Call it a win
Sarah hissed as the SUV hit a bump and she was nearly jostled off the back seat. With her left leg in a cast, she had to sit sideways across the back and hold on for dear life. The only reason Sarah was in the car was that Chuck was in mortal peril and Casey had no time to argue. Casey checked the rear view to make sure she was okay, but he didn't speak.
"Well," she grunted as she resettled. "You were right about this being a bad idea."
She was starting to feel the effects of having been unconscious for two weeks straight – the weakness of her muscles, the abject protests from every internal organ about being upright. Queasiness did not begin to describe it, and if she could've bent that stupid knee, she would've tried lying down.
"Can't turn back now," Casey said. "There're clothes for you in that black duffel."
Sarah looked quizzically at the black duffel on the floor. Casey had expected to take her out of the hospital. Gingerly, she twisted her torso, reached down for the bag, and pulled it into her lap. He'd clearly been to her apartment, because she recognized the navy blue polo dress.
"You brought me a dress?"
Casey shrugged. "Your leg's in a cast and you have a bullet wound on your hip. Did you want me to bring those tight jeans?"
Sarah blinked, surprised by the foresight. "No... thanks ..."
Casey took another sharp turn and she noticed he had his phone in hand.
"They must've started," he muttered.
Sarah's breath hitched. "I told you not to extract him until I got back."
"Remember when I said you weren't coming back?"
Sarah tried not to think about that fact as she wriggled her way into the dress and Casey changed direction again.
"Do you know where they are?"
"No idea. Dasik's not answering."
Sarah leaned forward and held out her hand. "Give me the phone."
"Right. He's sure to answer if you call," Casey said sarcastically as she swiped the phone from his hand and dialed. Ellie picked up on the first ring.
"Ellie, hi –"
"Sarah?" she interrupted, her voice intense and confused. "You're … not dead."
"Why? Are there rumors?" she asked, then remembered she didn't have time to play around. "Have you seen Chuck?"
Ellie didn't speak for a minute and Sarah waited for the shock to resolve into words.
"Is it really you?" Ellie finally said.
"Chuck may be in danger –"
"I know, Sarah, it was the weirdest thing," Ellie said quickly. In the space of a breath, the words poured from her mouth like water from a floodgate. Sarah almost couldn't keep up.
"Casey was over and he got a page and he dashed out like his tail was on fire," Ellie began and Sarah grinned at her partner.
Ellie continued, "Ten minutes later, Dasik came in and it was creepy – I know something bad is happening and – hold on."
The phone went silent a few minutes and then Sarah heard a string of muffled curses. Ellie's speech wasn't in her typical pacing around the house rhythm and that was worrying.
"Ellie, where are you?" Sarah asked.
"I'm in my car following them, of course."
"She's in pursuit," Sarah told Casey, then pressed the phone to her ear and asked Ellie, "What street are you on? We'll meet you."
"Are you in a car?" Ellie cried incredulously. "Sarah, unless you've had a body transplant –"
"Yes, I'm in a car," Sarah interrupted. "What street?"
Chuck felt much calmer on this extraction than the last one. Maybe it was because he'd been through an almost-extraction before so he was more prepared for the feelings that were coming up. Maybe it was because he'd spoken with Dasik and Casey about this event and he knew it would be happening soon – especially with Sarah dead. The thought of Sarah's death hurt more than anything else. He figured by the way Casey had run out and Dasik had come in that Sarah was gone. She shouldn't have died for him. No one should have, and that's why he had to leave. He was Chuck. Just Chuck. And he'd take his own bullets thank you very much.
Dasik hadn't said a word to him since they'd gotten in the car, but after two weeks of saving the world together, Chuck had become comfortable with Dasik's silences. He'd concluded with almost 100 certainty that Dasik was in fact an android because he was lethal in combat situations and had absolutely no sense of humor. Morgan agreed with him (not about the combat, but about the lack of humor). Sighing heavily, Chuck tried not to dwell on the fact that his life as he knew it was over. He was still in his work clothes and he couldn't bring himself to take off that ridiculous pencil tie or remove the Nerd Herd badge from the shirt pocket. He refused to think about what would happen to those he left behind. Ellie would be fine. She would understand. Morgan would not.
