A/N Family Volkoff has a decent plot, so if I'm lucky, I'll be able to use just this one canon episode as the basis for this rewrite. All these fractured episodes are hard to piece together. I wish I could have used the buddy-breakfast scene, though. Morgan and Casey had the funniest relationship in the show.
"The criminal world is the more honest world."
"Not for him."
"A misplaced devotion."
"You all work for me."
Mary Bartowski sat alone in the back of the plane. Up front, her son, his wife, his team, were all counting Chinese bills in various denominations, using Chuck's calculating abilities to estimate the haul from their latest venture. The money hadn't been the goal, or course, just a by-product of a glorified con job in the name of national security. She looked at her daughter-in-law, daughter of a con man, busily collating the bills in proper bundles, industrious but not happy. This one struck a little too close to home, perhaps.
Sarah and Carina had spent the first several hours of their multi-hour flight rehashing their friend's wedding at great length, tedious length to the boys, but hey, they were boys. Carina may have been a breaker at heart, but she had some frustrated dreams of her own, if her attention to Sarah's every word was any indication. Mary eavesdropped shamelessly, of course, and she gathered from Sarah's tone at the time that she didn't exactly approve of her father's lifestyle, even when the skills it required were used in her favor. Just as Sarah was using some of those same skills now, counting the take.
Mary thought about her own wedding, extremely normal. It was the marriage that had taken a few bizarre turns, and having heard about her children's own stories, she couldn't help but wonder if it was all their doing somehow. Even the so-called Mr. and Mrs. Awesome hadn't been awesome enough to craft a wedding that could withstand her family's little…trouble.
Poor Ellie. But it all worked out, in the end. Everyone got their perfect wedding, from the sound of it, even this Hannah person, and Sarah's father got to dance with his daughter, conning himself for a little while. Until the job called her away, as it usually did.
A proper mother-in-law ought to go over there and offer some support to a troubled family member, but Mary stayed in the back. She had two million of her own problems to worry about, and she worried about them, fingers drumming on the cheap plastic of the cheap case the bank had given her. Ill-gotten gains made by a lie, and given to the liar, not that she was solely responsible for what Hartley had become. Volkoff's devotion to her had its roots in Hartley's own…what? Did Hartley love her too, in some way? Was Volkoff's obsession with the Bartowski name a corrupted echo of his original self's interest?
Not something she wanted to think about right now, she'd been away from her husband for far too long. His interest was far more appealing to her, but he had yet to reveal it. Not that she'd given him much of a chance, pressed into a mission in Macau after less than a day out of the facility. The mission suited her, too, not alone, not in charge, little more than an asset. Much more relaxing than those empty days in the facility, except for her son's abominable taste in code names.
The last thing she heard was the sound of her own voice, speaking in her head. I'm so tired.
Chuck heard the noise over the sound of the plane, over the sound of Carina and Casey celebrating their success, over the sound of Sarah shuffling, bundling, and banding the stacks of bills like some kind of machine. His mother snored.
He stood up and walked down to that end of the plane, snagging a blanket from an overhead compartment. As he fluffed it out, Sarah came up and embraced him from behind. "She looks so peaceful," she said.
"Yup," said Chuck.
"Should I move the case?"
He shook his head. "I don't want to chance it. Doc said she needed to relax, so, let her relax." He drew the blanket over his mother's sleeping form and stepped back.
Together they turned and watched their friends' antics, Casey pretending to light a cigar with a hundred yuan note, all of about sixteen dollars worth. Chuck wasn't about to make the fact more obvious than he already had. "You think they'll miss us?" he whispered in his wife's ear.
"Let them," she whispered back.
About an hour later, Casey made his way aft, having lost the coin toss. He'd expected Miller to jump at the opportunity, but she was strangely reluctant to mess with the happy couple's face time. The doors on these planes were pretty flimsy, so he tried to tone it down a bit, knocking firmly rather than pounding on it as he usually did. "Rise and shine, Bartow –oh, crap." Too hard. He slapped a hand over his eyes as the door opened.
