What if instead of staying on the plane for the return flight as ordered, Chuck takes Hannah up on her offer of touring Paris together? If you find Charrah in this, I'd like some of what you're smoking; my knee still aches from the accident. Perhaps in the final installment…we'll see. You Charahphiles, keep your witty barbs to yourself. Read and Review. It makes me post more often.
Chapter 1 'Le Click'
Charles DeGaulle International Airport
Outside Paris, France
Chuck closed his phone, disappointment showing on his face. "I have to go back to L.A. The deal is off. The customer cancelled. I'm sorry. I'm in Paris and I can't even get off the damned plane!"
He looked at the small figurine replica of the Eiffel Tower. So close.
"Hannah…wait. Don't go yet. Meet me at the baggage claim. I'm in Paris and by God I'm going to stay in Paris." She shot him a beautiful smile and nodded. "Can't wait, Chuck."
He watched her leave the first class salon and marveled at his good luck. She was beautiful, open, funny and she liked him. Their mutual confessions had opened something in Chuck's heart that had been scabbed over since his return from Europe and his aborted stint in Spy School.
Maybe getting away from Casey and Walker, especially the Ice Berg, was what he needed to develop his intersect skills? Maybe Shaw was right and Walker was trying to slow or misdirect his progress toward being a real spy. Maybe cutting the emotional dependencies was exactly what he needed.
A new environment without the criticisms and emotional shards of his relationship with the blonde spy sounded like just the thing. He grimaced at his choice of words. Indeed, it had been 'his' relationship since she distanced herself from him after Prague at every turn.
He knew it would be OK. It wasn't like he was going to run into a Ring Executive or anything.
He dialed Shaw and spoke briefly and tersely, not at all Chuck-like.
"Agent Shaw, Bartowski. I'm staying in Paris for a while. I'm…yeah, I'm on vacation. I'll give the flash drive to the agents who claim the Ring operatives."
He listened as Shaw calmly explained the consequences of his actions. First, he was not pleased with Chuck's attitude. A spy followed orders. Secondly, he knew the General would be very angry since he was disobeying an order and he had no handlers or other security to keep him safe. Thirdly, Beckman might be so angry that she'll order a 'hard extraction' or even a sanction.
"Agent Shaw, get real. She wants to utilize what's in my head, that's all. She knows if I'm dead she has no intersect and if I'm imprisoned, she still has no intersect. I'll pull a John Gault. Now, I'm asking for 7 days, no more. I'll see you in L.A. on Tuesday. We'll see if you were right after all and that getting away from my emotional 'comfort zone' and handlers is all that was needed. I'm sure you are right, Agent Shaw. You've never led me astray, unlike the others."
"I'll tell Beckman I approved your 'vacation'. Don't let me down, Chuck. If something happens to you, it won't go well for me here."
He hung up, immensely pleased with himself but setting into motion a series of events that would tear the fabric of the Burbank-based team apart and set the partners at each other's throats.
Shaw called the cleanup team that would be handling Mr. Panzer and his associate.
"This is Shaw. Change of plans. First, meet Agent Bartowski at the aircraft arrival area and take possession of the flash drive. Then meet him again after he clears Customs and pass him a silencer-equipped weapon and magazines. The weapon is to be 'clean' and untraceable in the event he has to use it. Take Panzer and his associate to the Chateau for their physical exam."
As Chuck was deplaning he was met by an agent who gave him the code exchanges, took the flash drive and instructed him to accept a package from a street vendor immediately after clearing customs. The 'package' was clean and came with the necessary attachments. The man made the universal sign for 'pistol' and nodded.
Hannah had already claimed her bags and had also found Chuck's case and his luggage. She was looking the other way when he walked up beside her and whispered in her ear, "Hannah, I'm yours for the week. I need to find a cheap hotel though."
She jumped, startled, then smiled and nodded towards his bags. "No hotel, Chuck. You're staying with me. I have a sofa bed, so don't worry about being assaulted in your sleep." She giggled and blushed, surprised at her forwardness. It wasn't at all like her with guys. Normally, she was on her guard but there was something so open and honest about Chuck that her normal reticence was absent. There had been that strange 'vision' on the plane…
"OK, so lead on, Hannah. Cab, bus or walk?"
