A/N This one came out a bit short. I never used Pink Slip in this story, the plot was completely wrong for the first season of nine2five. But this season is more about the pieces than the whole, and there are pieces in Pink Slip that I can use. I'm playing a bit loose with the timeframe as well. In this version Chuck has the Intersect under control, so the training moves along faster.
"Hopefully she'll come to her senses on the way back."
"It's not like we're going to drive to Prague."
"Don't chicken out on me now."
"Lead the way."
Somewhere in Europe, week three…
Sarah considered the advantages of working with criminal scum like Volkoff. In her CIA-driven world, she'd have had to spend weeks and lots of money trying to get this guy Gilles to notice her and bring her close to him, and that was simply as a pretty face. If they were planting her in his company as something more than that, the costs would go up astronomically.
All Volkoff had to do was give her to the man. It was undignified, sure, but she was here, and more than ready to go to work. Then she could wash her hands of this business and go home. Home. Chuck.
She rose from the pool, a blonde goddess in a skimpy white bikini, and paraded herself before her latest mark. The lust in his eyes was distasteful. Chuck had always simply appreciated her, considered himself the luckiest part of a universe that was lucky to have her. She smiled.
Gilles smiled back.
She had to stop thinking of Chuck, she had to stop right now. She should never have put Mrs. Bartowski in the box at the bottom of her soul alone. She couldn't let the likes of Gilles and Alexei taint her real life. Her heart hardened, her thoughts blackened. Her smile stayed the same.
With a gesture he directed her to stop. She stopped, preserving the illusion of control for him. If she was lucky, he would take her to his special room and try to do to her what he was famous for, in certain circles. That would be good. The sooner she could get him away from his bodyguards, the better.
His phone rang.
Casey was halfway across Poland when she called. The troll had set her ringtone to something he called The Imperial March, and Casey had yet to figure out how to set it back. At least she'd never hear it, that sort of went without saying. "General?"
"Colonel Casey," said Beckman in a scolding voice, "I trust you are on your way back to Prague."
"Yes, ma'am," he said, wondering what Bartowski'd done now.
"Good. Agent Charles' training isn't going as expected. It needs your personal supervision."
Surely he hadn't washed out already? "Yes, ma'am. Any particular issues? They should still be baselining." It was too much to hope for, that Bartowski didn't even reach minimum levels of performance. He'd relied on the Intersect for his entire career, though, so anything was possible.
"I have his first period's results on my desk. His baseline scores were higher than most agents' final grades, Colonel," said the General. "They moved him into the next phase in record time."
Casey gritted his teeth to keep from cursing as his hands clenched the wheel. Dammit.
The General continued, unaware, "I need you to get back there and find out how he got assigned to intensive Interrogation Resistance training in his first module."
That wasn't supposed to happen until next week. He was supposed to have been there to control that! "I created his schedule myself, ma'am," he admitted. "It was supposed to look like a clerical error."
"It looks like the real clerks compounded it, then," said Beckman. "Word of advice, Colonel. Leave the screw-ups to the low-ranks. They're the experts."
"Is Chuck all right, ma'am?" he asked, genuinely concerned, and not just about his asset. If Chuck was injured, that would definitely bring Sarah back, but not in a good way.
"At ease, Colonel," said Beckman. "He wasn't hurt too badly."
Vast relief. Casey tried to keep his voice professional. "I hoped he would have the sense to break before they got too far, but he can be stupid that way."
"He hasn't broken yet, either."
"What?" That meant they hadn't aborted the module, as he expected. Casey pulled off, on to the shoulder. "That makes no sense. He's still being interrogated? How can they be torturing him without hurting him?"
"They're not torturing him either, Colonel, except for the first day." Beckman sounded amused. "He keeps escaping."
There must have been something wrong with his phone. "He keeps…?"
"Escaping, yes. Javier upped the stakes on the second day, mentioned a second hostage."
That wasn't amusement in her voice. That was the all-too-familiar anger/pride/amazement he'd felt so often himself. "Let me guess, Chuck tried to rescue him."
"Of course it was. Did they even have a second hostage, or did they just play the scream tape?"
