Codes: Chuck, Casey, Sarah, gen-nish
Spoilers: through second season
Summary: It's never just missile codes. It's also hideous personal humiliation.
Author Notes: Thanks to svmadelyn for the first read through and encouragement and also the title. And thanks to bratfarrar and kernezelda for awesome betas. You are totally my favorite people ever.
The irritating part is, of course, that it was all Chuck's own brilliant idea, so he has no one to blame but himself. Well, Bryce (for the Stanford thing, and the Intersect thing) and the US government (for the mission thing) and Sarah (for agreeing; why would she do that? Is his suffering *funny* to her or something?) and Casey (for not fighting Sarah harder; it's because he hates Chuck, that's why), but mostly, Chuck, who heard *video game conference* and didn't remember this never, ever ends well.
Biting down to keep his teeth from chattering (and failing, spectacularly), Chuck looks out at the dim outline of a Casey probably most familiar to those who died *really soon after* he shot them. Video game conferences that involve people selling missile codes, to be fair, just don't usually involve the biggest storm of the year and an apartment at the edge of the city, but the thing is, really. Really, he should have seen this coming. It's never just missile codes. It's also hideous personal humiliation.
"Can we leave now or do you have some other terrorist programmers you would like to throw yourself at?" Casey asks with no trace of irony, arms crossed, his expression just south of homicidal as he supervises the agents currently searching the room. Somewhere there are other agents taking away the bad guys and recovering missile codes and flagrantly ignoring the fact that hey, sure, this went about half-pear-shaped, but the point is, Chuck got the job done.
"I didn't throw myself at them." When the room starts to slowly shift, Chuck shuts his mouth, shivering in his still-wet sweater, jeans clinging and chafing by turn. Wrapping his arms more tightly around himself, he listens to the ebb and flow of questions (Casey) and answers (other people), wondering, not for the first time, what they make of Chuck's presence and how he manages to be around every time they're called in.
Beneath his sweater and shirt, he can still feel unfamiliar, sweaty hands and wishes he could just go back and start this day over.
Chuck looks up vaguely and sees Casey standing just a few feet away. Trying to focus, Chuck thinks he's still scowling, but at least he's not threatening to kill him like he was when Chuck called.
"You want to come out now?"
What--oh. Chuck looks around the closet, absorbing the irony, then reluctantly pushes off the floor with his free hand, getting unsteadily to his feet, stomach clenching with a spurt of panic. Two steps into the room and he can't manage another step farther, his entire body shaking hard enough to make him bite his tongue. His legs buckle, but Casey catches him before his knees hit the floor, leaning him back against the wall by the closet door.
Chuck closes a hand around the doorframe, trying to breathe through the waves of fear. "Maybe I could just--Casey--"
Casey pins him before he can manage to get back through the door, arm immovable across his chest, his other hand tilting Chuck's head up. Chuck winces from the light, but Casey is the mountain and Chuck is Mohammed right now.
Dark eyes study him for a second, and Chuck tries to fight down another spurt of panic. Belatedly, he realizes he's got a hand wrapped around Casey's wrist, white-knuckled with strain. "Too bright," he tries to explain, but that's not the problem; it's too big, wide and high, filled with windows that show a dark, rainy night outside that makes him want to crawl under something and never come out again. "Please. Please, Casey--"
"Clear the room," Casey says sharply; like magic, agents file out in a black-coated mass. Chuck closes his eyes, letting the wall and Casey handle the standing thing, turning his full attention to his stomach and the roiling nausea, adrenaline still running through him like electricity.
When Casey pulls him off the wall, hand wrapped like a vise around his upper arm, Chuck tries to fight it, nauseatingly aware of the carpet trying to crawl up his legs. "Casey, let me *go*" Chuck says, knowing he sounds hysterical, but that's because he *is*. The windows are all around him now and Casey--Casey's supposed to *protect* him and he's--he's--
Abruptly, Chuck's knees gives out again, and the second his hands touch the shifting carpet, which moves sickeningly under his palms, Chuck's stomach gives up.
Distantly, Chuck's aware of a hand rubbing gently against his back, and for a horrified moment, Chuck wonders if Sarah came, too. "Better?"
"No. Maybe." The floor is just carpet again, and just like last time, Chuck wonders why he thought it was anything else. Getting up on his knees, he wipes his mouth and forces himself to move until his back is against the bed and he can't see anything but the opposite wall. No windows. Better.
Casey settles beside him, reassuringly big, almost as good as a wall. Chuck can't help moving closer, leaning against the solid warmth. For a second, Casey stiffens, but the hand is once again on the back of his neck and that's almost--almost--worth leaving the closet for.
