A/N As always a big thanks to all who have read my stories. Especially towards those who have reviewed and given much constructive advice about things I could be doing better.

That said, this story is a companion piece to Chuck Versus the Crosswalk, an expansion pack, so to speak.

So if you not read that yet, please do so before getting into this story. Certain events and actions won't make much sense or have as much impact if you don't.

I've taken the advice of a number of kind and thoughtful readers and done a couple of things here.

First of all, I'm continuing with a story that I had previously stated was complete. As one reviewer pointed out, there is no reason I can't do so if I like. So I will! Thanks for the advice.

Secondly, this story will be released in chapters, four to be precise. Again, I appreciate the couple of reviewers who suggested this as being a more palatable way of reading a longer story.

However just to be clear;the story is finished. So as I have stated before in Chuck Versus the Plan, I won't leave anyone hanging. I will release subsequent chapters about every three days.

One reader asked about the mysterious fork mentioned in Crosswalk and this was part of the impetus to write this piece.

It takes place immediately following the end of that story, before the epilogues, and answers some of the questions left hanging.

This will inevitably rehash some of the incidents and dialogue from Crosswalk. But there will be plenty of new stuff as well.

I tried to visualize the kind of conversation they would have over lunch as they endeavour to understand each other more fully. Looking back over the earlier story, I realized that while the character understands his or her motives and we the reader know them, the other person involved doesn't always know the whys and wherefores. So I've tried have them openly explain themselves more. Hopefully I've done it in a way that doesn't simply restate the obvious.

Lots and lots of Charah, but some adventure, angst and humor (I hope) as well.

Written basically in the same style as Crosswalk with the one change being that I've shown private thoughts in the form of italics.

My interpretation of the characters and their world is a somewhat kinder, gentler one than some. Just the way I prefer to view things. As well there will not be any graphic depictions of events. Not to everyone's taste and I appreciate that.

Don't own Chuck or anything related to show. Just having a blast writing about it.

Hope you enjoy!

CHUCK VERSUS THE FORK

Chapter 1:The Blonde, the Boyfriend and the Burger.

Please, don't let this be a dream.

Over the past hour, Chuck has lost track of how many times he's repeated these words to himself

It's all because she's here, beside him, with him in a way he never truly thought possible. He's heard her say the words he had so wanted to hear for so long.

It's so close to perfect that part of him thinks it can't possibly be real. That maybe he's ill and this is all just part of a fevered dream. Or like that autistic kid in St. Elsewhere who created an entire reality in his mind.

As they drive, he tries to look out at the scenery, the road, the dashboard in front of him, anything so he's not just blatantly staring at Sarah behind the wheel of her Porsche.

He keeps telling himself that she's not going to disappear, you don't have to keep checking all the time. But it's a losing battle. Every few seconds his eyes come back to her

She catches his look and smiles. It's obvious she senses at least a little of his self-doubts, so reassures him by sliding her hand into his.

This is against the rules of good driving but she doesn't appear to care. Her grin lights up his heart and he can't help but respond with a smile of his own.

There's a silence between then, but not one born of embarrassment or a lack of suitable topics. No, it's a comfortable one, the unspoken acknowledgment that each needs some time to truly come to grips with the events of the past few hours.

Please, please, don't let this be a dream.

He's not really sure who he's pleading to, but he keeps doing it anyway, knowing the exact moment it had started.

His cheek still stinging from her slap, he quickly follows, almost running, leaping, as Sarah strides purposefully into the crosswalk.

Even in the few seconds it has taken to catch up to her, Chuck marvels at her ability to take on any role almost instantaneously.

Every aspect of her body language radiates complete and utter fury. Anyone could tell this woman could've cheerfully "killed" her boyfriend but instead has chosen to walk, or perhaps more accurately, stalk away.

The eyes of the two men in the Fulcrum van follow as Sarah, against the light, walks right in front of them. Chuck could see from their overt stares that turning the corner at this moment is clearly the last thing on their minds.

Not that this surprises him. Even in her portrayal of incandescent wrath she is beyond stunning,

As he reaches her, Chuck is still unsure how he should handle his part in their delaying tactic.

A vociferous argument in front of the van will likely provide the distraction they need. He has all but decided on this approach as he grabs her shoulder to spin her towards him.

Then he sees her reaction to his manhandling.

A flash of genuine anger. Her hand raised as if she is going to strike him again.

In a sudden epiphany, Chuck realizes just how often she's had to uncomplainingly deal with this sort of physical abuse. With her marks, she could never let on just how much she hated it, could never retaliate, lest the mission be compromised.

The fact that she lets him see, if only for an instant, how she truly feels, is in an odd way, a revealing, almost intimate moment.

