Disclaimer: I don't own Chuck or any other name brands potentially listed in the work of fiction below.
The book in Chuck's hands fell to the floor with a thunk, as he lurched up from his bed with a start.
Taking a moment to recover, he admonished his new guest. "Thanks for that, Casey. I hadn't filled my 'scare the crap out of me' quota for the day yet. I didn't even hear you come in."
John Casey grunted amusedly. "Spy," he said simply.
Chuck smiled ruefully and shrugged. "What brings you by?" he asked.
Casey stepped into Chuck's bedroom, retrieving the fallen book. Even after all the years of knowing Bartowski, he still hated to do much talking. Occupying his hands helped some.
"Was in the neighborhood, thought I'd stop by. See if you were keeping yourself out of trouble. See if you still knew how to feed yourself and tie your shoes," he teased.
Chuck grinned. In the old days, that kind of needling would usually elicit snark in response. But that was a long time ago, and John Casey was all bark and no bite when it came to Chuck Bartowski now. They'd both done a lot of growing in the last few years.
"You mean other than defusing bombs, flying helicopters, and jumping off of a perfectly good building?" He grinned. "Nah, it's been pretty calm around here. But then, I'm sure you knew that already."
Casey grunted again. "And your handler? He treatin' you okay?"
Chuck nodded in affirmation. Agent William 'Don't Call Me Bill' Conti was a good handler, as far as Chuck's limited experience with handlers could tell him. More personable and compassionate than any of them, if he was honest, but he still kept his Big Two on pedestals. Being Chuck Bartowski's handler was an easy gig these days - an in-person meeting once a week, GPS tracker watch, but that was about it. Nobody expected much trouble from an ex-asset in forced retirement.
"Had a couple flashes last month. Called them in, like I'm 'sposed to." Chuck paused and tilted his head thoughtfully. "That reminds me, I should ask him if anything came from them at our next appointment."
Casey blanched at the casualness of Chuck's words, cringing internally over what he was going to say next.
"And the physical therapy? How's that coming along?"
"Pretty good," Chuck replied. "I'm fairly self-sufficient these days. I've even been working out!" He shook his head at such a notion. "Will and I have figured out a couple exercises I can do on my own safely. Other than receiving my blessing to marry Ellie I haven't seen the Captain become so excited than when I asked if I could use some of his gym equipment." Chuck smiled at the memory.
That got a genuine chuckle out of the gruff agent. "How're he and Ellie doing? Are you Uncle Chuck yet?"
The younger man shook his head no. Chuck knew that his needing full-time care these last fourteen months had put a damper on their plans to start a family. He said as much to Ellie once, and she had vehemently denied it. Chuck never brought it up again, but couldn't help but feel guilty that he was still being a burden on his sister.
Wanting to steer the conversation back to lighter fare, Chuck asked, "Can you stay for dinner? Ellie would be thrilled to get to see you again."
Casey sighed. "Sorry Bartowski. I've got to catch a plane back to D.C. in an hour. I only stopped by to bring you something."
He set Chuck's book on the nightstand by his bed and stepped back into the hallway, retrieving the bag he'd carefully set down before spooking his former asset.
It was a small, faded green laundry bag with USMC stenciled on the side. Casey loosened the strings and pulled out a flat, red rectangular box the length of his hand. He tossed the empty sack next to Chuck's book on the nightstand and held the small box in front of him reverently.
"What is it?" Chuck asked, one part cautious, one part excited.
"Hold still," Casey replied, flipping open the top of the box. "Wouldn't want to stick you by accident."
Casey let out another amused grunt as he leaned forward and delicately pinned a medal to Chuck's shirt.
"What is this?" Chuck asked as he brought his hand up to touch his decoration. He cupped it in his palm and ran his thumb across the surface. It small and light, a curved shape with elevated texture on the front and back. He repeated his query.
"In recognition for injuries received while in service to the United States of America, it has been deemed fit to award you, Charles Bartowski, with this Purple Heart," Major John Casey said proudly.
Chuck leaned backwards, braced by one arm as the other still held the award, dumbfounded. His mind was aghast with questions. "Purple Heart? What? Why? Who?" he stuttered.
His former handler laughed. "Hold on, hold on," he said. "Before you have an aneurysm, let me explain. This is unofficial because officially, you don't exist to the government except as any other chump on the street. Our mission reports are buried under so many levels of clearance, it'd take a strip mining operation to dig deep enough for it."
