A/N: Bear with me guys - I'm very new at this and am still figuring out all the random formatting I need to do. I have a bad habit of editing myself into oblivion, even after I've published (this A/N as a prime example, added nearly a full day after first publishing). I just need to find my groove, so to speak.

Disclaimer: I don't own Chuck and do not derive any income from this. And that's a total bummer.

Sarah Walker knew she was at a crossroads in her career with the CIA, which was effectively saying that she was at a crossroads in her life. The CIA was all she'd known, having been recruited right out of high-school.

She wasn't happy and she realized that she hadn't been for some time. In the past, her feelings were always buried by whatever mission she was involved in. Not only had she never really thought about how she felt about her job, but it had never even occurred to think about it.

But now there weren't any missions and she did have time to think about it. And the more she thought about it, the more she realized she wasn't just "not happy". She was fucking angry. All the time, just – angry. Wake up angry, spend the day angry, go to bed angry. It felt caustic. Malignant.

Early on in her career, it really almost felt like she was saving the world; doing important work for the most powerful country in the world. She was literally the tip of the spear and she was damn good at her job; one of the best. But she'd just been a kid for Christ's sake! She had her first field mission before she was old enough to drink!

She couldn't shake the feeling that what she was doing wasn't changing anything or really making any difference. For every terrorist killed or thwarted, there were ten new ones ready to pick up the reins, each one dedicated to being more ruthless than their predecessor. For every arms dealer caught or killed, a hundred more rushed in to fill the void, each willing to push that line in the sand a little further back. You'd think they would realize that they had to live in the world too, but it seemed they were excited only by the opportunity to watch the world burn.

And now, after all these years in the field, there was just so much goddamn blood on her hands. Most of it felt justified, but in other cases there were too many questions, too much information she didn't have, she couldn't help but wonder. Second guessing not just herself, but her superiors. Which just a year ago would have been unthinkable. Too much was always held back as "need to know". Just do what you're told and trust your superiors to know that it's important enough for you to potentially die for. Don't worry – we'll put a star on the wall for you if that happens.

Her perspective really started to shift about three months prior. She had caught her handler in a plot to kidnap the infant heir to a Russian oligarch's empire. An incredibly audacious plot to steal billions of dollars. And she'd been instrumental in setting up the sting operation to bring him down. Her most recent mission. She understood that this was probably the root of a lot of her anger, but not all of it. Field agents with the CIA have serious trust issues, but your handler is supposed to be an exception. Your life is literally in their hands. They often know more about whatever mission you're on than you do.

She'd known him for years and a little part of her couldn't help but wonder if this was just how it went – the natural progression of a field agent. You started out idealistic, full of spirit, ready to take on whatever the bad guys could throw at you. But time conspires against you - the lying, the stealing, the killing - erodes that spirit, washing it away like rain washes away the soil. It's so gradual you don't see it happening, until one day you wake up and what? You just don't give a shit about anything but your own self-interest? You decide, fuck it, from here on out, it's all about what I want? It seems that's what happened to Kieran Ryker. Could it happen to her? Was it already happening? Was this low-grade anger she was carrying around now how it started?

After the sting operation was finished and Kieran was taken into custody along with what they believed were all of his co-conspirators – and there were a lot of them – she'd been assigned to a small satellite office on the north side of LA while the internal investigation ran its course in DC. That was a month ago, and the investigation seemed to be moving at a glacial pace. She supposed that as under-the-radar assignments went, it could have been a lot worse. And while she was bored out of her mind, she wasn't thrilled about getting back into the field either.

She'd never had a knack for self-reflection or self-analysis; quite the opposite. When she was a kid, it was always about working the next con with her dad. After joining the CIA the first couple of years were all about the training, which was incredibly rewarding but also both mentally and physically exhausting. After training, it was always about the next mission. She'd never had more than a few weeks downtime between missions and a lot of that was spent filling out reports and going to meetings.

But now she found herself in a sort of living purgatory; an in-between state where there were no new missions on the horizon, no meetings to worry about, no reports to file. Technically she was "in charge" of a group of analysts tasked with communication intercepts from various sources but they were all contractors – not directly employed by the government at all but rather a defense sub-contractor. They may have filed their reports with her, but they also filed them with their respective contract holders and she noticed that they never consulted directly with her about any intelligence that was uncovered as part of their efforts. She was a figure head only and had no real responsibility. Director Graham seemed to want her to look at it as a sort of vacation, but she was expected to show up at the office at least a few times a week. She read the reports the analysts filed, made notations where she thought they might be relevant, but it was very low-end work for some with her field experience.

And so, anger and disillusionment led her down a mental path she'd never really followed before. Was there possibly a life for her outside of the CIA? Assuming they even let her leave, what the hell would she do? She could speak 7 languages fluently and two more passably, she was skilled with explosive ordinance, she could field strip and reassemble just about any handheld firearm in production. She was a Third Dan black-belt in Aikido and a Second Dan in Jiu Jitsu. She could fly most commercial and military aircraft, but she didn't have logs to back it up. Can't really log your flight time on a clandestine operation. She was an experienced diver and rock climber, but not master level at either. She had logged over 1100 skydiving jumps, including many HALO jumps with oxygen. She was a decent skier/snowboarder, though she preferred skiing as a sport. She couldn't go into law enforcement because that would likely require extensive background checks that the CIA would never allow.

Another question she was avoiding was if she was maybe addicted to the danger of her job. Would she be able to handle life as an "average Jane" so to speak? For example, could she be something like say, a realtor? Sell houses for a living? Day in and day out showing people homes, always striving for that next big commission. For hobbies, maybe she'd take up yoga, or teach Aikido to underprivileged kids at a YMCA or maybe learn to play the piano. What about making friends? What would she tell them about herself? She hated the idea of continuing to live a life founded on lies, but there wasn't really any escaping that. Where would she live? She loved Southern California weather, and she was familiar with the area having been born a little further south near San Diego. But if she did leave, she could really live anywhere, be anything or anyone, right?

It was mentally overwhelming – there were both not enough options and at the same time too many questions to answer about all of them. She was unhappy, but the prospect of living outside of the CIA seemed fraught with traps and pitfalls that could easily undermine any new life she tried to build.