"Your sister is following us," Dasik said neutrally.
Chuck looked behind and recognized his sister's car. Joy, hope, and laughter swelled in his chest at the sight of his big sister chasing after him, not willing to say good-bye. He wanted to call her and tell her that proper spies always hang back three car lengths when tailing someone, but Dasik had confiscated his phone.
"You're not so good at espionage yourself," Chuck joked. "You didn't make it look like a casual trip when you came to get me. You also didn't use you Intersect-business glower."
He looked back at his sister's car again and smiled. The glare off the windshield prevented him from seeing her face, but he could picture those intense eyes and the way her lips pursed when she worried. She was an aggressive driver, too, and Chuck always found that scary when he was in the car with her.
"Major Casey was supposed to be with you," Dasik grumbled. "I don't know where he went, but it's not important."
Chuck wondered where Casey was too, but he was too delighted to see Ellie out the back window. Dasik didn't seem to be pulling any tricks to lose the other car, but when they arrived at the airfield, the security fences were sufficient to force Ellie to veer away and Chuck whispered a silent good-bye.
"I will escort you on the chopper to the first transfer point. There will be three more transfers after, but I only know who I hand you off to. It makes the trail back to you a bit longer," Dasik explained. "Keep alert and trust your gut."
Chuck felt his palms go sweaty as the gate closed behind him, sealing him off from his past. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
"Don't freak out," he murmured to himself, though he couldn't hide the silent prayer for Sarah to jump out of nowhere and rescue him.
They drove past a series of hangers with odd names and open doors, housing small planes and helicopters along a curvy road. After about a mile, they reached the launch square where a helicopter sat idling and a man in blue coveralls circled it making final checks. Dasik pulled into a parking space near the last hanger and dropped the car keys in a lock-box so someone else could retrieve the car later. He spent a few minutes gathering his things from the car, but there wasn't much in it. Chuck slid slowly out of the back seat, his head hung low. The overcast sky dampened his mood.
Chuck didn't pay much attention as Dasik engaged the man in blue coveralls. He looked at the man as was his habit, but didn't flash. The man was saying that Dasik was not meant to be on the helicopter and they weren't properly prepared for an extra passenger on the journey. Dasik told the man sternly that his presence was not optional and if need be he would fly the helicopter to the destination. Apparently all agents went to flight school – or at least all the ones they sent to protect the Intersect. Chuck took a step toward the helicopter, trying to get over the dread that came from the day he'd wound up flying one by accident. Chuck didn't like choppers except in video games.
Dasik and the other man ended in a stalemate with both stepping away and reaching for phones to contact their superiors.
"Eyes up, Intersect," Dasik murmured, pulling Chuck away from the chopper. "Distracted means dead."
"This isn't a mission," Chuck grumbled.
"Nor is it a family vacation," Dasik spat crisply. Chuck swallowed his bitterness and tried to think happy thoughts.
"Do you know I live 25 miles from Disneyland," he mused. "Twenty-five miles and I haven't been in years."
"Is this man raising a red flag?" Dasik interrupted.
Chuck shook his head sadly. "No."
Dasik nodded, looked at his phone angrily, and pocketed it since he got no service. Then he pulled out the phone he'd confiscated from Chuck. Chuck looked mournfully at that last link to his friends and family, then he carefully considered the man in blue coveralls.
"He identified himself, right? He's the right guy, right?"
Dasik eyed the man warily, making Chuck's stomach flutter.
"Don't get in the chopper first," Dasik ordered him.
"Stay behind me. It's a gut feeling."
Inhaling sharply, Chuck's senses came to full alert and he tried to see what the man in blue coveralls was actually doing leaning through the door of the chopper. Chuck had gotten a lot of bruises from Dasik's gut feelings over the week, but he figured he'd be dead five times over without them. He'd been pushed, pulled, tossed, dragged, and at one point twirled out of the line of fire. So when Dasik's hands came up, Chuck didn't wait to be pushed again – he threw himself behind the car.