Chuck hates the thought of her being angry with him, even for just a second. Though he knows she'll understand his actions and won't hold it against him, it still pains him.

The idea of having even a fake argument is now repugnant to him.

For a second, he is at a loss. But then, in a moment of glorious, inspired madness, he looks into her eyes and loudly exclaims,

"How could I ever even think of wanting another woman if I have you?"

He can tell by her widened eyes and shocked expression, that she recognizes the absolute sincerity of his words.

Now it's her turn to be at a loss. She appears to be stunned into inactivity. She says nothing. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees the hand she raised to slap him suddenly stops it's movement.

Unaccustomed boldness overcomes him.

Before she can react he moves closer to her. He places his left hand on her lower back. Even through the cover up he can feel the heat of her skin. He pulls her firmly, quickly to him.

His right hand is in her hair, that beautiful hair that he's wanted to touch in this way for so long. He draws her head to his, leans in, closing his eyes and seeing her do the same, kisses her.

Even at this moment, Chuck's audacity has it's limits. His lips stay together.

But that doesn't stop him from pouring all he has into the kiss. Every ounce of his desperate longing. His hopeless passion. His unrequited love.

For all he knows, this may be the only chance he'll ever have to convey the true depth of his feelings.

For a few seconds, he feels no response from her and thinks she doesn't understand.

Or chooses not to.

But then he hears, feels her moan, as she parts her lips in invitation, one, that after the briefest hesitation, he eagerly accepts.

Chuck can feel her right hand urgently pulling his head closer, harder. Her left is clutching at his back, bunching up his tee shirt with her grip.

He's lost. Utterly unaware of anything except her in his arms, her lips against his. Capable of only one last coherent thought.

Please, don't let this be a dream.

He's able to tear his eyes away from her long enough to see they're getting close to the burger joint he'd suggested.

Pointing, he says, "Sarah, the place is just up there on the left."

"OK."

She gives him a doubting glance as they get closer. The place certainly doesn't look impressive. Just a small building perched on the side of the highway with a few parking spots out front, one of which Sarah quickly takes.

He answers her unspoken question. "Trust me." They both smile at this, a phrase that has become such an integral part of their complicated relationship.

As they get out of the Porsche, they take each other's hand as they walk to the entrance. It's a little late for lunch and too early for dinner, so the place isn't very busy.

A server shows the couple to a table on a deck not visible from the highway. She plops a couple of menus in front of them. Then brings two glasses of ice water, slopping a little over the sides as she places them, rather ungently, on the table.

'Hi, I'm..." she points to the name badge on her blouse, "...Cassandra. I'll be back in a couple of minutes for your order."

As she starts to turn away, Chuck stops her.

"Excuse me, Cassandra. Why does your name badge say 'Robert'?"

She looks down at it. Being as it is, upside down and backwards to her, apparently causes her some confusion.

After a long pause, she says, "Oh, now I remember. I left mine at home today. The boss wants us to wear them so the customers always know our names. Robert is off today, so I borrowed his."

She gives them a look as if to say this should be perfectly clear, "Is there anything else?"

Both give her a bemused shake of their heads.

As she walks away, Sarah raises an inquiring eyebrow.

Chuck trying to restrain himself, answers, "They have great cheeseburgers here. Just the way you like them."

"And how would you know how I like my cheeseburgers, Mr. Bartowski?" She says this with a teasing glint in her eyes.

"Well, Miss Walker, I've always tried to be observant about your likes and dislikes. Medium rare. Extra pickles. Right?"

She nods, smiling.

But then a small cloud passes over her face. She pauses for a moment, then asks, a little hesitantly, "I didn't make it very easy for you, did I?"

They both know there's so much more on the table than just her taste in food.

Chuck is tempted for a moment to brush this off, minimize the import of her question. He doesn't want to hurt her, make her feel bad over her past actions. Especially now that she's so candidly acknowledged how those actions, or sometimes the lack of them, had caused them so much frustration, sorrow, and heartbreak.

Especially now that he knows she loves him.

However, something tells him that she needs to know how he really felt. And deep down, he knows he needs to tell her.

They can't start their relationship off by hiding from needed truths.

"No, Sarah, you didn't." He sees her flinch, maybe a little hurt or embarrassed. He wonders for a second if he should've softened it somehow, perhaps by using some term of endearment (real, unlike the ones they'd used during the mission) but he immediately thinks it's too soon for that.

"I was so desperate to know you, to know anything real about you. But you were so guarded, so private." He thinks for a second before continuing, "You were like this black hole that took in everything but never let anything important out."

"There I was believing that you knew everything about me, while I was reduced to trying to understand you by the little things you let slip. Like your dislike of olives. I was always on the alert for even the tiniest scraps of information like that. I felt if I missed even one I might miss a chance that wouldn't come again. And maybe the one I missed would be the important one."

