It may be six days until Christmas, but the government isn't shutting down this time. Team Bartowski is ordered to take an unorthodox mission and cover that has everybody off kilter. The twenty minute tutorial on concealment and pretense didn't begin to cover this. Pre and post slash relationships. (m/m and m/m/f)
The prize: a dazzling all-expense paid trip to a tropical locale with his closest pals. By that, Chuck means a government assassin, two ninjas, and three weapons experts. Who still scare the crap out of him.
Their opponent: the most dangerous dealer the agency could put in their Christmas stocking
The pawn: his best friend
The hope: get home by Christmas without blowing everyone's cover, crossing personal lines, or letting a psychopath slip away.
Call it a hunch, but the Human Intersect is betting that this fake vacation with real guns will be nothing like the glossy travel brochure.
Author's Note: Hello! I'm somewhat new here. I want to start by saying that just in case you did not see the disclaimer regarding non-canon and m/m or m/m/f relationships, this story will carry heavy insinuations. However, the overlying element here is humor, specifically mine, which probably deserves a warning in neon.
I want to say take a minute to say thanks to my beta reader, who gave me the idea via a prompt months ago, asphaltcowgrrl.
The Odd Quadruple
December 18 2007
Top Secret NSA Transitory Living Quarters – Echo Park
What was the big deal if he was only a few minutes late? Hadn't he jumped through every last flaming hoop like a trained seal for those people during the past three freaking months?
The government people who ruined his life. Yes, those jolly folks.
Chuck Bartowski spied the scarier of his two handlers first as he came through the door. That fact that his tardiness fried him was a given.
"Good morning," Chuck said simultaneously sliding into his usual place between the real spies in the room and smoothing his nerd badge. "Sorry I'm -"
"Late? Eight-thirty briefing in my apartment mean something else in nerd speak, Bartowski?"
"Only if you say it Klingon," Chuck shot back to Casey with a charming smile. "Which I could teach you, by the way."
"Valuable skill that is." Casey squinted at the smile with healthy skepticism. "And I could teach you to go hunting, by the way. Unless ... you already know how to gobble with a feather stuffed in your -?"
"Speaking Klingon did save my life, I feel compelled to point out. You know me, the Human Intersect?"
Casey seemed to be weighing the banal triviality of that argument.
"Gentlemen." On the monitor, General Beckman's face stiffened to the frigidity of dried clay. "Is there a problem?"
"Nothing, General." Chuck tried out his smile on her and waggled his hand between him and Casey. "It's just his way of saying he cares."
"I see the impending holiday has lifted a certain person's spirits," Beckman said. She looked Chuck directly in the eyes to make a point of his lack of punctuality and untucked shirt. "However, we still have work to do here."
"Yes, Ma'am." Chuck wiped the smile from his face and added under his breath, "You texted me ten minutes ago, Casey. I was in the middle of breakfast."
"Upset your Nuts & More?" Casey said out of the corner of his mouth.
It peeved the kid that he had been watching so closely.
Giving up on Casey, Chuck nudged Sarah in the shoulder to see if he could get a smile from her. That's what friends did, right? Now that they were officially friends after the 'We'll-always-have-Omaha' fiasco on black Friday?
Apparently, stumping for support during a briefing was bad timing. She gave him a try to behave look before nodding at the screen.
He wasn't exactly sure what had happened to give them those looks, but someone must've dinged Beckman's car door, or left a dog turd on Graham's front lawn. Neither of them looked happy, though Chuck tried to remember if they ever did.
So instead of trying to get a holiday smile from them, the kid stood straight in his normal spot, to the right of Casey's shoulder, chagrined for the thousandth time that he had to wedge his somewhat awkward self between two people this pretty.
Not that he would say that aloud. Nuh-uh. If Casey heard the word pretty, it would get him stuffed into a locker in the Buy More break room. And considering the size of those lockers and the lankiness of his body, that pretzel-folding maneuver would not be pretty.
In the meantime, it only took another sneer or two from Casey to regain his mission-mode composure. "You were preparing to tell us about intelligence gathered on a target-rich opportunity - before the tardy and might I say annoying interruption by the asset."
