A/N This story is going to start out in Gobbler territory but it will veer off into very different terrain.
"I need to get to Oregon as soon as possible."
"I really need to talk to you about Chuck."
"Carmichael would've remembered he was unarmed."
"We're going to Prague."
In the air, on the way back to DC…
"And you're sure the needle went in, Agent Miller?"
"Good. We're getting a good signal from the tracking bots suspended in the antitoxin, so Hannah estimates a dosage above the minimum."
Chuck raise a hand.
"Yes, Mr. Bartowski?"
"Hannah's new code name is 'Bedrock', General, just thought I'd mention that. We don't have one for the other motif yet."
"Chuck, focus. This is not the time." The monitor on the conference room table was small, but still Diane Beckman managed to dominate the room. "Ellie, any idea how long it would take for the anti-toxin itself to work?"
"I have no baseline, General, and this action was uncontrolled. It appears to take effect more slowly than the toxin when both are inhaled, and the injected toxin took effect pretty quickly, compared to the inhaled variety. Those are the only data points I have. Hopefully she'll come to her senses on the way back, but it may take longer."
"But the operation itself went exactly as expected," said Beckman, nodding. "That's both a pleasure, and a surprise."
"Not…exactly as expected, General," said Casey. "A guard was killed, with a knife like Agent Bartowski's. Chuck and I had to extract Ellie and Carina as suspects."
It's always something. "Did she throw it?"
The reunion between Volkoff and his chief henchman was touching, and typically Russian, although Volkoff had to stretch a bit to do the hug.
"You said it was a suicide mission," said Sarah softly to Frost, as they watched Yuri stammer out an apology.
"It went off like clockwork," said Sarah. "They never even knew I was there until after I'd gone, if they ever found out at all. How is that suicide?"
Volkoff drew his gun and shot Yuri in the head. The walls were already pretty much that same color, so it wasn't as noticeable as it might have been, unless you were standing directly behind him. The cleaning lady would need a ladder.
Frost nodded. "Yuri failed, but he came back anyway. That was suicide."
"Father?" said the third witness in the room, as Volkoff went to the corpse.
"Yes, Vivian darling?" asked Volkoff as he knelt.
"Did you just kill your chief bodyguard?"
"Oh, Yuri was never my bodyguard, chief or otherwise," said Volkoff, digging at the dead man's face. "He just looked the part. What he really guarded was something infinitely more precious." He looked up sheepishly. "It'll be just a minute."
"Would you like Sarah to help?" asked Frost. "She's good with eyes."
Volkoff laughed, almost covering the little sucking sound. "I've got it." He held up a glass eye in glistening fingers.
Vivian was less than impressed. "That is more precious than you?"
"The only reason I'm not dead long since is that no one could ever find this," said Volkoff, going to his desk. "This is my entire database, and more. I call it Hydra." He pressed a button and a complicated-looking mechanism rose out of his desk. He set the false eye carefully on the center disk, setting the outer arms spinning, laser heads reading the complicated crystalline structure like a book.
"Why call it Hydra? Wouldn't Argos or Odin have been more appropriate?"
Alexei gave her a fond and proud look. He turned to his other ladies. "Benefits of a classical education." He turned back to his daughter. "Odin traded his vision for foresight. This eye is very much in the here and now. Argos watched and waited, but this eye is meant for battle. This is the heart of Volkoff Industries!"
"Your entire database?"
"Communications protocols." Glowing holographic panels popped up. "Code keys." More panels. "Encryption keys, flow charts. The entire puzzle, all in here."
"Yuri carried your whole organization?" asked Frost.
No wonder she could never find it, thought Sarah.
"He did," said Volkoff, as the screens faded and the arms stilled. "But I don't think he'll be carrying it anymore." He set the eye down, and picked up a small metal statue of a horse.
"You're not going to smash it," said Vivian, horrified. "It's your life's work."
"The data is my life's work," corrected her father. "But I just downloaded that to a more secure back-up location, another head to replace the one I just lost, thanks to Mr. Charles."
