A/N The beginning of the Fallen Angel arc.
"I said I had to try, Agent."
"Don't cause trouble unless they cause trouble first."
"He's my one weakness."
"He's just a face."
"Well," said General Beckman from the big screen. "Here's something I never expected to see again."
Chuck, Sarah, and Casey all shared an unsmiling glance as they stood behind the table in Castle for the briefing.
The General noted their surroundings. "Although I must say Castle has seen better days, and you all look rather the worse for the wear."
"Begging the General's pardon," said Casey, "But so does the General."
"Your team's late nights tend to become my early mornings, Colonel," said Beckman. "And the more time zones between us the worse it gets. One of the perqs of command." Not that Casey needed to be told that. "Your briefs were quite the wake-up call, I expect the full reports to be both prompt and invigorating." She took a sip of her black coffee.
Beckman shifted her focus. "Chuck, good to have you back. I look forward to your report especially." A set of photos from the Buy More security cameras lined the bottom of the screen. "However inadvertently it may have come about, you managed to get some visuals on Alexei Volkoff, a remarkable accomplishment. We already have reports from Interpol of sightings in Istanbul."
"Will the General be sending us there to pursue those sightings?" asked Sarah eagerly.
A little too eagerly, if you asked the General. "No, Agent Bartowski. We know their faces but they also know yours. Another team will take point on that search. We have a different job for you."
"We'll be there ASAP, General," said Casey.
"No need, Colonel," said Beckman. "You are in Castle, and Castle is where you will remain, for the time being. We're pulling the current Castle team, until Hannah is determined to be fit for duty, and possibly after that."
Sarah couldn't have been surprised, but she made an unhappy sound. Chuck looked over at his wife, knowing what she was unhappy about. "I'm sure she'll be okay, Sarah."
"I hope so too, Chuck," said the General. "She's a strong person, but an encounter with Volkoff would traumatize even the strongest agent. Given the Intersect connections in the case, we are bringing her in to be evaluated by Dr. Dreyfus."
None of them dared ask 'how long', but they must all have been thinking it, very very loud. Beckman continued, "This assignment will only be for a few days, we can't leave such a sensitive position unguarded until we can get a replacement team together. Your friend will receive a commendation, Sarah, and probably a transfer to a far more suitable posting, so a new team will be necessary in any event."
Sarah smiled. "I'm glad for her."
"You should be, she deserves it." Beckman's tone softened. "You know, Sarah, she's the second extremely qualified asset you've discovered in an unlikely place. Maybe when you retire from field duty you should consider a position in recruiting." The General smiled.
The field agent didn't. "I'll consider it, General."
I'm sure you will. General Beckman kept a straight face, easy to do with the anxious face on her other monitor, watching and evaluating. "Colonel Casey, you will determine the structural integrity of the Castle installation. Chuck can assist you with that."
Ellie gave her a silent thumbs up.
"Uh, General, don't you think I need to get back to the lab?" asked Chuck. "Whatever my mother did to me, we need to study it, try to reverse it, don't we? There may be clues…" He waved his hand in the general vicinity of his head.
Beckman saw Ellie pull Manoosh briefly on screen, pointing to him before shoving him off again. "I agree, Mr. Bartowski," said the General, "But that's technical work, and this is a hopefully unique opportunity to study the skills and how they integrate with your mind. I will be sending Manoosh and some of the people from the Intersect team to make that evaluation. Ellie is currently backlogged with other tasks and could no doubt use a break from Intersect work for a while." Beckman watched their faces with some dismay. Of course they all knew something was up, but normally they wouldn't be so transparent about it. "I expect those reports to be here when I get back to my desk, otherwise you are dismissed." She hit the switch with her usual speed, before Chuck could think of more questions to ask her. "Your thoughts, Doctor?"
"Clearly off their game, especially Sarah. Keep them busy with routine tasks, that's all I can say for now, General. Let other teams handle any real crises that may come up."
Beckman made a face. "Unfortunately, the only teams in the area are both on their way out of it. Believe me, it's for the best."
"How can it be for the best?" said Ellie, who'd read far too many of her brother's reports. Actually Sarah's reports. Her brother tended to underplay his role and Casey went on about gunplay. "There are more spies in LA than there are actors!"
For the second time that morning General Beckman smiled. "Probably true, Ellie, but the withdrawal is unavoidable. Director Bentley's team was trying to replace your brother's as the go-to team in the CIA, and wound up in a situation only Chuck could save them from."
