A/N: Hey, everyone. The usual thanks go out to Crumby for talking this through with me and to Lindsay for pre-reading. Nysa, again, beta'd this chapter and had to suffer through removing several Britishisms – so extra thanks to her.
Finally, thank you to everyone who's still reading this story and to everyone who's left a review.
20th October 2007
Unknown Ring Facility
The Director leaned back in his chair.
He was really getting fed up of this office.
It backed onto a small bedroom, which had been serving as his private quarters over the past several days. The walls were now dark as he had killed the faux L.A. skyline appearance out of sheer irritation, constantly reminding him that he was trapped in this all too small security bunker – at least until his advisors said otherwise.
He'd been awake for a couple of hours now, again supervising the damage control from the Carmichael issue, which was mostly under control.
Fortunately, as it seemed, the only loose end now appeared to be any information Carmichael might have gathered from the data storage facility in Los Angeles – nothing else appeared to have been compromised. The intelligence from the facility in L.A., though, could seriously damage their operations if it ended up in the wrong hands, setting their advancement back by decades.
He hadn't yet heard anything from Shaw or any of his other CIA contacts regarding said intelligence. The ambiguity, in that sense at least, was promising. The CIA man who had recalled Walker, Assistant Director Skinnard, had been dealt with and wouldn't be causing them any more problems. Walker's other contact, the former analyst, wouldn't be involving herself either – not since the Ring had threatened her child. There was the possibility that Walker and Carmichael would try and go through someone else at the CIA, however remote that chance may be.
Nothing was ever a certainty in this business.
The mobile – his personal mobile – that had been sitting idly all morning started to vibrate.
The Director looked down at the number. It was Shaw. His already disingenuous relationship with the man had come under strain yesterday, after his incompetence had let Carmichael and Walker escape.
He paused and took a deep breath before answering the phone.
"Director," Shaw greeted tonelessly.
"I trust all is well?" the Director asked, straining to contain the sarcasm in his voice.
"Sir," the CIA Agent continued, ignoring the question, "I've just been informed by the CIA that the NSA has Walker and Bartowski in custody."
"Oh?" the Director said, raising his eyebrows. "And how might that have happened, Daniel?"
"One of their agents split off from the task force. He had access to satellite data that he didn't share with us."
"Now that's most disappointing," the Director observed. "Where are Carmichael and Walker now?"
Shaw paused for a moment. "They're being held at a sheriff's station outside of Termo, Lassen County."
The Director sat up, elation running through his veins. "You mean they haven't officially been transferred into NSA custody yet?"
"That's correct," Shaw replied. "The transfer's not due for a couple of hours yet. I'm heading north now. I should be there within the hour."
The Director was silent for a moment, considering his options. The Ring's grip over the NSA was severely limited. If any information Carmichael had fell into their hands, it would be much harder to contain than in the CIA. They had to act fast.
"Daniel," he said, licking his lips, "I want you to separate from the rest of your task force. There's a Ring operations team that should be able to be in Lassen Country within ninety minutes. Rendezvous with them instead."
"To what end, Director?"
"The apprehension of Carmichael is critical. I need you to see to it."
Shaw was silent, still waiting for further instruction.
"I also need you to make sure that any intelligence he might have passed to the NSA Agent isn't passed on – that includes the locals, too."
"I understand," Shaw said after the briefest of hesitations. "And Walker?"
"Well," the Director said calmly, "the last I checked, your wife was still dead and Agent Walker was still responsible."
Shaw made a sound that was more like a dog growling than anything a man might say. The Director smiled.
"Your orders are still the same as before. Do what you want with her. Just make sure she ends up dead."
# # #
20th October 2007
Sheriff's Station, Lesson County
"You didn't have to hit him, you know."
"I thought he was hurting you!"
"Chuck," Sarah sighed, leaning in closer to him on the prison cell bench they shared and reaching up to cup his face, "he was arresting us. That's sort of how it works."
Chuck bit his cheek, resisting the urge to hiss – her cuffed hand was just shy of where the NSA Agent had hit him back, considerably harder. Sarah must have noticed his contorted expression, for she quickly withdrew her hand.
"Sorry," she apologised, guilt flashing across her face.
"It's okay," Chuck said, fleetingly trying to reassure her by smiling.