Chuck gave him a dirty look for that, but bit his tongue. Despite the fact that Casey was dressed in his green shirt, the NSA agent still managed to look like a hard ass this early in the morning, and Chuck didn't want to tangle before breakfast.
Sarah raised her chin and pushed back a lock of her bangs. "You were mentioning a target picked up on surveillance at LAX, Ma'am?"
"Correct, Agent Walker." Beckman's eyes swept over the team. "As we were saying, a source has indicated that an international black market-"
"Whoa. Hang on, General." Chuck raised a hand and felt himself stepping forward before he could think. Neither Sarah nor Casey turned to look at him, but he could feel Sarah twitch at his outright insubordination, while Casey looked as if he wanted to grab Chuck between the shoulders and pull him back in line. "Before you go on –"
"Chuck." This time it was Sarah attempting a rescue before his mouth got him in trouble. More trouble, that is. "Not now."
"Ma'am, forgive me, but I thought this was a de-briefing on the successful completion of the Lon Kirk counterfeiting scheme? An 'at a boy,'?" Chuck stopped briefly to make a pair of sarcastic air quotes. "Maybe some kudos to the team for capturing a sleaze who tried to blow up my best friend? Oh, and for seizing the counterfeit plates."
"Killing my car sound like a success to you, Bartowski?"
"I said I was sorry, okay?" Chuck turned to the screen and felt bold enough to say, "Besides, my point still stands."
Beckman eyed him for a long moment and slowly arched one brow. Holy smokes. To make such a tiny move convey that much peril had to take practice. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Bartowski, but resting on your laurels is not going to stop the next menace that threatens the safety of your country."
Put that way, he did sound a bit like a bellyacher – but his spy job and real job during the holiday rush were going to kill him if he didn't put his foot down just this once. "General, has anyone taken a break from karate chopping and gun maintenance to look at the calendar?" He avoided meeting the stares of Sarah and Casey right then. "It's a week until Christmas! I've spent the past three months having every aspect of my life under a microscope. Not to mention I've been shot at four times, kidnapped on three occasions, almost blown up – twice -"
"And a partridge in a pear tree," Casey finished gruffly. "Get back in line, Bartowski."
Chuck clenched his fists at his sides and bravely ignored him. "What I'm saying, General, is that this team has produced results with no breaks – and frankly no thanks from the NSA or CIA. I, for one, plan on having a holiday break because I think we deserve it. So at this point, we need to derail your debrief, go back to a little thing I like to call normalcy, and we'll see you in a week from now. Oh, and you're welcome."
By now, Sarah had taken hold of the hem of his untucked shirt, out of Beckman's line of sight, and was tugging firmly on it. More disconcerting was Casey's hot breath on his neck, mingled with a growly sound that made Chuck's hair stand up along his collar. Okay, so maybe he had stepped out of line a bit – literally and figuratively. But did the bosses have to be Grinches about this?
Director Graham, meanwhile, had just swallowed a prickly pear if his expression meant anything. "Agents," he said, clearly pinning his eyes to one and then the other, purposely skipping over Chuck as if he didn't exist, "is there a problem handling the asset?"
Sarah stepped forward and took the hit for the team, possibly since Graham was CIA and her boss. "No sir, no problem,"
"Nothing that can't be solved with a foot up the ass," Casey breathed only loud enough for Chuck to hear. "Which is going to happen the second this call ends if he doesn't –"
It only took a moment of visualizing for Chuck to step back in line. After all, he had made his point, and Casey didn't take threats lightly. And the man had huge feet.
"I'd be willing to hear the outline of the mission specs." Chuck cleared his throat. "Maybe entertain us with the dubious baddie du jour?"
Beckman didn't look convinced. It was obvious she wanted the infraction dealt with in a more severe manner, but did she really forget he was a civilian and she had no jurisdiction over him? Something told him she would argue the last point, citing he was government property until the Intersect was gone. Fine. Whatever.
"If we are done playing games, we can continue," she said, looking directly at Chuck. "As we were saying, a source has provided Intel on a target we've been trying to crack for years. It's believed that a mogul who has shielded himself under his successful enterprise has secretly been dealing in covert operations."
