A/N Bits and pieces from four different episodes. Enjoy.
"I'm the one person here they won't kill."
"Castle Mainframe, this is Mary Elizabeth Bartowski, code name Frost."
"I happen to have a very romantic soul."
Packard lay back on a bed that didn't belong to him, bored. Frost had returned to Moscow days ago, leaving him and his team to look into the deaths of Christoph and the others on their own.
They weren't good on their own.
They tended to break things, which, honestly, is what they were trained to do, not all this detective crap. They weren't a proper cleaner team, being much better at leaving messes behind them. Not that that was a bad thing. All it had taken was one false bottom to set his men to looking for others, where 'looking' was rather loosely defined. Mainly T.I. smashed things and moved the broken bits around with his booted feet. Mac was more fastidious, but he was also slower.
Packard swung out of bed, stepping on the false bottom that was the cause of it all, enjoying the crunch of snapping wood. Idly, he kicked one of the pieces, just because he could. Several pieces moved as a unit.
That wasn't right. He reached down and picked up the fragment, lifting several shards at once, as they were all held together by something on the bottom. A piece of heavy duty tape layered over a piece of paper, paper with a set of numbers in a line. Like a set of coordinates without all the other symbols, one of several different possible sets.
He didn't need his phone app to tell him that one possible location was somewhere in Europe, but he pulled it out anyway to get a more precise fix. Somewhere in England.
"Roses or orchids? Those are my choices?" asked Ellie, stirring her coffee. "Am I the second opinion or the third? I don't even know this woman."
"Second," said Sarah, sitting opposite. "Hannah's a lot more like you than like me, in some ways. I have no problem being the main point of contact but you're the best wedding planner I know."
"What about Casey? He did a good job on my wedding…" For a second, Ellie's eyes glazed over, remembering the sight of her groom, the feel of the sand under her feet, the sound and smell of the ocean.
"On Chuck's orders. Plus begonias weren't on Hannah's list."
"But they were so pretty! You liked them, didn't you?"
Sarah shrugged. Not my wedding. "If it isn't a gardenia, I don't have an opinion." She stroked a large petal from Chuck's latest delivery.
Ellie took a sip and nodded. "Understandable, you being a spy and all…"
Sarah stopped stroking. She looked from Ellie to flower as if one of them was a double-agent. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Ellie's eyes got wide. "You mean you don't know about the symbolism of flowers?"
Why on Earth would I? "I…know that if Chuck sends me something that isn't a gardenia, he's mad at me," said Sarah. "I knew that if Bryce sent roses when I was expecting lilies, or whatever our code was for that mission, my cover was blown and I had to get the hell out."
"Oh my God…"
"The gardenia is the symbol of hidden love, like…" Ellie's hands fluttered in the air as she sought the perfect metaphor. "Like Romeo-and-Juliet style love. Chuck knew that. I always wondered why he sent you gardenias when you were already his girlfriend. I didn't get it until they told me about you, but it never occurred to me that you didn't know."
Sarah shook her head. "There was no agenda there, Ellie. Chuck knew that I liked gardenias the way he knew I didn't like olives, by watching everything I did and taking notes." Sarah looked smug at her husband's prowess, even then, while Ellie looked appalled at the lengths he'd had to go to, no matter how good he was at it. "My father didn't use them in any of his cons, and I like the smell." Not the most common flower, and its aroma made it even more memorable. Con artists don't want to be memorable.
Ellie sat back in her chair and frowned. "Poop."
"What?" said Sarah, fighting down an urge to laugh in her sister's face.
"Here I thought I was seeing this wonderful romantic story of secret protestations of love, sent under the very eyes of disapproving authorities," Ellie sulked, "And you didn't get it any more than Casey did."
The second pizza Chuck brought over didn't have olives. The second burger he brought over had all the extra pickles she could want. He only brought her the rose that one time, because Roan told him to. "I got the message, Ellie."
