This takes place after "Chuck v. The Sensei" but before "Beefcake." I love a babbling, sardonic Chuck, and I wondered how it would work out if I mixed in some drunken self-loathing to boot. I took a bit of license with side effects of the Intersect.

Pink Elephants, Cheshire Cats and Staplers

"Bartowski, what are you doing?"

The voice comes from behind me, and of course it's Casey's voice. No one else combines gruff, annoyed, scary and bitter all in one voice quite like Major John Casey. Of course he'd come bug me in person, not just rely on the bugs he's got all over the place. Didn't even bother to use the door, either. Stupid spies can't just use the front door when they know damned well I'm alone. Noooo, they probably need to keep in practice with breaking windows all quietly. Like Casey needs to practice anything.

"I am sitting carefully in my locked house including the locked Morgan Door, thank you, so you'd better fix the window before Ellie gets home, and I am drinking myself sick on this really, really, really nasty bottle of gin while I have some alone time with my lady feelings, Casey. Why-- did you want to come to the pity party of one?"

A year and a half. Think I might have out acerbic-d him this time. Can you make acerbic a verb? Doesn't matter. Nothing like half a bottle of gin to bring out the bitter verbiage. Roan was right, though. Gin is a spy's friend. Very good friend. Even bad gin. But I'm a bad spy, so hey. Parallels.

He gives me a grunt. Hmm-- I don't know that one. He keeps coming up with new ones these days. Of course, he's still standing behind me like the sardonic rottweiler he is, and he wouldn't like that comparison if I told him, either-- probably be mad I couldn't think of some large, vicious American dog breed. Too bad. My brain's kind of full with government secrets right now, learning new dog breeds is not on my to do list.

Except he plunks down next to me and looks at me with that old stone face of his like I'm a slide under the microscope. Am. Big Intersect slide under Big Brother's eye. Except Orwell had no idea. Nope, none whatsoever. Got to go back and re-read that when I'm sober. It'll help me maintain the deep bitter center under my fluffy exterior.

"Where's Morgan?"

"Anna. Parents. San Francisco? Seattle? Someplace with rain."

The gin bottle makes pretty sparkles in the light when I wave it around like that, hold it up to the light and it gets all filtered through the liquid. Prismatic? Don't know. I ignored physics as much as I could. Computers were way more interesting. Hah. Shows me. Should have gone with Biology like Ellie wanted.

"Ellie and Devon?"

"Something about rafting and food out of cans and no showers for three days. Yuck."

At least I've gotten that visible shuddering thing about exercise every time Devon brings something up under control. Not awesome to be mean to Awesome. He's got lady feelings and he doesn't mind expressing them-- he looks like a puppy-- one with abs-- when you kick him. And yet, he's still manly.

Ah. Who am I fooling? Awesome gets lady feelings because unlike the rest of the universe, he is Awesome. The rest of us are just not, except Casey, who's not so much awesome as he is Big Scary Spy Dude You Don't Mess With. If Awesome were the Intersect it would be out of his head by now and Fulcrum would already be rounded up. And he'd have a movie deal. Because that? That's just how Awesome rolls.

"That's really cheap gin, Chuck," he says. This is not the response I expect-- it's been, like, three whole minutes and he hasn't mocked me. He must be Bizarro Casey. Hah. Communism is his Kryptonite. Or something. I'll have to think about that later.

"Of course it is. I make twelve fifty an hour. Can't be getting sloppy on Tanqueray. It's a waste when I'm just going to puke it all up. And while I suppose I could have just taken yours, because hey, Ronald Reagan's birthday-- not a good alarm system access code, buddy-- I am not going to waste the taxpayers' money on a miserable drunk."

"You should at least drink it out of a glass."

Hah. Casey. For someone who makes fun of lady feelings, he sure is prissy sometimes.

"I ... am a Californian, Casey. I ... am saving on water by not using a glass ... that will have to be washed. The rest of the country will catch up about how patriotic recycling and conservation is one of these days. And I will have you know that before Bryce ruined my life I was a Greek. I am well acquainted with drinking straight out of the bottle."