"Such as?" Casey asked a little too eagerly, because the possibility of whipping some anti-American, double dealing scum was Christmas come early for the man.
"Major, the target is suspected of selling gas centrifuge technology to Pakistan and North Korea." Beckman paused. Her face somehow became tighter. "Perhaps they are developing connections with others as well. You need to stop him before that happens."
Chuck raised his hand before he realized it. "Gas centrifuge? It doesn't sound all that threatening."
"Get your nerd brain in gear. It is when it's used to separate uranium." Casey folded his arms over his chest and shrugged. "So a first class science freak. Find out who he's dealing with, round them up, beat them down, and persuade them to tell us who else is within their network. Got it."
Chuck turned to stare. "Wow. You need to back off the Wheaties for breakfast, buddy."
"Who is the target, Ma'am?" Sarah asked. "What do we know about him?"
"It's this man." Beckman reached down and hit a key stroke, and a pop-up window expanded on the screen. "He's –"
Chuck didn't hear the remainder of the explanation. The Intersect had already kicked him between the ears and revved up its engines.
School children in white uniforms marching on a beach
Two fighter jets incinerating a concrete block building
Rows of lock boxes on stacked shelves
A train colliding with a black SUV, bursting into flames
A vial of dark blue liquid bubbling on a stove
The school children
"What?" Casey and Sarah asked together.
"David Blosjo," Chuck managed to rasp, already feeling the Intersect-driven headache hit him. The unwelcome database had done the dirty work again, feeding him a platter of information about the baby-faced blond on the screen. Mid thirties. Wealthy. Educated at MIT. Degrees in nuclear engineering and research. Sounds normal? Except for the nuclear dealing hobby, the kid gathered.
He didn't need the Intersect, however, to pick up on the smug little smirk that in one way or another fit on his handsome face. The thing that Chuck really had to gawp at was the hair swoosh. Seriously, how long would it take a man to get that effect with a blow dryer and a round brush?
"What has our little coiffed friend been up to?" Casey asked, so yeah, he noticed the swoosh.
"Mr. Blosjo is suspected to be advancing the role of centrifuges," Graham answered. "Selling technological secrets for the development of nuclear fuel. Possibly producing military-grade enriched uranium – and we believe he's ready to meet with a potential buyer."
Casey and Sarah turned in unison to stare at the Intersect. "What else did you get?" Casey asked, eyes cutting up to the kid's hair.
"A migraine?" Chuck suggested as a stall tactic, since he was drawing a blank. "Can the agency come up with post-flash pain killers?"
Casey rolled his eyes and gave Chuck a few ungentle taps on the forehead. "Anything in there about who he's meeting? Why is he in LA?"
"You know, it doesn't work that way." Chuck ducked his head and batted Casey's hand away. "Just rattling it isn't going to loosen up the Intel stuck in there."
Casey grunted, a sound that Chuck interpreted as let's give it a try.
"Chuck, was there anything else in your flash?" Unlike Casey, at least Sarah had a look of concern when she faced him. "Do you know any details about the meeting or the buyer? Even a name?"
"I – there was – but it really makes no sense ..." Chuck's nose wrinkled as he tried to figure out how several of the images fit into a nuclear-crazy puzzle. "That's odd ..." His words trailed off into fuzziness, and he began to shake his head. "Huh."
"Just say it," Casey ordered.
"Um, almond extract? Essential oils of pomegranate seeds?" Well, it figured after all of the stress he had put it through, eventually the Intersect would go on the fritz. Chuck looked sheepish as he scrubbed a hand through his hair. "Does that mean something?"
On either side of him, one handler looked confused, while the other looked like he wanted to punch through his brain and pull out the stubborn Intel with his bare fist.
Chuck backed away from Casey and glanced at the monitor. Rather than looking interested, Graham and Beckman seemed deflated by that last piece of data. Why? It wasn't his fault the Intersect had given him natural byproducts of organic resources instead of a face and a name.
It made the rest of the data he hadn't brought up yet look sane.
"I should mention," Chuck went on carefully, "for the sake of full disclosure, there was something about lavender nourishment spritz mixed in there, too."
