Stephanie (slybrunette) wrote,

fic: unleashed: chuck vs. the third variable (1/4)

chuck vs. the third variable

episode five, part one of the unleashed series. in which a hostage is interrogated, an analyst is harassed, and sarah and casey play a game of connect-the-dots while working out their trust issues. ~5K.

author's note: do not even try to start reading this part without having read all of the previous parts. you will be so lost it isn't even funny. i make no apologies for what i have done to canon considering what canon has done to me.

National Security Agency Headquarters
Ft. Meade, MD
09:52 AM; Friday, April 10, 2009

“Please state your name for the record.”

Sarah listens to the chains jingle against the metal chair leg they’re wrapped around as he struggles to lean towards the small cylindrical device she’d indicated as the microphone. It sticks up about half an inch from the surface of the table and there’s an element of trepidation to his movements, like he thinks it might pop up the rest of the way and bite him. Two armed federal agents in the room, and he’s most worried about what the tech will do to him.

At the last second, he lurches back. “I already told you my name.”

“It’s procedure,” she tells him. And then, “The quicker we get through this, the quicker we can see about getting you out of here, okay? So how about we start again with your name and work from there.”

He tries again with the microphone. She wants to tell him he doesn’t have to be quite so close to it in order for it to pick up his voice, but she figures his muscles will protest enough from overextension that he’ll get the hint eventually. “Devon Woodcomb.”

“And how long, to your knowledge, have you been in CIA custody?”

“Don’t you guys have that in a file somewhere?”

They don’t actually have anything on him in a file anywhere that she can access, but she’s saved from having to explain her home agency’s information-sharing policies, or lack thereof, by her partner’s impatience. “Answer the question.”

His tone brooks no argument. Devon actually looks mildly terrified of him, and has since the moment he walked through the door, fed up with being ignored on the other side of the glass. At a guess, Casey’s the right kind of imposing to remind Devon of the guys who gave him that scar down his arm and then tried to cave his face in. She can’t figure out if that instinctive fear works to their advantage or not. Whether they’d be better off if it was just her in here.

“Since August.”

“Of 2008?”


He sounds reasonably sure of that much, at least. She doesn’t know how to tell him it’s been eight months since he had any sense of control over his own life, so instead she scribbles pull his financials on the notepad next to her, adding anyone but Morgan in capital letters that she very deliberately underlines. Behind her, Casey grunts in the affirmative and reaches for his phone. Devon doesn’t try to read what she’s written down but he does flick a few nervous glances in Casey’s direction that indicate he’s concerned about just what Casey might be pulling out of his pocket.

She straightens, trying to draw his attention back to her. “Tell me what happened.”

“This is about Chuck, right?” Devon’s voice is an octave or two higher than it was previously, on the verge of something that she might call a panic attack, and that gives her some idea of what the last few months of interrogation have been like for him. “I told them, I don’t know anything about the guy. I only met him twice and that was years ago. He didn’t come around, I - I don’t even think Ellie wanted him around towards the end, she kept saying - “

“Okay, okay,” she holds up a hand, to keep from reaching for him. She thinks that might actually spook him more, and he’s a rambling, jittery mess as is. She wants whatever information he can give her, but she’d also like for it to be coherent and not spit out all at once. “Slow down. They were having problems?”

“Yeah, he wasn’t answering her phone calls. He got some job with a tech company right out of Stanford doing, like, software development or something. At first she seemed happy about it, but then he kept cancelling plans and he had all these business trips. She said she found out he’d been in Beirut when he told her he was just going to Colorado, and then they had it out.”

“And this was when?”

He blinks at her, until she recognizes the futility of the question to the man with no frame of reference. She suppresses a grimace, and tries to bring herself around to the idea that she’s
going to have to give him a date to work off of, if she wants to move this along. And she does, granted, it’s just usually when she’s called in to interrogate someone it’s a terrorist or an arms dealer, not a scared civilian that probably couldn’t have withstood one hour of whatever they threw at him, much less eight months of it, if he knew anything worth their while. He was clearly snatched up by someone who didn’t do their homework properly, and that’s tampering with her ability to remain objective.