"Let's splurge and get a cab. We'll be walking enough this week. Paris is a city that has to be walked to be appreciated. Oh, Chuck, I'm so glad you're staying."
"Me too. I figured I'd catch hell for a last-minute vacation request but once I explained why I wanted it, the boss caved."
"Oh? And what explanation did you give?"
"I told him that I'd met a beautiful girl on the plane who invited me to stay and see Paris. Who knew Shaw was a closet romantic?"
As they were leaving the terminal, a man ran up to Chuck and gave him the package that he'd 'forgotten at Customs'. Chuck nodded and tucked the package into his tool case and forgot about it until later.
Shaw was explaining to the General exactly why he'd allowed Chuck to remain in Paris without his handlers. "General, I've tasked a cell based in Paris to keep an eye on our Agent Bartowski. I think maybe getting out and away from the suffocating presence of his current handlers is just the thing to help bring on the emotional maturity he lacks to control his flashes. It's not like he's going to run up against a Ring Executive or anything. Of all the European cities, Paris has the fewest Ring operatives. They consider France to be 'neutral' and avoid any noticeable presence."
"You've been correct so far, Agent Shaw. Let's see if you're correct this time. However, I want him shadowed by his handlers. They are not to make contact unless he's in danger. They are to observe and report, only. It's called a compromise, Shaw. Accept it or get him back here."
She had another reason but kept it to herself. She was secretly pleased that Bartowski was making the move despite the risk.
"I accept. Chuck is making progress and it will be enhanced by this experience, I promise you. I'll attend to the handlers myself, General. I'm quite familiar with Paris and have an apartment there that they can use."
"You let the moron loose in Paris without handlers? Shaw, have you lost your mind?"
"You and Agent Walker will be shadowing him the entire time he's in Paris. Apparently he's met someone who's invited him to spend a week touring the city. I'll have a briefing packet prepared for you. Soon you'll know all you need to know about his companion. Also, I've activated a sleeper cell and given them responsibility for shadowing our young Agent and reporting directly to me. I'll be in constant contact with them and pass on any information immediately to the two of you. You'll be basing out of my apartment in Paris."
Sarah spoke up, somewhat mollified. "You feel this will be beneficial to him, don't you? What about the risk of him getting into trouble? This is Chuck Bartowski we're talking about, Daniel. He doesn't look for trouble but it seems to find him, anyway."
She was not going to let on that she was worried about Chuck, the person, not the Agent. The thing she saw developing between her and Shaw made her uncomfortable but Chuck was no longer an option in her mind. She didn't forgive easily – if at all.
"This is his idea, his decision. I'm as surprised as you are about his actions but they reflect a new maturity and confidence and this is what he needs, time to 'age' and rebuild his confidence. He's been in a slump for nearly 8 years and it's time he snapped out of it. This will be the catalyst. At least I hope so. My neck is on the chopping block if anything happens to him so make damned sure nothing does."
Casey didn't like Daniel Shaw but he respected the way he'd supported Chuck all along. He especially appreciated the extent to which Shaw was risking his career to give the Moron a chance at redeeming himself in the eyes of the spy world, especially a certain blonde spy. He could see something developing between Walker and Shaw and he didn't like it nor did he like the way she continued to punish the moron for being human.
Hannah's apartment was in an old section of the city. She told him that several movies had been filmed on location in her neighborhood including the Pink Panther, What's New, Pussycat and Moulin Rouge. The mansard roofs that were an icon of Paris lined the broad boulevard and Chuck smiled broadly when the cab turned up a one-way cobblestone lane with open-air cafes and vending stalls lining the way.
He was stunned when the cab stopped and Hannah rushed to open the ground floor door of her apartment. It was more like a townhouse with three floors although each floor only had two rooms.
He brought in the bags and paid the cabbie and walked back to the apartment. The ground floor contained the sitting room and the foyer and a large closet. Everything was just perfect in his mind. This was the Paris he'd wanted to see.
"C'mon, Chuck. I'll give you the grand tour. This is the 'salon' and I rarely use it. It's cold in winter and damp in the spring. The second floor contains the rooms I use the most, the kitchen and the office. The third floor has the two bedrooms and the bath. The sofa bed is in the smaller bedroom that I use to paint or just veg out."
