I've started putting the chapters on ff.net, but obviously the blog gets the first entry. Property claims and all, you know.
I don't think we've been saying thank you very much with this story, so I'll talk that opportunity here, just to thank each and every one of you for your tweets and feedback and comments. And to those people that even wandered over to ff.net and left reviews. To those of you that found the blog through Curtain Call, consider this an official welcome. I promise we'll try and be a little more active in the future; I've got a post on perspective coming, I think, and Curtain Call and Romeo and Juliet have some exciting things coming up.
But I know you're here for one thing: Ellie! So I'll let you get on with that!
— Frea (and mpxw)
“And you’re sure you don’t mind?”
They’d had this conversation already on the way back from Harmony and the Bees. Four times, in fact, but Chuck still couldn’t believe it. He’d had a hard time comprehending it all through the indie flick about a beekeeper and a musician and aliens (though the aliens had been pretty cool) that Sarah Walker—Sarah Walker—wouldn’t mind dropping by his sister’s apartment to help smooth things over. They’d gone to a movie premiere together. A movie premiere with flashbulbs and shouting press and publicists and swag-bags, and now Sarah Walker was trailing along beside him, her heels in her hand once more, lifting the hem of her skirt to keep it from dragging on the pavement outside of Ellie’s Echo Park apartment.
“I’m sure,” she said, not looking at him since she was minding where she put her feet. “It’s for family, right? And you got pulled off your vacation and now have to deal with my busy schedule. It’s only fair.”
It was more than fair; it was downright generous. But Chuck had a suspicion that if he started paying her compliments, every single emotion he’d ever felt about Sarah Walker might come bubbling up in one huge rush, and he might just stand there like an idiot, gushing for hours about how freaking pretty she was, and how great her role in Take Two and Call Me in the Morning had been, and how had they done the thing with her skin in Killer Martian Wasps, was it CGI or just hours in the makeup trailer?
Since he didn’t really want to do that, he just nodded and said, “Uh, well, thanks.”
“You know we’re not actually dating, right?” Sarah asked, finally looking up to give him a small smile. Like always, his heart sped up a little.
He covered by doing a surveillance sweep like Casey had taught him. “I know. It’s just, the my bosses were pretty explicit about the whole ‘cover’ thing.”
Instead of the serious expression he expected, Sarah practically twinkled at him. “It’s so Sydney Dunham, isn’t it?”
“It really is! It’s just like that scene in ‘Call of Midnight’ in Tokyo where she’s using that guy to—I mean, uh, yeah, I guess it is. I hadn’t noticed.”
Good one, Chuck. Way to play that one cool, Mr. Smooth, Chuck thought, inwardly kicking himself. When he noticed the speculative look Sarah was now sending his way, he wanted to simply leap into the nearby fountain and put himself out of his misery by way of drowning.
“So, yeah,” he said, clearing his throat. “Her apartment’s right over here. Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Last chance to back out.”
“Not backing out.”
“Really? Because I totally wouldn’t hold it against you if you wanted to wait in the car—”
“Are you ashamed of me or something?”
“No, not that, never that, it’s just that...” Ellie and likely Morgan are about to embarrass me horribly, and I really don’t want you, of all people, to be witness to that. “My family, they’re unique. We practically wrote the book on it. And I’m sure it’s probably boring for somebody who rubs elbows with A-Listers and the Hollywood elite?” Desperation laced his voice at this.
“You’re my bodyguard. I go where you go, Chuck. Now, c’mon, quit dragging your feet and let’s go see your sister.”
“Don’t say I didn’t you warn you,” Chuck grumbled.
“You did. Seven times. March, soldier.” Sarah pushed on his shoulder, making him stiffen, but he just sighed, accepted his fate, and knocked on his sister’s apartment door.
“It’s open!” he heard Morgan call, and wanted to close his eyes. So much for hoping that it would just be Ellie home. Still, Chuck drew in a bolstering breath, and pushed open the front door. “Hey, buddy.”
“Chuck!” Morgan didn’t look away from the TV screen, not even at the sight of his best friend in a slightly rumpled tuxedo, a black gift bag dangling from one hand. “Hey, gimme just a sec, gotta fight this baddie, and then I’m all yours.”
