slybrunette: (CHUCK. Chuck; soldier who lost composure)
[personal profile] slybrunette

Just before five-thirty, she sticks her head out of her office and snags the first guy she sees that isn’t typing away furiously. Which is how she ends up asking Roy-Ryan the Temp-Intern which dress he likes best.

She changes into the one he doesn’t choose, a mocha colored cowl neck sweaterdress that she has on hand by virtue of having worn it to work on a day that required multiple costume changes, and shoves the little black dress to the back of the closet in their office. Spends five minutes futzing with her hair until it regains some semblance of the style that it lost somewhere between the gym and the shower. It doesn’t look like she’s going on a date; it looks like she’s going to a business dinner at a nice restaurant, which is the point.

The rest of the hour is spent organizing the paperwork she didn’t get to – i.e. most of it – into manageable chunks. Her call to the owner of the coffee shop went about as well as she’d anticipated but, rather than going through official channels, Casey’s upstairs on the phone with a buddy of his who works at the NSA’s Denver branch trying to expedite the process. The office is quiet without him, without the grumbling and the incredibly specific threats he aims alternately at his computer and whatever brave soul breaches the threshold of their office. Where she used to find it grating and unprofessional, she now finds it entertaining, a distraction necessary to keep her out of her own head. Sitting there, with so much silence, just lets her dwell on whether or not she’s going to have a job a week from now.

She’s ready to cut out half an hour early when Morgan shows up. Pokes his head in but glances surreptitiously at Casey’s empty desk before he allows the rest of his body to follow.

“He’s on the phone with some guy in Denver,” she tells him.

“Oh, Mike,” he says, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.


“Yeah, Mike, he’s one of Casey’s friends from the – you don’t know Mike?”

“I didn’t even know Casey had friends.”

It’s not that she’s serious, it’s just that she, well, sort of is.

She’s with him for at least eight hours a day and, in that span of time, he usually only regularly interacts with half a dozen people, not counting the aforementioned people he issues threats in the vein of ‘this better be important because otherwise…’ towards. Three of them are either related to him, dating someone related to him, or her. He does have a good rapport with the munitions guy but, then, Casey tends to be far more receptive when weapons are involved.

“Everyone has friends. Casey has them, you have them – “

“At Langley,” she corrects. It isn’t meant as a slight nor is it a ploy for pity. She’s been here for two months. That’s not nearly enough time to develop anything more than fledgling relationships, equally as likely to fail as to succeed. She’s been changing identities and towns since she was running scams with her dad; she has the monopoly on the role of the new kid, the outsider. She knows how this works. It doesn’t make her feel sad or defeated or even lonely. It just is.

Morgan doesn’t understand that. He’s still more civilian than he is spy. His heart is too big. “Well, you’ve got me. Casey too, not that he’s any good at showing it, but his old partner? She never met Alex. I don’t even think she knew he had a daughter. And Roy won’t stop talking about you, which is weird because all he wanted to talk about earlier was when they were releasing the new Halo.”

“That’s my fault.”

“Does it have anything to do with how he told me that he came thisclose to seeing you naked?”

“He really didn’t.”

“You look nice, by the way,” he offers up with a sheepish smile, and she’s reminded of just how nervous she can make him. One corner of her mouth quirks upwards, just as much reaction as reassurance, and he clears his throat. “Um, so I looked up that…thing you wanted me to look up.”

“We can talk in here, Morgan,” she tells him, nudging the door closed with her foot as she crosses the room to steal a pen from Casey’s desk. She’s still got to sign off on her report on what went down in Vail, all seven well-thought out, partially fabricated pages of it. It matches his; she’s checked and double checked. Not once does Carina’s name appear. Not once is the decision to act on the intel provided highlighted as hers and hers alone. It’s a massive attempt at ass-covering on her part, and a show of goodwill on his.

She signs on the dotted line, her letters blending into one another, and then she flips it face down, looks up sharply as a means of letting Morgan know that, yes, she can see him leaning forward on the balls of his feet and it’s not going to work. The names Bartowski and Larkin are bolded in 12-pt font, and she isn’t stupid.

“You were saying?”

“Right, so, you wanted to know if Orion was a person, place, or thing.”

She hopes this isn’t going to become a situation where she’s going to have to prompt him at every turn. Pulling teeth gets real old real fast. “Yeah.”

