A.N.: It starts near canon, but will get jossed as soon as the characters develop significantly past the Marlin episode. All action and drama with flashback mixed in. Maybe Part 1 of 2?

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Partner

Red.

Black.

Red. Black. The swirls of blood and nothingness unwound, releasing Sarah from the bondage of self. The steady chirps of a heart rate monitor traced her rise to consciousness. She couldn't find her eyes. Couldn't find light. Her body hovered formless in a sea of pain, sourced from nowhere, permeating everything. A cool hand touched her skin and her brain latched on to the sensation. Her ears could distinguish from the chirps the soft melody of conversation. People were talking about her. They didn't know she was awake.

Taking stock of her situation, Sarah tested various body parts to see if she could locate them amidst the amorphous pain that enveloped her. She felt a pinch somewhere between her naval and neck, but couldn't quite place it. She also couldn't suppress the pained shriek that emanated from the core of her being and radiated through the room.

"Sarah?" The voice was soft, gentle, urgent, and female.

Sarah groaned pitifully as her body resolved into recognizable parts and the first bits of light came into focus. She was lying on her left side and as near as she could tell, everything hurt. Pressing her palm against the stiff fabric of the bed, she tried to lift her head.

"Try and hold still," the woman said. "Sarah."

Blinking through the fog, she finally recognized the resonance of that voice. "Ellie?"

Sarah's hand flailed madly as she reached forward seeking connection, but Ellie's hands were occupied.

"Please hold still."

"Chuck?" Sarah called, grunting in pain as she twisted to look for her charge. "Chuck!"

"I'm here," Chuck said, rushing to that side of the bed so she could see without turning. He knelt so that his nose was just visible over the side of the mattress and took Sarah's flailing hand. "I'm here. Hold still."

"I…" Sarah panted, gripping Chuck's hand as tightly as she could. "I … Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. How are you doing?"

Sarah winced, gasped, and squeaked as pain consumed her.

"Believe it or not, this is a good thing," Ellie told her. "Considering how close the bullet came to your spine –"

"John!" Sarah gasped, remembering him for the first time. Everything was hazy, but if bullets were flying…

"He's on his way," Chuck assured. "He had work this morning."

"Already here," Casey said, stepping into the room. She heard his voice, but the door was behind her. Chuck was looking up at Casey, but Sarah couldn't read anything off his face.

"How is she?" Casey asked.

"In pain, but that is a good sign," Ellie answered. She placed a hand on Sarah's cheek. "I'll get you some class-one painkillers."

"No morphine," Sarah said weakly.

Ellie smiled and nodded. "I've seen your chart."

Sarah gritted her teeth as Ellie disappeared from sight and Casey walked into view. Sarah watched Casey's face, knowing he'd make eye contact after Ellie left the room. When he looked down at her, she asked him, "What did she mean – about the chart?"

"It means she knows you're CIA."

"What?" Sarah asked, shifting in confusion, then regretting the movement as pain coursed through her veins. "Why?"

"It couldn't be helped," Casey answered. "She has the security clearance."

"What?" Sarah asked again. The more Casey spoke, the more confusing things became.

"Bartowski, take a walk," Casey ordered, and then he pulled up a chair next to her pillow. Chuck looked uncertainly at Sarah, but she couldn't do more than blink the okay for him to leave. As he shook his hand free of her grip, she tipped forward and whined painfully. The world went fuzzy again.

"Hey, come back," Casey said, placing both hands on her shoulders. His hands were large and warm and stung like jellyfish. She whimpered as he kneaded her skin.

"I need you to tell me about this man that shot you."

Sarah choked, wanting to tell Casey to remove his hands, but with every press of his fingers, the pain lessened. She closed her eyes as her limbs slowly became distinguishable from the jellyfish stings and she laughed to herself. "All this time, I thought you were only good for threats and torture."

"I am a man of many talents," he chuckled.

"Who taught you this one?"

"Same woman who taught me about bonsais."

"John, what are you doing?" Ellie asked, startling Sarah with her presence. Sarah felt so helpless facing away from the door.

