A/N: A meeting of minds, hearts and lips. Charah, in other words.

Thanks to michaelfmx my patient and hard working beta. Any errors are my responsibility.

Don't own Chuck, et al

Enjoy!

—-

CHUCK VERSUS THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS-THE THIRD ARC

Chapter 5

He opens his eyes.

Looks into hers.

"Sarah."

She's blinking back sudden tears.

"Hi, Chuck."

...

Sarah, through her tears, sees him struggling, trying to put the pieces together.

She desperately wants to throw herself into his arms, kiss him senseless. Flood him with memories of their time together. (Memories that, until yesterday, had been pushed away, consigned to the scrap heap of her unrealized dreams.) To frantically do whatever it takes to compel him to remember her.

But in her heart, she knows how vitally important it is for him to try and find, at least to the degree possible, his own way through this. To discover his own memories, his own emotions. Authentic ones, not what someone tells him he should remember, tells him he should feel.

So she bites her tongue, and waits on him. And as the seemingly interminable seconds continue to tick by, she finds her hands gripping the sides of the tables so hard that her knuckles turn white.

Please, Chuck. Please.

"You're very important to me, aren't you?"

As her heart soars, she releases the breath she hadn't been aware she'd been holding. Trying to damp down her excitement, she clasps her hands together on the table, answers by asking, "Why do you think that?"

"Besides this feeling in my heart, you mean?"

She nods. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

He gestures with his head. "You see the two of them over there, trying very hard not to look our way?"

Sarah glances in the direction of the kitchen, does indeed see Sandra and Clark failing miserably in their attempts to pretend they're uninterested in what is happening at the front of their diner.

"Yes, I do."

"Well, when you sat down across from me, it finally clicked why I like coming here, aside from the good food, that is."

She's thoughtful. "You see them as us, right?"

"Yes, in some ways. Not running a diner, of course, but happy. Together. I just now realized that's something I want." He gives her a crooked little grin. "And it seems I want it with you."

Me too, Chuck. Me too.

He looks back at the couple for few more seconds, then, turning back to Sarah, asks shyly, "I'm very much in love with you, aren't I?"

At first, she has no idea how to respond to that without sounding incredibly self-assuming, but then the answer comes to her. "You've told me that you were."

He looks at her again, his eyes searching her face for a long few seconds. Then he speaks softly, almost as if he's thinking out loud. "Yes. Yes, I can believe that. I would find it easy to fall in love with you. But, somehow, I have the feeling that it wasn't always easy to be in love with you."

Sarah can't stop the blush rising to her cheeks. She shakes her head. "No, Chuck. It wasn't. I brought a lot of baggage with me."

He looks puzzled for a moment, as if the conversation is stirring some sort of memory, one he's unable to track down. Instead of pursuing it, however, he goes on, sounding even more diffident than he had just a few moments before.

"I don't want to put you on the spot, and you don't have to answer this if you don't want to. It's just that I really need to know something before I stick my foot in my mouth and say something that'll embarrass me and probably you as well. But I really need to—" He stops himself abruptly, his head down.

She reaches across the table, places her hand gently on his.

She asks, quietly, "What is it, Chuck?"

He looks down at her hand on his for a moment, then raises his head, brings his eyes to hers, his look penetrating. He takes a deep breath.

Then, with an odd mixture of hope and pessimism in his voice, he asks, "Sarah, are you in love with me?"

She looks away, too ashamed to hold his gaze.

In the past, there were times, far too many, when she'd taken his feelings for granted, confident of his love, even during those occasions when she'd behaved so badly, so inconsistently. Part of her had always assumed (smugly, in retrospect,) that, when the day came, the one where she finally got past her inhibitions and was ready for them, he'd be there, waiting.

Until that night, of course, when he wasn't. And she'd been forced to realize that there isn't always a tomorrow.

