A/N For the benefit of those who don't know, there's a Facebook group for Chuck Fanfiction, and we'd love to have some new members.
I had a lot of plot bits, but it took me a long time to find the heart of this story. Even then it took a while to reconcile them all, until I decided to let the characters tell me how it should go.
"Anything we didn't know?"
"You'll thank me later."
"Treachery, I like it."
In the (really) early morning hours, a shadowy figure moved silently through the darkened hallways of Volkoff Industries' main head quarters building. It neatly avoided the patrolling guards, almost as if it knew their routines. It didn't take the elevators, of course, that would be a dead giveaway, as well as unnecessary. Instead, it moved floor to floor using different stairs, making its way to the very top, and Alexei Volkoff's office.
Alexei Volkoff woke instantly, as he always did, convinced in his bones that something was wrong in his world, somewhere. He dragged on his robe and slippers, even though the cold of the Russian night didn't reach into anything he possessed. He opened an armoire, revealing a bank of secondary screens, that showed what his main guard station's screens showed. He watched his men patrolling the grounds, the corridors...
Sarah Walker twitched in her sleep. A presence loomed up in the darkness behind her eyes. "Are you ready for my big surprise?"
Chuck's voice. Sarah Walker hated surprises. Chuck knew this but didn't let that stop him.
Suddenly they were somewhere else, a strange building. In no way did it feel like the home she wanted, the home they were trying to make. "Where are we?" She could both see and not see in some strange way. Chuck had his hands over eyes, leading her-"Just a little farther"-and she was following.
Somewhere in the darkness a floorboard creaked.
Rebecca Franco flew across the room, slamming open the bedroom door and pouncing on the hapless guard making his rounds. Before he could make a sound she had him down on the floor of her room, her foot braced against the closed door. Black eyes stared into terrified ones as the edge of her knife stroked his neck. "Noisy." She stood and hauled him to his feet, before throwing him out of her room and slamming the door.
Sarah Walker went back to bed, placing the knife under her pillow as she liked. She pulled up the covers fiercely, closed her eyes fiercely, but it was no use. She'd lost the dream, and had no difficulty playing the part of Rebecca Franco for whatever eyes might have been watching. She assumed there were some. Amiable or not, she knew what kind of man Volkoff was.
Early morning in Russia is less-early afternoon in LA...
"That treacherous bastard."
Chuck looked at his speaker in surprise. "Really, Dad? We're going there?" He wasn't used to hearing his father talk like that. He wasn't used to hearing his father talk at all.
"Sorry, son," said Orion, shame in his voice. "I know I taught you kids not to use such language..."
Chuck cut his father a little slack. He'd had to live with a suspicion for two decades. To suddenly have those suspicions confirmed..."But you're right, he's a treacherous bastard."
"He really is."
Chuck heard his voice harden, as if it wasn't quite his. "And the Piranha doesn't like treacherous bastards."
"Oh, boy. Chuck, you realize you're a Stanford grad, with the Intersect, spy training, and the best agents from multiple government agencies on your team, right? And me?"
Right. He had a team, now. "And we are gonna fix his little red wagon."
Orion laughed. "Darn right we are."
"Just as soon as I can figure out how," said Chuck, in a more musing, contemplative sort of voice, as he worked to find out as much as he could about Clyde Decker. So far he hadn't been able to uncover much, and the only reason for it that wasn't immediately suspicious was that he had less of a life than Morgan Grimes. Somehow Chuck doubted that. Not even Morgan had that life now.
"Leave him to me, son," said the husband of the woman Decker had betrayed. "You've got bigger fish to fry, like decrypting those other files, and figuring out what the Black Hats might be up to." Why they would want to burn his wife's mission against Volkoff the way they did.
Volkoff smiled as he watched the misadventures of his hapless guard play out, as the poor man disappeared into Miss Franco's room. He'd seen many documentaries on various predators and their surprise attacks-a guilty pleasure-and marveled at her speed, from a sleeping start. Catch and release, and back to bed. He called up the footage of her room, not something he would normally watch but tonight was not a normal night, and rewound to the point just before her attack. She was restless, but not awake. Hmm.
The screen flickered back to the present.