Ellie's heart was pounding as she veered off and lost sight of the car with her brother in it, but Sarah had said to meet them at a second entrance around the block. She jumped out of her skin as a black SUV whirled around the corner and skidded to a halt right next to her car. She shifted into gear, prepared to run, but the back door of the SUV opened and she recognized Sarah sitting sideways across the seat. Sarah's body was withered and her skin pale. Her eyes were glassy from being over-medicated, but intense despite that. Throwing her car into park, Ellie grabbed a blanket and medical bag from her back seat and dashed over to help.
She froze when John Casey jumped out of the driver's side and ran toward the gate at the entrance. Her hands trembled and words fled as once again the world as she knew it shifted ninety degrees into the unreal. She'd suspected Casey, but then she'd suspected everyone – even Devon. Casey entered a code at the gate-house, but the gate failed to open. He was swearing loudly as he ran back to the car.
"Turn off your car," he ordered as he ran past Ellie. Ellie stumbled through her shock to the open door of the SUV and threw the blanket over Sarah. She tried not to watch as Casey darted to the rear of the SUV, opened the trunk and ripped up the carpet. Underneath was a heart-stopping stash of heavy artillery that reminded Ellie of a movie, or video game, or equally imaginary situation. Swallowing thickly, she watched slack jawed as he selected weapons and ammunition and strapped them to himself.
"Turn off your car," he told her again. Ellie exchanged a look with Sarah, and then ran to her car, turned it off, grabbed the keys, and ran back to Casey.
"You're handing me off?" Sarah cried incredulously, peeking angrily over the back seat.
"What do you want me to do, Yoda? Strap you to my back and tote you around?" he snapped. "Neither of you should be anywhere near here. You get Dr. Bartowski out."
"I can fight!"
"We are not having this argument."
POP! They all fell silent as a single gunshot echoed across the field. Ellie's heart stopped again, and she looked helplessly from Casey to Sarah. John was the first to move. He tossed a gun to Sarah, then grabbed Ellie by the shoulders and looked her square in the eye.
"Go to the Home Entertainment Room of the BuyMore."
Tears of confusion filled Ellie's eyes and her voice quivered as she asked "Why?"
He slammed the trunk, and closed the back door as he guided her to the driver's seat of the car.
Casey concentrated on breathing and moving quietly as he dashed through the hanger toward the sound of the gunshot. The car gate wouldn't open, but he'd shot open the lock on the personnel gate and went through there. He'd been worried that he and Sarah were chasing a whim running here like the world was about to end, but the sound of weapon-fire had confirmed his paranoia. No extraction should involve gunshots.
The field had been evacuated, probably for the security of the extraction procedure, so there was no one around for Casey to accumulate as back-up. He could hear the whir of helicopter blades but saw nothing just yet. Two more buildings, then right. The fire burned in his mind. Leaving Ellie and Sarah together had probably been a bad idea given their mutual obsession with Chuck, but what choice did he have? Neither of them were fit for combat situations. Sarah needed a doctor; Ellie needed protection. It was a match. Highly explosive.
Coming around the last bend, Casey ducked into a hanger, using the lip of the door frame as cover. He saw Chuck lying on the ground behind Dasik's car and Dasik crouched next to him. A man with blue coveralls and a high-powered rifle stood next to the helicopter. He had a two-way radio in hand and spoke low and haughtily. Casey raised his sniper rifle to take aim at the enemy. Just in the cross-hairs –
The force of a thousand stampeding rhinos ripped the rifle from Casey's hand, spinning the butt of the gun into his temple. He fell backwards and ducked deeper into his cover as the gun clattered away. He'd been sniped! The man in blue coveralls was not alone, meaning Dasik and Chuck were probably already in someone's cross-hairs. All the shooter needed to know was which one to kill.
Fighting to catch his breath, Casey looked warily at his disfigured rifle. The shot had been perfectly aimed, catching the barrel and warping it, making it useless. He shrugged the next biggest gun off his shoulder and considered his situation. The person must be somewhere above him to make a shot like that, but clearly if his assailant had the proper angle into this shelter, Casey would be dead by now.
Sneaking back into the hanger and cutting across to the opposite side, he looked for something to use as a shield and came up empty. Peeking out the door again, he saw Dasik motioning to Chuck.