"Bartowski, what did they give you?" Chuck shivers, turning his face into the warm shoulder, easily big enough to block out the blindingly bright lights that surround him like spotlights.
"I--punch." Chuck can still taste the memory of too-sweet strawberry and pineapple even over the sour bile that coats his tongue. His stomach rolls sickeningly. There was something after that, God knows what; Chuck remembers surfacing in the car, laughing his ass off at nothing with someone's hand in his jeans. There was another apartment. And then there was here, where somehow he'd ended up in the closet, door locked while he tried to remember how to use his phone, hitting numbers that moved around the screen and forgetting what letters looked like. "I--don't remember what--" His tongue feels thick and heavy, like it might swell up and choke him. "They didn't--I didn't know what--"
"Hey. Bartowski." Chuck realizes he's got a hand clenched in Casey's coat and that he's very nearly trying to crawl in his lap.
"Oh God, what--" Jerking back, Chuck winces at the too bright lights, and he can't remember what he needs to do to stand up. "I'm sorry, I can't--"
"It's *okay*." The hand on his neck tightens. "Calm down."
Chuck locks his shaking hands together, burying his face against his upraised knees. "I'm trying," he says; for a second, the world seems to right itself, steady and normal. And Casey's being way too nice. "This isn't good, is it?"
"You'll be okay." With a squeeze, Casey moves away, and it takes everything in Chuck not to lunge after him. But he doesn't go anywhere, crouching in front of Chuck. "I need to check something; look at me."
Slowly, Chuck follows the urging hand, looking up; Casey looks almost disturbingly calm and there's nothing at all reassuring about that. Like maybe, Chuck's mind offers up, he's about to die and Casey's not sure how to break it to him. A finger skims the tender skin around his eye. Chuck winces at the touch; he doesn't remember hitting his head. "Right. We're getting out of here."
"Where?" Chuck warily looks around. Now, it's a normal room, cramped and a little messy; then it--hadn't been normal at all. He remembers curtains that twisted around his arms and tried to strangle him, and a television that talked to him and how the carpet moved like the ocean beneath his feet and everyone laughing. And he remembers his sweater, collar torn, lying by the bed, and picking it up, surprised at the sandpaper feel of the soft cotton and crawling into the closet, knowing he had to call and tell them where he was, but he didn't know who they were or where he was. He didn't even know who *he* was. "I--could we wait a while?"
That doesn't even make *sense*. But if this room seems huge, outside seems--impossible. He's shaking just thinking about it.
"We need to get you to the--"
"No!" The room begins to move again, widening into something huge and terrifying, space surrounding him. Chuck grabs Casey's wrist. "Ellie. She--can't see me like this. I can't--I can't--" He can't *think*.
Casey's eyes narrow, but he nods slowly. "All right. No hospital."
Chuck gasps in relief, realizing he'd forgotten to breathe. How do you forget to *breathe*? "It's too big," he says miserably. There's no way to explain. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay." The hand slides off his neck, skin going cold, then Casey stands up, pulling Chuck up with him. "We're going to go to the car--"
Chuck shakes his head, trying to pull away. "No. I can't--it's--"
"Too big, yeah, got it." Abruptly, both hands slide to his shoulders, giving him a quick shake. "Straight to the car, no stopping. You'll be okay. Trust me."
Chuck hesitates; Casey wouldn't--he wouldn't let him--wouldn't just-- "I don't know what's wrong with me." The room begins to sway, the patterns in the wallpaper curving toward the floor, carpet rippling threateningly, and if Casey hadn't been holding him up, he would have fallen or run or both.
"Focus," Casey says, fingers flexing, holding his attention. "We're going to the car and we're going home. Everything will be okay."
"I couldn't stop flashing," Chuck hears himself say. He couldn't. Everything triggered it, and there was so much, a constant stream of data that filled his head until he felt like it would burst, incomprehensible and without context, the thin chain of logic breaking just to start all over again.
The room rights itself to normal and Chuck blinks, looking around. Normal world, normal life, the lucidity never lasts, and somehow, that's the worst part. Chuck straightens, not looking at the closet, the warm, close space beneath the bed, the darkened bathroom, places small and safe and nothing like this too-bright, too-normal room. Wrapping his arms around himself, he feels Casey let him go, and starts to follow, tripping over his own bare (bare?) feet.