"It's just acupressure. Nothing untoward. Right, Sarah?" Casey said socially. He used her first name, which signified that his cover hadn't been compromised even if hers had. That seemed odd, but now was not the time to question. She could barely wrap her mind around coherent thoughts and she was simply grateful that he hadn't pulled away when Ellie returned. Ellie wheeled a cart into view and padlocked it to the wall. Class-one drugs were always kept secure.

"Sarah, how are you feeling?" she asked

Sarah breathed deliberately as Casey's fingers continued working. "I can feel my toes. They don't hurt."

Ellie laughed and nodded, but Sarah didn't think it was funny.

"My shoulder …"

"Rotator cuff is swollen," Casey finished.

"I can work with that," Ellie acknowledged. "How's the pain?"

Sarah sighed, sinking back into the hazy black of semi-consciousness, but this time succumbing to comfort rather than pain. Ellie took that as a good sign.

"How about I leave you to Eastern medicine for now," Ellie suggested. "The less time you spend with these drugs in your system, the better."

"Thanks," Sarah coughed. They waited for Ellie to leave, then Casey looked at Sarah sternly again. His hands were softer than she thought they should be and she had this strange, but amusing vision of him sleeping with moisturizing gloves.

"What's the last thing you remember?" he asked her in a hushed voice.

Sarah furrowed her brow, forcing memories to fall from the red and black. "I remember bagels."

"So you remember the morning briefing?"

"My belt was too loose. It kept falling down."

"Content, Walker. Focus."

She whined and winced as he hit a particularly tender spot near her hip. She'd been shot somewhere below the belly… somewhere above the thigh. She couldn't distinguish memories and days. It had been a busy week for the Intersect – missions, names, craziness.

"John, the CIA –"

"Your replacement arrives in a few hours," Casey answered. "I will brief him personally, which is why I need you to tell me what happened."

"I don't…" she murmured, fighting to keep consciousness through the flood of sensations. She suddenly felt very thirsty, but didn't have the luxury to feel concern for herself just yet. "I told you to get Chuck out."

"You do remember," he smiled.

"No," she replied. "It's just something I would've told you to do."

"You are very bossy."

"I'm thirsty."

"If you have a name, I have water."

"It was you," Sarah whispered as the realization hit her.

"I didn't shoot you."

Casey must have pegged her delirious because he gave her the water anyway. But Sarah knew Casey hadn't shot her. What she realized was that he was the one responsible for getting her out. He really was her partner!

-----

Casey wasn't just running behind Chuck, he was herding him and Chuck could only hope they were going some place safe. Chuck was familiar with this particular row of back doors and warehouses because he and his buddies often got up to mischief here. They'd tested the vodka capacity of watermelons, made rockets out of loose traffic cones… Today, he and Casey were dodging a spray of bullets from unseen assailants and that wasn't nearly as fun as it seemed in Spacewar.

Casey tackled him and rolled until they were between a dumpster and a brick wall. Chuck's face scraped against pavement and broken beer bottles, shooting fire through his skin. Casey was already on his elbows, edging around their small cover, seeking a way out. He consulted his watch-radio briefly.

"Where to?" Chuck asked. He forced himself to his knees and crawled next to Casey. His heart was pounding so hard in his throat he thought he'd vomit it up.

"S.W.A.T. set a perimeter by the CD Shack," Casey said. "We get out."

"But Sarah –"

"She can get herself out. We don't even know where she is."

Chuck nodded uncertainly. The path to the CD Shack from here was very open and it would only be by pure luck that they wouldn't get killed. It was days like this that Chuck wished his skin were made of Kevlar.

"Just plow through Bartowski. Don't look back. Keep running."

Chuck looked around at the tan colored bricks and choked on the dust flying through the air as bullets flew. The CD Shack was next to the lingerie store and that Chinese place that always had rats…

"There's a better way," Chuck said certainly. "The staff hall can get us to the L-junction in the buildings. That's half way there."

Casey's jaw tensed and his blue eyes whirred as he recalculated the new strategy. He nodded toward the nearest dark green door to their hiding spot. "Is that door unlocked?"

"I have a key."

Casey shook his head. "No time."

