Another day, another mission, and somehow Chuck had managed to screw everything up yet again. The man was a menace as far as Casey was concerned. And, okay, maybe the courier arriving early wasn't directly his fault, but Casey was sure he could have gotten out of the damn place unseen if he hadn't had Chuck tagging along like a ball and chain. Instead they'd been forced to hide, while Walker got to follow the courier on her own. He could have sworn her voice had been tinged with smugness when he told her about that.
There are a lot of unpleasant sounds in the world, and Casey had his own personal list of the most horrible ones. High up on this list were a shotgun racking right behind his ear, a block of C4 going off during protection detail, or lately, anything coming from a fortysomething soccer mom that began with "Could you help me?" and ended with "I want to talk to your manager!" Currently, all of those were being eclipsed by the bang of a funereal casket lid slamming shut on top of him, accompanied by a 'snickt' as the lock chose that moment to fall closed. Once again, Casey wondered what kind of lunatic would pick a funeral home for a drop point.
Not that it was the first time something like this had happened to him; one time in Serbia his cover had gotten blown while he was investigating a group of suspected terrorists, and they'd decided to ship him back to the States inside a casket as a warning. He'd spent two days in there getting used to the idea of dying slowly in a wooden box sitting on a cargo ship. It was a miracle the experience hadn't left him claustrophobic.
This time was a cakewalk in comparison. Though he was very effectively trapped, the power on his earpiece had lasted long enough for Walker to keep him posted on the courier, and how long it would be before she could get back and rescue him. He'd complained bitterly about how slow she was being, but the truth was he didn't think he could do any better; though Casey would never admit it out loud, he suspected that if it came to a direct competition between him and Walker, she would just edge him out. All he had to do was wait and soon he'd be out of here, the stolen documents safely in hand and no trace left behind. Good thing the casket wasn't airtight.
Of course, there was one extra downside to this whole experience that he hadn't have to deal with the last time. That downside was currently elbowing Casey repeatedly in the chest in an attempt to turn over.
"Bartowski, I am telling you now, hand to god, that if you don't quit the attempts to crack my ribs, I will smother you right here and now," Casey growled through his teeth. Despite the complete lack of light in the confined space, he imagined he could see Chuck's face contorted in an expression of terror.
"My entire left side is numb," Chuck replied. The expression of terror Casey was picturing morphed into one of petulance. "If I don't move then my arm will fall off the second we get out of here, and that will be really hard to explain to people later," he said, as he tried to find enough space to turn around. "And you know, you didn't have to join me in here! There were two coffins."
"The other one was occupied, numbskull. Even sharing with you is preferable to lying with a dead body for god knows how long." He took a quick breath of fresh air during a pause in Chuck's struggling. "And get it right. We're in a casket. Not a coffin."
Chuck exhaled a short laugh in response. "You've threatened to kill me thirty-six times since we got stuck in here. Casey, I have to tell you, if you're trying to avoid a dead body, killing me might not be the best way to go about it." Casey heard him inhale deeply and suddenly Casey had the wind knocked out of him as Chuck braced an elbow against his chest and managed a half turn in the tight quarters.
Wheezing slightly, Casey growled and jammed a thumb deep into Chuck's back, smirking with satisfaction at the yelp it elicited. The satisfaction deepened as he heard Chuck's knee bang into the box and drag out a second yelp. Pleased that revenge had been temporarily wrought, Casey quietly said, "Don't do that again, Bartowski. Or we're not going to have to take you out when Walker gets here."
"Thirty-seven," Chuck whimpered, as Casey felt him rub tenderly at his back. "You might want to work on some new material, Casey. That's the fifth time you've used that one." A few seconds of annoyed silence passed. "What's the difference?"
Casey blinked in the darkness, momentarily dumbfounded by the apparent non sequitur. "Difference between what?"
"You said we're in a casket, not a coffin. Aren't they just the same thing?" Chuck asked.
Casey rolled his eyes, aware of the futility of doing so in the dark and to the back of Chuck's head. "And I suppose you think a clip's the same thing as a magazine, too. Idiot."
"Well then what's the difference?" Chuck repeated, sounding genuinely curious. "We've got time to spare, so you might as well tell me."
Casey sighed with resignation. "Fine. Remember those awful vampire movies you made me watch last week?" he asked, waiting for a noise of acknowledgement from Chuck. "Those movies had coffins. Six sides, wide around the shoulders. Caskets are rectangles."
A long pause followed before Chuck said, with a tone of astonishment to his voice, "Why do you know that?"