"And you thought that of course the first thing you should do once Walker went off to Langley is drink yourself into a stupor."

I look at him for a long moment and he's got this weird look on his face. If it was anyone else, I could think it was sympathy. Casey doesn't do sympathy, though, so my eyes must be crossed and I just don't feel it yet because that sprained forehead feeling thing hasn't started to kick in.

"Exactly," I say, poking the air for emphasis. Knew he was smart behind all the grunting and beating the crap out of people.

"Can't do missions til Sarah comes back, heard the General say so. Aaaaannnnd, long weekend off from the Buy More, don't know how the hell that happened with my luck, but hey, beggars can't be choosers, right? And that's me, beggar loser can't be chooser Chuck Bartowski. It makes sense to stay home. I'm not going to go drink at a bar-- there might be Fulcrum or I'll just get my ass kicked. Home's a good option. Plus I can find the bathroom in the dark. Instinctive. Like the mouse who always finds the cheese in the maze. Charles Irving Bartowski can always find the bathroom in his sister's apartment no matter how stinking drunk he is."

Another swig. Gah. That really is horrible gin. I should have at least sprung for the Beefeater. Plus then I could talk to the guy on the bottle instead of the hallucinatory handler in front of me since honestly? Casey's scary enough when he's real. As a hallucination? That's just weird. Ah, who am I kidding? There'd probably be some subliminal message in his uniform and I'd flash and then I'd have to tell the real Casey while I'm plastered, and then he'd make fun of me which this surreal nice Casey hasn't so far.

"So what did she do this time?"

Now I know I'm hallucinating because he still looks sympathetic and his voice isn't sarcastic at all.


"Walker," he says, patiently for Casey. At least he left the 'moron' silent. "What did she do?"

"Hunh?" What's he talking about?

"What did Miss Spy Indecision 2009 do this time?"

"Hah. Funny, Casey. That's a good one. Don't tell Bryce, though. He might punch you. Hate to see even my ex buddy get shot or beaten to a pulp. Besides, he's not bad in a fight. It would suck if you got punched before you killed him, though he probably wouldn't get the draw on Quick Draw Major Casey, baddest Spy in the West. Probably East, too, but I've never been to D.C., you know that? Dumb. Of course you do. Probably know what my favorite pjs from sixth grade were, too. Which is good. I'm not sure I remember. Someone should keep track."

Now he gives me another weird look and another weird grunt. I'm too drunk to keep up with all these new methods of self expression.

"So what did she do?"

What? Who? Oh. He thinks Sarah set off the pity party he crashed.

"Oh. No-- nothing. No. She's just ... Sarah. No, just needed a drink."

More swigging. More pretty liquid sparkles, which is good, because this tastes like Turpentine. Gah. Think I'll look up prisms if I remember to later. Hmm. Wonder if there's a 'note to self' section of the Intersect and I can store stuff there for my own use. Hmm. I'll try that when I'm sober. Maybe I can make a suggestion for the next upgrade, make it more Chuck-friendly or something.

"So are you going to tell me why you're drinking like a fish in your apartment alone?"

God. For a spy, he sure doesn't listen.

"Told you. Everybody's away. Can have some privacy without anyone all oh, poor Chuck, what's the matter and then I'd have to be Mr. Cheerful Chuck, which is kind of exhausting, by the way, but it's too late to do stern and forbidding and giving off a serious vibe of imminent death like you do. Not that it would work anyway. I'm about as scary as an Ewok. Sooooo, since I don't have anywhere to be, and since I can get obliter-blasted if we don't have a mission, makes sense, right? Thought so. Veeerrry logical. So you go on back to ... I don't know, you don't say what you do and I know better than to ask ... and I'm going to just finish this disgusting gin here and go to bed."