"You paint? You maintain servers, travel around the world, you speak three languages and you find time to paint? Hannah, you're incredible."
"Stop. I can't paint well, but it's relaxing and I dabble, that's all. I'm happiest right here and I'll really miss it. C'mon, I'll show you my paintings after you unpack. Then I want to take you shopping for dinner. I want to welcome you to Paris properly. If you'll spring for the wine, I'll take care of dinner, OK?"
"You cook? I mean, really cook, food, y'know, not microwave up a mess of mac and cheese?"
"Yes, Mr. Bartowski, sir, I cook. I don't own a microwave. If I'm hungry, I cook. Sometimes I eat out but I got to watch the budget now. Anyhow, bring your bags up and unpack and then I'll show you my works of art." She laughed. "OK, I'll show you my paint by numbers without the numbers."
"Hannah, I don't know your last name. You know me better than I know you. You're not one of those divas with just one name, are you?"
She hesitated and then blurted out, "My father wouldn't marry my mother. I took her name. She's Eurasian, Vietnamese and French, my father is French. My stepfather is an American and I have passports in my name, Hannah Nguyen, and in my family name, Harris. My stepfather adopted me when I was 13 so I have dual citizenship."
"Hey, it's nothing to be ashamed of. My folks split and left Ellie and I on our own. At least your mom stuck around, Hannah. Mine took off without ever looking back. She left us on Mother's Day. Kinda poetic. I was 15."
"I'm just sensitive to my mother's 'situation', that's all. Don't worry about it. I'll just be your Hannah, Chuck. That's good enough for me."
"Show me your paintings, Hannah Nguyen. I have a feeling they're a lot better than you let on. Is there anything you can't do?"
"I can't write my name left-handed. I can't whistle. I can't play the piano or the banjo. I can't…"
He laughed. "OK, I can't play the banjo or the piano either. Paintings, Hannah. No more delays."
She helped him unpack and pointed to the sofa bed. " I sometimes use it to pose my subjects, Chuck, but it folds out. It's comfortable and it's a nice sofa, too. Now, sit down and I'll conduct my 'showing'."
By the third painting it became obvious that not only was she a very skilled and talented artist but she also painted only nudes. He'd expected landscapes or still lifes, not nudes. She looked at him and smiled.
"This is my most recent work. It's not quite finished but I'd like you to see it." She walked over to an easel covered with a stained drop cloth and unveiled her unfinished painting. It was of her, on the sofa where he sat, with a sheet covering her from the waist down. On the corner of the easel was a photograph she painted from.
"My – my word. You're beautiful. I – I – I mean, your paintings are beautiful. I mean you and your paintings are beautiful. Incredible." He was blushing and it felt like his head was going to explode with embarrassment.
She covered her unfinished painting and sat down beside him. "Thank you. I've never shown them to anyone before. I think you're just being kind though. I'm sure…" He stopped her by placing his fingertips against her lips.
"Shhh. I meant what I said. They're beautiful and so are you. Now, before I really embarrass myself, let's go round up the ingredients for dinner and the wine. And if I forget to do it a thousand times while I'm here, Hannah, thank you. This is incredible. I would never have had the courage to stay if I hadn't had such a delightful companion to spend my week with."
"You're very welcome, Chuck." She kissed him, softly and her hands ran up his chest to his neck and she pulled him deeper into the kiss.
"There. Now you know that there was more to my invitation than just being nice. I mean I am nice, but I see something in you that I want, Chuck. So let's take this wherever it goes and just so you know, there's no one else in my life. There hasn't been for a while. I lost my job because I wouldn't be more than a troubleshooter for my boss. I was looking for a career and he was looking at having all his troubles fixed by the same girl, understand?"
"Yeah. That's disgusting. I don't understand how some people in power think they can do or have what they want without caring about the cost they inflict on others. You did the right thing, Hannah."
"You really mean that, don't you? I mean, I can tell you're not just saying it because you think it's what I want to hear."
"I know exactly how you feel, Hannah. Exactly."
The CIA and NSA wanted the same thing Hannah's boss wanted, only instead of keeping a job, it meant staying alive. Instead of sleeping with the boss, it was doing their dirty spy work. Either way, the powerless got screwed and the powerful got what they wanted.
