A/N: Hey guys! So, this is my first Chuck fic. This is a tag to Chuck vs. the Ring, Part 2 – I couldn't help but noticing that Casey's facial bruising was markedly less prominent during that scene near the end where the whole gang got together for dinner than it had been when the BuyMore burst into glorious flames. That makes me think that maybe there were a few days between the two events. Here's what I think may have happened in that time – and what I think Ellie may have felt in regards to our favorite grunt after the frying pan incident.

"Oh, John, I'm so sorry."

Casey huffed out a breath in irritation.

Damn Bartowskies were so similar – and predictable.

"I didn't mean to – I mean, I really thought you were…" Ellie unthinkingly reached out towards the 'colorful' side of his face, her mouth turned down in regret. "Does it hurt?"

Bartowskies!

The Colonel growled, and looked out the widow, past Ellie.

"John…"

He sighed.

Why did he have to come get Ellie and Awesome?

Why wasn't Bartowski – the other Bartowski – here?

Well, he knew why – even with the Governor, Chuck still had a massive headache. Casey wasn't about to trust him to drive.

Walker either – she was supervising the cleanup crew and handling mission reports and other… necessary…pencil pushing and paper shuffling.

So he'd volunteered to drive four and a half hours to some unimportant suburban town in Southern California to pick up Ellie and Devon.

He'd arrived four minutes and thirty-seven seconds ago and already he was beyond annoyed.

Devon was still in the hotel room, 'gathering' their belongings, leaving him and Bartowski's sister waiting in the car.

And Ellie was trying to apologize.

For hitting him with a frying pan.

Because she believed his was a traitor to his country.

Though, technically he was – had been. He had been willing to hand over a very highly classified, dangerous, and experimental drug that would allow soldiers to operate without feeling fear, remorse, pain, or any other pesky emotions – he had been willing to hand this over to a terrorist organization that he had personally spent nearly a decade of his life combating.

And that he was out to kill her baby brother.

Well – he could understand that last part. Except, of course, for the part where she assumed that he was so incompetent as to still be trying after three years. Had she forgotten her brother's klutziness? Or did she really think he was that stupid?

He didn't know which offense irked him the most.

Yes he did.

How could she believe he would betray his country?

A country he had given everything to protect – even if he was willing to betray it in the end. He had still sacrificed so much for his country. He still would. He would give anything – except the few things that, to him, were his country.

Even if she couldn't know that, surely she could sense his patriotism after three years of neighborly conversations and holiday gatherings.

And now, to top it off, she wanted to know if it hurt.

Yes!

Yes, it hurt that his neighbor of three years believed him capable of treason.

Yes, it hurt that someone could believe he would kill Bartowski – after all they'd been through.

And, yes, his damn face hurt.

He glared at her. Knowing she had only meant that last he tried to communicate with his eyes and an expertly articulated grunt – "And you call yourself a doctor? Moron."

He thought he succeeded fairly well.

She opened her mouth again –

And Casey had never been so glad to see 'Captain Awesome'.

Ellie sighed before turning to her husband – asking about something inane like socks or toothpaste.

Casey focused on the sigh – the important piece of communication.

See, he knew that sigh. He had heard it from Chuck on many occasions.

It meant that the conversation was not over.

Great.

ooo oo ooo oo ooo oo ooo

Two and a half hours after Casey had arrived to drive them home, Devon was sleeping like the dead in the back seat.

And John – well, if a dead man could drive, he was driving like one.

His eyes scanned the traffic attentively but, although she knew he must be making course corrections, he seemed motionless otherwise. He hadn't made a peep since that last grunt before pulling away from the hotel.

Biting her lip she looked over at the silent driver – wincing once more at the spectacular bruising he was sporting, courtesy of three years of high school softball and her largest iron skillet.

She had hit a man – with the intent to cause a whole lot of damage – with a pan she used for fried bread and large batches of Devon's favorite snack – fried banana chips.

And she felt awful. She would never be able to look at that frying pan the same way again.

It was justified – hitting her reclusive neighbor after catching him sneaking around in her and Devon's apartment.

He had guns.

And Justin said he was bad.

A double agent.

He was going to hurt her brother.

And maybe Devon.

Ellie knew, in her head, that Justin was lying, that he was bad. Chuck had told her.

He told her that Casey was a good guy. Devon had backed him up – even Morgan had defended the larger man.