Here he pauses, feeling a little embarrassed, "I also thought if I showed you by my actions that I'd noticed those little things, you might start to like me, a least a little."

He shrugs his shoulders and gives her a half smile, "Even then I knew it was kinda pathetic."

She looks at him thoughtfully, "Maybe a little."

This time it's his turn to flinch.

She squeezes his hand as she smiles, "But it was also very sweet. I'm very touched that you felt I was worth all the effort."

"Sarah, you are worth every effort. Never, ever doubt that." Looking her in the eye, he says this slowly, earnestly, keeping in mind the so recent revelations of her insecurities.

She smiles again, a little shyly this time, "Thank you for believing in me."

He nods, "You're welcome."

After a few quiet seconds pass, he goes on, "So there I was, poking, prying and still not learning very much. Then came the day Heather Chandler-"

Just then, Cassandra reappears and he stops talking, unwilling to carry on without the measure of privacy their somewhat isolated table affords.

"Can I take your order?"

She's been gone for longer than the promised couple of minutes and there's something about her that makes Chuck wonder if she actually can. But he doesn't say anything, just nods, deferring to Sarah.

"Double cheeseburger platter. Medium rare. Extra pickles. A Coke to drink, please."

Cassandra scrawls on her order pad for a few seconds. Then she looks over at Chuck.

"Same for me except that I'll have mine medium. Thanks."

She starts to write but suddenly stops, appearing to be at a loss.

"I'm sorry but you can't have one half of the burger medium and the other half medium rare. The cook told me not to ask for that again."

For a moment Chuck is puzzled, then understands, "No, Cassandra. We're not sharing a platter. I'm having my own burger, medium, and my..." he pauses for a second, realizing just how important his next word really is, "...girlfriend," Sarah's grin catches his eye, "wants her burger medium rare."

"Oh, I see. That does make it much easier." She writes a bit more and then looking down at her pad, says, "So that's two double cheeseburger platters, one medium, one medium rare, two Cokes and hold the pickles."

This time Sarah steps in, "No, Cassandra. Extra pickles."

"For both of you?"

Chuck can see Sarah is working hard to control her slightly exasperated amusement, "Yes. For both of us."

"OK."

She starts to walk away, but then stops and turns back to face them, "I forgot to ask what kind of cheese you want on your burgers."

Sarah replies, "What kind of cheese do you have?"

"We have cheddar."

After a few seconds pass and she doesn't add anything further, Sarah says, deadpan, "Let's go with that, then."

"OK. Good choice." Cassandra writes down this last bit of information and then departs.

Chuck gives Sarah a sheepish grin, "Their burgers really are very good."

She chuckles back, "They better be."

He just nods.

She looks in his eyes for a few seconds, "So, girlfriend, huh?"

"It seemed appropriate."

"I suppose that means I have to think of you as my boyfriend."

As she speaks, he can see the teasing look in her eyes.

"Only if you want to."

She heaves an exaggerated sigh, "I guess that'll be OK."

Dryly, he responds, "I'm overwhelmed by your enthusiasm."

She laughs and he can't help but join in.

Boyfriend and girlfriend. It thrills him to know that these aren't just labels anymore, that they actually mean something now. And her joyous expression, her beautiful laugh, just confirms she feels the same.

As their laughter subsides, he catches a glimpse of their server at another table.

He looks at Sarah appreciatively, "By the way, thank you."

"For what?"

"For proving that not all blondes are like Cassandra."

"You're welcome. I have had to play her type a few times, though."

"That I would've liked to see." Chuck says this eagerly.

She grins at him, "Some of the marks equated dumb with easy. I've had the chance to disabuse a few of them of that notion."

As she says this, there's a fierce gleam in her eyes that makes him very glad they're both on the side of the angels. The thought of Sarah disabusing him of anything sends a chill down his spine, and not the good kind. He feels a momentary empathy for those unknown men, even though he knows they got what they deserved.

He shakes it off, deciding to pick up the thread of their interrupted conversation, "Speaking of blondes. When Heather showed up, I saw my chance and without thinking it through, took it."

Chuck pauses, feeling a spike of shame over what he's about to say, "Sarah, even though you did make it very difficult for me, my conduct during the reunion was still inexcusable, shameful. I pushed myself into areas of your life I had no right to go."

She doesn't say a word, just looks at him with gentle eyes, letting him continue.

"The ironic part is at the end of those few days, I realized that even though I still didn't know your real birthday, your real hometown, your real name, I knew you. I finally understood that I didn't need to know all that stuff to understand who Sarah Walker is. The fantastic, beautiful person she is."

She gently squeezes his hand, waits for him to finish.

