[30 minutes prior]
Honey Woodcomb stopped dead at the fountain in the courtyard of Echo Park Apartments. "I'd better wait out here," she whispered.
Woody paused, eyeing his wife with a frown. "Why?"
"Because I'm still a little bitter over the fact the kids up and moved to Chicago after we went to the trouble of buying a house here to be near our granddaughter."
Woody cleared his throat. "We didn't tell them we were moving. We didn't even tell them we were retiring. So the big surprise backfired. It's not their fault. Carlos Shuman was a great opportunity for them."
"So great that Ellie already quit?" She crossed her arms over her chest.
Woody gave her the stop-your-meddling warning glare.
She smirked back at him. "Exactly why I should wait out here."
"Ellie didn't have to tell us she was going to be in town. Do you want to see Clara today, or do you fancy selling the house in Malibu and moving to Chicago?"
Honey shuddered. She didn't even like winter in New England. They'd only ever discussed retirement in Florida or California. Woody knew better than to think she'd ever consent to living in Chicago. A springtime visit, maybe, but living there? Oh hell no.
"We're here, aren't we? Ellie said she had an appointment, so just get Clara and we'll be gone before I can say anything mother-in-law-ish."
Woody decided it was probably best Honey didn't talk to Ellie right now. Maybe when they brought Clara back, she'd be in a better mood. "Okay, but if she asks, I'm telling her you're having a wardrobe malfunction."
Honey rolled her eyes and muttered under her breath, "As if." But she nodded her acceptance of his cover story.
Woody had to stop himself from approaching the wrong door. Devon and Ellie didn't live here anymore and it was just a matter of odd sibling cohesion that her brother, Chuck, lived in the same complex. He knocked on the Bartowski door.
"Come on in," Ellie's voice called from somewhere inside. Probably changing a diaper or something.
Woody turned the knob and walked in. Chuck and Sarah sure had a different sense of taste, but at least their place was clean. "It's just me," he called. "Honey's waiting in the car. Sandal strap broke."
Ellie's voice came again from down the hall. "Can you come back here, Woody? I can't carry all this myself."
The elder Woodcomb smiled. Clara did have quite a lot of accessories, as all babies tended to. This is where Honey should have gone back to help her daughter-in-law gather all the necessary paraphernalia. But never let it be said Woody Woodcomb was a weakling. He started down the hall toward the direction her voice had come.
The first door he tried was clearly not the right one. No one was in the room, obviously Chuck and Sarah's master bedroom. He backed out quickly, but not before catching a glimpse of the vintage Tron poster on the wall. "Great taste in movies," he muttered softly as he hurried to the next door.
Ellie buckled the last strap on Clara's carseat. Two diaper bags were packed and sat with a toy bag at her side. She looked up and smiled. "Hey, Woody, thanks for coming." She stood and embraced him, kissing his cheek. Devon sure knew how to pick them.
"Thanks for calling us. Any chance to see our sweet Clara, you know we'll take it."
She sighed. "I'm so sorry about the moving mix-up."
"Me too. We should have talked to you first. How's Chicago?"
She made a face that was almost as bad as the one right before she flipped out on the wedding planning session. "Truthfully? The house is great and Devon loves his job. But I'm not sure Chicago will ever feel like home."
Woody resisted the urge to tell her to dump the whole gig and move back to L.A. That would get back to Devon and he'd be understandably furious. Besides, Honey would probably say it for him in about a hundred thinly-veiled ways herself.
"Well, you're always welcome here. You can stay with us if you need more room. Clara's little brother, perhaps?"
Alarm crossed her face first, but she hid it quickly and replaced it with a smile. "You and Devon are in cahoots, aren't you?"
He picked up the carseat holding Clara while Ellie gathered all the bags. She looked like she was going to carry the bags out for him, which might get awkward when they met Honey in the courtyard. He secured the carseat against his hip with one hand and gently relieved her of the bags with his other hand, getting the straps all on his shoulder, so he could return both hands to the carseat.
"Wow, you're an old pro," she mused.
Woody smiled. "Just showing you there's plenty of room for more grandkids. Take all the time you want tonight. We'll bring her back when you're ready."
"Thanks, Woody. And tell Honey I said thanks too."
He nodded. "Will do."
Ellie walked down the stairs into Castle. She couldn't help but look back fondly on the first time she came down here and how utterly blown-away she'd been. And though she'd been here quite a few times since then, the place still had an air of mystery and excitement about it. She knew she wasn't cut out for being a spy, but she and Devon liked to pretend every now and then.
Now that she thought about it, the last time she and Devon had had time for any kind of pretending, any fun at all, was when they'd been living here. Had it really only been a few weeks since the move to Chicago? It seemed like months. She and Clara had been here for over 48 hours and all she'd received from her husband were two texts, each at 5 AM, each saying "Love you, babe" and not much else. Ellie was pretty sure he had the first line saved and just added to it, to hide the fact he was recycling his texts.
