A/N:This the first piece of Fan Fiction I have written. After reading so many well written pieces, I felt I wanted to contribute. I have not written anything of this consequence before, so please pardon any errors in grammar you may find.

Like the show, I've tried to incorporate romance, some angst and humor into the story. I sort of see it as set in the first season but as you will notice I have used situations from later seasons. As well, I have ignored certain other events and situations that don't fit my story.

I know it's long but I was adding and subtracting so often, I didn't want to publish chapters that would later need to be corrected.

As a first timer, I would appreciate your comments, reviews and constructive critiques.

Any resemblance to real persons in the story is purely coincidental.

I don't own Chuck. Did this just for fun.


CHUCK VS THE CROSSWALK

"Very good job, team. The operation went off without a hitch. The information you recovered will greatly help us in our battle against illegal arms trafficking. Well done."

General Beckman's tone of voice confirms her words as to how pleased she is with last nights mission. Chuck even thinks he sees the beginnings of a smile on her normally less than cheerful countenance as she conducts the morning briefing.

A chorus of "Thank you, General," is the teams response to her praise.

Chuck, for a change, is feeling good about his part in the mission. Who's he kidding? He's pumped!

Sarah had used her charms to distract the party's host along with his security chief, thus allowing Chuck and Casey to gain access to the office upstairs. Chuck had flashed on the alarm system, bypassed it and gained entry to the mark's sanctum. While Casey watched his back, he had only taken a few minutes to break into the non-networked computer and download the contained info on clients and pending deals.

He was careful to leave no trace of his hacking activities, so none should be the wiser. Forty-five minutes later the team extricated themselves from the party and headed back to Castle.

Best of all, he hadn't stuck either of his feet in his mouth before, during or after the mission. Or actually stumbled over them for that matter. Quite a change from normal. No need this time for Sarah and/or Casey to ride to his rescue. For one of the first times, he felt like a truly effective part of the team.

And even when he saw Sarah, gorgeous Sarah, overtly flirting with the mark, he was sure he had successfully hidden the intense emotions he'd felt. The anger because of seeing Sarah having to demean herself once again. The envy because he desperately wished he was on the receiving end of those affections, unreasonably so, since he knew those affections weren't real. "She's just doing her job," is what he kept telling himself, over and over again.

From across the table he hears a grunt. He thinks it is a quiet #8 (Satisfaction). Like Beckman, he sees there may have been a small smile on Casey's face, albeit just for a fraction of a second.

It seems as if everyone is in a good mood over their success, but as Chuck glances to his left he sees he is mistaken. Sarah is saying all the right words and displaying the correct facial expressions to show her agreement with Beckman and the team. However, he senses something isn't right with her.

Just how he knows, he is not sure, but he does know.

Maybe he just understands her much better than he consciously realizes. After all, it is a rare day that passes without them spending a significant part of that day with each other. Between the missions, fake dates and nights with Ellie and Devon, there is no one with whom his time and emotions are more fully invested.

Or maybe she is, perhaps unconsciously, letting down some of her walls. Letting him see, even just a little bit, of the person she is inside.

Or maybe the reason is really much simpler.

When you love a person so deeply, so profoundly, so desperately, as he loves Sarah, you always know when something isn't right.

You just know.

With Ellie he had always known when she was hurting. Even with the brave front she would put on, he could always tell when her responsibilities as a parent/sister were almost too much to handle.

With Morgan, he could always see through the jokes and wisecracks. He knew when his friend was using them to cover the rejections and bullying that had hurt him to his core.

Now that Sarah has become one of the most important people in his life, he can also tell. But as to what it is that is weighing her down, he can only guess.

Over the past months the enigma known as Sarah Walker has continued to puzzle and intrigue him. He knows virtually nothing personal about her, yet in some fundamental way he feels he knows her.

Chuck recalls the events of her high school reunion and the opportunity she had offered to answer one question about her past. The events of those few days had made him see that his constant badgering for personal details had angered, pressured and exasperated her. He thought (or maybe hoped) that she wanted to open up but couldn't for reasons that extended beyond "the rules". If true, he understood that this would make the situation even more annoying to her.

He had heard the saying somewhere that it is better to give than receive. Chuck is usually the kind of person who gives freely to others. However, with Sarah he came to realize that he had often become selfish, over and over again asking her to give more and more of herself to him. He understood that this was now the time to change that pattern.

So he said no to her offer.

Her shy smile and look of gratitude she gave him in response was enough to drive home the truth of what he had heard.

In his heart he knew then that he didn't need to know everything about her past, her likes and dislikes. Just knowing he could make her happy was enough for now. When she was happy, he was as well.

Chuck had even gone so far that, in a moment of nerdiness, he had actually jotted down an equation that described how he felt:

(S+H)=(C+H) Where S=Sarah, C=Chuck, H=Happiness.

He hesitated to call it an equation because while her happiness was sure to make him feel the same, he couldn't be sure (but certainly did hope) that she feels happy when he does.

In fact, he is usually so very uncertain how Sarah really feels about him. Sometimes he is sure he sees a look in her eyes that gives him hope. A look that seems to see him as something beyond an asset, the intersect.

At those moments, he truly believes he can see the future in those eyes.

A future of the two of them. Together.

Sometimes he believes he sees it in her infrequent but gentle touches. When she gets just a little bit closer on the couch then the cover requires. In a kind word when everything he is doing weighs so heavily on him. When she gives him one of those small smiles after she has forgiven his latest stupidity.

But so often, in the very next moment the walls would be back up, and she would be the Agent again, curt, professional, apparently unfeeling. It confuses, even angers him at times.

But as long as that future remains even as a remote possibility, he won't give up on it.

Regardless of how she actually feels about him, he does know how deeply he cares for her. How much he wants her to find some degree of happiness and contentment. Well, at least as much as her profession allows.

Which leads him back to now. He wants to see that glorious, radiant, true smile, not just the facade she puts on for politeness. Her "Agent Face", as he called it, may fool others but not him.

He feels a nudge on his foot and looks to his left. Sarah is gesturing with her eyes towards the monitor. He realizes he has drifted off and she is trying to get his attention back to the briefing. He straightens up in his chair and brings his mind back to current matters.

"So, that is it for today. No missions at present." says Beckman.

However, just as she reaches over to break the connection, from outside the camera's field of view a note is handed to her. Beckman reads it over for a minute while the three of them wait patiently. Chuck can tell she is more than a little annoyed with the contents of the page in front of her.

"It appears that a situation has arisen. Please return for a briefing in 15 minutes. Beckman out."

With that, the image changes back to the DNI seal.

Chuck wonders out loud, "What was that all about?"

"Well, I guess we'll find out when Beckman is good and ready to tell us. Keep your pants on, Bartowski." Casey sarcastically replies

As he walks out of the briefing room he says over his shoulder, "I'll be in the armory. See you in 15."

"What's his problem?" Chuck says as he looks over at Sarah.

"He probably had plans for his day off." Sarah responds, as she shrugs her shoulders.

"I guess it looks like none of us will have the day off now." Chuck says disappointedly.

"Most likely," is her somewhat terse reply. She opens the report of last night's mission and starts to read it again.

For the past week Chuck has been looking forward to this day, a day off after a mission. So often they have to plunge right back into their cover jobs the next day (well, real job for him, cover for them.) He is hoping that Sarah would be agreeable to spending the day together. However, it looks like his optimistic plans are about to be ruined.

Well, nothing ventured. He looks at her and says, "If it turns out there isn't a mission, would you like to spend the day at the beach? It's a beautiful day and I thought we could bring a picnic lunch and soak up some sun. Or something else if you would like. Maybe we could work on our fake dating skills?"

The words come tumbling out, simultaneously very fast and yet with that peculiar, hopeful hesitation that only Chuck can master.

Sarah looks at him thoughtfully, searching his face. But then her eyes shift away from his and she replies, "No. Not today. There are reports that need work and I should spend some practice time on the shooting range."

"Oh! OK then. Perhaps another time." He knows he can't keep the dejection off his face, so he turns away quickly. He understands that he has just gotten the spy version of "Not tonight. I need to wash my hair."

"Perhaps," is her one word reply.

Suddenly, the situation feels very uncomfortable. He knows now that he shouldn't have asked her. For the last week she has been even more taciturn than normal. She obviously needs time to sort out what is bugging her and instead here he is pressuring her again.

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Abruptly he stands up. "I am going to use the facilities. See you in a bit."

As he walks out he glances over his shoulder and sees Sarah looking down at the table with a pensive expression on her face.

...

"Team, a time critical situation has arisen which is largely due to potentially important data being improperly flagged at our end." Beckman says as the briefing commences.

"For a number of months we have requested that friendly intelligence services be on the lookout for specific information that we know could be connected to Fulcrum activities. While they don't know exactly why we want the information they have been very forthcoming in passing it along to us."

"Three days ago, our liaison at CSIS contacted us with intel that could relate to Fulcrum."

Chuck interjects, "Excuse me, General. See Sis?"

"C S I S," Beckman replies, pausing after each letter. "Canadian Security Intelligence Service."

"I didn't know Canada even had an intelligence service," is Chuck's somewhat disbelieving reply. There may also be a small amount of derision in his tone as well.

"Mr. Bartowski, I will have you know the men and women of CSIS work hard to protect their country and by their cooperation help protect ours as well." Beckman curtly retorts.

Chuck quickly glances at his teammates, looking for support, but only sees agreement with Beckman in their expressions and body language. He understands it is time to man up and accept he has stepped over the line.

Suitably chagrined, Chuck says apologetically, "Sorry General. I didn't mean to sound disrespectful."

"Is that all Mr. Bartowski? Or may I continue with the briefing?"

This is obviously a rhetorical question as she goes on without waiting for an answer.

A photo of a man flashes up onto the monitor. He appears to be in his forties and has a cheerful face but one that somehow gives the impression that he wouldn't back down from a fight if needed.

"This man is Orland Kurtenbach." Beckman states but expectantly pauses as she looks at Chuck.

Sure enough, Chuck flashes on the name and photo. A few seconds later the words come tumbling from his mouth in that way that shows it is the intersect speaking now.

"Orland Kurtenbach runs a small software development company in Vancouver. They specialize in designing custom programs that can mine apparently unrelated data from a variety of sources and turn it into a cohesive whole."

"Hey, that's interesting. His gamer tag was in the file. I've played Call of Duty against him a few times. He's always been very polite whether he wins or loses." Chuck is rather sheepish as he mumbles, "I guess that last part isn't really important."

Beckman simply ignores his last statement and continues, "CSIS has informed us a potential client, a Mr. Smith, will be meeting with Mr. Kurtenbach at 1200 hours today. It has been determined that the latest version of his companies's software may be of use in Fulcrum's plan to build their own intersect."

She lets that sink in for a moment before continuing, "Team, we need to know whether this client is actually representing Fulcrum or whether this is just an innocent business transaction."

"They will be meeting at this beachside restaurant." A series of photos and other data appears on the screen. "As you can see from the construction of this building, the only place we can surveil the interior is from the beach area in front of it. That being clear of any cover rules out any of our traditional methods."

"Our mission plan is this. Agent Walker and Mr. Bartowski will pose as a young couple enjoying a day at the beach."

Great. Just great. Seems the only way Chuck can get her to go to the beach with him is if it is an order.

Beckman continues, "You will position yourselves to be visible to the men inside. We feel that Agent Walker's," she pauses here as if looking for the right word, "assets will naturally attract their attention thus making sure the intersect will be able to flash on the client."

Chuck glances at Sarah and sees a very brief but intense look flash across her face. Disgust? Anger? He is not quite sure.

He turns his attention back to Beckman who is still speaking.

"If it turns out this is nothing to do with Fulcrum the mission at that time will be terminated."

"If otherwise, our plan is twofold. Major Casey will be in charge of security oversight. We will have two teams in place. One will pick up Mr. Kurtenbach after their meeting. We will then persuade him not to sell the program to this particular client."

"Before you ask, Mr. Bartowski, we will simply buy it from him at a much better than fair price thus making sure Fulcrum will not have access."

Chuck lowers his hand to the table.

"The second team will endeavour to follow the Fulcrum operative once he leaves the restaurant. We will see if he will lead us to other operatives or one of their home bases. What we do with that intel will be determined at a later date."

"Agent Walker, Mr. Bartowski, concerning your further part in the operation, we will ask you to observe the interaction between the client and Mr. Kurtenbach. Then you will follow him back to his hotel. There is where our second team will take over." Beckman continued, "Since we have less than three hours before the meeting there will be no time for you to collect your own things for this operation. A room at a hotel near the restaurant has been obtained and all the needed items will be provided there. This is the same hotel where Mr. Kurtenbach will be staying."

"Before you ask, yes, Mr. Bartowski, we do know your sizes. It is in your file."

"Agent Walker. You and the intersect will proceed in your own vehicle. The needed information will be sent to your phones. Major Casey will follow. We don't want arouse any possible suspicion by all of you arriving together."

"Major Casey. The two teams will meet you in situ. All communication codes and other needed info will be provided en route. We will choose a surveillance position which will allow you to oversee the operation."

Beckman concludes, "Is everything clear?"

Nodding of heads and a series of "Yes, General," makes their assent obvious.

"Then let's get to it. Time is of the essence. Beckman out."

As soon as the screen goes back to the seal, Sarah slams back her chair and storms from the room.

Casey hisses from across the table, "What the hell did you do now, Bartowski? Walker's royally pissed."

Obviously Chuck isn't the only one who can now see that Sarah is having a serious problem with something. Just as obviously, neither of the men knows what that problem is.

He hisses back, "Nothing as far as I know." For a moment he wonders if he has forgotten something. "Sarah isn't usually shy about telling me if I have screwed up."

Casey thinks about that for a moment and nods his head in agreement. "Well, whatever is going on, you better watch yourself. She's ready to explode and I sure as hell wouldn't want to be on the receiving end when she does."

Casey, a man Chuck thought was afraid of nothing, visibly pales at the idea of Sarah unloading on him. If even Casey feels that way, he better make sure that he is doubly careful.

"Thanks for the advice," is Chuck's grateful reply.

...

Sarah is indeed, as Casey has so succinctly put it, royally pissed. As she gathers the communication earwigs they would need she resists the temptation to fling them into her purse. She really wants to break something at this moment but they need this gear, so she struggles with herself and wins the battle…for now.

She stops for a moment and takes in a few deep breaths, trying to calm herself and get the anger under control. Part of her knows she is being very unreasonable.

