Back to Castle
Silence descended as they drove to the Buy More. Chuck felt like he was losing Sarah again and he didn't know how to stop it. Part of him wanted to argue vehemently, to list all the reasons why she shouldn't go on a solo mission, to persuade her with overwhelming logic. Then he realized this was exactly like Prague, but in reverse. He had chosen CIA training over running away with her because he wanted to do more with his life than be a Nerd Herder or always hiding and running. He had a gift and he wanted to use it to maximum potential, to serve his country and help keep the world safe. He wanted to do great things.
It had taken her a long time to forgive him for that choice, but she had. How could he not allow her to make that same choice for herself? Sarah certainly didn't flunk out of spy school, like he did. She probably graduated top of her class, like, superspy valedictorian. He still didn't have the faintest idea what she could do for Carmichael Industries if it was going to be an anti-cyberterrorism company, and that crack about cake decorating had been a complete shot in the dark. He couldn't realistically see her doing that. While airline pilot seemed worthwhile and practical, it also seemed like a huge waste of talent.
The only argument he could truly advocate was it simply being too soon. Unfortunately, she'd pretty much invalidated that by saying she might never remember. So with 'never' factored into the equation as a possibility (no matter how much he didn't want to accept it) where exactly could one delineate just how long she had to wait around for her memory to return?
His only hope was Dr. Dreyfus. He was a professional. If he said Sarah wasn't ready, then everyone would listen. Beckman wouldn't have sent her to Dreyfus in the first place if she wasn't prepared for Dreyfus to bench her. Beckman and Dreyfus could be the bad guys this time, making Sarah stay home and get some help. Meanwhile, Chuck could be Mr. Loving Husband, holding her hand through this crisis. He crossed his fingers and kept his mouth shut, which was hard, but not impossible.
Morgan was still at work, so it didn't look weird for them to walk in, exchange a few words of friendly chit-chat, and then quietly disappear into Castle. "Sorry I only got two of your offsites done, buddy," Chuck said with a smile and a wave.
"You did my two biggest installs. Saved my bacon. Thanks, Chuck."
He really had intended to do more, but stuff just happened and he ran out of time. At least he hadn't totally left Morgan hanging this time. Morgan gave him a raised brow that said, What's up? Is there a mission? Can I go? to which Chuck simply shook his head and frowned. For once, Morgan took the nonverbal cue and kept his mouth shut. He really had learned a lot.
Sarah smiled and waved at Morgan and Big Mike, but she didn't greet anyone.
Chuck and Sarah sat at the conference table in front of the video screen. Casey's absence stung, but Chuck tried not to dwell on it. He didn't want this to be a mission briefing, so there was no reason to wax nostalgic.
Sarah barely waited for him to be seated before she hit the button connecting them to Beckman's office.
Even at this late hour for D.C., Beckman was dressed in her uniform, perfectly groomed, and sitting in the same position she nearly always was. "Good evening, Walker, Bartowski. Thank you for coming."
"No problem, General," Chuck said. "What's up?"
"I need to talk to both of you, but some matters might best be handled separately." Her gaze landed squarely on Sarah.
Psych stuff was private. Although he regretted keeping Dreyfus's diagnosis a secret when he had been the patient, Sarah should have the same courtesy. He started to stand.
Sarah placed her hand on his shoulder, but she didn't turn her head from the video screen. "That's not necessary, ma'am. I told Chuck everything."
It was hard to read the look on Beckman's face. She had one of the best poker stares in the world. Chuck wouldn't bet money on it, but he thought, for a second, he saw surprise flash in her eyes. Her voice was even and professional when she spoke: "All right, Walker. I just spent the last half-hour discussing your status with Dr. Dreyfus."
Half an hour? Beckman was the queen of brevity. No, more like Empress or Czarina. She always wanted everything boiled down to the level of a Twitter response. That she could talk to anyone for a solid thirty minutes was nothing short of miraculous.
Beckman's voice interrupted his thoughts. "How about you, Chuck? You haven't given me an answer yet."
"My forty-eight hours aren't up, General. My answer will depend on what Dr. Dreyfus said, but I'm not keeping any secrets either. We can do this together."
"Very well. Walker, Dr. Dreyfus has cleared you for field work with two stipulations."
Chuck felt his heart drop about a mile and crash on the floor. Sarah looked happy. She was quick to respond: "What stipulations, General?"
"It is absolutely critical to your recovery for you to continue to spend time with people who had some sort of contact with you during your missing years. That means no solo missions for a while. Here is a list of agents who fit the doctor's requirements."
The monitor showed a short list of names. Bryce Larkin's name was on the list, but in slashthrough font and a 'deceased' notation. All the CATs were there, but Amy's name was in red slashthrough with 'held for treason' right after it. Daniel Shaw's name had the same treatment as Amy's. Chuck, Casey, and the Turners were all listed with asterisks and 'retired' in parentheses. Roan Montgomery and Chuck's mother were on the list as well as a name that surprised Chuck more than the others.
"C-Cole Barker?" Chuck questioned in a voice that came out way too high-pitched. "But he's not even one of us! He's MI-6."
