A/N I always think of stuff to say when I'm doing something else, but the second I get back to these chapters I forget them all.
One thing that bothered me greatly about the Volkoff plot of S4 was its speed. Frost spends twenty years trying, and Sarah and Chuck do the job in what felt like twenty minutes. Sure they can say she'd been gone weeks setting up her cover as a rogue agent, but that's the difference between telling and showing. Not to mention the other critical necessity of S4, from the producers point of view. Having been burnt over S3, they went too far in the opposite direction and had Chuck and Sarah rub their lips together at least once an episode, even if time and space constraints should have made that impossible.
I moved a lot of their together time from S4 back into S3 where it belonged, in the first season of nine2five. Now the time has come to pay the piper, moving their apart time into my version of S4, without the angst. I don't expect anyone to thank me but hopefully it makes more sense this way. Sarah doesn't yet know what Frost's mission really is, but her part in resolving it is crucial.
"Good, you're up."
"You couldn't even wait five minutes to stab me in the back?"
"Sarah was very thorough."
"Have faith in him, if not in yourself."
Prague, week eight…
"A 'B', Casey?"
"It should have been lower, but I gave you extra points for the stilts," said Casey, behind the wheel as they drove back to the facility. "Face it, Bartowski, you screwed up. Once her friends woke up they'd have had a new playmate, only this time the torture would have been real."
"I knew you had my back," said Chuck, rather weakly.
On a mission yes, in a scenario no. So technically Chuck was in the clear, since Casey had split the difference on this one. Fortunately, he was more interested in the lesson than the grade, and Chuck seemed to have learned the lesson. "Sarah knew Bryce had her back, and look how that turned out." Blunt, but it got the point across. "And what was the deal with the blanks, anyway?"
"The fastest way I could think of, to get her to betray me if she was going to."
"And what if she wasn't going to, Chuck?" Casey wouldn't call him moron, idiot, or numb-nuts in private unless he meant it. "Or if she was playing a longer game?"
"If I made it to the door alive I would have told her. Then I would have taken the gun back and reloaded with the real clip I have here in my pocket."
"Rub her face in it, why don't you?"
"Plus, with my gun in her hand she'd also be less likely to stop and search any of the bad guys for their weapons," continued Chuck. "She couldn't be trusted, Casey. As an agent herself, she'd know that."
"You know you've got crap all over your coat?" said Casey. He hadn't managed to poke any new holes in Chuck's strategy so far, but that didn't mean he wouldn't think about it some more. Save that snark for later.
Chuck looked down. The outside of his jacket was smeared with something soft and gooey, in various shades of red. He touched it, examining the glob on his finger. "Great. Lipstick on my collar from a girl who was trying to kill me." The marks on Agent Rizzo's back had been drawn on.
Casey laughed, in that vaguely sinister way he had. "At least Sarah might forgive you for that."
Chuck crushed the blob, rubbing his fingers together. "I'd let her catch me and Agent Rizzo in bed if it just meant she was there to catch me."
"I'm sure the last minute of your life would be very happy."
Chuck wiped his fingers on his coat. "Tell me about Agent Rizzo."
"Sorry, sport, can't help you." And didn't Casey sound thrilled about that. "Carina contacted me by back-channels and asked me to set up a meet that wouldn't look like a meet. That scenario seemed like the best place."
And she had to trick the messenger into delivering. "Why so secret?" What message?
"I don't know," said Casey. "I hope Rizzo leaves Carina alive, she's thrown us more questions than answers so far. Keep that picture under your hat."
"Picture?" asked Chuck, recalling Sarah's image in the club from his almost-perfect memory. "What picture?"
Washington DC, week six…
The first thing Hannah did when she received the photo from Carina was make a copy for the permanent record. The second thing was to make a copy for the dataset inbox.
Then she put another copy in the facial recognition app and wait for a report. Well, not wait, exactly, there was always stuff to be done, so it was quite a while before she realized she still hadn't gotten any output.
So she put it in again.
And waited some more.