Usually when Sarah Walker was on a mission she was either in transit or in motion, and she took the movements of others in stride. Only when she was at rest in one place did she find the little noises disturbing. The green-and-silver wallpaper at the Maison23 wasn't the worst thing about the room, at least not those first couple of days. Somebody flushing a toilet one floor up and three rooms down could wake her up. Sleeping with someone was an impossibility, even, or especially, when that other person was a spy.
In a way, it was still better than the alternative. Deep sleep allows the dreams to come, and in Sarah's case, as a person of conscience doing a hard job because they could and it had to be done, those dreams were not pleasant ones.
Until Chuck. He would never harm her, could never. Would never allow her to come to harm if there was any way he take the hit himself. She'd been so tired, but next to him she could rest.
He'd slept on the couch the first couple of times, or the floor if he had to, determined to be a gentleman. Then the nightmares came for her, and he would leave the couch/floor to save her from herself. Even then he would try to be a gentleman, and fail. They could put pillows between them in a king-sized bed, and by morning they'd be spooning, her hand in his, the pillows on the floor. If he slept on top of the covers, she would join him. If she slept on top, he would join her. The only way to keep them part was to put them in separate rooms or buildings, and then she would bring a t-shirt of his and put it on a pillow.
She had no t-shirt of his now. Nothing of Sarah Walker's made it past Oslo, her jumping-off point for this leap into Volkoff space. Only Rebecca Franco came this far, and Rebecca Franco was a psychopath, not a person of conscience at all. No cuddling of pillows allowed, in enemy territory.
Once upon a time, Sarah could have maintained such a pretense, even in sleep. Chuck's Sarah could not. She needed a defensive shield, but she didn't dare raise her most automatic defenses now, didn't dare try to remember Chuck's Sarah.
So she remembered someone else's Sarah instead, letting those soft words ease her way back into darkness. "Hey honey, I haven't heard from you for a while. I miss you. (Miss you...) Wherever you are I hope you're okay, safe. (Not safe...) I want you to know if you ever feel like you need a place to come home to, you have one."
Volkoff dialed up the sound, watching Miss Franco's lips move.
Dream led to nightmare, visions of death and a baby's cries.
"Who was that?"
"Nobody. Are we a go?"
"I count eleven."
"Kill them all...bring me the package...that's an order..."
Miss Franco frowned, her head shaking, her body rigid under its covers. "Kill you..."
Volkoff smiled, turned his monitors off, and went back to bed.
Far away, in space if not time...
"Explain," said A. It was his standard technique to get people to tell him things he didn't know without telling them he didn't know those things. People threw in so much detail. "How recent is 'fairly recent'?"
"Just prior to Agent Walker's assignment to Burbank, sir," said the tech. "She filed a report after the events in Hungary. According to her, Agent Ryker had been acting 'off the books'. She wounded him and escaped."
Wounded? Escaped? A wasn't about to take notes but he made some doodles with his pen that did just as well. "That doesn't sound like Walker. She has a perfect record."
"Apparently not, sir. She shot Ryker in the shoulder on a public street and fled."
'Fled' was acceptable. Even good agents had to flee, usually from the legally constituted authorities wherever they happened to be. Only bad agents needed to escape. "The vest must have diverted the shot." Because of course Ryker would have been wearing one.
"Speculation, as we have no way to examine the vest in question."
True enough, but a more plausible theory than Walker missing on purpose. The doodle started spiraling around and around. "Interesting."
Apparently the tech didn't think it so. "The gap in her timeline starts there."
"What's your source for all of this?"
"Agent Walker reported the affair to Graham directly, who entered it into her secret file, which, following his death, became less secret," said the tech. "After a failed team assignment, she was assigned a handler, as all the other members of the team were. This handler, Kieran Ryker, gave her the task of eliminating almost a dozen men, who had apparently killed a couple in their home, and she did so in good faith. Then she discovered evidence that Ryker had gone rogue. After her failure to kill him, she returned to Langley and reported the situation, and a burn notice was placed on Ryker."
Burned agents can be useful. "Anybody get him yet?"