Sarah is fully aware that she is a very good agent, in fact one of the best in the entire CIA. She is confident that she can handle anything sent her way. That this confidence is not misplaced is demonstrated by her virtually spotless service record.

Despite this, it seems her superiors have recently decided that Sarah's role would be defined as this:Dress Agent Walker in something skimpy, or low cut, or both, and send her out to distract the bad guys while the rest of her team actually fulfilled the mission goals.

Sarah knows the effect she has on men. She knows her looks and the techniques she employs can make them compliant, pliable. Sometimes just her walking into a room makes the men in it look as if they have been stunned by a phaser. (She snorts when she realizes this analogy has come from watching what is likely too much sci-fi with Chuck.)

She also knows this power is just one of the weapons in her extensive arsenal but it seems to be the only one she has been allowed to utilize the last little while. Sarah discerns she isn't being completely fair as there has been plenty of prior missions where her other talents have certainly been at the forefront.

So what is the real issue? Is her discontent just a symptom of a bigger problem?

She wishes she knew.

...

Sarah opens the door of her Porsche and sits down behind the wheel. A moment later Chuck slips quietly into the passenger seat. As she glances at him, he gives her a small smile and nothing else.

He obviously knows she is angry but uncharacteristically he is silent. Usually he would be itching to discuss whatever was going on in an attempt to help her or know her better.

However, since the reunion she has noticed that Chuck has changed. Instead of hounding her for the details of her life, he has backed off, given her space. By this, she appreciates that he is willing to let her reveal whatever she wants, whenever she wants, if she wants.

This wasn't the only way he is trying harder. During last night's mission it was clearly evident that Chuck was both angry that she had to put up with the advances of the mark and simultaneously jealous of him. But she could also see that he was doing his level best to not let these emotions be apparent in consideration for her feelings. Even though he had failed badly in his attempt, she was still very grateful.

Oddly enough, at this moment, a small part of her wouldn't have minded going over her problem with him, wouldn't have minded if he was talkative. Sarah is surprised with herself at this. She has always worked out issues on her own, never really depending on anyone else, not even Bryce.

And yet here she is, ready to spill her guts, so to speak, if he would have asked. But he didn't and it was just as well in the long term. After all, an agent doesn't have that kind of conversation with an asset.

"But maybe Sarah could have that kind of conversation with Chuck," a small voice says in her head.

She ignores it and starts the car.

Since Chuck is giving her the supportive silent treatment, Sarah has plenty of time to think as they drive to the beach.

Last night had almost pushed her to the limit. Having the party host and his security chief constantly staring down her cleavage had irritated her so much she felt like forcibly reminding the both of them that she actually had a face.

Instead she had to pretend that the mark's constant suggestive comments and lecherous glances were welcomed by her. Her smiles, her coy glances, her touching of his arm and the brushing back of her hair obviously made him think that she was attracted to him.

In fact, during every moment of their time together she had to fight with herself not to reach down, grab one of her knives and see where that would lead. Once or twice she even had to stop her hands as they drifted towards the sheath concealed under her dress.

So this morning, what do they do but order her to play basically the same role once again. Final straw indeed!

Sarah knows that despite her feelings, her sense of duty and professionalism will impel her to do the best job she can. All false modesty aside, she knows that her best is very, very good.

But it certainly has not always been that way.

Her thoughts go back to when she was recruited right out of high school. If someone had said to her then, that one day she would play the seductress, the temptress, she would have laughed or more likely blushed.

Even now Sarah winces when she thinks about her bad hair, bad clothes, bad makeup and those awful braces. On top of that she was so shy and self aware that she just wanted to blend into the background and not be noticed.

But she was noticed. Wherever she was around her fellow recruits, she saw the pitying glances, heard the almost whispered snide comments and the laughter when someone made a joke at her expense. Beyond that, no one really seemed to care.

Except for her instructors. She quickly became a topic of conversation among them as she scored at or near the top in almost every class to which she was assigned. She was marked as an up and comer, worthy of their extra effort and attention.

Some months into her training she was sent to what was unofficially known as "Advanced Seduction School."

At first Sarah had felt they must have made an error when choosing her. After all, she reasoned, you must be at least somewhat attractive to seduce someone. Definitely not her strength.

The instructors were obviously aware of her apprehensions, so the first thing they did was a physical makeover.

For two days they worked on her, never allowing her a mirror during that time. They told her that seeing herself only after they were done would allow her to better understand the initial impact she would have on others.

When they finally allowed her that mirror, she had stood before it uncomprehendingly. Sarah's first thought was that this must be a trick of some sort. That couldn't be me!

The longish, now well styled hair had been restored to her natural blonde. The formerly bushy eyebrows were plucked and shaped. The skillful, minimal application of makeup had brought out her natural beauty. The stylish clothes showed off her excellent figure. Almost best of all, the braces were gone, deemed no longer necessary.

The whole effect was jarring, disconcerting, but at the same time exciting. Her confidence levels took a dramatic jump.

For the next few weeks she had identified very closely with Eliza Doolittle (Pygmalion being a required read.) Every aspect of how she walked, talked and even thought was analyzed. Direction was given on how to use her beauty, wit and intelligence to make men willing and eager to do whatever she asked.

When she came to realize that seduction was simply another con job, everything clicked into place. With her looks, training and background, she was a natural.

Sarah was also carefully instructed as to how far the seduction could go. For legal and ethical reasons, it was never to be carried to the conclusion that the marks would logically expect. Definite limits were set. Methods of extraction from potentially difficult situations were reviewed, over and over again.

Sarah remembered the first time she returned to one of her regular classes. When she walked into the room every eye was fixed on her and, as the saying goes, you could hear a pin drop. All the men stared at her, some with their mouths agape. Most of them initially didn't even know who she was. Many of the women were giving her a look that she only realized later was one of jealousy.

At first she found it exciting, thrilling that the men in her class, who previously wouldn't have given her the time of day, now couldn't do enough for her. They flocked around her like sheep.

However, her pleasure in this started to pale quickly. The main reason was Bradley Pittfield. Tall, athletic and handsome he had been one of the most popular among her class of recruits. With her, however, he had been the most unkind and cruel of all her peers. Whenever she had previously run across him, he had always something derogatory to say about her in a stage whisper to his friends. Some of his practical jokes were incredibly hurtful, especially to an insecure teenager.

Now however, he was all smiles and compliments as he tried to move in on her. How he thought it was possible that she wouldn't remember his heartlessness was beyond her understanding. She could only attribute it to his obviously massive ego.

How could any woman refuse his charms?

Sarah had not had any difficulty in doing so. At first she was polite as she could be while firmly turning down his thinly veiled propositions. However, he apparently thought she was simply being coy.

Obviously, she would agree if he was persistent enough.

Her breaking point had been reached during a self defense session. Bradley was assigned to be the aggressor to Sarah's defender. As he grabbed, or more accurately, groped her from behind, he leaned over to her ear and whispered something so blatantly suggestive she couldn't believe what she heard.

The next moment he was flat on his back with Sarah's knee hard in his groin. "Touch me or talk to me again and your pride won't be the only thing I will break. Understand?" To emphasize her point she dug her knee in so firmly that he couldn't stop his groan of pain and the sheen of sweat that suddenly appeared on his forehead.

"I didn't hear you. Do you understand?" Sarah said loud enough for the whole class to hear.

A strangled "Yes" was all he got out.

After that no man approached again. For the remainder of her training she kept hearing the barely audible "bitch", or "Ice Queen", or much worse whenever Bradley or his friends were near.

She didn't care. Whatever initial excitement and satisfaction she had gotten from her makeover was gone. She came to realize that all that Bradley and those of his ilk cared about was the container. The contents were of no interest to them.

Sarah had been taken aside after the incident. Although she wasn't criticized for standing up for herself, it was drawn to her attention that she needed to better control herself under provocation. She realized then that she had let her emotions get the better of her. She knew this couldn't happen on missions and vowed to herself that she wouldn't let it happen again.

And she hadn't.

Whenever she was on a seduction mission (which were not as common as most people thought), she kept her feelings completely in check. The lewd suggestions, lecherous stares and inappropriate touching didn't disgust or nauseate her. Neither did the compliments and occasional professions of love touch her heart.

Whatever the mission required her to become, she became. One moment she would be the ditzy southern belle. The next moment, the sophisticated Polish countess. The next moment, the good time party girl.

But none of them were her, none of them were real.

On a number of occasions she had realized at first contact that the planned persona wasn't going to fly with this mark. So she had called an audible, so to speak, and went with something different. This had initially caused considerable consternation with her support team. However, after this had happened a few times, they calmed down. She was never wrong.

What had once been a vicious epithet, "Ice Queen", now became a grudging term of respect.

During all this time no one got to know the real her and she made sure it stayed that way. In fact, with all the roles she took on, Sarah hardly knew herself.

When she and Bryce had been first partnered for a mission, they had worked very well together. But she quickly understood that despite her prowess, he wouldn't have had her continue as his partner if she had been plain or even just average looking.

Bryce was certainly kinder and more attentive than the men she had trained with but like them he made no real attempt to really know or truly understand Sarah Walker. Bryce was content with them being the dashing, beautiful spy couple, brilliantly succeeding in mission after mission in stunning, exotic locations.

Sarah had also been content with what they had, at least for a while. She enjoyed their degree of closeness yet came to realize they were not in fact truly intimate. She never really knew him, but in all fairness didn't try all that hard to do so. Later, she came to realize that there probably isn't much truly worthwhile to know about Bryce Larkin in any case.

He is just a spy. A very good looking and competent spy but nonetheless just a spy.

The truth is that most people would say the same of her.

Even before he had "gone rogue", their relationship, at least in her mind, had cooled. Still, for at least a little while, Sarah had thought she loved him. So when he personally betrayed her, when she thought he had died, she was devastated. Sarah came to realize that as a couple, they were so very far from what she really needed, what her heart required. It was kind of pathetic, that despite the deficiencies, it had been the best relationship of her life.

When she been given the assignment that led her to Chuck, she had reaffirmed to herself the need for no emotional response, no feelings in her missions. She wouldn't let herself get close to someone, only to be betrayed again.

All she feels towards Chuck is just the normal protective instincts of an agent towards an asset. Anything that Chuck misinterprets as more, is simply for cover. The kiss on the docks, Sarah dismisses as an aberration. She knows she was and is in control.

But a part of her can't help wondering why she keeps telling herself this so often.

"Sarah? Sarah Walker?" She hears Chuck's voice as from a distance. She struggles to bring her mind back to the present.

"Yes, Chuck?"

"We, umm, kinda passed the turnoff for the hotel a couple of blocks back."

Sarah realizes she has driven the whole way on autopilot, too wrapped up in her thoughts. She looks over at Chuck.

Poor guy. She hadn't said a word the entire time they were driving.

I'm better than this. He deserves better than this.

"Chuck?"

He looks across at her. "Yes?"

"It's nothing you've done."

Even though he tries not to show it, she can clearly see the relief on his face. At this moment Sarah realizes that Chuck's silence hasn't been just to give her space. It also has been a matter of self preservation, a don't poke the bear sort of thing. In the mood she had been in, he probably thought she was going to bite his head off if he said or did the wrong thing. After all, she had done just that a number of times in the past. Almost inexplicably, Sarah finds this whole situation quite amusing and feels her mood start to lighten.

And though Sarah finds it difficult to admit, even to herself, she also finds it a little endearing that he's willing to put up with her, even when she's at her worst.

She knows her sullenness, her terseness with everyone, especially Chuck, has gone on far too long. Whatever her issues are, it isn't fair to take it out on others.

Time to change, starting right now.

The mission is a simple one, so why couldn't they just have some fun today as well? She knew being with Chuck is usually just that, as long as she is willing to let it happen. Being in the middle of her funk, she hadn't been willing when he had offered earlier but now she feels they deserve something for all their hard work.

Besides, it's good for the cover.

"So, since I missed the turn how do we get there now?" Sarah asks in a much more cheerful voice.

He has his iPhone out and is looking at the map.

"If we turn here", as he points with his right hand, "we can take the next right."

Sarah follows his guidance and a few minutes later they are in the hotel. She stops in the middle of the lobby while she lets Chuck check them in. While she is scoping out the place, she notices the desk clerk give her a long look. Chuck picks up the key cards and is grinning wildly as he walks back towards her.

"What's so funny?" she asks as he gets closer. Sarah can't help but smile back as she feels the last vestiges of her foul mood disappear at his obvious amusement. Sarah wonders, not for the first time, how does he do that? Make me feel better with just a goofy smile? Or just with his silence?

Chuck quietly but jocularly replies, "The reservation is under Carmichael, Mr. and Mrs.. It's clear the clerk doesn't believe the cover. I'm fairly certain he thinks you are," as he pauses briefly, Sarah can sense he is looking for the most polite way (because he's Chuck) to say it, "an escort."

"What?! Why would he think that?"

Chuck smiles even more as he answers, "For one, we have no bags. I told him the airline lost them but I don't think he bought it. Second, well, just look at you."

Sarah raises one eyebrow as she gives him a stern look and says, "Charles Irving Bartowski. Are you saying I look like a hooker?"

He immediately blushes and stammers, "No, no that's not what I meant. I meant that you're just so incredibly beautiful and I'm just so ..." His voice tapers off as he sees her smiling broadly at his embarrassment.

"Gotcha." She says and genuinely laughs for what seems like the first time in quite a while.

She is touched by his instinctual response to her teasing. Sarah receives so many calculated, self-serving compliments, but this, this she knows comes truly from the heart. As his always do.

His lopsided smile acknowledges her victory.

"Well Mr. Carmichael, you best take your wife to our room", she says as she links her arm in his.

As they walk pass the front desk, Sarah speaks just loud enough for the man behind it to hear, "Charles, that was a wonderful vacation. Thank you so much." Then, as she leans her head against his shoulder, she adds in her most sultry voice, "Darling, I will never forget our time at that private nude beach."

The clerk falls off his stool.

...

They are both still laughing as they exit the elevator and start walking to their room.

"Did you see that poor guy's expression? You are a wicked, wicked woman, Sarah Walker."

"That's what he gets for thinking I am a lady of questionable virtue."

"Questionable virtue? Sounds like someone has been reading Jane Austen."

"You know, I do read other things besides Knives Illustrated," she says with a grin on her face.

"Wait. There actually is a Knives Illustrated? Really?" Chuck queries.

"Yep. A girl in my line of work has to keep up with the newest tech."

"Do you read the articles or is it secretly just the pictures that you like?" Chuck asks, smirking a little.

