A/N:As always, a big thanks to all who are reading my stories. I truly appreciate all the encouragement to keep on writing.

This is a small one. The idea came from a conversation our two favorite characters had in Chuck vs. The Crosswalk. However, this is a stand-alone, one-shot and has nothing directly to do with that story.

I sort of see it as set early first season.

Disclaimer:Don't own Chuck but am really enjoying the whole process of writing about it.

CHUCK VERSUS THE MOMENT

The mission was a complete and unmitigated disaster, the worst they'd experienced. It was bad enough that a key Fulcrum leader, one they'd been tracking for weeks, had escaped apprehension.

Worse, indescribably worse, in Chuck's opinion, is that a young woman, an innocent civilian, had died during the pitched gun battle, caught in the crossfire.

All three stand at attention in Castle's briefing room, listening to the recitation of their so recent sins. Chuck has never seen Beckman this livid, even though he has been the recipient of her anger many times before. The fact that she never raises her voice takes nothing away from the hammering they take as she dresses down the team.

All have received their share of the harsh criticism, but it's Sarah, as team leader, who's taking the brunt of it, has done so willingly. She makes no excuses as Beckman continues to berate her. Instead, she takes all the responsibility upon herself, both for the mission's failure and especially for the woman's death, even though no one knows yet who is actually culpable. Chuck is almost certain that neither of his partners is at fault, that they're both far too good at their jobs to accidentally shoot a bystander even in the fog of war.

But he understands that there is, at least, a possibility that one of them may be inadvertently to blame for her death. When he'd seen her fall, bloodied, he'd secretly, selfishly hugged to himself the fact that since he only used his tranq pistol he couldn't be the guilty one. He can only imagine how the possibility of being that must weigh on their minds.

Chuck had winced when Beckman had chastised him directly. When she shifted her attention to Casey, he glanced briefly towards his partner and thought he saw a similar reaction.

With Sarah, though, he sees nothing like that. Her expression is stoical as Beckman persists in her lengthy tirade. Her body language isn't defiant but at the same time, she's not slumping her shoulders in shame either. For not the first time Chuck realizes he has no real idea what she's thinking, feeling.

He'd heard Sarah urging the young woman to stay under cover, that she would be safe if she did. Instead, she'd panicked and foolishly ran right into the killing zone.

After the dust had settled, Chuck had looked dejectedly into the lifeless eyes of the body on the office floor. On seeing the engagement ring on her finger, he'd wondered just how many lives have been shattered by this pointless loss. He'd imagined for a moment just how he would feel if this was Sarah lying there and suddenly found himself unable to hold back the tears. Even Casey, so used to death, had to clear his throat a few times before he was able to speak. But Sarah had only looked at her for a few seconds, seemingly impassive, before moving on to deal with the aftermath of the whole mess.

Beckman finally seems to be winding down, running out of words, her fury, at least temporarily, spent. She looks at each of the team members for a moment or two and then cuts off the transmission with the promise they'll speak more about this tomorrow.

Sarah turns and without a backward glance leaves the room, says nothing, giving no indication as to where she's going. Casey grunts at this, as he too leaves after indicating he's heading to the armory.

Chuck finds himself alone, just at the moment he would so want to talk things out, but neither of his partners is inclined to do so even at the best of times and right now is certainly not that.

He's worried about Sarah, confused by her reaction, or more accurately, her non-reaction to the events of the past few hours. Her behavior frightens him a little. Makes him wonder if he's falling for a woman who lacks those vital human virtues of empathy, compassion, sympathy. Someone who is heartless, unaffected by tragedy and loss.

Maybe this is what being an agent eventually does to you. Divorces one from the normal course of human reactions. Forces a person to focus on the greater good, accepting that collateral damage such as this is simply part of the job. If so, Chuck knows he cannot let himself be drawn down that path. Even if this means tearing himself away from this woman who attracts him so powerfully.

He has to believe that he's wrong, desperately hopes that she isn't what she appears to be. But he must find the truth, even if that truth might break his heart.

Chuck leaves the briefing room and searches for her but it seems as if she's disappeared. Thinking she might have left, he checks the security exit log but it indicates that she's still in Castle. Perplexed, he starts towards the armory, intending to check with Casey. But then, just as he nears the supply closet, he's puzzled by an odd sound he hears from within.

Curious, he quietly opens the door and sees Sarah at the opposite end of the small room. Her back is turned, her left arm cushioning her head as she leans it against the far wall. Her right arm is raised, fist clenched as she strikes the surface in front of her again and again.

Closing the door behind him, he softly calls out her name. He sees her tense up, knows she hasn't been aware of his presence until just now. He understands enough of her to realize she must be in the grip of some powerful emotion, otherwise he would have never gotten this close without her being aware.

Frustration over a blown mission? Anger over being chewed out so thoroughly? Embarrassed that it went so badly? He has no idea what it might be and is a little afraid to find out.

Somehow, Chuck senses that what he sees from her, right here, right now, is going to be a defining moment of their frustratingly vague relationship. He is suddenly convinced that the next few seconds will mean the making or breaking of it. Either she'll close herself off, display no emotions, tell him that everything is all right, and push him away once again.

Or…

He sees the tenseness dissipate, her shoulders slightly slumping as she turns to face him.

She looks awful. Her eyes are bloodshot, wet with the tears spilling out, dark streaks of mascara tracing their path down her cheeks. His attention is brought to her reddened, running nose as she drags her sleeve across it. She is absolutely miserable, utterly dispirited.