None of these things were at the forefront of her mind when she walked into the Burbank Buy More to see if someone could fix her goddamn phone. It was her third burner in as many weeks because the stupid battery wouldn't stay clipped in. None of the analysts in the office seemed to have clue beyond studying satellite imagery or communication intercepts. She could have gone to her internal IT group, but the supervisor there had apparently missed the last sexual harassment training seminar and in her current state of mind, Sarah wasn't sure she could stand his leering eyes and innuendo laced conversation without driving his nose up into his brain.

As she approached the Nerd Herd kiosk in the center of the store, she saw a tall man with a mop of dark curly hair standing behind the desk and a shorter bearded man in a green polo shirt next to the counter. She saw the bearded man staring at her intently, but the tall man was distracted, on the phone with the receiver caught between his ear and shoulder. She heard shorter man whispering something but only caught the last part, "…Vicky Vale!"

The tall man seemed to pick up on that went on some kind of strange riff as she approached the desk. "Vicky Vale, Vick ah Vicky Vale, vickety-vickety, Vicky Vale, Vick ah Vicky Vale!" He glanced at her briefly but then did a double-take, the phone dropping from his shoulder and clattering noisily on the desk.

"I hope I'm not interrupting." Sarah said, her previous irritation replaced with amusement. Who the hell is Vicky Vale, and holy shit that was adorable.

"No, not at all." The curly haired man said slowly. "We, uh, that's from-it's from Batman." He said, as if that explained everything.

"'Cause that makes it better." She said, taking considerable pleasure from his reactions to her.

"Haaha." The tall one laughed uncomfortably.

"Uh, Hi. Hey, I'm Morgan." The short bearded one interjected. "This is Chuck." He said, nodding towards the taller man.

"Wow, I didn't think people still named their kids Chuck." Sarah didn't intentionally exclude the shorter man, but her attention was focused on the taller one who had gone off on that bizarre yet somehow endearing riff.

"My parents were sadists, and carnival freaks found him in a dumpster." Chuck said jokingly.

"But they raised me as one of their own." The short one said, trailing off towards the end.

"How can I help you…?" Chuck asked, obviously fishing for her name.

"Sarah." She said.

"Pleasure to meet you, Sarah." He said holding out his hand.

"Thank you." She said shaking his hand firmly. She was surprised by how warm his hand was. "Anyway, I'm here about this." She said, dropping her phone and battery on the counter.

"Oh yeah, the Intellicell. Yeah, absolutely. Uh, this model has a little screw that uh, pops loose right in the back here." He put the plastic battery cover between his lips, talking over it as he worked, pulling out a small screwdriver.

She watched him while he worked and found herself wondering what his curls felt like.

"Just go ahead and give it a couple of quick turns and good as new." He snapped the cover back on and handed it back to her. "No problem."

"Wow, you geeks are good!" She said, impressed.

The two men looked at one another knowingly and started talking over each other.

"Nerds, ah, I would say Nerds probably more…" Chuck explained.

"It's no big deal, it's just that.." Morgan said.

"I mean you know that, uh, Nerd Herd." Chuck said, gesturing to the sign above him.

Sarah was intensely amused by their correction of her naming faux pas and found herself wanting to talk more to the tall nerd named Chuck who fixed her phone – she really wanted to ask who Vicky Vale was – but they were interrupted by a distraught customer. It was obvious that Chuck wanted to talk more with her as well, but he politely excused himself and Sarah proceeded to watch one of the most charming things she'd ever seen.

The customer had not understood how to use his video camera and subsequently missed recording an important recital for his daughter, who was still dressed as a ballerina. Chuck immediately got several other store employees to help him recreate the recital right there in the store, even going so far as to console and reassure the young girl who was shy about her height. As someone who'd been one of the tallest girls growing up, this struck a chord with Sarah. She watched the event unfold, and a crowd start to gather. The young ballerina completed her recital to a round of applause from customers and store employees alike.

She watched as Chuck started to walk back towards her but was intercepted by another green shirted employee who started to loudly berate Chuck for no apparent reason. Not wanting to embarrass Chuck by waiting until after the scene the other employee was creating, she quickly pulled a business card from her purse, penned a quick note so he knew it was for him, then left it on the counter and quietly left the store.

Sarah found herself thinking about the tall Nerd Herder named Chuck periodically throughout the rest of the day. He'd not only expertly and easily fixed her phone, but also gone out of his way to help a distraught father, against his own obvious desire to speak with her.

She'd also noticed how the other store employees seemed to defer to Chuck, the one exception being the rude one who'd yelled at him after the scene with the ballerina. They had quickly worked to set the stage for the young girl and responded to Chuck's requests with no argument. She could tell they respected him.

She was a little surprised he hadn't called her that evening and found that she was even more disappointed when he didn't call her the next day either. While she was looking at her phone, wondering why he hadn't called, she had a minor epiphany. She realized that in all her thoughts and fantasies about what she would do if she were to leave the CIA, she had all sorts of ideas about jobs and career paths, and hobbies. Even making girl-friends and going out for coffee or having a yoga buddy. But in all of that, she never once stopped to think about her love life. About meeting a man and being involved in an honest relationship. She was a healthy, mid-twenties heterosexual woman, but the thought of a romantic interest hadn't even occurred to her. She tried to think what it would look like and couldn't. She'd never had a relationship before – not even close. She'd had partners that she slept with, and she'd had a number of one night stands throughout the years, when that itch demanded to be scratched, but that was more like stress relief. She'd honestly never had a personal relationship with anyone outside of the CIA. So what about love? Was she even capable of loving a man after closing off that aspect of her persona for so long? Was she worthy of being loved in return, given all the horrible things she'd done over the course of her career?

What about kids? Sarah thought. Do I maybe want kids someday? She surprised herself by thinking that the answer might actually be yes. She couldn't remember ever having asked herself that question before. The prospect terrified her, but she didn't shut it down.

She belatedly realized that it was likely that the tall Nerd Herder named Chuck simply already had a girlfriend. While this realization disappointed her more than she thought it should, she wasn't going to make any assumptions. She decided she wasn't going to let this go, he'd made an impression on her and she wasn't going to let him off the hook. Maybe she should treat this like a mission. A "dry-run" so to speak. She needed to go on a real date, get a feel for it. This curly-haired Chuck guy seemed like a pretty harmless first step – sort of a training mission.