Of all the painful self-recriminations she'd heaped on herself during the months that followed, this one had perhaps been the most difficult to cope with. As the days and weeks had passed, she'd come to be bitterly shamed by her presumptuousness. Had eventually come to the conclusion that even if things hadn't gone as they had, he likely would've, at some juncture, quite justifiably, reached the point of emotional exhaustion and given up on her, simply too tired to wait any longer.

And even though she hadn't had any evidence to support it, she'd also tormented herself with the thought that maybe if she'd been more forthcoming, he wouldn't have had his breakdown in the first place. That her prolonged hesitancy had been the proverbial last straw.

Now she, no, both of them, are facing the consequences of her reticence, her vacillation. If only, just once, she'd thrown caution to the winds, taken him aside and opened up her heart, he mightn't have needed to wonder where he stood. Part of him, she firmly believes, even under the weight of all that had been dumped on him, would simply know.

Screw your courage to the sticking place.

When Sarah first read of Lady Macbeth, she'd immediately felt a strong connection with the character and her tortured inability to clean the figurative blood from her hands. So she's not surprised that one of that ruthless woman's utterances pops into her head.

She'd often wondered about the exact meaning, but the gist of it had always been clear enough.

With those words, and Casey's recent admonition ringing in her ears, she looks at him once more, sees his face start to fall at, what must be to him, a long, unnerving silence.

"I'm sorry, Sarah. I had no right to ask that question. Can you forgive—"

She gently cuts him off, squeezes his hand. "Stop, Chuck. You have every right to ask."

It's time, Sarah. He needs to know.

Now.

She takes a deep breath. "Yes."

He seems unable to process her softly spoken, yet terse reply, appears a little bewildered.

"What?"

She nods. "Yes, Chuck. The answer is yes."

Crazily, she wonders if it's somehow possible for a person's whole body to smile. Because that's what she thinks she's seeing from him right now.

"Really?"

She grins, toothily, in turn. "Really."

But then she sees a cloud pass across his face and he frowns a little. "Sarah, I'm so sorry I don't remember you telling me that before. To forget life-changing stuff like is inexcusable, no matter what's been done to me. God, I'm such an idiot. Can you forgive me?"

"Chuck, stop! You're not to blame."

"No, that's something that I should—"

"Stop! I'm the one to blame, not you."

"What?"

"I'm the one who should be sorry, not you."

"I don't understand."

"Chuck, there's no way you could remember, because..."

Shame stops her tongue.

"Because what, Sarah?"

She hesitates.

"Because I never told you."

Sarah watches him as he mulls over the meaning of her confession, almost certain he'll come to the wrong conclusion.

His next words confirm her supposition. "I'm confused. You love me now, but you didn't before? Were we just friends back then?"

"No, Chuck. We were never just friends. Right from the start, part of me knew I could love you. And it didn't take any time at all, not really, before I did."

"But you didn't tell me. Why?"

"Chuck, my reasons weren't very sensible ones, but I need you to trust me when I tell that they'll make even less sense if I lay them out for you right now. Later, I'll sit down and tell you everything."

She squeezes his hand, looks into his eyes. "But for now, just know that I love you, have loved you for a very long time. I've never felt this way about anyone else. Not even close."

"For how long, Sarah?"

She hesitates again, knowing how much the truth will hurt him. "Almost three years, Chuck."

He's bewildered. Shocked. "Three years! I've lost three years of being with you?"

She nods, blinking back tears once more. "Yes. I'm so sorry." She doesn't have the heart to tell him that he's lost so much more than that. He'll realize that soon enough.

But right now, she needs to step up, before his spirits sink even further.

This is what you signed up for, girl.

She captures his eyes with hers, firmly declares, "Chuck, I can't make you any promises about those lost years. But I can promise you this. I'll stay at your side as long as you'll have me. And as long as I'm alive, no one will ever take you from me again. No one, Chuck."

He looks closely at her for what seems like a very long moment. "Because you love me."

"More than life itself."

Over and ever, the Bartowski children have demonstrated their resiliency, so Sarah's not overly surprised when he nods, determination in both voice and body language. "OK. Good. That's enough for now."