She has half a mind to shove this one off on her partner, but she doesn’t get the chance before his phone chirps at him. Judging by the noise he makes in acknowledgement, halfway between a groan and a long-suffering sigh, it isn’t a personal call. “You good here?”

“I think we’ll manage,” she replies, because, really, what else is she supposed to say? Don’t leave me here with the completely harmless prisoner? Her and Casey haven’t even been on speaking terms for the better part of the last week, so any small comfort she’s been taking in his presence is a product of habit and little else. She listens to him snap at whoever’s on the other end of the line as the door closes behind him and studies Devon, looking to gauge how much easier her job just got with Casey out of the room. He stays wound tight, but some of the fear recedes from his eyes. He isn’t worried about what she’ll do to make him talk. Most days, that’s a mistake. “How long ago was it in relation to last summer?”

“Don’t you have to wait for - “

“Answer the question, Mr. Woodcomb.”

“A year, maybe.”

He sounds unsure of even that much. To the best of her knowledge, he’s only off by a matter of months. Bartowski was officially declared a fugitive in the spring of 2007, and the CIA set up shop in Echo Park for the next six months, running surveillance, keeping tabs on the sister, on who was coming and going. They must have tagged him as an asset then. Must have gotten tied up in paperwork for acquiring him to have taken so long. She wants names, of the people running the op, of the people up top who gave them the go order. Sarah has enough on her plate without her own agency leaving their fuck-ups on her doorstep.

“He kind of - disappeared, right after that,” he adds, which is interesting, both because he’s a little more animated than he’s been the entire time they’ve been in this room, and because it connects neatly with the information she already has.

This next part’s a bit more delicate, and she hesitates over the phrasing for a moment, before pressing forward. “Can you tell me when you were made aware that Mr. Bartowski was employed by the CIA?”

“When…” he doesn’t quite get the rest of the sentence out, but it’s implied by what flashes behind his eyes, and she isn’t going to make him say it.

“When you were interrogated,” she finishes for him. For the record, of course, which will not be going to Beckman or the CIA or any other interested parties but instead will stay in her office, for her own purposes. She doesn’t trust the people monitoring the surveillance feeds here, not after finding out she was blatantly lied to about what was or was not able to be seen from the wall mounted cameras in the parking garage some weeks ago, and if this is the only conversation she ever has with this man she’d like the ability to go back over it at her leisure.


“But you had no knowledge of his activities prior to that? Never even suspected it?”

“No,” he replies, a touch of exasperation in his tone. He’s fielded that question before, evidently, and still thinks it’s a ridiculous notion. “He didn’t seem like the type.”

She’s not fond of the implication behind that statement. “And what type is that?”

“You know.”

“Mr. Woodcomb, the man who makes my coffee three times a week doesn’t know what I do for a living, but I know where his nephew went to college and what kind of books he likes to read in his spare time. Getting to know people without letting them get to know you, not seeming the type, that’s all part of the job description.” His mouth opens and then falls closed again, having thought better of it. He looks vaguely ashamed, and that should be enough for her to let it go. Today, it isn’t. “But that’s not what you meant. You meant he didn’t seem the type to kill people.”

He does her the courtesy of not trying to deny it.

“Do you know the names of the individuals who were holding you?”


“Do you know the location or locations where you were being held?”


“Were you, at any point, given a reason for why you were being held?”

“They wanted to know where Chuck was.”

“And what was their response when you told them you didn’t know?”

He looks at her.

She looks at the scar on his arm and the split lip. The butterfly bandages over his right temple, textbook perfect and clearly placed there long after they stopped being useful, as a means of claiming fair treatment. His clothes have seen better days and he could use a decent meal or twelve, so, no, she doesn’t actually need an answer to that question, but she had to ask it anyways.