Vivian bristled. "Don't blame Chuck–Mr. Charles–for Yuri's own weaknesses."
"Human error, then. In any event, this is just glass." He raised the statue again.
She reached out a hand to stop him. "May I have it?"
"Do you want it?" he asked. "I had planned to give it to you, of course, but with a bit more, you know, presentation. A nice box, a card, perhaps, although I don't suppose they make cards for empire-building…" He put down the statue, and picked up the eye.
Vivian held out her hand.
He started to give it to her, but stopped. "One moment." He reached for a tissue.
She raised her hand, wrapping her fingers around the slimy sphere. "No need."
Alexei grinned. "That's my girl!"
Vivian turned to the other women, one in particular. "Would you like to see it, Agent Walker?" she asked, squeezing her hand. The eye popped up between her thumb and forefinger, and she held it out. "After all, you've gotten closer than anyone in your whole organization to the heart of my father's empire. I'm sure you'll treasure the memory as you go back home to tell your superiors all about how you brought it back to us."
"Don't tease the operatives, daughter," chided Volkoff. "It's gauche."
The fun things usually are. "Yes, Father."
"And besides, it sets a poor tone for future relations with your new employees."
Officer Davis met Carina at the airport and took her into custody. Ellie wanted to get her husband home even more, if such a thing can be imagined, but not for the same reason.
"Whoa, Europe?" asked Devon. Chuck had always wanted to go to Europe.
"Eastern Europe, Devon," said Ellie. "Not France. Can't this thing go any faster?"
"It's a Sienna, babe," said Devon mildly, hitting his blinker. "Five star crash test safety rating, not so hot with the drag racing."
Ellie leaned her head back against the headrest. "I can't wait to get my Dad's car."
"It got here yesterday."
Boing! "It what?"
"Your lab guy brought it to the house, seemed kind of disappointed you weren't here. I hope you weren't planning to put a baby seat in that thing, we only got one and I mounted it in here already."
"No, honey," she said through clenched teeth. "No car seat."
Casey made Chuck follow him to his car.
"Where are we going?" asked Chuck. "It's not like we're going to drive to Prague." Then he remembered who he was talking to, and made sure to buckle up. "Is it?"
"Gotta swing by the house, pack a few things, set the security," said Casey. "We're gonna be gone a while. Could be months."
"Months? I can't be gone months, I have to be here for Sarah."
Casey pulled out before Chuck could unbuckle. "In case you missed it, Bartowski, the missus is in Moscow, so you'll be closer to her where we're going than you are right now."
Not much of a consolation. "But why do I even need to go to Prague?"
Casey never ceased to be amazed at how stupid smart people could be. "Because there's more to being an agent than swinging from rooftops and defusing bombs, numb-nuts. Sometimes the most important thing is to stand still, don't move, and above all shut up for hours at a time, all of which are skills you need to learn. The name of this game is patience, not Superman."
"I prefer Batman, he was a real hero."
Casey grunted his approval. Maybe Bruce Wayne was a gazillionaire, but he didn't rest on that. "He had to work for it. No radioactive spiders for him."
"Don't go dissing the web-slinger." Chuck wasn't a gazillionaire. He'd have to work harder for… what? "What 'it' am I working for?"
"You called yourself a Special Agent, Bartowski. You need a paper trail. Some General may want to know someday how well you did resisting interrogations, and they're not gonna buy 'they told me to faint' as an approved technique."
"I take it back."
Casey laughed, and shook his head. "I don't think so. You just gave the General three years of past due Christmas presents, Bartowski. You're hers now."
"Pending Sarah's approval, that is."
Sarah brushed right past Vivian. "I don't work for you!"
"Then you have a problem," said Alexei. "A prison guard was killed by a thrown knife, bearing your fingerprints. Your accomplice was found murdered, shot in the back with your gun. Your face and hair were caught on surveillance footage, and a woman matching your description was last seen boarding a bus for parts unknown. The authorities in Oregon and its surrounding environs are a bit…vexed."
"No one on my team will believe that."