"No. I really enjoy the articles." She pauses for a moment and then deadpans, "They are often very incisive and pointed."

Chuck rolls his eyes and somehow manages to groan and chuckle at the same time.

"A bad double pun. That does it. Who are you and what have you done with the real Sarah Walker? The one who said she isn't funny?"

Sarah laughs, pleased by his comment. She has always genuinely believed that she isn't a humorous person. In the last few months however, she has noticed a change. While she feels she isn't nearly in the same class as Chuck, every once in awhile something amusing or clever will bubble forth to the surface, almost without her permission. It makes her feel good, like a more rounded person, when she can be the one to make them laugh.

"Here we are. Room 924." Chuck says as he inserts the keycard and opens the door.

"After you, Miss Walker."

"Why, thank you kind sir." Sarah drawls in her best southern accent, "You are a gentleman."

Chuck smiles at her and replies, "It is easy to be a gentleman when the lady is yourself."

Sarah grins back at this and at his woeful attempt at a southern accent.

As they enter the room they see two bags on the bed. Sarah goes over and looks in the first one.

"Here, Chuck. This one is yours." She says as she hands it to him. He takes it and glances around, wondering where he should change.

Grabbing the other bag and heading to the bathroom, she says, "I'll go in there."

"Good. I'll see you in a bit." He glances at his watch, "It's 11:15 so we still have plenty of time."

Sarah usually knows the time to within a few minutes due to her excellent internal clock, but she appreciates the reminder anyways.

She shuts the door and sets the bag down on the vanity counter. When she opens it, the first thing she sees is the bikini she is expected to wear.

Red.

Chuck doesn't like red.

Suddenly, with just those four words, everything clicks into place. All the reasons for her recent discontent, anger and frustration are perfectly clear.

She flashes back to the mission where Bryce and she had posed as a couple, with Chuck as a waiter. She remembers how she had taken extra care with her makeup and hair and then put on that beautiful and daring red dress.

When Chuck had seen her, for a moment he looked very pleased. But then his halfhearted compliments had "damned her with faint praise" and he had made it clear he wasn't into red.

It's now so obvious that she hadn't really cared what Bryce or any other man thought of her appearance. She had wanted to please Chuck and him alone. She had wanted to see the "Wow" in his eyes and hear it in his voice. When she hadn't got that, she was crushed.

She had gone so far as to give up on wearing that color. Even her red underwear was pushed to the back of her drawer, although she had felt a little foolish doing that.

For the first time in a very long while, she had discovered that she truly, deeply cared about the opinion of another person.

How could I have forgotten that? Sarah asks herself.

The answer is obvious. She hasn't forgotten. She was just so focused on being the perfect Agent, on protecting herself, that she had buried the memory deep in her psyche. Hidden it from her heart.

Sarah has never allowed her emotions to affect her this much, not even with Bryce.

She is supposed to be that damned Ice Queen.

In her current state of brutal self examination, she now realizes that facade, that persona, had started to crumble long before the red dress incident. She can even pinpoint the exact moment when the walls started to come down.

During their first date the words had slipped out, "I like you, Chuck."

She had said so many similar words to so many men in so many missions.

The difference was that this time, she'd meant them.

Sarah is now acutely aware that since that moment, in reality just a few hours after she first met him, she hasn't been playing a role with Chuck. She isn't putting on the charm to seduce or control him. She genuinely and deeply cares for him. She will do literally anything in her power to protect him from the world they have thrust him into.

Being around Chuck has allowed, perhaps even compelled her, to feel again. To care again.

To love?

This, she knew, was the crux of the matter.

Her CIA trained conscience, her sense of duty and loyalty are all shouting at her.

You can't do this. This is wrong. You don't get emotionally involved with an asset.

It's alright if you have to practically expose yourself to the most vile scum. It's alright to let them paw you on the dance floor, virtually molest you at the bar.

To have them expect that you will give yourself willingly to them.

It's alright that every male agent you have worked with (with the exception of Casey) is really looking for that same thing.

It's alright to have that kind of shallow, meaningless relationship.

But you can't have Chuck.

You can't have this good, intelligent, funny, kind, honest, brave, unselfish, patient, forgiving, understanding, loving, dear man.

No, that would be wrong.

All her anger, her frustration, stems from the fact that her recent missions have only served to remind her that her life is in so many ways a counterfeit one, devoid of what she really needs.

But staring her in the face is the fact that she can have something real, something true, if she only has the will and the courage to take it.

Chuck.

With that, Sarah finds herself on the edge of an emotional precipice.

She can't help but be reminded of the night last month when Chuck had talked her into watching The Princess Bride with him. She had balked at first when he suggested it, thinking the premise sounded silly and juvenile. As usual, he was right. She had loved it, which proved once again how well he knows her even though she has given him almost nothing to work with. (She didn't tell him that she had identified most closely with Westley, because of course that would make him Buttercup. Even though she knows he would have laughed if she had told him that, she also knew that deep down it would make him feel just a little less adequate. Even though she has done so many times in the past, of late she has realized she doesn't want to hurt him, even just a tiny bit, when it was within her power not to do so.)

She harkens back to the scene where the main characters are on the edge of a steep ravine. She feels like she is right on that edge, looking down the vertiginous incline. The effect is so strong that she actually feels physically dizzy for a moment and abruptly has to sit down on the (thankfully) closed toilet.

Sarah knows that Chuck had already tumbled down that slope long ago, almost from the day they met, his love for her so obvious. Every word and action shouts it out. He has fallen and fallen hard.

And now he patiently waits there to see if she is willing and able to do the same.

She knows that with just the gentlest push, the tiniest nudge, she will fall head over heels, head over heels, into his arms, into his life and into his love.

Sarah is afraid, so very unsure that she is ready for this. So aware it would mean breaking the rules, that one sure guide in her sometimes chaotic life. Stepping outside the structure she has lived within for her whole adult life.

But even as she thinks this, Sarah knows what frightens her most of all is the deep down, hidden, almost paralyzing fear that if he knows the details of her life, he'll see how truly flawed she is. That he'll feel she is, perhaps, fundamentally unlovable. That he will then turn away and leave her, alone again, in her pale imitation of a real life.

Distance. I need some distance.

She grasps at a straw. Except for the abortive purple negligee sleep over, Chuck has never been this close to her when she will be wearing so little. Maybe if he looks at her the way most other men do, even just for a moment, she can back away. Gain some space. Regain her balance.

Maybe he will tell her again he doesn't like red.

With sudden determination, Sarah stands up and quickly changes into the bikini. As she looks in the mirror she sees it is relatively modest, at least compared to some she has worn. Using Beckman's term, it does show off her "assets", but does leave something to the imagination.

She hears Chuck stirring outside the door and his voice asking, "Are you ready, Sarah?"

"Out in a moment." She replies, as she firmly turns the door handle.

Taking a deep breath, she steps out into the room.

Chuck, wearing black board shorts and a white tee, has his back to her. As he goes through the bag on the bed he says, "Here are the things we'll need. Towels, those little beach chairs, sun screen, water, a couple of books."

As he speaks the last few words, he picks up the bag and turns toward her. Sarah isn't much of a photographer, but at this instant she wishes she had a camera at the ready. On second thought, she knows she won't need a photo to remember this moment.

The bag in his hand falls unheeded to the floor, landing with a thunk on his right foot. Chuck doesn't even seem to notice, even though it must have hurt at least a little.

Quickly his widened eyes scan her from head to toe before politely and rapidly returning to her face. His strong attraction to her is obvious, but there is nothing lascivious in the look.

Instead it is just a look of absolute, complete and utter entrancement.

And apparently he doesn't hate red. She'll have to talk to him about that later.

Chuck tries to speak but nothing comes out at first. Maybe because it appears he has stopped breathing. After clearing his throat he is more successful the second time.

"Wow! Wow! Sarah, you look...Wow!" A huge smile lights up his face.

In her heart of hearts, Sarah had known that Chuck would not look at her "that way". She knows he never has been and never will be that kind of man.

He's Chuck. She was foolish to think he would ever be anything else.

Instead of gaining distance, she knows she has gotten just a little bit closer to the edge.

But it's okay now. An unexpected calm settles over her. Sarah well knows that the fear has only retreated, that it's still there, lurking. But she also knows that if anyone can help her finally move past it, it will be him. She has to believe that his love for her will be more powerful than any aversion to her past, that he can be there for her, warts and all. But that will only happen if she can share her fears. Only if she can let him into her life.

She, nurtured by a con man and taught by spies to be inherently distrustful, will have to trust this man.

I can do this. I want, no, I need this to happen, Sarah thinks to herself. When that final push, that nudge she had worried about does come along, she'll let herself fall, willingly and wholly.

She realizes that she didn't think if. For a moment that shocks her, but only for a moment.

No more ifs. Only whens, is her promise to herself.

Sarah catches his eye, and says in a sure voice, "I'm ready, Chuck."

...

"I'm ready, Chuck."

For a moment, Chuck is puzzled by this apparently delayed response to his earlier question. However, as he looks into Sarah's beautiful blue eyes, he senses there is more to this seemingly innocent phrase than first appears.

She is telling him something. He desperately hopes it is want he has wanted to hear from her for so long. He tells himself to be careful, don't rush her, don't presume. Maybe he is only hearing what his heart wants so much.

But he can't help but be optimistic when he sees this Sarah. The Sarah in front of him at this moment, is one so different than the earlier Sarah in Castle, the Sarah in the car.

Funny, more open, and, even though he perhaps overuses the word, happy. He adores every aspect, every facet of this woman but this, this is the one he loves most dearly.

Unfortunately, it's also the one he sees most infrequently.

He has no idea why she has suddenly appeared. It seems so presumptuous to think that it could be something he's done or said. Whatever the reason, he will count his blessings while they last.

Chuck knows he needs to change the subject before the potential in the situation overwhelms him, so he asks, "How are we going to handle communication between us and Casey?"

Sarah walks to the bed and looks in her purse. After a moment or two she brings out two earwigs. After doing an adjustment to each, she hands one to him.

"We will each wear one but we won't be able to use our regular communication methods. It would be too obvious if we were seen speaking into our watches. So I will wear one in my left ear and you in your right. I've set them so that when you need to tell Casey something you can lean over and whisper in my ear. That way both Casey and I can hear. It will just look like you want to tell me something private. I will pretend to be amused or whatever is appropriate."

Chuck inserts the earwig as he listens to her instructions.

She continues, "And of course I will do the same, when I need to. Sort of like this."

Sarah closes the distance between them, raises herself on her toes, then leans in and whispers, "Testing. Testing. Can you hear me?"

The intoxicating smell of her hair hits him and he feels her warm breath on his cheek. Chuck is certain that his heart stops just for a moment, and for the second time in the last few minutes it seems he can't remember how to breathe.

He understands that he is supposed to answer her query but actual words seem to be hard to find.

Finally, he manages to speak or perhaps more accurately, rasp, "Ah hmm, hmm. Yes. Yes, I can hear you."

Mercifully, she backs off and he is able to start taking in oxygen again.

Sarah walks back to the bed, takes her Smith & Wesson out of her purse and puts it in the bag with the beach necessities.

"Doubt we'll need it but you can't be too careful." She adds with a smirk as she gestures with her hand down her body, "Obviously there is no place to carry it concealed wearing this."

Her gesture draws his eyes back to her bikini, something he has been studiously trying to avoid since that first glance. He gulps as he nods his agreement, realizing the impossibility of trying to conceal anything in that bathing suit. Except for her of course, or more accurately, parts of her.

He brings his eyes back to her face, determined to let her know that despite how stunningly beautiful every bit of her is, this is the part of her that he loves the most. The part, that in it's unguarded moments lets him see Sarah Walker when she is most vulnerable, most caring. The part that speaks to him the words she often has so much trouble saying. The part that lets him see, at least a little bit of that woman inside he loves so much. The part that he could not and will not ever stop looking at, stop thinking about, stop dreaming about, even if he were to be suddenly transported to some weird, bizarro, alternate universe where he didn't love her.

As she looks back at him, a little smile graces her lips, and he thinks he sees approval, satisfaction in her eyes. It seems to him that he may have just passed a test of some sort. A test he didn't even know he was taking.

Come to think of it, it is the same look she gave him earlier, just after she'd changed.

Suddenly feeling a little nervous, he breaks her gaze and mimicking her gesture of a moment ago, he draws attention to his own outfit.

"Notice anything about what they gave me to wear?" Chuck asks.

"Aside from the fact that you look good, no, not particularly." She replies, looking a little puzzled.

Warmed by her unexpected compliment, he continues, "White above black. Remind you of a certain job uniform?"

"Of course," she laughs as she realizes what he is getting at, "The Nerd Herd beach ensemble!"

"At least I don't have the wear the tie or pocket protector." Chuck grins back.

"Oh, I don't know. I kinda like the tie," she remarks, without any hint of dissembling.

Considering how many times she has adjusted his tie, he believes that she really does. Maybe she likes to use it as an excuse to get close to him?

There's that hope again.

Abruptly, the reminder that they are on a mission comes in the form of Casey speaking in his earwig.

"Walker. Bartowski. You copy?"

He sees Sarah react to Casey's gruff voice.

Sarah looks and gestures for him to get closer so they can test the communication method they discussed earlier. She indicates he should answer.

He leans over to her and whispers in her ear, "Yes, Casey. We copy." Chuck is almost sure he sees a slight flush in her face.

Casey continues, "I'm in position. Black van in front of the second Starbucks west of your hotel. I can see the restaurant and the hotel from here. Both teams in position. First team is watching to see when Kurtenbach starts moving. I will give you the heads up when we see him in the lobby. You ready to move?"

This time, Sarah leans in and whispers, "We'll be ready whenever he leaves."

She then quickly explains their communication method to Casey, her mouth so close, her breath...

Why is it suddenly so hot in here?

Chuck really, really hopes there won't be a lot of messages to pass. He's sure, that if there is, this method of communication is going to kill him.

"Roger that. We will keep chatter to a minimum. Casey out."

It is possible that Sarah is finding the room a little warm as well. She looks around for a moment, apparently unfocused.

Then, as if just realizing, she says, "I can't go through the lobby in just this." She walks to the bathroom and retrieves her bag. "There's a cover up in here."

She reaches in a pulls out what looks like to Chuck, a very loosely knit, white, long sleeve sweater with a deep "V" neck. She pulls it over her head and it settles just below her hips.

