Come, Sit Awhile
The Bartowski residence had quieted significantly since the end of dinner. Agent Walker had left as soon as courtesy allowed, but Casey expected as much. She'd only come because Ellie had begged, but Sarah had been acting weird since yesterday. The other morning, General Beckman had put some pressure on them about extraction and Agent Walker had protested with her characteristic logic and reason masking her giant heart. She still seemed fine when he'd gone for a dog that afternoon. But by yesterday evening, she looked like the world had chewed her up and spit her out. When he asked her the next morning, her only explanation was that she'd had a conversation with Director Graham.
Casey switched his active listening to Chuck's room as the parties split off. The Intersect was his concern and his business. He heard the taps and clicks of game cases as Chuck tidied his room, and then the surprising rustle of the comforter. Casey absolutely loved when Chuck crashed early because it gave him more time off and there was a leak under the bathroom vanity that needed his attention.
"Casey, Morgan's coming at eleven," Chuck mumbled into the nearest bug and Casey rolled his eyes. At least they'd come to a truce on the sandwich conversations, but Chuck never could let clandestine affairs simply be clandestine. Still, Chuck was a very considerate charge. Casey knew he had about an hour before Morgan bumbled through the courtyard and climbed through Chuck's window.
With a smile, he adjusted the settings of the recorder, perused the daily reports from Washington, checked up on a few e-bay items he had bids on, and debated whether to get in an hour of exercise or bake a pie. He tipped open his door to let the night air in and tensed immediately at the sight of golden hair reflecting the moonlight.
He couldn't see much for the fountain blocking his view, but he knew the courtyard was supposed to be empty. Grabbing his gun, he stalked stealthily, keeping close to the walls, though they offered no cover. He relaxed when he recognized Sarah sitting by the fountain, lost in thought, rocking slowly and picking at her fingernails. Her eyes were wide but vacant and she wasn't blinking nearly as often as she should.
"Are you sick?" he asked.
Sarah jerked slightly in surprise, but kept her eyes on her own knees. "I'm fine."
"I distinctly recall Bartowski walking you to your car."
She didn't answer. She just looked mournfully toward Chuck's window, her mouth hanging open, her breathing shallow.
"Go home, Walker. Morgan will be here soon."
"No. All you'll do is disrupt his rhythm. He won't sleep and then I won't get to sleep."
Sarah nodded weakly and looked at her fingers again. Casey didn't think she was in any condition to drive, but he didn't want to presume anything. It wouldn't help their working relationship.
He waited her out and finally she stood. Muttering something about saying goodnight, she wobbled toward Chuck's window, but Casey could not allow that. She was too attached as is. He grabbed her elbow, but she seemed to have been rendered into jelly and she stumbled backwards and tripped into the fountain. He hadn't meant to do it, but it almost seemed like a good idea, because once she was sopping wet and sitting in the basin, she looked right at him and glared.
"Come on, get out of there," he said, offering her a hand. The cold water had made her stronger, but now she was wet and shivering in her nice clothes. Her eyes were closed and she wouldn't let go of his hand.
"Come in and dry off," he said, tugging her toward his door. Morgan would be by in half an hour and she needed to get out of that court yard.
He shook his hand free of hers as soon as they walked through the door to his apartment. Experience had taught him to keep towels in the coat closet, so he found one of the nice fluffy ones and tossed it over her shoulders. It was funny how she practically drowned in a towel that was barely big enough for him. She closed her eyes and buried her nose in the fabric, peeling off her shoes and socks while he ran to find something dry for her to wear. When he came back, she was curled up on the couch in a tight ball, looking flu-like, so he got her a glass of water and set it near her on a coaster.
Morgan stayed until the wee hours of the morning, but then he always seemed to do that when Casey had the early morning shift at work the next day. Casey would've suspected conspiracy, but his early surveillance told him that Bartowski and Grimes had been on this schedule since before the Intersect business even started.
Stretching tiredly, Casey reset the recorder, wrote a quick report, and went to the couch, but it was empty. He vaguely recalled Sarah going to the bathroom an hour ago. She'd done more moving than speaking, and she hadn't moved much, but at least he'd talked her into dry clothes. Casey shuffled down the hall, stopping at the laundry closet to pull her clothes out of the dryer, and found her curled up in his bed.
Sarah's hair was half-dry and frizzy, and her shape was lost under the t-shirt and shorts she'd borrowed from him. She lay on top of the covers, eyes wide and weary, staring at the empty half of the bed next to her. Casey knelt next to the bed and touched her face, but felt no fever. When he touched her, she exhaled slowly and closed her eyes.
"I told you I wasn't interested," he said, both teasing and dead-serious.
"Your clothes are dry."
She sat up slowly, smoothed the hair away from her face and rested her head in her hands. When she didn't move again for several minutes, he placed a hand on her shoulder and she looked up at him.