"Hold on." Something warm drops over his shoulders, brushing against his calves; thick and heavy and close around him. Chuck opens his mouth to say something--no idea what, but he thinks vaguely that he should say thank you--but Casey rolls his eyes, hand pressing against his back and urging him to the door that seems very far away.
"You're being nice," Chuck says slowly. "Am I dying?" Dying doesn't scare him nearly as much as this crawling, twisting room. He stumbles again, hitting the wall hard enough to make him bite his tongue. "I meant--to do that."
"Sure you did."
Sarcasm shouldn't be reassuring, but it is. Chuck grins, and then Casey's opening the door, hand firm and warm and grounding, real in a way that the world doesn't seem to be anymore. Emerging into the hall, Chuck ducks his head from the light, but the glimpse of miles of hallway is enough to make him stumble backward, knocking into Casey. "I can't--"
"Yes you can." Like it's just that easy.
"Casey," he breathes; to his horror, he thinks he can feel tears prickling behind his eyes. . "Please--"
"Shut up," Casey says, almost gently. An arm curls around his shoulders, easing him forward. "Fifty feet, one door, seventy feet, then the car and we're on our way. But we have to get out of here."
"It's--" Chuck shuts his eyes, letting Casey guide them; even looking makes him want to scream or run or *something*. "What is wrong with me?"
Casey snorts softly. "Should have known you wouldn't be the type to experiment during college."
Chuck frowns. "I--for biology, until PETA showed up." Chuck still has a strong aversion to fur, though strangely, the memories always make him crave steak. The strong, normal sound of Casey's footsteps pause, which Chuck assumes means that was the wrong answer.
It seems to take forever before another door opens and wet, fresh air slams him in the face, revealing a wide, open world of buildings and what seems to be an entire fleet of suspiciously bland car.. Chuck stops short, unable to make himself take another step. "I'm sorry, I can't--"
"Close your eyes."
"The other agents--"
"If anyone bothers us, I'll shoot them."
Weirdly, that makes him feel better. "In the head."
"Only way to be sure. Ready?" Before Chuck can say that no, he will never be ready, Casey's leading him outside. Chuck imagines a small room, dark and warm, dry, maybe with blankets and hot chocolate with marshmallows, safe and solid around him where nothing can get inside. When Casey pauses, Chuck warily opens his eyes and sees the open passenger side door. "Get in."
Chuck climbs inside, relaxing almost immediately as the seat pushes up beneath him. Casey lets him go, stepping back to close the door, but Chuck puts a foot out, keeping the door ajar. "I--" Chuck licks his lips, involuntarily glancing at the radio knobs, the stick shift, the steering wheel that are normal right now and won't be in just a few seconds. "It's--they start--moving."
Casey doesn't answer for a second. "I need to find out something."
"What do you--"
"Don't move." With a pat to his shoulder, Casey walks away. From the safety of the car, outside isn't so terrifying. Chuck closes a hand around the edge of the seat to ground himself, watching as Casey talks to one of the agents, who leads him to another car. Craning his neck, Chuck see Casey open the back door and hauls--someone--out, shoving them against the trunk with an audible thump.
Chuck can't hear what Casey says, but he assumes it's pretty scary, because the guy is leaning backward over the trunk with no help from anyone and looking kind of terrified. Without interest, Chuck watches Casey take out his gun, flicking the safety, and press it against the guy's head. Chuck's vaguely surprised and even more vaguely pleased that no one looks like they want to stop him.
He supposes being an NSA agent comes with perks like shooting people in the head when they annoy you without getting in trouble or, you know, convicted of murder. Leaning his head against the doorframe, Chuck watches as the guy starts to shake, waving a hand frantically just before Casey punches him.
Something mean in Chuck smiles to see it; something vicious wishes Casey would kick the guy while he's down. And in a tiny part of his mind that he can almost ignore, Chuck wishes Casey would have gone ahead and used his gun.
Chuck licks his lips and tastes strawberry and pineapple again, nauseatingly sweet, and pushes the car door open enough to lean over, dry heaves shaking his body, bile sour on the back of his tongue.
Abruptly, hands grab onto his shoulders, pulling him up, and Chuck looks into a face he doesn't recognize, strangely elongated with a mouth that seems to swallow up his nose, eyes huge black pools. With a scream, Chuck jerks back, nearly impaling himself on the gear shift, kicking desperately and hitting something solid. The--person? Thing?--yells something, reaching for him again, and Chuck grabs for the steering wheel before suddenly, it's gone and Chuck hears Casey's voice, low and quiet and all the scarier for it.