Casey narrowed his eyes at him. "I knew it. I knew if that was in the brain of a nerd, eventually it would -"
"Major, that is enough," Beckman interceded, folding her hands together on her desk. "Though the Intersect did not provide the data we were anticipating, the flash was ... correct."
"It was?" Chuck rocked up on his tip toes and tried not to preen when he looked at Casey. "Thank you, General. But how was it correct?"
"We had hoped to get the name or affiliation of the contact, but unfortunately your flash included only Blosjo's front of operations."
Chuck raised his hand again out of force of habit. "While we're on that topic, let's just say what we're all thinking. I mean, c'mon, I thought the name Bartowski was a curse. But wow, right? Though, if you think about it, growing up with that name, you do have to learn to throw a punch -"
"Which I am getting ready to do," Casey noted quietly.
"Please, General. Continue."
"Thank you, Major." Beckman frowned at Chuck and gestured at the monitor. "Mr. Blosjo earned his fortune, which we believe he uses as a guise to cover his more surreptitious activities, by developing a highly successful ... product line."
"What product?" Chuck asked before the real spies could.
Graham hesitated, appearing uncomfortable. It was a look Chuck couldn't recall witnessing before now. "Hair care," he finally said. "Spa treatments. Men's ... styling products."
Casey's steely demeanor went from bewildered to horrified, and then settled on disgusted in point five seconds. "... the hell. Men's? Something wrong with a bar of Irish Spring?"
Sarah tilted her head at Casey before she turned to the monitor. "Director, obviously Mr ... er, Blosjo's picture wasn't enough to trigger the data within the Intersect. We still don't know who his contact is and what he's selling this time. What's our mission, sir?"
"Thank you, Agent Walker, for keeping us on task." The meaning behind Graham's stern look was not lost on Chuck. "The front of the Zen product line may seem ... trivial, but the consequences of completing his deal could be catastrophic."
"Zen? The Aura of Zen? Hey, Devon uses that."
Casey snorted. "Figures."
"Wow." Chuck puckered out his bottom lip, still stuck on the revelation. "Cleansing away split ends and contributing to the coffers of a mad scientist. Quite the killer combo."
"Gentlemen." Director Graham leaned over Beckman's shoulder, attempting to cease the frivolity. "We need to find out every last detail, every scrap of data that the Intersect has on his network of potential clients – what exactly is he selling, and who is he brokering a deal with this time. Is this understood?"
"Yes, sir," Casey and Sarah said in unison.
"Good," Beckman said. "Team, pack your bags."
Chuck blinked. "Bags? As in luggage?" He absorbed the implication without moving. "But you said – LA. He's in LA – and again, I have to remind you, it's a week before Christmas. I can't go anywhere."
Graham took point on this one. "Mr. Bartowski, let me explain this to you in simple terms. The information we need is trapped in your head. Therefore, you need to be within striking distance of ... Blosjo while we know where he is in order to flash. That is your job. Flashing. If you cannot handle your job under the current constraints, the government can remove those constraints in order to refocus your priorities."
The current constraints? As in his freedom? Chuck bristled and started to open his mouth, but Casey's low snarl and Sarah's fingers digging into his wrist ordered him to back down. "Yes, sir," was all Chuck said.
Graham glared at him a bit longer as if the bunker insinuation didn't sink home. "You'll find, Mr. Bartowski, that it's best not to argue with the grown-ups." He looked at Sarah and Casey, in one move informing Chuck where he stood in the pecking order. "Have yourselves and the Intersect ready to depart by 17:00 hours."
"Where are we going?" Sarah asked.
Silently, Chuck thanked Sarah, because yes, it did seem pertinent, and the agency had a tendency to leave out minor details.
"You're going on a cruise," Beckman stated. "LA to Puerto Vallarta. Blosjo is on the passenger's list. We believe he is meeting the contact on board. It would've been preferable to capture him and his associates before the ship sails, but unfortunately, the Intersect failed to identify the buyer."
Funny how she could make it sound like that was Chuck's fault.
Whoa. Back up the bus right there.
Did she say cruise?
Chuck straightened his shoulders a bit, blinded by the possibilities. "I'm – I mean we – are going on ... a ship? And we'll be back before Christmas?" For the first time today, he found his smile. "To Puerto Vallarta. With beaches and pools and drinks with the funny little - ?"