"Have they told you to kill him?" she asked.
"Have they told you?"
Casey furrowed his brow, confused by the possibility of multiple kill-orders for the Intersect. Such an order would probably upset Agent Walker, but she shook her head, so that theory went out the window. An awkward silence followed.
"Would you?" Her voice was quiet and pleading.
Casey didn't answer. Speculative games led nowhere and it was time for her to go.
"It doesn't matter," she whispered, folding her knees and hugging them loosely. "If you don't kill him, they'll send someone else."
"Better me than a stranger," Casey said carefully.
"Mercy," she agreed. Then her face crumpled and she sobbed softly.
Nothing was making sense to Casey and he dared not touch her. Instead, he went to the bathroom, liberated a handful of tissues, and brought them back to her. She thanked him with an apologetic smile and dried her eyes quickly.
"Can I sit with you awhile?" she asked.
"I have …" Casey tried, but he could not find an excuse other than he wanted to sleep. "Fine. Just sit quietly."
Leaving her to ponder her own kneecaps, he found some sleep clothes on the floor of his closet and went to the bathroom to change and brush his teeth. If she wanted to be creepy and sit there while he slept, that was her prerogative. He had five hours until his next shift and he'd slept through worse things. He wondered briefly if she'd be willing to switch sides, because he wanted to sleep close to the clock, but he decided it best not to disturb her.
"Would you kill to save him?" he asked her as he pulled up the covers on his side of the bed and settled in.
"That's my assignment," she said mechanically.
"Yeah, but would you kill me to save him? I mean if I had orders."
Sarah shrugged dishearteningly. "Chuck is dead either way, but then I have a choice: kill you, or hold on."
She paused just long enough for Casey to shiver and consider sleeping with one eye open. Maybe he should transfer the gun to the night-stand on his side of the bed.
"If I kill you, I lose the only one who knows Chuck like I do. Who sees how he's risen up in the face of danger. Who knows –"
"And we need to share a bed for that?" Casey interrupted.
She laughed fleetingly, and it was a precious sight. "I'm not asking for sex."
"What's the fun in that?" he teased. He was going to lay facing away from her to close the conversation, but instead he lay on his back. She held her knees a little while longer and he thought maybe he could fall asleep. Then she took his hand.
He was about to say something snarky, but he waited as he felt the tension drain out of her. Her thumb twitched against his hand and her finger tips pulled at his skin as if coaxing unwanted words into existence. Finally she spoke.
"Bryce is dead."
Casey sat up sharply and stared at her. He'd killed Bryce Larkin twice already, so he didn't care one way or the other, but now he finally understood why she was acting so strange.
Sarah nodded, smiled cheerlessly, and winced. "Oh, yeah. I identified … many … pieces of him the other day. He's not coming back from this one."
She swallowed thickly, trying to control the rise of emotion and bile that came with the memory. Casey shook his hand free and stood up, noticing that she wilted when he broke contact.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"To get you a stiff drink. Any requests?"
She shook her head sadly and hugged her knees again. "I don't want anything."
Wouldn't she?! He couldn't imagine what she meant by 'many pieces' of Bryce, and he couldn't think of anything she might need more than a little alcohol to drown the image. He decided to roulette his liquor supply when he got to the kitchen, but she spoke up as he walked out.
He smiled at the request, unable to squelch the compulsion to do things for her to try to help. It was probably because he knew that if he sat there, she'd try to hug him and he didn't want that. He found the gin and filled two coffee mugs, then returned to his room and they sat cross-legged on the bed facing each other. After the first sip, she just sat there, drink in hand, eyes drifting toward the corner of the pillow, not talking or looking at him and Casey found that maddening. Taking a risk, he reached out and touched her knee. Again he saw how the tension left her body and like clockwork, her tongue loosened.
"I see him … in pieces … every time I close my eyes. I see him."
"And Chuck," she whimpered. "And you. And… I'm sorry to impose; I just don't want to be alone."
Casey pursed his lips and rubbed his face. So she was traumatized by what she saw and she got freaked out. Then she needed to see a psychiatrist. Their work was bound to throw them across tough situations and he wasn't about to share his bed every time. He didn't even want to this time.
"This is not a solution," he told her.
Sarah swallowed a sob and looked desperately at him. "John, kill me or hold on."
"Well, I … have to get a gun from the other room," he said. "The one I have by the bed is NSA issue and they make you account for all the bullets…"
It was a bad joke, but he could not convey how much he didn't want to do this. It was a bad idea to get close to her. Bad idea. But she wasn't laughing, and he could feel his heart breaking for her. So he took the gin mugs, set them aside, and pulled back the covers, inviting her to lie down. They lay on their sides facing each other, and he did not scoot closer because he was, after all, a man, and he did not want to cross that line. He left his hand in the space between them and she held on. It was all he could give her right now and it was all she needed. Within moments, her eyes were closed and she was asleep.