Her fingers trembled, just a little, but Ellie's face glowed with pride. "So now they're slinking back home with their tails between their legs?"
Privately, Diane Beckman rather treasured the idea, but publicly…"Of course not, Doctor. They're escorting the remains of a disarmed weapon of high potency. One of Volkoff's enemies didn't mind getting his hands dirty in someone else's town."
Oh. "Ahem, well, what about the Castle team?"
"Currently leaderless, and in this situation likely to do more harm than good. If there's a silver lining in the cloud hanging over Castle, it's that the events of last night will serve as an excuse to pull them out of the rotation early."
"All of them?"
"Unfortunately, yes. Two of them require…careful handling, while the third is the sole survivor of a group of four."
Ellie winced sympathetically. "Oh, that's rough."
Beckman nodded. "Especially since two of them were murdered by the third. To make it worse, she's psy-ops. One can never quite tell which way those balls will bounce, especially the trainees." She yawned. "You've gotten started on your project?"
Ellie yawned too. "Yes, General. I gave Mr. Clark the list of the items and the personnel I'll need. He's cutting the orders now."
"Good. The sooner an antitoxin is found, the sooner our team can come back. Until then, I'll have to put someone on watch behind the scenes. I suggest we both get some rest now, life will get hectic again soon enough." She reached for the button, but paused, and remembered to say, "Good night, Ellie."
Ellie smiled. "Good night, Diane."
Somewhere over the Pacific…
"Istanbul?" asked Volkoff. "Why there? You know I've never cared for Turkish cuisine."
Frost slid into the seat opposite him. "True," she said, "But they don't know that, and it will give the CIA profilers something to chew over, your 'imperial ambitions' or whatever."
"But I have imperial ambitions."
"Exactly," said Frost. "Which is why I've instructed your doppelganger to make a large and unexpected donation to a religious institution or a children's hospital, whatever suits his fancy."
Alexei hummed, like growling with his mouth closed. "Simple and unexpected," he declared with some measure of approval in his tone. "Much like Agent Charles' swift escape from what should have been an inescapable doom." He glowered at her. "I can think of only one explanation for that."
Frost watched him patiently. "And that would be?"
"I underestimated him," said Volkoff bitterly. "My anger blinded me, but I see it all now, the mastery of deception! No agent would ever have fallen after a single hit like that. Obviously we were meant to think exactly what we did think, that he was an underling and she was the super-agent, leading us to foil her schemes while leaving his own untouched." Volkoff shook his head in amazed wonder. "Impressive. Most impressive."
"There's only one thing to be done," said Frost, clearly impressed.
"I agree." Volkoff snapped his fingers, and an underling brought him a package, wrapped in bright paper with a big bow on it. Frost's nails needed no enhancements to make short work of that. "When we lost contact with your last computer, I took the liberty of ordering up a replacement. When you check your email you'll find the dossiers on my three top assassins in America. Use them. Verify Agent Charles' death personally. Return to America at the next refueling point. Even Mr. Charles won't be expecting that."
She took a deep breath, considering her orders, looking a little uncertain but obedient. "Very good. I trust you will remain safely in your office while I'm about it."
She was always so fanatical about his safety. "I'm afraid not, Frost. Mrs. Agent Charles let it slip that Dragan Pichushkin was in LA at the same time I was, and we both know there could be only one reason for that. Since nothing crassly murderous made the news I'm assuming Agent Charles did for him what he's done for so many of my own men. Dragan's men need a leader, while I am in need of some new blood."
Her face was pale, but she kept her tone light. She never liked it when he did his own field work. "They aren't just going to let you waltz in and take over, Alexei."
He chuckled. "Of course not. When I fail to get off this plane in Moscow, the more ambitious of them will come crawling out of the woodwork, thinking their master succeeded. I cut off those heads and the rest of them will fall in line."
Frost didn't blink at the thought of all the deaths soon to come. "Can I be allowed to know where you will be?"
"Of course, my dear. I was thinking how lovely Istanbul is, this time of year, and how much our dear friend Mr. Tuttle loves Turkish cuisine."
"Manoosh!" yelled Chuck at the slight figure descending the stairs. "Welcome to our little Castle away from home."
"Hey, Chuck," said Manoosh around a blob of frozen yogurt. He indicated the contents of his cup. "You know, this is really terrible." Didn't stop him from scooping up another blob.
"Yeah, well, it's not like they want to have too many customers up there." Chuck reached for his cup. "Let me help you with that."