"What's up, Casey?" asked Chuck in a casual tone.
Casey risked a peek at a very small part of the room. Bartowski male was sitting at the end of the bed, fully dressed. A pair of feminine feet were by his thighs, facing the wrong way. Tracing them down, he found the wife. Bartowski female also sat on the bed, but at the other end, her legs intertwined with her husband's but otherwise not touching. They each had computers on their laps, and they were tapping away quietly, with only occasional strokes of their bare feet against their partner's legs. Intimate without being in any way graphic, it caught the NSA man off guard. "Um…"
"We're Federal agents, Casey," said Sarah with a smile in her voice, "Not dire wolves in heat." She looked up at Chuck in concern. "That is what they're called, right? Dire wolves?"
Chuck just stared, his report forgotten. "You are just so sexy right now…"
"Put a lid on it, Bartowski," snapped Casey, now that they were back on familiar ground. "The General wants a briefing in fifteen, so get ready."
Chuck's fingers moved at machine gun speed. "I'm done," he said.
"You cheated!" yelled Sarah.
"I did not, I just…creatively accomplished, that's all."
"Oh yeah?" said Sarah. "Let's see how much you 'creatively accomplish' from the couch tonight."
"You're right," said Chuck instantly. "I cheated, I apologize, and throw myself upon the mercy of the court."
"Let me guess," said Casey, wincing in advance. "You're 'creatively merciful'?"
She got an odd smile on her face. "Merciful, yes, but I leave the creativity to…"
"Oh, God," groaned Casey, and he slammed the door, too late to save his ears.
"Good morning, team," said the General, without the facial expression one normally associates with that greeting. "Congratulations on a successful operation."
Everyone on Team B looked at everyone else on Team B. "Uh, thank you, General," said Chuck. "But how did you–?"
"My British counterpart also extends his congratulations," said the General right over him. "Especially considering the speed with which our operation was laid on, as opposed to the many months his team spent laying the groundwork for theirs."
Casey summarized his team's collective remorse. "Oops."
"Not a sentiment I cared to express, Colonel Casey, with the President on the line."
"And how are their two agents, General?" asked Chuck. "The ones we extracted from the site."
"You have their gratitude."
"Well, that's something, right?"
"It is, Mr. Bartowski, but only because Manoosh was able to provide evidence that their operation had been detected and would have been blown, had it continued much beyond your interruption. As a result, they have decided to let the matter drop, in exchange for the cash you took away with you, to cover their expenses."
"I'm so glad you approve." She didn't look glad. "However, that wasn't the purpose of their call, just a less-than-pleasant sidebar." Her voice became more brisk. "Analysis of the methods used to extract Hartley Winterbottom from the hands of SIS indicates that Vivian's team used ordnance manufactured by Volkoff Industries to do it. Those munitions could only have been supplied by Vivian herself."
"We knew she would be taking over, General," said Casey, who added grudgingly, "And the weapons used were non-lethal."
"Yes, we did," said Beckman. "Although we had hoped her control would lead the company in a more legitimate direction. That isn't the troubling part, however. Lacking both Hannah and Chuck, I put Manoosh and Ellie onto the task of evaluating our previous theories regarding Alexei Volkoff's actions, in light of Vivian's possible involvement."
Carina remembered Boris, flying backward in a spray of gore as Vivian shot him point-blank with a shotgun. No doubt she would act if she felt threatened. "Damian?"
"Very good, Agent Miller. There was no legitimate reason why Alexei would bomb a CIA base, just to kill Sarah. Agent Frost's testimony reveals a pattern of similar actions. In light of this, Langley has issued a termination order on Vivian Volkoff."
"What?" said Chuck.
"Langley is entirely too quick with their damn termination orders, if you ask me," said Casey. "Re-analysis isn't evidence. We don't even know why Vivian would want to kill Sarah."
"I do," said Sarah, squeezing Chuck's hand.
"That's as may be, Colonel, but non-domestic threats are their playground, not ours." Not that a little detail like that ever stopped anyone.
