A/N A little later than I wanted, having some Internet connectivity problems. Anyway, here begins my remake of what will mostly be CAT Squad, I think, with a few other easily recognizable bits in it. This chapter, though, has a lot of stuff that plays into my larger story as well, which will make more sense as we approach my remake of Season 5.
"Face it, Bartowski, you screwed up."
"She is an artist of death."
"Dispose of this trash."
Washington, week seven…
Devon came up to the bedroom door. "Babe, I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but can we not go out tonight?"
Ellie looked at her husband with dismay in the mirror, as she put her earrings on. "I thought you liked going out." Going out meant getting away, away from work. She wanted their together time to be Devon-time.
He reached out to touch her shoulders. "I like going out with you. But lately I'm getting the feeling that you aren't going out with me."
Ellie's face scrunched unattractively in confusion. "Honey?"
"Talk to me, El," said Devon.
She turned in his arms. "About what?"
"About whatever's bothering you? Is it Chuck?"
"No, he's in Prague," said Ellie, smiling. "Diane keeps me up to date. He's setting records over there."
"Then what is it? What are you working on?"
She closed her eyes, resting her head against his. "That's classified."
"I don't need to know the code, El," said Devon with a laugh. "I don't speak computer."
"Well I do and it isn't helping. Why would they build something to go in as a unit, and then build something else to take it out in pieces?"
He swayed side to side, just holding her. "Because it broke?"
She liked moving with him. "It's a program, honey, not an object. Even in its earliest stages of development, it was always just one thing."
Devon smiled. "Speaking of early stages of development…" He cupped her belly, bent to place a gentle kiss on the upper curve. "Hey there, little girl," he whispered, "Can you feel your mommy and daddy dancing?"
Suddenly, Ellie gasped in shock, completely still and eyes wide.
Devon stood up, looking at her in vast concern. "El?"
Ellie raised a hand, gesturing him to silence. Her breathing came faster, and a look of great peace and immense joy settled over her face. She grabbed his hair and plastered a kiss right on his lips. Being a heart surgeon, he was smart enough to kiss her back.
"I love you," she growled in his ear when she was done. "I want you to remember something for me. Can you do that?"
"Anything for you, babe."
"Good," she said, kissing him again. "Remember the word 'polyzygotic'."
He pulled his head back in shock. "El? What? Why?"
"Because I want you to take me to bed right now, and make me forget my own name."
Time to be awesome! He scooped her up, and turned around. "Anything for you, babe."
Prague, week eight…
They were more than halfway back to base when their watches started beeping simultaneously, a particular tone Chuck had never heard before. "What's that–?"
"Allcall," said Casey, pushing a button on the car.
The radio flipped over, to reveal a radar screen with two blinking lights, with a map overlay. The radar screen suddenly drew a wiggly line, tracing the shortest route by surface roads.
"Not good enough."
"Casey, we just passed an exit!"
"That would really help if we were headed in the other direction."
Chuck opened the glove compartment, pressing a yellow button. The windshield lit up with targeting lines, looking for a target.
Chuck gauged their speed and selected a point many yards ahead, and pressed the red button.
"Ow!" yelled Casey, lifting his foot. "A little warning next time."
The missile struck a section of the divider, separating the two sides of the road. Casey threw their vehicle into a controlled skid, angling it into the gap. The line on the map got a lot shorter.
"You must really want that 'A', Bartowski," grumbled Casey.
You must really want that 'A', Bartowski. Chuck smiled.
Casey whacked him on the arm. "Charles! Head in the game!"
Chuck woke up and shrieked in surprise, his voice an octave higher than usual. I'm sorry! I'll never blow up your highways again! He opened his eyes. They were stopped on the side of the road, the smoking wreckage of what was once a very fast car stinking and steaming in front of them. Another agent could be in there, and the thought chilled him, brought him fully awake.
Casey checked his load. "There's a sound I've missed. I like it better when you're trying to kill me."