"…stay the fuck away from him. You can't follow orders, we'll need to have a talk." Casey steps back as the guy stumbles to his feet, mud ground into the knees of his pants. "I expect a call in an hour telling me exactly what the fuck they did with him tonight."
"Yes, sir." The guy doesn't exactly run, but it's close enough; Chuck smiles and wonders if that makes him a bad person. Turning in his seat, he sees the dashboard begin to mushroom out, vinyl cracking like wide, toothless smiles, and sucks in a breath, jerking his knees up.
"Not real," he tells himself, though he thinks he can feel the vinyl pressing against his knees. "Not real. Just the drugs. Not real. Not--"
Chuck turns his head just enough to see Casey, one hand on the door. "I'm okay."
Casey looks at him like he's an idiot, which Chuck supposes is fair enough. "Seatbelt," he says, then shuts the door. Even with the dashboard pushing toward him, Chuck can feel himself relax. Pressing his forehead against his knees, he murmurs the name of every Doctor Who in alphabetical order until he hears the other door open and Casey get in.
"Better or worse?"
Chuck lifts one hand enough to wave it. "Comes and goes. Now." It's not real, he reminds himself, it's whatever the hell they gave him, but somehow, that doesn't help now any more than it did earlier. Didn't keep him from believing what he saw, either. "This has got to stop," Chuck whispers against his jeans.
Abruptly, Chuck feels Casey push his knees down (and weirdly, they go right through the dashboard); it's so fascinating that Chuck doesn't realize what Casey's doing until the seat abruptly tilts back, and Chuck is staring at the ceiling. "Close your eyes and think happy thoughts or whatever works."
Right. "I think I'm going to be sick," Chuck tells the ceiling. It's a nice ceiling. It doesn't move.
"Not my car. Feel free."
For the first time in what feels like a lifetime, Chuck laughs.
There's a phone conversation that Chuck can't quite make himself listen to--*not real, not real, not real*--and weirdly, no stops, though Chuck thinks there might have been some red lights. Otherwise, it's quiet, and Chuck, who'd expected an interrogation as soon as Casey had the chance, isn't sure what to make of it.
Every once in a while, he flashes on something, but none of the images are comprehensible. He stops trying to describe them when Casey tells him he doesn't need to. Well, he says, "Shut up, Bartowski," which is basically the same thing.
They stop for a while, and it's only when his door opens that Chuck realizes he's supposed to get out. Frowning, he looks at the sidewalk, then up at Casey, then at--oh God, Sarah.
Bright blonde hair falling over a black sweater, she reaches for him. "Chuck--"
"No, no, no--" The seatbelt won't work, locking him in place, and but Chuck tries away, struggling against it, breath tight in his chest. He'll--he can't deal with--he can't--
What the hell is *wrong* with him? It's Sarah. It's *Sarah*.
"It's okay, Chuck. Calm down." She pulls back, looking back. "Casey--"
"Hold on." Chuck sees Casey hand her a set of keys. "Get the door and I'll get him in."
"I'm sorry," Chuck says helplessly; somehow, this is his fault and if he hadn't talked Sarah into letting him go, if he hasn't told Casey he could handle this-- "I don't know--"
"Seriously, Bartowski, shut up," Casey says, getting an arm under his shoulder. "At least until we get inside. Ellie's home."
"I can--" Walk, he wants to say, but then his mind rewinds, catching up. "Ellie--"
"Don't say a word." In contrast to the sharpness of his voice, Casey's hands are gentle, leading him over wide open grassy spaces toward the solid, warm closeness of the apartments. "Almost there."
Chuck looks up to see Sarah standing at Casey's doorway, hallowed in bright light. Wincing, he tries to pull away.
Abruptly, it's dark again. Chuck sees Sarah back off and allows Casey to lead him toward the sofa in a reassuringly dark corner of the room. Chuck doesn't bother even trying to sit up; curling up, he takes a deep breath, relaxing all at once. Safe.
The door closes, and Chuck hears Casey's voice from somewhere close.
"Ten hours. They got him at the conference with the punch." There's a sound like something breaking. "They'd already taken him out of the hotel by the time I realized he was missing."
"Not your fault." Sarah sounds exhausted. "There's no way--"
"Shouldn't have let him out of my *sight*." Chuck hears heavy footsteps trail away and struggles up, trying to figure out where Casey went. It's too dark to see, but abruptly light spills from the kitchen before it goes off again. Blinking away the glare, Chuck frowns as something cold and solid is shoved into his hand. "Drink all of it."