She realized with a start where her own line of thinking was leading. Ugh, fuck that! It's not a goddamn mission, I'm just going to ask a guy on a freaking date. Just a date. He's probably not even available, but even if he is, we'll go out to dinner, we'll talk, we'll have some drinks. I'm a 27 year old woman going on a date. Jeez!

The next day at lunch she went back to the Buy More to confront the tall nerd who'd made such an impression on her. She walked up to the Nerd Herd desk and saw him sitting there with his head down, lightly tapping the desk with his forehead, quietly repeating, "I will not kill Jeff. I will not kill Lester. I will not kill Jeff. I will not ki-"

He cut off as Sarah lightly tapped the service bell next to him. He reached out and grabbed her hand saying, "Morgan, not now." But upon feeling her hand and realizing it wasn't Morgan, he looked at her and jumped up, embarrassed, quickly letting go over her hand.

Sarah noticed again how warm and strong his hands felt.

"Hi! Sarah, Hi! Uh, phone trouble again?" He stammered, pulling out a screwdriver.

She felt a strange happiness that he'd remembered her name. "Uh, yeah, I'm not sure I'm able to receive calls, because I never got one from you." She flirted, her head tilted slightly down, her eyes looking upward at him, giving him a slow smile.

Take that you charming nerd.

His eyes got really wide and she was very amused to see his cheeks flush red as he blushed. He opened his mouth to respond but was interrupted as the short bearded one spoke up from the background, "Hoh, hoh, oh, man she got…" He quickly moved away as Chuck gave him a stern look over his shoulder.

"I'm sorry I left so quickly yesterday, I had an appointment with a realtor, I just moved here a few weeks ago." Sarah said, letting him off the hook for responding to her blatant flirtation.

"Welcome!" Chuck said enthusiastically.

"Thanks." Sarah replied. "And uh, I don't really know anyone here. I was wondering if you would show me around." Sarah paused and lowered her voice. "That is, if you're free."

Morgan piped up again from the background, this time loudly, "Oh, he's free. He-he-he's got nothing but time on his hands, he is very available! You guys are gonna have a great time!"

Chuck smiled at Sarah and started to look over his shoulder again, when Morgan ran away muttering about xerox machines.

"Apparently my schedule is wide open." Chuck said, smiling.

"Great!" Sarah said, feeling genuinely happy as a smile enveloped her face. "So, I've been staying at a hotel nearby until I find a place. Why don't you pick me up there at 7:30 tonight? Nothing fancy, we'll just keep it casual, OK?"

"Ok, it's, uh, it's a date!" Chuck said with a smile.

"I'll see you tonight!" Sarah said. Wow, he really is crazy cute with that hair and that smile!

Sarah left the Buy More and realized that she was both excited and nervous about her upcoming date. She couldn't remember the last time she was nervous about anything beyond the prospect of dying during some particularly dangerous mission. She found herself playing through her brief interactions with Chuck so far. There was something that was just so refreshing about him. Everyone in her professional life were expert liars – you had to be when your life might depend on it – but Chuck seemed to have no deception in him. He seemed to genuinely care about people. She kept coming back to the father of the ballerina and how it would have been very easy to simply dismiss the man after telling him that he should have had a tape for his video recorder, and that there was nothing that could be done. But instead, he'd really gone above and beyond to help.

Later that evening, Sarah went through a series of outfits but struggled to find what she wanted. She realized that the mission often dictated what she would wear, and she didn't have to really think about how she wanted to look. But now she wanted to impress someone that had nothing to do with a mission. Ultimately, she decided she was overthinking it. She'd told him casual, so she settled on a pair of black ankle length jeans, a black blouse with a floral print on it and black shoes with a short heel.

She also of course had knives strapped to her calf and a small Walther .22 caliber pistol in a hidden holster. She was still a CIA agent after all.

She heard him knock on her door a few minutes early and was again a little shocked at the nervousness she felt. She opened the door and saw him standing there with a bouquet of flowers, looking the epitome of tall, dark and handsome, but in a boyish, charming way. His mouth dropped open when he saw her, and she watched the emotions fly across his face. His jaw snapped shut and he gave her a wide genuine smile.

"Sarah, uh, hi! Uh, wow… You look, uh." He stammered for a moment and took a breath. "You look spectacular!"

"Thank you very much, Chuck. That's very sweet." She said, feeling herself blush a little. Seriously, I'm blushing right now?

"Come on in, I was just finishing getting ready." She opened the door wide to let him. "Are those for me?" She asked, indicating the flowers in his hand.

"Uh, yes! Of course, here you go!" he said handing them to her. "I guess I should have realized you might not have a vase for them in a hotel room."

"You know what, I actually do have a vase. The room has a vase with fake flowers, so I'll just put them in there. Make yourself at home."

Chuck walked in and looked around. "Wow, nice room. Have you been staying here long?" He asked.

"Um, a few weeks? I'm sort of in a strange place with my job right now." She said while adding some water to the vase from the sink in the bathroom.

"Oh, really?" Chuck asked. "How so?"

"Ah, it's not big deal. They just kind of moved me to a new department after I transferred here, and I don't really like it, but I don't know if I want to go back to my old department either?" Sarah explained evasively.

"What is it that you do?" Chuck asked as she placed the vase of flowers back on the dresser.

"Bah, you know what? I'm always focused on my job, but tonight I don't really want to think about it." Sarah said casually. "How about we focus on you showing me around tonight? So where do we start?"

"Well, do you like Mexican food?" Chuck asked with another one of his smiles.

"Absolutely!" Sarah said excitedly.

"Ok, then, shall we?" Chuck said, opening the door for her.

The elevator ride to the lobby was a little awkward, the two of them standing shoulder-to-shoulder as they shared it with a family dressed in swim trunks and towels on their shoulders, obviously going to the hotel pool. Sarah caught the dad checking her out and rolled her eyes.

Did creeper dad just nod his head to Chuck? Uhg, what a douche. She noticed that Chuck was studiously ignoring the man.