Good. Both alive. They were about to fall back, but they didn't even know about the sniper. Casey would've set cover fire for them, but he didn't know where the shots were coming from or how many other shooters might be around. Croy wasn't the type to skimp. Casey couldn't see the man in blue coveralls from this point.
Before he could holler a warning, Chuck took off running toward a storage shed across the way from Casey. Dasik was two steps behind. Bullets sprayed the ground and Casey jumped out of his cover, found the source, and started firing. Then Dasik's car exploded.
The shocks knocked Casey to the ground and he scrambled quickly toward the shed where Chuck and Dasik were going. He rolled as his clothes caught fire, but from the lack of bullets, he figured that Dasik had achieved his goal. As much as Casey got off on heavy artillery, he could not match Dasik's proclivity for driving around with explosives and blowing up his own stuff as a manner of one-man cover fire.
When Casey ducked into the hanger, he saw Chuck lying on the ground with Dasik sprawled on top of him. Blood pooled on the floor around the pair.
"Kid, are you okay?" Casey whispered urgently, slapping Chuck's cheek until he stirred. "Bartowski!"
Chuck's head lolled to the side and his whole body seized at the sight of the blood pooled next to him and the dead weight of Dasik on his chest. "Blood… I'm shot."
"It's not yours," Casey said. He kept looking out the door, feeling cornered. There was only one way out of here and that was through the wall of fire they'd come. And Casey hadn't brought a car that he could blow up as substitute cover fire – or a partner. Casey ran to the door and checked for the sniper on the opposite roof top.
"It's not –" Chuck stammered.
"Not. Yours," Casey said firmly as he picked off the assailant. One less thing.
"Dasik!" Chuck cried, sitting up and cradling the dead man on his lap.
Casey yanked Chuck's elbow. "On your feet, soldier."
Chuck wriggled out from under Dasik, but stayed low.
"On three," Chuck said weakly, moving to pick up Dasik in the same way he'd done for Sarah when she was shot.
"Not this time." Dasik had a bullet wound to the head – the kind you can't recover from. Chuck didn't seem to care.
"One," Chuck said.
"Aw, hell," Casey griped. He grabbed Chuck, tossed him over one shoulder and ran. The sound of a cocking weapon stopped him in his tracks.
"I wouldn't, Major Casey."
Casey turned sharply and dropped Chuck behind the nearest upright thing. The man in blue coveralls had a semi-automatic pointed directly at him and Casey had his weapon aimed right back. He wasn't anyone Casey recognized from the Chetallis or Alignton. Perhaps he was another inside man, or one of Croy's informants.
"Who are you?" Casey demanded. "What do you want?"
"I want that kid. What did you call him? The Intersect? That's a piece to retire with."
"Excuse me," Chuck stuttered, raising a hand from behind the crate he was crouched behind.
"Stay down," Casey growled.
"He needs me alive," Chuck pointed out, in his haughty, imbecile voice. Casey nearly kicked him. Chuck didn't seem to distinguish between alive and in once piece. The man in blue coveralls pulled a second gun so he could have one on Casey and one on Chuck.
"Croy will kill him if I have even a scratch," Chuck said, though his voice was shaking. "Croy will probably kill him anyway once he's done with him. He doesn't like to leave a trail."
Casey recognized Chuck's bluff, but the man in blue coveralls flinched.
"We never should've changed the job," the man groused.
"Peanuts compared to this," the man said dismissively. Casey tensed as he recognized the look in the man's eyes and the way he was shifting his weaponry – like he was aiming both at once.
"The boss runs across an old nemesis," the man said airily. "Who knew it would lead us to the most valuable intelligence weapon on the west coast."
Casey rolled his eyes because he abhorred villain speeches. He was saved from saying as much when a shuriken blade flew from nowhere and caught the man in the jugular. Casey whirled his gun in the direction of the attacker, and recognized his own car zooming toward the heli-pad.
"Can't fight, eh?" Sarah shouted from the side window.
Chuck was already running toward the car and he dove into the foot-well of the back seat leaving shotgun for Casey.