“It’s really more ‘and’ than ‘or’.” There’s a manila folder under his arm and all she can think are the words paper trail , but he seems to be holding tight to it for now. “There was someone with the codename Orion in the eighties – gender neutral pronouns in case you were wondering – but they aren’t referenced again after June of ’91. And then, like you thought, there’s a Project Orion that’s got a whole slew of information associated with it – we’re talking its own database here – but it’s all locked off to anyone who doesn’t have Top Secret clearance.”

He has confidential. She has secret. So, she’s fucked. “Dammit.”

Morgan seems to waffle for a moment, before he says, “Look, I don’t really know what I’m looking at or why, exactly, but it might be worth letting Casey in. He’s got a better grasp on, well, everything than I do and he can get you the information that you want.”

“No,” she shakes her head. “We both have the same security clearance.”

That gives him pause.


“Nothing,” he brushes it off and she levels him with her hard stare. He knows something and he’s going to tell her if she has to lock him in this room and miss her dinner reservation to get it out of him. Idly, she toys with the letter opener on her desk, running the tip of her finger over the blade carefully, making sure he can see. It’s a low blow and the threat is, in reality, non-existent, but it seems to do the trick and he gulps. “When it was just Casey and me, before all…this, he used to be the one people went to for information when they weren’t read in. The SSBIs can take years and I think it was just easier to try and get on his good side long enough to get what you needed.”

Something knots in the pit of her stomach. “They only do single scope background investigations for anything above secret.”

He shrugs. So Casey’s been lying. Or omitting the truth. He hadn’t corrected her when she insinuated that they were equals in that respect back at the airport in Vail; he hadn’t even blinked.

She taps that pen along the edge of the desk and listens to the hollow sound it makes each time it hits.

“I’m just saying it’s worth thinking about.”

Yes, it most certainly is.

“Oh, and also, I don’t know if this means anything but the logs are viewable to everyone and the last person to access that database was Daniel Shaw.”

Her eyes light on his. “When?”

“Late December. I think it was the twenty-eighth or something. I only noticed cause it was recent.” There’s clearly more that he wants to say but he rolls it over in his head for a few spare moments before he asks, “Don’t you know him?”

“You mean didn’t I date him?”

His face colors. This is what she meant about everyone under the sun knowing her business.

“I did,” she says, tone neutral so as to let him know that she’s not mad at him for what was, in all honesty, a valid question. “In fact, I’m going to meet him in about an hour. Should make for a very interesting dinner, don’t you think?”

If he does, he doesn’t say a word.

Bryce has his eyes on the prize when Carina works her body between his and the target. Their guy is on the other end of the dance floor, standing off-sides with a man about Chuck’s age and doing a remarkably bad job of pretending that they’re just talking. Bryce can see the unconscious sway of his hips in time with the beat just like he can see the way his hand lingers a moment too long on the other man’s arm. The target and his boyfriend.

He’s spent the last ten minutes trying to devise a plan to separate them, prevent the boyfriend from becoming collateral damage, and then in comes Carina.

“We need to talk,” she tells him, grabbing his hand and starting off towards the bathrooms. He stands his ground, pulls back and then releases, and it throws her off balance just enough to piss her off, to get her right back in his face again.

“You’re blocking my view.”

She crosses her arms. “Well enjoy it while it lasts because unless you come with me right now, the only view you’re going to have is from an 8x10 cell and I hear they’re not crazy about windows.”

One look from her tells him that he might as well give up now. This is over. They’ve moved on to something else.

He lets her shove him into the women’s bathroom, walking him backwards past the blonde reapplying lipstick at the sinks and into a stall that she locks behind them. It’s got all the markings of a quickie and he lets out a long, low groan to drive that point home. The heavy wooden door closes a moment later and then they’ve got the room.

“There’s a team of CIA agents downstairs.”


“I did my job,” she says, and the cut of her eyes tells him that she’s more than a little offended that he might have assumed otherwise. “Why are you partners with someone that you don’t trust to do his?”

“That’s not why I – “

“You brought me along as backup so that your boy didn’t have to take the shot. How else does one read into that?”