"I imagine not," said Volkoff amiably. "And once we've dropped you off, in Portland, say, or Seattle, you may manage to avoid a deadly hail of bullets long enough to contact them."
Sarah opened her mouth, to tell him just how willing she was, to take her chances.
He took a step forward. "But before that, there is still the matter of your compensation."
Huh? She took a step back. "You don't owe me anything."
"I meant what you owe me, Agent Walker. You blinded my man, and our arrangement is on a quid pro quo basis."
Once they got home Ellie practically dragged Devon into the house with her. "Sit," she commanded, turning on the TV.
General Beckman appeared on the screen. "Good evening, Ellie, I hope you had a pleasant flight."
No small talk today. "General, you can't send Chuck to Prague!"
Beckman rearranged herself into a more official posture. "Doctor, I have to send Chuck to Prague. Unless you want him dead, pretty quickly."
Ellie's face went utterly still. "You wouldn't kill him…"
Devon sat forward and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.
"I have no such intention, but I wouldn't have to," said Beckman. "As skilled as he is, Chuck's understanding of our world is still primarily informed by action movies and comic books–"
"Graphic novels." Chuck said it so often it came automatically from Ellie's mouth.
Beckman ignored the correction. "The Intersect has unfortunately reinforced some of his beliefs about our work. It attracts the heavy hitters, so to speak, from both sides. He needs to learn to bunt, as well as swing for the fences."
Ellie's face wrinkled in confusion. "Why all the sports metaphors?"
"Because I know some of those. I've never read a comic book and I don't intend to start." Plus Ellie's husband was a sports nut and he sat right there, so hopefully bringing him into the conversation would get his wife's mind out of its relentlessly negative rut. Beckman took a calming breath. "Out in the field, a blown cover or failed seduction will get him just as dead as any ultimate weapon."
"I thought we agreed he wouldn't go out in the field."
"No," said the General tersely. "You agreed. I merely accepted the situation. I've been wanting him in a more active role ever since he uploaded the 2.0, but without his willing participation there was nothing I could do." Back then, Ellie and Sarah between them had united to keep Chuck out of the fold. Today the two of them had managed to bring him into it. Beckman refrained from pointing out the irony of that.
Ellie tried again. "So…what, he calls himself an agent once and you jump on him like a live grenade?"
Beckman smiled. "Only heroes jump on live grenades, Ellie. I'm no hero, but I recognize one when I see one." Beckman kept her gaze on Ellie until the younger woman looked away. "Don't chicken out on me now."
Ellie sagged. "Cluck, cluck."
"Now why don't I believe you," said the General. "He is what he is, Ellie, what you made him to be. We can't keep him safe. Just safer."
Manoosh was practically vibrating when Ellie finally managed to drag herself in the door the next day. He'd left her father's car at the house, but kept the laptop with him.
In a way, Ellie was grateful for that. Devon deserved her time and loving attention far more even than Chuck, much less some stupid computer. She was so lucky to have him in her life, keeping her grounded through all this craziness, and last night was all about showing him that she knew it.
Manoosh pointed to her desk when she showed no sign of wanting to look there on her own.
The lid to the laptop looked ominous all by itself, like a Decepticon staring at her. The lights moving back and forth reminded her of Cylon optics. If her brother survived CIA training she was going to kill him herself for putting all these images in her head. She cleared her throat. "So that's it? And you got it working?"
He pounced on the machine, popping the lid. The screen lit with words she couldn't read from where she was, so she moved. "Knock, knock."
"I already tried 'who's there'," said Manoosh. "It was stupid, I know…" Not that Orion would have done anything to him for trying.
"It wouldn't have worked," said Ellie, glad that she didn't have to say what he so obviously knew. "This is one of my father's puzzles, like a code. Only the person with the key can solve it."
"So who has this key?"
"I do," said Ellie. "Possibly Chuck, too, but he would know this was meant for me. My father would play the 'knock, knock' game with me and I would get the answer wrong, and he would laugh. He sounded so happy I never wanted to say it right." She raised her fingers to the keyboard, and Manoosh held his breath. "No," she said suddenly, and he wilted. "Let's not both make the same mistake. Get me some glasses."