"Go! Get out!" Casey ordered Ellie as he made one last sweep for assailants and swung into the passenger seat. He tried to tell himself that the man in blue coveralls was never going to say what the original job was anyway. If he'd been reading the look in that man's eyes properly, there were bullets about to fly.
Ellie's knuckles were white as she skidded back the way they had come.
"I told you to go to the BuyMore," Casey seethed, redirecting his frustration toward her.
"You meant right away?" she retorted sarcastically. "Shall I go there now?"
"No," Casey grumbled. He checked behind them, but no one was following. Apparently the man in the blue coveralls only had one other gunman and Casey had picked him off in a lucky shot. He did not want to explain this to the General in the morning.
Ellie's jaw set defiantly and she looked in the rearview mirror, trying to catch a glimpse of her brother.
"Chuck, are you okay?" Ellie asked. Casey looked back at the kid, squished into the foot space, white as a sheet, and covered in Dasik's blood. Chuck seemed more shocked to see Sarah than anything else.
"F – fine. S – Sarah? You're –"
"I'm alive," she confirmed. Her hand rested on his head and she leaned heavily against the door. Not bad for her first day back on the job.
"I'm not good with fake cops," Chuck said wearily. "Next guy that tries to extract me needs to be a circus clown."
Chuck was cleaned and showered, but still so freaked out that he could feel every point where the fabric of his shirt touched his skin. He sat on the couch and Sarah lay sideways so that her head rested on his lap. He'd been doing that acupressure thing on her hand so she wouldn't be so queasy, but she was fighting larger demons than he knew how to handle. She seemed so frail, and the only reason she wasn't at a hospital right now is because the last time she'd been in one, she'd been poisoned. The two weeks of being unconscious had given the rest of her body time to heal, though, so she wasn't in pain so much as she was in withdrawal. She masked it bravely, though.
The two of them took up the whole couch. Ellie was curled up in Devon's arms in the love seat, and Morgan was in the kitchen, popping popcorn, and singing a filk he'd made up. Every now and then, Chuck looked over at Ellie to make sure she was okay. She didn't have the same freak-out gene that he had – that's how she survived as a doctor. Still, he could see in her eyes how upset she was. Devon saw it too, but he had to live with the excuse she'd given him, and all he could do was keep holding on to her. She looked so safe wrapped up in his arms.
It was the first time in awhile that the group of them were together to watch a movie, but neither Chuck nor Ellie felt compelled to leave the house at the moment, and Sarah didn't much have the option. The CIA was sending someone new tomorrow night and Chuck tried not to worry for that person's safety, given his track record. Chuck regretted that he had never broken Dasik's austere shell. He barely knew the man who had died to save his life.
"Serenity night already?" Sarah asked as the DVD loaded and the menu came up.
"Time flies when you're poisoned and unconscious and declared dead to the world," Chuck joked cheerlessly.
"I don't see why this movie's on a monthly rotation," Devon complained.
"Because it's awesome," Sarah said immediately and they all laughed. "I was just hoping for something I could sleep through."
Chuck laughed. He hadn't realized that Sarah liked this movie.
"Are you feeling okay?" Ellie asked her.
"Better than an hour ago."
"You need to get that cast off," Morgan said seriously as he set the popcorn bowl on the table and settled on the floor in front of the couch. "You're taking up all the best seats."
"But you all signed it!" Sarah protested.
"We'll take a picture," Devon assured.
Chuck's hand fell on Sarah's shoulder and his fingers stroked absently through her hair.
"Devon, can you go see what's taking John so long," Ellie said as the intro music on the DVD recycled. "I told him 8 sharp."
"I don't think he's coming," Chuck said.
"He does know it's not an option, right?" Ellie said sternly.
Chuck looked sideways, noting the location of the various bugs in the room, murmuring to himself, "He does now."
"I have the dirt on him," Ellie continued threateningly as if she knew he was eavesdropping.
"Give him another five minutes, babe. I'm cozy," Devon said. They snuggled into giggles and kissing and Chuck smiled in spite of himself. He knew Casey had no desire to be social at the moment, given that he had burns and bullet holes of his own to tend to. Still, Ellie could get awfully pushy when she was traumatized. His sister was demanding normalcy and society and she would drag Casey forcefully if need be. It was her way.