At the time – the time being this afternoon, after Chuck had gone quiet at the meeting, stayed that way all through lunch, and then holed himself up in the bedroom down the hall – it had seemed like a way to take the pressure off of him until he could get his head on straight. A purely precautionary measure.

He’s not sure he likes the spin she’s putting on it.

He’s not sure that it’s one he can argue with.

“You think they’re here for us?”

He tries for a subject change and she lets him have it, surprisingly enough. “I think you’d have trouble finding a federal agent who believes in coincidences.”

“We should go,” he says, like it’s a decision he’s just now arriving at and not a foregone conclusion. He’ll come up with some excuse for Giovanni in the morning, knows that it won’t take much but a simple reminder that he’s a better asset as a free man than he is in custody of the United States or, worse, dead. He’ll deal with that and then he’ll deal with Chuck.

She reaches out when he tries to leave. Grabs onto to his forearm and closes her eyes, the intention unmistakable. She’s steadying herself. She’s pausing. Carina pushes and shoves and manipulates but she doesn’t stop and she doesn’t stand still for anything.

“What?” His hand at her cheek is instinctual. “You okay?”

She nods, then, “I’m pretty sure someone drugged my drink.”

When she opens her eyes, he gets a good look at just how dilated her pupils are in the bright light.

He’d say that’s a pretty safe bet.

There’s a disabled tractor trailer blocking a lane on I-295, or so says WTOP radio. It leaves a ton of holdover from Monday evening rush hour and so she sits in traffic for twenty minutes before she digs her phone out of her purse, and for another ten after that before she starts thinking about using it.

She’s going to be late for the dinner she doesn’t want to go to anyways, and there are only so many emotions that she can fake in one day and remain believable. Disappointment is going to be a hard sell when she just wants to go back to bed and wake up in a reality where Vail had gone smoothly, she hadn’t seen Carina in a few months, and she hadn’t seen or spoken to Shaw in much, much longer.

The asshole in the lane next to her won’t let her over.

Nothing else is going to go her way either.

She fiddles with the tuner and settles on the first station that comes in clear and isn’t classical, and then she turns it up just loud enough that it drowns out the awful Kid Rock the guy next to her is blasting with his windows down. She greets the glare he sends her way a moment later with a wide, self-satisfied smile.

It’s here that she misses the first three rings of her phone and by the time she notices the lit up display, Morgan’s slightly out of focus self-portrait staring back at her, it’s already gone to voicemail. He is nothing if not persistent, though, and she doesn’t even have time to hit redial before it starts ringing again.

“Walker,” she answers.

“Hi, we have a bit of a problem here.”

She sighs. “Morgan, whatever it is, just go home. He’s just having a bad couple of days – we both are.”

“No, not that kind of problem.” There’s a burst of static on the other end, and she thinks he’s either fumbled or dropped the phone entirely before she hears the other guy on his end tell him they’ve got the all clear and that the ambulance should be here shortly. She starts looking for the nearest exit. “Sorry, there was a – I think they think I’m in charge.”

Morgan in charge. Morgan. Casey would have to either be dead or unconscious for that to happen.

She realizes that joke isn’t funny in time to swallow it down with the rush of anxiety that makes her fingers drum against the steering wheel. She’s been gone for an hour. An hour. A whole day for something to go wrong and instead it waits until she’s essentially powerless to do anything about it but sit in this car.

“I’m turning around,” she says, a statement of intent rather than action because, short of mowing down everyone in her path, that isn’t happening just yet. “Now would be a good time to start telling me what’s going on.”

Chuck isn’t there.

That’s what garners his attention, with his hand at the small of Carina’s back and her lipstick undoubtedly smudged along the curve of his jaw. There’s no one waiting eagerly on the couch, no keycard on the table by the door, no shower running in the background. Just silence, darkness, free reign of the whole damn suite. He feels her smile against his skin while his heart starts to beat double time in his chest.

They left after him, and took their time getting back. Chuck’s absence could mean nothing or it could mean trouble. He fishes his phone out of his pocket to find no missed calls but, then, he wouldn’t have any. For all Chuck knows, he got picked up by the CIA back at the club. Calling would just give them a number to trace; no reason to do half of their work for them. He’d come straight back to the hotel and work from there. Like Bryce would do. Like he did.