"Tape, unfortunately. Not only did Mr. Bartowski do a lot of damage looking for her, when he couldn't find her he took it as a personal and professional failure."
"Oh, God…" There'll be no stopping him now.
"The personal situation was retrieved at the debrief, but 'save the hostage' appears to have become his new default mode as an agent."
Of course it did. Casey put his car back into gear. "Look at it the bright side, General. At least he's resisting interrogation."
Frost returned to a sight that was becoming ever more familiar and ever less reassuring. Vivian waited with her father, leaning against his desk, learning the family business.
"Ah, Frost," he said. "Everything go well? Package delivered smoothly?"
Something was, as they say, up. "Yes, Alexei. I couldn't have put Agent Walker into his hot and sweaty clutches any faster if he'd been greased." Frost made no secret of her disdain for certain vices. "She probably accomplished her mission before I was out the front gate. I'm supposed to waiting to extract her right now. Why call me back?"
Alexei grinned. "Vivian convinced me that I was thinking far too small, with regard to Agent Walker."
Frost glanced at the younger woman. Her smirk was remarkably subtle. "That's never been a problem of yours, Alexei."
"I know. Strange, isn't it? I took the liberty of notifying several of Gilles' associates in debauchery of his latest acquisition. I suspect they will want to be in on the action. Our little lamb will be quite safe until the wolves have gathered."
"Setting her up to do to many what she would have only done to one," concluded Frost. "Very clever, Miss Volkoff."
Vivian smiled shyly. "Thank you, Frost."
"I will monitor Gilles' communications," said Frost decisively. "This party will take some time to plan, and when it goes down I will need to be there to pick up the pieces, and recover Agent Walker."
"If there's anything to recover." Vivian's tone had nothing shy or smiling about it now.
"There will be, Miss Volkoff," said Frost. "Alexei made a deal."
Vivian turned to her father. "And you're going to keep it?"
"I must. I am Volkoff, and Volkoff stands behind his employees at all times," he said with a growl. "Lesser men cheat. I play by the rules, and I always win." He shrugged. "Besides, a cat doesn't kill his mouse on the very first toss. Where's the fun in that? Miss Walker is going to be such fun!"
"She's an enemy. Isn't this a perfect opportunity to be rid of her?"
"Now who's thinking too small?" said Alexei. "Removing the queen early is a child's move. You must learn to play better than that, Vivian."
Frost watched as Vivian's features stilled, settled. Hardened.
Ellie Bartowski was fat. And frustrated.
And Hungry. Hungry all the time, like the little cantaloupe-sized piglet in there was making up for lost meals. She lay on the couch, stroking the bump in the middle of her belly, eating from the plate of cheese crackers Devon had brought her. So thoughtful, so perfect. She hated his guts right now.
Chuck was being turned into a spy, while his wife was missing…
Devon came back into the room. "Hey, babe, brought you a little lemonade, you look a little parched," he said, setting it down. "Mixed in a little vitamin C powder for the baby, too." He took all of her in, read her face and body language like a book that he loved to read. "What's the matter, El?"
She sighed. "Nothing. Just wallowing."
"Let me know if I can help."
She sat up and sipped her lemonade. He was right, she was thirsty. "You'd help me wallow?"
He flashed her a grin. "Or help you out of it. I'm here for you, babe."
She plucked a crumb from the folds of her blouse and threw it at him. "I hate you, honey." She fell back against the arm of the couch.
"Oh, that reminds me, let me get the vacuum."
The TV came on, playing the General Beckman channel.
"On second thought," he said, backing away, "I think it's time for my run. See you later, El, General."
Ellie pulled herself to a sitting position. "What can I do for you, General?"
"You can get yourself to your lab, Doctor. Manoosh just called me with news of a possible breakthrough with your father's computer."
"I don't understand," said Ellie. "Why didn't he just call me himself?"
"The man clearly idolizes you, Eleanor, he would never intrude on what little free time you get. So he called me instead, and I decided it was high time I was the one to pass along the glad tidings for once."
Wallow-time over. "Are you enjoying it?"
