A/N Article 15 of the Code of Military Justice provides for Non-Judicial Punishments. Just so you know.
"What am I not going to like this time, Colonel?"
"We do what we can and we pray it's enough."
"Get in, Agent Ling. We need to talk."
"Charles Irving Bartowski, I'm going to kill you!"
She ran through the house looking for her little brother, who was understandably reluctant to come out and be killed.
A door opened and she turned, but it was her father. "Hey, Eleanor, what's all the fuss about?"
She held up a chain, a medallion dangling, not as large as it should have been. The figure of a girl hung from it, the figure of a boy lay in her hand."He broke, it, Daddy. He broke Mom's necklace. I don't want to be here all alone." She tried to hand the items off to him.
He refused to take it. "He's in your hands now, Eleanor. It's your job to keep him safe, but don't worry, I'll help you fix him."
"But I can't find him."
"Finding him, fixing him, there's no difference." Her father reached out a hand, his voice dropping an octave. "We'll find him, babe, we'll get him back."
A hand stroked her cheek and Ellie opened her eyes. Devon sat there in the chair by the couch she was sleeping on, leaning close, his hand closer. "Devon?"
"Yeah, Babe, I'm here. Casey said you were gonna try and bring the Chuckster back today, and you'd need someone to help you celebrate."
She smiled. He was so transparent. "I'm so glad you're here." So glad she wasn't alone.
Sarah danced around the kitchen, knives whirling in a well-choreographed ballet of death to enough onions, scallions, and peppers to feed the Russian army. Her man had to get up soon, and he would be hungry. The world tilted to her left and she looked there, but her glasses showed her only blackness. Useless things, no substitute for the sound of his voice, the touch of his hand. She flung them to the ground, and a piece of luggage fell from the counter and smashed them, setting her world right.
She was upstairs, outside the bedroom door. "Chuck? Sweetie, you need to get up, we're getting married today." No answer.
She stood by the side of the bed where her husband lay in darkness. "It's time to get up, Chuck." He lay still, breathing. She took his hand, felt the ring finger tapping 1-2-1-2 in rhythm to his heart. This wouldn't do. She felt around for the lamp.
The lights went on and Sarah sat up, stiff from the posture she'd been sleeping in, bent over her husband's body as he lay on the bed. Neither of them had moved for hours.
"Sarah, it's time to wake up," said Ellie gently, from her place by the light switch. "We need to get him ready for the procedure, and you need to get ready too. He will wake up and he will want to see you, so you want to look your best."
Morgan trudged through the kitchen, not his normally cheerful self. Fortunately his body knew its way around, since his mind was a million miles away.
He looked up, and saw one of his favorite clients at the window. "Hey, Alex," he said, before he could remember his instructions. "I mean, Miss McHugh. Something wrong with your eggs?"
"Just a shell fragment." She leaned in conspiratorially. "I'm worried about the chef. He's never done that before. Plus he's not smiling like he usually does, and it looks like someone tied weights to his ankles."
That poor guy. "Really?"
"You have to notice these things to be an FBI trainee, you know."
"That's funny, you sounded just like King Arthur–"
That was the last straw. She marched away from the window and into the kitchen itself. "What's wrong, Morgan?"
"Hey, you're not supposed to be in here!" He grabbed a hairnet from the box. "That's a health code violation!"
She grabbed the net and put it over her hair rather than get distracted by trivia. "Answer the question."
Morgan wanted nothing more than to get distracted by trivia, but…this was Alex, one of his favorite clients. She was nice, a former wait-person at a diner who didn't treat him like just staff. "It's…my friend, Chuck. He's in a coma, they're gonna try to bring him out of it today, but…"
"But they aren't sure it'll work?"
He shook his head.
"Oh, Morgan, that's awful." She moved in to give him a hug, but…she took his hand instead. "I'm so sorry."
Her hand was warm, her voice gentle. Morgan felt some of the despair just fall away from him. He took a deeper breath, and opened his mouth to–
The door slammed open, and Alex jumped as a large, angry-looking man stomped into the room. "What the hell are you doing here, Grimes?" he said, almost growling. "Today of all days." He grabbed Morgan's free hand and started dragging him off.
Morgan went willingly, or at least he didn't resist. "Hey!" He looked back as he went. "Alex, this is Casey. Casey, Alex…"
Alex found herself waving stupidly at the door as it flapped closed. Another of this guy Chuck's friends? She liked Morgan's way of showing grief better.
"Where's Morgan?" asked a female voice from the window. It was very direct, demanding, almost challenging.
Alex turned to the window, saw an Oriental woman staring at her. "Uh, hospital, friend, coma," she stammered out.