She resolved to sit Devon down and hash out her opinion of this new lifestyle when she got back. She'd only let it get this bad because at first she'd thought she was being selfish to miss the daily foot massages, smoothie-making, and personal attention he used to lavish on her. She could live without all that, but he had to stop spending all his time and energy on his job and give some to his family.
"Hey, sis." Chuck smiled and waved.
"Ellie! Long time no see," Morgan said. "So, is it true? You're a real DARPA doc now?"
"Why don't we find out?" She had been dying to do one thing and she didn't get a chance at Dr. Dreyfus's office. He'd made her use the code phrase. She headed for the panel on the wall and pressed her hand against it. Her picture came up along with "Dr. Eleanor Woodcomb, MD, PhD," and underneath that, "Code name: Andromeda".
Morgan was predictably awed. "Andromeda? That is so freaking cool!"
Ellie smiled. "Thanks. I thought it was pretty cool too."
"Where's Clara?" Chuck asked.
"Devon's parents picked her up to have a little grandparent time. We'll probably fly home tomorrow."
Her brother frowned. "So soon? We've hardly had any time together."
She sighed. "I know. But I told you I came here for business, remember?"
"Where's Devon?" Morgan asked.
Ellie kept any hint of frustration from entering her voice. "He's Head of Cardiology at a big hospital now. He hasn't been there long enough to ask for time off yet." Really, though, a two-day trip back to where his parents lived wasn't anything like a vacation. Had Devon asked to trade days-off with someone, he might have been able to do it. Morgan didn't need to know that Devon didn't even try. And really, she was probably being petty to think he should have tried after she assured him it was no big deal for her to travel alone.
"Well, tell him I said hi." The bearded one looked like he was planning to leave.
"You don't have to go, Morgan," she said.
He pointed to one of the security cam monitors. "Yes I do. Alex is here. She was cool about me staying here when I was prepping for your mom's mission, but there's no way I'm not going home with her tonight."
Ellie was pretty sure his emphasis on 'no way' was some kind of commentary on Devon, but she was trying not to talk about it before she talked to him. Time to change the subject. "Is their mission over? How did it go?"
Both Chuck and Morgan nodded and said, "Yes" and "Success" overlapping, but she got the distinct feeling it wasn't as successful as they were letting on.
Chuck saw her doubt. "Mom and Sarah are both fine. They rescued a scientist who'd been kidnapped. The problem is that the kidnappers were gone before they got there and now they're planning some dastardly deeds, so we've got to go after them."
He nodded. "Yes, we. Unless Dr. Dreyfus has changed his mind, Sarah can't go solo. Mom has to go to China. That means I'm going with Sarah."
She studied her brother, trying to figure out if this was good news or bad. He was hard to read right now. However, she saw Morgan heading toward the stairs and she couldn't let him escape. "Morgan, could I get some data from you? It'll only take a minute. Promise."
"Data? Like what? Please don't tell me you're going to put more of those sticky thingies on my face. It took me days to get that adhesive off."
Ellie set her briefcase down on the conference table. "No, I already did scans on you. I have to scan Chuck, but that can wait. It's actually something else." She bent over the combination and dialed in all eight digits. She'd never had such a high-tech lock on anything before General Beckman gave her this. She opened it and pulled out some large cards Dr. Dreyfus had given her. She showed the top one to Morgan. "Does this mean anything to you?"
Morgan studied it a few seconds, frowned slightly, then jutted out his lower lip and shook his head. "Nope. Nothing. What is it?"
Chuck hopped around to get a look before she was ready. He gasped and his face contorted into pain, but his eyes had that deer-in-the-headlights look. Why didn't he close them? Ellie stifled her scientific interest to react to her brother's pain and quickly turned the card away. "Chuck, are you okay?"
He clapped his hands over his ears, doubled over, and moaned. Morgan came up behind him, patting his back, concern written on his features.
"Chuck, talk to me. What happened?" Ellie implored.
He looked up and appeared to catch his breath. "I can't explain it. It's like a terrible migraine when I looked, but I couldn't shut my eyes. I tried. They wouldn't close."
"I didn't mean for you to look before I warned you. Dr. Dreyfus said they found these at Nicholas Quinn's hotel. Sarah said Quinn tortured her with them. She thinks looking at hundreds of them is what removed her Intersect. Please tell me I didn't damage yours." How incompetent would that make her to accidentally ruin the last human Intersect within days of heading up the project?
"Hundreds?" Chuck's face registered the horror of what kind of pain that would have meant, but he didn't dwell on it. Instead, he exchanged a glance with his best friend. "Morgan, get the throwing stars."
The bearded one grinned. "You got it." He crossed the floor to one of the practice areas and pulled out a box of ninja stuff.