That did little to clear up Chuck's confusion. Before he could reply, Casey held up a hand to forestall him, then quickly dropped it back to his side. "Stop and think about this for a second. The nature of your," he paused, searching for the right word, "recruitment was outside the typical channels."
Chuck snorted at his phrasing but let him continue.
"You can count on one hand the people who know the full extent of your service to this country. Only Beckman and Graham have any pull with the suits in Washington, and since Graham is dead, the General has decided to shut the case regarding you for good."
"Beckman knows if you really wanted to, you could lawyer up and go after the CIA and NSA for what happened-wait," he interjected upon seeing Chuck about to speak. "I know you wouldn't do that. Told the General as much myself. I think she mostly believes it, but you don't become head of an intelligence organization by trusting civilians working in retail."
The corner of Chuck's mouth quirked into a smile. He acknowledged that the Casey standing before him was vastly different from the one who wanted to shoot him on a rooftop all those years ago. To an outsider, it would look like Casey was condescending to Chuck, but he knew better. The agent was still as gruff as ever, but there was no anger or maliciousness in his tone anymore.
"She didn't leave you to entirely twist in the wind, though. Where do you think your settlement came from?"
Chuck leaned forward again. "I thought it came from the Buy More," he questioned.
Casey tsked him. "I doubt you bothered to read the toilet paper those clowns called their 'employee handbook' when you crawled into that dump for the first time. Check the fine print. They conveniently have a clause exempting them from liability in the event something like what happened to you happens to you."
"WHAT!" Chuck surged to his feet and Casey shot a hand out to grasp his shoulder, steadying him.
"Sit down Bartowski," he ordered. Casey waited for him to comply before continuing.
"They didn't give you any benefits at that job, did they? Medical? Dental?" Chuck shook his head. "Exactly. A delivery guy gets held up and all Pizza Hut cares about is if their brand takes a hit. Buy More's no different."
"This is where Beckman comes in. Like I said, she didn't just leave you to rot. She's a General first – has to be, the job demands it. But she's still a person, and hell, you prevented World War III, Bartowski. She made a couple calls and whaddya know, the Buy More suddenly found themselves with a windfall from an accounting error, and were persuaded to help a dedicated employee in his time of need. You understand now?"
Tension he didn't know he had seeped from Chuck's body. In his darker moments, he cursed Beckman for so many things. The missions, the danger, referring to him as 'the asset' or 'the Intersect' and never his name. Taking Sarah away from-no. He forced himself to stop there. He'd broken down in front of Casey enough times, wallowed in self-pity enough times, that he wouldn't anymore.
So he said the only coherent thought that came to him.
Chuck Bartowski would never consider himself Diane Beckman's biggest fan, not after what she did, but... He was floored. The settlement paid the hospital bills, the therapy sessions, adapting the apartment to be more handicap accessible. They even paid off Ellie's student loans, citing her new role as Chuck's primary caretaker. But it made sense how it lined right up with Chuck's cover story with Agent Conti. His check-ins were under the guise of continued physical therapy sessions, and while some of that actually did occur every now and then, it was primarily a way for he and Chuck to touch base.
"Was this her idea too?" Chuck asked, lightly tugging at the medal pinned to his shirt. "Last I checked, I was never in the Army."
"No Bartowski," Casey said quietly. "That's from me."
"Hm. I don't recall ever seeing your stash of Purple Hearts in your apartment. Just lots of Hot Pockets and Ronald Reagan." Chuck grinned at his own quip and abruptly sat up straight.
"Wait-wait-wait-wait," he said, tilting his head upwards. "This is yours yours?"
"Panama," the spy said. "Christmas, 1989."
"Casey..." Chuck reached up and started fumbling with the clasp. "I can't take this. This belongs to you."
He stopped when he felt Casey's larger, calloused hand envelop his.
He pulled his hand back and watched drop both of his to his lap. The younger man looked at him said simply, "Why?"
Casey took a deep breath in through his nose and exhaled from his mouth. "You're a soldier, Bartowski, and I can't think of anyone I'm prouder to have served with. When a soldier is wounded in the line of duty, it's customary that he receive that award."
"But Casey, I wasn't actually-"
"Semantics," he said dismissively. "But if it makes you feel better, it's not official. I just... We did good work, the three of us. And now that it's over, and things being the way they are, I wanted to give you something you could remember us by. Something you could use to remind yourself of what you did." His voice shook briefly with emotion. "All the bad guys we put away, all the people we saved? You'll never get the credit you deserve. No one will ever know what you did, but I know. And I want you to know I'm damn proud of you."