Another one? Alex nodded, wondering how this woman knew Morgan.
The tiny Asian lady shook her head. "Unbelievable. A step down from janitor. Good job, Sarah." She looked up. "He was supposed to be here, I was supposed to give him this." She put a small velvet box on the sill. "Can you make sure he gets it by this afternoon? I have someplace I need to be."
Alex nodded and took the box, putting it away safely.
"And maybe a waffle? I'm starving!"
Casey walked around the corner in his janitorial finest, but Carina ignored him. This was one her favorite parts. "She's already had one partner up and vanish on her, I'm not going to let it be two." Suddenly the picture went blank as Casey turned off the TV.
He ignored her, ejecting the disk and putting in a plastic case before pushing the cart against the wall. He left the case on the cart and went into one of the interrogation rooms, coming out with a chair. He put it down in front of her cell and sat.
She sat too. "It's today, isn't it?"
They strapped Chuck into a wheelchair. Ellie and Sarah, since Manoosh wasn't allowed to know the identity of the Intersect Host. He looked so peaceful, breathing deeply, eyes closed. Closed? "How are we going to make him look?" asked Sarah.
Ellie looked around. "Grab that tape dispenser, will you?" She put it in Chuck's lap and took the handles of the chair. "Off we go."
Sarah got the doors as Ellie wheeled him into the Intersect room. She positioned the chair carefully, facing one wall, and set the brakes. Moving in front of Chuck, she took the tape dispenser and pulled off a short piece of tape, rolling it up, sticky side out.
Sarah watched as Ellie used the tape to hold his eyelid in an open position before doing the same to his other eye. "That looks more comfortable than what they did to him at Meadow Branch."
"Let's hope he wakes up and complains." Ellie squirted some saline into his eyes from a small bottle. "Let's go, it's not good for his eyes to be kept open like that."
Sarah sealed the door herself. Ellie was in the control room already, studying the upload as if there something else she do with it at this point, and Sarah took her hand. "It's all right, Ellie. We've done our best, let's just…pray that it's enough." Sarah left, to go and be with Morgan and Devon, sitting in Ellie's office.
Manoosh came in, sitting in the second chair. "Didn't want you to be alone."
Ellie smiled at him. "I'm not. Thank you."
Sarah had barely sat when Ellie's voice came from a number of speakers and earpieces, dreaded and welcomed at the same time. "Upload commencing."
He ran through a very large house. Someone was after him! Fear tickled the back of his head, ran down his spine. "Charles Irving Bartowski, I'm going to kill you!"
Charles Irving Bartowski. Was that him?
Up ahead he heard a noise, and he stopped to peer around the corner. A man walked out of a room, leaving the door open. Charles Irving Bartowski ran from his hiding place and ducked into the room before the door closed.
Computers lined the walls, blinked and beeped from shelves. He liked the sound. He felt…safe. He climbed up into a chair to see the big screen on the desk, the one that was blinking the most. Press Enter to Return.
He pressed the button, to see what would return. The screen glowed bright white and expanded, the world tipped forward, and they fell into each other.
She heard him through the walls of the most insulated room on the planet. "SARAH!"
Morgan and Devon both winced.
"Ah! Sarah!" said Devon, trying to rescue his fingers from her grip. "Surgeon here. Kind'a needing the phalanges intact!"
"Yeah," said Morgan, also pulling away, "That's my flipping hand!"
Fortunately she lost a few seconds trying to unclench her hands, otherwise she would have pounced on the intercom and broken a few rules. Ellie was more controlled. "Graboid, how do you feel?"
There were a few horrible seconds of silence. Then, "Ellie?" His voice sounded rough from the shout.
Sniff. "Yes, Graboid?"
"I feel like someone was about to shoot me in the head and I was about to die."
Her voice wobbled over the speaker. "They did. You didn't."
"How are…um…is everyone else okay?"
Now Sarah pounced. " Kaleidoscope and I will be glad to debrief you at whatever length you want, Eagle-Eye."
"Thank you," said Chuck softly. "Um, why am I tied to a wheelchair?"
"We, we did an upload to reverse whatever they did to you. That's why your eyes can't blink. We have to do a download now, otherwise you'll be stuck inside."
"What are you waiting for?"
"We…" she took a deep breath, "…don't know what it will do. You may…go away again."
"Oh." He didn't know what to say to that. There was no promise, no assurance he could give. All of these people had stood by him and he couldn't do anything in return. He could do nothing for the future, only for the right now that he had right now. "I love you guys, you know. Just wanted to make sure that part got said. Just in case."
A chorus of voices replied, and the Intersect let him track each one.
"Do what you have to do."
