Morgan came home after a long day at the Buy More to find Alex wearing one of his t-shirts and nothing else. Well, maybe some cute bikini underpants were under there, but that hardly counted. She stood at the stove, stirring a steamy pot. Morgan sniffed the steam as he leaned in. She smiled and gave him a nice 'welcome home' kiss.
"Mmm, that's good. And the food smells great too. Is that chicken?" He stood on tiptoe and looked over her shoulder, trying to see what dish might be making this heavenly aroma.
"Yes, it's chicken." She bopped his nose with two fingers. "No peeking. It's a surprise."
He scoffed. "You just told me it's chicken. How can it be a surprise?"
"Because it's not just chicken." Holding the wooden spoon like a sword, she shooed him backwards. "Now out!"
He raised his hands and retreated. The sooner she got back to cooking, the sooner he could be eating this delicious not-just-chicken dish. Alex wasn't a bad cook, but she usually stuck to simple things like they'd served in the diner where she'd worked her way through school. Morgan could make some fancier stuff, and he wasn't bad, as long as he didn't have to flip shrimp on a hibachi grill. However, he saved anything time-consuming for his days off or special occasions. Wait. Was this some special occasion he'd forgotten?
"Please tell me it's not your birthday."
She laughed. "No. I'm not cooking on my birthday. Yours, maybe."
He shook his head. "It's not my birthday. Anniversary? Did I miss something?"
She shrugged. "Nothing I'd expect you to remember. Just three months since we got back together."
After the bad breakup. The brain-melting Intersect. The frosted tips. Bo Derek. And the dump-by-text.
"Aww. Three months since you forgave me for being the biggest ass on the planet and now you're cooking me something yummy? You're the greatest."
She grinned. "And don't you forget it."
He shook his head vigorously. "I won't. So how was your day?"
"It was good. I got them all eating out of the palm of my hand. Did you find any new Nerd Herders yet?"
"No, not yet. Chuck's been helping me out, but we haven't found anyone to replace Jeff and Lester."
"I can't believe they're gone."
Morgan found it hard to believe too. They were terrible employees, but between the two of them, they usually got enough work done to justify their incredibly low pay and no benefits. The Buy More didn't seem the same without them. "Yeah, but on the bright side, one part-time college student can probably cover their two full-time jobs."
"How is Chuck doing?"
Morgan shook his head. "Not good. Sarah flew off to Chicago without him early this morning. He's been kind of mopey."
"Is he home? Why don't you invite him to dinner?"
"Are you sure? I don't want to spoil a three month anniversary." Even if it was an awkward anniversary to explain.
"It's no big deal. I know he's your best friend. I kind of owe him too. If it weren't for Chuck, I might never have met my dad." Her face fell a little.
"You miss your dad," Morgan observed. He immediately wished he hadn't stated the obvious.
Alex sighed. "Yeah. He's got his own life now."
"You know he still loves you, right?"
She nodded, but it didn't look very convincing. "I didn't think it was going to be this hard. I thought he'd still text me and stuff."
"What, he cut off contact?" Did Verbanski send him on some dangerous mission and leave him stranded? Casey could live inside of walls, hidden attics, or a rat-infested basement for weeks at a time, but why would he ever have to do something like that in a private company? Morgan had worked for Verbanski for a couple of weeks and he had some idea of the kind of work they did. This didn't fit.
"Well, not exactly. He used to save up all my texts for the day and answer them all at once. It was our private joke. I'd get this text at 3AM that said, 'Yes. Fat chance. Because he's a numb-nut. Double coronas. Hell no. If he does, I'll shoot him. Love you, too.' They were hilarious all strung together. But he just started ignoring half my questions. I mean, I know they were dumb. I made them dumb on purpose because it made the answers funnier. But this morning all I got was, 'Get in line. Love, Dad.'"
Morgan frowned and shook his head. John Casey would just as soon growl as talk to most schmucks, but none of his extreme social barbarism ever applied to Alex. "Did you try asking him about it?"
She smirked. "Oh sure. 'Hi Dad. How's it going? Are you staying safe from fanatical hit men, international terrorists, and black market arms dealers? Oh, and why didn't you mention your favorite peanut butter the last time you texted me?' It wouldn't be funny anymore if I nag him about it."
Morgan nodded, keeping his thoughts private. Maybe Casey would snap out of it. He headed to the door. "I'll just go ask Chuck about dinner then."