Manoosh pulled away. "Get your own! I haven't had free government-supplied awful frozen yogurt in a dog's age."
Chuck sagged. "Neither have I. We're not supposed to go upstairs, so no one will see us."
"My heart bleeds," said Manoosh absently, as he licked his spoon. "Really, a whole day underground so far, how can you stand the torment?" He launched his empty cup at a trash can with an experienced hand. "So I'm guessing you can't help us bring in all the boxes and bundles, either?"
Chuck looked at the expanse of grating and catwalk. The elevator went into the Buy More, which hadn't suffered much from the 'earthquake' after all, and had quickly reopened. "Oh, well, gee, I'd love to help you there, Manoosh, but you know–"
"You really shouldn't go upstairs, Chuck, someone might see you. Yeah, I get it, but all I have to say is, I've seen The Chair, and you haven't."
"'The Chair'? Is there a TM after that, or should I be making air quotes?"
"Laugh it up, fuzzball," said the shorter man to the tall one. The door above opened with a hiss, and they both turned to see who came in. "Sam here gets first crack at you, mainly to verify that the usual parameters still apply, but after that…" Manoosh rubbed his hands together with a pretty feeble 'mwa-ha-ha'.
"I don't know, it sounds like you could use a hand–"
"No, no," said Manoosh, pushing him and Sam down the hall. "You just run along with Sam, do your thing. You'll be mine soon enough."
Testing, Day one...
Chuck pulled, or tried to. "Wow, these straps are really tight. Snug, I mean. Snug." He pulled some more.
"They have to be, Chuck, it's not like you're going to be watching kittens play with yarn, here," said Manoosh, coming up with a piece of headgear. He started immobilizing Chuck's head in The Chair ™. "We're testing to see what happened to skills that in some cases are deadly. If they were really taken away that's one thing, but if they were merely suppressed somehow, I don't want to un-suppress them with me in the room, if you know what I mean. I don't have any fakeadeathanol literally at my fingertips."
"That was one time," said Chuck tiredly. You'd think he strangled people on a daily basis, the way they went on about it. "And Ellie pulled that code."
"Code never dies, Chuck, you know that." Manoosh tightened a chin strap. "Look at you now. The original program was all about implanting memories to bypass learning, and that code is still there. The Intersect only uses some of it but the skills need it. My glasses are much more lightweight, but I only had a fragment to work with. Anyway, the point is…what is the point?"
Chuck rolled his eyes, the only part of him that could still move. "The point is that it may not have been just Ellie's code that wouldn't let me stop, I get it."
Manoosh tightened the strap some more. "Right, that's the point. Not to mention that we don't want you hurting yourself, either, if we should somehow make you flash when you aren't ready for it."
"'ou 'ink 'ou 'an?"
"Maybe. Sam's been working on ways to force the subject, that's you, to flash on the Intersect data. We'll be combining his knowledge and mine to try to make you flash on the skills instead." Manoosh shrugged. "Mostly we're just taking advantage of what happened to do some baselining. Plus I get to come back to LA for a while, maybe get some sun."
Chuck gave him a thumbs-up.
Manoosh gave him a little proprietary pat on the shoulder. "Time for some heavy lifting. Language skills first."
"I 'an't 'alk."
"Doesn't matter." The chair tipped and suddenly Chuck was on his back, staring at an overhead screen. Manoosh leaned over him, moving the scanner into position. "Mwa-ha-ha," he said, rubbing his hands, before taking himself out of Chuck's sight.
Chuck pulled at the straps again.
Manoosh sat on the beach, not looking very impressive in his shorts and whatnot but that wasn't why he was there. He had to make a phone call and he wanted to be sure no one was around while he made it.
"Hey Manoosh," said Ellie tiredly. "What's up?"
"Please tell me you've got a cure. This place is like a car crash waiting to happen, and I'm in the front seat."
Her voice perked up, hard and serious. "What's going on?"
"What isn't going on! I went to get a cup of coffee yesterday, and there was Casey, standing in the kitchen watching the water run, mumbling about waterboarding bearded trolls while his fingers twitched. Sarah's been sharpening her knives so much she had to get a new set, 'cause the old ones were off balance. I suggested she take a break, maybe watch a movie, and she said 'Get back to work, little man, the clock is ticking. Can't you hear it? Tick-tick-tick.'"
"Sarah insulted you?"