Casey makes this exasperated exhaling noise like he's going to go all Lurch on me, but he just rubs his hands over his face. "Okay. Fine. I get why you're drinking here and not at Joe Blow's bar on the corner, which really is very considerate, thanks, it does make my job easier, and you aren't drinking about Walker, which, hey, good for you, not that I'd blame you, but still-- why are you drinking at all? You're not a drinker."

He actually looks worried, which means I'm definitely hallucinating because he didn't even use a sarcastic tone when he asks me, and he hasn't said anything mean at all since he came in. So, since he's a hallucination who's apparently not going to make fun of me, I answer.

"My head's full."

He does a double take, which is kind of funny because he's a hallucination and therefore a product of the same subconscious that is too full to begin with, but hey ... maybe being nuts wasn't just a one off with Dad and now it's catching up with me. Is crazy transmitted on a Y gene? I'll look that up tomorrow if the note to Intersect thing works.

"What do you mean your head's full?" he asks, that piercing blue gaze of his on me. He's probably got spy laser beam goggles he can activate with the heat of his glare. The man glares even better than he can grunts, which is really saying something. Though he's not really glaring, just kind of like, I don't know, he turned the worry up a notch or seven.

"Full," I say, taking a drink and giving him the universal 'up to here' hand gesture. At least, it's universal in California. Wouldn't know about the rest of the world.

"How does it feel when you say it's full?" Now my hallucination looks even more worried. I'm really drunk if I've conjured up a Casey-hallucination who looks at me like I'm a human being, either that or Dad's battiness is now in the Chuck-noggin, which hey, come on in, see if you can find some room among all the top secret info. But wait, imaginary Casey asked me a question.

"Buzzes. You know, like, when someone whacks you in the side of the head and it's not really ears ringing but it's a little buzzy? That. Always buzzes a little. Gin? Yay, no buzzing, gin is very much my friend right now. Beer doesn't really work. And Cosmos suck, pink drinks make the buzz worse, gives it this dance beat thing. It's like classified Britney Spears. Uck. No Cosmos."

That bottle doesn't make as many pretty sparkles now that the gin's almost gone.

"Does it say things? The buzzing?"

This is weird. My own brain is asking me stupid questions in the form of a freaked-out looking Casey. Well, I suppose it is something to be freaked out about, I mean, it is why I chose to kill off about a hundred thousand brain cells with this bottle. Hmm. Hope I just killed off Intersect ones, and not stuff like, the Easter Eggs on all my favorite video games. It would suck if I killed off that part rather than something about opium manufacturing, and now I'm worried. Shit. Can I get selective? Probably not. I can feel my forehead get all confused-wrinkly.

"No. That would be psychotic, not just the major suck that is my life. I'm not psychotic, just drunk. This, it's just ... buzzy. I don't know. Not a neuroscientist, don't know about neurotransmitters and calcium/potassium balances and all that stuff. Probably it's like high tension wires or something, electrical pathways. Yeah. They sound like that. Buzzy, because there's so much juice running through that they can't not buzz. Except inside my head. Buzzy."

I think about it some more and hey, that's exactly what it is. Cool.

"Hey!" I say, excited to have at least figured out why it's so buzzy in here. "That makes sense! Thanks for asking!"

I lean in and poke my hallucination in the chest except it doesn't go through him, which is too bad because I was kind of hoping for a Casper the Friendly Ghost and not a Casey the Solid Spy kind of moment.

"You're solid for a hallucination," I say, confused and rubbing the side of my head as I poke him again. Bizarro Casey's mouth quirks when my finger contacts his chest.

"Now," I say, finishing the bottle and settling the bottle carefully down in the air between the couch and the coffee table, except it doesn't levitate like I kind of hoped, just clunks to the floor-- I guess hallucination Casey is it for strange things tonight- "you ask me some more good questions about those stupid dreams and the headaches and maybe you, you incredibly lifelike subconscious hallucination Casey, can help me decide I'm not going to go nuts like my Dad on top of everything else."

His eyebrows go up in his forehead and he actually looks worried and sad, so I'm confused all over again.