He raised his gun quickly and shot the knob off the door, sending it falling open. He practically threw Chuck to his feet, but Chuck landed in a full run. Things weren't much quieter on the inside than they were on the out, although there were fewer bullets from overhead. His footsteps were echoing maddeningly, betraying their position. He vaulted over obstacles, willing himself not to identify them as bodies. Once they hit the L-junction between the buildings, Casey pulled him sideways behind a pillar so that he could assess the situation. Chuck felt the sting as a bullet whizzed past his shoulder and burned a hole through his shirt. He would've yelped had he not in the same instant seen that red polka-dotted skirt lying like a target in the middle of the crossway.

"Casey," he whimpered, pointing meekly. Sarah was down and covered in blood.

Casey peeked out and then ducked quickly and swore loudly as bullets flew.

"Stay," he ordered.

A flash of a heartbeat later, Casey was darting into the line of fire. He grabbed Sarah by the arm and dragged her behind the pillar next to Chuck. Her clothing was soaked with blood and Chuck nearly passed out, but Casey tweaked his nose, grabbed his hand, and forced him to put pressure on the wound. Sarah convulsed and cried out in response to the pressure and Chuck latched on to that indication of life. He had to get over the dizziness and keep pressure on the wound. Sarah's life depended on it.

"Alright, Intersect," Casey said seriously. "We have to get her to the perimeter. There should be a bus there."

"Bus. Right." Chuck swallowed hard, smearing Sarah's blood across his own cheek as he attempted to wipe away perspiration. "Casey, is she gonna –"

"Count of three," Casey interrupted. He kept checking around the pillar, cataloging the location of the shooters. "You throw her over your shoulder and run to that door. I'll cover you."

"I –" Chuck stammered and his hands shook. The door to which Casey referred may as well have been a mile away. "Me carry her?"

"I can't carry her and cover you at the same time."

"I could –"

"I am not giving you a gun, so don't even bother finishing that thought."

"Casey –"

"Look. My job is to get you out, and that is what I intend to do. If you want Agent Walker to get out with us, you have to carry her. Otherwise, we leave her here, wait for the gunfire to die down, and send in the medics."

Chuck swallowed hard. He shifted and tightened the black corset belt of Sarah's uniform to staunch blood flow around the wound and knelt to get in a position to lift her.

"On three then," he said, praying he didn't drop Sarah or get shot in the next few seconds. Casey did the three count and Chuck scooped Sarah in his arms and ran for the door. The blood was slick and hot, pulsing against his skin, soaking his clothes. His heart pounded from fear, but his resolve held firm as the ambulance came into view. He was barely to the edge of that open ambulance door when he felt Casey's hands on his hips, lifting him and Sarah into the bus without even slowing down. Two medics were in the back and took Sarah immediately. Casey pulled Chuck toward the front of the bus and out of the way. The driver radioed ahead to the hospital saying that an agent was down.

"He said agent," Chuck whispered to Casey. He was willing his body not to shake, because it wasn't safe to freak out yet.

Casey had found a towel and was ministering to his own scrapes and bruises. "What of it?"

"We're going to the hospital," Chuck explained patronizingly. "My sister works at the hospital."

Casey swore, climbed into the front, and had a discussion with his superiors. Chuck craned his neck toward the back and saw Sarah all pasty white like death.

"One of the doctors there has government clearance," Casey said, climbing into the back again. "Worked with diplomats and such."

"Can't we just say she's not an agent? Maybe a civilian caught in the crossfire."

"Brilliant, except it would help if at leastone doctor had a real medical history to go off of. This isn't her first serious injury and that makes a difference. Plus government agents get special treatment… more pudding."

"But only one doctor will know?" Chuck clarified. He figured even if only one had the chart, any doctor involved in a surgery would see the scar tissues from old wounds. Casey ignored his concern.

"You probably shouldn't go in all covered in blood like that – in case your sister or her fiancé are around."

"Except they expect me to be with Sarah this afternoon," Chuck pointed out. "If either one sees her without me, there will be major panicking going on."

"This is not up for debate."

"But –"

Casey cut Chuck off by placing a hand over Chuck's mouth. Unfortunately, without words all Chuck had to focus on was his very bloody, sticky, and now cold clothing and that made him dizzy.

"I hope this doctor isn't one of Ellie's friends. Do you know who it is?"