"And now with what you've told me today, I feel even more like an insensitive idiot."

"Sarah, can you forgive me for being so inconsiderate, for being so selfish?"

...

It's a bit of a shock when Sarah realizes he's the only man she can remember who has genuinely asked for her forgiveness, who has done so without an ulterior motive.

The few times that Bryce had apologized for some action, she'd known it was just a polite, pacifying gesture, not actual remorse. And certainly, none of the marks would ever express any regret. After all, they were incapable of being wrong.

Even her father had never really apologized for using her as part of his cons. Never said he was sorry for taking away her innocent trust of people. He'd viewed his misuse of her childhood as a right bestowed upon him simply by being her father, so what was there to be sorry for?

But here's Chuck, opening his heart to her, leaving himself vulnerable. It frightens her a little to know how much power this gives her over him. She knows how badly she could hurt him by simply being unforgiving, by denying his heartfelt request. She knows how easily she could manipulate him by only offering that forgiveness on a conditional basis.

She understands the life she has led, with her father, with the CIA, has made her in some ways just that:unforgiving and manipulative.

But she's incapable of being that way with Chuck. Has never been and could never be.

She knows his asking for her clemency is unnecessary, that she'd pardoned him long ago.

Now he needs to know as well. "Chuck, you don't need to apologize for that. You've already done so. And I've already forgiven you."

He looks confused, is confused, "When? How? I don't remember-"

"Right after the reunion. You apologized by your actions. You stopped badgering me for information. You didn't jump on little things that came out and try to pressure me into telling you more."

He's surprised, "You noticed that?"

"Of course I did. It was kind, considerate...sweet." It's the third time today she's used that word, one that she honestly can't recall using in this context before.

It just seems to suit him so well.

She leans over the table towards him and he meets her halfway for a gentle kiss.

"I also noticed you were trying very hard to not show any emotions when I was with the mark last night. I really appreciated your effort."

"I thought I'd done a pretty good job but you saw right through me, didn't you?" He appears a little abashed as he says this.

"Yes, Chuck, I did. But in all fairness, those who didn't know you so well would've likely been fooled."

He chuckles, "Well, so much for my acting career."

She smirks, "Oh, I don't know. I think you've nailed the part of Chief Nerd Herder."

"Ha, ha. It appears I'm in love with a real comedian." But then he can't stop his real laugh.

She laughs back, warmed by this seemingly offhand declaration of his feelings.

I can be pretty funny sometimes.

It's at this moment that Cassandra makes her entrance, a plate in each hand.

"Here you go." She unceremoniously dumps one in front of each of them.

Looking at Chuck, she says, "Medium rare for you and for you girlfriend, medium. I'll be back in a moment with your drinks." With that, she's gone again.

They silently exchange their meals. Sarah warily eyes her food sitting on the chipped plate. It certainly looks...interesting.

Chuck's grinning at her again, "Try it, you'll like it."

Before she can reply, Cassandra brings their Cokes, this time managing not to spill anything.

"Enjoy your meals." Without waiting for any acknowledgement of what is more command than request, she drifts, somewhat distractedly, towards an occupied table at the other end of the deck.

Sarah chuckles, watching her walk away, "She's a very...unusual person. Reminds me of a server I met in a small New York restaurant."

Chuck smiles back, "I'm not sure unusual is quite a strong enough word." He gives her a mock serious look, "OK. Enough deflecting. Time to eat. Here's a little trick I was once shown. Take your burger this way." He demonstrates by putting his thumbs on top and his fingers below. "Then when you pick it up, it's upside down and the juices drip down onto your fries."

She is a little dubious yet decides to follow his lead. She brings the burger to her mouth and takes her first bite.

Sarah suddenly remembers attending a performance of Beethoven's Ninth while on assignment in Germany. The "Ode to Joy" chorus had enchanted, transfixed her.

She swears she can hear those voices right now.

It's messy, disgustingly sloppy as it drips over her hands but Sarah doesn't care. It's fantastically, stupendously delicious. Literally the best burger she's ever had. Close to being the best food she's ever eaten.

She feels like she's moaning as she takes another bite.

Did I just do that out loud?

Chuck's smirk from across the table puts any doubt to rest.

She's a little embarrassed, but only for a moment.

Don't care.

It's only a few minutes later when Sarah disappointedly pops the last bit into her mouth. Her hands are horribly messy and she suspects her face is as well. Reaching for a napkin, she catches his stupefied stare, his half eaten burger in his hands.

"What?"

"Sarah, the last time I saw something like that, it was a video of a hungry lioness tearing into a zebra. Did you actually chew or just inhale it?"

As she wipes her face, she blushes a little, realizing how she's behaved the last few minutes. But looking at him, she sees no judgement (not that she expected to), rather, only geniality.