It only took one look at the star for Chuck to grin. "Intersect is fine, sis." He nodded to affirm it.
Morgan then lobbed the insanely sharp disc of death directly at Chuck's face with murderous speed. Chuck deftly caught it, but it still made Ellie squeal at the sudden violence.
Chuck must have sensed she was about to scream a lecture at the both of them. He nodded at his friend. "Thanks for confirming that. You better go meet Alex. 'Night, buddy."
Morgan waved and skittered up the stairs, probably also knowing Ellie was about to blow. "'Night, Chuck. 'Night, Ellie."
Ellie eyed her brother who was grinning like a Cheshire cat. At least he looked happy for once. She couldn't really stay mad. After all, she knew the cards were supposed to hurt an active Intersect and she hadn't warned Chuck. Scaring her out of her wits was probably fair payback.
"Okay, Morgan's gone. How are you really?"
He shrugged. "About the same as before. I'm a little worried how Sarah is going to react when Beckman tells her she has to go with me to Iowa."
"Iowa? That's not far from Chicago. Is that where you think the kidnapper went?"
"We're not sure yet, but that's where the Intersect said the bad guys' evil plans were going to play out."
"What evil plans?"
"Nothing for you to worry about."
"Chuck, I have clearance now. You can tell me."
"I'm not sure I can, if it's not about the Intersect itself. Besides, I don't want you to worry. Sarah and I save the world on a regular basis, you know." He smiled warmly.
"What about John Casey?"
"We think he's in Europe, chasing a girl."
Ellie smirked. "Are we talking about the same John Casey that worked at the Buy More and lived in our complex for five years?"
"The one you nailed in the face with a frying pan? One in the same."
She smiled at that. Not many people could say they ever got the drop on him and it was a point of pride she had, even if she felt terrible after she found out Justin lied to her and John was one of the good guys. "I thought he was your partner."
"He was...is, well, was. But with Carmichael Industries all up in the air and Sarah rejoining the CIA, we couldn't really ask him to stick around and wait while we sorted it out, could we?"
She lowered her voice. "So it looks like you decided to go back in the field too." It wasn't a judgment, just an observation.
"General Beckman says this is a special situation. I can still go back to consulting after this."
She gestured at the room around them. "So how was it, just sitting in Castle, watching all the monitors?"
"It wasn't so bad. You should have seen Morgan. He was awesome; he even impressed Beckman the way he took initiative and found out Mom and Sarah had the wrong parachutes and—"
"I didn't ask how Morgan did. I asked about you."
Chuck sighed. "I want to be part of Sarah's life and work so much it hurts, Ellie, but I can't stand it when she holds me at arm's length. Not after what we had before. I miss her so much."
"I know. Try not to give up. Dr. Dreyfus and I both think this is not just an average case of amnesia."
"Things aren't adding up. It's not like classic retrograde, for one thing. Usually when a person has a memory loss related to a specific time, it's because of a traumatic event."
"I'd say Quinn torturing her was pretty traumatic, wouldn't you?"
"Absolutely, but Sarah remembers the traumatic event itself, and everything from five years before the event, just not the five years in between. The brain doesn't compartmentalize memories solely by time, at least not that cut-and-dried. Remember how Morgan's only lasting memory loss was all about movies? It didn't matter how long since he'd seen them. Sarah's memory holes don't make sense. There's no logical reason for her to remember Bryce and Carina but not you or me. Furthermore, she remembers some skills, but not others, again based on that arbitrary five-year date. Most importantly though, it doesn't make sense that her emotional memory has such weird holes. It's just...odd."
"I told General Beckman this was important! Sarah and I both think Quinn had to have engineered this somehow. It was the only way his plan would work."
Quinn engineered this somehow. Something about that statement sounded really promising. Ellie could sense it was somehow connected to those cards. She just had to figure out what they did and how.
This would have been a logical time to discuss her other piece of salient information, but she couldn't. Sarah had signed documents that allowed Dreyfus to discuss the case with Ellie and other scientists, but Ellie was still obligated to protect the doctor-patient relationship and not disclose anything Sarah had shared privately with her psychiatrist unless it was a matter of national security. Up to now, she hadn't told Chuck anything Sarah hadn't already told him, just how she and Dreyfus interpreted those facts.
Through hypnosis, Dreyfus had discovered Sarah was afraid of remembering those five years. She thought she'd broken some 'cardinal rule of spying' by falling in love and now she couldn't even admit to herself how vulnerable and terrified it made her feel. Sarah didn't realize the extent of her subconscious fears and it would be dangerous for Chuck to confront her about them. Besides, it would only make Chuck feel worse to hear that Sarah didn't really want to remember, at least subconsciously.
So, hard though it was, Ellie didn't tell her brother everything she knew. She moved the cards aside in her briefcase and pulled out a handful of sensor wires. "Okay, you ready to let me put sticky stuff on you? Brain scanning time."