“When I come back, we’re going to talk about your girlfriend, and then you’re going to tell me everything you remember about that fight they had. After that, I’ll try to get you out of here. Sound good?”

He nods his agreement, but he doesn’t seem to latch onto it as the lifeline she intends it to be so much as another empty promise in a very long string of them.

Sarah can’t say as though she blames him for that.

Casey drags her out of the sub-basement and into the fresh air, which is to say that he heads for the door and she follows, doesn’t really think about it much until they get past the stairwell. It’s instinct and, pissed as she might be with him, she trusts him not to lead her astray.

“Should’ve picked up the sister if they wanted answers,” he says, as they fall into step, following the loop that she knows will lead them down past the gym, the campus post office, and then back up to the cryptologic units, to the badly-named building they just left in their wake and the holding cells within. It’s spring, which means it’s going to rain by afternoon if those clouds are anything to go by, but for now it’s just breezy, on the colder side of pleasant.

She shoves her hands in her pockets. “You know exactly why they took him instead of her.”

“Because frat boy’s a wuss, and the girl might have had some stamina?”

“I’m being serious.”

“So am I,” he counters. “She had more to lose. More reason to keep her mouth shut. What does he care if he takes down some guy he barely knows from Adam? Worst case scenario for him, it pisses off the girlfriend, and that’s only if he’s stupid enough to tell her he’s involved.”

“Never knew you were such a romantic.” He grumbles something indecipherable, and she rolls her eyes. “I’m just saying, if that was a woman back there, all broken down and beat to shit, you and I would be having a different conversation. They know exactly how that would play.”

“He have any idea on who they are?”

She shakes her head. “I don’t think he can differentiate between agencies. I don’t think he even knows there are multiple agencies to differentiate from. You saw how he was.” In the light, she can see that the bruising from earlier, running along the curve of his jaw, wasn’t just a shadow. Someone got him good, and she wants to ask about that like she wants to ask about the jeans he’s wearing in place of his usual suit, but she knows better. He’s probably not supposed to be here today, but Casey doesn’t understand the phrase day off any better than she does, even if it’s preceded by the word mandatory. “All that talk about messing with time does sound a lot like they were trying to unbalance him by manipulating his environment when they weren’t using him as a punching bag, and that’s more CIA than it is FBI.”

He shrugs, adds, “NSA outsources.”

“As evidenced by my number getting called up instead of yours.”

“Never said I couldn’t handle an interrogation.”

“Yes, but they probably want him to live through it and, besides, you’re not even supposed to be here.”

So, yes, evidently she is going to ask. Or at least make the necessary logic leaps that will either lead to him confirming or denying her suspicions. He frowns at her, a little, but generally keeps his eyes focused on the narrow path they’re on. “He’s going to associate me with the guys that did that to him.”

“You picked up on that too, huh?”

He doesn’t try to argue her earlier claim, so she takes his silence on the matter as verification that, yes, he did contribute to a coup in a small West African nation and then get sent back to Washington on a charter plane that probably landed at some ridiculous hour of the morning. He keeps clean clothes in their office, confined to the third of the closet not currently overrun by her spare evening gowns and shoes she can actually run in, so he might not have even gone home yet.

She wants to laugh, but she also wants to punch him in the face for leaving her hanging for the last week, and having her followed before that. Instead, she keeps the thread of conversation focused on work, relatively safe as that is. “Who was that on the phone before?”

“APD,” he offers, bitterly.

“I thought our people were running the Hudson investigation?”

“We’re liaising with the local LEOs.”

Someone, somewhere down the line, told him as much, in no uncertain terms, and he’s carrying around a chip on his shoulder because of it. “How did we lose a jurisdictional pissing contest with Arlington?”

“Fields probably talked them to death.”

“Does he still think it was a drug deal gone wrong?”

Casey snickers. “The lack of fingerprints made that a hard sell.”