Sarah quietly let herself into the apartment behind Chuck. He wondered what on earth she saw in the apartment, being used to high society as she was. Ellie was a tasteful interior decorator for somebody on a resident’s schedule, but it just wasn’t the same.
“Where’s Ellie?” he asked Morgan.
“Taking a shower, said she had a long shift. And no, I didn’t peek.” Morgan rolled his eyes before he abruptly tilted the controller, his body rocking forward as he locked into battle with his current villain. “Who’s your friend?”
“Uh, right. Morgan, this is Sarah. Sarah, my best friend and wingman, Morgan Grimes.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Sarah said, sounding amused. She inched forward so that she was standing next to Chuck, and he tried not to breathe too deeply. Even after hours of being in her company, her scent was still dangerously intoxicating.
“Likewise,” Morgan said. “Sorry, I’ve just really gotta beat this guy. We’re going for best two out of three and...” He trailed off and went absolutely, positively still, like a Morgan-shaped statue sitting on Chuck’s sister’s couch in his too-long shorts and floppy plaid shirt.
“Wow, so you’re not the only one that does that,” Sarah whispered to Chuck.
Slowly, Morgan’s head swiveled so that he was looking at the both of them, the controller in his hands forgotten. His gaze started at their feet and traveled up the length of Sarah’s dress, across her torso, finally stopping on her face. For the space of three heartbeats, he did nothing but stare.
And then he let out a short scream, dropped the controller, and scrambled backwards.
Sarah jumped. Chuck cursed and went forward, but Morgan had already tumbled over the back of the couch and was backing away like a crab, his eyes wide and terrified, startlingly blue against his face.
“Oh, my god! Chuck, get away from her! It’s Mary, she’s come to kill us both and possess our souls like she did in ‘Blood in the Water!’ Save yourself, man!”
Forget drowning, Chuck wished some merciful god would just smite him on the spot. He put his hand over his face. “Morgan!”
“How did you miss the soul-sucking gaping maw, Chuck! Get away, man! Get away!”
Sarah clapped her hand over her mouth. Whether she was laughing or horrified, Chuck couldn’t tell, but there was little he could do about that as Morgan scrambled to his feet and raced behind the kitchen island. He snatched up a plate, the only weapon at hand, and backed away until he was against the far wall. “Back! Back, foul beast!”
“For the love of Gene Roddenbery, Morgan, ‘Blood in the Water’ is just a movie! Mary’s not real!” Chuck turned abruptly to Sarah, who had her hand covering her whole face now. Her shoulders were shaking. “I am so, so, so, so incredibly sorry about this. Morgan’s what we call a special case and—Morgan, this is Sarah Walker. The actress. Not a soul-sucking beast. Not a demon possessed by the devil’s daughter. She works in Hollywood, and she is perfectly human, I assure you.”
“No,” Morgan said, though he lowered the plate half an inch. “No, it’s not because we agreed, Chuck, we agreed years ago that Sarah Walker was too perfect to be real, and you swore it on my pack of grape soda, you did, so that can’t be Sarah Walker, and that’s gotta be—crap, you’re really her.”
“Morgan, if you have ever been my friend, you will please just stop talking right now for forever.”
“Too perfect to be real, huh?” Sarah asked.
Chuck wondered if it was possible to spontaneously combust. “How much can I pay you to forget the last, let’s say, ten minutes?”
“I don’t know.” Sarah sidled a little closer to him, smiling. “How much you got?”
“Oh, god,” Morgan said. “This is the greatest thing ever.”
“My best friend is dating Sarah Walker!” Morgan abruptly dropped the plate, and thankfully it didn’t shatter. He scurried back out of the kitchen and over to them, where he attempted to look charming and more dashing. “Morgan Guillermo Grimes, at your service, madam.”
“Sarah Walker,” Sarah replied. “Charmed to meet you.”
Please don’t kiss her hand, please don’t kiss her ha—frak.
“And might I say, you look lovely tonight,” Morgan said, and Sarah looked like she was about to reply, but Ellie walked in.
And now, Chuck couldn’t help but think, the party really starts.
“Morgan, I thought I told you to...go...home...Chuck!” Ellie, freshly showered and wearing PJs, rushed forward and enveloped him in a hug. He felt her stiffen abruptly, and figured she must have realized Sarah was there. Why on earth people would notice him first and Sarah second, he had no earthly idea. “And, uh...”