A brief pause, just long enough for her to wipe her eyes, and Ellie's voice came over the speaker, clear and strong. "Download commencing."
Carina watched Casey's face carefully, like her life depended on it. Watched him frown, watched him smile. He raised his wrist to his mouth, and said, "It's been an honor serving with you, Graboid." Then he sat patiently, watching her watching him.
Suddenly he winced, and pulled out his earpiece.
He ignored her, instead moving the chair back to the room he'd taken it from.
"Casey, what happened?"
He walked up to her, ostentatiously avoiding the door controls, and said, "Congratulations, Miller. Now it's the General's turn."
Morgan was confused. "You didn't arrest her?"
"The whole point of this is to not arrest her, Grimes. She's still gotta face the music, though."
"Why? Why does she have to face any music? She didn't mean to do it. I'd have done the same."
"Probably, but she's got two things you don't have, a Federal Agent's badge and a brain."
"She's also got a heart, and don't try to tell me you don't know what that is, Mr. John 'I'm opening this door' Casey." Morgan looked from one to the other. "Or maybe I should start calling you Agents Kettle and Black, huh?"
"Shaw is dead," said Sarah. "She may not have meant for it to happen but it did and he is."
"Shaw went into that Ring base on his own, a Ring base we wouldn't have found without Chuck being in it. He sent you clues, didn't he, code and stuff. Which wouldn't have happened without Carina's little… oopsie. I'm not happy about what she did either, but if you're gonna blame her for the bad stuff, credit her with the good stuff too. It's only fair."
Sarah looked at Casey. Casey turned and slammed his way out of the recovery room. "Nuts!"
Not too long after that, Casey walked around the corner of the holding area and hit the switch. "The General's ready for you, Miller. Follow me."
Carina had no choice but to follow, since she had no idea where Casey was going. She wasn't all that familiar with this part of CIA headquarters, but it certainly didn't look like officer country, it looked more like…a gym? They fetched up outside the ladies locker room. "Take a shower, Miller, you're ripe. You have five minutes."
Carina was grateful to get out of the grimy clothes she'd been wearing for days, but that didn't last long. The hot water wasn't running, and someone put conditioner in the shampoo bottle. Her old clothes had vanished, and the underthings put out for her were too large, while the brown bodysuit was too small. This part of her 'punishment' smacked of Casey, although he wouldn't have entered the ladies lockers with a gun to his head. At precisely T plus five minutes she dragged herself out the door.
He handed her a mask. "To complete the ensemble." He wasn't smiling, or smirking, didn't seem to be enjoying her discomfort in any way. Maybe he wasn't. "Come on, Miller."
"Shut up, Miller. Protect your cover." He pulled open a door and shoved her through the opening but didn't go through himself. In the too-small clothes she stumbled onto the mat, and would have cursed but there were people present and she couldn't see very clearly with the mask on.
"Ah, Agent 15, so glad you could join us." Beckman's voice, and there to her left was Beckman herself, perched on a stool and looking quite pleased with herself. The General waved graciously. "I don't believe you've met Agent Ling." Her words were an instruction, and Carina remembered Casey's warning.
Anna Wu stepped onto the mat, wearing full protective gear and sticks in hand. "Agent Ling, this is Agent 15, the one I told you about," said the General.
"The one who put Morgan in danger?"
"Now, Agent Ling, what have I told you about letting emotions cloud your judgment? This is a professional meeting. Agent 15 has volunteered to participate in your demonstration."
Beckman turned to Carina. "I must say I was surprised that you did, since your record indicates no experience with this style of fighting. But that's the kind of moxie that separates the sheep from the goats, don't you agree?"
They both got slaughtered in the end, and so would she. Carina nodded her acceptance.
"What if I hurt her?" asked Agent Ling, sounding rehearsed.
"Agent 15 is one of our most experienced agents, Miss Ling, don't feel you have to hold back. But for your peace of mind, I've made sure to have a medical professional on hand." Ellie stepped onto the mat, hair gathered under a cap, masked, smocked, and gloved, as anonymous as possible. Not that Anna took a second look.
Beckman pressed a stud on her watch. "You may begin."
Casey strolled into the recovery room, where Morgan was keeping Chuck company. The download had knocked him out, but according to Orion's scanner his brain functions were restored."Come on, Grimes, time to go. You've got a dinner to get ready for."
Morgan stood, very conscious of Sarah's absence. "What's happening to Carina?"
Casey handed him the mask. "Don't you worry your little head about Agent Miller, Grimes. She's being NJP'd right now, by the General herself. Be right as rain in the morning."
"Oh. Well, that's all right, I guess…"
Casey took his arm. "She'll be glad you approve."
