A/N So begins an AU/What If Chuck story. Assume the canon up until the Incident (i.e., the kiss in front of the bomb in Imported Hard Salami and the conversation that immediately follows it). Things go their own way from there.

Don't own Chuck. No money made.


PROLOGUE: Emphases


Come shyly to the main question

There is dishonor in these wires

You will first hesitate then repeat

Then sing louder

Thomas Merton, Cables to the Ace 5


"I kissed him." Pause. Pause. Pause.

"I kissed him." Stop. Silence.

Sarah Walker reached up finally and turned off the camera. It was all fine and good recording these mission logs. They helped her to focus; sometimes they allowed her to recapture details that slipped her mind—although that was rare. She had the kind of mind that seized on and kept hold of details.

The camera could not respond to her, though. It just looked at her. And listened. It was a tool, not a friend. Her life was crowded with those, overcrowded with them, and too many of them were actual people. Tools, not friends.

Damn.

She needed to talk to someone. She needed to talk to someone.

She dug the burner phone out of the small safe in her room and dialed the one number on it: Carina's number, the one for her burner phone with only Sarah's number on it.

The phone rang and rang. No answer. No surprise, really. Carina's evenings were notoriously full—of a mission or of someone. No surprise, really, but it meant that Sarah now got to talk to a machine again. Another tool, not a friend.

"Carina…I…need to talk to you. It's…kind of an emergency. Not a dangerous matter…maybe. I don't know. Call me." She ended the call.

She looked up again at the camera. She thought maybe she should replay the recording she had just made. She could listen to herself say those words again. She could listen to them while she relived the event…the incident…they described. Even referring to the event made her pulse race, her heart constrict, her whole body glow.

Maybe she was in danger. Maybe she was in the worst danger of her life. Could a French kiss—could that French kiss—be her Waterloo, her coup de' tat? What was that stupid palindrome: "Able was I ere I saw Elba"? I palindrome I.

The camera was her mirror, her scanner, darkly. Rewatching herself was not going to show her anything she did not know. Her problem was not the immediate past. Like the distant past, that was over and done with. Her problem was now—and tomorrow.

She couldn't sit any longer. Not one second. She got up and slipped on a jacket, donned a Dodger's cap, stuffed the burner phone in the pocket, and fled her apartment. She felt closed in, claustrophobic, and the green around her was the outward and visible sign of the low-grade nausea that had crept up on her. Sometimes the color of the place made it seem more like an externalized after-image than an actual room. It never seemed like home.

When she got outside she paused. Then she stopped. Where was she going? Abruptly, she started walking. Where was she going?

She thought suddenly about that strange state she found herself in many mornings, that state in which she had no desire to get out of her bed, none at all, and then, mirabile dictu! (sort of), she was up and beginning her day, as though she had been airlifted from beneath the covers.

She felt like that now. She did not know that she had any desire to go anywhere and yet she was up and going somewhere.

She got into her Porsche. She cranked the engine and reversed out of her parking spot. She drove. After a few minutes, she knew where she was going. She was driving to Chuck. She could not stop herself, any more than she had stopped herself from kissing him earlier.

I kissed him.

She remained in her altered state all the way to Chuck's apartment complex. After she parked, though, her autopilot disengaged. She paused. She stopped.

Her nausea was gone.

She sat in her car and looked into the courtyard of the apartment complex Chuck lived in with his sister, Ellie, and her boyfriend, Captain Awesome. The window of Chuck's room, a window that doubled as a door, a.k.a. the Morgan Door, was dark. No wonder. It was very late.

A window that doubled as a door. The image suddenly struck her, its odd juxtaposition of clarity and opacity.

She knew that she made a better door than a window. She was all opacity, no clarity. But Chuck seemed to have the power to turn her from door to window or to make her a door that was also a window. He not only could see her, he made her see herself. She had spent her life locked out of her own life, knocking on the door she never answered. But when Chuck was with her, the door became a window, an unlocked window, as easy to open as the window to Chuck's room.

She complained about that to him—he was in danger, after all, and should lock his damn window—but he refused to listen.

As she sat in the dark, she suddenly knew why that was. Her heart was never in the command. The Morgan Door was a symbol for her.

She liked knowing that the door/window to Chuck's room (Chuck's heart) was open, unlocked. She had never expected to act on that knowledge, but she liked knowing that she could. He was leaving it open to her. He refused to lock it because he was listening.

Damn him. Didn't he understand that someone like her, someone who had lived as she had lived, was terrified by such kindness? Sometimes Chuck's gentleness toward her was brutal.