"Then we make it ours. Bring her in-country, then we take her down legally. At the very least let her make her case."
No, he wasn't going to give this up. Not after the last time. "How do you propose we do that, Colonel?"
"We have your theory, General. If it's right, then we have what she wants." Casey spread his arms, indicating Chuck and Sarah. "We let them get the evidence we need."
"You want us to be bait, Casey?" asked Chuck.
"It's either that or a bullet, Bartowski."
Just like killing her himself. "Well, gee, when you put it that way, how can we refuse?"
"We can't," said Sarah. "Why do you think he put it that way?"
Casey clapped Chuck comradely on the shoulder. "Worry about her, don't worry about you. She gets frisky, I'll take her down regardless."
Mary slept the whole way to DC, and Chuck was beginning to worry, but she seemed to wake up easily enough when they touched down for the last time. "Are you sure you don't want to come with us, Mom?" he asked as they left the plane at long last. Still dark. Was it last night, or tomorrow morning?
No matter. It was broad daylight in Vivian's part of the world, and they had lots to do before any of them would be allowed to sleep. Termination orders are always easier to start than they were to stop. Better to just move the target, who would want some control over where they were moving to. A possibly fatal hesitation that they had to sidestep. Hopefully she still had enough faith in Chuck to step with them.
Frost had seen enough of that dance. Twenty years. Business meetings. Strategy sessions. Endless little chores, messes to clean up. "No," she said. "I have a husband to track down, so you'll excuse me while I start tracking." She tilted her head up into air, smelling the breeze. "This way."
Chuck and Sarah watched her go. Or rather, Chuck watched her go, while Sarah watched her man. "This way?" she said. "You're letting your traumatized mother walk away from her family with 'this way' as her flight plan?"
"What do you mean?" said Chuck. "The car rental agency is that way."
Chuck looked around. Dust, hills, and dirt roads, a terrible choice in almost every respect, from the visiting team's perspective, yet the visiting team had chosen it. A wide-open field of fire for snipers no one would be able to see. Casey was ecstatic. The favorability of the conditions for his team spoke volumes about Vivian's inexperience.
A cloud of dust rose over a ridge, early warning for the vehicle that came into view as the road curled around the little hill. Vivian preferred her protectors in large numbers, and a little closer to hand.
Chuck and Sarah stood in front of their own much smaller car, as a horde of men in black emerged from the SUV, taking positions around a woman in gold. Sarah took a more forward position as she always did, her hand on her gun but her gun behind her back, the only concession she was prepared to make to the 'peaceful' nature of the meeting.
Vivian walked within speaking distance. "Agent Charles," she said, her voice dripping with scorn. She ignored Sarah completely.
"You know that's not who I am," said Chuck.
"If I was going by what I knew about you, Agent Charles, I wouldn't be here at all. You wanted to meet me, here in the middle of nowhere, and here I am. What do you want?"
"To save your life," said Chuck. "The CIA has a kill order on you, for your role in the bombing of one of our bases, the murders of two agents and conspiracy to kill a third."
Vivian gasped, her façade of angry power apparently shattered. "I've done no such thing. I've only been in charge for a few days."
Sarah knew better. "An order from you would have been obeyed."
Vivian finally looked at Sarah. "I gave no orders! I'll give you every piece of documentation I have, every letter, every note for the last three months. I've nothing to deserve this. Please, you've got to believe me."
"Why?" asked Sarah. "You set me up to be killed by a group of freaks."
"I didn't," said Vivian. "Father created the mission. I merely said that killing Gilles, however worthy, was a waste of your abilities, that you could do as easily for a dozen what you were supposed to do for one. I was admiring you."
Blaming it on daddy, when he wasn't here to defend himself. "And all the threats later?"
"You were unstable, dangerous."
That bit of honesty got through. Try as she might, Sarah couldn't really fault Vivian for urging that a mad dog be put down, even when the mad dog was herself. Especially when the mad dog was herself. She thought about the thing she had been then and trembled inside.
"Wait a minute," said Chuck. "How many months of documentation did you say you have?"