Chuck checked his tranq pistol. "Next time you interrupt my beauty sleep maybe I will."
The old soldier's rule, 'sleep when you can'. Casey couldn't fault Chuck for nodding off, especially since it was his idea to wake Chuck up in the middle of the night for a surprise fake mission that got a surprise real mission suddenly tacked on. He tapped the pocket of Chuck's coat, where the spare magazine was. "Make sure you really load your real gun, Bartowski. That way if you die I'll have something to really kill myself with before Sarah finds out." He popped the door.
Chuck had changed his load long since, so he just followed.
Together they approached the burnt, crumpled wreckage. The allcall had been real, only the conveniently placed exit and ready-to-hand missile launcher were products of Chuck's imagination. And the map. A lot cooler than GPS.
"I smell gas," said Chuck. And other things. He looked down, but there wasn't any on the ground, just glittering pebbles.
"Bullet-holes all along this side," said Casey. Chuck stepped over the guard rail, mindful of his footing on the loose stones, and flashed his light along the side he could see. No bullet holes in the metal. "Probably punctured the tank, and spilled gas all over the road. The crash must have set it off." Casey flashed a light inside.
Chuck looked away, up the road, down the road, anywhere else. Better you than me. "Anybody in there?"
The passenger doors were pressed shut against the rail. "Passenger window is shattered. You think they got out?"
"I hope so." Casey's voice didn't put too much stock in the idea. He and Chuck flashed their lights across the embankment. "Where to start looking?"
"I'm right here," said a woman's voice.
Two flashlights moved over the same area. "Zondra?" asked Chuck, pretty sure he recognized the voice.
"Yeah, it's me."
"What the hell happened?" asked Casey.
"They shot up my car, dumb-ass, what do you think happened? I barely got out in time, hopefully they thought I was still inside when it blew. For a second there I thought maybe you were them, come back to finish the job, but it's been much too long for that."
"Nah, it's just us," said Casey. He heard discordant wailing in the distance. "Come on up and let's get out of here."
The bushes moved, but she didn't appear.
"Zondra?" called Chuck. "Are you all right?"
"You wouldn't happen to have any clothes, would you?"
Washington DC, same week seven as before, only now about ten rapturous hours later, really about two rapturous hours, and another eight of deep and restful sleep, which can often be the same thing…
Manoosh sat at his own table in the Manoosh-cave, whiling away the moments until the meeting looking over old recordings, trying to pair up the inner and outer worlds of one Charles Irving Bartowski. With the project stalled out, again, it was good to have a hobby to take the edge off.
The monitor chimed. Not Beckman.
"Hey, Manoosh," said Hannah, with a genuine smile. One of the few women to really appreciate him. Why did all the good ones have to be taken? "Are we the first ones here?"
"Yup," he said. "Afraid you're stuck with just me for now."
She frowned. "Now, Manoosh, what have I told you about that?"
He rolled his eyes in mock-irritation. "'Plenty of other people ready to do it for me'," he said in a sing-song tone.
"Better." She watched him as he worked, listening. "What's the music?"
"Chuck and I were working on a project, before all the craziness started," said Manoosh. "I was doing the sound, so I just kept going."
"It sounds nice. Can I borrow it? We still haven't decided on a playlist for the reception."
He smiled. So nice to be appreciated. "Yeah, sure."
Just then the General's chime sounded, and Manoosh scrambled to kill the music. "I'm glad you're both here," said Beckman when her image appeared. "We have a crisis, so I'll have to cut this meeting short."
"But General, Ellie's not here–"
"I know, she's running very late. But she had some good news, and knowing how I like to be the bearer of glad tidings she gave it to me to pass along to you."
Progress? Manoosh opened a document to take notes. "What's the news, General?"
Beckman picked up a piece of paper and read off of it. "Polyzygotic."
"What kind of news is that?"
"I expect you to tell me, Mr. Depak, as soon as may be. Hannah, stay on the line, we'll need your input…" Her image went out, and took Hannah's with it.