Casey snorted. "Spent twenty minutes getting reamed out by my superior over accurate details in a report once. Never made that mistake again."
"Oh," Chuck said quietly, before falling into a silence which lasted so long Casey started listening for his breathing to be sure he hadn't managed to suffocate himself; annoyance or no, he was a dead man if Chuck somehow managed to off himself while he was less than six inches away.
Eventually, Chuck started fidgeting again, his elbow leaving new bruises on Casey's chest. Casey growled in annoyance. "What is it now, Bartowski?"
"It's my nose," Chuck said, sounding anxious. "I can't reach it and it's... it... I... AAAH..."
Chuck's sneeze sounded like a small thunderclap in the confined space. As Chuck started complaining about the padding right in front of him being soaked with spittle, Casey silently thanked every deity he knew of that Chuck had turned around when he did.
"I'm going to the picnic, and I'm bringing asbestos insulation, brine shrimp, and the cryogenically frozen head of Walt Disney," Casey said, following it up with a small stretch and a yawn. "Bartowski, this is the sixth round of this stupid game. All I want to do is get some sleep while we wait for Walker. Can you just let me do that?"
"Not until I win a round," Chuck replied stubbornly. "It doesn't make any sense. I've got fifty thousand gigabytes of government secrets hiding inside my head. I should be able to do this in my sleep."
"And last week you left the stove on, and the whole place would have burned down if I hadn't been watching the video feed," Casey said derisively. "Face it, Bartowski, you may be a genius superfreak, but you don't have the genius memory to go with it."
"Hey!" Chuck exclaimed indignantly. "I've been able to recite the first twenty digits of pi since I was nine! Bet your fancy NSA training didn't teach you to do that."
"No," Casey said in a matter-of-fact way. "But they did teach me how to memorise anything I see in three seconds. I had to recite War and Peace from memory to pass that course."
A long silence followed before Chuck finally said, "Fine. Okay. You win that one." The air filled with a brief pause and a feeling of sulky indignation, which was eventually broken by, "Wanna play twenty questions instead?"
"Go to sleep, Chuck."
"How long has it been?" Chuck asked, making Casey jump as he was suddenly jolted out of the light sleep he'd finally managed to fall into.
"What?" Casey asked groggily, blinking slowly as he tried to make his brain function through the mental cobwebs of sleep. "How long has what been?"
"Since we got locked in here," Chuck replied, his voice an oddly level tone. "I mean, I've never been too good at telling time, but it feels like it's been a while."
Casey grunted and shook his head as much as he could, wincing at the crick in his neck. "No idea, Bartowski. Even if I could get to my watch I can't see it in here." Bracing his feet against the base of the box, Casey stretched out in the space he had with a soft groan. "Does it matter? We'll get out when we get out. No use worrying about it."
An uncharacteristically long silence followed before Chuck quietly replied, "It just ... feels like we've been in here a long time, you know? And it's been a while since Sarah contacted us."
Some part of Casey's brain caught the undercurrent of fear in Chuck's voice and bit down on the automatic caustic response that sprang to his tongue. Instead, he softly replied, "Walker's a good agent. She's going to get us out of here, Chuck."
"I know that," Chuck said, his voice still unusually subdued. "I trust her. Sarah wouldn't leave us in here. And hey," he said, trying to sound upbeat, "We've been in worse situations, right?"
"Yes we have," Casey said in what he hoped was a reassuring way. "We got out of those and we're going to get us out of this one. But you won't do anyone any good if you freak out, so you're not going to. We're perfectly safe. We've got plenty of air, nobody knows we're here, and Walker is going to come get us. It's just dark and cramped in here. Nothing to be afraid of."
An unusual silence floated in the air before Chuck slowly said, "Back when we were kids, me and Ellie used to hide in my closet together. We'd turn off the light and put pillowcases on our heads and pretend we were pirate monsters in a cave. Dad would sneak in from the office and open the door and we'd jump out and tackle him."
A disconnected part of Casey's brain momentarily plotted the likelihood of two children in pillowcases taking down a grown man. The rest of him replied, "So what brings this up now?"
Chuck shrugged as much as his position would allow. "I'm just... getting reminded of it, here. Sometimes Dad would get so busy he wouldn't notice we were hiding, and we would just sit there for hours." Chuck shifted in the darkness, settling into a more comfortable position that left him leaning against Casey. Casey growled softly but found he was literally not in a position to argue. "And you know, it wasn't that bad. After a while we'd get bored and just start talking to each other until Dad came and dug us out. Usually something about aliens and whether they'd beat rock monsters in a fight."