It is baffling to Chuck how that piece of clothing could possibly be called a cover up. She's just as visible as before because the material seems to consist more of small holes than anything else. If anything, it somehow seems she is actually wearing less than a moment ago.

Unbidden, a picture comes to his mind and before he can put the brake on his mouth, he says, "Hey, I think I saw that in a Victoria's Secret catalog."

Chuck sees Sarah raise one eyebrow and he knows he's busted.

As Sarah arches her eyebrow, she assumes a serious look and asks in a stern voice, "And why, pray tell, were you looking at that particular catalog, Mr. Bartowski?"

Chuck blushes immediately and rushes out an explanation, "It's Ellie's. I swear. It was just laying on the coffee table and I happened to pick it up one day. One of the pictures showed a model wearing something like what you just put on." He stops for a moment and then quietly adds, "She even looked a bit like you."

He's so easy, Sarah thinks to herself, but I'm not letting him off the hook just yet.

"Did you visualize me wearing some of the things that you saw?" She says in a disapproving tone.

"No. No. I wouldn't do that." Chuck stammers out.

Suddenly he straightens, looks her firmly in the eye and says with some boldness, "And you know why? Because nothing that I could possibly imagine could look as incredible as you do right now."

Sarah flushes a little, but covers it by laughing. "Good save, Chuck."

By the astonished look on his face, Sarah knows he is trying to process the fact that she has gotten him twice already today.

Fortunately for him at that moment Casey comes back on line. "Kurtenbach is leaving. Give him a minute and then you can follow."

Sarah walks over to Chuck and speaks in his ear, "Copy that. We're on the move."

Chuck picks up the bag for the beach, they put on their flip flops and head out to the hallway.

Just as he closes the door, Sarah, feeling a little reckless, softly says, "Chuck, you know I wouldn't really mind if you did."

He sounds a bit perplexed as he answers, "Wouldn't mind what?"

"Visualize."

At first he doesn't appear to get it but then she sees the realization hit him.

...

When her words sink in, his face reddens again for what seems like the hundredth time.

She's trying to kill me. She really is trying to kill me.

He has never seen Sarah quite like this. Each moment seems to show him something new.

It's almost like she's working a mark but he knows in his heart that she does not view him that way. Well, he had been the mark when she first came into the Buy More, but not after that first date.

Ever since she had asked him to trust her, deep down he had done so. He knew that she would never try to con or seduce him into anything. She always clearly presented the facts as to what was expected from him. Then she let him make his own choices, at least as much as it was possible.

So how she is acting now must mean something. He has never felt quite this hopeful about them.

But then his memory chides him, reminding him of other times, other situations when he had thought something similar only then to be put in his place, reminded that it's only a cover.

Still, he cannot, he will not stop himself from seeing where this will lead them.

He has to take the chance.

...

Sarah can see his mind working and has a very good idea what is going through that big brain of his. She knows the mixed signals she has sent in the past have led to pain, sorrow and confusion, not just on Chuck's part, but hers as well. With her track record, it's certain he's wondering whether what she is saying to him, by her words and actions, is real, solid, or is as insubstantial as a dream you can't quite remember in the morning.

Since her epiphany, she is determined to not hurt them that way again.

She is absolutely certain that it will happen. She doesn't know how. She doesn't know when. It could happen today, or tomorrow, or next week, or next month. She doesn't care. Whenever it does, she is determined that there will be no more uncertainty, no more vagueness in their relationship.

Sarah is ready to be all in. No more fence sitting.

...

As they enter the lobby, Chuck reaches out and finds Sarah's left hand already on it's way to join his right. They both look down at their entwined fingers and shyly smile at each other, each realizing the sharing of a simultaneous thought.

He finds it hard to believe how such a seemingly small action can make his heart race. They've held hands before, during a fake date or when they were with Ellie and Devon. But this time it feels different. Almost a promise of something more.

Whatever it is, Chuck is determined to keep holding on.

The clerk from earlier is still on duty. He has a phone in his hand and he looks up from his computer just as they pass by. Chuck sees the look he has seen so often when Sarah enters a man's field of vision. The fact that she is in a bikini, even one supposedly covered, makes it that much more distracting for him.

As they continue towards the front entrance, Chuck senses that Sarah is swaying her hips just a little more than is needed. She looks over her right shoulder and he suspects she has just smiled in the direction of the desk.

Chuck doesn't turn as he hears what sounds like a phone hitting the ground, quickly followed by what might be a computer keyboard.

As they exit, without looking at her, he says, "Guess you weren't quite finished with him."

"Nope," she replies, popping the "P" just a little. She adds, almost pensively, "I think he's done now, though."

Chuck dryly responds, "I believe you are correct. Time to send him to the showers."

She looks up at him with a slightly evil grin, "It's just as well then, that the controls have a "C" setting, isn't it?"

This time he laughs out loud, "Like I said, wicked."

...

Sarah finds that she really enjoys the feel of Chuck's hand wrapped around hers, their fingers interlaced. She can feel the callouses that he probably gets from his game controllers but otherwise his hand is soft and comforting.

Somehow, this makes her feel safe, protected, although she is not sure from what.

Well, I'll just have to hang on until I figure it out, Sarah thinks to herself.

As they come out onto the sidewalk, they are both blinded for a second by the bright noontime sun. Sarah puts on her sunglasses as does Chuck. To do so, he stops and puts down the bag for a moment, rather than let go of her hand.

Sarah wonders why such a small, almost grade-school like gesture makes her feel so good?

Get your mind back on the mission, Walker.

To help regain her focus, even though it isn't absolutely necessary at this point in the mission, she looks ahead of them to see if she can pick out Kurtenbach.

It is as if Casey knows what she is thinking because the next thing she hears is him.

"Walker. I have eyes on you. Kurtenbach is about half a block directly ahead of you. White shirt, sleeves rolled up, carrying a small briefcase folder type of thing. You got him?"

Catching sight of him, she nods, knowing that Casey will see her confirmation. She notices Chuck does the same.

Sarah continues to hold Chuck's hand as they walk towards the beach. A couple of times they have to go single file because of the crowded sidewalk. The first time she takes the lead, gently pulling him along, she feels him stumble a little bit.

"You OK?" She asks, looking over her shoulder.

Chuck looks quite embarrassed, much more than a little stumble should warrant.

"I'm fine. Sorry."

She brushes it off. However, when it happens again, a little further down the block, it suddenly dawns on her what is going on.

It appears that walking behind her is proving to be a little distracting for Chuck.

He trips again.

Okay, more than a little.

With anyone else she would have found it annoying. With Chuck she finds it...sweet. Which is definitely not a word she uses often.

She actually finds it kind of cute (another word she doesn't use often) that he is embarrassed by his reaction to her. In Sarah's mind this isn't disrespectful in even a small way. She likes the way Chuck looks at her and would in fact be a little disappointed if he didn't.

But for his sake, I'll pretend I didn't notice it this time, is Sarah's thought. Most likely not the last time I'll need to do that.

...

Of all the things that Chuck ever imagined he would be thankful for, reduced pedestrian traffic on a sidewalk had not been one of them. But now he is so very grateful for that circumstance which allows him to walk beside Sarah again.

Even though he had done his best, it was so difficult to concentrate on anything else when she was leading him.

Part of him fervently hopes that at some point he will get accustomed to her beauty, just so he won't continue to make a fool of himself. But then Chuck quickly realizes that he would never want that to happen, to come to the point that he takes anything about Sarah Walker for granted.

If the past months are any indication, he knows the unlikelihood of that occurring. Instead of becoming inured to her, he only finds her and everything about her more and more attractive each day.

As they wait at the last crosswalk before the beach, Casey's voice breaks into his thoughts. "Walker, Bartowski. Kurtenbach just reached the restaurant."

They both look at the building which is about 80 feet to their left, and he can see him going through the door. Chuck leans close to Sarah and replies, "Roger that. We're heading for the front."

Sarah turns slightly towards him, chuckles and pats her right hand on his chest as if he had just said something mildly amusing. This startles him for a moment until he remembers this was the procedure they agreed on.

Chuck suddenly panics and thinks, How am I supposed to act when she needs to tell Casey something? I can't have that stunned-by-a-taser look every time she does. Obviously I didn't give this enough thought.

Chuck realizes he'll just have to play it by ear, and then immediately inwardly groans at his horrible unintentional pun.

He feels Sarah give his arm a gentle tug and he realizes he hadn't noticed the walk sign was on. He quickly catches up beside her and the two of them walk, hand in hand, across the street and sidewalk, onto the sand.

As they approach what he remembers now is named, somewhat unimaginatively, the Beachside Bistro, he senses Sarah has gone into agent mode. He knows that she is taking everything in, watching for possible threats, checking for best escape routes, looking for possible unfriendly surveillance, and doing all this while giving nothing to indicate that she is other then a girlfriend enjoying time at the beach. As always, he stands in awe of her spy craft.

Chuck notices a black town car with tinted glass in the cafe's small parking lot and wonders if that is Mr. Smith's car. As he notices a driver sitting behind the wheel, he thinks he's probably right. He's about to whisper this supposition in Sarah's ear when he realizes that if he has noticed this, it's certain that Sarah and Casey will have done the same long ago.

As they round the building, Chuck reviews in his mind the layout of the place. There is a small patio in front of sliding garage-like glass doors that will certainly be open on a great day like this. About twelve tables inside, bar on the left as they face it.

Chuck thinks that chances are Smith will choose a table inside, safer from prying eyes. This is of course, assuming that he is a bad guy. If innocent, they'll probably be on the patio. If he sees them there, he'll be able to flash and perhaps that will end the mission.

As they come to the front, Chuck sees that two of the patio tables are occupied, one by a couple of teenage girls, the other by a small family. Chuck and Sarah walk towards a likely looking spot near a palm tree. Once there they'll be able to see all of the cafe's interior and its occupants. He uses his greater height to shield Sarah from view as much as possible, telling himself they need to have the element of surprise.

He risks a glance and recognizes Kurtenbach sitting at a table near the wall opposite the bar, about ten feet in from the patio. Across the table from him, with his back to Chuck, is a dark haired man.

Well, hello Mr. Smith. If that's your real name.

Chuck gently stops walking, realizing this will be the best spot to be able to see Smith's face when he looks their way.

He turns to Sarah and says, in his most boyfriend like manner, "Here's a good spot, hon."

Sarah, not to be outdone, smiles back and replies, "OK, sweetie."

Reluctantly, he lets go of her hand. It's time for Sarah to do her thing.

He always finds himself hating this part. Even though today's mission is comparatively benign, right at this moment he wishes he could tell her she doesn't have to do this. To say to the powers that be, that Sarah is so much more than just her looks.

Then, in the middle of his distraction, he feels Sarah touch his arm as she looks at him and softly says, "Don't worry. I'm OK with this."

With a bit of a shock, Chuck suddenly understands that she has known all along how this part of her job affects him. It's glaringly apparent that he can't hide his emotions from her.

Wait. His mind races as he thinks, that also means she must know how much I care for her.

For a moment, Chuck panics a little bit. He's never told her outright how he feels and had always hoped when he did, it would be a special occasion. But now, oddly enough, he actually feels relieved. This way, if nothing happens, at least it won't be because Sarah was ignorant of his love.

He looks her in the face and says, "OK. Let's do this."

Chuck crouches down and starts to remove items from the bag and place them on the sand, all the while keeping "Mr. Smith" surreptitiously in his line of sight.

Out of the corner of his eye he first of all sees Sarah remove her coverup, standing tall as she pulls it over her head. She stretches her arms over her head just a little longer than needed, and then drops the coverup into the bag.

An appropriate catchphrase pops into Chuck's mind.

Wait for it.

The waiter clearing the family's patio table, catches sight of her. He simply stops moving as he gapes. Seemingly of it's own volition, his hand lets go of the plate it was holding. Unfortunately, this is no where near the standing tray he is using. The smash of the crockery on the flagstones of the patio is very loud.

Wait for it.

The noise attracts the attention of the bartender. He looks up as he is pouring a draft beer just in time to see Sarah perform her next step.

She loosens her hair from the ponytail she has had it in. Running her fingers through her hair and giving her head a couple of tosses, Sarah frees her blond tresses to fall around her shoulders.

Wait for it.

For a moment, the bartender fails to notice that the beer is now running over the top of the glass, down his arm and most likely onto his pants and shoes. Chuck is not sure the "Damn" he hears from him is because of this or his appreciation for his view of Sarah. Likely the latter.

Wait for it.

Chuck observes that Kurtenbach brings his head up, attracted by all the commotion. Then he sees Sarah. Chuck finds his expression almost comical until he realizes that was probably the way he looked not long ago.

He can see his mouth form a silent "Wow!"

Wait for it.

Smith, apparently puzzled by Kurtenbach's stunned expression and his fixed gaze, turns to look behind him and Chuck gets a very good view of his face.

And there it is.

Chuck still has his sunglasses on, so his flash goes unnoticed.

Denby Greenslade. 53. Head of Fulcrum's technology procurement department. Very high up in Fulcrum's pecking order but not above getting involved in the dirty work if needed. A very bad man.

For a moment or two more, all four men stare at Sarah. Then, as if there was some sort of signal, all get back to what they were doing. The waiter apologizes and starts to pick up the pieces of the broken plate. The bartender pours a new beer for his customer and starts cleaning up the mess. Kurtenbach and Greenslade get back to their interrupted conversation.

Sarah gives Chuck an inquiring look and he nods in reply. They both sit down using the back supports that he'd placed on the towels.

He leans towards her, anxious to make known the information from the flash.

"Casey. You copy?"

"Copy. Do you have anything Bartowski?"

"Smith is Denby Greenslade." Chuck then quickly sums up the data from the flash.

"Roger that."

Chuck then hears Casey speak into another mike, "All teams. The mission is a go. I repeat the mission is a go."

Meanwhile, Sarah, in keeping with the arrangement, smiles at him as if he had just paid her a compliment.

This time she leans closer and softly says, "Good job, Chuck."

Chuck, like pretty much everyone, enjoys being praised. But praise from Sarah falls into a special category, and he treasures every time it happens.

Knowing he wouldn't have been able to do his job without Sarah playing her critical role, he replies, "We make a good team, don't we?"

He says this quietly, looking intently at her face. No need for Casey to hear this.

Sarah, removing her sunglasses, answers a few moments later, "Yes, Chuck, we do. A very good team."

...

Sarah, holding her sunglasses in her hand, knows why she felt the need for that action.