Casey stares at him until he does, taking the bottle when he's done. Chuck frowns, tilting his head at the way Casey looks so determinedly calm and wonders if this is what Casey's psycho sensei was talking about. "Calm center," Chuck tells him. "He was an asshole. Like Bryce."
Casey's mouth twitches. Another bottle of water hovers in Chuck's line of sight. "There's some similarity. Drink up. One more to go."
"Did he sleep with you too?" Chuck asks, taking the bottle. On the second try, he gets it, grinning in triumph. Taking a long drink, Chuck thinks he's never tasted water that good. When he comes up for air, the bottle's empty and Casey's staring at him with the weirdest expression. "What?"
Sarah makes a soft sound like a laugh. "Nothing, Chuck." There's something odd about her voice as well. "Why don't you lie down for a little while?"
It sounds like a plan; uncrumpling the coat from under him, Chuck makes himself comfortable, ducking his head back into the warm, humid dark made of cushions and coat. It's nice.
Two sets of feet going away, not nice. "Casey. Sarah."
"Just rest," Sarah says, voice smelling like summer feels; Chuck imagines wide fields of bright green grass and curls tighter, wishing there was some way to pull the cushions down on top of him. "We're not going anywhere."
They don't go far, either, voices low, booming in and out like a faulty speaker.
"…hallucinogenic; they gave Chuck LSD and GHB at the party and something else later." Casey sounds *pissed*, which is the natural order of things, making Chuck feel better almost immediately. "He said they thought he was narcotics, wanted to have a little fun with him."
"Were they telling the truth?"
Their voices drop for a while, and Chuck spaces out, breathing the stale, humid air until he has to let more in. A peek shows silver arms reaching for him and he ducks back down, pressing his head against his knees. It's gotta end soon or he's going to go crazy.
"Four of them, three men, one woman." Casey's voice flattens abruptly. "Blonde was the one leading the show."
Chuck drifts; if he's still, he can almost pretend that the couch isn't swelling and shifting like a very small boat in a very big ocean.
"…classic aversion conditioning," Sarah's saying, voice tight. "Agoraphobia?"
Their voices drop again, and Chuck floats along in warm darkness.
"…some clothes. He's soaked," Sarah says. "How much longer?"
"They dosed him again before he called. Ten hours if I'm right." Casey sounds absolutely sure, so Chuck thinks he'll be sure, too. "They're running an analysis."
"You think I'm stupid enough to try and get a sample when he's like this?"
Their voices float away for a bit; the next thing he knows, his coat is peeled back and Sarah is kneeling beside him, something dark and silky-looking wrapped around her head. Her eyes look red, but she smiles, and Chuck smiles back. "Hey."
"Hey," she answers, reaching out and touching his shoulder. After a second, she nods to herself. "Let's get you undressed, okay?"
Chuck flinches; he can't help it. Sarah's hand pauses inches from his shoulder, blue eyes narrowing. "Just to get into dry ones," she says very softly. "That's all."
Chuck nods slowly, letting her pull him to his feet, leading him toward the stairs. She opens a door, and Chuck walks into what seems to be a perfectly normal bedroom, which is vaguely disappointing, because Casey's kind of scary and his bedroom's totally not.
Sarah's hand touches the hem of his sweater, and Chuck feels a swell of panic, jerking back and nearly falling over his feet before he hits something that growls, which means not a wall.
"Easy," Casey rumbles behind him, hands resting gently on his shoulders. "It's Walker."
"Sarah," Chuck corrects, wondering what the hell just happened.
"It's okay, Chuck. Your clothes are wet and we need to get you out of them before you get sick, okay?" Sarah waits, hands loose and open at her sides. "We're your handlers, Chuck. We'd never hurt you."
Chuck draws in a shuddering breath. "Okay."
This time, when Sarah reaches for him, he lets her pull the sweater away, then unbutton his shirt, sliding it off his shoulders carefully. The blue eyes widen, shirt clutched in her hands like she forgot she was holding it. "Sarah?"
"Walker." Casey sounds angry.
"I know." Tossing the shirt to the side, she smiles at him again, but it doesn't reach her eyes. "I know. It's okay, Chuck. I'm just tired."
Chuck nods; he knows the feeling.
"Chuck, I need you to sit on the bed while Casey and I get a few things, okay?" she says. Chuck glances at the bed warily, but it's reassuringly plain, single-color dark comforter and no weird attachments. He isn't so sure about taking off his jeans, but she says it's okay, it's just to get dry, and Casey agrees, so it has to be all right.
She lets him keep Casey's coat, though, and he pulls that on, drawing it around him, feeling uneasy without clothes to protect him from--something.
