John Casey cleaned his third-favorite service weapon, the trusty old SIG Sauer, for the second time that week. That wasn't nearly as much as his first- and second-favorite weapons, which he'd cleaned at least three times each. Yet he still couldn't scrub the entire kissing thing from his brain no matter how much symbolic brain-bleaching he engaged in. It just wouldn't go away. Every time he looked at Bartowski, it hit him hard in the face. Every time he tried to sleep, Bartowski's terrifying, puckered lips were there. And it really pissed him off.
He'd even -- ugh! -- tried talking to Sarah Walker about personal dynamics with assets, but all she'd done was give him crap. OK, to be charitable, it may have been because she didn't understand what he was getting at, but still, he expected her to glean his intention because she was all about feelings and other bullshit like that.
She had been serving yogurt at the Orange Orange when Casey had come by on his way down to the castle. After a few minutes of stumbling through what he was trying to ascertain and getting exactly nowhere, Walker had fixed him with a look and asked, "Did something happen with you and Chuck at the conference center? Because you've been even worse than normal, and that's saying a lot."
Well, that had just made him angry. "No! Nothing. Nothing happened. I'm just trying to figure this out. How we're supposed to be so... involved with the asset and his family and yet maintain our distance. You keep crossing the line and I know you've talked to the general about your problem." She had glared at him, but he didn't let her say anything. "We're gonna get too close to them." Close as in Chuck trying to save his life by... kissing him. Close as in way, way, way too close.
Walker had piled a bunch of crap on top of the yogurt mound and drawn her mouth into a tight line. "I don't know why you're asking me this, considering my 'problem.' I won't even get into what you say about my involvement with Bryce. It's not like you think I'm doing a good job. Why would you ask advice of someone you consider a bad example?" He'd felt a "what goes around comes around" coming around judging by her eyes. Or a lecture about karma, which was a Bartowski favorite, and seemed to have infected Walker just as much.
"Look. I'm just thinking we've been on this detail too long. We're gonna get attached to him. All this stuff with the girlfriend, his family, all of it. We're on the guy almost 24/7."
"On him?" Walker had smiled sweetly and Casey's trigger finger had itched.
"I don't know why I talk to you." He had quickly lost his calm center. Or at least his pretense at a calm center. So he had gone for the jugular, just because he really did believe that the best defense was a good offense. "My orders were to terminate the human intersect when the new one became operational. I was carrying out my orders when you came around with the news."
Walker's face had fallen. Oddly, Casey hadn't found any real pleasure in that, as he'd expected. Instead he had just felt kind of awkward and a little bit stupid.
"I can't believe you didn't tell me," she'd said, and shoved the yogurt cup at him.
Casey had shrugged. "It's the job. Get used to it." He'd glanced down at the cup. "What am I supposed to do with this?" he'd asked, pushing the orange plastic spoon around in the concoction.
She had scowled at him. "Bite it."
Casey sighed. That was why he liked to work alone. He put the gun back together and washed the Break-Free off his hands. Just a few apartments over, the whole Bartowski clan, the Buy-More idiots, and Sarah Walker were sitting down to their Thanksgiving dinner. He'd turned the surveillance audio off in favor of his favorite easy-listening station.
One of the worst parts of this job was the whole pretending to be as big a loser as Chuck thing he had to do whenever Ellie and Capt. Awesome were around. They actually expressed concern over his future and offered ways to better himself for a more productive life, the kind someone with his "native intelligence" and "capability" and "people skills" should have.
But none of that compared with the damn kiss. Trying to save his life, Bartowski insisted. Yeah, right. Casey already knew Chuck thought he was "chiseled" and good-looking, thanks to that truth serum, but "saving his life" as an excuse to plant one on him? At least he could be grateful that the girlfriend hadn't said anything at debrief afterward. But what if she spilled now that she was in custody? Casey shuddered.
Things were going to have to change around here.
He hadn't cleaned the HK 416 yet, and that would definitely keep his mind occupied. He pulled it out of the gun closet. As he laid out a cloth on the table for parts, the song on the radio went from background to forefront in his brain. "When they insist on knowing my bliss/ I tell them this/ ... Because your kiss is what I miss when I turn out the lights..." "Shit!" he yelled and aimed the rifle at the speakers. Casey was only pretending to pull the trigger, but he was more agitated than an armed man had the right to be, and the stereo flew into a thousand pieces. Plaster from the wall went everywhere. Well, that was stupid. He put the safety on and stashed the gun back in the closet, just in case someone called the cops.