Panicking, conjuring up the worst scenario possible and then acting on those fears, is pointless. It solves nothing. It prevents nothing. He recognizes this with the sort of detached realism that’s been beat into him over the years, the line of thinking being that feelings turn people into liabilities and therefore it’s better not to have them at all. You can’t exploit what isn’t there.

He needs to stop thinking about this.

He kisses her because he needs to stop thinking about this. Because she’s sprawled there on the couch, stripped down to her underwear, with her heels digging into the cushions and her eyes on his mouth, like he’s got thirty seconds left before her patience runs out. Whether that means she makes the first move or she leaves, he doesn’t know. He doesn’t wait to find out. He kisses her instead.

There’s something to be said for muscle memory. He knows just the way to tilt his head so that their noses don’t bump and their teeth don’t clash. She opens up underneath him, his body fitting neatly in between her parted legs, her mouth against his damp and warm, and when he licks into her she threads her hands into his hair, torn between pulling and scratching her nails across his scalp, trying to bring him closer. It all aches familiar, from the throaty moan she gives when he palms her breast to the way her stomach hollows out as his hand ghosts lower, between their bodies.

He slips two fingers past the lace edge of her underwear and twists. It’s nowhere near the right angle, his position on top of her awkward, but the movement itself is smooth, practiced. Perfect.

Like firing a gun and compensating for the recoil.

The EMT says it’s a concussion.

Blunt force trauma to the back of the head, probably the butt of a gun, maybe a pipe – it’s a game of Clue, Colonel Mustard with the wrench in the study, take your best guess – but they don’t know and the whole point here is that he was unconscious on the floor of the parking garage, five feet from his car, when someone found him, so he sure as hell doesn’t know.

These guys were definitely armed though. The coroner’s got a body to load into the back of his van and that body comes with a gun and an extra clip hidden in the inside pocket of his jacket. No identification. Nothing to go on but fingerprints and dental records. His cause of death, at least, is simpler: broken neck.

Casey’s sitting in the back of the ambulance when she finds him. He’s got an ice pack pressed against his forehead, a split lip below that, but every time the tech comes near him he narrows his eyes and that’s how she knows he’s fine. Irritability is a good sign with him.

The sheepish way he avoids her eyes when he sees her isn’t. They think he was up against at least three guys who came at him from behind in a dark parking garage and he’s embarrassed that he got saddled with a concussion. It would almost be endearing if it wasn’t so damn ridiculous.

“Morgan called me,” she offers, as she settles next to him. Cups his jaw and turns his face towards her, finds nothing but a thin cut from where he must have hit his head on the pavement when he went down. He’s banged up but he’ll live and she lets her hands drop back to her lap without much ceremony. “I can’t help but notice that he’s nowhere to be seen.”

“He wouldn’t stop hovering so I made him leave.” Sounds about right. “Sorry he ruined your plans for the evening.”

She scoffs, “Right, because tonight was definitely the highlight of my social calendar.”

When he looks at her, it’s like his eyes don’t ever completely focus. Effects of the concussion, she figures, as he blinks and looks back at the line of yellow tape cordoning off the area. Basic first aid is nothing but a distant memory, and she’s only ever really been on the receiving end of this.

“I’ll drive you home,” she tells him. They already told her that he’s free to leave, although he probably shouldn’t be shooting at anything for the rest of the day. She figures driving goes along with that. Maybe. Probably.

“I’m fine.”

“I know you’re fine but I drove all the way back here in traffic with Morgan panicking in my ear, so you’re going to listen to me for a change.” He raises an eyebrow, grimacing as he does. She starts speaking again before she thinks it through. “Can I ask you something?”

“Since when do you need permission, Walker?”

“How do you explain this to her?” His gaze flicks to her again. “Alex. How do you explain the black eyes and the broken thumbs?”

“It’s the price of the job.”

“She thinks you’re a firearms instructor. Those guys don’t usually walk around looking like they’ve just been in a bar brawl.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

He means the lie. The lie is the cost, not the injury. The necessity of half keeping her in the dark and half weaving some fantasy life for himself in which he retired from the corps and moved onto something less dangerous, where the people he deals with on a daily basis are more likely to accidentally shoot themselves than him. She understands why he does it when there’s no rule saying that he has to. Her mother’s only been dead and buried for a little over a year now; he doesn’t want her to have to worry about losing him too. He doesn’t want to hurt her.