"…cigarette burns." Something hits the floor with a clatter. "And ligature marks. What the hell--"
Casey murmurs something too quiet to hear, and Chuck ducks a little farther under the coat.
"You should have shot them."
"Yeah, Chuck would have taken that well. I had to get him out of there before someone started asking questions."
Chuck kind of thinks he wouldn't have minded at all, if he's honest.
After a while, the sound of running water reaches him, and then footsteps, light and quick. Peering out from above the collar, Chuck sees Sarah stop at the edge of the bed. "Chuck? Can you come into the bathroom?"
Chuck tightens his hold on the coat, pulling back when she reaches for him with another flare of panic. She hesitates, then straightens, with an odd look on her face. "Chuck, you want to get cleaned up," she says, tilting her head. "Stand up."
Blinking at her, Chuck pushes himself up on one arm. "I'm tired."
"I know. But you want to get clean first." Her voice sounds so sure, Chuck can't imagine how she could be wrong. "Come here."
It takes some effort to untangle his legs, remember how to move, and Sarah takes the coat with a "You can't get cleaned up wearing it. It'll be right here when you get back."
Mouth dry, Chuck lets her take his arm, leading him toward the dim lights in the bathroom, sitting him on the edge of the bathtub. "We need better light," she murmurs, and Casey says something, going away. Swaying slightly, Chuck looks at the shower above him warily. "I don't--" He can taste strawberry again, and abruptly, he's kneeling by the toilet, one hand closed over the rim, trying to breathe through each dry heave.
"Sorry, he mumbles, pressing his face against the cool porcelain. "I can't stop."
"Not a problem," Sarah says, stroking his hair back. "Take all the time you need."
Chuck takes the glass of water she gives him, drinking it carefully, but after a warning heave, his stomach settles down. "Better."
"Sit on the edge of the tub," she says, guiding him back. "There we go. Casey, you have--"
"Yeah." Abruptly, Casey's crouching in front of him, holding a long piece of black cloth. "Eyes still hurt?"
"We need the lights. I'm putting this on you." Casey holds it up, and Chuck finds himself fascinated by the strip of cloth, just about the right size for a very good blindfold. "Close your eyes."
Chuck hesitates, and Sarah's hand curves over his shoulder. "We'll both be right here, Chuck."
Swallowing hard, Chuck nods, holding still as Casey loops the cloth over his head. Though it's impossible, he thinks he can *smell* the lights come on around them, wincing before Casey steadies him.
"You're doing great, Chuck," Sarah says warmly. "Casey, hold him steady, I'm going to check his chest first." Delicate fingers skim over his collar, sliding down to pause every so often. It feels like she's leaving a trail on his skin he might be able to see later, and every place she pauses burns. "Chuck, don't move."
There are the sounds of something metal scraping against the floor, then a click. When she starts to smear something on his chest, Chuck panics, jerking back.
"Casey," Sarah says calmly, and then Casey's hand cups his jaw, holding his head in place. "Can you--"
"Yeah." The grip eases, easing his head a little back and up. "Chuck, focus on my voice. I want to know what happened tonight."
Chuck shudders at the feeling of something scraping against his skin. "I--"
"*Focus*. Just me. Tell me what happened."
"I don't *remember*--"
"Yes you do." The grip eases, cupping his jaw. "You went to the demo."
"I went to the demo," Chuck agrees as something soft is pressed just below his collarbone; when Sarah moves her hand, it stays there. "And I--the guy there--I flashed on him. I didn't call. I'm sorry--"
"You didn't do anything wrong. Keep going."
It's confusing, though those are his last clear memories before Casey showed up with a million agents in tow like a small, dangerously well-dressed army. "It was loud and he--he kept asking me questions about what I did. And I--lost my wallet. He said he'd help me find it."
"That's how he figured out you weren't Carmichael." Casey blows out a sharp breath. "Keep going."
"He got me some punch and told me to wait while he checked with--" Security? Chuck swallows hard at the remembered flavor. "I--I drank it and this girl brought me another one. She--" Memory fractures again. Punch. Smiling. Her fingernails scraping against his wrist as she leaned close, asking him-- "She said she'd been just waiting for someone to show the prototype to."
Casey growls softly, but all he says is, "Keep going."
"Give me your arm, Chuck," Sarah says. Chuck extends it automatically, feeling her fingers map the skin of his wrists with small, delicate movements. "Keep going."