He heard somewhere that empathy could be defined as "your pain in my heart." As the unbidden tears came to his eyes, he can certainly testify to the truth of that. His heart aches for her. He desperately wants to reach out and comfort her…somehow.

But he just stands there, unsure if he should, and if he does, how to proceed. Should he go to her or just give her space? Maybe even leave the room? Perhaps she'll be embarrassed or angry that he's seen her like this?

He flashes back to when he was thirteen and had somehow, in his shy, bumbling way, convinced a girl he liked to go on a bike ride with him. When her pant leg got caught in the chain and she and the bike had tumbled to the ground, he'd just looked on like an idiot. He hadn't even tried to help her get back up, so unsure of what would be the right thing to do. Worried that if he took her arm to help her up she might think he was being too forward. Or maybe she'd think by helping her, he was implying she couldn't take care of herself.

So he did nothing, just watched her as she got to her feet, sniffling as she got back on her bike. He was so ashamed by his behavior, that a few minutes later he'd pretended he forgotten something important he needed to do for Ellie. She'd looked puzzled as he said his hasty goodbyes and taken off. For weeks afterward, he avoided her in the school hallways and in fact never had any significant words with her again.

And now here he is, so many years later, being given a second chance. This time, however, there's a sudden determination that if he's going to be an idiot once again it won't be because he held back. He'd rather be damned for something he did rather than for something he didn't.

With some trepidation, he takes a step towards her, opening his arms. He never knows exactly how it happens, but one second she's ten feet away and the next she's in his embrace, her arms wrapped tightly around his waist. She fits perfectly against him, her head down against his chest, nestled under his chin. As she continues weeping, her hands keep opening and closing, clutching at his back.

Chuck discovers that Sarah is a quiet crier. No wailing, no histrionics. Just hushed, convulsive sobbing. Not that this lessens, in even the smallest way, her absolute anguish.

How could he have been so foolish to think, even for an instant, that she was that unfeeling, uncaring automaton he'd conjured up.

He will not trivialize her distress with trite and ultimately meaningless phrases of comfort, so remains silent. He just holds her, his left hand pulling her gently to him, his right slowly, softly stroking her hair.

It takes only a few seconds to feel her tears soaking the front of his shirt. But he's willing to let himself be fully drenched by them if that's what it takes if that's what she needs.

Without a word being spoken, Chuck realizes that she's telling him that all of it is just an act, a long cultivated facade. That tough, emotionless exterior she's expected to present to the world. The persona she has to put on to deal with the often grim actions her job requires.

His heart soars when he realizes how her actions demonstrate the trust she has in him. Shows she's confident that he'll never abuse this knowledge in order to hurt or betray her. That he will never reveal this incident carelessly or needlessly, exposing the real Sarah Walker to the world's scrutiny. Even though he's ignorant of so much in her world, he does know that in it, trust is that most precious of commodities, given only to a very select few.

Staggered by the immensity of what she's bestowed upon him, he pulls her a little closer, fervently hopes he'll never do anything that shows even the slightest lack of appreciation for her extraordinary gift.

He has no real idea how long they hold each other. All he knows is that he'll stay this way as long as she needs him to, that he'll break their embrace only when she's ready. Every second she remains in his arms only convinces him more fully that she is worth his every effort. That loving her is the best, smartest thing he'll ever do in his life.

Some time later, after her sobbing has gradually subsided, he hears Casey's voice as he calls their names. He realizes the man must be wondering where they've gotten to. Sarah looks up into Chuck's face, her expression telling him they need to make themselves known.

Greatly daring, he softly, quickly kisses her forehead before stepping back. She blushes a little and he feels a similar response in him. He tells her he'll distract Casey so she can make a dash for the bathroom, understanding that she doesn't want him to see her like this. Her shy, little smile of gratitude, he knows, is for much more than just this last act.

Just as he leaves he turns to face her once more. She is still a wreck, but to him, she has never been so beautiful as she is at this moment.

As was their wont in the early days, (even though the incident was to have a profound effect on them both) neither speak of it afterward.

But Chuck never forgets those minutes in the supply closet.

It's only years later that it's brought to light again. On their fifth wedding anniversary, Sarah and Chuck are out to dinner with his sister and brother-in-law when during the course of a very enjoyable evening, the topic, "What was that moment when you first knew you really loved your mate?" comes up.

The two of them, first of all, listen to Ellie's tender and then Devon's humorous story, fully engaged as they hear of some of the good and occasionally not so good things they went through.

As Devon concludes, Chuck turns to Sarah, knowing it's his turn. When he starts by stating it happened in Castle's supply closet (followed by an immediate and predictable response from Awesome), he sees a flash of remembrance cross Sarah's face. He pauses and silently asks for her permission to continue. She nods, maybe just a little hesitantly.

As he tells the story, minus the classified details, he can see that all three of them are deeply touched, but it's Sarah who's most obviously affected.

She covers her mouth with her hand, her widened eyes locked on his, unconsciously nodding her agreement as she follows his every word so very closely.

When he finishes, she stands from her chair across the table, walks over and sits in his lap. Wrapping her arms around his neck and smiling through her tears, she kisses him. As is so often the case with Sarah, her actions convey her feelings more powerfully than words ever could, leaving them in no doubt that Chuck has spoken for her as well.

End.

—A/N:Hope you liked it. A bit different style than I normally do. Wanted to do a story with no quoted conversation.

A couple of other ideas in progress.