Sarah didn't look convinced, and he didn't really blame her; it wasn't okay. They were both being detained at a local sheriff's station, having been transported there in separate vehicles before being placed in the same cell. Chuck's watch had been taken from him on arrival, so he couldn't be sure how long ago that was, but it had to have been over an hour ago. Was that enough time for the Ring to find them? He wasn't sure. It was only fortunate that it had been the NSA that had found them – well, not entirely for his face, Chuck reasoned. If the CIA had been the ones to arrest them, he was certain that they'd be in Ring custody by now…or worse.
The NSA Agent, who Sarah had introduced as John Casey, had yet to ask of them any questions. That though, he thought, would only be a matter of time. Neither of them had discussed what they would say if asked any questions.
"What do you know about this Casey?" he asked.
Sarah's face wrinkled. "He's a burnout. The NSA's lapdog when they want something done. A cold-blooded killer." She paused, considering. "He is loyal, though. I couldn't see him working for the Ring."
"Does that mean we can trust him, then?"
"Not a chance in hell," she said, shaking her head. She shuffled closer to him, lowering her voice. "Chuck, we can't tell him anything. Without any evidence, there's no way he's going to believe us, and we can hardly show him what's in your head."
Chuck slowly nodded. "Okay."
"Promise me, Chuck," she said, looking concerned. "No matter what he says."
"I promise," he said quickly.
She smiled, leaning over to kiss him on the cheek.
A light being turned in the corridor outside the cell caused them both to jump up from the bench and Sarah's hand was suddenly in his – somewhat difficult with the handcuffs.
"Ready?" he asked her, tightening his grip on her hand as several sets of footsteps started making their way closer to the cell.
Sarah chuckled nervously from beside him. "Shit, yeah."
John Casey came to a stop in front of the small cell flanked by two burly-looking deputies. His arms were folded and he was still dressed entirely in black. There was an ugly looking bruise swelling up on his right jaw.
He glowered at Chuck.
The butt of his Sig was sticking out very prominently from his belt and something told Chuck that the larger agent would no problem with using it if either of them tried anything. He hoped Sarah realised that, too.
"Let's go," he said finally, growling at the two deputies, who quickly unlocked the door and entered the cell.
Sarah was pushed aside, their hands losing contact as each deputy took a hold of one of Chuck's arms and began to half carry him out of the cell.
He turned his head towards Sarah, who looked impossibly vulnerable and yet determined at the same time. "It's okay," he said quickly. "I know."
The sound of the cell door slamming behind him reverberated through his ears as he was frogmarched up the corridor, the calm, controlled footsteps of the NSA Agent slowly following.
# # #
"You have to listen to—"
The force of the NSA Agent's fist smashing into his face cut Chuck off, causing his head to bend back uncomfortably against the chair. White spots flashed across his eyes and time momentarily stopped. Then the pain came and he collapsed forward against the table, to which he was chained.
Chuck spat blood on the floor.
"Let's be clear about one thing," Casey growled, rubbing his enclosed fist, "I don't have to do anything."
Chuck steadied himself, trying not to strain against his restraints, staying silent. His jaw throbbed.
"I do have to say, though," he continued, shaking his head slightly, seemingly almost smiling, "I am a little surprised."
"Surprised at what?" Chuck asked – probably too quickly as Casey looked like he was going to hit him again, causing Chuck to flinch, before reconsidering it.
"You don't look like the kind of agent who'd have a hand in assassinating a CIA director."
"What?" Chuck exclaimed. Assassinate a CIA director? He…
Casey shrugged. "I guessing it was Larkin's op. He probably did most of the planning, right? The Ring just ordered you to clean up, dispose of the evidence, plant a little car bomb… Was Walker involved, too? I'm assuming that's why Shaw wants her dead, or least considers her collateral."
Chuck leapt up before Casey had finished, only to be held back by his tether to the table. "Bryce never killed—"
The rest of his words wheezed out of him as a laborious cough as Casey hit him again, this time in the stomach, causing him to collapse back into the chair. "Sit. Down," Casey ordered him.
Leaving his eyes closed, Chuck resisted the urge to heave out the contents of his stomach and groaned in pain. He needed to be in control of his emotions. He'd promised Sarah he wouldn't say anything.
"I see I touched a nerve," Casey said, sounding annoyingly satisfied.
The last part of what Casey said suddenly registered. "Wait," Chuck coughed, trying to ignore Casey's apparent smugness. "Shaw wants Sarah dead?"
He no longer had the Sig tucked into the front of his pants, Chuck noticed as he opened his eyes. Evidently that had been for effect – it had worked. The chair scrapped against the floor as Casey sat down. "Talk," he said.
