A/N Here we are, at the end of the second season of Nine2five. As season one was mostly about Chuck, this one is mostly about Sarah, becoming a 'normal girl', not isolated, not alone, not a spy. The last few episodes set the stage for the third season, in which the new Chuck and new Sarah, and all their surrounding partners and friends, become more a family than a team.
I didn't actually plan to do this story, the nine2five concept was developed for S3, to show off its many hidden virtues. When applied to S4 it became more about correcting its obvious faults. I was not surprised to see the readership of this story drop, since S4 was such a popular season. I don't see this story as being less Charah, though. Just less fluffy, the excess going backward to lighten up S3 and forward to lighten up S5, bringing all three seasons into a better balance of plot, humor, and romance. In everything they do, Chuck and Sarah are front and center in each others' lives, and always will be, even when they're on opposite sides of the world.
Just a few hours before, on a deserted road somewhere in West Virginia, circa 200 mph…
"Where am I?" said a soft voice, audible only because of the speaker. "Why are my hands… chained?" The voice dropped, seismically. "Decker!"
Chuck tongued the microphone switch, his hands otherwise occupied controlling the Nighthawk. "No, Hartley. This is Agent Charles Bartowski, Stephen's son, riding in front of you. We're on a super-motorcycle. I had to chain your hands so you wouldn't fall off."
"Where are we, Charles?" Hartley asked. "Why can't I see anything?"
"Yeah, uh, sorry about that," said Chuck. "We had to put the lenses for the upload in the helmet, they sort of block the view. Believe me, you don't want to see how fast we're going."
"Upload?" The mere word brought…odd. It wasn't bringing anything. "What upload?" He felt around inside himself mentally.
"The one you tried and failed to make for yourself."
No terror, but there was nothing wrong with his pride. "What do you mean, failed?"
"Do you remember Jane MacArthur, Hartley?"
Hartley started convulsing, pulling against the cuffs securing him to Chuck, but Chuck expected that and kept the bike steady as Hartley cried. "Oh, Jane. You were so beautiful, and I, I was so…so evil. Oh, what I did to you, Jane." He sighed, settling against Chuck's back heavily. "And you. What have you done to me, Charles?"
"Only what I had to, Hartley."
Just a little while ago, down in the lab…
"Hartley?" asked Mary. Manoosh looked up as she entered and gave her the tranq gun, leaving in haste. Mary put the gun in her pocket. "How are you doing? Where's Chuck?"
Hartley gestured at the closed doors of Ellie's office. "He's in there, explaining to your General how I'm no longer a danger to mankind. I imagine. How are you, Mary?"
She sat opposite him. "I'm…getting better," she said, ducking her head as if trying to convince herself that what she said was true. "Sleeping at night."
Only by stretching the meaning of the word could they be called that. "No. No dreams."
"How very fortunate you are."
"No," she said in a whisper. "Just a good liar." Her husband was there to hold her, that was the dream.
"I knew that," said Hartley, with a slight smile. "That's why I called you fortunate." He leaned forward, no longer smiling. "Unlike you I had no dreams. I was unable to deal with the horror of Volkoff even in sleep. Your son saved me from that."
Endless torment, horror forever just out of view. Now it was in view. This was a burden she could, had to share. She drew a long, shuddering breath. "I…used you, Hartley. And I can't even apologize for it."
What would be the point? "You would do it again."
"Yes. I would."
"And you would be right to do so," said Hartley, taking her hand. "You didn't use me, Mary. I was a monster. Mean, dictatorial, conniving. Manipulative and amoral. The only thing good about me was my teeth. You just…aimed me, and looking back on it I can only be grateful that you aimed me in the right direction."
She looked down at their hands. "Yes. Stephen says the same thing."
"We both admired you, you know," said Hartley. "Desired you. Who would not?" He pulled his hand from hers. "But I never deserved you, not like him. And now it's too late."
"It's never too late, Hartley," said Mary, touching his arm gently. "If it's not too late for me, it can't be too late for you. You can always make amends."
He huffed out the ghost of a laugh. "I imagine your son is even now being told to deliver me up to justice, Mary, when we're done. He seems quite good at accomplishing his objectives."