But then he looks at her, suddenly seems a little shy. "Sarah, I'd really, really like to kiss you right now, but I get the feeling I'm a little timid about PDA."

She smiles. "You are. But maybe a little one wouldn't make you feel too uncomfortable."

He shrugs. "Only one way to find out."

He leans forward, across the table. She does the same, meets him halfway.

As their lips gently meet, Sarah swears she hears a choking sob from somewhere near the back of the restaurant, but doesn't turn to look. Instead, she concentrates on the feel of his kiss, how familiar it is even after all the time that has passed. How it's warmth makes it's way down into her heart, pushing out that cold emptiness which had filled it for what had seemed like an eternity.

As she feels the tears running down her cheeks, certain they're meshing with his, she raises her hand, places it gently on the back of his head, pulls him a little closer, kisses him a little more urgently, feels his response.

And at that moment, she knows that, somehow, together, they'll find their way.

They break apart only after the smattering of applause and gentle laughs finally penetrate their little bubble.

Their foreheads touching, she gently asks, "Too much?"

He softly chuckles. "No, perfectly comfortable on my end."

"Me too."

He leans back, just a bit, taking her hand as he does so.

Their heads still close, he quietly asks, looking into her eyes, "So, now that we've gotten the most important issue out of the way, what's the next part of your plan? You are here to rescue me, right?"

She's somewhat nonplussed by this sudden change in subject, her mind still on the kiss, so is a little slow on the uptake. "Excuse me?"

"There's clearly some sort of problem with me, Sarah. Someone, or something, has seriously messed with my mind. If it were otherwise, I would've remembered you, us, the moment I saw you."

"I'm not sure what you mean."

He chuckles. "Sarah, have you taken a look at yourself? It would be nigh on impossible for a man with a fully functional brain to forget you. Even if he didn't have the history that you and I clearly have."

She feels the heat in her cheeks, but tries to ignore it,

"You're right, Chuck. Something happened about a year ago."

He nods. "Makes sense. That's about how long I've been here. Was it an accident? Sickness?"

She shakes her head. "No."

"OK. Deliberate then." He pauses. "I need to ask you a question. Does the name Ilana Truffaut mean anything to you?"

She's puzzled once more by this sudden veer in their conversation. And worried about how much he knows of that operation.

She replies, "Yes. That was an identity I used on a mission in France." She doesn't elaborate.

He looks at her, nods, doesn't expand upon the matter either. "OK. It was Beckman than."

"What?!"

"Beckman's behind whatever's been done to me."

"That's what we concluded, but how did you figure it out based on that?"

"We?"

"John Casey and me."

"Big guy? Uses a lot of grunts when he talks?"

She smiles. "Yes. He's the one who found you up here. My partner." She pauses. "Our partner. Our friend."

"I thought there was something about him." He smiles at her. "Clearly, he doesn't mean nearly as much to me as the stunningly beautiful woman sitting at my table does. Otherwise, I would've remembered him."

She blushes again, then tries to get the conversation back on track. "You'll need to tell me why you're so sure it's her, but this isn't the time and place." She gestures with her head. "Casey's waiting for us across the street. We need to get what you need from your place and get out of town. Quickly."

"OK."

She's surprised. "No questions? No wondering where we're going to go?"

He shakes his head. "Nope. It's painfully obvious that there's a ton of stuff I don't know, but I do know this. I love you. And I do know that I couldn't love someone I don't trust. Ergo, I must trust you. The rest is just details."

She's warmed by his faith in her. "Thank you, Chuck."

"You're welcome." He stands, picks up his tablet with one hand and offers the other to her. "Please come with me. I need to say goodbye to Sandra and Clark."

She takes his hand, rises from her chair. "Are you sure that's wise?"

"They're my friends, Sarah. I can't just leave them in the lurch. But I'll be careful. Trust me."

She looks into his eyes. "OK."

He leads her to the back, clearly familiar with the layout of the place. As they enter the kitchen, they see the Sandra and Clark doing their best to appear busy, as if they have no interest in the two people standing in the doorway.