"Code name Littlebird is all."

The world went hazy as Chuck flashed on the name. Rose, bird, doctor, Romanian ambassador was shot. They needed immediate help. Security was an afterthought.

"What is it?" Casey asked, his voice sinking.

"I don't know how much a difference it makes if we go in or not."

Casey caught his meaning right away. "No way."

"Why does my sister have Secret level clearance?" Chuck asked breathlessly. He couldn't understand why he hadn't flashed on her long ago.

Casey rubbed his face in frustration. He looked only at Sarah when he spoke. "You go in."

"What?"

"You go," Casey repeated slowly.

"You just told me –"

"Listen," Casey said, his voice low and intense. "As far as anyone at that hospital knows, I'm just your neighbor. Your sister may be surprised to see you, but she'll know not to ask questions. You go in with the medics and be your dumbfounded self and then she won't panic and we can mess with assumptions and cover while she's doing the surgery."

"I'll go in," Chuck agreed, thinking along. "Then I'll call Morgan and tell him Sarah was shot and I'm at the hospital."

"Why?"

"Because that's what I would do if I weren't the Intersect."

Casey's eyes twitched, but he didn't disagree. "Next you call me."

"But you're here."

"We'll protect my cover for now," Casey explained. "You call your best friend first and then you call me."

"But I –"

"No more time to argue. We're here."

-----

Sarah wondered if the high-pitched whining sounds were really coming from her lungs, and if so whether she could control them. Ellie had pulled her arm out and sideways, exacerbating that pinching feeling in her shoulder. It was very distinct from the throbbing of her gunshot wound or the ache of her muscles. It was sharp and poignant.

"I'm giving you cortisone to reduce the swelling," Ellie explained as she drove a needle into Sarah's shoulder. Sarah didn't feel a thing and she wondered if it was because she was already in pain or if Ellie was really that good.

"I take it that was a pre-existing injury. Do you throw a lot of corn-dogs?" Ellie joked.

Sarah chuckled heartlessly, thinking of all the shuriken she'd chucked that week.

"Where was I shot?"

"Surprisingly, almost nowhere," Ellie answered. "The bullet entered near the hip, ricocheted off the pelvic bone, managed to cut through you while avoiding any serious damage to the major organs, and lodged itself a hair's breadth from your spine. So while it took eight hours, fifteen specialized trauma surgeons, and ten Starbucks compilation albums to stabilize you and sew you shut, the only casualty is your gall bladder. Messy, but not fatal."

"Then why do I hurt so much?"

"You have several bone fractures, deep bruises, and strained muscles. I'm assuming you got most of these injuries prior to being shot. Do you not remember?"

Sarah closed her eyes. She vaguely recalled fighting, but she'd been doing a lot of that this week. "It's hazy. Did Chuck … did he see me bleeding? He faints…"

"He brought you in," Ellie said.

Sarah's brow furrowed. Chuck usually fainted at the mere hint of someone being shot, so seeing her down and covered with blood would've made him dead weight. And why would Casey allow Chuck to come into the hospital.

Ellie touched her cheek, misreading the confusion as pain. "How about I start you on some Western pain meds?"

Sarah's thoughts were on her cover and Chuck's cover. She needed to talk to Casey. "He's not … Chuck – you know he's not … he didn't know about me."

"Well he certainly does now," Ellie said. "I'm not at liberty to discuss this with you."

"Discuss what?" Casey asked, entering jovially with a handful of candy bars. He placed a hand on Sarah's shoulder, which made her feel simultaneously weak and strong.

"John, she's giving me drugs."

"You'd rather I didn't?" Ellie asked in confusion.

"Just let her, Sarah," Casey said. "My fingers are tired."

He was still using her first name, and Sarah found it got more disorienting with time. Ellie attached the IV to her arm and she felt the cool flow of liquid medication through her veins.

"I thought you were with Chuck," Ellie said.

"He and Morgan got on the subject of desert islands and roast beef sandwiches again. There's only so much of that I can take."

"John, can you feed my fish?" Sarah asked. "I have … I don't know where my things are."

"I have your key."

Of course Casey would have her key. She hadn't given it to him, but it was just his way.