"Please, I've been insulted by plenty of blonde goddesses, but this was spooky. She walked away, and twenty minutes later I see her in the common room, crying over a rom-com."
"Hard to say, since we really are putting him through a wringer. Might even be keeping him steady. We're running out of things to try that don't involve physical violence, though."
"Then you'll be happy to hear that Beckman's sending a new man out to join your team, someone who can handle the physical side." Ellie didn't sound happy about anything. "A psy-ops guy, but they think he's weird."
"Psy-ops think he's weird? Great. When's he getting in?"
"He should be there by now. You haven't seen him?"
"No. Crap, I'm at the beach!" He stood and grabbed his towel, charging awkwardly through the sand back to his car. "I'll call you back."
Chuck didn't look up. All this testing was cutting into his work as the head and only analyst on station, so he took advantage of any gap to do his real job. When the arms reached around him, he jumped, but too late.
"Your reflexes are pitiful," said Sarah, laying her head against his back as she tightened her grip. "The seasons move faster."
"I knew it was you," said her husband the non-agent, turning in the circle of her arms. "Honestly, I don't know how you can even walk in those heels, let alone fight."
She kept her head where it was, only against his chest now. "No testing today?" she asked, swaying slightly on her feet.
"Beach break for Manoosh," said Chuck, swaying with her. "He says it's for the sun but I think he calls Ellie to keep her up to date." Together they danced, without moving their feet. "Maybe we should put you on the team, though. This is nice."
She had no words to say, her entire being soaking up the feel of him after too long apart. Hours, at least.
Suddenly he dipped her, his body twisting with a violent motion and a sound of pain. By the time she opened her eyes he was on her other side and bringing her up fast. Behind him a man clad in black moved swiftly and silently.
Chuck yelled "Sarah!" and she knew another was behind her. "Ninjas, Chuck! Run, I've got this." She pushed him away, avoiding the third ninja she somehow knew was on the floor.
Chuck tried to run, but suddenly three more ninjas descended from the ceiling to surround him. No escape, and with Sarah busy, no help. He raised his hands, fighting as best he could, but they handled him easily, dodging his clumsy strikes and kicks. One to another the pushed him, and finally the third ended his shameful performance with a spinning kick to his legs that brought him down on the floor.
"Stop! Oh," came a command from above.
The ninjas stopped, Sarah stopped, seeing her husband on the floor. "Chuck!"
Agent Charles was just getting started. Flipping gymnastically to his feet, he attacked the first ninja with precise strikes, dropping him to the floor before his partners could move in. Two on one, they fared better, and when the third recovered it was no contest.
"Mr. Charles, I am impressed."
Chuck and Sarah stopped struggling against their captors, who immediately stood back and assumed some kind of at rest position. Their master had arrived.
The newcomer stopped by the first ninja and spoke with him in Japanese, the sound of it tugging annoyingly at Chuck's awareness. "You went up against three ninjas, without the Intersect. You must have the stones of a bull! If you hadn't been pulling your punches you might have even won."
Chuck dismissed that ridiculously hyperbolic comment. "And who might you be?"
"Agent Rye, Jim. Psy-ops out of Langley."
Sarah looked at the living statues. "This is psy-ops?"
"My fellow agents attack the mind to control the body, Agent Charles, but I use a different approach." Agent Rye walked around his subject, taking his measure. "I attack the body to control the mind. It's physical, but psychological. Painful." He smiled. "Brutal."
Sarah didn't like the sound of that. "Sounds like fun."
Jim ignored her. "Chuck, I promise you, that when we are done, you will be a spy again."
"He wasn't a spy before," said Sarah.
Agent Rye frowned at her. "Are you sure about that?"
The woman stood on the balcony of the winery, gazing out on the romantic vista. Not as romantic as the Loire Valley in France, but then, what was? Wineries everywhere had to present at least a façade of class, and with that came a façade of romance, even in the middle of California wine country.
Three men came to the doorway, but only one, Hercule, came forward with a silver case. "It's done."
She opened the case, to see a gun-shaped slot in the foam, currently holding no gun-shaped object.
Hercule continued his report. "We left the body, as directed, but we didn't find his weapon."
It isn't a weapon. She closed the case. "That's fine," said Frost. Chuck hadn't left LA, she was sure of that, but she wasn't about to go looking for him. "Someone will come for it."
A/N2 I think this is the third, or maybe the fourth, episode of nine2five that has bits of the leftovers in it. Season 4 really was a piecemeal season. Comments welcome, as always.