A few moments later as they were walking across the parking lot, Sarah noticed that Chuck was blushing and had to stifle a laugh. "What's wrong, Chuck?" She said smiling, bumping his shoulder a little.

"Uh, nothing, nothing." He said. "It's just that creepy dad guy was checking you out and I thought he was actually going to say something to me, like congratulations or something." He looked at her and smiled. "I suppose I can't blame him too much. Yeah, he was creepy and inappropriate, but you really do look.. stunning."

Sarah laughed. "That's so funny that you called him 'creepy dad' because I was thinking the same thing in the elevator." She paused, brushing imaginary lint off his shoulder. "Thank you, again for the complement, Chuck. You look pretty good yourself." His compliments were so genuine, she could help but be a little self-conscious.

"Ah'thank you, ma'am." He said giving her a little bow that made her giggle.

Did I really just giggle?

"Ok, so I hope you don't mind, but I actually do not have my own car. However, one of the perks of being the Nerd Herd supervisor, is I get to take one of the Nerd Herd mobiles as my sort of company car. You get to be an honorary Nerd Herder for the night." He indicated the little hatchback with the Nerd Herd logo on it and walked her to the passenger side, opening the door for her.

"Ooh, honorary Nerd Herder! How exciting! Do I get a pocket protector?" She asked, laughing.

"Oh, God no, you have to earn the pocket protector!" He said, feigning shock.

"Ok, I'll keep that in mind." Sarah said smiling.

"Thank you, sir." She said getting in the car, taking the hand he offered to help steady her, even though she didn't need it. She couldn't remember anyone opening a car door for her and thought it was sweet of him.

She noticed that he was a pretty studious driver, a little on the slow side. Maybe he was just being cautious for her sake. Even with his sedate driving, it didn't take too long to get to the restaurant.

"Ok, so this is one of my favorite sit-down, family style Mexican restaurants. There are a couple of other smaller strip-mall type places that have really amazing food, but those aren't really conducive to a date type situation." He said getting out of the car. She saw him rush around to her side and open the door for her, as she thought he might. It was very old-fashioned, but also extremely cute and she had to admit she felt a little pampered by it.

He held his hand out for her and she took it, grinning at him. "You're very cute, Chuck, but you don't have to do that you know." She said stepping out of the car.

"Oh, I know, but I enjoy it. Uh, unless you don't like it. Ah, I can stop?" He stammered suddenly, and she could tell he was struggling a little with how to behave.

"Um, no it's cute. I admit I kind of like it. It makes me feel a little special." She said, smiling.

"You are special." He said suddenly, then blushed.

"You have to stop doing that too, Chuck. The whole blushing thing. It's just too cute for words." She said with a genuine smile.

"Yeah, I'm afraid you're just going to have to get used to it. I can say pretty definitively that it's not going to stop anytime soon." He laughed. "We Bartowski's are famous blushers. My sister is as bad as I am."

The restaurant was doing a pretty brisk business, so they had to wait just a few minutes for a seat, but the staff obviously knew Chuck and were very friendly with him. He actually fist-bumped a couple of the waiters, greeting them by name, speaking a little conversational Spanish.

A waiter came up and gave them chips and salsa and started talking to Chuck in Spanish. "Hey, Chuck, how is going my friend? It looks like you're actually out on a date! Wait until I tell the guys in the back. They're not going to believe it! Good for you, man! How long has it been? I can't remember the last time you brought a date here! Wait, have you ever brought a date here, man? You're usually with your sister and Captain Awesome."

Chuck replied in English, which Sarah found thoughtful of him, in case she didn't speak Spanish he didn't want to exclude her from the conversation.

"Yeah, hey Jorge. Yeah, I'm on a date. This is Sarah." Chuck said nodding towards Sarah.

The waiter continued in Spanish however. "It's very nice to meet you Sarah. You need to be good to this guy here. He's one of the good ones." He said smiling. Predictably, Chuck was blushing again.

Sarah answered him in fluent Spanish. "It's nice to meet you too, Jorge. I have to say that I think I agree with you about him being one of the good ones. The bad ones don't blush nearly so much as he does, right?"

The waiter laughed and switched to English. "Oh, Chuck man, you're in trouble with this one." He said, hitting Chuck lightly on the shoulder. "She's got your number, bro!"

Chuck blushed even brighter, causing Sarah and Jorge to laugh even more. "Yeah, thanks for that Jorge. So just kiss your tip good-bye tonight, OK?"

The waiter continued laughing "Oh, Chuck, why you gotta do me like that, huh? I'm hurt, bro! Ok, so you guys want something to drink? We've got half-price margaritas until 9!"

"Well I'm driving tonight so I'll just have Mexican Coke. Sarah, would you like anything?" Chuck asked politely.

"I'll have a Corona with lime." Sarah answered.

"Sounds good." Jorge said. "I'll get that for you right away – gotta earn that tip back, right Chuck?"

Chuck laughed and said, "Dream on Jorge!" He then looked at Sarah and said, "Good choice on the drink. It's a cliché but Corona with lime, that's a SoCal staple."

"Yeah, that was one of the first things I noticed when I started going out for lunch after I moved here. I like it and I'll admit that I'm something of a beer girl."

Chuck looked at her and she couldn't help but read is expressions. He seemed a little awestruck and it made her insides a little gooey in a way she wasn't familiar with. She was really getting a kick out of the way he looked at her.

"So, I have a question." Sarah said. Chuck looked at her intently. "Who or what is a 'Captain Awesome'?"

Chuck laughed. "Oh, yeah, Captain Awesome is my sisters boyfriend. I actually live with them."

"Wait, seriously?" Sarah asked.

"Yeah, I live with my sister and her boyfriend." Chuck said, a little self-consciously.

Sarah waved that off. "No, not that, I mean you call your sisters boyfriend 'Captain Awesome'?" Sarah couldn't help but laugh.

"Oh, yeah, it drives my sister a little crazy and she just reflexively says, 'Don't call him that', but he loves it. Just wait until you meet him!" Chuck said.

There was a little bit of a pause there as they both realized the implication that at some point she might be meeting his family.

Chuck recovered quickly. "I mean for starters he's a cardio thoracic surgeon, which is awesome, but then he's like this crazy fitness and activity junky. Everything he does is Awesome, jumping out of airplanes, rock climbing, white water rafting… flossing."