Chuck says, "Clark, Sandra." They turn to him. "Guys, this is Sarah. A year ago, something happened and we lost each other. But now we're back together."

He pauses, looks into Sarah's eyes. "She's the love of my life."

Sandra nods, tears running freely down her cheeks. "I knew it, Chuck. As soon as I saw her, I knew it."

Before anyone can move, she closes the distance, enwraps Sarah in an almost bone-crushing hug.

"Thank you, Sarah. For finding him. For coming back to him. For loving him"

Sarah, caught off guard by the woman's effusiveness, returns the hug, a little awkwardly at first, but, sensing the sincerity in it, returns it fully.

"Thank you, Sandra. You and Clark mean a lot to him. I just want to say again how grateful I am that you two were here to take care of Chuck."

The older woman releases the agent from her grasp. Steps back and gives both of them long look.

"You've come to say goodbye, haven't you?"

Chuck replies, a little sadly, "Yes, Sandra. For now. There are matters that have to be dealt with. Some things that've been done that need to be undone. But I promise that when they are, Sarah," he looks her way and she nods, "and I will come back and visit the both of you."

Clark replies, smiling, "That's a promise that you'd better keep."

"I'll make sure of it," Sarah responds, eagerly.

While Clark gives Sarah a hug, Chuck steps forward to do the same for Sandra.

Quietly, he says, "Thank you, Sandra. I'm not sure I would've made it up here without you two taking care of me."

She whispers into his ear, "You're welcome. She's been hurting. She needs you just as much as you need her. Maybe even more. Take care of her, Chuck."

He nods. "I will."

They break apart.

Chuck takes Sarah's hand, then says, sounding very serious, "Sandra. Clark. It's possible that someone may come and ask you some questions about what happened to me. Don't be anxious. Simply tell them the honest truth." He grins, a little cheekily, glances at Sarah. "Just say that the most beautiful woman in the whole wide world, a woman named Sarah, came and took me away."

Embarrassed, she smacks him in the shoulder. "Chuck, stop it."

He just continues to grin. "And you don't know exactly where and why, because I'm not going to tell you. All you know for sure is that the two of them were crazy in love. You can do that?"

Clark dryly replies, "I think we can manage it."

A few moments later, after an emotional round of goodbyes, Sandra and Clark watch the two of them, hand in hand, leave through the front door.

Clark looks after them, thoughtful. "Sandra, I don't know what it is, but there's something about them that seems familiar."

Sandra, brushing away her tears, just shakes her head and mutters, fondly, "Idiot."

Walking across the road, heading towards the large, black vehicle parked there, Chuck tenses up, enough that Sarah, holding his hand, feels it.

She looks at him, anxious. "What is it, Chuck?"

"Sarah, is Casey the kind of guy to hold a grudge?"

"He's been known to. Why?"

"I somehow just got the thought that I may have been responsible for blowing up his car. One he really liked. Am I right?"

"Yes, you are. But I think he's over it by now. He likes the one he has now just as much."

"Should I apologize?"

"I believe it would be best to let sleeping dogs lie."

"Gotcha."

As they approach, the driver's door open and Casey steps out.

Sarah asks, "Anything?"

He shakes his head. "No. I think we're clear."

"Good. We'll head to Chuck's place and grab the essentials then."

Chuck steps forward and, a little cautiously, offers his hand. "Thank you for finding me, John. Or do I usually call you Casey? I'm not sure."

Shaking Chuck's hand, the big man grunts. "Casey's fine."

"Then, thank you, Casey. Thank you for bringing Sarah back to me."

The man looks embarrassed, appears to try and cover it with a gruff, "I'm not your matchmaker, moron."

Chuck opens his mouth to reply, but abruptly pauses, feels like a light has suddenly come on.

She notices his expression. "Chuck, what is it?"

"Sarah, my last name's Bartowski, isn't it?"

She nods, happily. "Yes, Chuck. It is. But how did…"

He grins back. "It just clicked after I got the distinct impression that moron and Bartowski are synonymous in Casey's book."