A filed that away, far more concerned with the mystery that was Langston Graham's mind. Did Graham see the same things in Walker's report that he saw? Did he send Walker to Burbank because of Larkin, or because of Budapest? Both? "What was the evidence?" he asked, expecting the answer no.
"That is where the conjecture begins, sir."
So. A was good with conjecture, and he had plenty of it, not that he was minded to share it with anyone at the moment, especially a geek. He doodled it into his secret files. "The gap is between her 'escape' from Budapest and her report in Graham's office."
"Yes, sir. Her return from Europe was considerably longer than expected. We don't know where she went, but we believe we know why."
"Yes, sir. Our resources in this were barely adequate, but we took a closer look at the banker..."
Early evening, in LA...
"La Mire?" asked Ellie. "I've never been there." She checked her jewelry case, not sure anything she had would be good enough for a place with 'La' in the name.
"Yeah, I was going to try that place we went before, it seemed pretty nice," said Devon, putting on his tie, "But then I remembered we saw that Shaw guy in the window that time, and thought, maybe a place that didn't have spy associations would be better."
Ellie paused in her selection. "John said something like that. So many restaurants he couldn't go back to because of some mission or other."
Devon checked the lines of his suit. "Casey never struck me...as a restaurant...kind of guy."
"He isn't," said Ellie, putting on her necklace. "Chuck and Sarah turned all the heads, while he usually went as a server or a bartender, so no one would notice him."
That pulled Devon's attention away from his mirror. "Not notice Casey?"
Earring number one. "What can I say, people are snobs, especially in restaurants with 'La' in the name." Earring number two.
"You know, that's true," said Devon thoughtfully. "I can't say I remember the servers at the restaurants we go to." He looked over at her. "Does that make me a snob?"
Ellie felt the pleasant night out slipping away, and she wasn't about to have any of that. She marched right on over. "No. It means they were doing their jobs. They're not supposed to be noticed. If you actually do notice one it means they're doing something wrong."
"Or maybe they're spies," said Devon with a grin.
Ellie smiled back. "Or maybe you are. John calls it 'situational awareness'. Apparently it can be a matter of life and death if their nametag is suddenly crooked, or they have the wrong number of rings on." She straightened his tie.
"I got you those earrings for your birthday, two years ago," said Devon.
Ellie kissed him. "Good try, but that doesn't count."
"When will it count?"
"Never can tell, that's the point."
"I can do it," said Devon confidently. "I remember the blood type of a tinpot dictator, I can remember some wait-person's shoe size." Assuming he could first learn said wait-person's shoe size.
"You really want to play this game, Agent...Blond?" asked Ellie, brushing at his hair, and Devon grinned.
Blond. James Blond. "Sure I can, Agent...Curls." Devon tugged at one of her longer tresses. "I can do spy stuff, as long as I don't have to be a spy. The awesome parts of a very non-awesome business." Mad respect for the bro-in-law, too, but he wasn't about to dim the lights in Ellie's eyes. "And having said that, my awesome powers of observation tell me it's time to go, if we want to make our reservation."
On their way out they spotted Morgan and Alex on their way in. "A night out, huh?" said the ever-observant bearded man.
"Operation Eagle has commenced," said Devon, pausing to give them a wink and a thumbs-up.
Ellie moved on. "You coming, Agent Blond?"
Devon stepped lively. "Absolutely, Agent Curls."
The younger couple watched them go, Morgan with a smile and Alex with a suspicious glint in her eye. "What are you thinking?"
Morgan held up a finger as he got out his phone and made a call. "Casey? No, buddy, you keep forgetting the 'g', it's Mor-gon. Anyway, I just thought you'd like to know that Ellie seems to have gotten over her whole spy-shock thing. She and Devon are playing some kind of mission-date game, he called it Operation Eagle...yeah, sure." He looked at the phone. "That's weird."
"What's weird, Morgan?"
Phone went into pocket. "Your father just told me we should go about our business, but hold ourselves ready for new orders."
"My father said that?"
"Told you it was weird."
Alex grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the apartment. "Well, then, let's get going."
A/N2 The dinner date was one of the more cringeworthy bits of a cringeworthy episode, but it has its uses. I hope you'll tell me what you think because this is really hard and it's nice to hear.