Crying wasn't an alien concept to Chuck Bartowski, but he couldn't remember the last time he cried not out of pain or sadness or pity or guilt, but out of honest-to-goodness love. He sniffed and awkwardly wiped his nose on his shirt sleeve and gulped, forcing himself to look at Casey. Not trusting himself to not completely break down, Chuck was able to squeak out a "thank you."
Silence passed between the two men before the discomfort became too much for Casey. "So that's what I came by for," he said, regaining control over the situation. "I've got a flight to catch. Somebody's got to save the world while you sit at home reading." He rapped a knuckle on the cover of the book he put on the nightstand.
"There's your book, by the way."
Chuck broke into a grin. "Thanks Casey. You're a good friend."
"Yeah, yeah, Bartowski. You know my stance on the lady feelings."
Chuck's grin grew even larger. It was good to know some things truly never changed.
He got to his feet and stuck out his left hand. Casey grasped Chuck's hand with his right and collected his medal case and bag. "Say hi to Ellie and Devon for me," he said. "Take care of yourself Bartowski. Stay strong."
"Always." Their hands parted and Chuck nodded, smiling still. "Thank you Casey."
The agent turned smartly on his heel and had one foot out the door when Chuck spoke again.
"Hey Casey," he called out tentatively. The smile was gone and his face had grown solemn. He licked his lips nervously and wrung his hands together. "If you... If you see her...will you tell her I say 'hey'?"
The corner of Casey's mouth raised in a smirk. Every time they parted company, without fail, Chuck would say that. And without fail, Casey would reply, "You know I will."
Two hours later, Eleanor Woodcomb née Bartowski returned home to the apartment she shared with her husband and brother after finishing her shift at the hospital. Closing the door behind her and heading into the kitchen the doctor called out with a "Chuck! I'm home!"
A muffled "Hey sis" drifted out to her.
After putting away the perishables and visiting her bedroom to change out of her scrubs, she ventured back down the hall to her brother's room and poked her head in. "Hey goober," she announced.
She found Chuck in the same position Casey had earlier, flat on his back in bed. The book was still on the nightstand where the agent left it, and instead, Chuck's face was pointed at the ceiling, his fingers tracing idly over his medal.
Moving inside the room, she plopped down on the side of the bed and twisted her head back to look at her brother. "Whatcha up to?"
"Just thinking," Chuck replied, his voice heavy with emotion.
"Scoot over," she said, stretching out onto her side facing Chuck when he complied. Propping her head up in her hand, she asked, "What's that?"
"Casey came by earlier and gave it to me."
"John visited?" she said excitedly. Casey would always hold a special place in Ellie's heart for saving her brother's life that day, and even though he didn't live across from them any longer, she was overjoyed he kept in periodic touch.
Chuck smiled and turned to face his sister. "Yes, and before you ask, I invited him to stay for dinner but he couldn't stay long." After the incident, and Chuck had stabilized, it was no longer necessary for the government to keep Casey in Burbank and he was recalled back to D.C. Because Ellie had formed such an affection for the spy, he and Chuck concocted a cover story to explain his leaving, while accounting for his obvious military affiliation and to keep open the possibilities for random visits. He was a Marine Reservist and had been called back into active duty. Ellie was told he was had been ordered to South Carolina, to be a drill instructor at Parris Island.
"He had a long enough layover before his connecting flight to San Diego that he could pop in quick. He said, and I quote," dropping into a poor imitation of his former handler's gruff voice, "'Ellie's cooking and Camp Pendleton are the only redeeming qualities of that hippie dippie state you live in, Bartowski.'"
Ellie rolled her eyes and slapped Chuck's shoulder with her free hand. "Don't tease. He's a good man."
Chuck sobered and nodded. "He is." He carefully unclasped the medal from his shirt and handed it to his sister. "He gave me that."
The doctor gasped. "Chuck, do you know what this is?"
"A Purple Heart. Maybe he thought me keeping him from killing everyone at the Buy More qualified as hazardous work and that I earned this," he joked. He paused before saying, "I think it was his, you know?"
Ellie held it with a look of wonder, eyes filled with tears. Flipping it over, she read aloud the inscription. "'For Military Merit, John Casey.' Chuck, this... This is something special."
"I know," Chuck said hoarsely.
"A good man," Ellie repeated, passing the medal back into Chuck's hand.
He pushed it back into her hand. "Describe it to me," he said.