It’s the most devastatingly human thing about him.

Casey didn’t answer her question but, then, he knows that. It would be useless to point it out only to have him deflect it again, so she rocks forward onto her feet and rises, reaching out for him and withdrawing her hand in the same breath. It’s instinctive. It’s stupid. He doesn’t want or need the help.

“Come on,” she prods, “I still have to get home in time to order bad takeout before I pass out.”

He follows her lead. “You can do that from my couch if you want to save yourself the twenty minutes in the morning.”

“You just don’t want to be stranded without a car.”

“You’re damn right I don’t.”

The ride back to the hotel might be the longest of his life.

He isn’t speaking in purely emotional terms. Nor is he speaking singularly. No, he’s talking duration of time spent in the back of not one, not two, but three separate taxis. It’s been a long night. He knows the moment that he slides his keycard in the slot, waits for the click and the change of the light from red to green, that it’s only going to get longer.

He’s tired. It’s a little after two-thirty in the morning and he finds himself right back where he started twenty four hours ago. Confused, anxious, and above all exhausted. So much that he doesn’t want to deal with the first two things. Not tonight. Probably not tomorrow. Maybe not ever.

There’s a moment when the door swings open and the light from the hallway invades the darkness of the entryway, the living room further in, where he thinks he’s alone. He thinks they haven’t yet gotten back or maybe aren’t even coming back. Both possibilities seem equally as unlikely, the latter even more out of character for Bryce. But there’s Carina to factor in now. Always Carina. Always unpredictable.

He’s resigned himself to that. He decided in the taxi (second one, 01:45 AM, somewhere outside of San Lorenzo) that he’s too tired to deal with that too. He’s run himself in circles all day trying to figure out where she’s coming from, where Bryce is coming from, how much of her thought process is reflecting itself in his, how inappropriate it would be to just tell her to get out and take her legs and her smirky smiles and her baggage out of this hotel room and out of his life.

But that wouldn’t solve anything, not at this point.

A good twelve hours of sleep would probably solve the whole exhaustion thing though. That’s about as big picture as he’s getting right now.

At any rate, he’s not alone. The lights in the living room might be off and the door to the master bedroom might be closed, but there’s actual fluent English coming out of the small television perched on the counter in the kitchen and he follows the sound and the dim yellow glow until he finds Bryce, barefoot and drinking wine – four hundred dollars a bottle, 1990 Aldo Conterno Barolo, to be exact – out of a cream-colored coffee mug.

He starts when he sees Chuck. His whole body jerks with it and the mug isn’t quite full enough to slosh over the rim but it would if it could.

“Easy there, cowboy,” he says, rather lamely, and he thinks it must be the late hour or possibly the way those jeans sit low on Bryce’s hips that’s making him like this.

Bryce arches an eyebrow but lets it slide, in favor of, “What took you so long?”

“I switched taxis. Three times.” Off his look, he adds, “To make sure I wasn’t being followed.”

He can tell just by the look on Bryce’s face that the thought hadn’t even occurred to him. It’s Spy 101, which sort of goes a long way in explaining why he thought of it and Bryce didn’t. He’s the one with the weirdly specific memory, not to mention being the junior of the two. He has this theory that they just labeled Bryce a natural a week after recruiting him and then threw him out into the field, because he has some strangely unorthodox methods that fly directly in the face of what Chuck was taught. Namely, try to minimize the risks you’re taking, i.e. switching vehicles en route to your designated rendezvous point, and not maximize them.

The risk-taker in Bryce is going to be the death of him. Possibly literally.

“Smart,” Bryce tells him.

He tries very hard not to beam and, instead, hide his smile behind Bryce’s mug of wine. That backfires the minute he drinks out of it. “Wow, that is really – strong.”

Bryce takes the mug back from him and sets it on the counter between them, leaning back against it as he does. Standing like this, in the relatively comfortable atmosphere of the kitchen, it’s easy to forget that their last conversation had been an argument left unfinished. It’s easy to forget that he’s still angry, still hurt.

The tension’s gone out of the room and let the air back in. For now.

“We’re going to have to figure out where to go from here,” Bryce says, after a moment. He doesn’t mean it in the way that Chuck wants him to, but he means it. For all intents and purposes, the feds have caught up to them. Even Bryce knows staying in the city for much longer is too big of a gamble. They need to move again. Doesn’t matter where; they just need the distance.