The contest was a bit…one-sided.
"How's the wedding planning coming?" asked Beckman. "Did you find a church, or are you going non-sectarian?"
"I found a nice reception hall, with a chapel," murmured Ellie back. "Like Sarah said, it's the people that matter, not the place. If I can get Sarah to sit still and face forward long enough, we can talk gowns, cakes, flowers, and the rest. And I need an officiant."
"Let me know if I can be of service."
Ellie repressed a smile, not that it would have been visible with the mask on. "Certainly an option, and I'll keep you in mind, but I think that degree of irony would probably make the universe implode. No offense meant."
"None taken." Her watch chimed. "Time, ladies."
Anna immediately stepped back. Carina sort of…crawled away.
"Well, Agent Ling, that was certainly an impressive display. I will seriously consider recommending the addition of this technique to our arsenal, if we can find qualified instructors. You are dismissed."
Anna bowed to the general and walked off the mat.
"General, may I assess Agent 15's condition?"
Ellie stripped off her mask and her gloves. The cap fell to the floor as she stalked her prey. Carina made an effort to stand, a gazelle in no shape to leap away.
Ellie punched her in the stomach, paralyzing her breathing. Carina would have doubled over but for Ellie's strong hand around her throat, holding her against the wall. The doctor, the sister, leaned in close. "If you ever pull one of your stupid stunts again, if you endanger my brother or his team in any way, I will break you in half and my husband will sew the pieces together backwards. Do you understand me?"
Carina moved her head against Ellie's hand, the closest she could come to a nod. Ellie let go, and Carina slid down the wall. Eventually she managed to take a hoarse, shuddering breath, and the doctor turned away. "I'm done here."
"Very good, doctor." General Beckman got off her stool at last. "Agent Miller, we'll see you at tomorrow's briefing. Don't be late. Ellie, walk me to my car, perhaps I can offer you some ideas on the subject of cakes…" They left the gym side by side.
Carina just lay there, a crumpled heap trying to catch its breath, waiting. Sure enough, someone walked into the gym a few minutes later, someone capable of much greater stealth than she was displaying at the moment. "Well, look at what the cat dragged in," said Sarah. She knelt and pulled the tight mask off Carina's face, fingered her stringy hair. "Looks more like what the cat threw out." Fingers pushed against her jaw, moving Carina's face back and forth. "Stayed away from the face, I see. That's good, hate to have to explain a battered bridesmaid to the guests, but long sleeves are going to be needed, I think."
Carina looked into her best friend's eyes. "I'm sorry."
"I know you are, Carina, I know you are," said Sarah as softly. "Lucky for you I don't mind long sleeves." She slipped an arm under Carina's shoulders and hauled her up. "Come on you, let's get you into a hot tub or you'll be in no shape to protect anyone's assets tomorrow."
"I have seven wedding gowns in my closet," said Carina, hobbling along. "I think some of them have long sleeves…"
Morgan walked out the door in his Sunday finest, quite a trick, considering it wasn't Sunday. His hair was cut, his fingernails were trimmed, his teeth were brushed. His suit was a sober black pinstripe, new shirt, power tie, completely unlike anything else in his wardrobe. He looked fit to have dinner with the President. Which was good, since that's where he was going.
"Wow, Morgan! Hubba, hub-baaa…"
"Hey, Alex. I mean," Morgan cleared his throat, dropped his pitch to more somber tones. "Miss McHugh. You like?" He spun in place, a little jerky, like a robot that was winding down.
"You look good enough to eat," said Miss McHugh. "Which is good, because Mrs. Pendergast said if you missed breakfast one more time she'd serve you instead."
"She did?" he squeaked. "I mean, ahem, I believe these fine gentlemen had a word with her about while I was getting ready." The man with the dark glasses on nodded once. "See. All good."
"You got your medal?"
"Someone's been practicing their lockpicking skills, I see."
She paid more attention to Morgan's escort. "Where are you going?" she whispered.
"I –" 'Sunglasses' at his elbow coughed once. "I was about to say," said Morgan sharply, looking at him, "I can't go into details, it's classified."
Her face lost its glow, her eyes their sparkle. "Oh."
"Miss McHugh-Alex? What's wrong?" Please don't let it be anything I did.
"Nothing, Morgan." She pushed past him, up the stairs and into the house.
"Alex—?" Morgan turned after her.
Sunglasses stopped him. "We have to go, sir."
She turned in the doorway. "Have a nice time." Then she closed him out.
A/N2 This is the end of the second sub-arc of this story, from Cover Identities to here, a block of episodes I'm calling 'He Has That Effect On People'. The last arc will hopefully be less plot-heavy.