Somewhere in Russia, in a place overlooking the approaches to Volkoff's compound that wasn't nearly as good as the place she'd been at before, but you don't return to an overlook that you know the enemy knows you know about, still week six…
"Okay, Bedrock, thanks for trying." Carina wasn't in Russia to keep a 24/7 watch on the compound, they'd need a team for that. She was there to be hands if they needed them, and to her mind this qualified. Her hands removed the transponder from her ear, cutting her connection to Hannah. Her hands pulled out a burner cell, and entered a number from memory. "Z? It's me. You know that old business I sent you earlier?...Facial Rec ate it…Yeah, that's right, ate it…No, our girl's not stupid, she put it under a rock. Can you do me a little favor and play courier? I'll call my guy in Prague to set up a new skin for you…no, it's not a scam. I'm stuck on overwatch, I got a bounceback from Amy and I have no one else to ask...Thanks, Z." Carina ended the call and immediately placed the second. "Dirtnap, I got something for you…"
Volkoff's compound, still week six…
"Ah, Vivian, good morning, and what a splendid morning it is," said Alexei, as his daughter joined him at breakfast. "Allow me to be the first to congratulate you."
Vivian was glad to see him so happy. Last evening had been a marvelous time for both of them, but nothing to merit such effusive praise. "Congratulate me, Father? Whatever for?" She sat opposite, and a servant put her usual fruit plate before her. She speared an out-of-season strawberry and put it in her mouth.
"Agent Walker completed her task last night," said Alexei.
Vivian chewed the fruit into flavorless mush, and swallowed. "Did she?" She put her fork down.
"Yes, and by all accounts it was a spectacular success," said Alexei. "Gilles and all of his cronies dead, his house pillaged, and razed to the ground. More than I could ever have hoped for. Miss Walker truly is the CIA's best!"
"Well, it certainly sounds like you got your money's worth," muttered Vivian.
"Oh, mere money would never motivate an agent of Miss Walker's caliber to such heights," said Volkoff dismissively. "Was it money that motivated you to suggest we manipulate Gilles' cronies to gather themselves around her? No, that was inspiration, my dear, that was genius. Truly you are a Volkoff."
Vivian stabbed a hideously expensive slice of peach. Take that, Sarah Walker!
"Yes," said her father, "Eat up, eat up. We must go over the reports together."
A little later, same day, same place…
She woke, her head feeling like it was stuffed with cotton. She couldn't have had too much to drink last night. Without a bartender to make sure she was sent nothing but colored water, she'd rationed her intake carefully, so the alcodote pills she took could handle it. Even so she remembered Frost having to help her back to bed afterward. And then…
And now she was here. She sat up, suddenly cold as the room's air hit her body, clad only in last night's lingerie. She never wore stuff like this to bed, Chuck couldn't–
Her breath caught. Chuck wouldn't–
He will, Sarah, said the voice in her head, and she shivered.
He had to. She didn't know what he had to do, but he had to do it.
She flung off the covers, unable to keep still. She ran for the bath, but drew up short at the sight of the gleaming tile, and the tub, suddenly conscious of how she reeked of bloo–of sweat. She used the facilities and went to wash her hands in the sink. The water came out rust-colored and she shut it off. She eyed the tub again but couldn't even think about using it. She tried the sink again and this time the water ran clear.
She grabbed a small cloth and bathed standing up. Her arms stung from numerous scratches. She couldn't remember Gilles scratching her last night.
She couldn't remember…the cotton muffled her thoughts, and she stopped trying to dig through it. Last night was last night. Done. In the past.
A tap on the door. "Come in."
The door opened, and Frost entered. "Miss Walker," she said, "Are you ready? Alexei would like his moment."
Sarah twitched her top straight, looking at herself in the mirror. The ensemble suited her, all blacks and grays, a costume of smoke and shadow. Only her eyes were wrong. "Let's get this over with."
The doors opened on the sound of applause. Alexei stood behind his desk, as usual, a broad smile on his face, hands clapping with an almost painful vigor. His daughter stood to one side, her face set, her decorous applause unheard under Alexei's deafening enthusiasm.
"Miss Walker, bravissime," he called out, as if the people in the other wings needed to hear him.
For a second Sarah felt an obscure and absurd impulse to curtsy.
Alexei stopped his clapping, and Vivian immediately dropped her hands as well. "My daughter and I were just going over the reports of your work, and I must say, I am impressed."
"We did supply the means, Father," said Vivian.