Chuck followed behind her in the suddenly crowded lane. She held his hand and pulled him along. Every once in a while she'd stop, look at something, talk with the vendor and either haggle until she got what she wanted at the price she wanted or threw up her hands and pulled him farther along. He was carrying a cloth bag of vegetables, cheese, and bread and now she was looking for a chicken and a small ham.
He listened to her prattle on in rapid French and felt a tugging in his head and suddenly he understood some things she said. A few minutes later he understood everything! In French! He looked at his watch and decided he needed to time this new ability. If it appeared and disappeared as rapidly as some of his skills, it was relatively useless.
Twenty minutes later he bought a couple of bottles of wine and did it all in French. Hannah looked at him curiously but said nothing. This time he dragged her along until he found a flower vendor and bought her a bouquet of spring flowers.
She cooked chicken cordon bleu and it was perfect. Everything about the day had been perfect. Now, if he could just make the contacts he'd been supplied with…
Somewhere over the Atlantic
Sarah Walker listened to music that Chuck had put together for her to help her 'relax and get centered' a year ago. It seemed to help her focus her thoughts as the music played in background. 'What do I want and what am I willing to do to get it?' That seemed to be the $64,000 question. She didn't know what she wanted. She did a scant 6 months ago but now she wasn't sure. She looked over at Shaw who sat beside her reading a report. Maybe he was what she really needed as opposed to what she thought she wanted.
John Casey looked over at his partner and shook his head. She was so unfocused lately and that lack of focus leaked over into her performance. When she and the Nerd were jerking each other around her performance was superb but now it lacked spontaneity and finesse. She was becoming like Shaw and if that happened, he'd petition Beckman for a transfer or a new partner. He hated everything Daniel Shaw represented which was strange because most people would say that Daniel Shaw was the CIA's version of John Casey.
Daniel Shaw turned the pages of the report but his mind was running through the steps he'd taken already to handle the 'Bartowski issue'. He'd activated his sleeper team in Paris and he'd pulled together the dossier on Chuck's 'companion'.
Walker would be 'sore vexed' when she received her briefing packet at the airport. That was a nice way to say 'pissed off' but Daniel rarely used profanity. It was unprofessional and his wife had not approved of such language. His thoughts of Eve brought Walker to mind. Eve was dead these many years but Daniel was still very much alive and Walker was available with the right direction and prompting. He allowed a slight smile and then went back to not reading the report.
When Hugo Panzer had been taken into custody, the agents had removed all his clothing and removed all his jewelry including the false tooth that contained a powerful poison. When the watch had been off his wrist for 60 minutes a fail-safe device sent a special signal and then the watch melted into a lump of plastic, gold and aluminum. The signal was picked up and a sleeper cell, almost identical to the one Shaw had activated, was brought on line by one of the few Ring agents operating openly (for spies) in Paris. The cell was tasked with the rescue of Mr. Panzer and his female associate.
He was still on California time and sleep was hard in coming. He stood in front of the open French doors watching the City of Lights slowly awaken. He called Ellie because he needed a favor and she had his financial power of attorney.
"Chuck! Where are you?" 'She must be at work', he thought.
"Paris and I've got a week off. Ellie, don't yell but I'd like you to go down to the bank and clear out my savings account and wire me the money in care of American Express here in Paris. I don't want to live like a peasant and this is a once in a lifetime experience and that's why I saved the damned money in the first place."
"I think that's wonderful, Chuck and have a great time, little brother. I'll get right on it. You'll have the money tomorrow. Be safe and don't let the French girls corrupt you, sweetie. You know the reputations those European beauties have. Have fun."
Only Ellie could pack approval, big-sister warnings and best wishes into a 30-second 6-sentence paragraph.
He'd saved for this trip for a long time. He had over $8,000 in savings. It was originally his 'car fund', then it was his 'vacation fund' and after an infusion of cash left over from Ellie's wedding, it became his 'escape fund'.
Knowing what he did now about how the spy life worked, the first place any one would look for his intentions were his finances. He didn't worry about that now. He'd made his intentions clear from the start and he had approval from 'on high'.
Hannah would show him her Paris and she wouldn't pay for a damned thing. He had money and he had a reason to spend it and someone to spend it on. Money, motive and opportunity. He laughed to himself and then dressed and went downstairs quietly and let himself out. He was going to buy her breakfast. And flowers.