Ellie smiled sadly at her brother before turning her focus onto the object.
"The ribbon is a purple, obviously, with white stripes along both sides. The medal is a heart made of gold, with a smaller heart of purple inside it." Chuck's face beamed with pride and wonder as he listened to Ellie's description. "A gold bust of George Washington is in the center. You should see the way it shines when the sunlight hits it. It's beautiful."
"Thank you," Chuck whispered as she pinned it back to his shirt.
There was probably a metaphor to be found in there, the gruff co-worker/neighbor who hardly spoke two words to anyone if he could help it, giving so personal and special a gift to her brother. The man who saved her brother.
Ellie shifted up into a sitting position, brushing a stray lock of hair from Chuck's forehead and placed a kiss in the middle of it.
"Devon's pulling a double tonight so it's just you and me for dinner. How's pizza sound?"
"Sounds good," Chuck said. He had resumed running his thumb over the Purple Heart. "My usual, if that's okay."
"One vegetarian, no olives for Mr. Bartowski, coming up!" She slid off the bed and started for the door. "I'm gonna go order it and then I'll bring you to the couch and you can keep me company and we'll eat. How's that sound?"
"Great," her brother replied. "And you can tell me all about your day."
"I wouldn't miss it, baby brother."
Ellie walked back into the kitchen, grabbed the menu off the fridge and placed the order. That done, she then poured a glass of wine, and swallowed it in two quick gulps.
After Chuck lost his eyesight in the 'incident', as he referred to it, he constantly pressed her or Devon or Morgan to describe to him in great detail the most mundane of their activities. Work, grocery shopping, a trip to the bank, Chuck ate them all up.
On the really good days, one of them would take Chuck with them, acting as if they were his tour guide. He didn't venture out often, and never without sunglasses. She tried to encourage him to go out more often, despite the seizures he would occasionally experience, but progress was progress.
It was a big enough step that he felt safe enough not wearing the sunglasses at home, around her and Devon. The moment he had healed physically enough to touch his face, Chuck was horrified at the scar tissue he felt where his eyes were supposed to be. He had begged and pleaded for someone to tell him what it looked like; the doctors were too clinical and detached, Ellie and Devon and Morgan and the Buy More crew were too upset or worried about upsetting Chuck. Even Casey, ever the straight shooter, didn't dare say anything too graphic. So with only what his fingertips could tell him, his imagination filled in the blanks and he assumed the worst.
Blessed by their proximity to Hollywood, Ellie and Devon were able to convince some med school buddies into a discounted rate for a pair plastic surgery procedures, cleaning up as much of the lingering damage as possible. There had been talk of a complete facial reconstruction, but the settlement from the Buy More couldn't cover such an undertaking, even if Chuck had the desire for it.
Thanks to the cosmetic touch ups, and a good dose of time and acclimation, Ellie's stomach no longer roiled at the sight of his face as it had in the beginning, but she acquiesced to his continued desire for shades.
On the condition that he stop walking around the house singing that stupid Corey Hart song. She nearly threw a shoe at Morgan when she learned he had been the one unleash that terror on her family.
She sighed and leaned against the sink. Things weren't great, but they were getting better. Her poor brother was healing from another of life's heartbreaks with a courage that made her optimistic for his future. Today would go a long way toward making a difference for Chuck.
Her mind touched back onto something she'd heard John say to Chuck once, who replied as if it were something they always said to each other.
"Stay strong," Casey had said.
"Always," Chuck replied.
Ellie could do that. She allowed herself a selfish moment, and it was time to continue going forward. For Chuck, she could be strong and help him to become strong again.
"Thank you John Casey," she whispered as she made her way back to her brother's room.
Author's Note: first off, many thanks to Zerectica for editing and helping me make this presentable.
Last week marked my one year anniversary of being a Chuck fan. In three weeks, it'll mark one year since I started reading Chuck fanfiction. Despite my voracious appetite for Chuck stories, I didn't feel compelled to write one until recently when I finally had a story I wanted to tell.
Full disclosure: If I chose to write more in this setting, it will likely be in a non-linear format, akin to Steampunk Chuckster's "Chuck Versus the Con Game" and malamoo's "Chuck vs the Then and Now" (only nowhere near as good as theirs). I have some of his world mapped out in my head – what happened to Chuck, what happened to Sarah, and where I'd like to see this story going forward.
So hey. I hope you enjoyed reading this. I sure as hell enjoyed writing it.