Chuck was suddenly a thousand times angrier than he had been a moment ago. He knew exactly what Casey was doing, dangling the threat of Shaw in front of him. He was going to have to take a chance with the man – it wasn't like he had any choice – and break his promise to Sarah to stay silent. He'd sworn to himself that he would do all in his power to protect her and that came before everything.
"Larkin wasn't Ring," Chuck rasped, still desperately trying not to throw up. "Neither is Sarah. Neither am I."
Casey looked unconvinced, waiting for him to elaborate further. When only silence ensued, he reached into his jacket pocket and threw something on the table.
"Explain this, then."
It was the Ring phone Chuck had taken off the guard in the desert when he'd broken Sarah out. Casey clearly knew what it was, too. He was going to have to tell him. Chuck's eyes darted upwards towards the surveillance camera in the corner of the room, double checking it was still turned off like Casey had ordered when the two deputies had left them alone in the room.
He turned back to his NSA interrogator, catching him directly in the eye and swallowed. "For the past six months and up until five days ago, I've been working undercover as part of the Ring. My mission was to gain intelligence on the extent of the Ring infiltration into the CIA. Only two people at the CIA knew about this. They're both now dead. Bryce Larkin, my handler, died trying to stop that bomb exploding, and Director Graham…The Ring, they must have gotten to him somehow. It wasn't Bryce that killed him, I promise you that much."
Casey had sat steadily listening to Chuck, not reacting. When Chuck was done, he opened his mouth.
"It's the truth," Chuck said quickly, half expecting Casey to get up and start hitting him again.
"What happened five days ago?" Casey asked instead, remaining seated. "Why did you break your supposed cover with the Ring? Did you complete your mission?"
He looked away guiltily, remembering the events of what happened in the desert, what the Ring had done to Sarah. "No," he mumbled.
"Well?" Casey prompted. "What happened, then?"
"I broke cover to free Sarah from Ring captivity," he said finally. "They were interrogating her."
"Walker was in Ring captivity?" Again, Casey still didn't look entirely convinced. "Was she part of your undercover operation, too?"
Chuck shook his head. "She was investigating Graham's death, looking for Bryce…and me."
"And the Ring captured her?"
"I'm guessing Walker will back all this up," Casey said, standing up once more. Chuck flinched. "Thing is, she can only say what she knows and you just told me the only people who can corroborate your story are dead. That's mighty convenient."
Sweat started to run down Chuck's palms. Casey didn't believe him.
"How is Shaw connected to all this?" he asked suddenly, starting to pace around the table.
"Shaw?" Chuck repeated, frowning. The question had thrown him off. "Shaw's a Ring expert…I hadn't even heard of him until yesterday. I assumed he was working with you."
Casey didn't reply; he appeared to be considering it. Judging from the slight disdain with which he had said Shaw's name, Casey didn't seem to have a particular fondness of the man.
"Wait here," he said finally, moving over to the door – Chuck flinched once more as he passed him – and exiting through it, leaving him alone in the room.
Chuck was fully aware he'd left out details regarding the Intersect, namely the part about it being in his brain. He was taking a chance with Casey, mainly because he didn't have any other choice, but telling him about the Intersect wasn't something he was prepared for yet. Crucially, by some godforsaken miracle, the Ring still didn't know about the Intersect – they probably wouldn't be too happy when they find out it had been under their noses for several months.
Unfortunately, Casey had taken the Intersect upload from him when they'd been arrested. Most likely, however, he wouldn't associate them with the Intersect project. They had been a custom creation within the CIA and, as far as he knew, were the only pair. Still, if the NSA Agent found out Chuck had been keeping something like the Intersect secret he would probably get hit some more. There wasn't much he could do to prevent that. It wasn't like he was going anywhere.
Chuck leaned back in the chair, his mind drifting to Sarah. Most of the Casey's aggression seemed to be focused on him and, thankfully, not her.
If the NSA Agent touched her, he didn't know what he would do. He only knew it wouldn't be pleasant.
# # #
The local deputies were all busy trying to look uninterested as Casey stepped out of the interrogation room. Several, though, were having difficulty concealing their frowns – no doubt disapproving at his order to turn off the camera in the room. Casey rolled his eyes, and stepped. The locals could take it up with him later. Turning to walk towards the least occupied part of the station, he considered what he'd just heard. He wasn't sure what to make of Bartowski's story himself. Still, Bartowski had told him more in several minutes than the whole CIA had in a week.
Casey pulled his phone out of his pocket. He had to speak to Beckman now.