He waved that away. "All the tools in the world are worthless without the proper craftsman, and Agent Sarah Walker is more than just a craftsman, she is an artist of death." Frost winced at the accolade, but no one was looking at her. "Truly I am in your debt."
Sarah had learned to beware of Volkoff's language of debts and obligations. "I was paying off a debt already."
"Indeed you were, Agent Walker," said Volkoff. "But I can only claim Gilles himself against you. When I sent you into his den of iniquity I had no idea he'd gather the rest of his pack." Volkoff gestured at a screen full of pictures, partially-remembered faces with large red Xs covering them. "You have done me, and the female population of Europe, a great service. The House of Volkoff is at your command."
"I missed one, I see."
"Hmm?" Volkoff looked behind him, at the screen with the faces. "Oh, yes, him." Volkoff pressed some keys, and the marked faces dropped from the screen while the one grew larger. "No surprises there, I'm afraid. Not all of Gilles' business associates shared his personal proclivities. This one removed himself and his operations to South America some time ago. Last night's event wouldn't have lured him back."
"His name is Augusto Gaez."
Volkoff called up some documents, as if he needed them to know the name of this one remaining enemy. "Yes, yes it is." He looked up, the documents fading as Gaez' face moved to a larger screen. "You know him?"
"He was the target of a long-term mission, years ago," said Sarah, nostrils flaring. "He always seemed to know our next move."
Volkoff sank back into his chair. "You had a mole?" he asked, sounding sympathetic.
A frown joined the nostril-flare. "I could never prove it. I found a hidden transmitter in my teammate's boot, but she denied knowing anything about it, and a lie-detector test backed her up." Sarah dropped her gaze to the floor. "We didn't work so well together after that."
"So you could never get him." The image of Gaez winked out.
"That must…" Volkoff shook himself "Sting." He held up a finger. "The one that got away, the one you could never catch."
She'd lost friends over it. "You have no idea."
"Actually I do, Miss Walker," said Volkoff. "I've had to learn to play the long game myself, a time or two. Our late, unlamented friend Gilles, for example." Volkoff knew when to stop talking.
"I got Gilles for you," said Sarah. "Can you get Gaez for me?"
"After what you did to my man?" Volkoff slashed a hand in front of his eyes, and shook his head. "The rest of them would rather shoot you than help you."
"Can you help me get him?"
"Logistics and support?" Volkoff looked at Vivian, then back at Sarah. "That I can do, but after that we're quits."
He leaned forward in his chair. "I expect we should be able to bring it off with approximately two to three weeks lead time. Thanks to Google Maps I don't even need to move my satellite!"
Sarah nodded. "Sounds right."
He stood up, gesturing to his main lieutenant. "You will work with Frost for those weeks, to develop your plan of attack, train at my facilities, and I will supply the materiel to make it happen. I will give you the opportunity, but success will be in your hands alone. You will not return here."
Make her own way from Brazil? Piece of cake. "Agreed." Home! Home to her man, her heart. Her soul.
"Done." Volkoff stepped forward, and they shook on the deal.
"Your cozy arrangement doesn't include room or board. If we are now working for Miss Walker, how is she prepared to compensate us for her stay here? This isn't a hotel."
He pounded the desk with his fist. "Blast!"
Vivian listened to her heart beating, the loudest noise in the room. Her father sat at the desk, earnestly discussing the details of Miss Walker's stay, now that she'd 'reminded' him of that little detail. Played her part in his game. Again.
Will no one rid me of this miserable Agent?
Frost shifted her position and Vivian looked her way. A small smile came to her lips, quickly crushed. "Father?" she said, with no small amount of genuine pain in her voice. "If you'll excuse me?"
She was already in motion, almost out the door before she heard his quick command. "Frost." Vivian slowed her pace. It wouldn't do to lose her prey.
"Miss Volkoff," said Frost, coming up behind her to the proper distance. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Frost," said Vivian. "Just a bit…nauseated, that's all."
"What have you eaten today?"
Typical. Her first thought is enemy action. "No, no," said Vivian, walking faster now that she had her target in tow. "Nothing like that. I was just… watching them in there, thinking how...how cozy they looked, and then you moved. In that instant I knew what Sarah Walker was going to be, and I thought, is this the way he rewards thirty years of service?"