"After a fashion." Mary smiled. "Wait right here. I have something for you."
Right this very now…
"My name is Alexei Volkoff."
Orion blinked. Devon stared. Sarah moved, throwing Hartley against the wall with her knife at his throat.
Chuck's eyes bulged. "Hartley," he forced through clenched teeth. "We talked about this."
"I'm sorry, Charles," said Hartley, a real apology, not an I'm-sorry-I'm-about-to-betray-you apology. "The past, it creeps back, like a nightmare I can't escape." He looked past the knife to the person who held it. "My apologies to you as well, Mrs. Bartowski. Hartley Winterbottom, at your service."
The voice was almost the same, but this was not Alexei's face, nor Hartley's either. Sarah took a step back, knife at the ready but no longer poised to kill. What did Chuck talk about with this man, and why? "Chuck, what did you do?"
"In a minute," said Chuck. "Doug, take my father and Hartley to your lab, you should have a package waiting for you. After that, it's Hartley's show. Go." They left at a gratifying run.
"Chuck?" asked Sarah, her tone implying Your minute's up.
Chuck looked back at the door to the room where his sister lay dying.
"Your mom's with her now, Chuck," said Devon. "Who was that guy, and why did he call himself by two different names?"
If anyone should be more frantic to get in there than him, it was Devon, so Chuck didn't argue the matter. He took out his phone, and activated an app. It sounded like music to confuse anyone trying eavesdrop, but it also suppressed any listening devices. "Hartley Winterbottom is his real name. He and I had a lot in common," he said quietly, looking for a place to sit. Sarah settled by him, and he took her hand, setting the phone on top of an old magazine on the table. "We both felt unworthy of the ones we loved. He wanted to be his mother's son, so he went looking for a way to make himself into a stronger man. But he didn't really understand strength."
"Volkoff seemed strong enough," said Sarah.
"If your idea of strength is manipulation, domination, and exercise of power, yes. Volkoff was all of those things." Chuck looked up at Devon. "Hartley used the Intersect prototype to upload memories of people he thought were strong, but they were stronger than him. They merged into the identity of Alexei Volkoff and suppressed Hartley entirely. For twenty years Volkoff was the world's most dangerous criminal, until we removed the memories and freed Hartley."
"And you brought him back to save Ellie? Not awesome, bro."
Hartley worked quickly, his every move watched by both Doug and Stephen. "You don't trust me."
"I'm just recording," said Doug, who was in fact just recording the process, in case this weapon appeared again.
"Should I trust you, Hartley?" asked Stephen. "You broke your mother's heart, and I wish I could say that was the worst of your crimes."
Hartley snorted, his hands continuing to do their work. "I don't deny it. But the Hartley you knew was weak," he said, his voice an avalanche, "And nearly catatonic from the weight of those crimes. Your son promised my mother that he would fix her son, and he has."
Unnoticed, Doug's face went blank as he worked through all the pronouns.
Hartley's definition of 'fixed' was very different from his mother's. Stephen hoped Chuck knew that. "So you are Hartley," said Stephen.
Hartley flashed a grin at his former partner. "Oh, yes. Not exactly the Hartley you knew; enhanced considerably by Chuck's much wiser choice of memories to upload. Strong in character, not just in personality." He paused, and then said in a tone of bewilderment, "I feel the urge to grunt a lot."
From there to maternity…
"And General Beckman let you?"
"I…didn't exactly ask," said Chuck.
"Outstanding," said Devon.
But not awesome. "She's a General."
"I'm a little brother," said Chuck, his voice hard. "She knew better than to get in my way."
"Generals do," said Sarah, knowing this wouldn't be the end of it. "Do I want to know how you did it?"
Treachery and deception. Dreyfus he could have argued into it, but not Hartley. There were lots of ways around that, and as a spy herself she wouldn't have held any of them against him, although Devon might. But telling her about the upload lenses hidden inside the Nighthawk's spare helmet would have meant telling her about the Nighthawk in the first place, and he didn't have the courage for that. "No."
Manoosh, maybe. Hannah might know something, and Sarah resolved to interrogate them at the first opportunity. "Okay." She took his arm, needing his touch. Unfortunately climbing into his lap wasn't an option where they were. She rested her head on his shoulder, looking neither as happy or as tense as most of the people who sat there normally looked. "What do we do now?"
