- mxpw (and Frea)
Chuck ducked. He should have weaved. Or did he weave when he should have ducked? With the room spinning all around and his eyes spinning in his head, it hardly seemed to matter. He’d gotten hit. Again. End of story.
End of story? Ha. It was rapidly becoming the story of his freaking life.
Fortunately, Casey decided to take pity on him. “Not bad, Bartowski,” he said from somewhere over Chuck. “Getting better.”
The least Casey could do, Chuck thought as the ceiling finally swam into focus above him, was sound even a little bit winded. This was getting ridiculous.
Slowly, feeling geriatric despite the fact that he was positive he was still under thirty, Chuck pushed himself up and back onto his feet. It took ages longer than it should have, he was positive. “Thanks,” he said, but it came out all garbled. He spat out his mouth-guard. “Doesn’t feel like it.”
Casey scooped up a towel from the floor. “This isn’t like your girlfriend’s movies. You just can’t wave a magic wand and expect to instantly know Kung-fu.”
Chuck personally felt that the ability would be cooler than Casey’s dubious tone seemed to indicate. At least this time he managed to keep from pointing out that Sarah hadn’t even been in the Matrix movies. Protests like that tended to fall on deaf ears, he’d discovered. Yet another story of his life. “Well,” he said instead, “there’s a difference between ‘instantly’ and ‘two months of everyday rigorous training.’”
“These things happen on their own time,” Casey said with uncharacteristic (for him) patience.
Since they were apparently taking a rest anyway, Chuck hid his scowl as he slung his own towel around his neck and rubbed at his hair. Things could happen on their own time all they liked, as far as he was concerned. The problem was, he had Sarah Walker to protect, and he needed things to happen faster. He’d gotten lucky at the department store on his second night with Sarah. If another attack like that happened again, his luck wouldn’t hold.
So he needed to be better. And he needed to be better now.
He also needed to figure out who was gunning for Sarah. And who the Cat was. Also, if Sarah was the Cat. It was a ridiculous theory—he’d been shadowing the woman for two months, playing the boyfriend for the paparazzi (who were starting to suspect that things might be strange, as Chuck and Sarah never did anything more than hold hands). He knew her schedule better than anyone, and for Sarah to be a notoriously ambiguous espionage agent was just ridiculous.
But Sanderson’s phone call still sat uneasily at the back of his mind, even two months later. And worse, the other man staunchly refused to return Chuck’s calls, deepening the mystery.
Casey, in the process of reaching for his water bottle, let out a sigh that made Chuck look over. “Can you think a little quieter, please?”
Chuck bit his tongue over the snarky reply about damaging Casey’s calm. It wasn’t fair to Casey. He might not be the most patient trainer in the world, but the other man had more than stepped up to help Chuck out.
“Sorry, Casey,” he said. “Didn’t realize I was thinking so loud.”
“No problem. I’ll just hit you harder next time.”
“Because it’s harder to think with a migraine?”
“I was thinking brain-dead.” Casey took a slug of water, tossed the bottle to the side. Chuck hid his wince; Sarah had said he and Casey were fine using ‘the home gym’ (still indistinguishable from every other part of the house, as every room only seemed to contain boxes of things Sarah had picked up at the rummage sales she now took extreme glee in dragging Chuck to). Even if the house was still in its half-assembled shambles, Chuck really didn’t like treating it badly.
Of course, he usually had to get over that by the third or fourth time Casey dropped him in the first hour, but the principle of the matter stuck.
“Oh, come on, that sort of thing usually gets a laugh,” Casey said, sounding exasperated now. “What’s your malfunction today, Bartowski? Don’t tell me you’re mooning over Blondie.”
“I am not ‘mooning,’” Chuck said, making finger quotes. “And she’ll kick your ass if she hears you call her ‘Blondie.’”
Casey snorted...but not quickly enough. Chuck’s head shot up.
“Wait a second,” he said. “Casey, you’re not afraid of Sarah, are you?”
“I’m not,” Casey said, rolling his eyes. “Your girlfriend couldn’t take me in a fight, unless I was blind or lame. You, on the other hand...”
“Thanks,” Chuck said sourly.
Casey rolled his eyes a second time. “Relax, Bartowski. I’m trying to bring some humor into the situation.” He crossed over to his gym bag and knelt down to zipper it open. “You know, I have to respect your girlfriend.”
“Sarah. Her name is Sarah. And she’s not my girlfriend.”
“After all, it’s thanks to her that I’m now the world’s best dad.”
Chuck felt some of his annoyance drain. Alex McHugh had been the missing puzzle piece in everything. First, Chuck had uncovered her identity for Casey awhile back, but she’d also been the bridge to introduce Sarah to Casey, and the idea of a second bodyguard. After what had happened between Kellerman and Sarah, Chuck had been hesitant to bring anybody espionage-related into Sarah’s orbit, but the fact of the matter was, Chuck wasn’t able to protect Sarah all by himself and look into finding out who was gunning for her. In the end, it had been Casey who’d proposed the original introduction: Alex was a fan of Sydney Dunham. After that, all it took was a five minute conversation with Sarah and Chuck had arranged for Alex to have a set visit, meet Sarah, and a promise of tickets to Call of Midnight’s world premiere.