"Yes, Mr. Bartowski," Beckman said. "That is correct."
"Oh ho ho." Chuck amped up his grin to the dazzling crooked variety. "Things are starting to look up around here in the spy-biz. Okay, General, you've twisted my arm, but only because it's you. Cabin class is fine, by the way."
Casey slanted him a look and nudged Chuck out of the way. "Ma'am. What are the covers? I'm sure the Intersect could be kitchen staff. Sleep in the hold? We can take him out and dust him off for flash-time only?"
Chuck started to make a remark that would get him in trouble, but he took one look at the monitor and had to pause. Hearing Casey's question, Beckman and Graham had exchanged an awkward glance.
What was that all about? God, no, not kitchen staff. He hated the smell of uncooked seafood.
"This is where the mission gets slightly ... complicated." It was obvious Beckman was choosing her words meticulously, which Chuck found worrisome. "The Carnival Miracle," the General moved on to explain, "Is setting sail this evening on The Winter Rainbow Cruise. Couples only, actually."
"Rainbow?" Casey's jaw clenched. "As in liberal haters of the Reagan policies?"
"As in an all gay cruise, Major."
Huh. Chuck thought he had nailed down most of Casey's sounds by now, but that grunt was a mystified uninterpretable one.
Next to him, Sarah's hand came up to her mouth. If she thought that hid her toothy smile, well, not even close, sister.
"Um, hang on." In that instant, Chuck was struck by a terrifying thought. "Do – do you mean ..." But a rock or something heavy lodged in his throat, and as the kid momentarily lost the ability to make noises, he simply flapped a hand in Casey's direction before patting his own chest. "Oh ... oh no ... no, no, no."
On the other side of him, he sensed Casey was frozen in a perpetual parade rest stance rigid enough to withstand a hurricane, but the kid didn't dare look.
Chuck turned to Sarah, eyes wide. "Help! Say something!" he mouthed to her.
"Oh, Santa, you outdid yourself this year," he heard Sarah murmur.
This was funny? How could she find this amusing!
All right, he wasn't going to get any help from his more sympathetic handler. It would be up to him to put the brakes on a mix-up that would get his arm gnawed off.
Chuck held up a hand.
"Is there a problem, Mr. Bartowski?"
"You see, there is a problem with this." And why on earth was it him explaining this to the government? "There are only two men on Team Bartowski, which kind of narrows down possibilities here. And the issue is that one of those men," and he gestured at Casey's chest, "really does not appreciate the nerdy charm of the other one. I don't think he can pull it off, Ma'am."
Oh, crap. Did he just imply that he could?
Sarah turned to him and something flickered across her face. Great, indeed, she caught the implication. Why else would she be smiling? "He's a spy, Chuck," she said. "Casey can handle it. Isn't that right, Major?"
That cracking sound might've been Casey's jaw. "Ma'am, the asset has a point," he said between his teeth. "I must question the mission parameters."
"Agent Walker has a point as well," Beckman remarked. "You're a professional, John."
This was the best the agencies could come up with? Wasn't it bad enough to have every move watched? Now the NSA – and to be specific, a very large frightening element of the NSA - would be sleeping in his bed?
"But, General," Chuck said, nerves beginning to flutter in his stomach. "Another issue. I'm not ... gay?"
Oh, God. Why did that come out like a question!
Each non-civilian in the room studied him for a long moment. Too long. "Chuck," Sarah said in low voice, turning to face him with her back to the monitor. "I should tell you that when you became the Intersect, it was necessary to gather all intelligence on your ... background."
Chuck peeked over her shoulder at the knowing faces of Graham and Beckman. Now the whole Stanford Incident was ten times worse because they all knew.
"Um, everything?" He couldn't help the fiery blush. "Even college?"
Sarah nodded slowly. "It's okay, really."
"Mr. Bartowski." Beckman settled back in her chair, ignoring Chuck's stunned look at the violation of his privacy. "Your background has been thoroughly vetted, and I shouldn't have to remind you that one of our own in the CIA has corroborated your history. Agent Larkin was your ... roommate at school, was he not?"
Ah, there it was. What a surprise. Another betrayal from Bryce.