Given the hour, he hadn't spoken to her directly to inform her of Bartowski and Walker's apprehension. He'd gone through her assistant. Now, however, she was wide awake.
"Good morning, Major."
"And to you, General," he returned.
"I believe congratulations are in order," Beckman said, her usual stern tone absent, "on a job well done. You managed to arrest two renegade agents without nearly triggering a mass civilian panic."
Casey couldn't help but allow himself a small smile. "Thank you, General, but the work's not over yet."
"Indeed, it never is."
He pushed the phone closer to his ear, double-checking he was out of earshot of any eavesdropping deputies. "How far off is the NSA transport to take them back to D.C.?" he asked.
"It should be with you within the hour," Beckman replied. "I trust you can keep the prisoners secure until then?"
"Of course," Casey said slowly. "It's just some of the things they've been saying…they could have major implications."
"You've had the chance to question them, then?" Beckman said after a brief hesitation.
"And what have you learned?"
Casey took a deep breath. "Bartowski claims," he said, making sure to add a healthy degree of scepticism to his voice, "that he's spent the last six months undercover with the Ring as part of a secret CIA operation."
"Hmm," Beckman said. "Has he offered you any proof of this?"
"No, General, he hasn't….at least not yet."
"He also says that the CIA has been severely compromised by the Ring, that they were responsible for Graham's death, not Larkin."
"Again, has he offered you any proof of this?"
"No," Casey conceded.
Beckman clucked in disapproval. "What's your take on this, Major?"
"Given the implications," he said cautiously. "I think it's imperative we get both Bartowski and Walker back to D.C. as soon as possible. We should probably also limit the CIA's involvement in this."
"I agree," Beckman said. "Unfortunately, news of their arrest has already started to spread down the interagency channels. Shaw's task force will know by now."
"I know, Major," Beckman agreed. "I'll let the CIA know that Bartowski and Walker are in NSA custody and they would be unwise to challenge us on this."
"I'll continue to question the prisoners, see if they have some evidence to back up their story."
"Keep me informed on that," she said, closing the conversation. "Check in when the transport arrives."
Casey clicked off the phone and frowned. He had sounded like he believed Bartowski's story. Truth be told, he didn't know what to make of it. As incompetent as he knew the CIA to be – Shaw being the prime example of that – the idea that they had been completely compromised by the Ring sounded a little far-fetched.
He glanced down at his watch. The NSA transport wouldn't be long. He would get a cup of coffee – he was only human after all – and then finish questioning Bartowski. If he had time, he would speak to Walker, too.
"Everything all right, Major?" a deputy asked as he entered the rec room of the sheriff's station.
"It would be better if I could get a cup of that coffee you have over there," he replied, gesturing to the half-full pot the deputy was next to.
The deputy nodded. "It is a little early," he conceded. "How do you take it?"
"Black and bitter," Casey answered, nodding a thanks as he took the cup.
The deputy tucked his thumbs into his belt. "So, it's not every day we get an NSA Agent around here."
Casey was about to answer when his phone beeped: an email. "Excuse me," he said to the deputy, stepping out again in the hallway to get some privacy.
The email was from an unknown sender, giving him pause. There were few people who knew this email address – and virtually no-one outside the NSA. Curious, though, he opened the first file in the email. It was a video file. Casey made sure to adjust the sound on his phone so that only he could hear before pressing play.
The video was from a surveillance camera, somewhere in Europe judging from the old cobbled streets. Berlin, maybe? Or Paris? Casey didn't care particularly for such dated cities. After a few seconds, two women came into shot, walking towards each other. One, a brunette, he didn't recognise. The second was in a long, red coat and was a blonde. He couldn't be sure, as the picture quality wasn't great, but she looked like Walker. She appeared to be on edge. The brunette then dropped something, a bracelet? Walker passed by her and…nothing. Then the brunette reached into her bag and Walker, acting on instinct, spun on her heel, a gun in her hand. She shot the brunette once in the chest – causing Casey to blink in surprise. The brunette fell back and Walker looked thoroughly stunned. That wasn't the face of a professional Agency killer. The brunette didn't move and Walker started to flee. A couple of seconds later the video ended.
Who the hell had sent him this?
There were two remaining files in the email. They were both text files. The first one was a personnel file for a CIA Agent. He looked at the picture: a brunette in her twenties. She was the same person as in the video, the same person who Walker had shot and presumably killed. When Casey saw the name above the picture, he nearly dropped his phone: Evelyn Shaw. There was no way. He scrolled down through the file until he saw what he was looking for: Spouse: Special Agent Daniel Shaw.