“Got any more favors to call in?”

It’s not a serious question.

They’re better off saving their connections and IOUs until the next time they really need them. They’re going to be on their own for a while.

Well, mostly.

Carina’s dress is on the floor of the living room, halfway hidden underneath the coffee table. He somehow missed it on his way in but after he says goodnight to Bryce, after he brushes his teeth and strips down to his boxers and undershirt, he sees it. It stops him in his tracks for a moment, just long enough to confirm what he already suspected. It’s why she grilled him on Bryce earlier. She was checking out the competition.

That makes him the loser here, even if what he lost is something that he maybe never had in the first place.


The door to their office is closed again.

And locked.

“You know, Casey, I only have so many hands,” she says, as she deposits this morning’s newspaper, her hardcopy of yesterday’s briefing, a ten-page printout on the investigation into The Suspicious Suicide of Yuri the Arms Dealer, and her latte on her desk. Her keys go back in her pocket.

If she was an expecting an apology or, you know, any acknowledgement, then she’s clearly looking in the wrong place. He’s got the crime scene photos from the parking garage spread out in front of him, and Unnamed Assailant #1’s personal effects in a box by his feet. He’s unnamed even though his prints came back as belonging to one John Smith out of Duluth because there isn’t a single person in this building stupid enough to not realize that’s an alias. Although he might really be from Duluth.

She knows better to ask if there are any new leads. There aren’t. There won’t be. He’s just obsessing, infinitely frustrated by the idea that someone got the better of him without him having the chance to retaliate. He’s unused to that. She thinks it makes him feel weak.

He just needs something else to focus on.

She grabs the small sheaf of photos that came with the report and dumps them onto his desk, covering up the bulk of his crime scene photos in the process. He turns to glare at her for a half-second and then thinks better of it. “Yuri Kosanovich’s suicide, note not included.”

It takes him all of twenty seconds to thumb through them and note the defensive marks on the man’s hands. Death by hanging doesn’t usually leave scratch marks. “Looks like Reynosa didn’t want him to talk.”

“Yeah. I haven’t read the report yet but apparently one of the guards that the cops interviewed said he seemed depressed lately. Never mind the fact that he just got busted and was looking at five-to-ten in federal prison; they don’t seem to feel that’s relevant. They’re waiting on the autopsy results now.”

“They’re not going to charge them.”

“I know.”

They’re never going to make parole anyways, not with their rap sheets, and so it would just be pointless paperwork. From a professional standpoint, she gets it. Yuri had it coming. He was a bad guy, who probably would’ve gotten off in four years for good behavior and gone right back to work the day he was out. Some would call this fortuitous.

It makes her wonder what else they gloss over though.

“Your suit called,” he says. “Again.”

“Suits are inanimate objects,” she replies, decidedly defiant even if she has to bite back a groan. She never called to apologize or explain. Not that night, not that week, and as it turns out probably not this month either. It’s childish and irresponsible but every time she thinks about what she would say to him she suddenly loses her grasp on the English language. Sorry, but that’s what partners do for each other.Sorry, but I’ve just been too busy to pick up the phone for the last month. Sorry, but I never wanted to see you in the first place.

None of those are viable options.

It’s a work in progress.

“You going to call him?” he inquires, after a moment.

“See, that question almost makes it seem like you care.”

“I don’t.”


But he does.

He has a second bedroom in his apartment that she didn’t know about until the night she drove him home and she’s been crashing there when they have missions that run until the wee hours of the morning and she’s too tired to drive back. It’s closer to work by half, when you factor in traffic, and extra sleep is extra sleep. They don’t really talk about it except to the extent where he remembers to brew enough coffee for her too and she becomes an expert at deflecting Morgan’s questions on the days where they show up for work at the exact same time. Then there are usually looks. It’s not talking. There’s nothing to talk about.

It’s just that at some point they stopped being co-workers and became partners, and she isn’t quite sure when the switch flipped.

He clears his throat and she glances at the clock.

“We’re going to be late for that meeting,” she tells him. “And then Beckman really will fire us.”

“Internal affairs?”

“No, they pushed that back. We’re meeting with Agents Forrest and Robbins. It was in the email.”