Ellie smiled–she still wanted the story, dammit–and raised her mug. "Here's to the message, then."
Sarah touched her mug to Ellie's gently.
Ellie continued, "Besides, it's not like my brother was ever very good at keeping his feelings hidden. The only person worse than him is you."
Thunk! went the mug on the table, not at all gently. "You're kidding, right?"
Great, now she'd slandered Sarah's professional abilities. Ellie raised her hand placatingly. "Sarah, I know you're an agent–"
"Yes, I'm an agent, but every day we were together I knew I was crumbling. I could feel myself losing a little more, giving another little tiny iota of information to a human database," said Sarah, running her finger around the edge of her mug. "But Chuck? Chuck was a master! They're thinking of naming the technique after him at Langley."
"What technique?" said Ellie, confused.
Sarah slumped over the table. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to get that one little piece of information from a subject when they won't shut up?"
John Casey sat at the bar, looking over Morgan's domain while Grimes wasn't around. The wait staff went around with their pitchers of water twenty percent less frequently than they used to. The bus boys were slower as well. His current Randomly Selected Patrons were mostly focused on each other, as they should be, but every now and then one of them would raise their eyes, suddenly aware of their surroundings. Not until the third such head's up did their server respond.
"Adding to your skill-set, Colonel?" said a woman from behind him. She'd been watching him for the last ten minutes and he'd been wishing she'd just make her move already.
His surveillance completed, he turned to face her. "You were at the bar that night."
Her real face was still a mask. "Just as an observer."
"I have a project."
Like that meant something. In Washington, everyone who was anyone had a 'project'. "I've got one of those already."
"I can see that. Muddling thyme for the greater good is a waste of your abilities, Colonel. If you ever want to trade up, give me a call." She flashed her ID at him. "Director Jane Bentley, NCS."
That caught his interest. "What's the objective?"
She smirked, knowing she had him hooked. "That's need to know, Colonel. You tell me if you need to know. Until then–" She stood up and handed him a plain manila envelope.
"What's this?" said Casey to her back, as she donned her coat.
She pivoted. "Call it a gesture of good faith. We've detected movement abroad that will impact you and your team, probably very soon." She ran a finger lightly along the edge of the envelope. "The men in these images have every reason to want you dead."
They can get in line. "And you're just giving them to me?"
"Of course not, Colonel. I'll be expecting your call, if you survive. Have a nice day."
His name was Mackintosh, and he was having a terrible day. He hated the woods. He hated pretty much anything that didn't come with a plug attached to it, left him feeling useless. Well, not useless, exactly, but not in a place where his special expertise made him more special than anyone else. In the woods they were all more or less equal, except for T.I., who looked like he could take on a tree and win.
He'd much rather have stayed in Christoph's apartment, which was nice and homey as long as you didn't look underneath the false bottoms of his chest of drawers. Which Packard had, and of course he'd brought the numbers to his good buddy and subordinate Mac for interpretation, and so it was his expertise with computers that directly led to them standing here in the middle of the night.
What was so special about this place, anyway? Some estate in the backwoods of England, no bandwidth, no throughput, no connectivity to any parts of the civilized world. The lady of the house rode a horse for fun! What a hole. At least the pubs were good. Good English beer, with good, dull English people endlessly nattering over the good English gossip. Everybody at the party heard the shots that night, but what mattered to Packard's team were the very few people who heard the shots the next morning. Not handguns, not at that distance.
Oh thank God!
Mac and Packard came to him from different directions, to find T.I. kneeling next to a fallen tree and searching under it like some kind of giant bear looking for…whatever bears looked under trees for. T.I. held up a shell casing, reflecting brightly even in the light of their low-intensity flashlights.
The giant man handed his boss the casing. "Sniper."
"Behind a tree?"
The tree fell as the brute rose. "I didn't say he was a good sniper."