Fortunately, it didn't come to that. The door knocked a few minutes later and Casey came in with a six-pack of beers and a forced smile. Chuck tried not to look at his bruised cheek or think too hard about why he wore long sleeves on such a warm night. He looked selfishly at the couch, lifted Sarah's feet and set them on his lap, telling her that she should keep the leg elevated anyway.
"I'm glad you came," she whispered and Chuck had a feeling the words meant something deeper than he knew.
Casey smirked and nodded to the TV screen. "I only ever hear this movie from the other side. It's time to finally see it."
Sarah couldn't believe she'd convinced them to let her stay. The CIA had sent someone else to guard Chuck, but his cover was that he was her cousin come to help her while she recovered physically. She'd convinced the Director that the new man, Andy, would integrate much quicker into the mission by piggy backing her cover. This was an opportunity in disguise, allowing her to go deep and establish roots in this cover. Unfortunately, it meant that she didn't wear a watch-radio, but she was working on that point, and in the mean time, Casey had given her another rewired Ipod shuffle with the warning to only use it for emergencies.
Andy had brought her along to the shopping center that morning and she scouted as he hunted through the Large Mart picking up supplies. Hobbling across the parking lot on crutches, she made her way to the Wienerlicious and was surprised to find it closed. Scooter sat outside the door, leaning against the glass, turning the keys in his hand.
"Opening for lunch?" she greeted softly.
He jumped to his feet, mumbling a greeting, running a hand through his hair, and smoothing his vest. "What are you doing here?"
"It's Monday," she said sweetly. "I said I'd see you Monday."
Scooter nodded and sniffed awkwardly. "You did say that. It's good you waited. We just cleaned up the place and haven't been open. There was all the blood, then we lost a full time employee and the manager had a concussion…"
"Have you been in?"
"I'm going in," he said assuredly, though he did not seem confident at all. "I will, but … I'm talking to you. You shouldn't have to … you were shot …"
"I wasn't shot in there," Sarah told him. She pointed across the lot toward the lingerie store. "It happened over there. I haven't gone over there yet."
"How did you get here?"
"Teleportation," Sarah joked and he smiled. "My cousin is in town helping me out. He's over at Large Mart."
Scooter looked at the keys in his hand and finally built up the nerve to open the front door. It was weird walking in. Everything was clean and sterilized. All that had been broken during the fight was repaired or replaced. It looked like the polished set of a doll house, not the scene of a crime. Scooter went immediately back to the freezer to inventory supplies and Sarah leaned on the counter.
"The police said you identified Croy," Sarah said tentatively. "I didn't realize you paid so much attention to customers."
"You get shot once, you start to notice people," Scooter said matter-of-factly. Sarah wasn't sure how to take that.
"That's true," she agreed. She crossed to one of the tables and sat, fingering the empty napkin holder. Scooter came back a few moments later and flipped on the hot dog oven.
"Sorry, if you're not going to order something, you can't sit at the table."
Sarah smiled sweetly at the joke, and then out of habit, she started scanning the parking lot for unusual activity. She noticed Casey come out of the BuyMore for ten minutes, probably on break, and do the same. This was normally when he came across the way for a mid-morning briefing and a dog, but that routine was long broken. Still, the Wienerlicious really was an ideal place for surveillance when she wasn't slaving over the corn dog fryer. Perhaps that was why Croy had sat here for so long that first day. Croy was still out there. So was Zer. Perhaps –
"Paranoia, isn't it?" Scooter said eerily. "Something like this happens and you don't feel safe anymore."
Sarah looked back at him and then noticed a new security camera in the corner behind the register. Then she saw the guilt in his eyes. "Stop blaming yourself."
"All the sudden you're a mind reader?" he said cynically.
"No. I'm a woman."
He gave her a funny look, so she explained.
"I can tell you what to think."
Rolling his eyes, he set a stack of napkins on the table and brought the napkin holders to her. Then he sat across from her and they started stocking the napkins together. He was biting back a retort, but she was pretty sure she heard the words 'girl on top' in the grumbles.