She jumped in her seat when her burner phone vibrated.

"Walker?"

"Carina."

"I was expecting this call. I assume you are in the car, outside of Chuckles' apartment?"

Sarah pulled the phone from her ear and stared at it like it a traitor. Did Carina have a way to track her? How could she know? She heard Carina's voice, small and distant, coming from the phone she held at arm's length.

"Walker? Walker? Are you there?"

She put the phone back to her ear. "Yes, Carina, I am here—and I am here—or there I guess. At Chuck's." That name, both doom and dream. "How did you know?"

Carina was silent for a few seconds. "You know that I tried to seduce him, don't you? I was, at first, testing him for you, to see if he was serious about you too?"

Sarah pocketed her outrage. "What do you mean, 'too'?"

"I knew you were serious about him."

"You did? So you wanted to make sure he was serious about me?"

"Well, yes. But I would be lying if I said that I did it disinterestedly. I was kinda hoping he would allow me to seduce him, even embrace the seduction."

"Carina…"

"You know I like to take what you want, Walker."

Sarah glared at Carina, even though she was far away and nowhere in sight. "Yes. I mean, I know you have done that to me before, but what I mean by 'wanted' then was not what I mean by it now, Carina. Those were just competitions. The point was never the guy, it was seeing if he would choose you or choose me.

"I never competed with you for anyone you really wanted. And even when I won, usually the loser got the spoils. I have never shared your taste for one-nighters, even if I have had some."

"I know, Walker. That was always part of the fun for me. It was win-win-win. I won and got the guy (win), or I lost and got the guy (win), and I got you to play my favorite game, even though it wasn't yours (win)." Carina indulged in a breezy laugh.

"I knew you really wanted him, Walker. I knew it. That's why I tried to seduce him."

"Do you know how twisted that sounds, Carina. You are my friend."

Carina stopped laughing. "I am your friend. But, Walker, spies don't fall in love. Chuck was a danger to you—a clear and present danger. If he had let me seduce him, you would have been out of danger. You wouldn't have looked at him anymore the way you were looking at him. I was trying to save you, Walker. Not to win a competition."

Sarah said nothing.

"Look, Sarah, you are the one who called me tonight, talking about 'emergencies' and 'maybe dangerous matters'. "

"I know, Carina." Her glare died down.

"'Spies don't fall in love.' What is that, Carina. Is it a rule? It is not in any handbook. We all just say it." She paused, stopped. Then she plunged forward.

"If it is a rule, it is confused, because no one can actually follow it. You fall in love or you don't. You don't get a choice in the matter. If you are a spy and you don't fall in love, you do what the rule says, but you aren't following it. You are just lucky—or unlucky." Sarah paused, stopped. She swallowed hard.

"Even you, Carina. You haven't fallen in love, but not because you are following some rule. It just hasn't happened to you—yet."

"Hey! Don't wish that on me, Walker. I like getting lucky, but not that way. That would be getting unlucky. Like you, stalker girl."

"I'm not stalking him, Carina. Something happened. There was an incident. A kiss."

Carina's gasp was barely audible. "You mean, something happened like 'mistakes were made'?"

Sarah put her free hand on the steering wheel, squeezing and releasing it. "Yes. No. I mean…"

"Well, Walker?"

"Well, I didn't kiss him by mistake. But…"

"But what? You kissed him by accident? You just tripped and lipped him? Landed with yours on his?"

"No. No! I kissed him, Carina. I kissed him. We were in front of what we thought was a bomb. It turned out not to be a bomb. At least, it did not explode. Tech guys are, I guess, still working on it, because I haven't heard from Casey. I left him there with them."

"So you kissed him. You did. Not by mistake, not by accident. You kissed him on purpose? You thought you were going to die?"

"Yeah. Yes. Yes to both."

"So…this was a kiss on the gallows, as it were. Would you have died happy?"

Sarah squeezed the steering wheel hard as she relived the kiss, a handhold against a vortex of response.

It was true that in the immediate aftermath of the kiss, panic had been her primary response. She did not lose control. She had lost control twice. Once, in kissing him at all, and twice, in the desire that hurricaned through her during the kiss. If there had not been a timer, she and Chuck would have been goners—not blown apart by the bomb, but blown together by that hurricane, unclothed and lost in each other. They would not have been able to come back from that kiss. It would have led them on and on. She was now back in the hurricane.

Sarah knew Carina could hear the flush that overtook her, even as she spoke her answer in a still, small voice. "Yes. God, yes."

