middleman," she shot back.
And with that, Chuck flashed.