"Sit," said Devon stoically. "Wait."
"What he said," said Chuck, beginning to come down from the thrill of the chase. "Finding Hartley was the extent of my brilliant plan."
"What's he doing, anyway?" asked Devon.
"I couldn't think of anything to do," said Chuck. "I thought maybe Hartley knew of a cure, so I went to get him. We both needed him to be able to remember. I got lucky. Really lucky."
Sarah noticed his trembling, but could think of no comfort to offer him. She squeezed his hand a bit harder.
"Some guy named Clyde Decker took him away from Dreyfus, I had to get him back." Chuck stopped to remember what the nasty man said. "He seemed to know a lot about me, and even the Intersect. Told me to flash on his name the next time I loaded up."
"Yeah," said Devon, "Like you'd be stupid enough to do that!"
Sarah tapped the back of Chuck's hand twice to let Chuck know she heard him, but she had no time to talk, she was thinking too hard. Whoever he was, this Decker guy had to be either incredibly stupid or incredibly dangerous, perhaps even both. Sarah would have loved to ask Hannah about it, but there was almost certainly name recognition software running on him. Obviously he expected them to do it, but Sarah was reluctant to do anything an enemy expected her to do.
Why did he want Hartley?
The door at the end of the hall opened, and a doctor came out, with Mary in tow. "Dr. Woodcombe?"
Green liquid sloshed in the container as Hartley ran back to the desperate family. He held up the capped vial in triumph as he rounded the corner. "We're here, Charles! We've done it."
Booted feet pounded the floor, and guns cocked ominously behind them. Hartley, Stephen and Doug turned, to find a horde of men with large weapons aimed at them. Stephen pushed Doug behind him as the leader approached. "Congratulations, Dr. Winterbottom," he said, his voice as flat and lifeless as his expression.
"You can't use those things here," spluttered Hartley. "This is a maternity ward."
The scarred man made a show of checking the signs. "Oh. My mistake," he said. He pulled out a silencer and screwed it on the barrel of his gun. "Wouldn't want to hurt little ears." He grabbed Hartley and pushed him back among his own men.
Chuck and the rest of his family surged forward, until the guns came up. "Tommy Delgado," said Chuck, and Sarah remembered where she'd seen the man's ugly face and dead eyes before.
"Charles, catch!" yelled Hartley, throwing the precious vial.
Tommy snatched it out of the air easily. "You should be more careful, Hartley," he said. "What if they'd missed?" The vial fell from his fingers. "Oops."
Chuck dove forward and caught it.
Tommy stepped on his hands, crushing the container, driving the shards into Chuck's flesh. He heard the crunch, but all he felt was his sister's life, dripping through his fingers. He looked up, into the barrel of Tommy's gun.
Tommy lifted his foot, letting Chuck live with his failure, backing away with his prize. "You were warned, Agent Bartowski."
Only Hartley looked back as they left, forcing him along. "I'm sorry, Charles."
Chuck lay there, staring at his hands, running in Christmas colors. Then the pain hit, and he tried to get himself off the ground with his elbows. Sarah and Stephen lifted his arms so he could stand.
Sarah stared at his hands in dismay. "Chuck, the antidote.."
"Don't worry, Sarah," said Stephen.
"You can't make more, Dad, not in time," said Chuck. "It's too late."
"It's all over," said Sarah.
Devon stepped out of the ward, grinning broadly. "It's a girl!"
They listened to the after-action report on Chuck's phone in the recovery room, as Ellie slept, utterly exhausted. Devon took care of Chuck's hands, while Mary claimed her new granddaughter and the rocker for herself. She didn't look ready to give up either one soon.
"We had them pinned, General," said Casey. "Then Chuck's Winterbottom grenade went off."
"I've never heard of that ordnance, Colonel," said Beckman.
"Let's just say they bit off more than they could chew, hostage-wise," said Carina. Not the meek little mouse they'd expected.
"What happened to Delgado?" asked Beckman.
Carina's confused "Who?" faded into the background as their phone changed hands again. "He abandoned his team and fled, like the traitor weasel he's always been."