"He's gone on record as saying he was willing to work with Walker, he had significant contact with her in her forgotten period, and there's at least three potential missions for which British intelligence could use some collaboration from us. Sarah, if you choose Agent Barker, I can't guarantee he'll be available, but I wanted to put that out there as an option."
Chuck thought he might just have a heart attack right there. Cole Barker was everything he wasn't. Cool, handsome, debonair, superspy, British, and he'd jumped in front of a bullet for Sarah—without a vest! And unlike Shaw, he'd never betrayed his country. Hell, he'd even protected American secrets, including knowledge of the Intersect, while under torture. The man was like UltraBond and saint all rolled into one.
Chuck cleared his throat. "General, I want to state for the record I am willing to come out of retirement to be Sarah's partner." Maybe he could find Casey and see if he'd come back too. He'd done a little digging after he'd talked with Morgan.
"I thought you hadn't made a decision yet," Beckman said.
"I've decided to keep the Intersect, but I haven't decided whether to rejoin the CIA as a field agent or just a consultant. If Sarah needs a partner, the decision is made."
Sarah turned to him, lowered her voice, and spoke between clenched teeth. "Chuck, we discussed this. I'm not putting you in danger."
Oh, but it's fine to put yourself in danger? Two years ago, he would have said it out loud and argued right in front of Beckman, but it didn't seem like a good idea right now. He wouldn't force Sarah to be his partner. It had to be her choice.
"Zondra or Carina," Sarah stated loudly, now facing the video screen again.
The general gave her the patented eyebrow and frown of consternation, a combo that could even melt Casey. After a two-second glare, she put her reading glasses on and looked down at some papers on her desk. She looked over the top of her glasses and continued, "Zondra and Carina are currently undercover on a Saudi national's pleasure yacht in the Indian Ocean. We believe he's a major kingpin in a human trafficking ring."
"Great. Whoever it is, he could always use one more in his harem."
Chuck cringed at the idea of Sarah joining a harem. He knew she could do her job without entangling herself personally, but it was a degrading cover anyway.
"We can't just drop you in. His yacht has state-of-the-art radar and sonar. They'd see you coming and shoot you on sight. We'd have to wait for him to dock..." Her frown relaxed and something just barely short of a smile formed on her lips instead. "His last stop was in the Maldives two days ago, where he loaded enough supplies to last a month. We'll coordinate with the CATs and make sure you're waiting at the next port."
"A month?" Sarah practically exploded.
"I'm available immediately," Chuck said in a tone not unlike his helpful Nerd Herder customer service voice.
Sarah glared at him with that same look in her eyes as when she'd saved his life but left him tied to a post. Not amused. She turned back to the monitor. "What about Mary Bartowski?"
General Beckman removed her glasses, which made her bugged-out eyes even more prominent. "Am I to understand you'd rather go on a mission with your mother-in-law than with your husband?"
"Who also happens to be the Intersect," Chuck added quickly.
Sarah didn't hesitate. "Yes."
Beckman swallowed her considerable shock, shook her head, and sighed. "Very well. Agent Bartowski is in Chicago right now, visiting family. You can fly out in the morning. The other stipulation Dr. Dreyfus made was that you get some neurological tests. Since Dr. Eleanor Woodcomb will be heading all Intersect research from here on out, collaborating with Dr. Dreyfus, she can administer the tests in Chicago."
Sarah made a decisive nod. "Done."
Chuck stared at the screen, mouth agape. He couldn't believe what just happened. Sarah was not only going on a mission without him, but she was going with his mother, of all people. He was so flummoxed, he didn't know what to say.
The general looked at him. "Chuck, can you provide tactical support to your wife and mother from Castle?"
Okay, Chuck. This is not so bad. She's not going with the super sexy MI-6 agent or playing harem girl on a boat in the middle of nowhere. Mom will be there, and if I get to quarterback, that's the next best thing to being there. He pulled himself together. "Yes, absolutely, General. I'll send all our best gadgets with Sarah."
"Good. If Grimes is willing, see if you can get his help, too."
Chuck blinked. "M-Morgan? You actually want Morgan?"
Beckman smirked and shook her head condescendingly at him. "He's been an integral part of your team, hasn't he? He's proven himself useful as a good eye and a calm voice, and he has excellent rapport with Mary. I want him quarterbacking with you."
Sarah looked like she wanted to argue, as this was fast becoming exactly the opposite of the private little mission she'd had in mind. She didn't hide her irritation when she spoke again. "Why not pull in Casey, too?"
Beckman totally ignored Sarah's monumental sarcasm, and reacted as if she had been serious. "Excellent idea, Walker. Does anyone know where he is?"
Chuck faked a cough around the word, "Dresden," as if he'd accidentally divulged a big secret. "At least we think that's where he was headed. He was looking for Verbanski."
Beckman flashed Chuck that rare twinkle in her eye that said she was impressed with his spy work. Sarah elbowed him in the ribs, but she spoke to Beckman with guarded respect. "I was being sarcastic, ma'am. He retired for a reason. We should leave him alone."
"He's more than welcome to return at any time," Beckman said casually. "After Agent Walker completes her tests, I will brief everyone in Chicago and Burbank simultaneously. Castle is officially a CIA base again. If there's nothing else, I bid you both good night." She didn't wait for a response, but pressed a button in front of her. The screen went black.