"Why are you surprised? You're like, pink elephant Casey in my brain, you're not allowed to be surprised. I think. Not really sure how this subconscious manifestation thing works."

"Chuck, I think you really need to go to bed now," he says, starting to reach for me. Like a hallucination's going to put me to bed. Hah. Like anyone's going to put me to bed, or come check on me, or share my bed except just for cover. Double hah. Triple hah, even.

"No," I say, suddenly really, really, lady-feelingish as I manage to stand up and start pacing which is really impressive for someone as drunk as I am. But I did walk all the way across campus that one time after a much larger bottle of scotch and a nickel bag that one time without falling over or passing out, so maybe that's my superpower. Balance while intoxicated. Bet I could fly a helicopter right now. Hah.

"You stay put. I am going to talk to my subconscious, so you sit until I tell you to go off to pink elephant land again-- it's not like I can talk to anyone else. Can't tell Ellie and Devon I have a stupid headache all the time, they'd want me to get a CT scan and for all I know the Intersect shows up like a big "Classified" stamp on the screen, though really, I'm kind of used to it by now. Oh, and the part about there being things I used to know that just aren't there anymore because all these top secret things in my head are? I mean, yeah, a lot of it was useless trivia stuff, but I don't know what's missing until I try to remember it and that annoys the hell out of me. We might actually need me to know geometry someday.

And I can't tell Sarah that I haven't had a normal dream since Stupid Bryce's Stupid Email and it's like all weird flashes all the time-- she'll give me the sad Sarah look and then get all ... Sarah again, which hey, Miss Spy Hottie Indecision is a good name, thanks for that, but she doesn't really care, it's all mission, mission, mission and she'd probably tell Bryce anyway and that is not what I need, his idea of help is about as comforting as bamboo under fingernails. Can't get a new girlfriend-- Bryce'll find out and sex her up for my own good or the country or something, and even if I did find someone she'd just be Fulcrum like Jill because honestly? Should have known she wouldn't want to get back together for real.

I can't tell Morgan I have to lie to the only person who only wants me to do whatever makes me happy, even if it's grape soda and Star Wars, and doesn't care about stuff like ambition and money and all that stuff. The real you doesn't even like me, not that I blame you since I'm such a girly-screaming loser, so I'm certainly not going to tell corporeal Casey who will just tell me to stuff my stupid lady-feelings, and the General would ship me to a bunker yesterday which would suck because sometimes the buzzy bits aren't as loud when I can sit at the beach. Or she'd just have me killed, which is entirely possible, though hey, buddy, meant to thank you for not going through with that termination order thing, I really appreciate that, though I guess I shouldn't really have looked through that stuff on your desktop when I was fixing it last week, hunh?"

I think for a bit as surreal Casey stares at me like I punched him in the nuts. I'm on a babbling, ranting roll, though, and it feels good. I keep going.

"I'm pretty sure I'm not going to go batty like Dad-- not certain, but pretty sure. He was mostly twitchy and vacant and at least flashes are twitchy and full, but hey, you never know. Anything's possible, but at least I won't be getting married and having kids and then running off on them while this thing is stuck in my head, so I guess whether I lose my shit only sucks for the government, but at least then real you and Sarah can go back to real spy work.

Hey ... you ever stick your finger in a socket for a second? Hurts like a bitch. Flashing's like that, it makes sense I guess-- it's zappy when it's on, buzzy when it's waiting. But it would be nice to have a normal dream about, well, whatever again, not how to assemble a bazooka or terrorists and stuff. I used to have this weird recurrent dream with the Disney Alice in Wonderland characters, you know, those flying books and pencils and the Cheshire Cat-- it was freaky, but I'd love to see that Cheshire Cat now. Wonder if Bryce knew that was going to happen. Probably, but hey, anything for America, right? I guess that messed up sleeping thing makes sense-- dreaming's supposed to be about the brain getting rid of excess memories and thoughts and hey, got plenty of those. Except the Intersect ones don't go away. It's all still there. So, to answer your question, yeah, my head's full."