He brought two.
Eyes shaded, she raised her hands again, and typed 'I'm here' into the box.
Less than a day later (or thereabouts, what with time zone shifts and travel time factored in)…
Chuck and Casey walked along the platform at Nadrazi Station, Chuck enjoying the visuals of the city as he watched for snipers, Casey just watching for snipers.
"Okay, identity check. What's your name?"
"Hi, my name is Charles Charles."
"You're obviously married. What's your wife's name?"
"Mrs. Charles, and what do you mean, 'obviously married'?"
"Well, aside from the ring, you couldn't look less available if you tried. Where's the wife now?"
"I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."
"Good answer. Now, everybody knows who Agent Charles is. Why is he here?"
"Right. Unfortunately for you, inter-office politics and clerical shenanigans have had your assignment changed from refresher training to the full course. How do you plan to take this?"
"Uh, lying down?"
"No. With good grace."
"Isn't that the same as lying down?"
"Yeah, but it sounds better."
Chuck indicated a sleek, modern, high-tech-looking train a short way down the platform from them. "Is that for us?"
"Of course it is, Mr. Charles," said Casey. "All secret CIA training facilities have trains leading to them." He shook his head. "This is just a drop point."
"You." Casey pretended to check points, but really he was avoiding Chuck's gaze. "Mrs. Agent Charles, wherever she is, hasn't checked in yet, they want me to try to contact her, find out what she's up to."
"So you're abandoning me in Prague."
Casey dug a finger in Chuck's chest, suddenly very focused. "I've never abandoned any of my men anywhere, and I'm not about to start now. We're just waiting for–" Casey stopped and sniffed the air. "Hector?"
"Get out here, you old hound," said Casey.
A man slightly younger-looking than Casey stepped out of a doorway. Chuck's eyes watered as he approached.
"Mr. Charles, this here is Hector Calderon, a great soldier but only a passable agent. He can do everything but sneak up on you. He'll take you to the facility." Casey made a gesture, and Hector went to get the car.
Windows open, I hope. "So I can trust him?" asked Chuck doubtfully, in his absence.
"No of course you can't trust him, idiot," snapped Casey, pleased on the inside. "If there's one lesson this place can drill into that thick skull of yours, let it be that one. I'm your handler. The only people you can trust are me and the people I tell you to trust. No one else. You got that?"
"You're leaving the country."
Frost roamed the grounds, searching for someone who didn't want to be found. Black hair, black clothes, in the dark, Sarah might have succeeded with someone else. But Frost knew the grounds and all the security vulnerabilities intimately. "Alexei has a job for you."
Sarah wasn't even looking until Frost stepped right into her path. "I don't work for him."
Frost stepped closer. "No, you don't, Agent Walker, but we've cut off one escape route for Hydra and we need to capture it before Alexei can make another, so if you ever want to see Chuck again you'd better be working for me. Is that clear?"
Sarah shivered. Never see Chuck? "It's clear."
"Good. Then let's try that again. Alexei has a job for you."
I'm sorry. Sarah took a deep breath. "Fine. Lead the way."
He was tall, and bald, clad in leather and pointy-toed boots. He walked like he could kick the ass of any man in the room and he knew it. The only man in the room was Charles Charles, blinking and bleary from litle sleep, much abuse, and some powerful pharmaceuticals, but he remembered his briefing. Javier Cruz is a vital operative in the Ring's Mexican Syndicate.
"You're going to tell me everything, Mr. Charles. All the secrets you know. Who you are. Who you work for," said Javier, punctuating his comments with random kicks and punches. "And then you're gonna tell me about the girl."
Chuck slid down the wall, trying to breathe. Girl? What girl?
Prague. Week Two.
A/N2 The Gobbler episode ended on a bit of a down note, so this will as well. It will be a while yet before they take Volkoff . I always thought that went just too damn fast.