A/N: This idea came to me while in the middle of writing Never Was. If I'd thought of it earlier, that story wouldn't have had just two arcs; it would've had three. If you've read Never Was, I think you'll understand where this arc is coming from quite quickly. If you haven't, I suggest you do so (at least the Bartowski arc). Otherwise, it might be tough to figure out what's happening here. (Although, the next chapter of this story will be helpful as well.)

I'm calling this a "what if?" story. What if "evil" Beckman's plan for our hero had worked the way she'd planned? What might have happened to our characters afterwards?

Hope you'll enjoy this third take.

Thanks as always to my great beta, michaelfmx.

Don't own Chuck, et al. Do this for fun. (And for your insightful comments!)

CHUCK VERSUS THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS-THE THIRD ARC

PROLOGUE

John Casey lets out another loud curse as his car once again bottoms out on the piece of crap road that some sociopathic mapmaker had laughingly designated as a graded gravel surface. He imagines the bespectacled little puke sitting behind his desk, tittering to himself the whole time as he thinks about how many unwary travelers he's sent to their doom.

He sure as hell won't be laughing if Casey ever gets a hold of him. For a few moments, the Major gleefully visualizes grabbing the little maggot by the scruff of his neck and dragging him down this very road, personally introducing him to each individual pothole. Face first.

Absorbed in his happy thoughts, he almost misses the GPS waypoint. Slamming on the brakes, the car grinds to a halt on the loose gravel, the cloud of dust he'd been stirring up behind him engulfing the car for a few seconds.

After the dust settles, he opens the door and steps out. Craning his neck, he spots the roof of the cabin, high up on the hill, a few hundred yards away.

Studying what might be charitably called the driveway, he realizes there's no way his car will make it up there.

"Damn!"

Fortunately, he'd come prepared for a bit of a hike, so he goes to the trunk and takes out the small backpack and his heavy jacket. This high up, the temperature can drop quickly, and he doesn't want to take any chances. After all, he has no idea what kind of reception he'll get. Might be frosty in more ways than one. And, for all he knows, he might be hoofing it back to the car in the dark, so also checks his flashlight.

Sighing a little, he slips on the jacket and, after settling the backpack, starts trekking up the steep hill.

But not before he locks his car and sets the alarm. Casey hadn't seen another human being for the last fifty miles or so, but he's not about to take any chances with his beloved Crown Victoria.

Puffing a little, (which he blames on the altitude) he crests the hill, coming around a large boulder. As he does, he's suddenly confronted by two small dogs, a shorthaired yellow one with floppy ears and a smaller, long-haired black and white mutt.

They both bristle at him, growling as they stand between him and the cabin. He takes a step closer, and they bare their teeth.

The tall woman standing twenty feet away makes no effort to calm them down, so Casey calls out to her, "Hey, Walker, you wanna call off your hellhounds before I punt them into the next county?"

She scowls, but then firmly orders, "Ed, Chase, come here!" Both dogs obey, but not before giving Casey a last threatening growl.

She points to a couple of dog beds on the front porch. "Lie down." Settling in, they nonetheless keep their eyes on Casey.

He comes closer, stops a few feet away from her. Drily, he remarks, "Thanks. I was so scared that I was just about ready to wet myself."

She doesn't smile, just bluntly asks, "Why are you here?"

"What? No, how are you doing, Casey? No, who's the president now? No, what have you been doing with yourself the last six months since I disappeared?"

Sarah doesn't change her expression, just continues to stare menacingly in his direction.

Casey just ignores her. "Especially since I came all this way to see you. That road's a bitch, by the way."

"Helps to keep away unwanted visitors," she pointedly replies.

He grunts. "I can see how it would."

She makes no comment.

He looks around. "Nice place you got here." The log cabin is small but neat looking, probably only a single room. Small windows on the two sides he can see. Steeply sloped green metal roof, for the snow he guesses. Chimney on the far side. Wood stacked neatly under the eave.

Something nags at him until he finally realizes what isn't there. "Damn, Walker. You don't even have electricity."

She shakes her head. "Don't find I have much use for it."

"No wonder you're so hard to find. You really have dropped off the grid."

"How did you find me?"

Casey tilts his head towards the somewhat battered, camouflaged vehicle sitting under a nearby tree. "You probably should've swapped your Porsche for a slightly less conspicuous vehicle than an ex-British army Defender. Next time, you might want to buy American. It'd blend in better."

"It gets me where I need to go."

"I'm sure it does. I saw your driveway."

She frowns, apparently impatient for him to get to the point.

He obliges her. "So, I had the tech geeks watch for vehicle registrations. When your ex-Porsche finally popped up, I went and had a little discussion with the new owner. He showed me some photos of his old beast. I left it at that, but about a month ago I put out a BOLO. Two weeks ago a deputy sheriff saw a vehicle like it in that town three hours down the road. Noticed an attractive blonde woman driving around town, picking up supplies. I checked it out. Got a hold of a credit card receipt, saw the name and knew it was you."