Ellie smiled. "Thank you, General." She started gulping her lemonade, otherwise Devon would sulk.
"Just keep me in the loop, if you please, I could use a little genuine good news myself."
Ellie lowered the glass. "What's Chuck done this time?"
The henchman pulled the bag from Chuck's head, mussing up the curls. Chuck glanced his way, resolving to make him pay for that. Only Sarah got to muss up his curls. The man was only an underling, though. Someone larger and fatter sat across from Chuck, someone he'd have to go through, before he could enforce his wife's prerogatives.
Chuck knew quite a lot about him, his likes–torture and pierogies, more or less in that order–and his dislikes, such as peaceful negotiations. "Agent Charles," said Mr. Bigger-and-Fatter, a/k/a Yuri, underboss for this region.
Still there. That little hitch in his mind, whenever someone called him by a name that wasn't truly his. "Call me Charles." That was always better, his name, if not his nature. They always thought he was being friendly with the invitation, unaware that he was using the truth as a better class of lie. "You have something that belongs to my boss. That case," he said calmly, indicating the silver briefcase with a motion of his head. "I would like you to give it to me. Please." The 'please' was a good touch, he knew. Guys like this never took 'please' the right way at all.
"You show up with no gun," said the underboss, "And 'please, and what? I am supposed to quiver in fear?"
That would be the smarter move. Only the strongest of predators has the luxury of saying 'please'. In this context 'please' was a threat. Yuri didn't strike Chuck as being very smart. He decided to be less subtle. "Give me the case, or else," he said, tilting his body forward.
Yuri had henchmen to impress. "Or else what?" he asked rhetorically, even though he couldn't spell 'rhetorically'. "Or else I do this?" He pulled his gun and took aim at the unarmed man across from him.
Chuck wasn't really unarmed, of course. It's just that none of the guns in the room were in his hands yet. He changed that, lunging toward Yuri, grabbing the gun and twisting it out of line with his body. As tall as he was, he could easily push Yuri's hand against the bare bulb, and the hand holding the gun flinched open just enough for Chuck to pull it from his grasp.
"Cool, cool, cool," he shouted, Yuri's gun out and aimed before any of the bodyguards could react. "On the ground, nice and easy." They dropped their guns on the floor, and he looked at the boss. "Hand me the case. After that, it's pierogi time."
Underbosses don't stay underbosses very long by letting valuable property go. Yuri knew that, even if Mr. Charles apparently didn't. "So do it," he said, moving forward. "Shoot me."
When Chuck didn't instantly do exactly that, the disarmed henchmen moved in.
Diane Beckman took lunch in her office these days. Not that she wanted to, but she was running out of restaurants that would let her in the door without making her turn her phone off. Instead, when an operation was laid on for the nighttime hours in Prague, she retreated to her inner sanctum, staring at a fake window of a fake landscape, waiting for the news to break. Mr. Clark had been on a 'beach' kick, of late. She was getting tired of sand.
She ate quickly, knowing she's have no appetite afterward.
Her personal phone rang. This room had been set up without electronics long ago, simply to keep something a secret from Orion, but she decided she liked it this way. Caller ID made identification unnecessary, and she was in no mood for even the simple pleasantries. "How did it go, Colonel?"
"Chuck retrieved the case, as instructed."
Casey sighed. "Yuri wet himself. I don't think he's coming back," he said, sounding tired. "The details will be in the report."
Hopefully buried in one of his infamous footnotes. "Did he use the gun at all?"
"Only to zipline over to the other building. He dropped off before he hit the roof, and landed on a balcony two floors below, while all the henchmen were coming out up top. He could have walked to the rendezvous point but he stayed professional the whole way. I called it before it got any more embarrassing than it already was."
"Dammit," she muttered, loud enough to be heard half a world away. "I really thought we had him this time."
A/N2 I know I've said before that I have no idea what's going on in my stories. In most cases, I have a vague idea that hasn't been fleshed out yet. Right now my vague idea for this episode is even vaguer than usual. I'm pretty sure that Chuck and Sarah will be getting together this episode, at least for a little while.