Casey heard Chuck sigh before he continued. "But we grew up and we sort of grew apart. You know how it is, you hate each other because someone ate the last of the cereal, or a shoe got lost. But then... whenever one of us really needed something, we'd sneak into my closet and pull a pillowcase over our head, and the other one would follow and we'd ... talk. About the important stuff. The things you can't talk about in daylight."
Casey scoffed before he could stop himself. "Never seemed like you'd have anything you can't talk about. I've been trying to shut you up for three years."
"Casey," Chuck replied, his voice suddenly twinged with annoyance. "Ever since I got the Intersect, I've had to lie to everyone. To Ellie. Yeah, we grew out of needing the closet to talk, but now there's this whole part of my life that I can't even begin to share with her. Do you know what it's like to have to lie to one of the most important people in your life?"
Casey didn't reply for a long time; Chuck's words were bouncing around inside his head and striking some uncomfortable chords. "I've been..." He stopped, cleared his throat, and started again. "My mother has no idea what I do. And I've lost count of how many times I've wanted to tell her, when there's a mission I might not come back from."
"Then why not just say something?" Chuck blurted out angrily. "Or anything! Something that she could understand, something that would just ... be enough for her, if you were gone?" Chuck's voice trailed off helplessly.
Something inside Casey threatened to quaver, and he hardened his voice against it. "'Just enough' is nothing at all, Chuck. If she knew about what I do, if I said even a word, she'd become a target. Someone to watch. Someone to take. And if that happened, someone would pump her dry. Maybe even someone on our side. I am not going to let that happen to her." Casey cut himself off suddenly, taking a slow breath to calm himself. "It's not easy to do this. But doing it keeps your sister safe. If it comes to it, someone will tell her everything she needs to know. That's the best you can hope for her to have."
Casey's breathing, still not completely back to normal, was the only sound for a long time. Eventually Casey felt Chuck reach back to grab his hand and squeeze it gently. "Thanks, Casey," he said, his voice firmer and stronger than it had been before.
Casey let this go on for a moment before he pulled his hand out of Chuck's reach. "Don't go getting all touchy-feely on me, Bartowski. I'm just trying to keep you sane so you don't do anything stupid. Well," he added gruffly. "anything stupider than usual."
Chuck's soft laugh filled the small space, and an indulgent tone crept into his voice. "Sure, Casey. Whatever you say."
Sarah smiled with satisfaction as the lock clicked open after a moment's work. Tucking the pick and wrench away in a pocket, she grasped the edge of the casket lid and stepped to the side as she heaved it open, not wanting to take the risk of Casey being in defensive mode and ready to strike at the first available target.
No such strike was forthcoming; the occupants of the box were both sound asleep and hadn't so much as twitched. Chuck was leaking a slow trail of drool onto the padding, his face looking more relaxed and trouble-free than it had in months. Casey had his arm loosely curled around Chuck's waist in a protective gesture, and all the severity that normally ruled his face was being worn away at the edges by something Sarah could swear was contentment. Leaning over the two men, Sarah quietly hissed, "Casey, Chuck, wake up. It's time to go."
Casey's eyes sprang open instantly at the noise, then quickly squeezed shut again as the light stabbed at them. Chuck yelped, "I'm up! I'm up," as he jumped to a half-sitting position, which was belied by his still-closed eyes and the way he immediately lay back down again. Sarah took care not to notice the way Casey's arm leapt away from Chuck's side.
Between them, Sarah and Casey managed to wake Chuck up enough to make a quick and quiet escape from the building, though nothing they did could stop him from falling asleep again the second they got to the car. As Chuck snored quietly in the back seat, Sarah and Casey sat in a companionable quiet on the trip back to Chuck's apartment.
"So," Sarah said, finally breaking the silence. "You managed to be locked up with Chuck for four hours without killing him. I wasn't sure you had it in you."
Casey grunted neutrally at her teasing tone. "It was hell. He wouldn't shut up and he kept on making me play stupid games. Kid doesn't seem to get the idea of sleeping when you get the chance." He paused briefly before adding, "He's not so bad though. Once you get used to him and all."
Sarah flashed a small grin over at the passenger side. "Why, Casey. Don't tell me you're warming up to someone. Think of your reputation. People might start to think you're actually human."
"Just keep your eyes on the road, Walker," Casey shot back. "And if you're thinking about telling anyone about this... well, I know where you live."