“So she’s a professional, then.” He spares her a raised eyebrow, and she scoffs. “Don’t pretend you’re even entertaining the possibility that the girl he brought home didn’t do it. I saw a copy of the ME’s report on your desk the other day; his BAC was twice the legal limit. She may not have drugged him, but she made sure he was drunk enough that he wouldn’t fight back much less get anywhere near her.”

“Familiar tactics?”

“Maybe,” she admits.

“They sat the neighbor down with a sketch artist, but he’s claiming night blindness. Checked with the local cab companies, too, but the driver doesn’t remember anything out of the ordinary and there’s no record of anyone servicing that address after two.”

“She had outside help.”

“Looks that way.”

They make it as far as the crosswalk, in mutually agreed upon silence, before her gaze gets stuck on the rows of cars spread out across the south parking lot. She feels suddenly, unexplainably, on edge. “Something about this doesn’t add up.”

He stops a few paces ahead of her, glancing between the empty intersection and her stilled form, before working his way back to her with stiffened shoulders. The expression on his face is two parts exasperation, one part curiosity, and she bites her lip, thinking about the black cadillacs double parked outside the tunnel access corridor last week.

Prisoner transport, Morgan had explained.

“Think about it. We’ve got Bartowski’s ex-partner in the morgue, his almost brother-in-law in interrogation, and now Shaw’s resurrecting a failed program his father helmed twenty years ago. Why now? We’ve been high and dry for months.”

“Coincidence,” Casey says.

She fixes him with a hard look. “You don’t really believe that.”

“That’s what you told me.” He does his best to keep his voice level with hers but she can tell it’s a struggle to keep the anger from seeping in. For all that they’ve been playing nice, she’d been prepared for that. What she isn’t prepared for is the direction it takes, aimed not at the claims she’s making but her refusal to stop dancing around them. Spit it out is what she reads from the lines of his body, but what he snaps is, “Remember?”

“Well, considering the alternative was - “ she inhales deep, feeling the chilled air burn a path down her throat, “that someone I used to trust tried to have us both killed, I thought maybe it was prudent to not jump to conclusions.”

Something in his stance eases. “I don’t remember anyone coming at you.”

“No, but somehow I don’t think my dinner plans were meant to end with him walking me to my door and trying to kiss me goodnight.”

“You think he bit off more than he could chew,” he surmises.

She nods. “Yeah.”

“So he tries to scare you off, decides it worked, and pulls the tail he put on you. Hudson’s a loose end, so he takes him out of the picture too. Makes sense.” The unidentified woman can be written off as outsourcing, she supposes. Shaw isn’t one to get his hands dirty if he doesn’t have to, and she knows that’s a train of thought Casey follows as well. “Still doesn’t explain Woodcomb.”

“He was property of the CIA until a few days ago. It can’t hurt to find out who signed on the dotted line.”

“And how are you going to do that?”

Since the only other option she has is to out Morgan’s role in the increasingly complicated web she’s been weaving over the last month - a move that would do nothing but refocus Casey’s anger and distrust on a less deserving target - she shrugs, denying him an answer altogether, and watches him start to close himself off to her almost immediately.

One step forward, two steps back.

“I’ll let you know if I find anything,” she adds, eyes on the cars ahead of her, trickling down from the main gate. It’s an olive branch, a promise that she won’t shut him out again, and, while he in no way acknowledges it, she thinks he might at least understand its purpose.

“Man, I don’t know about this.”



“It doesn’t matter how you feel about this. You’re doing it anyways.”

He groans, loudly, and slumps back against the edge of her desk. Like a deflated balloon. It would be almost comical if she didn’t feel a little bad about it.

“I just need a name,” she presses, gentler this time. She doesn’t have to go this route, not when there’s enough of a power differential between them that she could threaten to have him fired for withholding information, but that’s not the way you make or keep friends, and Sarah has precious few of them already. Morgan’s sort of a friend, she figures. For a given value of that term. “No one ever has to know where it came from.”