Chuck hunched his shoulders and felt his throat cinching up, but if they knew, what good would it do to deny it now? "I was curious, okay? Geez. I was in college. Everyone tries something new in college, don't they?"
"Curious? For twenty-six months." Casey gave him an appraising look. "If you were a cat you'd be dead a dozen times over."
Chuck winced and put a hand over his mouth.
"Ma'am, how does Chuck's past ... relationship affect the mission at hand?"
Sarah always did know how to rescue him.
"Excellent point, Agent Walker." Beckman's forehead crinkled as her gaze swept over all three team members. "First, I need to clarify an inaccurate assumption."
Chuck really hoped it was the gay one, because so far, he was keeping his options open. He preferred not to label his heart-breaking infatuations. Simply put, he liked to think it was the person he was interested in, and whether they were a man or woman didn't fit into the equation until ... later. Kind of in the way he thought Sarah was hot, and Casey should've been carved from a heroically large – and angry - slab of marble.
Okay, so he sort of liked both of them. Big deal. It happened when you knew someone would die for you. Or held you up against a wall in a hail storm of bullets. Smelling really good.
"Please tell me this was a mistake," Casey said, and Chuck had to fleetingly acknowledge the quality of fabric the folks at the Buy More Corporation used in its green polo shirts. With all the tension in his upper arms and chest, it should've ripped at the seams like Hulk. "Tell me that I don't have to bunk with the nerd."
"That is correct, John."
Casey did a double-take. "It is?"
Beckman steepled her fingers in front of her, and Chuck swore he saw the slight curl of a smile. "We can't have the Intersect bunking with a spy. There will be over twenty-one hundred men on board. If one of them makes you as an agent, or recognizes you from your past as a military officer, it will draw the Intersect into the limelight, so to speak. And we can't have that."
"We can't?" Chuck and Casey asked together.
That was not a little stab of disappointment. Admittedly – no he would never admit it – the night terrors and dead bodies were getting to Chuck, and the thought of someone warm and protective next to him was nice. Just not a someone who would kill him for thinking it.
"I've explained the risk," the General said.
"But, I don't get it." Chuck's brows drew together as he glimpsed at the faces on-screen and then to the spies on either side of him. "If it's not –"
"Incoming," Casey said.
It made Chuck wonder how he did that. It was like his SIG Sauer sprouted from his hand, and in one swift movement, the sidearm was leveled at the doorway. With his other hand, he grabbed Chuck by the shoulder and shoved him down. "Stay."
"What – what is it?" Chuck's question came out like a croak, due to the fact his stomach was flat on the floor. At that moment, he did notice Casey's hardwood floors were very clean.
The order came automatically from both handlers. "Stay down," Casey and Sarah told him.
When he looked up, he saw Sarah in the same pose, her Smith and Wesson ready to take out whoever was barging in the door. She gave him the you heard us look, which went nicely with Casey's don't even think about getting up, idiot look.
Bryce Larkin raised his hands in mock surrender. "Hey. You can have first dibs with the jelly-filled, I promise." He waggled a brown grease-stained bag, presumably packed with donuts. "I got the Christmas sprinkled one just for you, Sarah."
Casey seemed to take a long time to lower his gun, as if his trigger finger needed only one itch. Chuck had to admire the NSA agent's show of restraint. Too many senior level witnesses, he guessed. "How the hell did you get in here?" Casey asked.
"Better yet," Chuck said, climbing to his feet, "why are you here? What happened to the maître'd gig at the consulate dinner?"
His joke fell flat. Bryce had already explained he was posing as a guest, not the help, the night he had been briefed in the media room at the Buy More. Like Chuck could forget? It happened sometime before the kid washed down his bitterness with a turkey sandwich with Morgan, and after Tommy had scattered a thousand shots in the store. Oh. And almost got away with the Intersect. Can't forget that detail.
For the first time that Chuck could recall, however, Bryce's usual cocky persona had fallen away for a heartbeat. The UnBryce. Until he saw the bosses on the monitor. "The consulate dinner was a bust," he said, nodding at them and making a point not to look at Sarah. "The General and Director have my report."