My hallucinatory handler blinks at my tirade and swallows. I always get chatty when I get obliter-wasted. Hah.

"Okay. Fine. Don't say anything. Clearly, I have talked my subconscious into submission." Time for a bottle of water, some aspirin, a multivitamin, the bathroom and bed. Maybe I drank enough to just pass out, no flashes of Israeli weapons bases tonight.

The figment gets up and follows me into the kitchen, watching me oddly as I dig out the water and uncap it.

"Impressive, hunh?" I grin after I take a sip. "Be nice if I were this coordinated when I was sober. Always been a spaz, and I talk even more when I'm drunk. Too much of an annoying thing, hunh?"

My completely flummoxed-looking hallucination very nicely gets out of the way when I go into the bathroom to drain the nerd downstairs and take some precautionary anti-dehyrdation measures, but he's still waiting when I come out and go to my room. "Told you I could find the bathroom," I say over my shoulder. "Might be a little mouse, but I always know where the cheese is."

"You can go back to pink elephant land now," I say as I flop onto the bed, waving Weirdo Nice Imaginary Casey off from where he's leaning against the wall, looking at me. "I'm gonna sleep for like a day or so."

"You know, you could try talking to me or Sarah sometimes," he says quietly. "I mean, that's what we're here for."

"Nah," I say, staring at the ceiling with my arms behind my head. "Sarah's all ... whatever ... and Bryce, well, no thanks ... and it's stupid to think she's my friend just because she's pretty, I mean, I'm on a different planet I'm so not in her league, and you've clearly got lots of bad torture-y and bitter life experience stuff fueling your stern exterior, cutting sarcasm and deep angry center so you hardly need to listen to me on top of whatever that stuff is since at least you have a real job and not just the suck that is Buy More. Besides, you don't even like me anyway which I mean, I am a complete wimp, but you guys don't need to listen to me whine on top of that and keep me from tripping in front of a truck, much less all that Fulcrum stuff. Anyway. Got to stop whining to Sarah so much. Note to Intersect, hah. Wouldn't change anything anyway. Nope. Gin and Bizarro Caseys are it. Yep. Roan was right. Going to need a lot more gin. Except, well, I can't really, I guess. Not going to be a lot of work-free, family-free, friend-free weekends to myself where I don't have to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed just in case I flash on something that the free world needs to know just so I can muster up a pink elephant to talk to. Though honestly, Casey? Got to say I kind of thought it would be the Master Sergeant I hallucinated when I completely lost my shit."

"Well, the Master Sergeant's dialogue skills are a bit stunted, Chuck. You can't expect video game characters to be fonts of psychological insight. Plus, he'd be pretty pixelated if you blew him up to life size, so it makes more sense to see someone you're already used to seeing."

That sounds so like something the real Casey would say and it's a hoot, so I start laughing, except I hate laughing when I'm drunk because it usually goes south really quick, and it does this time because I'm laughing and then I have to yak really, really hard.

"'Scuse me," I gulp, and book it back to the bathroom so I can heave up the entire liter of gin I just drank. I think Roan was wrong-- gin is not my friend. Or he has a better liver than me. Probably both.

"Here," says Bizarro Casey as another bottle of water swims into view. I bat the hallucination away, and the bottle falls to the floor.

"Shit. Now I'm really screwed," I mutter into the bowl before I heave again. "Now I killed all the wrong brain cells and I'm probably going to start babbling Intersect stuff if I think you're actually bringing me water. Daddy-nutsville here I come. Should have stuck with beer."

"Chuck, just drink it," my subconscious says.

I give up the ghost or the hallucination or the pink elephant or whatever Bizarro Casey is and just take the bottle he shoves in my hand again and spend the next twenty minutes heaving my miserable guts into the toilet and lecturing my subconscious about how I should know better than to make myself laugh when I'm this drunk because it always makes me barf.

