Written for Jellie Carnival Summer Challenge: Sequel to "Tightrope" and "Fire Eater." (If you haven't read them first, they'll help set the scene.)
A/N: Spoilers for Season Three Finale; JELLIE friendship/angst/comfort, or pre-Jellie if you like?
Disclaimer: I don't own them. If I owned any rights to John Casey, we'd never leave the house!;D

Part One

She was going to get caught.

Ellie's eyes narrowed as she watched the asphalt ahead, her booted foot pressing harder on the accelerator. A surge of power answered her demand as the SUV lunged forward toward the horizon.

Somehow she couldn't quite bring herself to care about her perfect driving record or some meaningless ticket. Couldn't dredge up enough of the old Ellie to slow the vehicle down, be cautious, be responsible, be the one who always did what was expected, what was needed, what was prudent.

In the passenger seat beside her, the screen lit up, her brother's face ID smiling back at her.

"What, Chuck?" She demanded.

"Ellie! Ellie, c'mon, please… let's talk this over. Please, Ellie? Just… just come home. We'll all sit down and be rational about this. I'm sure whatever's going on with you, between you and Devon, it can be worked out. Come home so we can talk?"

"Talk? You want to talk?" Anger flared from deep within. "Where was this burning need for conversation over the last few months? The last few years? However long it is you've all been keeping me in the dark? I don't want to talk, Chuck. I tried to get you to talk to me. All those times when I knew, I knew something was wrong, but you never wanted to let me in, didn't want to involve me, and now where has that got us?"

"Ell, I couldn't. Do you know how hard it was to keep it to myself? I had to protect you," he pleaded. "I know it doesn't make sense, but there was not vast conspiracy to keep you in the dark. Well… okay, there kinda was, but it wasn't just you. Devon, Morgan, they weren't supposed to know either, and didn't for the longest time."

His weary voice through the speaker almost softened her resolved. Until his next words. "Sis, Devon's packing. Says he can't get through to you. Ellie, I know the guy loves you, I know he wants you to come back. He doesn't want to leave, but he says you're not giving him any choice and God, how I hate talking about this kind of thing over the phone!

"Can't get through to – " A flood of hurt doused the anger. "Devon doesn't want me to talk, Chuck. Not really. He just wants me to smile and say it's all okay again, and pretend that everything's the same as it was before, pretend we're the same people we were before and I can't. I'm just not that person anymore, Chuck! Anytime I try to talk to him about it, try to really tell him how I feel, he shuts down. He puts in his earbuds and hops on that damned bike or goes for a run, or 'suddenly' remembers he was supposed to cover someone's shift at the hospital. And I just can't handle it anymore, because it's not okay! Okay?"

"Sis! Ellie! Be sensible about this. You can't just go running off to who-knows where! It's not safe and you know it!"

"Sensible, Chuck? Really? I've been sensible. I've been the only sensible one!" Her voice grew dangerously calm, quivering with pent-up anger. "Damn it, someone else can be sensible for a change."

Jabbing the off button, she tossed the phone into her purse, ignoring it as the ringtone sounded again almost immediately . She'd been the grown-up for all of them, all these years, and look what it'd got her. Not one of them had trusted her with the truth. She forced the burning sting of tears back, focusing on the dotted white line stretching out toward the horizon.

She wasn't sure which hurt worse: that the very ones who expected her to be responsible didn't consider her responsible enough to be trusted with the truth; or that by keeping her in the dark, they'd left her open to the manipulation and deception that had ultimately brought about her father's death. That had made her responsible for his death.

Flexing her fingers around the steering wheel, Ellie tried to blink back the hot tears, barely noticing the dark vehicle speeding down the exit ramp and slipping into traffic behind her.

Casey calmly edged the Crown Vic around a slow-moving minivan, keeping the barest edge of Ellie's vehicle in his sights. He had to give the lady credit as she weaved through the mess that was rush hour: the woman really knew how to drive.

Maintaining a proper thirty-yard tailing distance, John tried to ignore the twisting in his chest. He'd seen the warning signs, knew the situation at Casa Bartowski-Woodcomb was reaching nuclear proportions. He'd even tried to help bolster the containment field, strengthen the safeties. But in the end, the core had gone into meltdown, and heaven help anyone in the fallout zone.

It still surprised him that anyone else was surprised. Ellie may be the serene, mothering type, but beneath that layer of calm lay a center of solid steel. John smiled a bit. Titanium, even. Saddened as he was by the couple's breakdown, he couldn't say he was surprised, especially after finally getting to know the real Ellie.

She had tried. Not many in the service, much less a civie, could have gone through what she had and come through without a serious need for therapy. Then again, maybe she'd gotten the therapy she needed from him. John pushed the tightness from his chest again.


To be continued… reviews greatly appreciated. ;D

*shameless request* The stats counter has been out on my stuff for a few days... if you have time, please review, even if it's a 'hi, I liked it' or 'hey that stinks!' Though, detailed (constructive) feedback is always appreciated! ;D THX