"But Fulcrum ... You were going after them." Chuck frowned as his eyes roved over his ex-friend. The sudden frost in the air told him that even Casey and Sarah were just as taken aback at his unexpected appearance. "On your own? Off the radar? What the hell happened, Bryce?"
Bryce lifted his Ray-Bans and locked him in an unreadable gaze, saying nothing. While the confused looks settled on him, he then walked around Casey's tan Lazy Boy recliner and approached the screen. "Sorry, I'm late. LA traffic is still the worst."
"Takes a real superspy to know LA traffic sucks, I guess?" Casey mumbled, reluctantly tucking his gun back under his shirt.
"I should just be flattered you like donuts, Casey."
"Agents." Beckman's look of cold exasperation halted the bickering. "If we've finished the greetings, perhaps we can get back to the mission at hand."
"Yes, Ma'am," Bryce said, taking position in line next to Sarah. "You rerouted my return flight to D.C. I assume there is a new mission?"
Sarah, on the other side of Bryce, visibly jolted.
Casey was still squinting at the monitor with a look that said he was daydreaming of the headshot he should've taken. "What," he said, and maybe he caught sight of Sarah's smile threatening to break over her face, because something hit him. "You don't mean –"
"Major, meet your ... boyfriend," Beckman said.
"What -" Bryce's head snapped towards the monitor, then to Casey and back. "What's going on?"
Chuck's hand flew up to his face, his eyes bulging.
Casey stayed absolutely still as the awareness settled over him. While he processed the order, his spine became ramrod straight, and Chuck could almost feel those damnable muscles swell and stiffen.
"In hell," Casey muttered, and instinctively, his hand reached for the gun all over again. He must've thought twice, though, of blowing away a venerated government agent in his living room. So instead he glanced at his kitchen knife block.
"Did you say something, Major?"
"Ma'am, I am submitting my furlough request for the holidays. As of this moment. I have the days accrued, and I -"
"Stand down, Major. You're well aware of the policy. You must give thirty days' notice before taking leave. The thirty seconds of wanting to kill Agent Larkin does not count. Request denied."
Casey growled at the thwarted attempt.
Chuck stepped forward, making a fist at his side so that his fingernails dug into his palm to hold back the laughter. Finally, it was his turn. After all of this craziness, somewhere back in D.C., Uncle Sam was repaying him, and he was really trying not to grin for the sake of professionalism.
What the hell? Why not?
"Well, isn't this going to be fun?" Chuck said, patting Bryce on the shoulder. "Watching you two lovebirds snuggling in the lounge, walking hand in hand on deck, splashing in the heart-shaped –"
"Bartowski, I carry three service revolvers on my person at all times."
Chuck squinted at him.
"Ma'am, with all due respect," Bryce said, "has the agency considered the endangerment to personnel?"
"What do you mean?"
Bryce motioned towards Casey. "In light of the ... history between the Major and I -"
"He's referring to me shooting him. Twice," Casey hastened to explain.
"- that this is perhaps not in the best interest of the -"
"Enough, gentlemen," Beckman cut in like a knife. Man, she looked pissed. The General definitely did not see the humor in it, but the whole 'nuclear weapons for sale' thing always got her undies in bunch. "This is called undercover work. Perhaps you're familiar with the concept? Spy work? I expect you to follow orders. I expect you to do what it takes to get the job done. Is that understood?"
"General, perhaps it's riskier to have the Intersect not partnered with a spy," Casey offered up.
"Uh-oh." Chuck flinched. That proved how desperate Casey was to avoid bedding Larkin. He'd bed a nerd.
"I volunteer to be the ..." Casey had to break if off there and brace himself, because it was killing him to finish the sentence. "Boyfriend of the Intersect."
Yep, there is was. Utter cold desperation.
"Ma'am, so do I." Bryce pushed a hand through his thick dark hair and smiled, which was something he used to do in college before ... exams, Chuck remembered. "I'll be the Intersect's boyfriend. I don't have to remind the present audience that I have ... experience in this matter."
Chuck took a deep breath, because really Bryce? After you fucked me over with Jill, now you have to play that card?
"Look whose dance card is full," Sarah whispered to him. "The boys are circling like buzzards. You don't have to be worried about being the girl sitting on the sidelines."