He looks to the man beside him. "Am I right, big guy?"

"Yeah, but maybe not quite as true as it used to be."

"Aw, thanks. That's the kindest thing you've ever said to me. At least anything that I can remember you saying."

"Don't push it."

Sarah chuckles quietly. "OK, boys. We should get going. Casey, you know the way?"

He nods, a little grumpily. "Yeah, I know the way."

He gets back behind the wheel, while Chuck joins her in the back seat.

"Sarah, there's a GPS in my watch. I'll need to give them a reason for my location, just in case they check. I'll call in sick, tell them I'll be at home, sleeping. They shouldn't be concerned until I don't show up tomorrow. That'll give us the head start we need to get clear."

"Good idea."

He slips the phone out of his pocket. "Give me a minute." Bringing it to his ear, he presses a button and softly says, "Call work."

After a few seconds, he says, sounding dragged out. "Hi, Gillian," he feels Sarah tense beside him, but pushes it aside, concentrates on the call, "I'm gonna have to take the day off."

There's a pause as he listens to her response. "No, it's not serious. Just a cold, but thanks for your concern. I'll just take some cold medicine and try and sleep it off. Hopefully, I'll be in tomorrow."

Another pause. "No, I've got everything I need. No, Gillian. There's no need for you to come over, but thank you anyway.

Pause. "No. I'm sure. I'll call tomorrow. Bye."

He disconnects and slips the phone back into his pocket.

"OK, Casey. We're good."

Casey starts the engine and pulls the car out into the street.

"Is she always that pushy?"

He turns to Sarah, surprised by her words. He sees the look in her eyes and suddenly the temperature in the car drops, almost as if someone has just turned on the air conditioning.

"What?"

"You heard me. It didn't seem like Gillian was willing to take no for an answer."

"She's just being friendly."

"I'm sure she is."

He didn't realize it was possible to inject such venom into four little words.

He's trying to come up with something to say when she speaks again.

"Has she ever been to your place?"

"Yeah, a few times."

She raises an eyebrow. "Oh?" The temperature seems to drop a bit more, but oddly enough Chuck starts to feel a little warm.

Finally, he realizes what's going on. He has the feeling that this isn't the first time Sarah's been jealous. Unbidden, an image comes up into his mind. A sandwich shop? A short brown-haired woman? Try as he might, nothing else comes to mind, no name, no circumstances. But he knows that the woman sitting next to him wasn't that fond of this mystery woman.

He's momentarily tempted to tease Sarah, but quickly thinks better of it. Realizes how unkind it would be, especially this early in their new beginning.

"Sarah, never by herself. She only came over as part of a group. I had the whole crew over for dinner two or three times. Appreciation for all their hard work."

He sees her relax and give him a slightly chagrined look. "OK." She reaches over, takes his hand once more. "Sorry."

He knows it's a little selfish on his part, but he can't help but be a little flattered that someone like Sarah Walker could be jealous over him.

Wait.

"Sarah! I just remembered your last name. It's Walker."

She smiles. "Good, Chuck."

He rolls the name around on his tongue for a bit. "Sarah Walker. Sarah Walker. I like it."

Her words are dry, but he sees her little smile. "I'm happy for you."

"You know what might have been cooler? Sarah Sky—"

"Don't say it, Chuck. We already had that discussion. As a CIA agent, it would have attracted too much attention."

"Oh."

Casey pulls the Crown Vic over to the curb, announces, "We're here. Let's get your stuff and get the hell out of Dodge."

...

Gillian hangs up the phone, a little puzzled. When she'd driven by Clandra's on her way to work, she'd seen Chuck in his usual spot in the front window. He'd looked OK, seemed engrossed in something on his tablet, so she wonders how things could've changed so quickly. However, he's never shown any signs of being a malingerer, so decides to take his word for it.