“I’m Sarah,” Sarah supplied at Ellie’s confusion. She glanced at him, briefly, as though for assurance.
“Right. Right! Sarah, this is my sister, Ellie. Ellie, Sarah is my...” Try as he might, the word he needed just wouldn’t come up.
“Girlfriend,” Sarah finished for him.
“Oh, my god, you’re real.” Both Chuck and Sarah blinked at this, but Ellie just barreled on. “What am I saying? Of course you’re real, why wouldn’t you be real? God, I can’t believe I just said that. Where are my manners? Would you like anything to eat? Drink? Uh, eat?”
“Do we have any grain alcohol?” Chuck asked, figuring that maybe if he got drunk, this night might not seem so bad.
Ellie gave him a funny look before she turned back to Sarah. “I was about to have some wine. Would you like some?”
“Sure, that sounds great.”
“I will, too, have some—” Morgan began to say.
Ellie, however, cut him off with one steely look. “Go home, Morgan.”
“Now? But Chuck just got here and—”
“We’ll catch up some time soon, buddy, I promise,” Chuck said quickly, finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Once Morgan had a couple of days to really recover from the shock, from the news that the tabloids weren’t some really strange prank, he’d probably calm down. Hopefully.
Until then, Chuck’s plan was to keep Morgan as far away from Sarah as possible, for his own sanity.
“It was nice to meet you!” Morgan managed to call over his shoulder as Chuck practically shoveled him out the door. “I love you!”
Chuck shut the door quickly.
“I mean, your work! I love your work!” Morgan’s voice was muffled by the door.
“Again,” Chuck said, wondering if it was possible to die from sheer and total embarrassment, “sorry about that.”
“Don’t be, he was fun. It’s really nice to meet you, Ellie. Chuck’s talked a lot about you.”
“Only good things,” Chuck filled in when Ellie regarded them both with a suspicious look. “The best things, really. Nothing at all from your...high school years...and I’m just as bad as Morgan now. I’m going to stop talking and get that wine. Usual spot?”
After Ellie had confirmed the wine had indeed not moved, the ladies took their seats at the kitchen table, and Chuck saw to the wine. By some miracle or other, he didn’t chug the whole bottle, but it was a close one.
“So, you two are really dating?”
“Does Chuck make up fake girlfriends a lot or something?” Sarah asked as Chuck dug out wineglasses from the cabinet.
“No, not at all. Not Chuck. Morgan? Maybe, but Chuck’s so...you’re really dating?”
It really was Embarrass the Hell out of Chuck Bartowski Day at chez Bartowski.
“I mean, how did you two even meet?” Ellie wanted to know, looking from one to the other.
Sarah and Chuck glanced at each other, mystified. It occurred to Chuck then that maybe they should have a better cover story in place, even if it was only for his sister. Ellie knew his job was important, but he still had yet to use the letters “CIA” in conjunction with his title. And if Ellie knew he was doing things like bodyguarding, or that he had a gun—a gun, the mission loadout had included a Sig Sauer for his use—tucked into the waistline of his tuxedo pants, he had no idea what her reaction would be. He only knew that it would be bad.
“That emergency Bullworth had me handle,” he said slowly. “It’s top secret because they needed me at the studio. And Sarah and I met there.”
There. That wasn’t technically a lie.
“So you’re working for a movie studio now?” Ellie asked, her eyes narrowing.
“Yeah.” Kind of.
“And you can’t stay here for that, why?”
“The studio wants me closer, so they put me up in a hotel right by the lot,” Chuck lied, deliberately not looking at Sarah. Announcing to his sister that he was living with his brand new “girlfriend” was something he’d rather put off until, well, after either the cows came home or until the year George R.R. Martin put out more than a single book.
“If that’s all it was, why couldn’t you tell me about it? And how did you two meet, exactly?”
“They’ve had him sign some pretty heavy-duty non-disclosure agreements, so he couldn’t really tell anybody about it,” Sarah said, picking up the narrative. “I used some of my pull to get him the night off. Of course, he had to go to the premiere with me first, but...” She gestured at their clothing. “And how did I meet Chuck? Um...”
