A/N A little bit late, I wanted to keep to a 5-day posting schedule if I could, but last weekend was Comic Con here in NY. I didn't go but my friend did, and she took my DVDs to get signed. Unfortunately the line was a mile long for Yvonne, and they were charging lots of money, so that didn't come off, but on the bright side I didn't have my DVDs for 2 days. I haven't watched S4 since it aired and I really need them for research purposes.
"I can't believe I'm doing this."
"Who are these master spies?"
"Nobody kills him but me."
"What do you mean, you were flashing?"
"Exactly what it sounds like, General," said Chuck calmly. "At some point in my–sorry, Carina, our– mission, the Intersect glasses failed, and the download didn't take. I wasn't aware of it until that night in the restaurant. My immediate response was to take the menu to my partner."
"Who decided that taking you to Moscow was the safest course of action?"
Carina was used to taking heat for the things she did, but she wasn't about to take it for something she didn't do. "No, General, I was driving Chuck here to get him under cover until Manoosh could figure out what went wrong."
"Moscow is not on the way, Agent Miller."
"That's my fault, General," said Chuck. "I dialed the number on the menu while she was driving."
Diane Beckman noted the little shifts of posture on all her inset screens. "I trust I would not be the first to inform you of the stupidity of such a move." She got varying flavors of 'yes, ma'am' from everyone on her screen except Manoosh and Chuck himself. "You are not a spy, Mr. Bartowski. Intersect skills and good luck are no substitute. This will not happen again."
"I am willing to overlook the incident for three reasons. First, you had a member of the team with you at all times, as per protocol. Second, you actually pulled it off. Congratulations. I'm glad to see those C-and-C lessons are having a good effect, although it's not what I would have chosen as a graduation exercise."
"I pulled off, sorry Carina, we pulled off the rescue, General, but we failed to retrieve my mother's file."
"Chuck–" said Sarah, in the tone of someone who's said the same thing very often.
Beckman lifted a finger, and Sarah stopped talking. "The mission failed, Mr. Bartowski, you did not. You chose to save your team from an indefensible position, sacrificing a goal of great personal importance to do so. The most hardened agent would have trouble aborting a mission so close to completion. I hope your team appreciates that sacrifice, from someone who is not an agent." She scanned her insets, and got varying flavors of 'yes, ma'am' from everyone on her screen except Manoosh and Chuck himself. "As for the file in question, I'm sure your wife has pointed out to you that, since the building was a trap, the odds are very good that the file was a trap as well?"
"You should listen to your wife, Chuck."
Sarah ducked her head to hide her unprofessional reaction as her husband said "Yes, General."
"Good. Now, about the glasses. Manoosh, have you had a chance to examine them?"
"Yes, General. I assumed that the failure took place at the last point of contact. We tested the up- and downloads from those glasses in the lab with no negative effects and no failures. We then tested with the glasses directly, also with no problems."
"There's nothing in the glasses to account for the failure, General," said Ellie. The glasses were, after all, Manoosh's pet project. "We're concerned that this may be a failure in deployment."
"Chuck and Carina spent months searching for his mother," said Sarah. "He was unaware of her Volkoff connection, but it drew their mission to Volkoff's attention."
"Marco had surveillance photos of Chuck outside some of our embassies. It's possible they spotted the glasses in transit and intercepted a pair," added Casey.
Manoosh nodded. "If they tried to copy the code, or decrypt it, the glasses would have gone into fail-safe mode, leaving just a stub program that did nothing."
"Yes, Mr. Depak, I remember those discussions now. Clearly we need to rethink the use of these glasses in long-term deployments, but in the short run they performed admirably. Thank you." She looked at all the windows. "Well, team, all in all, I have to say excellent work all around." Her hand twitched.
"Ah, General?" said Chuck hurriedly, aware of just how quickly she could kill the connection.
"What was the third reason you were willing to overlook the whole Moscow thing? You said there were three."
Casey grunted in disgust. When was Bartowski going to learn to let sleeping Generals lie?