Besides, this might be the opportunity she's been waiting for. For a moment or two, she visualizes sitting at his bedside. He's feverish, but she's kindly and gently holding a cold cloth against his forehead. She nurses him back to health, and then he expresses his gratitude, his feelings for her that he's been holding in for so long.

Chuckling at herself, she shakes off the juvenile fantasy. There is, however, that deli down the street with the great chicken soup. Even though he'd told her that he didn't need anything, she decides to take some over.

Maybe, if he's not too sick, they'll have a chance to talk. Maybe she can find out why he keeps ignoring all the signals she's throwing out.

She takes off her watch, puts it in the drawer. No need for anyone to know where she's going.

For a few seconds, she looks, irresolutely, at the Glock in the drawer, then slips it into her purse. It is SOP after all.

And, of course, there's that other daydream where she single-handedly saves him from being kidnapped by some sort of enemy super spy. Probably would need her sidearm for that.

She snorts. As if any super spy would ever have reason to come to Casper.

...

She parks her car across the street from Chuck's condo. After picking up the white plastic bag with the soup, she walks toward his place, rehearsing in her mind what she's going to say to him, especially after he was so firm about not needing anything.

She's halfway across the street when her eyes catch the flash of a man passing by the window on the second floor. Chuck's bedroom window. She can't be absolutely certain, but she thinks the man was heavyset, older.

Not Chuck.

She feels a little tingle in her spine.

Something's not right here.

She looks around more carefully, notices the large, black car parked in front. Out of state plates.

Another tingle.

She quickly closes the remaining distance to his door. Tentatively, she turns the handle, is surprised to find it unlocked.

Tingle.

She quickly removes her high heels, places them to one side along with the soup. Reaching into her purse, she pulls out her pistol and, racking the slide, chambers a round.

Slowly, she turns the door handle, opens the door, quickly steps inside, sees the entranceway is clear. Closing the door quietly behind her, she softly pads on the balls of her feet toward the stairway.

She hears Chuck's voice from upstairs, and, although she can't make out the words, he sounds a little stressed.

She tests the first stair, making sure it doesn't creak, then slowly, carefully, repeats the procedure as she makes her way to the second floor.

At the top of the stairs, she turns to the right, towards his slightly ajar bedroom door. (She blushes momentarily as she remembers that she only knows it's his bedroom is that, during one of his staff parties and after using the upstairs bathroom, she'd briefly, curiously, stuck her head in.)

The voices from within are clearer now and she hears an unfamiliar, deep one gruffly say, "Bartowski, I don't care what you say. We're not taking your damn comic book collection with us."

Comic books? And who the hell is Bartowski?

She reaches the door. With her Glock held out in front of her, finger outside the trigger guard, she takes a deep breath, then uses her free hand to quickly push open the door, stepping into the room.

Gillian knows she doesn't have the most commanding of voices, so puts everything she has into her order.

"FREEZE! NOBODY MOVE!"

She inwardly cringes at the redundancy, nonetheless, the three people in the room, all with their backs to her, do obey. She quickly takes stock of the situation. Sees Chuck and a tall blonde woman standing on opposite sides of the bed, a packed suitcase between them. A few feet away, to her left, is the man she saw pass by the window earlier, another suitcase in his hand.

"EVERYBODY TURN AROUND. SLOWLY."

They do so. Immediately, Gillian recognizes the big man. Major John Casey. She'd seen him often enough around Fort Meade. Heard of his reputation. Old school. A killer.

The blonde, however, is a stranger to her.

She moves her eyes, for just an instant, from the woman to Chuck, sees that he appears to be OK.

When she looks back, she's staring down the barrel of a chrome automatic, the sight of which is not nearly as terrifying as the two cold, blue eyes boring into her from behind it.

How the hell…

Both the Major and Chuck speak up simultaneously. Urgently.

"Walker, she's one of ours…"

"Sarah, that's Gillian. Don't…

Wait. Sarah? Sarah Walker?

Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!

If only a tenth of what they say about this CIA ghost is true, Gillian knows she'll be dead in less than a heartbeat if she so much as twitches the wrong way.