She is well aware that she hasn't always shown her appreciation for his mission contributions. Many times, his unorthodox, what appear to be foolish methods have made her feel uneasy, like she's not in control of the situation. As a consequence she has often become frustrated rather than appreciative. And then proceeded to vent that frustration, usually on Chuck.

Other times, when he won't stay in the damned car, when he puts himself in danger to help Casey and her, she is furious with him because of the abject fear his actions cause her. The panic inducing, almost heart stopping terror that he could be hurt or...she mentally shies away from the logical end of that statement.

But somehow, someway, together they've always gotten the job done and come out relatively unscathed. He has, in fact, been a great partner.

He deserves to know that, not just by her words but also by the confirmation in her eyes. So that's exactly what she gives him.

They look at each other for a another moment until Sarah, knowing they need to keep up appearances, says, "Time to get rid of the shirt, sweetie. You need some sun."

He appears to be a little reluctant to show his torso. She thinks it's likely he has a bit of an inferiority complex. Considering Devon's physique combined with his shirtless proclivities, it's really no wonder.

After a moments hesitation, Chuck removes the shirt. Sarah is pleasantly surprised. Certainly he's not overly muscled like many of the men she has come to know, ones she used to think were her type. However, his slim build is well toned and proportioned. She decides she likes his look.

Sarah knows he often considers her to be out of his league, her physical appearance being one of the main reasons for that feeling. However, as she looks at him, she thinks it would have to be a very shallow woman who would object to being seen with Chuck Bartowski.

He's actually very handsome.

"Sarah?"

"Yes, Chuck?"

"Is there something wrong?"

"No. Why do you ask?"

"Well, you've, umm, been kinda staring at me for the last minute or so. It's sorta freaking me out."

Sarah turns her face quickly, hoping to hide her sudden embarrassment. She pretends to fuss with her sunglasses for a moment and then puts them back on.

She turns back to Chuck, trying to come up with a plausible answer but is saved by Casey coming on line.

"Walker. Bartowski. You copy?"

Sarah, thankful for the change of subject leans in. "Yes, Casey. We copy."

"Your intel got bumped upstairs and we have a change in plans. Greenslade is now priority one. We have to be absolutely certain we don't lose him. It's imperative we get a GPS tracker on his car out front. You'll need to stay with him and figure out how to get the tracker placed. We'll have an agent from our first team watch over Kurtenbach as he returns to the hotel."

...

Chuck leans in and objects, "Casey we don't have a tracker. How are you going to get us one?"

As he speaks, Chuck make sure he continues to imitate the agreed pretence of a light hearted conversation between boyfriend and girlfriend.

Casey tersely replies, "False bottom in the bag."

Sure enough, Chuck looks in the bag as if he is searching for something innocuous and finds the aforementioned false bottom. After lifting the cover up he sees a small flash bang grenade, a canister of knockout gas, a fork, and a GPS tracker.

Wait, a fork? What the heck?

He grabs the tracker and closes the cover. He brings out a bottle of water and while using this to conceal the device hands both to Sarah.

Coming closer, he says, "Got it, Casey. Boy, you guys do come prepared. But what's with the fork?"

"You'll have to ask Walker about that. Casey out."

Chuck looks at Sarah but all she gives him is an enigmatic smile, somewhat reminiscent of the Mona Lisa.

"You're not going to tell me, are you?" Chuck asks, his curiosity apparent.

With that same smile on her face, she gently shakes her head and quietly replies, "A girl has to have some secrets."

After a moment, the absurdity of this massive understatement hits Chuck and he can't hold in his laughter. Sarah quickly joins in.

They both laugh until there are tears in their eyes. He never thought that his paucity of personal information, that thorn in his side, could be a source of amusement but he has been proven wrong.

As their laughter dies down, Chuck notices Sarah scan their surroundings again. He knows that through all this she has always been aware of what was going on around them. While he appreciates her watchfulness and understands the necessity, it makes him feel a little sad that her spy habits are so firmly ingrained within her. In his heart he hopes one day she will be able to truly let go, just be a real girl.

Then he remembers those moments when she was staring at him, and somehow he knows, that at least for that brief time, she was just that.

And one who, unless he guesses wrong, seems to enjoy looking at him.

Chuck is a little taken aback by this. When he compares himself to guys like Bryce or Devon, he feels he has little to offer in the handsomeness department.

And yet, there was no denying her reaction when she noticed what she was doing. She was embarrassed over being caught out. Chuck doesn't think he's ever seen Sarah embarrassed about anything.

Maybe this is more of a two way thing than I thought.

He would like to think about this for while longer but they still have to finish the mission.

"So, Sarah. What's the plan?"

She tells him.

...

The beautiful blonde in the red bikini saunters across the sand and into the restaurant. Pausing for a moment, she moves her sunglasses to the top of her head, and then walks slowly to the bar.

The bartender, who like every other man in the cafe, has only been pretending not to watch her walk in, goes over and asks, "May I help you?"

She leans forward and seeing his name tag, replies smilingly, "Yes, Bradley, you may. I wonder if it would be OK to use your restroom even though I'm not a customer."

Bradley, who by this point would have probably given her the keys to his car if she had asked, brings his eyes back to her face and answers, "Of course. Anything for a woman as beautiful as you." Being a good looking guy (and knowing it) he gives her his best smile and adds flirtatiously, "Feel free to fully utilize anything you see here," he pauses for effect, "Or anyone."

She giggles at this and pats his hand on the bar. "Thanks, but the restroom will be enough...for now."

He points out the way and watches her walk away. As she does, she glances over her shoulder and gives him a knockout smile. He feels like someone has just removed all the air from the room.

Bradley has met and charmed a lot of beautiful women in his time but this one certainly has to be the most stunning. He would have already placed her in his top three but that smile was the clincher.

He glances out to the beach at her geeky looking "boyfriend" and wonders how someone like that could possibly hold on to a woman like her. Even though it looked like the two of them were having a good time a while ago, maybe she's ready to move up.

He remembers her "for now" and that heart stopping smile and thinks, yes, I believe she is ready.

A few minutes later, she stops by the bar on her way out and rather sultrily says, "I've thought about your offer. Got a pen?"

He gives her one and she writes down a name and number on a napkin. She folds it and hands it to him.

"Why don't you give me a call in a couple of days?"

Bradley nods eagerly and replies, "I'm really looking forward to it."

She nods back. "See you around," she says over her shoulder as she walks back towards her spot.

His eyes follow her back to her maybe soon to be ex-boyfriend. Even from here, Bradley can see that he's angry with her. They exchange some obviously tense words and he can see by their body language that they are having a serious disagreement. Both grab a book out of their bag and start reading, pointedly ignoring each other.

He feels a little sorry for the guy, with her flirting like that. But to keep a woman like her, you've gotta have game and he obviously doesn't.

He'll be looking forward to seeing more of her, a lot more. He's pretty sure that she's done with the boyfriend. Even if she isn't, he knows he'll be able to convince her that she can do a lot better than the geek. The lot better, of course, being himself.

He remembers the napkin in his hand and quickly unfolds it. Hmm, Carina. For some reason, he thought it would be something different. Oh well, a rose by any other name.

...

With their faces safely behind their books, Chuck and Sarah are able to talk quietly without disrupting their projected image of discord.

"Chuck, you were very convincing. If I didn't know better I would think you were really angry with me," Sarah says, with admiration in her voice.

"Me? You were fantastic! A couple of more minutes with him and he would've asked you to be the mother of his children," Chuck replies with an amused grin.

"Please, even touching his hand made me feel a little sick. Besides, his name is Bradley. I hate that name." Sarah shudders a little as she replies.

Chuck blurts out, "Why? Did you see 'Meet Joe Black'? Not one of Pitt's best efforts, I admit. That could scar anyone."

She chuckles lightly at this. "No, Chuck. Just a man I once knew. Very much like this Bradley." She's quiet for a few seconds. Chuck can tell that she's reliving a memory. Sarah turns her face to his and then very softly, almost like she's thinking out loud, she adds, "And neither of them are half the man you are." She quickly goes back to her book as if she's a little flustered by her admission.

At this moment, Chuck truly understands how much having the regard of Sarah Walker means to him. To have that diminished or even worse, lost altogether, by some action or inaction on his part is something he feels he couldn't bear.

But he doesn't want her to feel too uncomfortable with her possibly inadvertent revelation, so in typical fashion he tries to lighten the mood. In keeping with their current scenario, he gives the bartender a dirty look before bringing his book back up.

"I see what you mean, Sarah. The guy is only, what, five ten? Maybe five eleven at most. Nothing compared to the towering majesty of Chuck Bartowski!"

He can see out of the corner of his eye that she's laughing quietly.

Without turning, she says in a tone of quiet admonishment, "You big goof. You know that's not what I meant. However, after being a partner with you...and Casey, I must admit I've gotten used to being around taller men."

"Sarah, I know what you meant." He adds in his most serious tone of voice, "Thank you."

"Just the truth, Chuck."

Both of them fall into a meditative silence, not the first this day.

Chuck is the first to speak, "So, part one of the plan is done. We've established you as the evidently inveterate flirt and me as the wronged but totally blameless boyfriend angered by your scandalous conduct." He finishes with a smirk on his face.

Sarah chuckles before saying, "Hey, maybe the boyfriend needs to work harder to hold on to her. It could be that he needs to show her more clearly how he feels about her."

"Maybe she has to understand that he's in "A" ball and she's in the Bigs. He knows he'll have to move up twice just to be close to being in her league." Chuck knows she'll catch the metaphor because for some strange reason the topic of baseball and the minor leagues had come up at a particularly boring stakeout a few months ago.

Sarah replies, "And he needs to understand that in affairs of the heart, maybe she feels that he's out of her league."

And just like that, playful banter takes them down a road perhaps neither is fully ready to go quite yet. They both become quiet.

This time, Sarah breaks the silence.

"So I need to get into Greenslade's car for a moment to plant the tracker. If we do as we've planned, it's fairly certain getting in won't be a problem. The issue will be me not staying in. Timing is critical. I'm depending on you, Chuck." As she says this she gives him an earnest look.

"Don't worry, Sarah. I won't let you down. You can count on me." Chuck, equally serious, replies.

"I'll have to leave the weapons with you as part of the act. We could have put some in the bikini if we had anticipated the need but we didn't, so I have go without."

Chuck almost chokes, as he says, "What kind of weapons could you possibly put in..."

"You know, never mind. Not my business." Chuck says, embarrassed.

"You'd be surprised, Chuck. You'd be surprised." His expression confirms the truth in that statement.

At that moment, both notice some movement at the target table. Kurtenbach stands up with a less than pleased look on his hitherto fore cheerful face. They see the Fulcrum agent ask a question and a strong negative reply from the software designer. For whatever reason it looks like the deal has fallen through. Chuck personally hopes it's because he senses something is rotten with his lunch partner. If so, good man.

Kurtenbach slaps some bills on the table to cover their lunch, and then without saying another word, leaves the restaurant by the street side entrance. Greenslade sits for a few moments before taking out his phone and making a call.

Sarah quickly leans over to Chuck and informs Casey that Kurtenbach is on the way back. She does so while maintaining a highly irritated demeanour as part of the cover.

Just before she turns away she says, "OK, Chuck. Show time."

...

Denby is just completing his call when he hears a ruckus from behind him. He turns to see the blonde and her tall boyfriend involved in a not so quiet argument. The man is gathering their things from the beach and tossing them into a bag.

Meanwhile, she is standing over him and berating him over his jealous attitude. She reminds him that they're not exclusive and he has no right to act this way. He replies that she didn't have to flaunt that fact by practically throwing herself at the bartender.

Having witnessed her earlier interaction with that same bartender, Greenslade tends to be on the boyfriend's side in the matter. Fortunately, their are many women eager to move up the ranks in Fulcrum, so he no longer has to worry about the trials and tribulations that come with actually caring for someone. Although, the blonde is certainly beautiful enough to stir up some of those old feelings.

As he stands up, he sees her put on the cover up that she grabs from their bag. The guy then roughly pulls his own shirt over his head, picks up the bag and angrily stomps off to his left while the blonde, equally angry, goes the opposite way.

After the Fulcrum operative makes a brief restroom stop, he exits the cafe. As he does so, his eyes are immediately drawn to her standing in the parking lot, just a few feet from his car. She appears to be crying, her hands covering her face.

Knowing she is probably vulnerable and knowing vulnerable people sometimes do stupid things, he senses an opportunity. He walks over to her and gently asks, "Is everything OK? Can I help you?"

She turns fully toward him, her eyes reddened and cheeks flushed.

He thinks to himself, she's attractive even when she's crying. I've don't believe I've ever seen that before.

"We had a fight and Charles took everything with him. I can't even get into my car if he hasn't already driven it away." She sniffles a bit as she lets him know her woes.

"There, there," he says as he places his hand on her shoulder, "I'm sure I can help you out."

She continues as if she didn't hear him, "I think I love him, but sometimes his jealousy just drives me crazy and I just lose it, you know."

Greenslade while still thinking that Charles had every justification for his feelings, is of course, not going to say that to her.

Instead he holds out his other hand and says, "My name is Denby. May I ask yours?"

Seeming a little flustered by this, she takes his hand and quickly answers, "Rebecca."

"Well, Rebecca, can you tell me where you live?"

She looks a little unsure about giving out this information.

"Rebecca, you can trust me. I'll even let you use my phone to call Charles so you can tell him who is taking you home after he so cruelly abandoned you."

She appears reassured at this and says, "Altadena."

"Wonderful. That's just where I was heading."

She smiles at this response, and says, "Thank you. You're very kind."

At this, he takes her by the arm and gently leads her to his car. The driver, ever alert, opens the back passenger side door for her, and then shuts it when she is safely seated. Denby goes to other side and the driver repeats his performance.

As soon as he settles in behind the wheel, he turns to his chief and asks, "Where to, sir?"

"Altadena. The young lady will give more exact directions when we are closer."

"Very good." Knowing his Fulcrum boss well, he raises the partition to give them the illusion of privacy. Of course there are a number of video cameras in the rear area. He'll turn them on if things get interesting. Both of them have enjoyed viewing the many tapes of the encounters in that back seat.

As he is about the start the engine, there comes a furious pounding on the rear driver's side window.

"Rebecca! Rebecca!"

Greenslade lowers his window and comes face to face with a shouting, desperate Charles, the boyfriend.

He starts to ask, "How may I…" but before he can complete the sentence he is cut off by the almost babbling man.

"Rebecca, please, please forgive me. I don't think I can live without you. Please, say you'll come back and I promise I'll never, ever be jealous again."