Within seconds there was pounding on his door. He rolled his eyes and checked the security scanner, finding Walker and Bartowski demanding he open the door. Casey tried not to stare at Bartowski's mouth. "What the hell just happened?" Walker shout-whispered. "I heard shots."
"Shot, singular," Casey said between clenched teeth. "It was an accident."
"Are you all right?" Chuck asked, trying to push his way into the apartment, but Casey stood firm and blocked the way. Walker had her purse in hand, ready to draw her weapon. "I smell burnt electronics. And believe me, that's a smell I know all too well. Lots of failed experiments."
"Yes, I'm all right!" Casey snarled. "Do I look like I'm not all right? It was an accident. Just leave me alone."
"Everyone heard it. What are we going to tell them?" Walker asked. Like Casey could care.
Bartowski's sister and her boyfriend popped up behind Chuck and Sarah like little Jack in the Boxes. Just when he thought things couldn't get any worse.
"Are you all right?" they asked in tandem. "It sounded like a gun!"
"It was a ... a microwave accident. You know. Crummy appliances in this place. Everything's fine."
"It sounded like a gunshot!" Awesome said, with maybe more excitement than he should have.
"No, no. Just... probably put something with metal in it. Whole thing went bang. If you'll excuse me, I need to go clean up the mess." In most crises, the calmer you acted, the calmer everyone else would get. People were basically sheep. Only these people never stopped fussing.
"Oh, well, OK. Sure. Are you alone?" Ellie asked. "You're eating microwave food on Thanksgiving?" She made a face that reminded him way too much of his mother's poor-baby face. "We've got practically the whole Buy More crew here. Why don't you join us? Be around friends." In a sing-song voice, she added, "It's the holidays!"
Bartowski suddenly looked panic-stricken.
"Oh, ooohh, no." Bartowski patted his sister's shoulder just as Awesome reached his hand out to grab Casey's arm. "No, no. Big John here doesn't go in for that kind of thing. He's a loner, doesn't believe in holidays," Chuck said, but it fell on deaf ears, as Awesome pulled on Casey's arm. Casey growled. These people. Things really were gonna have to change.
"Don't be silly, Chuck," Ellie said. "There's always room for one more. And you know how I am." He didn't, really, but whatever. She leaned close to Casey and said, sotto voce, "Besides, if we can endure Jeff and Lester, believe me, you are more than welcome."
Against his better judgment, Casey actually liked Ellie. Found her pretty attractive, too. She deserved more than a guy like Awesome, someone with a little more sense, a little more personality. But then that would be kind of creepy if he thought of Ellie that way, because it would be like... having a thing for Chuck. Ugh. And it's not like this job left him a lot of time to think about women, anyway. Or kissing. Or anything like that.
Soon he found himself squeezed in between Walker and Chuck, eating a fairly decent meal -- Ellie had managed to cook a perfect turkey, not too dry, not too moist, just like his mom would make -- and trying to find a nice, blank, Zen space to park his brain so he could tune out the moronic patter around him. Mostly he was trying not to watch Chuck eat, drink, talk, or laugh.
After the meal was over, Awesome shouted, "Football!" and turned on the TV. Damn. It was like they had studied all his weak points to try to negotiate his assimilation into the family. "All right, USC! Go, Trojans!"
"Huh," Casey grunted. "My alma mater." Bartowski waved his arms frantically behind his sister, making slicing motions across his throat. Walker put her hand over her eyes. Shit. Why couldn't they have just let him die that day?
"No kidding!" Awesome said. "When were you there?"
"Dude. How come you're working at the Buy More, then?" Grimes asked. He snickered in that ferrety way Casey had grown to loathe.
"I, uh, I didn't finish. Had to drop out to, uh..."
"Take care of his sick father," Chuck said. "He had to run the family business. He's planning to go back to school, aren't you, John?"
"Yeah. Yeah. When I earn enough money. At the Buy More. Or I die," Casey mumbled. This was getting more and more awkward and uncomfortable. Why couldn't he have shot himself instead of the stereo?