"And so that's why you finally made the night drive I knew you would make if you stayed in Snoresville. You are ready to take the plunge or to let him, I guess. A little night swimming?"

As usual, Carina's colorful language managed to be puzzlingly both off-color and on target.

"I wouldn't put it that way, but, yes, I am here. Still in the car, but here."

"How does this work, though, Sarah? I mean you could just go all seduction-school on him and let him think that is all it is, while you get what you want. Itch scratched, maybe a lot, and no one in charge will stop it. Graham probably expects it or won't object to it. Beckman's harder to predict, but I doubt she'd give you an order where Graham refuses to give you one. Casey's been wondering why you just haven't done it long ago."

"No. I'm not sure Casey still wonders that, exactly. He wouldn't stop me, I guess. But I don't think he'd approve. He wouldn't voice his disapproval. But he certainly wouldn't be my cheerleader. I think he respects Chuck. He wishes he didn't, and that's one reason he torments Chuck. Men like Chuck are not supposed to compel the respect of men like Casey.

"Besides, Carina, you know that I have never deliberately chosen to sleep with a mark or an asset."

Carina listened in silence. She and Sarah had gone around on this point before. Sarah was not judging Carina, and Carina knew that. Still, Carina found Sarah's principled reluctance about this hard to understand.

Sarah did not want to have that discussion again, not that general discussion, anyway. She wasn't debating an abstract issue over drinks. She was a few dozen yards from a man she kissed earlier in the day, and whose kiss was still playing havoc with her. She was seriously contemplating…what?

"Carina, he won't, he wouldn't…sleep with me if he thought he was being seduced. He wouldn't do it."

"Oh, come on, Sarah. I have seen him look at you!"

Sarah smacked the steering wheel. "Well, Carina, then you had eyes to see but did not see! How does he look at me, Carina? How?"

Carina began her answer and then paused. Stopped. "Oh."

"Goddamn right, 'Oh'. He looks at me as if I were the only woman he had ever seen, as if seeing me—just seeing me—is an answer to a constant prayer. Does he want me? Yes, desperately. I knew that before kissing him, but his…entire…response to the kiss witnessed to it.

"He won't take less than all of me, Carina."

"What does that mean, Walker?"

"I'm not sure I know what it means, I just know it is true. It is a compliment. The truest one I have ever been paid. It is…a curse too. Or at least it feels that way from my side of it." Sarah was quiet for a while and Carina waited.

"I do not know that there is any more of me than the spy, Carina. He has boundless faith that there is. It would kill me to take that faith from him. I want to be the woman he thinks I am…"

"And?" Carina's voice was gentle.

"And it will take time to become that woman. And I don't think I can become her unless I am with him. And I don't know how to be with him, because my job won't allow it and because I have never been in love before."

"And there it is," Carina deadpanned into Sarah's ear.

Sarah gasped as she replayed her own words.

She had never used that word to express her feelings for Chuck, not even in her heart of hearts. Now, she had just said it aloud, to Carina.

To Sarah's surprise, Carina left the word alone. "If you aren't going to just sleep with him, then what are you going to do? Date him, really date him, but covertly, so that your cover is handler/asset and not boyfriend/girlfriend? Romantic double-agents? Or, ask permission to be a couple? Run? This could cost you, Sarah, ruin your career. Are you prepared to risk a decade of professional achievement to become a housewife in the 'burbs?"

Sarah took her hand from the steering wheel and pushed her cap back. She exhaled slowly. "I don't know, Carina. But that's just it. I don't know. Maybe. I would never have imagined saying that just a few months ago. Things have changed. I have changed."

I cannot keep washing blood from my hands, not even with Graham's assurances that it will wash out.

I sang lullabies to a baby held close in my arms.

I have been accepted into a family.

I met a boy.

Sarah blushed at her own thoughts. Carina was speaking. "…so I don't see a scenario for making this work, Sarah. You should start the car and leave. I'm sorry but that is the smart play, girl. Spies don't fall in love."

"Yes, they do, Carina." Sarah's voice ran wet and warm into the phone even as her tears ran wet and warm down her cheeks. "Thanks, Carina."

"Call me tomorrow, Sarah, with a sit-rep."

"Ok."

Sarah ended the call. She wiped the tears off the phone against her pants leg, and then put it back in her jacket pocket. She pulled her cap back down. She started the Porsche. She looked back across the courtyard. As she stared at the Morgan door, a light came on. She paused. She stopped.

He turned on a light.

He turned on a light.

She turned off the engine.