“Stay still, you big baby,” Ellie said, her tone as worried as her words were sharp.
“It’s—ow!—nothing,” Chuck insisted as she completed another stitch. There was blood in his eyes; he closed them and had a moment of regret that this was what she had to do with her medical degree. Ellie should be off saving lives, not running from a conspiracy of bad guys determined to kill Chuck or, worse, force Chuck to serve them.
“Seriously, I don’t know how a guy as smart as you always ends up getting the beat-down. Have I taught you nothing?”
And that demanded some little-brother defense. “Oh yeah? That’s not what you were saying when I used my freaky mind powers to save our asses.” He winced as she finished suturing.
Ellie wiped the blood away, her touch so gentle that he felt a rush of comfort, the old certainty that they would be all right as long as they were together. “As I recall, I was saying, ‘Chuck, use your freaky mind powers to save our asses.’ Or words to that effect.”
“Such uncouth language,” he chided, opening his eyes so that they could grin at each other.
“We don’t have time for this,” Casey said, and they both jumped six inches.
Ellie put her hands on her hips, ignoring that they were still covered with blood (she was going to be mad, later), and glared at Casey. “Jeez, Cas, warn a guy,” Chuck complained.
Casey tilted his head in that angry way he had. “Call me that again and I’ll kill you.”
“Well, look who woke up on the wrong side of—oh, wait, you don’t sleep, do you,” Chuck snarked back. Casey wasn’t going to harm Chuck, no matter how many threats he issued. That had been clear since he’d shown up at Chuck’s crappy motel room with Ellie in tow.
The thought of those months they’d been apart, what Ellie had been through, still filled Chuck with impotent rage. It made him want to take all the secrets in his head and rip them open until the world screamed with him. And, more important, it reminded him how very much he owed Casey, so he took a deep breath and made himself relax. “What’s so pressing you needed to interrupt our quality bonding time, which, I might add, tends to wilt under your harsh scrutiny?”
“That’s not the only thing that tends to wilt,” Casey snarled, which was totally unfair except for how Chuck had kind of walked into it. “Pack up, Bartowskis. There’s a job for you in Pismo Beach.”
Ellie sighed and headed towards the bathroom, obviously preparing to comply with Casey’s orders. Chuck was a little disturbed by how much she seemed to trust Casey; he still wasn’t sure what had gone on between them while Chuck had been off with Sarah on his own, ultimately futile, quest to rescue his sister.
Which reminded him—“Sarah’s supposed to be back soon. We should wait—I mean, we can’t exactly leave her a note.”
Casey’s lip curled. “She can’t be trusted.”
Chuck rolled his eyes. “Here’s a thought: instead of you saying that every time her name comes up, let’s all pretend you’ve done it. You can even substitute a symbolic gesture.”
Casey leaned forward until they were nearly nose to nose. Chuck gave in to the impulse to cringe backwards. “I’ve got a symbolic gesture, all right.” Chuck’s eyes crossed as they dropped to the fist Casey was making six inches from Chuck’s chin.
“Boys,” Ellie sang out from where she was shoveling supplies into her medical bag. Chuck pouted; it wasn’t like Chuck started it. Casey grunted and turned, moving to peer suspiciously out the window.
“So what’s this job?” Chuck asked, trying to do his part to decrease the tension.
“Seal,” Casey said, which was annoying enough that even Ellie wouldn’t blame Chuck for sassing.
Chuck could see her through the open bathroom door, staring at her reflection in the mirror. Her eyes were so sad now. The only thing Chuck could do for her was kill Lilith, and any other demon who had the notion to torment the Bartowskis. He couldn’t protect Ellie, but he could avenge her, and maybe even someday set her free from this life.
Preventing the Apocalypse was a vital, if somewhat daunting, step in that plan. “Right,” Chuck prompted. “I didn’t think you were calling for a computer repair. Any more details, or should we just start tunneling like Bugs Bunny?”
Casey frowned, obviously missing the joke (like always). “A demon ring is preparing to sacrifice ten innocents to break the next seal. Do you feel better now?”
“Oh yeah,” Chuck volleyed back, “I feel superbly confident.”
Casey raised an eyebrow, managing to leave ‘that makes one of us’ unspoken, which Chuck considered a victory. With any luck, before this was over he’d have convinced Casey to communicate only in sneers and grunts.
There was no point in dwelling on the obstacles ahead. One demon at a time—or, okay, occasionally six or ten at a time, but the point was that Chuck should probably enjoy whatever calm moments he could grab. And if that happened to piss off Casey, well, somehow the angel only looked hotter when he was all wound up, so, bonus for Chuck. “Hey, while we’re waiting for Sarah, anybody want to do some Wii Fit?”
Ellie’s tolerant head-shake and Casey’s grimace were just about equally rewarding.