“I didn’t read the email.”

“Well that’s why there are two of us.”

One of the cons of staying on an island in late March is that the water never really makes it above sixty-five degrees.

There’s a chill that settles over Capri in the early morning hours. It’s the kind of weather that usually makes him grab for sweaters and hot beverages, prone to burrowing deeper under the blankets in order to cling to last vestiges of sleep.

The ocean keeps him awake.

It took them two days to tie up loose ends in Rome, making their case about what had gone wrong at the club and why they needed to get out of dodge quick to Giovanni with relative success. Then they packed up and left, headed to Capri for reasons that weren’t entirely clear to anyone but Chuck likens to chasing after something that no longer exists. He’d wanted to go. Bryce had wanted to go. So they went and ignored the past tense that preceded both of those statements, renting property within walking distance from the coast, the beach near abandoned thanks to the season keeping the tourists at bay.

They’re close enough that he can hear the waves breaking in the distance even with the windows shut tightly, and it bothers him where it shouldn’t. He’s from California; he’s spent a good amount of time by the beach. He even used to find it calming. Here, he sleeps fitfully. Here, he sleeps in two-hour intervals, waking to hear footsteps in the hallway or voices in the room next to his, the tick of his clock or the low hum of his laptop as it idles in the corner. And the ocean. Always the ocean.

He spends three days in Naples when he thinks it’s them, the house, the proximity of the house to the ocean, whatever combination of excuses sounds good that day. Holes up in a shitty hotel inside the city and leaves his phone on the entire time, hooked up to its charger but otherwise out of use. Bryce gets angry, employs the word risky more times than he can count, and Carina just shrugs in a way that’s either meant to convey indifference or understanding.

He’s starting to believe that there is at least the capability for the latter.

Sleep doesn’t come any easier while he’s gone. There’s foot traffic in the city, voices that carry on the streets below him and bright lights that catch his attention through the thin drapes. He still wakes up at odd hours, finds himself pacing the room and compulsively checking his phone to make sure he didn’t miss a call, a message, anything. He’s perpetually anxious, jittery and awkward in a way that he hasn’t been since basic, worse when you mix in coffee and, once, sleeping pills that don’t seem to take.

He comes to understand that this is about him and not them. This is about Grand Junction and Positano, about the night he got into that car and the last time he pressed a phone to his ear and heard his sister’s voice come over the other line. Some part of him has simply overloaded and elected to finally give under the weight of it all, and he finds that realization simultaneously terrifying and freeing.

The first ferry to Capri leaves just after five-thirty in the morning. If you time it right, you can watch the sun rise over the mountains, watch the sky shade from deep purple to pink to gold. There’s something violently beautiful about it, something that keeps him standing outside in the cold, with his hands wrist-deep in his pockets, straight up until they hit land.

No one ever says another word about Naples.

Weeks pass.

“The water’s nice,” Carina tells him, steps out of the pool in their backyard and doesn’t bother to reach for a towel. He lets his eyes trace the lean lines of her body for just a moment. It’s unconscious. Nothing more. “You should join me one of these days.”

“Yeah, no thanks, not a big fan of hypothermia.”

The tips of her fingers just ghost his arm as she passes.

Bryce watches them the way one watches a lit match around so much gasoline.

They’ve seen the same a/v footage loop half a dozen times.

She glances at Casey, to see if he’s getting any more out of this experience than she is, but his attention is tightly focused on his ex-partner. Agent Alex Forrest is what some might call an intimidating woman. She’s what Sarah likes to call the female version of Casey, minus the traces of restraint and humanity. Morgan once referred to her as a beautiful, beautiful Cylon and though Sarah doesn’t know what that is exactly, she feels it’s fitting.

In other words, she’s the perfect agent.

Just apparently not the perfect partner.

She doesn’t know why he requested a transfer but from what little she’s been able to gather from Morgan, Forrest had very little trouble with the loss of innocent lives when they got in the way of carrying out her orders. Casey, on the other hand, did. He’ll tranq someone, sure, but she’s never seen him shoot anyone who didn’t absolutely deserve it.

Forrest had called him weak. Angry and weak, and Sarah had shrugged her shoulders – she’d heard stories about him, knew enough to understand that weak wasn’t an adjective commonly applied to him but angry most certainly was – and told her thanks for the heads up. Thought it was the betrayal of having your partner go behind your back and ditch you talking.