Awesome said, "You look like you probably tossed around the ol' pigskin yourself, dude. Did you play there? Would we have seen you?"
"No," Casey said, "I was more of a... target sports kind of guy."
Walker finally uncovered her eyes. "Hey, Chuck, John, why don't we help out Ellie after this lovely meal and handle the dishes?"
"Oh, you don't--" Ellie started.
"That 's a great idea!" Chuck cried and made frantically for the kitchen. "Come on, let's all go do the dishes. I call rinsing!" Casey glared after him, but Walker swatted him on the shoulder and steered him to the kitchen.
"Fabulous," Casey grumbled. Once they were out of earshot of the others, Walker rounded on him.
"What is going on? First there are gunshots, then you almost blow your cover? What, are you drunk? Do I have to call the general?" If there was one thing John Casey hated above all else, it was being scolded by a woman. Especially an emotional woman like Walker.
"Get a grip, Walker. I told you, it was an accident. I've got stuff on my mind. It's personal. You should understand that more than anyone."
She looked at Chuck, then back to Casey. Chuck shrugged. "I'm Switzerland. Or at least I'd like to be. Nice, medium-sized, snowy Switzerland, land of chocolate and Swiss misses. Can you leave me out of this?" If only, Casey thought.
Why, why, why couldn't they have assigned him something easy, like Afghanistan or Iraq? Stupid intersect. Stupid Bartowski. After all his years of service, didn't he deserve better than babysitting a guy who had no more self-respect than to kiss another man?
"Just do the dishes," Casey said, and Chuck nodded enthusiastically. They worked wordlessly until everything had been put away and cleaned up. He knew Walker was shooting him looks every few minutes, but he wouldn't give her the satisfaction of acknowledging it. Bartowski, on the other hand, acted like someone had put fire ants in his panties.
Casey wiped his hands on his pants and said, "I'm done here. And I'm done with this ridiculous charade. I will see you later," by which he meant he hoped never, even though he couldn't get out of this damn detail unless there was a sudden act of God.
"Wait, there's still pie," Chuck said. "And also football!"
"Do I look like I want pie?" Casey snarled, though he really, really did want pie. Except he wanted out of here and away from Bartowski more.
"OK, no pie. No pie. It was just a thought. A random, kind of Thanksgivingy thought, but it's gone now."
Grimes wandered into the kitchen and asked, "What's the up? Is there any pie? I thought I heard you say pie." Casey narrowed his eyes and growled, so Grimes scurried back out as fast as he could.
Casey made his apologies to Ellie and Awesome and despite their protests, managed to leave the apartment with a shred of dignity intact. He closed the blinds in his own place, turned the TV on to catch what little of the game he could, and let the surveillance equipment sit there, largely ignored. He groaned when he heard a knock at the door.
Bartowski. Perfect end to a perfect day. "Hey, Casey, I just wanted to apologize for everything. It's Ellie, you know, she kind of likes to take in strays. Not that you're, you know, a stray and you don't have any family of your own -- do you have any family of your own? I mean, would you be able to have Thanksgiving with your family if it wasn't for me? That would make me feel bad. But you know, Ellie doesn't like seeing people alone and since Awesome's parents didn't show, she was filled with holiday spirit but no one to spread it on. I mean, you know, she even let Jeff and Lester stay, so that's a lot of spirit. I would have invited you myself but I know you don't like the social thing. I'm just the intersect, and all."
Casey was afraid the verbal diarrhea would never stop. So Casey grabbed him by the upper arms, and Chuck let out a girly little squeak. "Don't do me any favors anymore, Bartowski." When he pulled Chuck closer, there was some panicked flailing and Chuck squeezed his eyes closed, before Casey planted one square on Bartowski's lips. Chuck looked every bit as surprised as Casey was.
Chuck's mouth was softer than he remembered, but then, Casey wasn't dying this time. He pulled away and glared at Chuck. "Go eat your pie," Casey said, as gruffly as he could, and let go of Chuck's arms. "And close your mouth. You look like a fish."
Sputtering, Bartowski rubbed his hand across his mouth a few times, blinked repeatedly, and then walked out the door.
Yeah, Casey thought as he watched Chuck walk toward his place, stop and look back, take a few more steps, then stop and look back again. Things were really going to have to change around here.
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