"You know I always barf when I'm this wasted, you shouldn't have made me laugh like that," I say. "I mean, remember that first weekend back from Stanford when Morgan got me plastered and then made that poorly timed Zork joke? I mean, he couldn't have known that was the game Bryce and I rewrote and he would have to be funny about it but, man, you should remember not to make me laugh. I barfed for what, like an hour? That sucked. But at least it beats crying, hunh?"

I stop for another heave session, flush the toilet, and sit back on the floor for a bit. My subconscious is handing me a bottle of Awesome's Gatorade, so I drink some of that too.

"Note to self, I'd better replace Awesome's Gatorade before he comes home. And I ate some of his peanut butter cracker thingies."

"Got it," imaginary Casey says. "You want some more right now? Or some of Ellie's rice cakes?"

"Rice cakes, I think."

This is going to be weird in the morning when I wake up, but hey, I do have the weekend all to myself to decide if I've gone off to crazy-land, so we'll see.

I finally manage to finish barfing and haul myself off the floor, and Casey hands me my toothbrush. "Hey, thanks," I muster, then brush my teeth and head back off to bed, flopping down on the covers again. The bed shifts next to me and when I crack an eye Casey's sitting there, his arms crossed and legs stretched out as he leans back against the headboard, like he's planning to settle in for a long chat.

"Oh, you're kidding me," I mutter. "Now I really am losing my shit. Forget that thing I said about not being psychotic earlier. There is no way the bed just sagged under your weight."

"Yeah, well, maybe you should stop talking to your subconscious and listen a bit, hunh?"

"Thought that's what I was already doing. Hey, since I'm completely bonkers, think you can turn out the light? It's making the buzzy come back, and I think I don't have any more gin in the house to make that calm down again."

There's shifting weight and oh, man, that's freaky, and the light's out. "Cool. Thanks."

"No problem. You know, I actually do like you."

"Hah. Now I know I'm delusional."

"No, really, shut up and quit with the witty banter, moron."

He sounds just like real Casey, that commanding officer voice I usually just ignore, but since I'm going rather messily nuts in the privacy of my bedroom, I figure I might as well listen. Maybe I can keep myself company in the loony bin.

So imaginary Casey starts saying nice stuff about how I'm not a loser or a moron or a wimp or even a poor sap, and then goes on to tell me that Sarah and Bryce are both confused people who should know better than to screw around with my head, though of course he uses Casey-isms like "douchebag" and "whipsaw," and then starts telling me that I'm probably smarter than his last three sets of Captains and Lieutenants all combined, "except they have the sense to vote republican, though at least you vote so I shouldn't complain, hunh?" but he's not used to working with people who question orders, even when they're perfectly reasonable questions, so I've got to be a little patient with him. And then he starts talking about how it's okay to feel like my life is one long chain of suck because it is, and that really I don't mope as much as I really deserve to, and he should stop giving me shit about my lady-feelings, because not everyone is an "emotionally repressed rage-aholic like yours truly." And then he starts getting really nice and talking about how he didn't think anyone had any idea that this thing was actually physically messing with me, so I should have said something because they would have tried to do something to fix it, then says he and Sarah can try and help figure out how to make sure I get a decent night's sleep.

"What do you think they'd do when you told them about it?" I interrupt. "They'd put me in a bunker and tie me down so they can experiment. They don't give you pills for this kind of shit, Casey. Nope. Unless it's one of those little cyanide pills which yes, thank you, if that's the alternative to turning into River Tam, then I'll take one of those. I always liked the smell of almonds. Either that or they'd just put out another terminate order. It's messy to have a complete nutjob running around with top secret information in his head."

My large greenshirted pink elephant is quiet for a long moment and I think I can finally get some sleep when he says "You're not a nutjob, and Walker and I would find out about a terminate or relocate order even if they gave it to someone besides us, so we can deal with that if it comes up again. No one's going to terminate you or put you in a bunker if I have anything to do with it, though it might require a little creativity. I've always liked a challenge."

It's a nice thought, but the real John Casey would never go rogue, and the idea of having an argument with myself about it is just depressing, so I just go along and say "Sure, thanks."

"So now you don't even believe your subconscious?"