"I didn't realize you two were so close," Ellie said suspiciously, eying Sarah. "He's not …"

Sarah laughed dismissively, but at least she could honestly tell Ellie that Casey was not CIA. She would later, if she remembered.

"We work in the same shopping center," Casey explained. "Lunch comes every day and I can't get enough of those gourmet corn dogs."

Sarah bit her lip at the mention of corn dogs. It wasn't so much the imagery of the food as her working.

"The man who shot me," she gasped. "He came in every day his week. Scooter called him the three-o-clock wiener man. I thought he was an old regular."

"Sarah, stop talking," Ellie said sternly. Casey looked back at her in surprise, but Ellie made a quick excuse and ran off, probably to call whatever government agency she was reporting to on Sarah's condition.

"Do you remember this customer's name?" Casey pressed.

Sarah closed her eyes, but instead of becoming clearer, the world swam even more.

"Three-o-clock wiener man," she slurred. "He looked like a horse. Maybe a pony. A shaggy pony."

"What the hell did she give you?"

"Where is Chuck?" Sarah demanded. "Maybe Chuck will flash on the name."

"I doubt he'll flash on three-o-clock wiener man."

"The surveillance footage…"

She was grasping at straws now. Straws and consciousness. But this was important!

"I'll check it out. Ellie was right. You shouldn't be talking."

She wanted to cry. Everything was so hazy. Then the name came.

"Hamisi Zer."

-----

The words 'gourmet' and 'hot-dog' were mutually exclusive as far as Sarah was concerned – or at least as far as her culinary skills were. The skin of the rotating hot-dogs blistered dryly in the oven and the frozen bread … well, there was nothing fresh or gourmet about frozen bread. Still, they kept the dogs moving through the lull that came between the lunch rush, the post-lunch rush, and the post-school flood. She was grateful that Scooter was manning the corndog fryer this afternoon, because she hated the greasy feeling that coated her skin when she had to do it. Although most of her fresh scars were from protecting Chuck, she could point to a few burns that came directly from the fryer and were she not trying to maintain a low profile with her cover, she'd have taken the problem to upper management.

"Here he is," Scooter griped from over her shoulder. "Three-o-clock wiener man."

The man was short, but stocky and his hair was thick and bushy like a hobbit. He wore loose clothes, but he wasn't unkempt. Every day this week, he'd come in, ordered one hot dog on white bread with only horseradish.

"Is he a perv or something?" Sarah asked.

"Why? Did he say something inappropriate to you?"

Sarah's chin dropped and she smiled at the immediate protective tone in her boss' voice.

"No."

"He does seem to wait for you to be on register when there's a line. I'm telling you, it's downright weird. The only regulars we should have at three-o-clock are the kids getting out of school."

Sarah shivered at the accuracy of the analysis. She'd been underestimating Scooter's usefulness as an observer and she wasn't quite sure why she hadn't pegged the strange customer before. It was probably because his behavior was so predictable it seemed like he wanted to be remembered and marked. Most of the threats she sought wanted to be invisible. She exchanged a look with Scooter and he put a protective hand on her arm.

"We need another stack of dogs from the freezer. You go. I'll take him today."

Sarah wanted to agree, but she couldn't help thinking it was a bad idea. "Maybe we shouldn't mess with him."

"Give me a chance to be the chivalrous hero," Scooter chuckled. "He shouldn't think he can stalk you like this."

Sarah gave him a stern I-can-take-care-of-myself look, but he returned it with a stern I'm-the-boss look.

"Can you for once let the man lead?" he criticized. It was a jab, referring back to the time he'd caught her 'mounting' Chuck in the supply closet. With a reluctant sigh, Sarah ducked into the back room. She made sure to take the horseradish container that had her spare gun and she kept her ears open and alert. The bell rang as three-o-clock wiener man entered. Scooter went through the pleasantries and took the order.

"Is Agent Walker unwell?" the man asked. The voice sounded vaguely familiar, but what sent the alarm bells blaring was the fact that he called her 'Agent'. Ducking quickly to the back of the room, she radioed Casey, whispered urgently that she needed back-up, then edged to the door of the storeroom. There was shouting.

Scooter was telling the man he couldn't come behind the counter.