Great. Manoosh shook his head as he saved all his files. How do I even spell that?
Prague, week eight…
Zondra sat behind Casey in the back of the car, wearing Chuck's shirt, his coat's arms tied around her waist, as an impromptu sarong. She felt something bump against her knees and tapped the fabric. "Is this a fresh magazine in your pocket, Agent Charles, or were you just happy to see me?"
Chuck turned red.
"Looks like somebody was glad to see you back there, Rizzo" asked Casey. Someone had to save Chuck from the ladies. "And they weren't shooting blanks, either."
"Gee, thanks, Casey," muttered Chuck.
"Don't mention it. Okay, Charles, let's hear it. What happened back there?"
"Uh, hello," said Zondra, waving, trying to catch his eye in the mirror. "Eyewitness right behind you."
"I know," said Casey. "Agent Charles, report."
"Agent Rizzo was speeding in the left lane, which isn't really a killing offense anywhere but LA," said Chuck, his hands moving to illustrate the events he was describing. "The shooter had to come up on her right, and took out the front tire." The only bullet hole he'd seen on the right side was in the tire. "This forced her to slow, 'slow' being a relative term in this case, and pull right. Skid marks and the faint smell of burnt rubber indicate that the shooter pulled left and hit his brakes. As Agent Rizzo's car passed him on the right he shot it up with automatic weapon fire. She ducked down, lost control, and the car crashed and burst into flames from the punctured tank. Rizzo, however, shot out her passenger window, and as the car crashed jumped out. Lack of burnt hair says she got out before the explosion, but probably not by much, since she reeks of gasoline, and between you and me I'm not sure which smells worse."
"Hair, I'm thinking," said Casey.
"I'll go with hair, too, but my coat's still probably ruined." Chuck held up a piece of shredded leather. "Anyway, Die Hard 4 to the contrary notwithstanding, sliding, rolling, and/or tumbling across the pavement with any speed did a number on her outer garments, possibly already torn from the broken window glass and on fire. By the time she got past the guard rail cable, the gravel of the embankment, and the thorny bushes down below, the most intact protective item of clothing she had left would have been a thong, assuming she was wearing one. She had to have lost the shreds at the end, though, otherwise she would be more injured than she is."
"The bushes ate my clothes," said Rizzo, and Chuck turned red again. How cute.
"She pulled a Rhonda," added Casey helpfully.
"Yeah, thank you Casey, I got it."
Casey shrugged. "Just making sure."
"What's a Rhonda?"
"Sacrificing your clothes to get out of a tangling trap," said Chuck, as if that explained anything. "Thanks to the fire, the shooter was unable to immediately verify his kill, thanks to the roll down the hill, Agent Rizzo was no longer on fire, and the bushes made her invisible from above. I assume from the speed and professionalism of the whole operation that he expected the allcall, and he couldn't have known how far away reinforcements would be, so he left the scene rather than pursue Agent Rizzo any further."
Professionalism. Heh. "I would have at least taken a shot at the bushes."
"You would have had to get out of the car," said Chuck. "Good point, Casey. Now we know the shooter worked alone."
"Thanks for that thorough analysis of how I ended up naked, Charles," said Rizzo, annoyed. "You wouldn't happen to know the color of the thong, would you?"
Chuck looked at her in the rearview. "That's a trick question."
She fumbled with his jacket, drawing it tighter. "Goddammit!"
"Anything to add, Agent Rizzo?" asked Casey.
"The shooter, singular, not plural, was a white male, with a beard," she said quickly. "How the hell did you do that, Charles?"
Casey laughed. "The only thing Agent Charles can't do better than three other agents combined is fight a woman."
"And not blush."
Zondra laughed shortly. "Sarah must love you."
"Yes she does," said Chuck. He turned to look at her again. "Or did you mean that in some snide, sarcastic way?"