But she just couldn't – she didn't feel safe.

She wanted to wake Devon up, so she wasn't alone with this man that she'd hit with a frying pan.

She wanted this same man to forgive her – to absolve her of her sin, so she didn't have to feel guilty.

Before she had a chance to give in to either temptation – coughing loudly or apologizing again – John's cell phone rang.

Without taking his eyes off the road, he answered it.

"Casey."

There was a pause.

"They're both fine."

There was another, longer pause, and Ellie caught herself smiling, even as John's frown deepened. He could only be talking – er, listening to – her very worried (but safe and alive) baby brother.

"Enough Bartowski" he barked, confirming Ellie's suspicion. "We'll be back soon – you can ask her then."

John pulled the phone away from his ear a bit and she could hear a tinny, squeaky voice from the speaker.

"No! I'm not going to ask her that."

Ellie heard Devon stirring in the backseat. Apparently John noticed too – his eyes darted to the rearview mirror. Lowering his voice, he continued.

"I'm sure she'll manage to hold it together for another hour and sixteen minutes, Bartowski."

Another pause – her brother was probably still protesting. She couldn't possibly be fine – with this man.

"I'm always nice, Bartowski. No, I'm not mad. Yes, I understand. No, I'm not going to talk to her about it." Ellie blinked. Four complete sentences. That's more than he'd said all night. More than he usually said, even. "And I'm not answering this phone again. One hour, fourteen minutes."

With that he hung up, glaring at her briefly for good measure.

Clearing her throat, she decided to ignore the glare.

"That was Chuck?" she asked quietly. She decided not to wake Devon after all.

At first, she thought he wasn't going to answer. He'd been doing that a lot tonight. She stared out the window – at least Chuck was thinking of her. After a few minutes, however, he surprised her.

"He's worried about you."

The statement was even – almost without inflection.

"Yeah – he does that."

We both do that, she thought. We're all we have left – now that Dad's...

No.

No.

No no no.

She was not going down that path – not again, not tonight.

Blinking back her tears, she missed the sympathetic expression that crossed Casey's face before he shuttered it away.

"Your dad cared, too."

Again, no emotion.

Chuck may care, and her dad may have cared.

Devon cared and Morgan cared. Even Sarah probably cared.

But not this man – he would never care about anything. Didn't he have a daughter that no one knew about? He was emotionless, cold. A killer. No matter what Chuck and Devon and Morgan said – she could never trust this man.

He had guns and a temper and he was as big as a house. And he lied to her – so well. She knew that he had something to do with Chuck's lies, and Devon's… and even Morgan's. She wouldn't ever trust him, because now she knew. She knew about his guns, about his lies, about things he must've done – things he must've taught her brother how to do.

Suddenly she didn't feel as bad about the frying pan incident.

"Yeah, I know," she replied. And then, without meaning to, she spat, "Did anyone ever care about you?"

She didn't mean it – she didn't mean to say it.

She was looking out the window, so she didn't see his flinch.

And she didn't notice that Devon had his eyes open.

ooo oo ooo oo ooo oo ooo

"Did anyone ever care about you?"

Yes.

He didn't deserve it, but yes.

Feelings, emotions welled to the surface of his mind, but he pushed them back – ruthlessly, relentlessly.

Just like he had done so many, many times before.

A small movement caught his eye and he glanced up to the rearview mirror.

Woodcomb was awake – wonderful.

He made eye contact for the briefest instant – shook his head.

Ellie didn't need to know her husband had heard that last. Casey could tell she regretted it – she regretted saying it.

And he – John Casey, once Alex Coburn – had been cut worse, wounded when he was more undeserving.

Ellie gasped – she was trying not to cry.

He sighed.

One hour, nine minutes.

If he went five miles an hour over the speed limit, he could cut that down to one hour, one minute.

If he went ten over, it would be fifty-two minutes.

Fifteen – forty-four minutes.

If there ever was a situation that necessitated speeding, it would be this one.

He hit the accelerator.

ooo oo ooo oo ooo oo ooo

Thirty seven minutes later, Casey pulled his beloved Crown Vic into the apartment complex.

Ellie had stopped sniffling – thank goodness – and Devon had finally announced his wakefulness with a pathetically fake yawn-stretch combo.

Casey had only grunted – Ellie, however, had poured on the false cheer like too thick gravy.