"Put the gun down!"

Hollering, begging, whining.

A thump.

Sarah pulled a shuriken from her belt, snuck around the corner of the door keeping low, spotted her target, and threw the blade, catching the man in the shoulder. Surprised and bleeding, the man turned on her, but not before she charged him, kicked his gun across the room, and clocked him with a roundhouse.

With an evil leer, he pulled the shuriken from his shoulder and slashed at the air, forcing her to keep her distance as he backed toward the door. The red-light flashed over the door sounding the store's general alarm. Sarah ran behind the counter where Scooter lay. He was unconscious, but alive. She radioed Casey again, updating him on the predicament, ordering him to get Chuck out of the shopping plaza and fast. She would take care of three-o-clock wiener man.

-----

The hand holding Sarah's was warm, sweaty, and desperate, but it was something she could feel and distinguish. She hated that she considered discernment of sensations a major accomplishment, but considering the day she'd had, it simply was.

"Hey, welcome back," Chuck cooed as she opened her eyes. For the first time that day, the world didn't appear hazy. In fact, she could see every one of the dark curls on his head; she could see the pores on his skin, and she could see that hint of a five-o-clock shadow signifying that he hadn't left the hospital yet. How many days had she been here? Maybe just one, but maybe more. Chuck's facial hair was slow in growing, so it was tough to tell.

"Chuck," she choked. Her throat was parched. "Did Casey … show you … Zer?"

"Yep," Chuck answered quickly. "He and what's-his-name are out there right now –"

"Who? What's whose name?"

"The guy from the CIA," Chuck shrugged. "You can officially rest now. You're off duty."

Sarah nodded, but instead of relief, she felt fear. If she hadn't been so dehydrated, she may have started crying. She knew Casey was starting to come around, but she also knew that Chuck hadn't been extracted largely because of her own campaigning. Who would fight for him now?

"I'm sorry, Chuck," she whimpered.

"No, don't be sorry," he soothed, stroking her cheek. "Ellie says you'll be back on your feet again and protecting me in no time. Well … I don't know that she knows about the protecting me."

Sarah sniffled dryly and pressed her cheek against Chuck's palm. "Ellie said you brought me in."

"Yeah. Yeah, I did."

She was proud of him for that, but didn't know how to say so. Chuck took her hand and kissed her knuckles, but the drugs had made her tingly, so she couldn't really feel it. She wondered vaguely if it would be okay to confess her feelings for him now that he wasn't her charge. She wondered if it would be okay to feel them. She probably shouldn't say anything until she could sort out how she felt to begin with.

"Sarah?" Chuck whispered, interrupting her thoughts. "What happens now?"

She looked at him tiredly, not knowing how to answer. Chuck's heart welled with uncertainty, seeing his greatest source of strength in this whole Intersect mess faltering.

"This new guy," Chuck continued. "He's meaner than Casey and I just … I need you here. I can't do this – I can't be the Intersect without you."

He looked at her desperately, but her head lolled to the side and her eyes closed again.

"Sarah?"

"Bartowski," Casey said brusquely, poking his head through the door. "We gotta go."

Chuck's chest heaved with emotion and he stood on wobbly legs. Looking at Sarah one last time, he smoothed the hair away from her face, kissed her forehead, and headed out.

"Chuck!" Sarah called weakly. He stopped on a dime, glad to see her awake. Casey's hand was on his shoulder though, preventing him from going back to her.

"You'll be fine," she encouraged. "I'll be back on my feet and protecting you again in no time."

Chuck smiled wistfully and let Casey direct him toward the elevators. He hung back when Sarah spoke again.

"John, don't let them extract him," she requested. "Not before I come back."

"That's not my choice, is it?" Casey said evenly, making Chuck shiver.

"Make it your choice," Sarah said, and both men shuddered at the store of womanly wrath behind the threat. As Sarah settled down to sleep again, Casey placed a hand on Chuck's shoulder and tipped his head toward the back stairs.

"Change of plan," was the only explanation he offered.

-----

Post- A.N.: I'm thinking Part 2 will be called 'Convoluted Cover', because clearly there are details that need some light shed on them. Please comment with ideas, plot bunnies, and general accolades.