A/N Going for a little lighter tone ofter last chapter's fireworks.

"We have a new priority."

"Take him away."

"Your girlfriend here just handed him over to the bad guys!"

"If anything happens to him, I will kill you."

"Colonel John Casey, reporting as ordered, General."

Diane Beckman looked up at the saluting man. She stood and returned his salute. "Sit down, Colonel. Tell me about last night's little…snafu."

"My written report –"

"Won't wait, Colonel. Shoot from the hip. I'll record your statements and that will have to do for now." She pressed a button on her desk.

"Yes, General. For background, the purpose of last night's operation was to extract Agent Miller from a situation created by the Ring, which was holding one of her known associates, one Morgan Grimes, hostage against her compliance with their wishes."

"Why him?"

"I don't know, General, but I suspect it might have something to do with his status as a recipient of the Costa Gravan Medal of Valor. To continue, Agent Miller was also outfitted with a wire to prevent her openly informing any of us of this situation. She managed to confide in Agent Carmichael and plan a response, but their plan went awry, as we discovered and reported to you earlier, but not in time to reach her. Last night's operation was an…ad hoc attempt to retrieve the situation and Agent Miller.

"The Ring anticipated this plan, and piggybacked their operation on top of ours. Things were further complicated by the unexpected inclusion of Mr. Grimes in Agent Miller's rescue."

"Who included him?"

"I expect she did, having been part of his escort detail on the return from Hawaii and knowing his ability in times of crisis. To continue, they anticipated that his room would be monitored, which it was, and arranged to meet in the secret room."

"As we anticipated."

"Yes, General, as you anticipated. Unfortunately, the Ring also expected it, being aware of the plethora of secret rooms in this city. They suppressed all signals from the house, and sealed the command van with the quick response team inside, leaving our Agent and Mr. Grimes to face their incursion alone. She apparently tried to contact us and failed–"

"How do we know this?"

"The Ring, in an attempt to cause confusion, broadcast what were no doubt highly-edited excerpts of their conversation in the room, in which she says that she tried to contact us."

"That's hardly evidence, Colonel."

"I'm aware of that, General, but the odds that the Ring had prepared forgeries on hand are low. Further, she used Mr. Grimes' phone to contact the only other resource she had available, Charles Carmichael himself, and was recorded saying it to him. The Ring could not have known about her connection to him, so we were prepared to accept the truth of the broadcast to that extent."

"Hmmm. Continue."

"Having been incommunicado for a day, Agent Miller couldn't have been aware of the latest developments with Agent Carmichael, previously reported, but Agent Carmichael went to her aid regardless. The speed with which the Ring team responded to his appearance implies to me that the whole trace-cell mission may have been a set-up. In any event, Carmichael was taken out quickly by a force even he couldn't easily overcome. According to Mr. Grimes, our only eyewitness to these events, Agent Miller attempted to protect Agent Carmichael but was quickly knocked out herself. I suspect the only reason she's still alive is the presence of Mr. Grimes, and the imminent arrival of my team."

"You recovered them?"

"Yes, General. He was brought in for testimony, and she is in protective custody. She has to be officially cleared of the treason charge, and the Ring's ploy of broadcasting those excerpts has made it seem she lied to us and perhaps even participated in the capture of Charles Carmichael. While those of us on scene know better, she has apparently received some threats."

"That can't be allowed to stand. Do we know who issued these threats?"

"I have men looking into it. Agent Carmichael's wife is currently recuperating from injuries sustained extracting herself from the immobilized van."

"Nothing serious, I hope."

"According to our medical team, she suffered some muscle strain, and some small broken bones. A little bed rest and some bone glue, she'll be fine in short order."

"Not good enough. We need to recover Agent Carmichael, and quickly. We may be able to expedite Agent Miller's release but injuries are injuries. Prepare your assault team. We will assign you some temporary members of your command team to locate and plan the retrieval."

"Yes, General. Will that be all?"

"That will be all, Colonel." Beckman turned off the recording as Casey stood. "Sit down, John, I'm not done with you yet."

Casey sat. "The General said that was all."

"The General lied. She does that. I have a question."

"Just one, ma'am?"