Packard wasn't buying it. He flashed his light on the ground, picking up matted plants and torn earth but little else. "If he was a bad one there'd be blood everywhere. Spread out. He had to come here for a reason, which means he came from somewhere else. Find that nest."
They all headed upslope, one left, one right, leaving Mac in the middle, not that he knew what he was looking for, which was why they'd left him in the middle. He stepped over a root and stopped, his nose working. Something smelled real bad. He looked down.
Ashes. A small circle of undergrowth had been charred black, and his foot had stirred up the ashes, allowing some of the burnt odor to escape. Mac knelt in the grass, looking more closely at this evidence of man, and found a mostly burnt cigar butt lying on the edge. He held it up, sniffing at it. He knew that smell, loathed it, they all did. All the long way to the stockade he'd been forced to endure the stink of Captain Casey's cigars, and all the long days afterward he'd hated it and him.
Morgan shook the dice and threw them on the table. "We have gotta be the most crap communicators in the whole world."
Chuck watched the board carefully. For Morgan, moving tokens and talking at the same time could be problematic. "Uh, what do you mean, buddy?" he asked, scooping up the dice for his turn. "You, me and Devon here, or men in general?"
"Me and Alex," said Morgan, moving his cards for no reason. "I think I'm speaking English, but somehow the words coming out of my mouth are never the ones I want to say, and even then, she doesn't seem to hear them right either, even when they're wrong. Nobody's as bad as us."
"I don't know, bro, there's different kinds of bad, aren't there?" said Devon. "Just this morning Ellie yelled at me for talking to her stomach for an hour. She's going a little baby-crazy, and maybe I am too. That's pretty bad, right?" He looked at Chuck. "Twenty-four, bro."
"Pff," sneered Morgan, dismissing the question. "You guys have an excuse. Married and pregnant, you're allowed to look bad and have fights." He pulled at his tie, a vestige of his day at the office.
Both the men in his audience stopped and stared.
"Not if you want to stay married, buddy," said Chuck.
"Chuck, I love you, man," said Morgan as Devon took his turn, "But you have got to be the world's most unqualified person to be giving me this kind of advice. Don't look at me like that, come on! What was your biggest problem between you and the missus this whole last year?"
Chuck started to open his mouth.
"I'll tell you what it was," said Morgan without pause. "It was you two being too married. That's right: Too. Married. All that trouble you had was you trying to be worthy of what you already had. You two lovers were so star-crossed I'm surprised you even needed to propose!" He went back to fiddling with his cards.
Chuck shut his mouth, looking shocked.
Only Devon noticed. "Dude?"
Casey snatched up his phone before the first ring finished. "What news, General?"
"I'm afraid the intel from Director Bentley is on target, Colonel Casey. An entire team has already made its way to American soil, and is nearing your location as we speak."
"Dammit," he growled into the phone. He thought, hoped, he'd have more time. He didn't want to put everybody on alert without some kind of proof. "I have to get the team together."
"I'm afraid it's too late for that, Colonel," said Beckman. "You'd better hurry, or you'll be late to your own party."
"You never proposed?"shrieked Morgan.
"Well, we were…panicked, we had…so I called my dad, and he…so we…and it was all very confusing." Chuck pressed his hands to his temples.
"Chuck, this is not good," said Morgan, shaking his head. "All this time I've been looking out for your Achilles Heel and here it is, right under our noses." Someone knocked on the door, three hard knocks. Morgan got up to answer it. "But don't worry , dude, we can fix this." He reached for the knob.
Chuck's phone started to beep, a strident pattern, the emergency code giving…his own location! "Morgan, don't–!" he shouted, rising.
The door opened, revealing several armed men in full uniform standing ready. At the sight of Morgan, they all snapped to attention. "Buenas noches, Senor Grimes," said the leader, his voice rough and harsh. "Costa Gravas calls once more."
A/N2 Hope you like it. This episode is going to be a tough one.