"We had him in custody, General," said Sarah, "But then he said he had amends to make, and apologized."
"Yeah, right before he flash-banged us. Probably took it off of one of Tommy's men."
"I see," said the General. "We'll hand this off to the Metro Police, I don't think Hartley can get very far on his own."
"Wait right here. I have something for you."
She went to her bag and got a special card wallet out, and returned. "Take this. Use it when you need it."
Hartley opened the wallet. "A bank card?"
"Somebody once gave me two million for emergencies. This sounds like an emergency to me."
"But what about you?"
She ticked off the points on her fingers. "The CIA reinstated me, paid me, put me on leave, and have already processed my retirement as part of a package deal. Stephen has been busy reclaiming his patents and whatever parts of Roarke Industries were built off them. Roarke's dead and no one's fighting us on that, so money won't be an issue. On the other hand, he'll be needing a business manager."
Hartley smiled. "Let me know if you need a letter of recommendation."
"We're good, thanks."
–and stroked little Clara's face once again.
"How's Ellie doing?" asked Beckman, not in her 'General' voice.
Chuck took the phone off mute, not that anyone there had been making any noise. "Resting comfortably, General. With Hartley as the magnet, Doug slipped right past Tommy's men and brought the antidote inside. My mother is holding my niece right now."
"Chuck, I'm on my way," said Sarah. "It sounds like you're in terrible danger."
"Mortal peril, Bartowski," said Casey, puffing a bit as he ran. "You need your team on this one, trust me."
Chuck watched his mother rub noses with Clara. "Can't I just face the peril?" What is it about babies' noses?
"Nope," said Carina. "It's too perilous."
His mother, Agent Frost, was cooing. Yeah. Fifteen minutes old and she beat us easily.
Vivian Volkoff sat at her desk, hard at work consolidating her acquisitions while meeting her commitments. The weapon-users of the world didn't care much who ran the companies they bought their toys from, as long as they got their toys as required. The Volkoff brand had quickly risen, even higher than her father's had. Carmichael was a treasure, and Riley heaven-sent.
A discreet knock sounded at the door. "Come."
Carmichael opened it, and stood in the entrance. "A messenger has arrived for you, Miss Volkoff."
She didn't look up. "Who from?"
Carmichael hesitated, but had nothing else to say, so he said it. "All he said was, your…your biggest fan."
Vivian looked up, frowning. That sounded a bit like a threat. She liked threats even less than mysteries. "Send him in."
Carmichael invited the messenger in, and followed at a safe distance. The miscreant shuffled across the floor, clearly unused to these surroundings.
Vivian had no time for him to come to his senses. "You have something for me?"
"Yes, Lady," said the man, his Russian as tattered as his clothes.
It wasn't immediately placed on the desk. "Well, let's have it."
He showed her a box. "He said you might pay me."
She raised a brow. "Didn't he pay you?"
"He let me live, Lady. He said you might pay me."
"You will wait outside," she said. "I'll decide what payment you deserve after I see the message."
The man gulped nervously, and put the box on the table.
He lifted the lid and pushed it toward her. Inside was a simple flash drive. He left, and Carmichael left with him.
Vivian pulled out a computer, non-networked just for this purpose. The screen lit up, with a question in English. "The solution to all problems."
She typed Death, and pressed Enter. Her gasped, her heart racing.
Agent Charles Bartowski stared out of the screen at her. "Miss Volkoff," he said. "I was going to say Miss MacArthur, but it looks like your father's warning about the Norseman was true, it does destroy the user. I'm sorry. You're a very good businesswoman, it seems–the growth of your empire is remarkable–but you're a very poor marksman."
Those kind brown eyes hardened into something extremely cold and dangerous. "You missed, Vivian. Unless you intended to kill my pregnant sister, but I doubt you did."
Oh God. Vivian stood and put the chair between herself and the screen. She could almost feel her soul slipping away. Destroyed. Damned.
"I don't know what your issue is with me, or with Sarah, Vivian, but I do know this. You wanted my attention, my full attention, You've got it." The screen went black, and she caught the smell of melted plastic. The power button did nothing when she pressed it.