“That’s what you said about Casey and now he’s probably going to drug me and leave me in the desert for the coyotes to eat. Or worse.” His eyes go a little wide, like maybe he’s imagining what worse entails. She’d point out that Casey tends to be very hands-on with his personal vendettas, but somehow she doesn’t think that would help. Better the coyotes.

“There aren’t any deserts on this side of the country and, besides, charter planes are expensive,” she says, instead, which isn’t a much better alternative but is, somehow, more gratifying for the look on his face. “And, anyways, he doesn’t know you were involved in anything that went down last week. I said I’d keep you out of it.”

“Yeah, but. That was before.”

“Before what?”

He looks down, tugging at his ear in what she’s come to identify as nervous reflex. “You two were finally, you know, good.”

“We’ve always been - “ but they haven’t, and she knows that, and everyone in this office knows it, so she searches for the next best thing, comes up with: “ - functional. Even if we weren’t, I wouldn’t throw you to the wolves. Literally or metaphorically.”

“They were coyotes.”


“Okay.” He holds up his hands in surrender. “Just a name?”

“Just a name,” she confirms. “Roy wasn’t at his desk when I came in, so he’s probably down in the Language Center with Moira right now. You said she’s gossipy. All you have to do is get him to ask her for the name of her secretary friend at Langley and you’re home free.”

“And this is for what again?”

“I definitely can’t answer that question.”

“But it has something to do with that prisoner transfer last week?”


“And Ginger said you were in interrogation this morning, so that means - “

“You can stop stalling now.”


He keys the message into his phone like every word costs him another year of his life, but he does it without further complaint. She tries not to smile at the ever-reliable pushover in front of her, and settles back against the door she’d been doing her best to block when he still looked like he was considering plans of escape. “You know she called you Agent Grimes earlier.”


She arches an eyebrow at him, teasingly. “Ginger.”

“Oh, no, it’s not like that - “

“I know.” She does give him a smile now, something to reassure him and keep him from going into full blown damage control mode at the insinuation she was only halfway making. Morgan’s easy to get along with. He’s habitually nice even when he expects to be treated like crap, and he’s loyal to a fault if you defy that expectation. It’s not hard to believe someone who doesn’t know the ropes would try and endear themselves to him, especially when he’s managed to slot himself neatly in the middle of her and Casey. “Thank you, by the way. For dealing with her while I wasn’t - dealing with much of anything. And for this, too.”

Morgan shrugs it off but sheepishly, his face faintly flushed. “Don’t thank me yet. Roy’s not really the master of subtlety. He’ll probably just end up getting punched in the face for being too nosy. Or back out at the last minute.”

“That’s okay,” she says, with a nod. “Him I can maim without feeling bad about it later.”

“So, I’ve got bad news and - did you kill the audio feed to interrogation?”

Casey barely even looks up at her. “Yes.”

She squints at the twin monitors on the technician’s desk, otherwise empty save for a cup of rapidly cooling coffee, half-finished and definitely abandoned in a rush, presumably when Casey showed him the door and then locked it behind him. Her partner isn’t really one for open displays of anxiety, but when something’s bothering him he does whatever the spy equivalent of nesting is. Usually it involves meticulously cleaning every single gun in his giant armory, regardless of when he fired it last, and the red button on his security system he once told her only to push in emergencies, like that wasn’t obvious. Today, in a workplace setting, it apparently involves hunkering down in an unbuggable room and screwing with the access permissions on the biometric scanner.

He really needs to make use of the vacation days they give him.


“He talks in his sleep.”

He meaning Devon, who is now slumped over onto the table face-first, a move that shouldn’t be possible except for how his hands are no longer tied behind his back. The chains that had been running under the legs of the chair are now looped through a hook on top of the table, restoring his mobility within reasonable bounds. She tries not to think too hard about how that came to be, but he catches the corners of her mouth turning up anyways.


“Nothing.” He eyes her, suspiciously. “It’s just sweet is all.”

He glances between her and the monitor, and scowls. “No.”

“Admit it, you feel a little bad for him,” she says, taking great joy in watching him squirm under the horrific accusation of having empathy for another human being.