That boy is truly whipped.

He turns to see Rebecca's response to this rather pathetic plea, but she is already out the door and running to the other side of the car.

She leaps into the arms of her boyfriend and starts kissing him rapidly and repeatedly.

"I'm sorry too, baby. I'll be different, I promise," she manages to get out between the kisses.

They hug for a few more moments before Charles lowers her to the ground and says, "Let's go for a walk and talk about this, honey."

She looks up at him and nods eagerly, happy tears in her eyes. He takes her hand. Together they go to the far side of the cafe to pick up the bag that Charles dropped in his haste. There they stand face to face quietly talking, totally ignoring the two men in the car.

Greenslade is a little annoyed at the lost opportunity but he knows there are always plenty of other fish. Like that attractive redhead he met yesterday.

Still, as he watches them talk, he knows that she was really something. While it may be sour grapes, he personally doesn't think that Rebecca and Charles are going to make it. Maybe he'll have his team track her down in a month or two.

Overall, not his best day, with Kurtenbach backing out like that. Still, no real problem. The wheels are set in motion to make sure Fulcrum obtains the software anyway.

He raps on the partition which then lowers.

"OK, Frank. We're done here. Let's go."

...

As the couple stands talking, the town car leaves the parking lot and after a moment turns right and then rapidly disappears from view.

Chuck obviously relieved, says quietly, "Everything go OK?"

Sarah nods her head, and then says, "Casey needs to be filled in. You'd better hug me so I can talk to him for a bit without it being too obvious. That OK with you?" She finishes with a smile.

Chuck gives her an exaggerated sigh and replies, "I guess I can suffer through." He obliges by opening his arms and gently taking her into his embrace. By standing on her tiptoes she is able to rest her chin on his shoulder with her mouth near his right ear.

She whispers, "Casey, have you got the tracker signal?"

"Roger that. Loud and clear," is Casey's almost immediate response. "I saw your little waterworks show that got you into the car," He pauses and adds, somewhat sarcastically, "As well as the happy reunion. Hope you didn't bruise Bartowski's lips too badly." Sarah can feel Chuck's laugh rumbling in his chest. "Where did you hide it?"

"Map pocket. Put it there when Chuck distracted them right on cue. The thing is so small that I doubt it will be noticed for a long time, if ever."

"Good job, Walker." Almost grudgingly, he adds, "You too, Bartowski."

Casey continues, "Team two is tracking Greenslade. Team one is a few minutes away from checking out Mr. Kurtenbach from his hotel and moving him to a secure location. Almost time to shut things down."

Sarah replies, "We'll confirm when we reach the hotel."

"Roger that. Casey out."

"Walker out."

Sarah stays comfortably in Chuck's embrace for a few more seconds until she remembers they no longer need the ruse. He, on the other hand, seems to have completely forgotten the reason for the hug in the first place.

"Chuck?"

"Hmm?"

"I'm done with Casey."

"Yes."

"You can let go now."

"What? Yes, of course! Sorry." He says this while quickly releasing her and stepping back. He's obviously a little embarrassed.

For not the first time today Sarah looks at Chuck with admiration. And a great deal of pride. He was a big part of their success. What with the overlooked intel, short prep time and the improvising they'd had to do, it was a wonder that nothing went wrong. But the team had come through again. He had come through again.

"Chuck, you were great back there. Where did you learn to act?"

"Well, I was a tree in our fourth grade production of Little Red Riding Hood."

She laughs as she pictures him in costume, "Why a tree?"

"For one thing, I was the tallest kid in class. Secondly, I think the teacher felt that was the best use of my talents."

Teasingly, she asks, "And how were the reviews?"

"Stellar, I recall." He gives her a sly look and Sarah knows what's coming, "I believe they felt my performance was rooted in the best traditions of the craft while still fearlessly branching out into the less explored avenues, leaving the audience enthralled."

Turning slightly, Sarah punches him solidly in the right shoulder.

"Ow! What was that for?"

Sarah gives him a mock glare and answers, "I have to accept that I may be tortured by my enemies. However, I will not tolerate the same from those who are supposed to be my friends."

"Hey! That seems a bit like the pot kettle thing."

"Not a chance. Mine was witty, light and charmingly spoken. Your pun, on the other hand, I found about as subtle as a 2 by 4 to the head and about as woodenly delivered." All this is accompanied by a huge grin to make sure Chuck knows where she is coming from.

When they're able to control their laughter, he manages to say, "I bow to you, Oh Queen of The Quip. Never again shall I attempt to engage you in a War of Witticisms."

"Damn straight." Sarah smiles back at him.

He chuckles again, then bends and picks up the bag, "Well, as the charming man on the radio said, it looks like we're done here. Shall we head back to the hotel?"

Sarah nods, "We'll check if there's anything else when we get there." As they head towards the sidewalk, she takes his right hand again.

He pretends to wince, "Be gentle. I think someone may have broken my shoulder."

"Wimp. Trust me, you would know if it was broken. If you really want to know how it feels, I could show you in about three seconds starting from this position."

"Thanks for the kind offer, but no. I'm a firm believer in the 'You don't have to experience everything in life in order to know that some things really aren't good for you' philosophy."

"Like I said. Wimp."

"And proud of it."

After a few more moments they're back at the crosswalk they'd used earlier and Sarah seeing the opportunity, can't resist another playful jibe.

"Would little Chuck like me to keep holding his hand when we cross the road, just to make sure he will be safe?"

"Absolutely, positively a yes on that offer. Especially since I'm pretty sure you don't won't to let go of my hand any more than I want to let go of yours."

Shoot, Sarah thinks, he's got me on that one. Walked right into it.

The sign goes on and they enter the crosswalk still hand in hand.

...

Chuck is ecstatic. If he can find out who she or he is, Chuck is determined to send that CSIS liaison a thank you card. Assuming that sort of thing is allowed.

This little mission had given Chuck one of the best days in his life. Not just because they had worked so flawlessly together. Nor because they had carried everything off so successfully.

The banter. The hand holding. Those serious little moments when she showed him a depth of feeling beyond anything he'd seen before. Small but far from insignificant sentences, a look, a word of praise, all these, makes him believe they'd turned a corner.

And it had all happened in just a few hours. Incredible.

Just then, as it so often does, harsh reality intrudes. As they approach the middle of the crosswalk Chuck looks to his right and sees a black panel van sitting in traffic, waiting to turn onto the road leading to their hotel.

As Chuck sees the drivers face, he flashes. As before, the sunglasses disguise it from others. But as he stops for a moment and tenses up, Sarah can tell something has happened.

With concern in her face, she looks at him as they start walking again, "Chuck, what is it? Did you flash?"

He nods stiffly and then quickly leans in to her ear, "Casey! We've got a Fulcrum extraction team in the black van to our right. Looks like it's heading to the hotel."

Casey's response is immediate and gruff, "Dammit! They must really want that software. We can't let them pick up Kurtenbach or have them find out that we're involved. If they do, they'll invoke security protocols. We could lose everything, including Greenslade." There is a slight pause as he hears him communicate with team one, and then he's back, "We need two minutes!"

Chuck has no idea what they can do but then he sees Sarah nod firmly and his confidence goes up tremendously. Right now, with her beside him, he firmly believes they can do anything.

As they reach the sidewalk, he looks to her for direction, confident in her ability.

...

Sarah has no idea what to do. For a moment she thinks of faking a faint in front of the Fulcrum van but dismisses that as they are quickly past the right spot. Besides, who faints anymore?

But then, inspiration in the form of a petite but obviously surgically enhanced brunette wearing a barely there bikini, comes into view.

Mentally she pleads, Chuck, I need you to come through one more time. Please.

With that she pulls her hand roughly from his, turns towards him and practically screams in his face, "You Bastard! I saw you checking her out!"

As she shouts this, she raises her right arm...

...

...and slaps him hard, very hard on his left cheek.

As his sunglasses go flying, Chuck wonders if it is possible to die from being slapped and if so how much harder than this it would take. Couldn't be much. At that, he knew she had pulled it a least a little.

Note to self:Never ever get Sarah angry enough to really slap you.

All this takes just a second or two to process but he sees her already turning away and angrily walking back towards the crosswalk.

By this time, the unfolding drama has totally fixated the small crowd on the corner. This includes the brunette who had been the catalyst.

The truth was that Chuck had never really noticed her. When he is with Sarah, he really only notices Sarah. And when he isn't with her, she remains on his mind, his standard.

Obviously, this is part of her plan and he knows he has his part to play.

Quickly.

He drops the bag and practically leaps after her.

He sees the van already starting to move when Sarah steps boldly in front of it. Of course it stops and the driver doesn't even look a little irritated. With Sarah in plain view the pleasure is certainly all his. At that moment Chuck catches up to her. He grabs her left shoulder and spins her around to face him.

And then he says, loudly enough for all to hear...

...

Sarah hates being manhandled. She raises her arm instinctively to slap him again as she is spun around.

Before she can carry through, Chuck loudly exclaims, "How could I ever even think of wanting another woman if I have you?"

Sarah is momentarily stunned by the absolute truth she hears in his words and sees in his eyes, those beautiful and at this moment, very intense brown eyes. Her right arm freezes halfway through it's swing.

Then Chuck does something she hadn't expected, not even in the slightest.

He moves in. She can feel his left hand at the small of her back, bringing her closer. His right is lost in her hair as he gently but urgently, pulls her face to his.

He kisses her.

Even now, Chuck is Chuck. As his lips touch hers, his mouth remains closed, presuming nothing.

Nonetheless, Sarah can feel him pour everything he has, all his longing, all his passion, all his love, into the act.

It is the first time he has taken the initiative. The first time he kisses her.

This is it, right now, right here. The nudge. The push.

Sarah can't stop herself from falling...and wouldn't want to even if she could.

With a moan, she parts her lips and after the briefest hesitation, Chuck responds eagerly to the invitation.

Her right hand, previously suspended in mid air, now grabs the back of his head to pull him in hard, close, as they continue to kiss. Her left clutches at the tee shirt on his back.

Sarah has no idea of time or space, just this man she loves so much, holding her and kissing her in a way she now knows she has always wanted but never experienced. She moans again and she can feel an answering rumble in his chest.

But then, she hears Casey's voice. That and the need for air finally causes them to break apart.

"Walker. Bartowski. We're clear. You can stop your little peep show now. Hope you didn't permanently scar any kids in the audience."

Sarah also hears what is at first a strange sound but then realizes the group on the sidewalk is applauding.

She blushes, embarrassed. Looking up into Chuck's adorable reddened face she knows he's feeling the same.

Sheepishly, she takes his hand and they walk back to the sidewalk. A good Samaritan hands Chuck their bag and says to him, "Your sunglasses are in there as well."

As Chuck thanks her, Sarah sees the van finally able to turn the corner. Too late.

As they walk towards the hotel, Sarah squeezes his hand and looks into his eyes, "Chuck, we need to talk about what just happened."

...

At this, Chuck feels the beginnings of panic rising in his chest.

These are words so similar to other times, times of bitter disappointment.

Against his will, he can feel himself spiralling. What if she tells him that kiss was just part of the act? He had put everything he had into it and if she doesn't feel that or if she chooses to ignore it, he doesn't know what he will do.

He can still feel her on his lips, remembers the way she responded.

No, this is real. It has to be.

But what if…

...

Sarah can see him freaking out, perhaps understandingly, expecting the worst. She realizes that what she just said could be so easily misinterpreted, so similar to preludes she has used far too often before. Preludes to crushing his hopes once again.

She knows her past actions or perhaps, inactions, have made her responsible for his apprehensions, his doubts. It is up to her to fix this.

Now.

She stops and turns to him. Reaching up she takes his head in her hands and turns his face towards her.

"Chuck. Look at me." He's reluctant, his eyes everywhere but her. "Chuck," she says again, more sternly. Finally, he meets her gaze.

"Trust me. This talk will be nothing but good."

She can see him calming but she realizes he needs more, deserves more.

"A few moments ago you said to me 'if I have you'. Earlier today I promised myself I was done with 'ifs'. So here's my promise to you." Sarah pauses, both to gather her courage and also to make sure he fully understands what she is saying.

"There is no 'if'."

He seems confused for a second, but then she sees him make the connection. A smile spreads slowly over his face until it looks as if he couldn't smile any wider without breaking something.

"Really?" He asks, almost incredulously, as he looks to her eyes for confirmation. He grasps both her shoulders, seemingly almost too impatient to wait for her answer.

"Yes, Chuck, really." She nods and smiles reassuringly, "But there's a lot of things we need to talk about. Assuming we're done, we need to go and have lunch somewhere, OK?"

Chuck, still smiling hugely and barely able to contain his joy, replies, "Sounds fantastic. Let's change into our regular clothes, if that's OK with you? There's a place a couple of miles up the coast I think you would like. They've got great cheeseburgers."

Sarah can't control her laughter as he stares at her, puzzled.

When she stops for a moment, she briefly kisses him again, and says, grinning, "Chuck, do you know you're the only man in the last ten years who has asked me to put on more clothes rather than less?"

"I just thought you would be more comfortable."

"I would. Thank you for thinking about me, as always. That's just one of the many things I love about you."

She sees this last hit home, his expression so joyous that she can't help but respond in kind.

She thinks, Sarah, it's time to tell him exactly how you feel. No more ambiguity, no more delaying, remember?

"Chuck, there's something I need to tell you. You need to stop bouncing around for a minute." She says this with a grin, his enthusiasm becoming infectious.

"OK. I'll try. But it's not easy. This has been the best day ever."

She sees him calm himself a little, although he still has that goofy grin she loves so much.

Sarah licks her lips and tries to remember she's never even flinched in the face of the most powerful, evil dictators and crime lords.

I can do this.

"I love you. I've loved you for a very long time. But I was afraid to admit it to myself. I've been such a coward, afraid to let my heart speak. You're so much braver than I am."

"I love you, Chuck Bartowski."

She stops to look in his eyes. Far from setting off another burst of unbounded excitement, her statement has calmed him completely.

Except for a rapturous smile, there is almost no acknowledgment of her words. He nods for her to go on, obviously sensing she isn't finished.

By this time Sarah has moved closer and is resting her head on his chest, her arms around his waist. He reciprocates by gently taking her into his embrace. They stand close in the middle of the sidewalk, their voices quiet, people occasionally flowing around them. Most smile knowingly as they pass, recognizing the two are in their own little world.