As hard as she tries, she can't stop the sudden tremor in her gun hand. But, somehow, still unsure if Chuck is safe, she finds the courage she needs in order to not back down, mustering it up from some place deep within her.

Without taking her eyes off the blonde agent, (she won't make that mistake again) she asks, "Chuck, are you OK?"

"Yes, Gillian, I'm fine."

"Then tell me what the hell's going on here."

"Gillian, these people have come here to help me."

"Chuck, do you have any idea who these two are? Major Casey is a stone cold killer. An assassin. I know of him from the NSA. But, if the rumors are true, the woman pointing the gun at me makes him almost look like a saint in comparison. Why would you trust people like these?"

"They're my friends, Gillian."

She derisively replies, "Friends, Chuck? That isn't possible. You can't be friends with their sort. They're just soulless, heartless machines. Weapons."

She sees something flash in the eyes of the woman facing her, but has no idea what it signifies.

Gillian hears what sounds like restrained anger in Chuck's voice. "You're wrong. In my heart, I know them. They're more than what the gossip and rumors say. Much more."

"What? How?"

"I can't go into it now, but in brief, my memory has been…altered. Because of that, I don't remember everything about them, but there's this…this certainty I feel. It's hard to explain, but I know both of them without knowing much about them. I'm sorry if that sounds weird, but it's the only way I can express it."

"Sounds like some sort of mystical mumbo-jumbo to me."

"I know. But it's the truth."

She shakes her head. "You sure these two haven't somehow implanted that idea in your head?"

There's a pause before he answers, rather cryptically, "No, Gillian. Not them."

He pauses again. "There's another reason I'm so sure."

"Which is?"

"I'm totally, completely head over heels in love with Sarah."

Gillian sees the blonde agent's eyes soften for an instant before they resume their icy stare down the barrel of her gun.

"You can't be serious. You mean to tell me that you think you're in love with this…this monster?"

Gillian swallows nervously as she hears the rumble of an actual growl from the woman facing her.

Maybe I've gone a little too far.

Chuck's voice is firm, cold. "Gillian, that's the last time I'll l tolerate you speaking of Sarah like that."

"But—"

He cuts her off, his tone harsher than she's ever heard from him before.

"Last. Time. You got that?"

She flinches, nods, cowed by his fury.

"Gillian, you need to stop and think. You know what kind of person I am. So ask yourself, could I love Sarah if she was simply and solely what you believe her to be?"

After a moment's thought, she shakes her head. "No, you couldn't. I see your point.'

"Good. Now, I want you to put your weapon down. Slowly. There's no reason for anyone to get hurt here."

She hesitates.

"Now, please, Gillian."

Letting the Glock dangle from her finger, she crouches down, places the pistol on the floor, then stands.

The tension in the room, thick until this moment, abruptly lessens.

"Good. Now kick it over to Casey."

She does so, watches as he bends down to pick it up. Then he quickly removes the magazine and ejects the round in the chamber before placing the now harmless weapon on top of the chest of drawers.

For the first time, the woman speaks, "Casey, cover me while I search her." She tucks her pistol into the belt at her back.

Gillian's about to protest that she doesn't have any other weapons, but upon seeing the uncompromising fierceness in the agent's eyes, stays quiet.

After a quick, but thorough pat down and search of her purse, Sarah steps back, says, "OK. She's clean."

Chuck says, "Good. Gillian, please sit down. We'll need to figure out how we're going to handle this. You promise to behave yourself?"

She nods, watches Chuck as he walks over and takes Sarah's hand, leans in and quietly asks if she's OK. In that instant, Gillian sees an astonishing transformation. The woman nods, then leans in against his shoulder, her whole body somehow softening as she molds herself against his side. Her eyes, so deadly, coldly blue mere moments ago, warm, the color seeming to change in a split second as she looks up into his face and smiles, her whole demeanour changing.

Her love for the man beside her is so conspicuous, that Gillian, as much as she would like to, can't possibly deny it. And when she sees the same look on his face, she knows beyond a doubt that any slim hopes she'd ever entertained about him have now been dashed to pieces.