For a second she was at a loss for words. Hostility she could handle, but the open inquiry on his face being something she wasn't at all prepared for. "Um, snide and sarcastic." Put that way it felt kind of crude.
"Why don't you like my wife?"
She lurched forward, so fast the seatbelt caught. "She called me a traitor to my face!"
He let Hurricane Zondra blow right past him, staring her in the eye. "Are you one?"
She flopped back into her seat. "Agent Charles, I could have come up with a lot of reasons for not liking Sarah, anyone who's worked with her very long could. The only reason I even mentioned the 'traitor' thing is because I'm not one."
Chuck nodded. "I'm very sorry."
"What are you sorry for? You've got nothing to do with it."
"You're still mad about it, though. It must have hurt, finding out she'd lost faith in you like that," said Chuck. "And I mean that in a sympathetic, consoling way, just so you know."
The honest emotion made her uncomfortable. "I can see that." Suddenly she looked curious. "How long have you known Sarah?"
Casey cleared his throat.
Zondra smiled. "That long, huh? I'm guessing you don't know her dark side."
Chuck had seen recorded footage of some of her kills. Not the same thing as being there but close. He could still smell the pine needles of the Christmas tree lot where Mauser died. Where Mauser had to die, in order to protect him. "When I've had to. She's not that woman anymore."
Rizzo stared out the window. "If you say so."
Chuck turned away, and didn't look back.
Moscow, week eight…
Frost made her early morning rounds, Sarah at her side. D-Day was here, H-hour approached, and they never felt like they'd developed the plan enough. The guards had gotten used to the constant chatter as they patrolled.
Which may have been the point.
Suddenly Frost grabbed Sarah's arm. "Stop here. This is my third safe zone. Twenty years making them and you used them up in twenty days." She pulled a flat case from her pocket. "Give this to Chuck when you get back."
Sarah took it, wondered at the rattling noise. "What is it?"
"It was Hydra. What it is now, only Chuck will know. Go ahead and scan it for bugs, that shouldn't hurt the contents." She stepped forward, outside the safe area. "Don't worry about the clothes, we'll have them shipped. I'll miss you, Sarah."
Prague, week eight…
The doorknob rattled, as someone on the other side gripped it and used the key. It opened onto darkness, and a hand slid in to turn on the lights even before it had fully opened. "–on in, I can find you a robe or something until they get a room set up, and some spare clothes of your own."
Chuck stopped in the doorway. "Um…"
Carina lounged in his bed, covered by a thin sheet and not much else. "Well, don't just stand there, lover boy. Let me meet your other woman."
"Yeah, 'lover boy', what she said!" A hand shoved Chuck hard in the back, and he stumbled toward the bed, letting Zondra in, wearing his shirt above and coat below. "C?"
Carina sat up, holding the sheet to her neck. "Z?"
"What the hell are you doing here?" they said simultaneously.
"Um…" said Chuck, wearing only his pants.
Casey stood in the doorway and took a picture.
Washington DC, week eight…
Hannah logged off her servers, and made sure all her alerts were active, and set to forward to the right places. They always were, of course, but she hadn't become any of the things she'd become by being sloppy. Coat on and bag in hand, she opened the door and turned off the light, turning one last time to scrutinize her tiny but tidy domain.
Why was that light blinking? That light never blinked.
Lights went up, bag went down, as Hannah stepped up to the device in question and activated the screen. A stylized geopolitical map decorated the background, with a tiny dot of white light moving slowly over them.
She spun to her desk and turned on the monitor, pressing the button. Come on, come on! She turned to look back at the screen, and the dot.
Naturally, that's when the monitor lit, giving General Beckman an wonderful view of the back of her head. She'd never seen the back of Hannah's head before, but she recognized the cut of her hair. "What is it, Hannah?"
Hannah's head turned faster than an owl's. "General! Sarah's on the move!"
A/N2 Hopefully from here on out the various groups of people in this story will be moving in the same time frame.