Sarah had taken a sip of her beer before that last comment and almost choked for a second, trying to keep from laughing and spitting beer all over the table.

"Ok, you almost got with me with that one." She said laughing, clearing her throat.

"What can I say, I'm a funny guy."

"Clearly. Which is good, because I am not funny." She said.

"Is that your big secret by the way? Because I've been sitting here trying to figure out what's wrong with you-"

"Oh, plenty, believe me." Sarah interrupted.

"And I was thinking she's either a cannibal, or she's really not that funny, and I was pulling for cannibal because I've never met one before."

"Uh, not a cannibal, but I'm going through some weird professional stuff so I may come with baggage." She said sincerely.

"Well, I could be your very own baggage handler." Chuck said suddenly, in a low voice.

Sarah was taken completely off guard by that comment and left momentarily speechless. She felt her mouth drop open a little bit and fought down a blush of her own. Ok, that might be the hottest thing anyone has ever said to me.

Jorge saved the day by stopping by to take their orders and joking with them a little.

Obviously a little embarrassed by his previous comment, Chuck continued. "So, your weird professional stuff, is that why you transferred out here from…?

Good recovery, Chuck, she thought to herself. "DC, yeah. I needed to get some distance from a sort of… politically charged environment so to speak. That's kind of a DC thing and it gets tiresome. So they sent me out here."

"Ok, well you mentioned before that you don't want to talk about work, so I'll change the subject."

Sarah was genuinely impressed that he remembered and was respecting her desire to not talk about work.

Chuck continued, "There's a club not too far from here that showcases live bands every week. I was thinking we might swing by after dinner. Do you like music?"

"Um, I guess?" She said.

"You guess?!" Chuck asked, feigning shock. "Well, do you have a favorite band or genre of music?"

She opened her mouth, but she was caught off guard and had no idea how to answer. She'd literally never been asked that question before.

"Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!" he said laughing.

"I know, I know. I'm not funny, I don't listen to music. This must be your worst date ever, right?"

"No, no, not at all. You know, I've had much worse experiences with dates, and just women overall. There was one date I had in the 11th grade…"

Sarah laughed. "Eleventh grade? You have to go back that far?"

"Absolutely. This one is definitely much closer to the top of the list than the bottom." He said, looking her directly in the eyes.

"Well, I'm glad to hear that, Chuck." She said, meeting his gaze. "But I do have a question for you, though."

"Of course. Ask me anything."

"So, you don't have a girlfriend…" She paused, waiting for confirmation.

"That is correct, I do not. We wouldn't be here if that were the case."

Sarah nodded, taking a pull from her beer. "So why didn't you call me back after I left my card?"

Chuck coughed nervously and broke her gaze. "Um, well, honestly." He paused for a moment. "Uh, have you seen you, Sarah?" he said, looking back at her. "I mean, I'm me, and you're… You. Saying you're out of my league would imply that we're talking about the same sport even. Like I'm in pee-wee football and you just got your superbowl ring."

Wow. As compliments go, that was pretty spectacular but he couldn't be more wrong about himself.

"That was an amazing complement, Chuck. Thank you." Sarah replied. "But that's total bullshit. You know that right?"

Chuck looked a little confused and uncomfortable, but she continued. "You realize you're like a poster boy for tall, dark and handsome, right?" She said. "What are you, like six-four?" Chuck nodded. "You're slender and athletic with great shoulders. You've got amazing warm brown eyes." Sarah cleared her throat a little. "And those curls, I mean come on!" Sarah reached up laughing and playfully twirled one around her finger and pushed it off his forehead.

She caught his gaze and leaned a little forward. "I can tell you without hesitation Chuck, we are definitely in the same league. In fact, I might be the one punching above her weight class, so to speak."

Chuck smiled deeply, blushing again. "Wow. Um, thank you. That was the best thing a woman has ever said to me."

"You're welcome, Chuck." She said quietly. "But you know what?"

"What?" he asked with a smile.

"All those things I just mentioned?" She made a little twirly motion with her hand to indicate him. "Those are things that I like about you; that I find attractive. But that's not really what made me leave my card for you."

"It's not?"

"Nope." She said smiling.

"So why did you leave it?"

Sarah sat back in her seat and gave him a flirty one shoulder shrug. "I'm not sure I want to tell you. I don't want to over-feed your ego after all."

Chuck laughed. "Oh, I see how it is! I get it. You don't have to tell me anyway, I already know." He said mischievously.

"You think so do you?"

"Uh huh." He said. "You were wooed by my mad phone fixin' skills! I put you under my Nerd spell!"

Sarah couldn't resist his laughter and found it infectious. "You got me, Chuck. You Jedi-Nerd minded me!"

She laughed so hard at his expression when she said that, she had to wipe tears from the corners of her eyes.

"Oh. My. God." He said when he was finally able to form words, his expression ecstatic. "You did not just make a Star Wars reference with a Nerd addendum! Who even are you!?"

"Sarah. Sarah Walker. Nice to meet you." She said, holding her hand across the table.

He sat up a little and took her hand gently, but firmly. "Chuck Bartowski, Sarah. It is my honor to make your acquaintance." And then he kissed her hand gently while maintaining eye contact.

"Very smooth, Chuck." She said smiling.

"I guess I have my moments."

You really have no idea, do you? How in the hell are you still single?

"But you have your moments as well." Chuck added. "Regarding one moment in particular, I have really got to give you props for coming back to the store today to ask me out. As far as feeding my ego goes, that was, um, I gotta say, probably the best meal my ego has ever had." He said laughing. "I think Morgan had a little bit of an aneurysm. That line about not knowing if your phone could receive calls was pretty on point. I think my heart skipped a couple of beats on that one."

"Well, you left an impression. I'm not one for letting things go." She said with a smile.

Their food arrived and Jorge could tell they were very much engaged with their conversation, so he simply told them to enjoy the food let him know if they needed anything else.

"So how long have you been working at the Buy More?" she asked between bites of what she had to admit was some of the best authentic Mexican food she'd had since she'd been in LA.

"About a hundred eleven, hundred and twelve years?" He said thoughtfully making her cover her laugh again to avoid spitting food on her plate.