Sadly, she asks, "I never had a chance, did I, Chuck?"

He shakes his head. "I didn't know exactly why until today, but, no, you never did. I'm sorry."

She shrugs. "No need for you to apologize. You never led me on."

"Still, I feel bad. You're a genuinely beautiful person. You deserve to find someone who loves you. Completely. Wholly. Even if Sarah hadn't ever found me, it never would've been me. I would've always been waiting for that missing piece to show up."

She sighs. "Maybe the guy who takes your job will be as nice as you. Although, I don't believe lightning like that strikes twice."

Sarah speaks up, still looking up into Chuck's eyes. Softly smiles. "No, you're right. I don't believe it does either."

Watching them, Gillian hopes that one day, even just once, she's on the receiving end of the kind of look Chuck gives to the woman at his side.

Casey's rough voice breaks the mood. "Hey, lovebirds. Break it up. We haven't got all day. We need to get our asses in gear here."

Both Chuck and Sarah seem to give themselves a little shake. Chuck drops Sarah's hand. Backs up a foot or so. She smoothes down her shirt. Assumes a neutral look.

"Right, Casey." Chuck looks toward the suitcase on the bed. "I think we're about done here. And I'll leave the comic books behind."

Gillian jumps in. "You're Bartowski?"

Chuck turns to her, an inquiring look on his face.

"Heard it when I was outside the door."

He nods.

"So McNeil was a cover?"

"Yes. A cover for a cover. Until today I thought Carmichael was my real name." He shrugs. "I was wrong. I'm not who I thought I was."

Sympathetically, she asks, "What did they do to you, Chuck?"

"Well, that's what we're going to find out. And how to deal with it. We haven't had the chance to discuss the details yet, but that's why Casey and Sarah have come here.

"To save me. Something my gut tells me isn't the first time."

Casey grunts. "You've got that right."

Gillian catches the look Chuck directs the man's way. Senses the affection in it.

Walking over to the bed, Chuck closes the suitcase, picks it up and puts it on the floor.

"OK, we can go."

He walks over, stops in front of Gillian. "So, what we do with you?"

Gillian's certain she hears a small measure of malice in Sarah's voice. "We could tie her up. Nice and tight."

Chuck just gently shakes his head, smiling a little. "No, I don't think that's necessary. But I do feel we'll have to tranq you. A couple of doses. Just to give us enough time to make sure we're clear. That OK with you, Gillian?"

She shrugs. "Better than being tied up, I guess."

Casey hands him the tranq pistol. "OK. Please make yourself comfortable on the bed."

She removes her suit jacket, drapes it and her purse over the chair, then lies down.

She looks up at him, smirks. "You know, Chuck, this isn't exactly how I pictured winding up in your bed."

She sees his blush, catches Sarah's scowl out of the corner of her eye as the shot hits home.

Take that, blondie.

Sarah walks over to the bed, eagerly takes the pistol from Chuck's hand.

"Here, let me do that."

She stares down at Gillian, looking, to the brunette, like a hawk ready to pounce on its prey.

"After you wake from your beauty sleep, which I think you could really use, please feel free to tell her that Sarah Walker and John Casey were here. And that we're not done with her yet.

"Her? Which her?"

"You'll find out. In time. Goodbye, Gillian.'

"Oh, and by the way, this might hurt a little." There's a wicked gleam in the agent's eyes. "That is, assuming I do it right." She raises the pistol, a satisfied smirk on her face.

Gillian feels the painful sting on the tranq dart, then another. Has time for one last thought before drifting off.

Damn blondes always keep getting in my way.

...

Casper is fifty miles behind them, when Sarah, snuggled close to him in the back seat of the Crown Vic, gently asks, "Chuck, please tell me what happened to you. How you know it was Beckman."

TBC

—A/N: Next chapter Ellie, Awesome and the bearded one make their appearance. Thanks for reading along. Always appreciate reviews. Until next chapter.