"And they--we left the party." Chuck swallows. "There were two places. Somewhere--downtown, I think. Close to the hotel. It was a long elevator ride." Chuck remembers getting sick, but everyone had just laughed. "They were--and they said I'd really like this--" Chuck tries to track back, but mostly, he remembers the guy and the girl on either side of him on the couch. "It was quiet. They kept asking me questions."
Chuck can't remember if he answered them; for that matter, he can't even remember what the questions were. Except-- "They asked about you. Both of you. Why you were here."
"You're doing great," Sarah says. Something cool is smeared over his wrist, then more soft stuff--gauze, Chuck's mind offers up, pleased to recognize it. "Great, Chuck. Casey, switch sides with me."
Abruptly, they're both gone, and Chuck reaches out desperately, but it's less than a second, and Sarah's hand is sliding soothingly down his arm, Casey turning his head. "We're right here. Almost done. Keep going."
Chuck tries to remember. Lots of light. Someone taking his jacket and his shoes and socks. Why would they want his socks? Seated on a couch with too-bright lights and the girl sitting on the coffee table (on a chair?) in front of him, always talking, fingernails pushing into his wrist whenever she didn't like his answers, which was a lot. Sarah's fingers ease the phantom ache away, wrapping up his other wrist with slow, deliberate movements. "She said it--that it wasn't working." Chuck frowns, because there was something else. "The guy--he had a needle--"
"Shit." Sarah's hand slides to his left elbow, then his right. "No track marks."
"He didn't say anything about shooting him up." Casey sounds vaguely pleased. "Chuck, stand up." Letting go of his jaw, Casey pulls him up by the shoulders. Chuck grabs for something to steady himself, disoriented by the sudden movement, getting a handful of soft cotton shirt. "Focus on my voice. Tell me what happened next."
Chuck shivers at the feel of hands he can't see stroking down his back, but before he flinches, Casey is holding his shoulder, hand sliding around the back of his neck. "Focus on me."
"They shot you up. Where?"
Chuck tries to remember. It's all surreal and strangely disjointed. She'd been running her hands over him, like Sarah, and she'd said, she'd said, lie down, and then she'd pulled up his shirt and she'd--
"I couldn't see her," Chuck says just as Sarah's fingers brush across the base of his spine and stop.
Casey rubs the back of Chuck's neck gently. "Keep going."
"I--couldn't stand up and they asked me how I--how I knew you if I wasn't an agent. And that when they--" That when they were done, he'd never want to be an agent anyway. "When they were done, I wouldn't want to bother anyone ever again."
Casey's fingers still. Chuck wonders if he said something wrong. "I didn't fight very hard," he admits. "I couldn't remember why I was supposed to."
"Not your fault," Sarah says close to his ear. "I need to get a blood sample, Chuck." Chuck flashes on the faint, confused memory of someone--several someones--holding him down, gasping into suffocating cushions, feeling himself start to shake. "It's okay," Sarah says, and something wraps tight around his arm. "Casey--"
"Chuck, tell me what happened next." Casey's fingers slide gently around the knob of his spine, and Chuck goes boneless, letting himself lean his head against Casey's shoulder, abruptly exhausted. There's a prick against his arm.
"Then we left." It's worse after that, because he can't remember the *words*, just the talking, constantly, *Remember this, Charles. Every time you--* "They just kept talking. To me." Sarah's fingers press hard against the joint of his elbow, folding his arm up. For a second, her forehead presses against his shoulder.
"Keep going." Casey's voice is very, very soft.
Chuck shakes his head, forehead pressed to the skin-warmed cotton of Casey's shirt. "They told me things. Things that I was supposed to remember. Remember to do."
Sarah makes a soft sound, and he can feel her head against his shoulder, arm looping gently around his back.
They stay like that for a while. That's fine with Chuck.
It's hard to get dressed with all the gauze in the way, but Sarah says he has to, so he does. His stomach aches and there's a surprising amount of gauze on his chest before Casey pushes his hands away, pulling a t-shirt over his head, and Casey says it's nothing he needs to worry about, so Chuck goes with it.
Curling up under the blankets with the coat wrapped around him, Chuck listens to the sound of Sarah and Casey talking, checking every so often to make sure they're still in the room. Casey sits with him and makes him tell the whole thing over again, so Chuck almost doesn't realize Sarah's left until she comes back later, looking tired and pissed. After that, they don't go any farther than the door, which is good, because the panic comes back every time one of them goes out of sight.