Frost made a slight noise, and Vivian glanced back, to see a slight smile on her face. "What do you find so amusing?"
"Just that I had already come to the same conclusion about you," said Frost with her usual candor.
"Sarah Walker could never take my place, that's absurd!"
"Of course it is," said Frost. "I meant that you had already displaced me."
"I could never replace you, Frost," said Vivian, as they drew near the door to her suite. "Father is grooming me, as his heir. If anything my need for your services would be greater than ever."
Frost nodded. "You'll have them."
Vivian placed a hand on Frost's arm. "I can't afford to lose you to one of Father's whims."
"I'm not going anywhere." Frost smiled, something she rarely did.
Vivian drew back her arm, fumbling with the door, but eventually got it open. "Thank you, Frost. You may return to Father now."
Frost nodded her head again, the good servant. "Yes, ma'am."
Vivian closed the door and turned away. Her arms went up and she unclasped the necklace that held her greatest treasure, the glass eye her father had given her.
It was absurd, wasn't it? Wasn't it? He couldn't replace her.
Could he? He couldn't replace this eye, until...until suddenly he could. Hydra. Cut off one head and it grows another. Good for the hydra, not so good for the head that got cut off. Then what was it? Nothing. An empty, meaningless trinket.
Replace me? With her?
She hurled the sphere to the ground, followed by a small statue, a bust of Shakespeare, and a three-volume, leather-bound set of his collected works.
She barely heard the knocking at her door over the rasping of her breath, the pounding of her heart. "What is it?" The screaming in her head.
"Miss Volkoff?" Frost's voice.
Blast and damn. How perfectly awful. Perfect and awful at the same time. Frost had to know, but if she knew then no one else would have to. "Come in."
Frost opened the door, and took in the sight of the small pile. She closed the door behind her, quickly.
"This must remain between us," said Vivian.
"It will, ma'am."
Vivian turned her back on it all. "Dispose of this trash, would you please?"
A box for the keepsakes. A broom and dustpan for the shattered eye. Wouldn't want to miss any of that. "Certainly."
Washington DC, week eight…
As Roan and Diane exited the restaurant, a young lady walked in, a young man in tow. Roan pulled the flower from his lapel and handed it to the scared-looking young man as he passed. With a casual gesture toward the young lady, he murmured, "Trust me, it's a classic."
As he courteously allowed Diane to settle into the limo first, he looked through the window, and saw the young lady smell the flower her date had unexpectedly given her, latched onto his arm. The poor boy still looked terrified, but there was only so much Roan could do at such short notice. "Ah, the follies of youth," he murmured, getting into the car.
"What follies?" said Beckman, looking in the window but seeing nothing unusual. "Whose youth?"
"All men are fools, when they are young," said Roan. "It's a defining characteristic."
"Were we fools, Roan?"
Roan was nobody's fool. He lifted her hand to his lips for a kiss. "If we were, there's no time like the present to learn wisdom." Especially not today of all days. "Just say the word, my flower."
She released his hand, and touched his cheek. "I think things are just getting interesting."
She looked happy, and relaxed, for the first time in weeks. He would have liked to think it was him, but he knew it was just the one phone call. "Ah, your favorite student, Mr. Charles." I must remember to thank him.
She ran her fingers into Roan's hair. "My favorite student is right here with me. Mr. Charles is a distant second to you in every way."
Roan cleared his throat. "Not…every way, my darling."
"Mr. Charles is by far the most unseduceable man I've ever known."
Her grip tightened in his hair. "And who's been seducing you, lately?"
"No one but you, my love," he said, wincing. "But I at least notice the attempt. Mrs. Charles fills his heart, his mind, so thoroughly he has no awareness of anyone else."
She relaxed her hand. "That's not good."
"No, it isn't. However, like me, he seems to learn best by doing. I have the perfect mission for him."
"Leave for Prague tomorrow."
"Yes, my General. And tonight?"
Diane Beckman kissed with the same take-no-prisoners style as she did everything else. "Tonight we're going to see about filling that pesky awareness of yours."
A/N2 When I first had Carina take that photo, I had no idea what a big deal it would turn out to be. A lot of this story turns on happy accidents like that.