"Chuck, there is something very important you need to know about me." She stops for moment, then goes on in a small voice, part of her wishing that he wouldn't hear what she has to say, "I've used the rules to hide myself from you. The truth is that the rules were just an excuse." She pauses again, realizing she has never opened herself up like this to anyone, "The real truth is that I'm terrified, terrified that once you know me, who I really am, what I've done, you...you won't be able to love me anymore."

She tilts her head back and searches his eyes, desperately hoping he understands her, afraid deep down he may agree with her.

...

Chuck looks down into her pleading eyes, so intensely vulnerable at the moment. He knows what he says to her next are going to be the most important words he has yet spoken to her.

He has to get this right.

"Sarah, I have been in love with you pretty much since that day you walked into the Buy More. But I figured out earlier today that you already know that."

She nods as she continues to look intently at his face. "Yes, but I do like hearing you say it."

Chuck continues, "Ever since then I have tried to be the best person I could with the hope that someone as incredible as you could someday love me in turn."

She starts to protest, but he puts his fingers on her lips and gently shushes her.

"Sarah, I have known almost from that first day some of the things your job required. I've flashed on some of them and can make an educated guess about the rest. I know you have been ordered to carry out certain actions. Actions, that in least some cases, I strongly suspect you wished could have been carried out differently."

"But then I've seen you time after time willingly throw yourself into harms way to protect the innocent. I've watched you put your whole heart and soul into the protection of those you love."

He gives her a meaningful look at this, before continuing, "Sarah, at one time, very early, I wondered how you could do what you do and not be affected by it. But then something happened that showed me how terribly wrong my supposition was."

He pauses, a little unsure of his next words, "I should have told you this long ago. After that mission where that civilian stupidly got himself caught in the crossfire, I heard you crying in the supply closet."

Startled by this, she says, "Why didn't you tell me?"

"What could I do? I didn't want to embarrass you. And as much as I wanted to take you in my arms, hold you and tell you it wasn't your fault, we weren't there yet. Besides, I somehow knew you needed to get it out. When Casey walked by, I spouted off some gibberish, asking him about the best sandwich to have on a desert island. Loudly, so he wouldn't hear you. He left the area very quickly. I'm sure that only served to confirm his opinion that I'm a moron."

"You did that for me?" She asks, tears starting to appear at the corners of her eyes.

"Sarah, I'll do whatever I can to protect you, even if it means willingly making a fool of myself. After all, I'm totally crazy about you, so what's a little more insanity?"

She chuckles wetly over this, resting her head again on his chest.

"Sarah, the point is that you are not some two dimensional TV character. One who shoots a person for the first time, is all broken up about it but ten minutes later is totally fine. After that incident, I understood you much better. I knew then, and even more so now, that the things you've had to do have deeply affected you and continue to do so down to this day."

Chuck reaches down and taking her chin gently, tilts her head back up, to bring her eyes to his, "But through it all, you've kept the good and discarded the bad. With the hand you've been dealt, the life you have led, I can only imagine the kind of person you could have become." He shudders a little at this thought.

"Instead, you, Sarah Walker, have become this incredibly brave, fiercely loyal, unbelievably caring, deeply loving, brilliant, beautiful person."

He leans in, quickly kisses her and then continues in his most sincere voice, "Please understand this, that who you were, what you've done, and how you've handled it all, has made you into this person today."

"Sarah, I love you because of your past, not despite it."

...

Through her tears and the pounding of her heart, Sarah wonders why she ever had even the slightest doubts about this wonderful man.

What did I ever do to deserve him? And why did I wait so long? I could have had this months ago. We could have.

Sarah is determined to not let past regrets cloud their future.

We start right now, right here. The beginning for us, Chuck and Sarah.

"Chuck, earlier today, when I was in that crappy mood, I told you something that I know now isn't really true."

She can see him thinking, a little alarmed over what it might be.

"I said that it was nothing you've done. But truth be told, it's all your fault."

He starts to say something but this time it's Sarah who shushes him, her fingers on his lips, a smile on hers.

"Chuck, all of this, you and me, is your fault. I was just a spy with no one, nothing real in my life. These last few seduction missions made that clear. I was angry because it was so obvious that since the day I met you, I've known I could have something more, but I stubbornly refused to acknowledge it. I turned you away, spurned your kindness, your affection...your love."

She can see he's closely following every word, his eyes locked on hers.

"But you didn't give up on me. On us. After I treated you so badly, so often, I think almost anyone else would have. But you, Chuck Bartowski, refused to do so and I am so very, very grateful."

For a few long moments, neither speak. Chuck holds her close and lightly kisses the top of her head. She's sure she feels a little bit of dampness up there that hasn't come from his lips. For that matter, it's likely he can feel the dampness she's creating on his shirtfront.

After a few more seconds, she pulls back a bit and brushes away the tears. Cheekily grinning, she says, "I also hold you entirely to blame for the fact that since we first met, I've gradually been turning into a sappy nerd."

There's a suspicion of wetness in his eyes, but he keeps it light, replying, "You know, you're right. I think it's a virus. You should have had your shots before coming in contact with me." He pauses and his voice takes on a doctor-like manner, "I'm afraid, Miss Walker, that your case is terminal. When you start tearfully quoting from 'The Wrath of Khan' we'll know the end is near."

"If that happens, just shoot me," Sarah laughingly replies.

"I would accede to your wishes, except for the fact that you'll have most likely done me in long before then for having so horribly infected you."

They both chuckle about that.

Sarah takes in a deep breath and takes a look around them, almost as if she is seeing their surroundings for the first time.

"Chuck, do you realize that we've just had what will be one the most important discussions of our lives together in the middle of a public sidewalk?"

He looks surprised at the revelation.

"To be truthful, Sarah, I don't think I knew where I was the last little while."

She nods, understanding, feeling the same.

He's smiling at her, not saying a word.

"What?"

"Sarah, did you realize that a moment ago you said 'our lives together'?"

"Surely you know by now that I'm never letting you go?"

"I know…" A glint comes into his eye and Sarah realizes what she's done, "...and don't call me Shir…"

Her hand hastily covers his mouth.

"Chuck, I swear. If you finish that sentence, I will hurt you."

Beneath her fingers, she can feel his smile. A treacherous one tugs at the corners of her own lips.

"Do we have an agreement?" Sarah asks as firmly as her increasing amusement allows.

He nods, her fingers still covering his mouth.

She removes her hand and Chuck wisely says nothing further. However, she can tell he's still tempted.

Instead of acting on it, he changes the subject, and genially says, "You know, Sarah, the hotel's not getting any closer with all these conversations we're having."

She nods. As he takes her hand and they start walking again, Sarah is reminded by his almost use of the name that she was a Shirley once. During one of her father's cons in Washington. Or was it Wisconsin?

So many places. So many names.

And with that, she knows there is something important she needs to do.

She stops, turns towards him and softly speaks, "Chuck, I have a favor to ask."

"Anything," he replies, his sincerity evident.

"Over the next little while, I'll be telling you a lot of things about me, some of which no one else knows."

"You don't have to do that."

"No. I want to. I need to."

She sees his strong emotional response, as he slowly nods.

Then he clears his throat, and grins before asking, "Does that mean you're going to tell me about the fork?"

She laughs, "Yes, Chuck, I will. But that means you'll have to tell me why you said you didn't like red on me, even though you obviously do."

He's embarrassed about that, but answers, "OK. Just go easy on me."

"I will." Her tone becomes more serious as she continues, "Chuck, one of the things I really want you to know is my real name."

He starts speaking, "Sarah, you really don't need…"

She cuts him off gently, "Yes , I do. Of all the things you are entitled to know, this is one of the most important. Here's where the favor comes in. I would like it very much if you would keep calling me Sarah."

He nods, seriously weighing this request, "I will, gladly. But why?"

"You've always known me as Sarah and I was Sarah when I fell in love with you. I love the sound of it, especially now. I just can't imagine us being anything but Chuck and Sarah."

"It just seems so right. So real."

He looks at her for a few seconds before replying, "You are and always will be Sarah to me. However, there is one problem."

A little concerned, she replies, "What is it?"

"It should be Sarah and Chuck. You deserve top billing."

They start walking, once again, as he says this.

"Well, that's something we can discuss," she says as she gently hip checks him.

Chuck suddenly stops and groans, "Oh, No!"

"Chuck, you OK? Did you flash again?"

"No. No. I just realized we forgot to turn off our earwigs. How much do you think Casey heard?"

Both look across the street at the black van, knowing Casey can see them clearly.

...

Casey sees it finally click in for the two of them. They stare for a moment at the van and he can almost read their minds. They're wondering how much he knows.

When the team had first been formed, he observed that Bartowski had it bad for Walker, pretty much from the get go. No surprise there. Although not his type, he certainly could understand the attraction.

What had surprised him, was how quickly it became apparent that Walker had it just as bad for the kid, perhaps even worse. Sure, she had tried to hide it, not only from others but apparently also from herself.

Just because Casey had made his choice, placing duty above personal feelings, doesn't mean he thinks Walker should do the same. He knows they will be good for each other, and though he would never directly tell them, he wants them to have the chance. After what both of them have gone through, they deserve some happiness in this life.

Bartowski was obviously ready, so it really hinged on Walker being able to overcome her own hangups. He could see her almost daily struggle, trying to maintain her professionalism in the face of her feelings.

It was almost comical to watch how Bartowski became the bellwether of their relationship. One day he'd be practically bouncing around the room because Walker obviously had said or done something which had given him hope. The next day he would be down in the dumps because she'd just as obviously shot him down once again.

Casey felt a little sorry for him. The kid must have thought he was a yo-yo.

However, he had recently noticed the ups were becoming a little more frequent and the downs a little shorter and less intense.

Casey had thought that matters were maybe coming to a head. It's possible that Walker's crappy mood the last while was a sign of her struggling to make up her mind.

Today, it appears he'd been proven right.

Through his binoculars he had observed the whole crosswalk scenario. When he saw the kiss and Walker's face immediately after, he knew this was it.

She'd made her decision.

Casey had grunted his approval.

They deserved some privacy, so after the all clear and against all the regs, he had switched off his transceiver.

Any residual doubts about them making it we're thrown out the window by what he observed. You'd have to be blind to not see that they were crazy for each other. Casey thought even if a person was blind, you'd still be able to sense it somehow.

It's likely a bomb could have gone off beside them and they wouldn't have noticed.

After a moment, Casey had felt a little embarrassed, like he is spying on an intimate moment, which he supposes he actually is.

He'd fussed with the equipment for a few minutes, only occasionally glancing their way. Casey checked with a Team One observer. He was told the Fulcrum extraction team on finding out Kurtenbach had checked out (assisted by Team One), had then left, apparently unsuspecting and evidently under orders not to pursue matters any further.

After taking a video call from Beckman, he looked again. He saw Walker and Bartowski break apart and start walking towards the hotel, hand in hand, until they realized how much of their conversation could have been overheard. They'd stopped and looked his way.

Time to finish things up. He turns on the power again.

"Walker. Bartowski. You copy? Nod if you can hear me."

He sees both their heads move.

"We had a tech problem here. Your comms were both down for the last ten minutes or so. Everything good with you two?"

Much more enthusiastic nods and poorly concealed smiles are his answer.

"Beckman just gave me a 'Well Done' to pass on. I'll take care of anything else here. You two are done for the day. Briefing tomorrow at 0900."

If he thought they were smiling a moment ago, it was nothing compared to what he saw now.

Beckman, in fact, had wanted the briefing almost immediately. However, he had prevailed upon her to push it back, claiming that Walker and Bartowski had carried most of the load and needed a break. She'd looked at him somewhat suspiciously but then agreed.

He sees Walker bring her mouth close to Bartowski's ear.

"Casey, were going to change and go for a drive. You can reach us on our phones if needed."

"Roger that."

After a slight pause, he hears her say, "Thank you, Casey."

Casey is well aware of the many hurdles they'll need to overcome but he's determined to do whatever he can to help them.

Gruffly, he replies, "Just doing my job, Walker."

He sees her grateful smile as she looks toward the van and even though she can't see him, or maybe because she can't see him, he smiles back.

"Casey. Over and out."

...

Epilogue:Two Days Later

DEA Agent Carina Miller is exhausted. As she enters her apartment, all she can think about is a shower and then bed.

For three days, she and her team had staked out a warehouse that intel had indicated was being used to smuggle cocaine.

Turns out the place is used to store props for the entertainment industry. What someone had seen being brought in was only fakes for use in some cop show.

Someone at headquarters is gonna pay for this, Carina thinks to herself. Although, she must admit that when they finally busted in, the look on the security guards face was kinda priceless.

As she undresses she hears a beeping for one of her night tables. Opening the drawer, she sees it's the 'Sarah' phone, the burner the two of them use to talk privately. The beeping indicates a voice message.

Wonder what Walker wants?

She keys in the code and listens.

"Hi, Carina. This is Bradley from the Beachside Bistro. You asked me to call you, and I'm glad you did. I saw what happened with you and your boyfriend and I'd like to say I'm sorry. But to be honest, a geeky guy like that doesn't deserve a beautiful blonde like you. If you need a shoulder to cry on, I'm here. I'm off tomorrow. Call me. PS:You looked spectacular in that red bikini." He then left a phone number.

Carina wondered what kind of mission could create the circumstances of this message? That aside, it was obvious that Walker was getting back at her for that time Carina had set her up with one of her fellow DEA agents. It had been a complete disaster, although he wasn't that bad of a guy. A little conceited, perhaps a bit presumptuous. OK, more than a little or a bit.

That must have been, what? Four, five years ago. That woman has a long memory.

Carina can tell that Bradley is bad news. Moving in on someone just after an apparent break up was just slimy. That was bad enough but he also had an appalling lack of insight.

When she had first seen Chuck and Sarah together, she knew right away they were right for each other. Chuck, while cute enough, wasn't her type. But she could see that he could be everything Sarah needed. It was so obvious to pretty much everyone except Walker herself. In Carina's opinion even Bradley should have seen it, although, in all fairness, he'd probably turned off his brain the moment she'd walked in the door.

Carina toys with the idea of setting up a raid on Bradley's apartment. Likely they could find something illegal. She decides she'll give that some more thought.

In the meantime she'll just have to get a new number to stop him from calling.

The situation prompts her speculation as to if there has been any movement on the Chuck & Sarah front. Likely Walker's still holding back. That girl needs a swift kick in the rear.

Time for Carina to step in. When I see her the next time, Walker will never know what hit her.