"Yes, Colonel," said Beckman. "What really happened?"

"Is the General implying that I lied?"

"The General normally implies that sort of thing with a squad of MPs, John. I am prepared to let your report stand as given for the benefit of certain members of Congress. Fortunately Mr. Grimes' Medal of Valor will stand him in good stead there. However, for my sake, and for the sake of any extraction operation we mount, only the bare truth will do."

"Every word I said was true."

"I'm sure they were, John, but they were also dressed to the nines and paraded down a runway for the paparazzi to gawk at. Give me the dressing room version."

Casey sighed. "Carina got into the attic, found Mr. Pendergast's supply of booze and drank herself into a stupor. Grimes got there and set her off about Sarah, and apparently Chuck is on her sh—uh, enemies list as well. The Ring was listening and recorded a lot of it, including the part where she called Chuck, claimed that there was Ring incursion underway, implied that Sarah and I were possibly captured, and then used some sort of code."

"What was the code?"

"Color words. We don't know what they meant, but she got an immediate reaction from the sound of things. She also outed both Sarah and Chuck as spies to Grimes, and referred to Chuck as Carmichael. The call to Chuck was some sort of ploy to prove her claims to Grimes."

"No wonder Sarah tore the van apart."

"She'd have done the same to Carina if I hadn't gotten her into lockdown. Fortunately berserker rage is very short-lived. Ellie's got her now."

General Beckman stiffened. Ellie. "Did you tell her what you just told me?"

Casey shifted in his seat. "Not yet. I felt it best to make my report to–"

Beckman smirked at his discomfort. "Don't worry, John, I'll talk to her." Just…not in person.

Casey relaxed. "Thank you, General."

"Don't thank me yet, Colonel. You've still got that rescue mission to pull off."

Ellie looked up as John Casey came through the doorway into her office. "What…?"

"Got something for you, doctor," he muttered, leading a tall man by the arm in to her office. He took the bag off the man's head to reveal Devon's confused face.

Devon looked over to his wife and back again. "What's going on, John? You made it sound like the world was coming to an end. What's the emergency?"

"Patient's through there, Devon," said Casey, pointing. "Ellie, answer your phone. I've got a mission to plan." Casey fled the room.

Devon gave his wife a confused look, but she had no time to give an explanation she didn't have before her phone made the demanding noise she always associated with General Beckman. So she pointed instead, and Devon went off to do his doctor thing as she turned to her phone and activated the screen.

In the recovery room, Devon had done little more than read Sarah's chart and note some of her more obvious vital statistics when he heard a shriek from the office. He barely had time to turn around before his wife came through the door and flung herself into his arms, sobbing. Sarah was injured and Ellie was crying. Totally not awesome. Where was Chuck when he needed him? Then he thought about his own question.

Oh, no…

Daniel Shaw was at his desk, arranging his files and preparing a powerpoint presentation when his phone rang. He already had his headset on. "I was wondering when you'd call me, Colonel."

"You want in?"

"I do. I was in the van with Agent Carmichael." That sense of rage, of…loss. Oh was he ever with her in that van.

"Meet me in Interiors Maintenance in fifteen minutes." Before Shaw could ask 'why there?' the phone went dead.

When Shaw arrived at IM he had some trouble spotting Casey among all the coveralls, until one of those sets of coveralls turned around. "It's showtime, gentlemen," he said to his companions. "Wish me luck."

"You guys don't hope," said one, shaking his head.

"You plan," said another, and they walked away, laughing.

"NSA?" asked Shaw.

"You didn't figure it out?"

"Hadn't thought about it, really. I know you're good at what you do, I didn't need to know anything else. It explains the outfit, though."

"What's with the bandages?"

Shaw held up his hands. "Somebody had to hold the grill back, so Agent Carmichael could get into the front of the van." It was made of sheet metal.

Casey nodded. "Yeah, you'll do. Come with me." He walked deeper into the bowels of the department, where few ever went who don't belong there. Somewhere the shelves opened out onto an open space, with a bunch of empty chairs and a bearded man sitting on one. "Daniel Shaw, this is Morgan Grimes."

Morgan rose and they shook hands, and then Shaw said, "The hero from Hawaii?"