"It was only a few hours," Casey keeps saying. "Whatever she thought she was doing--"
"I know." The bed shifts and Chuck's drawn from under the covers to see her bent over, hair still neatly tucked up in her scarf. "We'll test him tomorrow--"
"You know the statistics for--"
"The statistics never met the human Intersect," Sarah says flatly. Chuck wonders what that means, but it doesn't seem all that interesting. "I'll call and tell Ellie that Chuck and I went out of town for the weekend. By Monday, we should know--" Her voice drifts off. "Don't say it."
"You can do it or I will. We need to know how far down she got him."
The bed dips again; when Chuck peeks out, he sees Casey's sitting, too, looking at Sarah's bent head. After a few seconds, she straightens. "We both will. It'll be easier on him that way."
"The lab results should be back in an hour so we can figure out what she used."
"They talking yet?"
"Her buddies started talking before they were asked any questions." Casey's voice tightens. "She hasn't."
"What did they get out of him?"
"Not anything we need to worry about." There's a pause. "It wouldn't matter if he told them everything. It's being taken care of."
The world fades out after that, but there are a few things that stand out. Sarah makes him sit on the couch again. She talks to him, voice low and soft and firm, and sometimes, he has to talk back, but he's not sure what he says. She sits with him when Casey does the same thing, and sometimes, they ask him questions, but he's not sure what they are.
Sarah goes away again, but only to the kitchen, where she stands for a while, arms braced on the counter, then she comes back with another bottle of water and says, "Chuck, I need you to close your eyes and listen to Casey's voice." Putting the bottle in his hand, she sits beside him. "He's going to tell you what happened tonight, because you forgot."
Chuck frowns. That doesn't sound quite right. "I didn't--"
"You forgot," Sarah says, stroking just behind his ear. "Don't worry. Casey was with you the whole time tonight; he's going to tell you what happened so you'll remember."
Later, Casey says, "Drink this. When you're done, go to sleep," and that's pretty much what happens.
They wake him up a few more times for water, saying he's dehydrated, and though he's not thirsty, he drinks it anyway. Once, he wakes up with his head in Sarah's lap and wrapped in Casey's coat, her fingers stroking gently through his hair while she types into a laptop and Casey's threatening someone with disembowelment on the phone.
It's almost normal.
"How much longer?" Chuck ask when he wakes up again to drink another bottle of water, because even looking straight at the clock, he can't tell what the numbers mean.
"Not long," Casey says from somewhere above him. Chuck tilts his head back and realizes it's in Casey's lap. Feeling himself flush, Chuck starts to move, but Casey's hand catches his shoulder, pulling him back down, curving warm and safe against the back of his neck, keeping him in place. "Close your eyes. It's almost over."
Chuck thinks it might be. The room isn't nearly as big as he remembers. After a few seconds, he realizes Sarah's lying beside him, warm and soft, hand stroking down his back. "I'm sorry," he says, because he thinks he should be, but he's not sure why.
Sarah lifts her head, lips brushing his. "It's okay. We took care of everything."
And he doesn't remember anything after that.
"It's embarrassing!" Chuck says, staring at anything but the two agents who look more amused than anything. "I can't remember anything! Come on, what did I do?"
Sarah rolls her eyes, turning to the general. "They're being transported to a secure facility," Sarah tells her.
"We're still trying to get an ID on the woman," the general says, and though she doesn't look at Chuck, he knows they're all wondering why he hasn't gotten a single flash about her. Casey and Sarah had taken him to San Francisco where they were being held temporarily, and Chuck had looked at her through the glass and hadn't seen a thing.
For some reason, he couldn't get over the feeling he's seen her before, but Casey had said they had to leave, and Chuck hadn't wanted to stay around anyway. The lights had made him feel oddly exposed.
After Sarah and Casey are done and the general signs off to do whatever it is generals do, Chuck tries again. "Come on. What did I do?"
"Hit your head, cried about Jill, and got yourself locked up in my handcuffs," Casey says, looking up briefly from a report with a wide, sharp smile that kind of makes him look like a shark. "I didn't know I had pretty eyes, Bartowski. Thanks."
Chuck buries his head in his arms on the table when Sarah starts to laugh. "I didn't know the punch was spiked," he tells the table bitterly. "Just lie to me. Tell me I didn't do anything…"
Sarah brushes her fingers against the back of his neck and Chuck relaxes, feeling better. "You were only gone an hour. Even you couldn't into that much trouble in an hour. You ID'ed the guy and we went back to the hotel room for you to sleep it off. The mission was a success and that's all you need to worry about."
Chuck lifts his head with a sigh. "Fine." Resting his chin on one hand, Chuck looks at the piles of folders. "So what's next?"