"Well, we didn't get a chance to eat earlier." He acknowledges this with a nod. "I guess I was really hungry," she finishes, a little lamely

"Hungry, I can understand. This apparent week-in-a-lifeboat-with-no-food-level-of-starvation is a little more difficult to figure out."

"Ha, ha. It appears I'm in love with a real comedian." She repeats his earlier line, smiling, and is gratified to see the expression on his face as her casual declaration of love sinks in.

Despite this, it appears he's not quite finished with his ribbing, "Ellie once told me that beautiful women often have to eat like a bird. I just didn't know she meant a vulture."

She loves this back and forth between them, this banter. Though only hours old, it's already become very precious to her.

Sarah laughs out loud, "I'll have you know, Chuck Bartowski, that I wouldn't act this way with just anyone. I'm usually much more sophisticated and ladylike."

As she says this, it hits her just how true those words really are. On a job she could never be so open, unguarded. And even in her personal life she would rarely let anyone witness such uninhibited behavior. Worried it would damage her carefully cultivated facade of the near perfect agent.

Much more worried that it would reveal, even a little bit, of that private inner core she's learned to hide so well.

With Chuck, though, Sarah has no such concerns. There's no need for even the slightest pretense. There's nothing she needs to put on for him. She's completely confident they he accepts, loves, all of her. The good, the bad, and, apparently at this moment, the ugly.

With him she can just be.

It's exhilarating, intoxicating to be so free. She can't honestly recall the last time she felt so unfettered.

It's an amazing gift. One that, until a few hours ago she hadn't known she'd wanted, needed so badly. One that (she's almost certain in this) Chuck is completely unaware he has given her.

And one that (in this, she's absolutely certain) she will never willingly give up.

...

Even though she'd made the statement in apparent jest, Chuck knows there's a great deal of truth behind the words. Sarah is usually much more restrained than this. In all the time they'd spent together, he'd seen only occasional flashes of anything like what he'd just witnessed. Until today, those instances had always been quickly reined in, rapidly brought back under control.

Chuck knew she hadn't done so just because of the embarrassment that people normally felt over the silly, foolish things they do. Yes, there is a little of that, however, in Sarah's case, he realizes it runs much deeper.

If you let people see too much, it makes you vulnerable.

How often had he seen that unspoken maxim implicit in her actions? In her reticence?

He can only imagine how careful she's had to be for most of her life. Can imagine her telling herself:Today you're this person. Act this way. Talk this way. Look this way. Remember this and you're good. Let people see who you really are and it will go badly.

But, this day, this incredible day, Sarah Walker, against a lifetime of ingrained habits, against all the rules, has let Chuck Bartowski see her.

Todayshe's made the choice to let herself be vulnerable.

And he has no real idea why.

I need to know.

He puts the remainder of his burger back on his plate. He knows he needs to focus just on her as he asks, "Sarah, can you tell me, why today? What changed?"

Trust him not to realize his own importance in all this.

She has no trouble recalling the moment.

"Chuck, the bikini was the catalyst. It's what made me understand how I really felt about you."

She can see him thinking, trying to put the pieces together. There is a slight slump in his shoulders when he fails to do so.

"I give up. How?"

"I believed that you didn't like red on me. Which, by the way, I've not forgotten we agreed to discuss later."

He squirms a little, "OK. If you still want to." He looks like he's hoping she won't.

You're not getting off that easy, mister.

"When I saw the color, the first thing that came to mind is that you wouldn't approve. Right then I realized that I cared very much about your opinion and had felt that way for a very long time."

He smiles a small smile, a bit of wonder in his eyes, "Really?"

She smiles back, "Yes, really. You remember the red dress I wore on that mission with Bryce?"

He nods enthusiastically.

"I worked very hard to make myself look as good as possible. I told myself it was solely for the mission but I know now I mostly did it for you. I'd come to appreciate, love, even anticipate your genuine compliments."

"I didn't realize they meant that much to you."

"Well, they did and they do." She hesitates a few seconds before going on, knowing what she's about to say will hurt him, at least a little, "So, when you were so wishy washy I was disappointed, crushed."

There's genuine contrition in his eyes, "Sarah, I didn't know I'd hurt you."

"It's OK, Chuck. I hadn't been very open with you so how were you supposed to know?" She squeezes his hand to show him she appreciates his unspoken apology.

"After that, I pretended your approval wasn't important. I hid my feelings for you, even from myself."

He nods again to show he's following, his eyes on her face.

"Chuck, I don't know if you're aware that many people call me the 'Ice Queen' ".

This time he's definitely embarrassed. Looking down at the table, he nearly mumbles, almost too low for her to hear, "Yeah. Casey said something about that once. I think he was trying to make me afraid of you or something."