Morgan paused a bit, like he had a lot to say and was thinking how to say it, but all he finally said was, "No."

Shaw looked curiously at the man who denied what he was famous for, and even more curiously at Casey, who seemed unsurprised at the denial himself, and also pleased.

Casey sat. "Mr. Grimes was the only eyewitness to the events at the B&B, Agent Shaw."

"Agent Miller is–?"

"Agent Miller will not be joining us," said Casey curtly. "As a result of last night's fiasco I have been tasked with creating a response team. You gentlemen are it."

Shaw looked Morgan over critically. "What is Mr. Grimes' position on this team?"

"The nice version is, he's as motivated as Sarah, he's as good with gizmos as you, and he's as big a wildcard as Carina."

Even Morgan looked impressed at this description. "What's the not-nice version?"

Casey rose and poked him in the chest. Morgan fell back into his chair. "You're Charles Carmichael's best friend, you're tired of girls fighting your battles for you, and this whole thing's partly your fault."

"I…think I'll stick with the nice version," said Grimes, rubbing his chest.

"Tell someone who cares."

Shaw ignored the byplay, focusing on the important details. Charles Carmichael's best friend. That would be useful, once they got Carmichael back. "Mr. Grimes, I'm going to play you some commentary that the Ring spread to disrupt us during their incursion. I'd like you to listen to it and put the comments in context, if you can, and anything else that happened."

"Sure. Go ahead."

At his own first words Morgan spoke up. "Okay, that wasn't where we started. I got up there and she was hammered already, and she was going on again about being betrayed by her friends. How was I supposed to know that Sarah was the friend she was talking about? Sarah wouldn't betray a friend."

"You got that right."

Shaw restarted the recording. They all listened in silence until Morgan asked, "What does that part even mean, 'an analyst with the interest'? It doesn't even make sense."

Casey shrugged. "It's like you said, she was toasted, you hear how her voice was slurring. Probably doesn't mean anything, but we'll look into it." He made a note, and gestured Shaw to continue. They listened to Morgan's end of Carina's phone call, and his final words, 'Now what?' "What happened after that, Grimes?"

Morgan looked a bit uncomfortable. "Well, it was kind'a cold in that attic, and Carina wasn't dressed too warmly and neither was I so–"

"Cut to the chase, moron!"

"We snuggled together for about half an hour, maybe more, before I heard something outside. Carina said it was Chu-Charles."

Casey shot him a glare at his slip-up. "So the Ring team had plenty of time to make a plan and set up their strike force."

"Well, they were certainly there, Johnny on the spot. He barely got my name out before he keeled over and then all these guys with guns were pointing them at us. They called someone named Leader and he came in and said 'Take him away.'"

"All Ring team leaders are called Leader by their subordinates," said Shaw.

"Well, he was in charge all right. That guy Heinrich really wanted to tear into us both but he didn't when Leader said no."

"Who is Heinrich?"

"He was the guy with the razor, a couple of weeks back they broke into the house and I kicked him in the nuts, really hard."

Both Shaw and Casey had been there, wearing police helmets so Morgan wouldn't recognize them.

"And he was really good with that razor, too! He sliced through just her pocket while she was out on the floor–"

"Carina was out by this time?"

"Yeah, when they were taking Charles away she said she wouldn't let them, and got up to fight them all by herself, starting with Heinrich."


"She could barely stand! I wasn't gonna let her get herself killed doing something stupid, so I…hit her… with the empty whiskey bottle." He looked at his feet, embarrassed.

"Smart move," said Casey, and Morgan looked up in surprise.

"Yes, well done," added Shaw. "They would have killed her otherwise."

"That's what Leader said."

"Did this Leader say anything else?"

"He made me carry a message…"

"Which is?" growled Casey.

"'Thank you.' He didn't say who it was for, though."

"Oh, I know who it's for," said Casey. "What else?"

"That's it," said Morgan. "He ignored like I wasn't even there, just…turned around and told his men to be careful with Charles' head."

Casey say forward. "He said what?"

"He said they could bump his body but be careful with his head, 'cause they had plans for that. What does that mean?"

Casey grunted.

A/N2 And the stakes just keep going up, don't they?