"Oh my god, that's the second time you've done that to me!"

Chuck laughed. "Sorry about that – you were warned that I'm a funny guy." He took a drink and continued. "No really, as far as the Buy More goes, that's what it feels like sometimes. But I started there when I was in high school, so I guess… Holy crap! Like almost eleven years! Wow, now I'm bummed out." He said with a chuckle. "I mean I started when I was sixteen, but then I went to college less than two years later. I did always come back home and work there during summers."

"Where did you go to college?"

"Stanford" Chuck replied.

"Really?" Sarah asked getting a nod in reply "That's pretty impressive, Chuck."

"Thank you. And I know what question comes next. What's a Stanford graduate doing working as the Nerd Herd supervisor at a Buy More?"

"Yeah, I mean it's a logical question. When I stopped in today you definitely seemed a little frustrated. You were repeating some little mantra about not killing Jeff or Lester."

"Yeah, those guys just really know how to push my buttons." Chuck paused for a moment, then continued. "The truth of the matter is that I didn't actually graduate. I was about 12 credits short of getting my BS in electrical engineering. I had completed all the course work, labs and everything and about a week before finals, I get called into the Deans office. I just figured it was going to be questions about if I was going to continue at Stanford to work towards a master's degree, which would have made sense. A BS in Electrical Engineering is really just the start. Anyway, the conversation did not go that way at all. It turns out they had an anonymous tip tell them that I had stolen an answer sheet for one of my classes and was selling them to students. They said they found the answer sheet under my mattress. So, they expelled me. I had to pack my stuff and leave that day."

"Did you do it?" Sarah asked plainly.

"I thought it was kind of implied that I'm a decent person." Chuck said.

"Absolutely. But everyone makes mistakes."

"That is true. And I've made plenty, trust me. But that was not one of them." Chuck said quietly. "I've gone over it in my head, literally countless times over the last five years. I have no idea who stole that answer sheet but I know it wasn't me."

Throughout their exchange, Sarah had been watching him intently. His eyes, his hands, his breathing patterns. She'd been trained by the best in the world to spot deception and she would have bet just about anything that Chuck was telling the truth.

"I believe you, Chuck." She said, putting her hand on top of his. "That really fucking sucks. I'm sorry that happened to you."

He forced a laugh to break the downturn of the conversation. "Hey, you know what, that was a reeeeally long time ago." Then his eyes brightened. "What about you, Sarah? Where did you matriculate?"

Sarah cast her eyes down for a moment then looked back up at him. She found that she really liked the way he said her name. It felt, warm and intimate.

"Well, um, I actually got my BA in Political Science and International Affairs from Harvard." And it was true. What she couldn't tell him, or anyone else for that matter, was that the CIA had a sort of 'relationship' with Harvard, and that a number of CIA field agents had that exact same degree. Not many – Harvard still maintained a rigorous acceptance policy – but out of about 150 trainees in her class at The Farm, there were five that were accepted, and of those, three graduated and one washed out of training. The fifth had been killed in the field during their third year. She'd done a massive amount of course work of course, as did every trainee who was accepted into that program, but the field work counted for most of the credits towards graduation.

Chuck was obviously nonplussed by that and it took him a moment to recover. "Holy shit, Sarah! You're a freaking Harvard grad? I'm sorry, that's fucking amazing!" He exclaimed, his mouth gaping.

"Thanks, Chuck." Sarah said laughing. "I'm not going to lie, it was freaking hard work."

"Seriously, I knew from like the first thirty seconds of talking to you that you were very intelligent, but…" Chuck made a gesture with his hands next to his head, making fists, then opening his hands wide. "Shit, Harvard! Like, boom, mind blown. It's something to be proud of!" He added, looking directly at her.

"I am." She said honestly.

"Oh, and yeah – that whole punching out of your weight class thing you were talking about before? I don't think so. I wish I knew more about boxing so I could make an appropriately accurate analogy, but the best I can come up with is like a big guy pounding a little guy into the canvas like in an old cartoon."

"Oh, don't sell yourself short here, Chuck. I mean come on, Stanford's acceptance rate is on par with Harvard. And you said yourself you were inches from graduating before someone sandbagged you with that answer sheet."

"Yeah, that's true." Chuck said grinning. "So, a Stanford man and a Harvard girl, out on the town in LA. Does it get any better than this?"

Sarah didn't hesitate for a second. "I don't know, Chuck" she said, giving him a steamy smile and dragging a fingernail slowly down the back of his hand. "Why don't you ask me again tomorrow morning."

Chuck's mouth nearly hit the table and he blushed so hard she thought he might honestly get a nosebleed. How could anyone turn that red and not actually pass out? She couldn't hold in the laughter that nearly burst out of her. "Oh my god! I don't think there is a word for the color of your face right now." She wheezed, trying to catch her breath. "Maybe vermilion?"

Chuck started cracking up right along with her. "That was just too mean!"

"I know, I'm sorry!" She nearly panted. "It's just so easy with you, and hey, I had to get you back for that baggage handler comment!"

"Oh my God! I have no idea where that came from. I was hoping you'd never bring that up!" Chuck said blushing again.

She was finally able to catch a breath and get her giggles under control. "No, Chuck, that was awesome, really. I can't tell you how rare it is that someone sets me on my heels like you did then. I don't know that I've ever been rendered speechless before. It was really hot, I gotta say!"

"Well, I guess I have more moments than I even realize." Chuck said proudly.

Their conversation flowed naturally and easily, both of them talking about living in Los Angeles, him for his entire life and her for the brief time she'd been there. He explained his thoughts about once you got past the superficiality of the Hollywood aspects of LA, it was really an amazing city. She shared a little of her time in DC, told him about the going to the White House making the subtle implication that she'd been there on public tours when in fact it had been for official business.

He shared stories with her about the talented group of professional slackers he worked with, often praising their technical ability but expressing frustration with their lack of any kind of work ethic. Neither one of them noticed when Jorge cleared the plates away. After a while, Chuck glanced at his watch and was startled. "Holy crap, have we honestly been sitting here for almost two hours? Hey, if you're still interested, we should head over to the club to catch this new band. I've been hearing good things about them."