It had lasted seven minutes before blessed silence was regained.

Without wasting any time, or breath, Casey pulled the keys from the ignition, unlocked the doors, and popped the trunk. Without speaking, he hefted all four of his passengers' travel bags. He started off towards the Woodcombs' apartment without looking back – he didn't have to see them to know they were following him.

He opened the apartment with a key Ellie didn't know he had and Devon hadn't been happy about. He was less than surprised to find Bartowski stretched out on the couch. Sarah was napping in a near-by arm chair.

He was surprised not to find the two of them curled up together – but, whatever it was, they'd work it out. Or someone else would butt in and do it for them – his money was on Grimes.

He turned to find Ellie staring, misty eyed, at her brother. Woodcomb was behind her, leaning in the doorway and smiling softly.

"Well, Babe, we made it home," he announced softly. Looking up at Casey, he smiled. "And thanks for driving us, John. You want something to drink?"

Without waiting for a response, he gently pushed past his wife – still gawking and teary eyed – and head toward the kitchen. His eyes very clearly said "Follow me – I have something more to say to you."

Casey bit back a frustrated grunt. Dropping his burdens behind the couch, he followed the younger man out of the room.

Woodcomb was resting against the counter, two beers in hand, when he entered. Casey glared suspiciously at the alcohol.

He doubted this was going to be pleasant.

"John, I just wanted to thank you – for looking out for Ellie."

He was right.

First an apology and now gratitude.

Woodcomb had been around too many Bartowskies for too long.

ooo oo ooo oo ooo oo ooo

"John, I just wanted to thank you – for looking out for Ellie."

Reaching out toward Chuck, Ellie paused. They were in the kitchen, but she could hear them well enough.

Looking out for me? She thought incredulously. Following her around and breaking into her apartment counted as 'looking out for her'? Since when?

Retracting her arm, she frowned, listening for a response.

Casey grunted. She nearly fainted in shock – not.

"Now, dude, I really mean it." That was her husband – being sweet and grateful and polite – one of the many reasons she loved him so much. But tonight she wished he would just – stop. "I know you didn't have to. But I'm glad you did."

"Didn't do it for you."

This time she was surprised. A whole sentence – good for him.

"I know – you did it because Chuck asked you to."

What?

"But, you see, she's my wife – and I care about her too. So thank you."

Grumbling. Ellie wondered why Casey didn't just storm out – he was certainly acting childishly enough.

"I mean it, bro. I can see what she did to you with that frying pan" Ellie mentally pictured a sympathetic wince from Devon and a scowl from Casey. "and I know that had to hurt. I know that you could have easily stopped her, but you didn't. Because you didn't want to hurt her. So, thank you."

"Didn't help in the long run."

Ellie blinked in surprise. That wasn't what she had expected to hear.

"Now, bro, you can't blame yourself for that – all that matters is that Ellie stayed safe. And I know you did your best to protect her. Thank you."

More grumbling.

"John, thank-"

"You're welcome!"

"See?" Ellie could hear Devon's huge smile. There was a sound of flesh meeting flesh – Devon's hand, John's shoulder, she was sure. "That wasn't so hard, now was it?"

"I was just-"

"No." Mentally, Ellie pictured Devon holding up his hand to forestall whatever Casey meant to say. "You already said it – you don't get to take it back. I'm not listening to any excuse about you just doing your job or trying to keep Chuck focused on the job. Now, finish your beer and go get some rest – you look like you need it."

Ellie smiled – that was her husband. Even if he was being… him … to John Casey of all people.

"He does really have a way with him."

Ellie started.

"Excuse me?"

Sarah uncurled slowly, blinking sleep out of her eyes.

"Devon, he has a way with Casey – persistent and unthreatening." She smiled thoughtfully. "Casey has really relaxed quite a lot since he was first assigned to Chuck. I think you and Devon – and Chuck of course – had something to do with that."

"Wha- sis?"

Ellie was saved from responding – what could she really say to that? Besides, of course, 'What do you mean relaxed?'

"Yeah, Chuck, I'm here."

And then, all thoughts – concerns – about John Casey went out the proverbial window.

Her little brother was okay – he was going to be okay.

A/N: Okay, so that went in a slightly different direction than I had originally planned. Hopefully I can still get it finished in only three or four more chapters... but these things have a habit of blowing up on me. Nonetheless, thanks for reading and please review!