I crack an eye to look at him and in the dim light in the bedroom he looks ... sad. Like he wished I believed him.

"Nope. Remember? Crazy. Delusional. Hallucinating. Drunker than I ever have been in my life. I, my large, greenshirted imaginary friend, am going to sleep. Maybe I'll only be half-nuts in the morning."

"Chuck," he says, like he's about to say something sympathetic, which is the last thing I need. I don't need to cry in front of a figment of my imagination-- that idea is already horrifying. The prospect of doing it in front of the real Casey doesn't even bear thinking about.

"Go back to pink elephant land," I say. "I am going to sleep, perchance to dream of Cheshire Cats. Though it will probably just be the instruction manual on how to kill people with office supplies. Too bad I can't ever really remember the dreams except flashes in the morning. Sometimes it's just me, a stapler and Lester and Jeff in the cage. I've wondered what I could do with a stapler."

My imaginary handler snorts a laugh, which makes me laugh in return. "Well, at least I can still make myself laugh."

"Go to sleep, Chuck."

"Think I will. Goodnight, Bizarro Casey."

"Goodnight, Chuck."

The next morning is miserable. Somehow I put the two bottles of water and Gatorade in the recycling bin last night and the bathroom's already clean, but at least I woke up with a normal headache and had a completely ordinary nightmare about flying pencils and Cheshire Cats chasing me through the Buy More while Emmett whines about my off-site repair order paperwork being all messed up. After a wary morning of looking over my shoulder to see if new hallucinations pop up, I decide to venture out and replace the stuff of Awesome's I ate and drank and hop on my bike to the store.

A sandwich from Lou's goes down gratefully, and a visit to the beach does dial down the re-emerging buzz for a bit-- note to Intersect, one liter of gin equals four hours' hungover but otherwise normal headache and six hours of no mental high-wire buzzing-- and then it's a nice quiet night at home with me, a pizza with extra olives, the Star Wars trilogy, and a laptop I'm supposed to be repairing but that I use instead to type down some ideas for this videogame idea I had to parodize the more ridiculous parts of the story.

"Bartowski, what are you doing?" I hear from behind me, and like the proverbial comedic foil, the pizza and laptop go flying.

"What?" I say, turning around and wondering shit, shit, shit, so much for thinking maybe I didn't go nuts last night.

"What are you doing," Casey says, repeating himself.

"How ... how ... how'd you get in here?" I ask. If it's a hallucination, maybe we can only have the same conversation we had last night.

"I used the window. You left it open," he says gruffly. Of course, Casey says everything gruffly.


"What's up with the Buster Keaton routine?" he asks then, coming around to pick up the pizza that slid onto the floor and carry it off to the kitchen as I make sure the computer isn't completely broken.

I shake my head. "Sorry. Had a really weird, long dream last night. I ... wasn't expecting you." I head back to the kitchen to get some stain remover and spray the carpet, wondering as I do so how much of it wasn't real. Had to be all of it, or at least I wasn't talking out loud like I thought I was, because otherwise he'd have given me sixteen kinds of shit already. He'd have been over first thing in the morning just to make my hungover morning miserable, probably.

He grunts at me as he moves the rest of the pizza that's still in the box up onto the coffee table, then says "What kind of dream?" The tone in his voice sounds as concerned as Bizarro Casey's was last night when he said I should try talking to him or Sarah more often, but wishful thinking and reality are not the same thing. A look at him reveals that he doesn't seem to have some sarcastic crack ready to go, but he's only asking just because it's his job, I'm sure.

"Weird," I say, biting down on my lips' urge to start blabbing about how much stuff sucks all over again. "Nothing important."

"You sure?" he says, standing at the same time as me with the rest of the mess of paper towels and pizza toppings from the rug. He's got that intent blue gaze thing going on, not quite at laser-beam level.