"It's gonna be ready in ten, so tell him to hurry."
Morgan knocked once. He would have waited for an invitation if Sarah was there, but he knew she was already gone. He opened the door and stepped inside.
Chuck looked up from the sofa with that same glazed look in his eyes as when he lost Sarah the first time. No beard yet and no cheese balls, but the eyes were the same. "Oh, hey, buddy. Come on in." At least he didn't sound that bad.
"Hey. Alex is making some cool thing for dinner and asked me to invite you over."
"What cool thing?"
"Uh, she wouldn't say. It's a surprise. Come on. You have to eat. Whatever it is, it's got to be better than something in the fridge that you have to microwave."
Chuck appeared to consider this for a second. Morgan made ready to argue with him if he tried to decline. "You sure I'm not a third wheel?"
"What? Heck no. Besides, even if you were, it can never be as bad as when I was living with you and Sarah. No, come on. It was her idea. You'll insult her cooking if you say no."
"Well, all right." He stood. "Hey, I forgot to tell you. General Beckman asked if you would help me quarterback on Mom and Sarah's mission."
"Beckman asked for me?"
"By name, buddy. Is Alex okay with you hanging out in Castle? No guns. No danger. Just watching the video feeds and keeping the field agents calm. Although Mom and Sarah probably don't need the calm part as much as I did."
He waved his hand dismissively. "Alex? Yeah, of course."
"So I can talk about it in front of her?"
"Just as long as you emphasize the 'no guns, no danger' part. I think she's worried enough about her dad."
"Casey?" Chuck scoffed. "That's ridiculous. Verbanski probably gave him a whole gun locker full of explosive toys by now."
Morgan forced a chuckle. "Yeah, do you think she lets him bring his AK-47 to bed?"
"They probably have a contest to see who can wear the most and still make love without hurting the other."
"Wait. How do you know this? Do you and Sarah...?"
Chuck grinned and arched a brow in that 'I have sex secrets' way that all guys recognized. "Let's just say concealed weapons can make things... interesting."
Morgan could see the hurt lurking just under the surface of the humor. They had to stop talking about Sarah or this could get very depressing, very fast. He clapped his tall friend lightly on the back as they moved toward the door. "Do me a favor and don't mention that to Alex. She's a ninja at self defense. I'm already at a disadvantage as it is. If she starts strapping on knives and nunchuks, I am so dead."
Chuck laughed. "No worries, buddy." He looked down at his Nerd Herd shirt and tie. "Should I change my clothes?"
"What? No way. Alex might not recognize you wearing anything else."
"No, it's fine. She did say to hurry though. We don't want it to get cold."
Chuck caught the hint and didn't stall any further. Morgan opened the door to his own apartment and breathed in that chicken-y aroma, even stronger now. "Oh my gosh, what is this, Alex? You're killing me."
"Chinese dumplings! I got the recipe off the Internet." She carried a big platter with enough dumplings for eight people.
The three of them sat down to eat. They were the strangest Chinese dumplings Morgan had ever tasted, but also the best. The filling was more like chicken pot pie than anything Chinese, but it wasn't wrapped in pie crust. It was definitely Chinese dough and boiled.
"Do you like it?" Alex asked.
Morgan held up his finger while he chewed the last bite. "No. I love it."
"They're good," Chuck added with a nod to Alex. Morgan couldn't tell if it was true love or just being polite, but he ate quite a few, so he definitely didn't hate them.
Morgan ended up eating half the platter by himself. He would have eaten more if not for needing to share. He would tell Alex to make a double batch next time whether they had dinner guests or not.
They chatted a bit, but Chuck's heart clearly wasn't in it. He excused himself early. "I don't know when that mission briefing might be. Chicago is on central time, so it's two hours ahead of us. I might be calling you at 5 AM."
"Five?" Morgan gasped reflexively. He reined in his shock and aversion for getting up that early. "Come haul me out of bed if you have to, Chuck. I'm there for you, buddy." He whispered quickly to Alex, "Just quarterbacking from Castle. No field work. Promise."
She smiled up at Chuck. "In that case, if he doesn't get up when you call, I will shove him out of bed."
Chuck smiled back in a surprised sort of way and then looked at Morgan as if for confirmation. Morgan just shrugged. "I told you. If she had nunchuks, I'd be dead."