While Alex was shown around set, Chuck introduced Sarah to Casey. It had gone much better than expected. Casey had been respectful and kept his usual caustic attitude to himself—Chuck wasn’t sure if it was because Sarah had made his daughter happy or he was as impressed by Sarah as Chuck was. And in the end, Chuck needn’t have worried: Sarah had been more open to the idea of letting another person join their team than Chuck had expected.
And three others after that, which was why Chuck and Casey were now in Sarah’s home gym, beating on each other. Well, Chuck corrected somewhat ruefully, Casey was doing the beating. Chuck was just receiving it.
“Let’s go another round and call it a day,” Casey said now, closing his gym bag.
Chuck nearly groaned, but as that would have been an invitation for a thorough beatdown, he managed to keep quiet. He was far too tired for this. He didn’t understand it. He no longer was solely responsible for Sarah’s safety and yet he still felt weary after every day had passed. Being the agent in charge of a team in the field was a lot of work. He didn’t know how people like Casey did it.
The worst part of it all was the waiting. Things had been quiet. As Casey had put it, too quiet. And things usually happened in clumps, Chuck had discovered. Somebody had attempted to break into Sarah’s house the day after she and Casey met. Thanks to his upgrade of her security system, they hadn’t made it into the actual house, but both he and Sarah had been pretty shaken up. To make matters worse, somebody had graffiti’d a cat’s paw on the side of the studio the day after that. Two days after that, somebody had thrown a brick through the window of Chuck’s rental car. The latter could have been just the dangers of living in Los Angeles, but the timing felt too coincidental for that.
And since then: nothing.
Still, the lack of activity hadn’t meant slouching off. After the attack on Sarah’s home, Chuck and Casey had decided they needed more team members. Casey had proved invaluable there: one phone call and three of his old Marine buddies were on the way, approved through Bullworth’s office as new members of Chuck’s team.
He had a team now.
And he was still getting pounded into the mat by John friggin’ Casey.
Speaking of which...Chuck stuffed his mouth-guard back into his mouth and raised his arms into a defensive posture.
Casey feinted left but jabbed right. Chuck had learned enough to read body language, so he was prepared for the oncoming punch. He blocked it smoothly, and was about to throw his own punch when his phone echoed throughout the training room.
Fortunately, Casey had better control than Chuck did, and was able to stop himself from landing a haymaker to Chuck’s jaw during the momentary distraction. Chuck gave Casey a sheepish look and scurried to pick up the phone. It took some careful maneuvering with his gloves still on.
“Go ahead, Harrison.”
“Hey, Chuck, Betty finished early, so we’re gonna go ahead and meet up with Vicki a little sooner than expected.”
Chuck grinned at Sarah’s nickname. It had been Gil’s idea—he was a fan of the Golden Age of Hollywood—and it made Sarah roll her eyes every time she heard it. She claimed it made her seem like she had delusions of grandeur, but Chuck thought the name was fitting, in more ways than one, and it had stuck. Gil and Harrison almost never referred to her by her own name anymore.
“Thanks, Harrison. Casey and I are almost finished here. Tell Sarah I’ll meet her at the house later tonight.”
“Will do, Chuck.” And he hung up.
Chuck faced Casey, who had his arms folded and his best unimpressed look in place. Chuck couldn’t work up remorse over their session ending early. “Sarah wrapped early, so we’re gonna have to cut this short. She’s probably going to want to leave right away.”
Casey grunted. Chuck took that as assent and started to strip his gear off. Tonight, he knew, was a big night.
Perhaps Casey should add mind-reading to his impressive array of talents, for he fixed Chuck with a no-nonsense stare as he stripped out of his own gloves. “You think telling her the truth is really a good idea?”
“I’m pretty sure she already knows,” Chuck said with a shrug. “The other week she asked me if I’d ever been to Quantico. It’s like you once said, I’m not exactly the world’s greatest spy.”
“Suspecting and knowing are two very different things, Bartowski.”
Chuck was pretty sure that Sarah knew he wasn’t really a bodyguard; or at least not one with any kind of private security company. She hadn’t come right out and asked him, but after meeting his sister, she had wondered aloud on the way to her house about why he was lying to Ellie. The best answer he’d been able to give her was that it was complicated. And it was, but Chuck didn’t consider that a very good excuse.
“She trusts me, Casey. She deserves to know.”
Casey had already stripped his gear off and was rummaging inside of a bag. “Yeah, well, so do you,” he said and straightened up.
Before Chuck knew exactly what was happening, a file folder was flying through the air. To his surprise, he caught it easily. “What’s this?”
“If you want honesty, then you should ask her questions of your own. It took a while, but one of my NSA contacts finally got back to me.”
Oh. Right. That. Chuck opened the folder tentatively, as though he were afraid it would explode. And maybe that wasn’t far from the truth. Ever since talking to Sanderson, he’d been struggling with whether or not he should dig into Sarah’s past. He’d felt insanely guilty about even contemplating doing so, but if Sarah really was the Cat, he should probably know. Of course, if she really was the Cat, he had no idea why she’d even need a bodyguard. Some of the things he’d heard she was capable of… They’d given him nightmares.
Chuck finally opened the folder fully and looked at what Casey had found. There was a relatively thick stack of papers inside, but as Chuck sifted through them, all he could see was black. He looked up in surprise. “The entire thing has been redacted.”
“Not the whole thing. Flip to the back.”
Chuck did so and quickly skimmed the several pages of actual readable text. He looked up at Casey with wide eyes when he finished. “You’ve gotta be kidding me. Really?”