She chuckles a bit at this, "He probably thought it more likely you'd stay in the car if you were."

She continues in a more serious note, "The truth is, Chuck, that even in my early CIA days I was known for showing no emotion, being coldly efficient in my assignments. In the seduction missions, no matter what the mark said or did, it didn't really affect me, although I pretended to respond to them. Good or bad, nothing really got through to me."

"This worked so well that it reinforced my behavior. It became so ingrained that even most of the other agents believed I was aloof, detached, unfeeling…uncaring."

She can see the distress at this in his eyes. "But, Sarah, you aren't anything like that! Not at all!"

"Chuck, be truthful. Didn't you think that's the way I was, at least at the beginning?"

Chuck's silent for a few seconds, thinking. "Yeah, I guess I did," is his unwilling admission.

Then he quickly, hastily adds, "But that was only for a little while until I started to know you better."

She smiles her thanks, squeezing his hand again, "Chuck, you need to know that I came to you fresh from the whole Bryce Larkin fiasco, determined not to let my emotions get the better of me. Determined to not let anyone get to me again. Not to let anyone hurt me again, like Bryce did. To protect myself I believed I had to be that 'Ice Queen'."

"Sarah, I had no idea." He smacks himself on the forehead, "Then there I was, this big doofus, pressuring you, hounding you. Selfishly thinking only of myself."

He takes her hands in his, "Sarah, can you forg-"

She quickly cuts him off, "No, Chuck. No apologies. If I'd opened up a little, I know you wouldn't have acted that way. A little honesty would have alleviated so much of the garbage that went on between us. I'm the one who should be sorry."

He's vehement in his words, "No, Sarah, I can't let you take all the blame. I could have been a lot more sensitive."

She smiles, "How about this? I know we'll need to discuss this more later, but for now we'll accept that both of us could've handled things better and move on. OK?"

He grins back, "OK."

"Now, back to the story. I told myself, again and again, that's who I need to be. But I found myself slipping up more and more often."

Pausing, she looks him straight in the eyes, "Most often with you."

He nods.

"You noticed?"

"Yeah, I did. But I wasn't sure if it was just me, reading too much into things."

"I'm beginning to think the only person who couldn't see it was me." She grins ruefully before continuing, "I believed all the dinners with Ellie and Devon, sitting close to you on the couch, were all simply part of selling the cover. I convinced myself that when I touched your arm or adjusted your tie or gave you a quick kiss, it was simply what a 'girlfriend' should be doing."

"Every once in a while, I'd start thinking about things I shouldn't. About a you and me. When I'd catch myself doing that, I'd force myself back into 'agent mode.' Remind myself that this couldn't happen."

He nods again.

"I gather you saw that as well."

"I hope this doesn't sound too creepy, but I notice pretty much everything about you."

"Chuck, from anyone else it would be. Not you, though. Somehow you make it...adorable."

With a grateful look, he says, "I appreciate that. I would have taken anything that doesn't portray me as some obsessed stalker."

She grins, before becoming more serious again, "Another area where I knew I was slipping was in the recent seduction missions. They irritated me, angered me, something that'd never happened before. I couldn't figure out why they had such an effect on me, why I've been in such a rotten mood the last week."

He does his best to make his expression appear pensively surprised, as if this is news to him, but he's not fooling her.

Laughing, she says, "Don't try that innocent look with me. I know very well you noticed."

He chuckles, "OK, you got me. But it wasn't just me, Casey did too. When you walked out after the briefing this morning, he told me to watch myself, that you were ready to explode. Even he was afraid at the thought that you might unload on him."

Even Casey? Nice to know I still have it.

She finds a certain satisfaction in that bit of intel.

"He was right to warn you. The timer was pretty close to zero." She grins, "Know what saved you?"

He looks a little unsure, shaking his head.

"You were quiet and just let me think things through. I appreciated your patience, thoughtfulness. When you gave me the space, I eventually realized how badly I was acting."

She leans across the table again and gives him another kiss, a little longer one this time.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome." He looks a little sheepish, "Sarah, I'm a little embarrassed to admit there was a selfish motive as well."

When he pauses, she raises one eyebrow and tilts her head inquiringly.

"Well, I've kinda gotten used to my head staying on my shoulders, so I did my best to make sure we didn't have a repeat of the Dr. Zarnow incident."

Thought I'd been right about that part of his motivation.

Considering the lambasting she had given him then, it's no wonder he wanted to avoid a repetition of what must have been a thoroughly unpleasant experience.

Looking across the table at him, she's once again struck by how different he is from pretty much every other man she's known.

How many of them would ever let on there was anything but pure, unselfish concern for her and her feelings behind their actions? Sarah had never had any trouble seeing right through their sensitivity act, knowing very well what they hoped to accomplish by portraying themselves in such a light.