Diane Beckman frowned at him, and smiled at Chuck. "You told me about it, of course." The screen went blank.
General Beckman stared at the blankness of her screen for a long time. He led, and they followed. They questioned, and he listened, and he made the call. So close. So close.
"'I told her about it'? What was I supposed to do?"
Sarah shrugged. "Tell her about it, of course," she said, standing up. "Lie to your assets, sure, mislead your colleagues if you must, but never ever under any circumstances lie to your boss." The kitchen and breakfast awaited. "But you'd be amazed how creative some agents can be in the performance of their duties."
"More creative than Casey's footnotes?"
She sighed, putting on her apron. "They are a study. Honestly, I think you got a pass simply because you didn't try anything." She brandished her spatula. "But like she said, don't do it again."
He crossed his heart. "Officially sanctioned missions only."
Like he'd ever have any. "I can live with that."
The doors opened on Mozart, and closed on silence. "You summoned me, Alexei?" She was always careful with her choice of words.
"Frost," he rumbled, he growled, he hummed. It was any of those things, it was all of those things, a multidimensional voice that still fell short of expressing the man using it. "Explain to me the failure at the factory."
The woman called Frost paused, gathering her thoughts, and he waited, patiently. "We misunderstood their goals, developed our forces in the wrong places." Volkoff was a chess player, he would know what she meant. "What looked like a queen sacrifice turned out to be a trap, and Marco fell into it. Only the building's programming retrieved a stalemate."
"A stalemate!" roared Volkoff. He spun in his chair and leaned over his desk, his face inches from hers, but she didn't flinch. Not Frost. "They forced us to knock the board off the bloody table! That's no way to win."
"Have you eaten yet?" he asked solicitously.
She didn't blink at the sudden shift in tone or topic. "No, I haven't. You?"
He sank back into his chair, grumbling. "I had a whole menu planned, Chicken Kiev, green beans almondine, some wine, the perfect meal for an international incident with a few dead agents on top but now…?" He raised a hand, let it fall. "What goes with failure?"
"I'll ask in the kitchen." She changed her voice, to sound upbeat. "It wasn't a total failure, Alexei. We have faces, and some names to go with them."
"Mister Charles," said Volkoff, rolling the words across his tongue as if tasting them and not liking it very much. "Bring me Marco."
"He's dead, Alexei, there were no survivors," said Frost, as if bringing a weather report. "He gave me the name just before he died."
"I know," said Volkoff, pressing a button on his computer. A recording played on the screen, a video with a woman and three men in a room. One man was Marco, the woman was Frost. They listened together as the interview played out, Marco's final "Why?" answered only by her bullet.
He turned in his chair. "Anything to say, Frost?"
She reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone, called up an app, hit play. She slid the phone to him on his desk as they listened to the same interview play, Marco's final "Why?" and her response, followed by a bullet.
"Only you, Frost?" he asked mildly. "Seems a mite…selfish, don't you think?" He pushed her phone back to her.
She picked it up and pocketed it. "He wants me, I want him back. I'm tempted to let him find me, just to see what happens."
"Absolutely not, you're far too important to me to risk losing you." He gestured at his computer, with the edited video. "Especially with traitors in my ranks."
"I understand." Whoever bugged her meeting with Marco didn't plan on her bugging it herself. Too bad. Whoever it was forgot the cardinal rule. You can cheat, steal, kill, but never lie to the boss. Tomorrow morning Moscow police would have a new unsolved murder on their hands. "I'll have the kitchens send up something cold."
Not as cold as his eyes. "Very appropriate."
"Good night, sis." The happiness in Chuck's face and voice was genuine but short-lived, fading faster the further they got from his sister's house. "Was that weird or what?"
"I know, right. The size of a walnut and he's planning her college transcript!"
"Right, a walnut." She got into the car.
He ran around to the other side. "Or his, eventually, but right now it's a 'her'. Did you know that? All babies start out as girls and some morph into boys as they develop?"
"I…don't really think too much about babies, Chuck."