She got her keys, and fumbled with the lock in the desk. Eventually she got it inside and opened the drawer, getting out a banded wad of money, its value beyond her ability to calculate at the moment. She took a few deep breaths, trying to look her usual unflappable self. "Carmichael!"
He opened the door instantly.
She held out the money. "Take this to that person outside and send him away. And dispose of that," she added, pointing to the dead laptop. "And send Mr. Riley in."
"Yes, Miss." He came forward and took the money and the blob.
She was staring out the window, watching things fall, when Riley came in. "What's the matter, Vivian?"
She turned. "Agent Charles is alive."
He stopped in shock. "That's impossible."
"He told me the most dangerous, most accurate weapon in the world missed, with his own breath and voice. We killed his pregnant sister, Mr. Riley! He'll stop at nothing to destroy us! Me!" She leaned forward on her desk, breathless. "What do we do now?"
Riley pulled out his gun. "There's only one thing we can do."
She raised her head, staring at the weapon in his hand. "What do you mean?"
"Clearly you've outlived your usefulness, Vivian. Had to happen sooner or later. I'm just glad it was later. Losing Hydra was…unexpected."
"My usefulness? You served my father, Mr. Riley. You serve me."
Riley shook his head. "Alexei Volkoff was a great man, Miss MacArthur, I could never have beaten him. I just had to wait until he left it all to you and then take it for myself. I'd let Agent Charles do the dirty work, of course…"
"You sent that bomber to kill Agent Walker."
He smirked at her, oozing condescension. "And I arranged Gustav's death, and several others besides. It wouldn't do for you to have anyone else to turn to."
"Did you know the Norseman was flawed?"
"Let's just say, 'unreliable'." Riley shrugged. "Useful enough, in the end. But now the only way to stop Agent Charles from coming after me too is to kill you myself, leaving your kingdom in the hands of someone who'll make a proper use of it. My hands."
Having no bridges left to burn was…liberating. "My kingdom? My father's empire, in your hands? You aren't fit to lick his boots, worm!"
Riley stepped up to the desk, leaned down to look her in the eye. "Your father is the worm, Vivian, you said so yourself. I was going to make this quick, but since you've decided to be unpleasant–"
Vivian swept up her bronze letter opener and impaled Riley's hand, pinning him to the desk. The gun went off but it missed. She picked up her statue of Artemis, and didn't miss. Riley fell heavily on the desk but didn't drop the gun.
Vivian Volkoff ran to the door and safety, closing the heavy wood on another bullet. Carmichael was gone, she'd sent him away like an idiot. She turned to run.
The door opened as she approached, and a bearded man stepped into the hall. She heard the sound of Riley running and bellowing behind her and didn't slow.
The newcomer, strangely, did not look at all surprised. "You might want to get behind me, Miss," he said, pulling out his own gun.
Vivian stopped, and held out a hand. "May I?"
The man opened his hand. "Certainly."
Vivian took the gun from his hand, turned in place and put a bullet between Riley's eyes.
"Nice shot," said the man.
"Thank you," said Vivian, panting. "He always did say I should learn to do my own killing."
Good advice, after a fashion. "I'd say you're off to a fine start."
Vivian took the gun from Riley's dead fingers and held out the one she'd used to its owner.
"I wouldn't hear of it, Miss Volkoff," he said, holding up his hands in negation. "That's your first, it's special. Keep it with my compliments."
"You're very kind."
"Not usually, Miss, and not today." He pulled a gun from behind him and put it in his front holster. "I come with an invitation. The people I work for are very interested in speaking with you about a mutually beneficial arrangement."
Like this one. She could use some allies. "You've certainly presented yourself in the best possible light, Mr…?"
He bowed, like a gentleman. "Quinn, ma'am. Nicholas Quinn."
A/N2 Vivian Volkoff was tremendously wasted; bringing her into the next season really enhanced the story. Anyone who's been reading season 3 of this series knows what a match she was for Agent Charles in almost every way.
One of my favorite lines: "I feel the urge to grunt a lot." No one ever mentioned it, though, and I wonder if anyone got who it was Hartley was talking about. Or maybe I just thought I was being subtle.
Thank you all very much for reading.