Sarah stopped him as he started to pull out his wallet. "Hey, no, I asked you out, remember? This is my treat." She was impressed that he didn't argue with her.

"Ok, the Harvard girl says she's buying, who am I to stop her. Thank you for dinner." He said smiling.

"You're welcome."

The drive to the club was short and they were at the front door in less than 20 minutes. It did serve to solidify her observation that Chuck was something of an old lady behind the wheel. She noticed that even though it was getting close to 10 pm, there was still a line to get in. Sarah started to move to the back of the line, but Chuck grabbed her hand pulled her to the front where a huge muscular man was sitting on a stool and only letting a few people in at a time.

Chuck walked right up to the monster and the man grinned widely and pulled Chuck into a bro hug.

"Hey Chuckles, how you doin' man?" Sarah thought she heard genuine affection from the hulk.

"I'm good Bobby – how's your little sister doing. Everything still working out ok?" Chuck asked with a laugh

"Yeah, man, it's all good, thanks to you."

"I'm glad to hear it!" Chuck replied earnestly. "Hey, Bobby, this is my date, Sarah. Sarah, this is a friend of mine, Bobby."

"It's nice to meet you Bobby." She said holding out her hand, hoping it didn't get crushed.

"No, the pleasure is all mine, Sarah!" He smiled warmly and was very gentle with her hand. "Any friend of Chuck's, as they say. You pay attention to this one here, Sarah. Don't let him fool you, he's one of the good ones."

"You know Bobby, you're the second person I've met tonight who's said almost the exact same thing! I'm starting to think I might be in a little bit of trouble!" She said reaching up to twirl one of his curls.

Predictably, Chuck was blushing again, almost as bad as at the restaurant.

"You guys go on in and have a good time. And good for you, Chuckles!" Bobby said giving him a light punch on the shoulder.

"Thanks Bobby! Tell your sister I said hey!"

"Will do, brother!"

They walked in holding hands and Sarah couldn't help but look at him the same way she'd caught him looking at her a few times, almost a little awestruck.

"What was that about?" Sarah asked, genuinely curious.

"Oh, Bobby?" Chuck shrugged and looked a little shy. "It's no big deal. I come here quite a bit to check out new bands, so Bobby recognized me when he saw me at the Buy More about a year ago. He was with his little sister who was in middle school at the time. She was obviously upset about something so I kind of butted into their business to see what was up. It turns out she was being bullied online by some of the kids from her school. They were looking for some software or something to help stop it, but there's nothing really off the shelf for that kind of thing. I tinker around with programming as a sort of hobby, so I put together this little utility that parses all her social media accounts, looks for keywords, postings from unknown sources, that kind of thing and sort of hides them. I guess it worked because once she stopped seeing the posts and responding to them, the bullies just kind of gave up and moved on."

Sarah found herself speechless for the second time in one night because of this strange nerd, Chuck Bartowski. It took her a second to realize her mouth was hanging open. "Chuck, that's amazing."

Are you kidding me with this guy right now?

Chuck gave a small shrug and smiled. Sarah couldn't help herself. She stopped walking, pulled him close to her and looked up at his amazing brown-amber eyes with his amazing curls, then leaned in as he did the same. She almost didn't realize she whispered "Amazing" to herself right as she kissed him. The kiss was very soft and gentle and went on for what felt both like a very long time and not nearly long enough. It was just about to transition into an entirely different kind of kiss when she heard someone clear their throat politely and she broke off slightly embarrassed. They were at the top of a narrow flight of stairs to get down to the basement of the building where the club was and another group of people were waiting behind them.

"Uh, sorry." She said, a little self-consciously. Chuck for his part looked a little dazed.

"No worries. I felt bad interrupting. I know if I were him, I wouldn't have wanted to be interrupted" The guy at the front of the group said, obviously amused.

Chuck laughed at that, then gave Sarah another one of his mischievous smiles, sat on the banister and slid down the length of the long staircase. As he slid down, he beckoned to her dramatically, "Sliiiide with meeee, Sarahhhhh!"

Every time she thought he couldn't possibly be more fucking adorable, he went and one-upped himself.

She laughed. "Oh my God, you are such a nerd!" She yelled at him. But followed his lead, sliding down the length of the banister to where he caught her at the bottom of the stairs. It was pretty loud now that they were fully inside the club, but they could still hear each other talk as long as they were close to each other. Sarah found that she liked this necessity very much.

"I think you look a lot more graceful doing that than I do." Chuck laughed.

"Maybe, but probably not nearly as cute." Sarah replied tugging on his collar.

"You know, I know I said that since I'm the DD tonight, I probably shouldn't drink, but do you think it would be OK to have a beer?" Chuck asked.

"Well, do you think we'll be here for at least an hour?" She asked, curious.

"Um, probably at least? I hear the band is pretty good."

Sarah, wondered about something and looked around, and upon seeing the dance floor was happy to see the answer was yes. She leaned up towards him and asked with her head tilted down and big eyes looking up at him, "If I promise you a beer afterwards, will you dance with me?"

Chuck looked suddenly nervous. "You know, I'm not really-" He cut off as her eyes got even bigger and her lower lip came out a little. "Ok, that is seriously not fair!" He yelled.

She grabbed his hand and started walking "A girl's got to use all the tricks at her disposal!" She yelled back over her shoulder, laughing. She dragged him to the dance floor and let the music start to wash over her. She stayed very close to him and just let herself find the rhythm of the music, let it dictate her movements. Chuck was a little stilted and self-conscious at first but loosened up after a minute and just kind of followed her lead. Every now and then she would move into him and grab his shirt, always keeping eye contact, letting him know that she was there with him and no one else. Time seemed to fade into the background and as the songs changed, she followed along moving with the rhythm, moving along with Chuck. The band started playing a slow tune that Sarah thought she recognized, so she stepped in and put her arms around his shoulders, swaying with him and the music, sinking into the feeling of just moving with him, his arms around her hips. The music ended much sooner than Sarah would have liked, the band saying they were going to take a short break before their last set. They were startled back into the present moment but Sarah found herself not wanting to let go of the strangely wonderful man she'd stumbled across. At a fucking Buy More of all places.

She smiled at him and said, "Come on, let's get you that beer. I know I could go for one."