For a second, Vivian just stood there, getting her thoughts back on track. "Three months. A bit more, maybe, I don't recall the exact day I arrived in Moscow."
"Who cares?" asked Sarah. "That sort of thing wouldn't be written down."
"No, but Castle was blown up closer to four months ago," said Chuck.
"I was in England four months ago," said Vivian. "An ignorant girl on a horse. After what happened, what almost happened, I decided to educate myself." Wherever I wanted to go, whatever I wanted to be.
"Bang-up job," said Chuck, deadpan.
Vivian's face firmed, hardened into a mask. "As a guest in your beautiful country, I brought a gift, as is customary, to thank you for your hospitality. Instead, it appears I'll have to use it now to bargain for my life. So be it." She snapped her fingers, and a lackey brought a white Volkoff case to the front, and Vivian stepped forward and opened it herself.
Chuck looked at the contents, which appeared to be a grip, and the frame for some kind of gun, but without any of the usual gun parts. "What is it?"
"A piece of a weapon called the Norseman, one of my father's deadliest weapons, and that's all I can tell you about it. Without Hydra, I have no other information, but without Hydra I'm quite busy enough with my legitimate enterprises, thank you. I'm fully prepared to hand this puzzle over to you." She took a step back.
A shot rang out, and the bearer of the case fell, suddenly headless. Vivian froze, in the sudden awareness of the nearness of her own death. Her bodyguards moved, as other shots rang out, and she heard their grunts of pain as they took the bullets aimed at her. "You set me up! You bastard!"
Sarah moved too, pushing Chuck back behind their vehicle, even though no shots were aimed at them. "No, no no no," he yelled over the noise. "Casey, what's going on?"
"It's not us, it's not us," said the voice in his ear, furious that someone was trespassing in his kill zone. "We can't spot the shooter."
Vivian wasn't on their system. "I trusted you!" she screamed through the broken window, and the SUV she came in reversed at high speed, bumping slightly, horribly, over the bodies of her own fallen men as the live ones did their jobs.
"Did you find the shooter, Colonel?" asked Beckman, hours after the fiasco had been thoroughly investigated, recorded, and buried.
"After a fashion," said Casey unhappily. "We found his blind first, and from there we could pick up his trail, some sort of deer run. He'd bugged out long since. Probably there all night with his vehicle under cover, otherwise we would have spotted it."
"So he got away?"
Casey shook his head. "Didn't say that. We found the vehicle and the driver in a ravine. So, probably not CIA."
"Gee, thanks, Casey," said Chuck.
"Don't mention it. We can bring the wreck in for analysis, but I doubt it'll tell us anything. This is a classic cutout situation, ma'am."
"We'll investigate with all due diligence, Colonel, but that's not your concern any longer. This Norseman device is. What, if anything, do we know about it?"
"Nothing, General," said Chuck. "There's nothing about it in the Intersect."
"That's not helpful, Chuck," said Beckman. "If you want me to push for a recall of the kill order, you have to give me something to do it with."
"General, what about the timing?" asked Sarah. "Vivian says she wasn't anywhere near Moscow when Castle was bombed. MI-5 should be able to verify her claim."
"An appeal to the British authorities is hardly likely to be met with swift action, Sarah." More likely the opposite.
"Then make that work for us," said Chuck. "If we can't get the order rescinded, we can at least get it put on hold, pending their action, and while they're doing that–"
Generals need to be patient with their enemies. With their subordinates, not so much. "Yes? While they're doing that, what?"
"While they're doing that, we go to the only source we have, for intel about the Norseman."
Beckman frowned at him. "You assured me that Alexei Volkoff no longer existed."
"I'm not talking about Volkoff, General," said Chuck. "We need to get into Hydra."
A/N2 Oh, no! Is Chuck falling into Vivian's trap again?
In this version, Casey's a bit sensitive on the subject of termination orders. Sarah has picked up a bit more of Chuck's nerdiness, at least with regard to fantastic fauna. And Orion is still alive, so his wife has a new goal. She'll be back, though.