There’s no love lost between them in this room, even now.

Sarah leans forward. “I’m sorry, what am I supposed to be looking at?”

Agent Robbins backs the footage up again. Take seven. It’s from a club, some op they were on a month ago. The audio is essentially useless, just house music and unending chatter from too many undistinguishable voices, but the video is rather clear. She can make out faces, none overly recognizable, at least not until Forrest points towards the top left hand corner of the screen.

“I believe you recognize Agent Miller.”

Carina’s pulling at the hand of a man whose back is to the camera, her mouth moving rapid-fire as she does. She seems pissed. Or rushed. Maybe both. Casey shoots her a look that tells her he’s wondering the same thing that she is. “Is there any reason why we should be concerned about Agent Miller’s whereabouts?”

“You should be when the man with her is Bryce Larkin.”

No, she wants to say, the man with her is a 5’11” white male with dark hair, and she’s going to need a little more to go on than that. What she says instead is, “Do you have proof?”

“Someone on my team spotted him.” She pauses the video on a still of Carina leading the man off-camera. “Our initial attempt at apprehending them was unsuccessful and we had a mission to complete that prevented us from pursuing them.”

“Did you try shooting them?” Casey says, evidently annoyed. “I’ve found that has a high success rate.”

Forrest cuts her eyes at him. “We drugged her drink.”

And if that’s not the stupidest idea she’s ever heard in her life. “You drugged her drink? You got close enough to drug her, the federal agent who for all you knew was undercover, but not to take them in.”

“Larkin and Bartowski weren’t our top priority.”

“Due respect, Agent Forrest, but that’s fairly obvious.”

There’s not a lot else to say after that. She can’t do anything with the information anyway. The footage is from weeks ago; they’d have already moved on. Not to mention the fact that Carina all but outright told her she was working with their guys. Casey doesn’t know that. To him, this is just more fuel to that fire.

“If you don’t mind, we’d like to keep this between us for the time being,” she says, hoping Casey will just go with it and ask questions later.

Forrest looks at Robbins, who’s done his best to fade back into the walls, an impressive feat given that he’s the size of a linebacker. He nods, for lack of anything else to say. “Of course. As long as you’re planning on reporting her.”

She isn’t but they don’t need to know that.

They can use Carina. She’d wanted Sarah to know that she was working with them and she’d pointed her to Orion. Whatever she’s up to, there’s a reason for it, and Sarah intends to find out what it is. Turning her in won’t do any good.

“Absolutely,” she tells her.

Carina’s gone in the morning.

She’d been cleaning her gun at the kitchen table when he’d gone to bed sometime after one. Had smiled at him as he passed her on the way into his room, a smile that he didn’t return. He’d woken with a jolt again at four to silence that he now knows must have been the aftermath of the front door being pulled shut behind her, because when he gets up for the day, seven-thirty and bright, when he’s brushing his teeth in the bathroom down the hall, he notices all her stuff is gone from it. Her flat iron isn’t in the drawer, her toothbrush isn’t in the holder, and there’s no spare gun hidden in with the towels.

Bryce is eating breakfast at the table when he comes out.

There are suitcases in the doorway.

“Did she say anything?” He asks.

Bryce shakes his head, calmly says, “No.”

“When are we leaving?”

“I was thinking tonight.” He sets down his coffee. “If you want.”

It’s the first time that they’ve been truly alone with each other in a month. Chuck doesn’t know what he wants or how this works anymore. He’s forgotten. He’s changed. They’ve changed. The space they occupy has changed, tectonic plates grinding and shifting against each other; there’s too much of it left between them now, all these ragged bits and uneven edges.

“That’s fine,” he says, runs a hand through sleep-mussed hair. Bryce motions to the food on the table and Chuck shakes his head; he doesn’t have much of an appetite. “I’ll start packing.”

They leave with the sunset.

back to index // tbc

A note: I've been told that parts of this are rather ambiguous. I know. It's an attempt at propping up future storylines. If something isn't clear to you, it probably will be later. I'm still trying to figure this universe out. It's out of my writing comfort zone and if it shows I'm sorry but please bear with me. I promise things will pay off.

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