He pauses. "Lisa Charles? Were you trying to get caught?"

"Nothing to get caught for, Casey. I've done nothing wrong. Just decided I wanted to retire early."

"Yeah, sure, but still?"

She's firm. "I had my reasons."

He doesn't press her any further. "I was pretty sure you were out here somewhere. So I talked one of my ex-Marine buddies into tasking a satellite to photograph the area on its regular passes. Nothing until two days ago. Then we got a shot of a tall blond woman engaging in some target practice."

Casey looks around and spots a bale of hay with a target pinned to its side. "Nice grouping. Good to see you're keeping up your skills."

"Yeah, well you never know when you might need those same skills to deal with undesirables. Like door-to-door salesmen, bears and an ex-partner, who, I assume, is still working for a certain red-haired general."

"Yep, but taking some personal time right now." He glances around. "Been mulling over the idea of retiring myself. Maybe something like you've got here. Do some fishing and hunting. No dogs, though."

Sarah snorts. "The only way you'll retire is feet first."

He grunts. "Probably right."

"How did you know it was me?"

"You should probably think of changing your hair color. Kinda stands out. Amazing detail nowadays. Could even tell it was your brand of sidearm. Your vehicle was under a tree, but late afternoon light cast enough of a shadow to tell what it was. Shadows also gave us your approximate height, around five nine. Couldn't see the face, but it was pretty easy to put two and two together."

She glares at him. "So you decided to come all this way just to say hello. That right?"

He doesn't answer, just studies the woman standing before him. Her face is drawn, devoid of makeup, a little thinner than he recalls. Her hair is substantially longer than the last time he saw her, gathered into a loose ponytail that hangs halfway down her back. She's plainly dressed in jeans, plaid shirt, down vest, grey knit cap, and substantial boots.

All in all, an almost unrecognizable version of the woman he'd worked with for all those years.

He sweeps his hand around. "Is this enough for you, Walker?"

She's terse. "Yes. And you're avoiding my question. Why are you here?"

He ignores her again, looks her straight in the face. "It's just that you don't appear to be very happy, stuck up here all by your lonesome."

She avoids his gaze, looking off into the distance. "I've got my dogs. My books. It's enough."

Casey pauses for few seconds before asking, somewhat dubiously, "You sure about that?"

She nods. "So once again, why—"

He cuts her off. "Ellie misses you."

Something flashes across her face, an expression that comes and goes so quickly, that those who didn't know her as well as he does would likely never even notice it.

A longing? A hunger for something gone?

He's not sure, so simply waits for her reply.

After a few seconds pass, he realizes she's not going to speak first, so he answers her unspoken question. "Had to be in Burbank to shut down a couple of things. Dropped in just to say hello. They're doing as well as can be expected, in case you were wondering. Same for Morgan. I didn't tell them I was trying to find you. Didn't want to get their hopes up."

"Ellie knows why I can't see her."

"Yeah, she does, but that doesn't change how she feels about you."

She looks down, studying the ground at her feet. "I can't, Casey. I can't go back there. There's just too many…" her voice trails off.

"Hey, I understand. But staying up here can't be good for you, either."

"It's all I can manage right now."

Casey thinks he can hear the desperation, the pleading in her voice, so drops the subject.

"OK. I get it."

They stand, silent for a few moments, seemingly both unsure of what to say next.

Then, in an apparent attempt to sound chipper, she asks, "Do you want some coffee? Just made it fresh. It'll help keep you awake on that long drive back to town."

He nods. "Sure. Sounds good."

She turns suddenly, her ponytail swinging wide as she heads for the door.

She's only taken a few steps, when Casey softly calls out, "Sarah."

That stops her in her tracks.

"He's alive."

Casey sees her shoulders suddenly slump, almost as if her whole body is collapsing in on itself. A few seconds pass before she speaks, so quietly that he has to strain to hear her words.

"Don't. Just…don't. We've been through this far too many times already. All the rumors, all the conspiracy theories. He's gone. I'm doing my damnedest to accept it and so should you."

"No, Sarah. No theories, no rumors this time. He's alive. I know it's true."

She turns to him, her eyes wide, searching his face as if looking for signs of truth. Or untruth. He's not sure which.

"How? How could you know?"

"We had coffee together. He had no idea who I was."

She gasps, her hand over her mouth, sudden tears at the corners of her eyes.

"That's why I'm here. I think it's about time for you and me to go and rescue the poor sap.

"Again."

TBC

A/N: Please tell me what you think. Really appreciate reviews (even the ones that point out things I could've done better.)

I think I may have may have lost a few of you when I was so late finishing Never Was. While there may be a week or two between chapters here, (I'm no Zettel) I won't leave you hanging as long as last time.

BTW if you haven't yet read Zettel's "Cables to Aces", I highly recommend you do so.