“I fixed her phone,” Chuck said, blurting out the first thing he could think of. He was always repairing small electronics for women in the office back in D.C.
“Yeah, I dropped it during some wire-work, stupid of me to even have it up there with me, really, but Chuck was really nice, he fixed it right up for me.”
Ellie glanced from one to the other, and Chuck got the feeling she hadn’t entirely bought their tale. But she just said, “Hmm.”
“So, Ellie, Chuck tells me you’re a doctor?”
“Yes, I work over at Westside with my boyfriend.”
“And how is the Captain?” Chuck wanted to know.
Ellie squinted at him. “I’ve asked you not to call him that. And Devon is fine. He’s just pulling a double-shift right now to clear time for a surgery next week.”
“That’s so neat,” Sarah said. “All the people I work with only use that tired ‘I’m not a doctor, I just play one on TV.’ You get the real thing, out there saving lives.”
“It has its moments,” Ellie said, and Chuck could sense the frost in her voice starting to thaw.
His cell vibrating in his pocket, however, kept him from commenting. When he glanced at the display, he frowned. It was three hours ahead on the East Coast, so what was his FBI contact even doing, calling him at this hour?
“I have to take this, I’m sorry,” he said. “You two good?”
The women assured him that they could indeed live without him for a few minutes, and he headed outside, checking over the courtyard as he did so. Once he was sure he was alone, he answered the phone, securing the line as he did so. “Bartowski, secure.”
“Chuck, man, what the hell did you get me into?”
“What are you talking about?” He’d never known Sanderson to be easily excitable before.
“What are you talking about?” Sanderson sounded agitated, his words rushing over one another in their haste to get out.
“Did you run the search for me?”
“Yeah, and since I did, I’ve had three suits knocking on my door, and they didn’t look real happy to be there!”
“What?” Chuck stopped abruptly in his tracks. “Suits? You’re sure it’s related to—”
“All of ‘em wanted to know what I was doing, looking up records on Sarah Walker. I convinced them it was some kind of accident, but what the hell, Chuck? Who is this chick? It’s gotta be somebody else, because surely we’re not talking about the chick all over those gossip websites all the time.”
“Yeah, somebody else,” Chuck lied uneasily, even while his mind spun out a thousand possibilities and the rest of him wondered what the hell was happening. He’d asked Sanderson to do a thorough background check on Sarah, just to see if she tripped a radar somewhere. Apparently, she had.
He glanced through the windows of his sister’s apartment, spotting Ellie and Sarah still deep in conversation. “Did the suits have any affiliation or are we talking generic alphabet soup here?”
“Smelled like CIA,” Sanderson said.
“Did your search find anything?”
“I got a nibble, but it’s old and it’s buried deep, and if those suits have anything to say about it, it’s long-gone. Whatever it was, it was way beyond my clearance level. What the hell have you gotten me into?”
“Nothing, I hope. If anybody comes back, just send them my way, or to Bullworth. It’s for a case I’m working, I promise.”
“I will,” Sanderson said, sounding annoyed. “And just so you know, we’re even.”
“More than. I owe you one, Sanderson.”
“Yeah, you do,” and the FBI agent hung up.
Chuck slowly pocketed his phone and sat on the edge of the fountain, not caring that he was leaving Ellie at Sarah’s mercies or vice versa. What was that about? Sanderson wasn’t easily spooked; he worked on an FBI task-force. What on earth in Sarah’s past was connected to the Central Intelligence Agency, of all things? It was an impossible connection. She was an actress on the silver screen, in the public eye every single day of her life. There was absolutely nothing that would say “CIA” about her.
Except... Chuck frowned. Her IMDB page was just indicative of the biggest facet of Sarah’s personality: she didn’t ever reveal much about herself. Very little was known about her off-set, save that she occasionally showed up at publicity events the studio mandated, and that she was always reserved and charming to the press.
Nothing was really known about her life before she’d become an actress.
So it was possible that she might have some connection, it might even be possible that... A dark thought crossed his mind, one that made him actually recoil in shock.
“No,” Chuck whispered aloud. “That’s not possible. Not possible...at all...”
He scrubbed his hands through his hair and told himself that he was being an idiot, that there was no possible way on the planet that Sarah Walker could ever be the notorious CIA agent known as the Cat.