No, right now he was more worried about the fact that Sarah referred to him as a girl.
"General, there is a problem that the geniuses at the agency haven't thought through," Chuck said.
"What is that, Mr. Bartowski?"
"Casey is the best salesman Big Mike has. And I'll say rather humbly that I'm his best nerd. There is no way we can get time away the week before Christmas."
"That will be arranged. It seems the two of you have come down with influenza."
Chuck shook his head. "Won't it look suspicious that both of us get the bug right before Christmas?"
"Er, Chuck?" Sarah hesitated, buying some time by looking between the two of them before politely clearing her throat. "You two live in the same apartment complex, carpool together, and have lunch on Casey's timed breaks at the same table in the break room every day. When he snaps his fingers, you come running. Trust me, people are already suspicious."
"Great," Chuck muttered under his breath. "Now people think you and I became 'friends' because I'm boffing the scariest person on the planet."
Casey took a break from sending daggers to Bryce to scowl at Chuck. "What did you say?"
"Keep me out of this." Chuck backed up a step. "Not my fault."
Sarah gave him a minute head shake, laced with a quiet warning. He almost asked her how she could do that while at the same time biting down on her lip to fight down the laughter. "Director, another question, if I may. Will I be benched for this mission, considering the ... unusual circumstances?"
"No, Sarah," Graham answered. "We need you as back-up – in case the Intersect gets into another situation." It was downright impossible not to know he meant the clumsy nerd stumbling into a life and death moment right then. "You will be bar staff this time, and be ready to move in when Chuck identifies the contact."
"Yes, sir. Understood." She looked at Chuck for a split-second before her gaze traveled down the row of men, faces in various stages of irritation. Casey looked to be doing the worse, while Bryce just seemed to be blinking a lot. "I'll keep a close eye on the happy couples."
"Couples?" Chuck gave her a cautious look. "Hang on. The … asset? I didn't hear how the asset fits into this little ménage a trois."
"Ma'am, if duty calls, I can step in as the asset's –"
"Major, that will be enough. For the next five nights and six days, Bryce Larkin is your lover. End of discussion."
Chuck waited for Casey to stop scowling and get back in line next to his ... boyfriend. The shock seemed to make his body rigid as a bowstring, as if Chuck could touch him and hear a harrowing creak.
God, if he didn't stop smiling he was going to get a size thirteen boot up his ass.
But in all the excitement, one last niggling detail hit the kid.
"One last thing. You said I'm not bunking with a spy ... and that means what exactly?" Chuck shot a puzzled look at the bosses and folded his arms over his chest. "Because I'd like to know who I'm crashing with during this little Love Boat scenario the government has cooked up. You may have noticed, but I don't exactly have a boyfriend."
Did the General always have to look so damn exasperated when he asked a question? Because Chuck felt it was a valid inquiry, and he did have the right to know who his new fake gay lover would be for the next six days.
"That has been arranged, Mr. Bartowski," Beckman responded, squelching further discussion. Her finger hovered over a button as she prepared to end the video feed. "And team? Bon Voyage."
If either Casey or Bryce had something to say about that, no sound was forthcoming. In fact, Chuck was half tempted to press on Casey's bicep to see if he was still breathing.
On the bright side, the two hated enemies shared something for the first time ever, Chuck thought. Disbelieving stares of horror.
"Enjoy your cruise," Graham added coolly, and the screen went dark.
-x- End The Odd Quadruple Chapter One - x-
A/N 2: Did you know that almost all of the Love Boat episodes had three titles, not just one? (One for each of the romantic subplots, for those of you that don't remember the show. *cough*) Hoping for inspiration on a story title, I browsed through the entire list of episodes and stumbled upon The Odd Triple. So even with my vast mathematical skills, I could still add one and come up with The Odd Quadruple, which fits perfectly for this scenario.
Now we just have to find Chuck a date. Hm. : )
I love to hear from anyone who stops by and reads! Trust me when I say all writers who post out here in the wilds live for feedback of any kind. It especially helps when some crazy person *again, cough* decides to post an entire novel within a month or so. Encouragement is gasoline! Thank you so much for being here!
Til next time,