“The table is bolted to the floor.”

“Right. Because he was totally going to be able to use that chair as a weapon without dislocating something in the process. Good thing you nipped that in the bud.”

“Did you come in here for something, Walker?”

“Actually, yes.” She abandons the monitors in favor of dropping into the chair next to his. There’s a scattering of week-old briefings on the table in front of him, shit she’s been leaving on his desk in his absence, and she watches him page through one on a recently deceased Italian Capo they’d been keeping an eye on, simply because their favorite fugitives tended to frequent his territory. The run-of-the-mill heart attack he died from makes for riveting reading, she’s sure. “But you don’t want to hear it any more than I want to say it.”

Casey knows enough to read between the lines. “You were right.”

She nods. “I was.”

“You going to tell me how you came to that conclusion?”

“No.” He makes a noise that makes it clear that he figured as much. “But I will tell you the part that makes it worse.”

“Deputy Chief of Counterintelligence tries to take us out of the game, and you’re telling me there’s a worse.” He smiles. It’s not pleasant. It’s not really even a smile. “Next it’s going to be you think he’s working with Bartowski and Larkin.”

Amusing as it would be to agree with that premise for the sake of the look on his face, she has a better one for him. “Shaw’s new secretary shares an address with one Detective Seymour Fields of Arlington County PD.”

His expression sours. “What the hell does that mean?”

“I don’t know, but there’s your link. Shaw has Devon transferred, has Hudson killed to tie up loose ends, and then suddenly hires the girlfriend of the head detective down in Arlington. Who just happens to end up investigating Hudson’s murder. Still sound like a coincidence to you?”

“Sounds like a lot of conjecture to me.”

Sarah huffs a sigh, annoyed. “Well it’s more than we had this morning.”

“I’m not entirely sure what you’re planning on doing with more. You can guess at it all you want, but unless you’ve got concrete proof and a mighty big set of balls to boot you’re not going to get anywhere with it.”

“Oh, are you offering up yours?”


She glares at him. He glares right back, and they spend an uncomfortably long few seconds locked in some kind of battle of wills as to who will look away first before they both give up at the exact same moment, like it was planned. The growl he gives accurately sums up her feelings on the matter. “Look, I’m not trying to do anything with it. You wanted me to stop keeping secrets from you, I stopped. I think Shaw is, if not the root of the problem, then a very large part of the problem, and now that I know he’s the reason Devon is here and was probably the reason they picked him up in the first place, I think he’s gunning for Bartowski too. So I need you to get over this thing where you constantly question my motives and help me figure out what’s going on, because right now we’re each other’s only option.”

Status quo indicates that his immediate response be yelling, so she crosses her arms over her chest, just as defensive as it is offensive, and waits. And waits. And is mostly just met with this vaguely impressed look that feels relatively foreign to her, being that she’s usually only on the receiving end of it after someone has died or been knocked unconscious in an amusing or, more often, creative fashion.

“What?” she snaps, when he still hasn’t said anything, and he redirects his gaze to the one-way mirror and their sleeping hostage. She narrows her eyes at him. “You have nothing to say that? Absolutely nothing.”

He leans back a little, like he’s in the oversized armchair in his living room and not the rigid metal contraptions they have in here. No longer combat-ready. It’s as annoying as it is reassuring, and she’s fairly certain now that some part of what she said took, he just lacks the ability to convey that to her in actual words. Instead, he asks, “What are we going to do about him?”

She lets herself follow his gaze to where Devon has started to stir, mouth occasionally twitching around words she can’t hear or understand. He looks worse from here, removed as she is from the harsh fluorescent lighting that sends his injuries into stark contrast against the paleness of skin that hasn’t seen the sun in some time. He’s a mess, and she made a promise to try and get him out of this, a promise that she’s quickly realizing she was in no position to make. “I don’t know. But I don’t think he’s just here so we can ask him a bunch of questions that he doesn’t know the answer to.”


Tags: verse: chuck: unleashed
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