Epilogue 2: One Year Later

"Chuck, I've had my eyes closed for the last ten minutes. Where exactly are you taking me?"

"I'm surprised with you, Agent Walker. I thought all competent agents were supposed to know where they are even if blindfolded." She can hear the smile as he speaks.

"Well, Mr. Bartowski, we were going south for about three minutes, but we've been traveling west for the last seven. We left the freeway about four minutes go and are now in a low density urban area, within a quarter mile of the ocean."

"Sarah, I'm disappointed in you. You don't seem to know exactly what street we're on. No gold star for you." His words don't mask the respect she hears in his voice, impressed as always by her abilities. After a year as a couple, Chuck has never slackened in showing his appreciation for her.

The mission, the one that had incidentally brought them together, had become the stuff of legend in the intelligence community. Even though names and places weren't mentioned, many of the main events eventually leaked out.

In each retelling, the female agent's bikini became that much smaller, to the point that if you believed what you heard, she would have been virtually naked throughout the mission. And that's with ignoring the apparently numerous wardrobe malfunctions.

The slap had gone from reddening his cheek to fracturing her partners jaw, but he'd bravely ignored the pain and kept on going.

The kiss in front of the Fulcrum van had eventually morphed into a heated make out session with the two of them rolling on the ground in the throes of passion, just short of being arrested for indecent exposure and lewd behavior.

The first time this had gotten back to Sarah and Chuck, the reactions were as predictable as they were opposite.

Sarah, fuming, had vowed she was going to track down the culprits and have them sent to the CIA's most desolate, arctic substation.

Chuck had laughed so hard, he'd fallen off his chair.

Eventually, Sarah, learning from Chuck's example, started to see the humor as well. One night as they cuddled on the couch, she had thanked him for helping her overcome her annoyance.

"Teach you not to take self so seriously, I will." He'd croaked in his best Yoda voice.

As she had playfully swatted at him, he'd covered his head with his hands. Laughing, he'd muttered, "The force is strong with this one."

"The Red Bikini Beach Caper," as some wag at headquarters took to calling it, was so talked about precisely because it had been so incredibly successful.

The GPS tracker, which the techs nicknamed Opportunity, had performed for weeks longer than the specs said it should have. Part of the reason it had escaped detection is that it only broadcast it's location every few minutes and then only a microburst of data was sent.

Sarah had asked why they'd given the tracker a name and why that particular one.

Chuck had explained, "The Mars Rover named Opportunity has lasted for years longer than was designed for and it kinda became a favorite among the techies. I think they call the tracker that because they feel a similar affinity for it."

Greenslade had unknowingly led them to numerous Fulcrum agents and these in turn had led to others and so on. More and more CIA/NSA resources were poured into the operation and eventually they got a very good read on Fulcrum's table of organization.

At Chuck's suggestion, they had set up a sting operation to sell Fulcrum a version of the software they'd originally wanted from Kurtenbach. The difference was that this program would surreptitiously send data about the direction Fulcrum's inquires were taking, thus allowing countermeasures to be taken. Chuck had written a large percentage of the code and had been highly praised by the tech guys.

Sarah had beamed with pride over his accomplishments. Although Chuck tended to minimize his contributions, Sarah made sure he got credit where it was due.

When it had come time to act on the intel they'd accumulated, the simultaneous country wide strikes had resulted in the gutting of Fulcrum. An estimated 90% of their operatives were in custody. That along with the shutting down of dozens of offices and bases, had finally taken Fulcrum out.

Beckman was ecstatic. She was effusive in her praise of the original team, especially Sarah and Chuck. As the three of them stood together in the Castle briefing room, Sarah had suddenly been struck by an idea.

If it was ever going to work, this would be the time.

When Beckman paused, Sarah had spoken, "Speaking on behalf of the team, we would like to say how much we appreciate your commendation, General."

"You're welcome, you've certainly earned it," was Beckman's reply.

Sarah continued, "General, with all the work that Chuck has done to contribute to this success, don't you feel that some sort of remuneration would be in order? After all, he's done a tremendous amount of work all on his own time. I strongly feel this recognition should be on a continuing basis."

Chuck had looked at Sarah, surprised, and had appeared ready to comment on this issue. With a subtle hand gesture, she had asked him to stay quiet.

Beckman had than asked, "Major Casey, how do you feel about this?"

Casey had quickly replied, "Bartowski has certainly been pulling his weight. I'm in full agreement with Agent Walker."

Beckman had pondered this for a few moments, "Agent Walker, Major Casey, I tend to agree with you." She'd then looked at Chuck and said, "Mr. Bartowski, you are now a Special Analyst for this team. Pay, including back pay, and other benefits will be worked out shortly."

Chuck was very thankful and a little overwhelmed, but Sarah had known that would be nothing compared to what was going to happen next.

Sarah had then asked, "So Chuck is now officially an analyst?" Beckman had nodded. "In that case, since there are no rules against an agent having a relationship with an analyst, I would now officially inform you that Chuck and I are dating."

The expression on Beckman's face had been priceless. Flabbergasted was the word that came to Sarah's mind. She'd heard a "What the hell just happened?" grunt from Casey and could sense, rather than see, the stunned look on Chuck's face.

Beckman had started to speak but then closed her mouth, realizing how neatly she had been trapped. After a moment, she had done something totally unforeseen.

She'd smiled widely, saying, "Well done, Agent Walker. There will be no objections to your relationship with Analyst Bartowski. Beckman out."

Just before the connection was broken, all three of them could've sworn they heard the General chuckling.

Casey had walked over to Sarah and shook her hand. "I don't think I've seen too many things done as neatly as that. I suspect you two will want to share some lady feelings, so I'm off to clean my guns."

"Thank's for backing me up, John," was Sarah's grateful reply.

"You're welcome. He deserves it," were Casey's parting words.

Chuck had turned to Sarah, still looking a little stunned, and asked, "Was what just happened what I think it was?"

Sarah had smiled as she answered, "What do you think happened?"

"I think we've been given the green light to be a couple."

Sarah, still smiling, had just nodded.

He'd looked at her for a long moment before saying, "Sarah, sometimes I wonder how I could possibly love you even more, and then you do something like this and I do."

He'd taken her in his arms, holding her closely, while quietly thanking her, over and over.

Safe in his arms, her eyes filled with those damn tears that seemed to come so easily now, Sarah had thought how important this was to Chuck. Ever since that day, he had wanted to shout their love from the rooftops. As happy as they are, sometimes he is so disappointed and frustrated when their need for discretion doesn't allow it.

But it wasn't just him. This was equally important to her.

Now he could shout all he wanted, they could, together.

And they had.

At the first opportunity, they had informed Ellie and Devon. Both Sarah and Chuck had been at first a little disappointed at the reaction they received.

"Bro, thanks for the official update, but it's been obvious for a while that you two are finally together," was Devon's smiling response.

They'd turned to Ellie and she had confirmed this by a happy nod.

"We're so glad that you've been able to get past whatever your issues were. But Devon is right, we knew a couple of months ago. It seems that someone wasn't able to keep their feelings hidden."

Chuck had immediately turned to Sarah and contritely said, "I'm so sorry, Sarah. I did my best but I guess they saw through me."

Sarah had put her hand gently on his cheek and softly said, "Don't worry. I know you tried. No harm done."

Their moment had been interrupted by quiet chuckles from Ellie and Devon.

Chuck had looked at Ellie and asked, "What's so funny?"

"Chuck, it wasn't you," was her reply.

Confused, he'd said, "Well if it wasn't me, who was it?"

Ellie had just nodded towards Sarah.

Sarah had pointed to herself, exclaiming, "Me?!"

"Yes, Sarah. You. Ever since you've come into our lives, we could tell you cared for Chuck but we knew something was holding you back. We don't know what it was, not our business. However, a while ago we could tell you were past it."

"How did you know?"

Ellie had paused here, and then softly continued, "Sarah, sweetie, we know you love my brother very much, but I don't think you know how far gone you are. I mean, really far gone.

"Sarah, you're so happy that you're almost glowing. You smile pretty much all the time, but your smile gets even bigger when Chuck comes into the room. Whenever you walk into the apartment together, you've got that 'Look at me. I've just been kissed by the man I love' expression on you face."

"Once, when Devon and I came home after a late shift, you two were sleeping, cuddled on the couch. Even in your sleep you looked so happy, so contented."

Sarah had looked at Devon for confirmation. He'd just nodded.

"I didn't realize it was that obvious," Sarah had wonderingly replied, tears gathering.

Devon had chipped in, "Well, like you said, no harm done. Besides, the Chuckster was just as obvious. We knew he was a goner a long time ago, but we weren't sure if it was just a one sided thing or not. We were waiting for you to come around."

Ellie had then tearfully added, "And we're so happy you did."

There was no need or place for any further conversation as the two women had then engaged in a prolonged and tearful hugging session.

As the guys looked tolerantly on, Devon had given Chuck a fist bump and said, "Awesome."

Chuck couldn't have agreed more.

The next day, perhaps better prepared by this experience, Chuck and Sarah had given Morgan the news.

"It's about time I got the skinny. I was just about ready for an intervention until I saw that you'd sorted things out. Everyone at the Buy More could tell that something had changed for the better. Even Jeff, in his occasional lucid moments, could see the difference."

"Although I doubt that stopped him from hitting on you. Right, Sarah?"

She had nodded at that.

Morgan snorted, "Not surprised."

His voice had then taken on a more serious tone, "Sarah, my man is the best person I've ever known, the best friend. To be honest, I'm not sure you appreciated or deserved him at first, but I can see you do now. I hope you know how lucky you are to have him."

Sarah had answered with appropriate solemnity, "Yes, Morgan. I do know that."

"And you, dude. I hope you know how fortunate you are to find someone incredible as Sarah."

Chuck, looking intently at her, had answered very seriously, "Yes, I know. I am extremely fortunate."

Morgan had then added, "Well then, to slightly misquote a very wise man, 'Random chance seems to have operated in your favor.' "

"Spock, 'The Doomsday Machine.' "

Both Morgan and Chuck had looked slack jawed with amazement when these words came from Sarah's mouth.

"How…how did you know that?" Chuck had asked, still clearly stunned.

"What?! We watched it together a few months ago. It just sorta stuck," was Sarah's reply.

Morgan had then blurted out, "Sarah, if you weren't already taken, I would marry you right now."

Chuck and Sarah had agreed that Casey had all the information about the two of them he needed, very likely more than he wanted. So that only left Carina.

Sarah had texted her to see if they could meet, but when she didn't get a response thought she may have been on assignment.

The response came in the form of Carina storming in the next day. As she was unaware of recent developments, Sarah had quickly apprised her of the situation. It had only taken one long look at the two of them to be convinced. She'd mumbled how Sarah had dodged a good butt kicking by finally getting her act together.

Later that day, as Carina was leaving she'd stopped by the door and given Sarah a long hug and whispered something in her ear.

After a cheerful goodbye to Chuck, she was gone.

Chuck had curiously asked what she'd said.

Sarah paused before answering, sounding a little puzzled, "She said, 'I know you get to choose but remember I don't like pink.' "

They had looked at each other and then it had hit them. They'd both been so focused on the short term, about finally getting their real relationship off the ground, that long term plans had taken a backseat.

Chuck had taken Sarah's hand and said, very earnestly, "We'll have to remember that."

And today, Analyst Chuck Bartowski is here beside her, driving her to who knows where.

"Chuck, are we there yet?" She whines with a mock pout, eyes still closed.

He laughs and answers, "Almost."

Sarah can feel him stop the car and then parallel park. It is a testament to the depth of their relationship that she has no concerns about him pranging her precious Porsche. He is the only other person she trusts to drive it. Not even Bryce had been allowed, even though he'd asked many times.

Chuck, on the other hand, had never asked. As close as they are, he never presumes anything. Never feels, that as the boyfriend, he can assume certain privileges. So he had been very surprised when she had offered. He'd recognized what it meant, and shown his gratitude in all seriousness.

Just one more of the long list of things she loves about him.

Chuck opens her door and helps her out, making sure she doesn't stumble, her eyes still closed. As he leads her to the sidewalk, she hears the alarm set. As they walk for a bit, her arm in his, Sarah can tell they're heading towards the ocean.

She is tempted to cheat and take a peek, but remembers her promise, so, with a small sigh, keeps her eyes closed.

He hears it, and chuckles, "Just a little longer."

Sarah sighs again, but smiles as she says, "Chuck, this better not be some silly surprise. You know how I hate them."

"No, Sarah. It's definitely not silly," he replies, again with that smile in his voice, a clear indication that despite her words, he knows how she really feels.

The truth is that Sarah has come to love his little surprises. An unexpected bunch of gardenias. A candle light dinner by the fountain. The night he had taken her to the beach to watch a meteor shower.

However, his choice of words, him not telling her where they're going, indicates that this one is a little more serious.

He comes to a gentle stop and she feels him turn his body towards her.

"OK. You can open your eyes."

She does and is temporarily blinded by the bright sunshine. When her eyes adjust she realizes where they are.

At a crosswalk. No, not a crosswalk.

The crosswalk.

A flood of beautiful, tearful memories threatens to overwhelm her. Of course, it was a year ago today. Trust Chuck to remember.

He's facing her as he takes her hands in his and softly says, "I had thought this day a year ago was the best day of my life. It turns out I was wrong."

Sarah, thinking how that day was so very important, is confused, worried by his words but before she can say anything, he continues, "I was wrong, because every new day since then has been the best day of my life. Each day we're together is so much better than I could have ever possibly imagined."

He pauses before saying, "Sarah, there's only one thing that will make it even better."

The walk sign comes on and Chuck gently takes her hand and leads her into the crosswalk. It's good that he does so because for some reason her vision is a little blurry right now.

After a few steps, he turns and goes down on one knee, "Sarah Walker, will you marry me and make every day we have together the best day of our lives?"

He's holding up a ring but she can't see it clearly because the only thing in focus is his face. She knows the ring will be beautiful, that later she'll love it, but right now it really doesn't matter. At this moment, for all the difference it makes to her feelings, it could be out of a Cracker Jack box.

All she truly cares about is the man holding it, offering himself to her.

Offering her a life she never thought she could have. Or deserve.

Offering her...happiness.

There is, of course, only one possible answer.

"Yes, Chuck. I will, I will."

The End


A/N:Thanks for reading. I hoped you enjoyed it. It was a lot fun to write. Hope you can excuse the occasional lapses into the first person. Just seemed to fit. Hope it wasn't too long but the words just kept coming.