What the fuck?
Walker had killed Shaw's wife! Did this mean that Bartowski had in fact been bullshitting after all? Could Walker and Bartowski really be with the Ring?
It took Casey several seconds to remember the final file in the email; the second text file. He opened it not knowing what to expect. It was a CIA mission brief. Most of the file had been redacted and there was more black than white visible on the page, but Casey could see what he needed to. Evelyn Shaw's picture was there at the top right of the page. Her name had been blacked out this time. Next to the picture, two sentences stood out: "From the Office of the Director" and "Red Operation".
Casey closed the email and leaned back against the wall.
Every agent knew what a Red Operation meant.
The CIA had sanctioned the assassination of Evelyn Shaw and Walker had carried it out. If Daniel Shaw knew… No wonder why he appeared to want Walker dead – she had killed his wife, even if it was under orders. The bigger question remained, why the hell would CIA want Evelyn Shaw dead?
This complicated things greatly.
The now lukewarm coffee in Casey's other hand no longer seemed as appealing.
# # #
Chuck all but collapsed when the deputies brought him back to the cell, and he would have had Sarah not been there to catch him.
"I feel terrible," he muttered. He hadn't realised how truly winded Casey's punch had left him until the two deputies had uncuffed him from the table and stood him up. When the NSA Agent had reappeared in the room, he'd ordered Chuck be moved back to the cell without asking any more questions.
Somehow, despite both of them being cuffed, Sarah managed to ease him onto the bench, letting him lie down. She crouched next to him.
"What happened?" she asked, lightly stroking his hair.
"Sarah, I'm sorry," he murmured. "I had to tell him, I had to. I told him that I was undercover… I had to."
Sarah's expression was pained. "Chuck, you promised…"
"It wasn't 'cause of this," he said gesturing to the bruises on his face, suddenly feeling the need to reassure her. "He said Shaw… Shaw's put an order to kill you, wants you dead."
Her expression lightened. "And you believed him?"
Chuck closed his eyes. "I couldn't take the chance."
"Did he believe you at least?"
He shook his head. "I'm not sure. He was sceptical. I didn't tell him about the Intersect."
"That's something at least," she said, pushing herself onto the bench so that his head was in her lap. She continued to stroke his hair. "Shaw hasn't got any more reason than Casey to want me dead. We're both probably traitors in their eyes."
"I overheard the guards," he said. "They're going to take us back to D.C. The NSA is sending transports."
Sarah sighed, causing a loose strand of hair to fall, tickling his face. "Maybe we'll be able to show them the information in your head in D.C. If the Ring allows us to get that far, that is."
Chuck pushed himself up so that he could sit facing her. He winced slightly as he did so. "We should at least be able to convince them that you're not involved."
"I thought we were in this together," she said, frowning.
He smiled, leaning closer to her. "Maybe we could request a cosy two-bed, two-bath cell."
She laughed. "Two-bed?" she said, raising an eyebrow.
Chuck felt his stomach flutter – and that wasn't due to Casey's punch.
Tentatively, he pressed his lips towards hers and their kiss met halfway.
Then everything went dark.
# # #
Casey dropped his now cold coffee when the lights went out. His hand was instantly on his Sig, now stuffed in the back of his jeans.
"What happened?" he asked the nearest local, who was only a dim shadow in the darkness as neither of them was near a window.
"Probably just the generator again," the deputy said, shrugging. "Power here runs on the generator a lot of the time. It's old, though. Budget cuts and all… I'll go check it now."
"I'll come with you," Casey said, still feeling on edge. He didn't exactly believe in co-incidence, especially not today. "Where we going?"
"Just out the back," the deputy explained.
Casey followed him as they moved through the small station towards the exit. Several of the officers already had flashlights out and were murmuring amongst themselves.
"Watch the prisoners," he ordered, pointing to two of them.
Another deputy had already beaten them outside and was crouched by the generator. The two of them came to a halt next to him. Casey raised his hand, shielding his eyes from the early morning sunlight.
"What's the problem?" he asked the man by the generator.
"Not sure," the deputy replied, looking up briefly to see who had asked the question. "I mean, the fuel's going through and all – wait a second."
"The power lines! They've been cut!"
Casey drew his Sig at approximately the time that the deputy who'd been standing next to him dropped dead on the floor
"Get down!" he cried at the officer who was still alive, as he dived for cover behind the generator.
Then gunfire erupted everywhere and all hell exploded.
# # #