"Yeah," I say, ducking my head as I say it. This Casey, the real Casey, he doesn't want to know. Doesn't need to know. Hell, I couldn't tell him, I'm sure he'd feel like he had to report it. I can't expect him to keep disobeying orders. It was probably just a lucky fluke of timing-- he got the order, the cipher blew up, he didn't have to do anything-- not a conscious decision on his part not to off me. At least I'm not completely bonkers. If I were, I wouldn't have been surprised by his showing up behind me like that again, I would have just waved at him and told him to bring me more Gatorade on the back of a galloping unicorn.

"So what are you working on?" he asks when I go back to check on the laptop. The scene on the TV is paused right as Obi-Wan plays his first Jedi mind trick and man, I wish I had some Jedi mind tricks to offset this Intersect stuff. At least I could stop people from trying to kill me so much. What the hell, I decide-- he'll probably mock me when I tell him, but I decide to answer Casey, he did help me clean up the rug.

"Just ... video game thoughts. Cliches from the movies that would be fun to parodize. Like ... thirty points for every Jedi mind trick? Ten points for making Luke whine about something? Because he does whine a lot."

Casey's mouth quirks. "Fifty points for every Ewok you run over with one of those flying motorcycle things."

"Exactly!" I say automatically.

He grunts and sits down on the couch, pulling the laptop over to look. "Heh. You should make all the prompts sound like Yoda," he says under his breath.

"Thought of that. Look at the bottom there."

He scrolls down, lets out grunt number three-- approval-- and pages back up again. "You should have the losers get eaten up by the monster in that pit in that big fight scene with Jabba the Hutt. What was the monster's name?"

I sit down, trying to think, but nope, it's gone. I think it got pushed out by one of the pieces about General Beckman I really, really, really didn't want to know. "I don't remember. Used to. Not anymore."

He looks at me sideways for a long moment before saying "I thought you were the fountain of nerd knowledge."

"You're the one who remembered the scene. Hell, you're the one who just admitted to knowing stuff from Return of the Jedi."

"Fine." It's a grunt, but it's the "I'll shut up for once," grunt, so I restart the film and take the laptop back, typing notes as I watch.

"Pause that," I say without thinking, but instead of slapping me in the side of the head, Casey actually just pauses and then leans in to read as I type.

"Heh," he says. "Like that."

Since Casey doesn't seem inclined to mock me tonight, I shove the pizza box at him with my foot and he grabs a slice. I fast forward through the good bits that aren't mock-worthy, and however much time it is later I've got enough ideas that maybe I can actually grok something together if the stupid buzz in the back of my head settles down enough for me to really get in the zone. Surprisingly, Casey was good company-- he got up and made us popcorn and brought back sodas when we finished the pizza, and he actually paused the movies a few times himself to offer scene suggestions are are my sacred cows, though I can admit they would make good parodies if done right.

I get up to take the last DVD out and put it back on the shelf and realize it's been three hours sitting next to Casey on the couch with him voluntarily watching Star Wars and only making general cracks, not cracks on me. Shocking. Really. But stranger things have happened, the Intersect always at the top of the list.

Casey's already stuffed the pizza box in the trash and has a weird look on his face-- if it was Bizarro Casey, it would be like he was worried and wondering about what to say next. I shake my head at the image. The sooner I banish the illusion that someone actually wants to listen to my babbling, the better. Instead, he just says "Good pizza," and heads to the door. "Goodnight, Chuck," he says, back turned to me as the front door closes behind him.

"Goodnight, Casey," I say to the wood. The guy moves fast when he wants to. "Good pizza" is probably code for something like 'If you ever tell anyone I watched Star Wars with you I'll kill you, and I'll make it especially slow if you ever tell anyone I discussed video game interfaces with you.' Who knows with Casey-- there's only one thing I'm sure of with him, and it's that I'm a pain in his ass.

I wash dishes, lock up the house, brush my teeth, and head back to my room, only to thump down hard on the bed as I look at what's on my nightstand.

There's a pink plastic elephant and a Cheshire Cat figurine sitting on top of a piece of paper that looks like a page torn out of a manual. It lists fourteen ways to kill or wound someone with staplers.