"Oh, believe me, I know. For a long time I couldn't even imagine getting a woman to talk to me, much less–"
Um, uh…"And then I found you, a rare woman, smart and perceptive enough to see my true worth beneath this nebbishy façade." He paused for breath, flashed her a smile. "Better?"
She roused herself to smile at him. "A good save."
He turned the key. "I almost feel sorry, leaving her alone with him. He's a little gung-ho on the baby care, isn't he?"
She stared at her hands. "A little."
He pulled out into the street. "And here we got married at almost exactly the same time, it's no surprise he'd wonder about us."
She looked out the window. "No surprise at all."
She was upset. Talking about babies upset her and he should have noticed, should have shielded her from Devon's enthusiasm. "Yeah. Sorry about that."
"Chuck, can we just…not talk about this right now?"
He stopped at the corner. "Sure, Sarah. Anything you want. It's just that I remember how long it took you just to unpack, the last thing in the world I want is to–"
She turned to look at him, frowning fiercely. "Why would you bring that up now?"
"Why would I bring what up?"
"You remember my unpacking? You said you understood."
His voice went up an octave. "I do understand, and I don't care. I only care about you."
"You said it wasn't weird."
He started to sweat, glad he was driving. "It isn't weird. You're a spy, you travel a lot, you need to be ready to go at a moment's notice, of course it's not weird! We both just spent the better part of half a year living out of a suitcase. If you're weird, I'm just as weird."
"It's totally weird, isn't it?" He really wasn't supposed to use this phone but this was an emergency.
"Well, not anymore, Chuck," said Morgan. The sound of a clicking pen carried clearly over the phone. "Listen to Doctor Morgan. She took a while doing it, but she unpacked. She made the leap. That's a good thing."
Ellie's voice came over the speaker. "Chuck, we're ready."
Chuck began to relax."That's great news."
"But obviously that's not your Achilles heel," continued Morgan.
Relaxation time over. "My what?" No answer. "Morgan, my what?" He checked his phone, saw no bars at all.
"I'm packed and ready to go, General," said Carina. A mission in Milan, during Fashion Week? She'd go naked! In fact, maybe she already had, but her memory was still spotty on that one.
"Your readiness for this mission doesn't surprise me in the slightest, Agent Miller," said Beckman impassively. "Need I remind you that you are going to Milan to investigate Miss Stefanova's career as an arms merchant for Volkoff Industries, not to steal a march on next year's look? If it weren't for Colonel Casey's lamentable history with high fashion I'd be keeping you here, safe from temptation. I'd almost rather send Chuck in your place."
"Yeah, Casey," Carina smiled at him. "I've heard of fashion victims before, but never fashion killers."
"That won't be necessary, ma'am," said Sarah, over Casey's melancholy grunt. An officially sanctioned mission? She had to keep those away from Chuck at all costs, she'd given her word.
"I know it won't, Agent Bartowski," said the General, pinning her with a glare. "One of your jobs will be to keep her on the strait and narrow, as long as it isn't a runway. Good luck, team."
Carina ran from the room, back to her apartment to get some items to donate. Those poor models, condemned to only next year's trends.
"Yeah, good luck, Bartowski," said Casey, as soon as the screen was black. "You'll need it, having to make her keep it in her pants, while hubby dear is home, carefully studying all of Miss Maxim's photos for their national security implications."
"What is that, a bikini? I thought it was a burqa…"
She glared at the insulated door. "Keep him out of trouble, Casey."
The big man shrugged. "Easy to do while he's in bunker-land. I just have to go and shoot Grimes. He's been in a relationship for five minutes and he's already a marriage counselor."
Morgan was giving Chuck marriage advice? Her mouth went dry, her hands twitched.
"Don't worry, Bartowski, I got your back, even here on the home front. Whatever Achilles Heel you have, I've got some Casey shoes for it." He smirked at her freak-out face. "How's that for fashion?"
A/N2 This episode and the ones that follow will be very difficult to fit into the nine2five framework. Sarah's already unpacked, and has been for a year. Please drop me a line and tell me how you think it's going.