On the other hand, it's so refreshing to be with him, not having to be concerned about a hidden agenda behind his words and actions. His willingness to honestly admit his shortcomings, his genuine humility, makes him a far better man than any of those Alpha types she's had the misfortune to spend time with.

Seeing how open he's being, it's only right that she returns the favour.

"Chuck, I also have a confession to make. When you saw me in the bikini for the first time, I was watching for your reaction. Testing you in a way."

He looks thoughtfully at her, "It did feel a bit like that. What were you looking for?"

"I needed to see how you would look at me, whether it would be in any way like the mark did last night or the way..." she stops, suddenly realizing how this sentence is going to end.

"You know what? Never mind. I was being foolish."

With an earnest look, he quietly says, "It's OK, Sarah. You can tell me."

When she's still silent, he gently prompts, "Or the way..."

In a slightly embarrassed rush it comes out, "Or the way you always look at me."

He smiles. "Then it's safe to assume that I passed?"

She just nods her head, and then, a little reluctantly, goes on, "Chuck, part of me wanted you to fail."

She can see he's a bit shocked at this.

"Why would you want that?"

"I believed that if I saw that same look in your eyes that most men give me, I could back off, pretend there's nothing really special between us. That you weren't really any different from the others. And if you were like them, even just a little bit, it would make everything simpler, less complicated. We could just go on, agent and asset, staying the way we were."

She can feel him still holding her hands, very tightly yet somehow still gently, "I was afraid, knowing if we went beyond that, I would have to open up myself to you."

"But then you looked at me the way you do and I knew."

He gently asks, "Knew what?"

"I knew I'd finally figured it out. There I was, at last understanding how much you meant to me. Understanding how much I wanted something real. Knowing I could have it with you. Trusting you'd be there when I needed you."

Looking him straight in the face, she says, "So I made a decision."

"You said, 'I'm ready, Chuck.'"

"I'd wondered if you picked up on that."

"I didn't presume to know exactly what you meant by it, yet it gave me something to hang onto."

Looking intently into his eyes, she quietly says, "Chuck, that was the moment I decided to put aside all the rules, all the objections," she pauses for a second, "push back all the fears, and just let matters take their course. I just needed that last little nudge, a sign if you will. Didn't know what or when but I was convinced it would happen. And it did."

"The crosswalk." It's a statement, not a question.

"Yes, Chuck."

They're both silent for a time, "The Kiss" still fresh in their minds.

He's the first to speak, "It'll be an interesting situation to explain to them."

"What? Who?" She's a little confused, knowing that it's too soon to tell Ellie and Devon and certainly way too soon to tell Morgan.

He looks at her with a serious expression, one that implies there should be no uncertainty about who he means, "To our kids, when they ask you at what point you first acknowledged you loved me. I'm thinking two girls and a boy. If we get married tomorrow, we can get started right away."

Her jaw drops, her mouth dry, her mind in a whirl.

He wants to get married and have kids right away? I'm not ready for that! But I love him and if that's what he wants, we'll need to talk.

She closes her eyes, desperately thinking about how she can respond to this bombshell without hurting his feelings, at least not too much.

I just need to tell him how I honestly feel. No more hiding. He'll understand. I know he will.

She takes a deep breath and opens her eyes, "Chuck, we need..." and sees him smiling at her, one of his face splitting grins.

"That's for the hooker comment and the Victoria's Secret thing."

"You...you stinker, you louse." As the relief washes over her, she can't help but let out a laugh, a rather shaky one.

As he smirks at her, she looks across the table at him, thinking.

No, not right away, but not too far off, either.

...

Watching the emotions pass across her face, Chuck marvels at how much easier she is to read now. He's fully cognizant that this is not due to any suddenly acquired ability on his part.

No, it's all her. Sarah Walker, in an act of pure courage, has stepped out from behind the barriers she has spent a lifetime in building. In so doing, has made all he knew, or perhaps more accurately, thought he knew, pale in comparison to what she's shown him these past few hours.

Chuck, despite the fact that he finds it so easy to be free with his emotions and feelings, fully understands the monumental effort she has had to put forth to come this far.

Although it's remained unspoken, everything this day, her words, her actions, everything, has told him that he is the first person for whom she's done this.

With that awareness, the last stubbornly remaining vestiges of his jealousy over her and Bryce evaporate.

He's staggered as he fully realizes all that she has done for him. To ever treat her gift with the slightest disrespect, even the tiniest hint of disdain, would be a cruelly unkind, horribly ungrateful act. One that he is determined to never commit, even in the most trying circumstances that may someday come their way.

Looking at her, almost overwhelmed with gratitude, Chuck wonders, not for the first time, what Sarah would have been like if her father had simply been a regular dad, if she had taken a normal career path. She certainly would have been a different person. But he can't conceive how she could be a better person than the one in front of him right now.

Awash with flaws, replete with contradictions, she's simply Sarah.

Simply perfect.

And for reasons he's just now beginning to grasp, she's given him her love.

Please, don't let this be a dream.

...

As she looks across the table at her real boyfriend, Sarah thinks how that term is so inadequate in describing all that he means to her. It seems almost juvenile, like they're both kids. But upon further reflection, that's no too far off the mark. They both have a lot to grow into, putting away their immature actions and really getting to know one another.

For that reason she's glad for once to be at a restaurant with such spotty service. Otherwise they would almost certainly have been interrupted, perhaps numerous times, during this last lengthy and intimate conversation.

It's been easier than she'd feared, opening up to him. However, that doesn't mean it is actually easy. She's had to struggle with every long bred instinct, fight against all her years of training to bring herself to this point. From somewhere she's found the strength to suppress the warning voices before they were able to tell her she was saying too much, showing too much.

But it's still strange, unnerving, this new way of acting, thinking, speaking. So the last thing she needs is for Cassandra to interfere in their tête-à-tête, most likely at the most inopportune time as servers are wont to do. She knows that if that had occurred, she may have, at least temporarily, lost the courage to continue on in her self revelation.

And she needs to continue. She needs to know, needs him to know, this love struck, candid Sarah. A person so utterly unlike the businesslike, taciturn Agent Walker of just this morning.

Agent Walker's life had been planned, charted out for the foreseeable future. She had known exactly what she wanted to be, where she wanted to be and when this was all going to take place. It was all so certain. So safe. Which seems a bit ironic, considering the business she's in.

Right now Sarah is so far out of that comfort zone that it's not even funny. She has no real idea what's going to happen now, where life will lead them. It's only taken a few short hours to turn her world on it's head and toss all her preconceived ideas right out the window.

It's alarming, unsettling, disconcerting, even a little terrifying, however, she knows she can never go back to the way it was. Back to the way she was.

She remembers standing under the shower, the day of Bryce's "funeral". As the warm water washed over her, she'd known for a certainty, right then and there, that she would be truly alone for the rest of her life. That when her time came, she would die alone as well.

There had been no anger or resentment, rather, just an honest feeling that she was OK with this. After all, there are worse things than being alone. Like being alone even though you're with someone. Like she'd been with Bryce in the time leading up to his betrayal.

And at least this way, there would be few to feel overly sad at her passing. That had been oddly comforting to her.

Being alone is easier. Better.

No sooner had she reconciled herself to this, however, when the mere act of being around Chuck began to erode the foundation of that belief.

It seemed every time she turned, he was gently demonstrating just how wrong she really was.

Over and over, he had shown her the critical importance of family and friends, of having people to love and being loved by them in turn. He'd shared with her the reassuring comfort gained in knowing you can depend on others and the prideful satisfaction that comes with knowing they can depend on you.

And implicit in all of it was the open invitation for her to become part of that very attractive yet very frightening world. A world where she is so unsure of her footing. A world where people like her (she believes) don't really deserve to live.

So she fought it. Fought him.

Instead of graciously, sensibly accepting his offer, she'd done all she could to shore up the weakening structure of her stubbornly held convictions. When she'd caught herself giving in to the allurements before her, she had always (eventually) put her foot down, banished the subversive thoughts and pushed him away, often unkindly.

But he didn't give up. He just kept chipping away at the cracks, wearing down her resolve, until today when that whole edifice tumbled into ruins and took all her careful plans with it.

She's never been happier.

None of this would have been possible without Chuck. No one prior to him had been capable of awakening within her this intense desire to be more than just Sarah Walker, CIA Agent.

She now knows that going forward without him is inconceivable. (She mentally smirks, realizing this is the second time she's thought of the Princess Bride today.)

The love of this good man is an underserved gift. It's to be treasured, treated with the utmost respect. Never to be tossed aside.

Never.

Sarah realizes she's been lost in thought for a while, focused in the distance, so brings her eyes back to his face. It seems he's been distracted as well, for when he catches her look he appears a little startled.

"I guess we've got a lot to think about, don't we?"

He nods, looking a little chagrined over his woolgathering. "A lot to learn, too."

"Yes, so much."

As she glances at her plate with the mostly untouched French fries, she notices the unused cutlery beside it.

Well, there's a good place to begin.

Picking up one of the pieces, she looks at him and says, "It's time I tell you the story of this."

TBC

A/N Next we'll learn how an particular eating implement and a certain landlocked South American country (Hint:It's not Bolivia) fit into our favourite female agent's past.