They made their way to an open section of the bar she ordered them two Corona with limes. While they were waiting, she saw Chuck staring at her with an expression she couldn't quite place, like confused but happy? Happily confused?

"Chuck, what's that expression on your face mean?" She asked. It was easier to talk since the band had stopped playing. She noticed that they both had a light sheen of sweat on them from dancing.

Chuck looked almost startled that she'd asked him a question but laughed softly. "I was just wondering what the hell just happened to the last 40 minutes. I mean, I'm kind of a science nerd, so the concept of time travel has pretty serious implications, but we stepped onto that dance floor and then – PEW – we were suddenly transported 40 minutes into the future."

"It did seem to go really fast didn't it?" She asked. The bartender returned with their drinks and they both guzzled more than half before putting them back on the bar.

"That's never-I don't." Chuck paused for a moment, then looked her directly in the eyes.

Would you freaking stop with those eyes!

"That has never happened to me before." Chuck said with an undercurrent of urgency, nodding his head towards the dance floor. "I can remember them playing a bunch of different songs and I could feel myself moving, more with you than with the music, but I don't dance Sarah! Ask anyone, I don't dance! I'm a self-conscious klutz. I'm all elbows and knees on top of two left feet! People have gotten hurt, injuries sustained."

"You did pretty good from where I'm sitting, slugger." Sarah said taking another long pull from her bottle, maintaining eye contact with him.

Chuck shook his head and laughed. "I guess I never knew I had it in me!"

"You know you've set a precedent with me now, right? You danced with me on our first date and it was amazing, so you don't get to claim you don't dance in the future. Now you always have to dance with me when I ask!" She gave him a look that said she meant to imply there would be dancing in their future, and not just tonight.

Chuck smiled. "I find that prospect quite appealing actually!"

"So, I have another question for you."

"Okay…" Chuck said cautiously.

"Jorge at the restaurant said he couldn't remember you bringing any dates there, and Bobby upstairs said "Good for you" like he was impressed you brought a date here tonight. I guess I'm just curious about your history. You know, with women? It sounds like you don't really go out all that much and I find myself wondering why not?"

Chuck smiled shyly. "Um, yeah. I guess that's a valid question." He picked up his beer, drained the rest of it and noticed that hers was getting low as well. He motioned the bartender for two more and Sarah could tell he was trying to figure out a way to articulate his thoughts.

"So, I hear my sisters voice in my head right now telling be to be careful talking about this, but you did ask." Sarah nodded and motioned for him to continue. He moved in even closer to her, so he could speak lower. "Back at Stanford, I was in a pretty serious relationship. We were in the same class and we met early on freshman year and started dating right away and it just felt… Really good, I guess. I didn't date much in high school so this was my first, like, adult relationship I guess you could say. It sounds stupid but I felt like.." He paused looking embarrassed.

"I'm sorry, Chuck." Sarah interjected. "This isn't really any of my business. You don't have to tell me."

"No, I sort of want to. I just haven't really explained this to anyone before." Chuck said. "I mean I was out on my own, I was a member of a fraternity, I had a ton of great friends and I loved my course work and then on top of that I was seeing, who I thought, was this really great girl. I can honestly say it was the greatest time in my life. It was the first time that I didn't feel like a kid, you know. The only way I know how to say it is that I felt like a Man. Like a real grown-up adult, Man." Chuck paused looking genuinely sad.

Sarah thought she understood. "And then you got kicked out for something you didn't do."

"Yeah, that was the worst day of my life. I mean I was a fucking week away from graduating – meeting my requirements for graduating. I wasn't worried about those last few finals in the least. Those last 12 credits were some of the easier classes for me. But even as I was getting kicked out, I had this thought in the back of my head, that I still had Jill. That was her name, Jill. I mean we had made plans for the future. All our friends expected us to get married after graduation and I was planning on asking her. So, I thought I had this bright spot that I could hang on to with this terrible thing that was happening." Chuck took a long drink from the beer that the bartender had dropped off. "But then Jill broke up with me. No explanation, just boom, I want to see other people. Last I heard she was dating my roommate."

"Oh my God, Chuck. That's fucking horrible!"

"Yes, it is. It was." Chuck nodded. "So I moved back in with Ellie and I went back to the Buy More and I guess I just fell into this sort of holding pattern, not really knowing where to go. Ellie tries to fix me up with her friends every now and then…" He shrugged.

Sarah pushed an errant curl off his forehead, not knowing what to say, thinking how there really was no justice in the world that something like this could happen to such an amazing man.

He laughed suddenly. "That's why I was hearing Ellie's voice in my head. I guess I've kind of just gotten into bad habit of talking about Jill more than I should - which is to say at all - when I'm out on dates. I understand that talking about your ex when you're on a date is bad form. Maybe it's a defense mechanism. I want to scare potential partners off so I don't have to open myself up to that kind of heartbreak?" He paused and took another drink. "I don't know. Psychology was never my strong suit."

She gave him a level look and said, "I'm not going anywhere, Chuck." He smiled and she noticed the way the corners of his eyes crinkled.

"One thing I can tell you." Chuck said looking at her.

"What's that?"

"That dance floor thing? That never happened with Jill. And being here with you now, looking into those incredible blue eyes, all that stuff seems really far away. Like it doesn't matter as much as it used to. Seriously, I can say I hadn't even thought of any of that stuff until you asked."

"Thank you for sharing all that with me, Chuck. I hope I didn't put a downer on your night."

"Actually, you didn't at all. You're still here and it kind of felt good getting all that stuff out. Cathartic somehow. It's like you've given me some perspective on it. Thank you for that." He said genuinely.

"I'm glad you shared it with me."

"So, can I ask you the same question? Maybe get a little insight into Sarah Walker's past?" Chuck asked with a hint of teasing in his voice.

"Ok for that we would need something a lot stronger than beer." She said laughing, trying to deflect. Her answer to that question was a lot simpler and yet infinitely more complicated.

He was looking at her with an obvious question in his eyes, but she found herself focusing on the flecks of amber in the brown. Without realizing she was doing it, she leaned into him found herself kissing him for the second time that night. She couldn't get over how soft his lips were and how now she could taste the beer and lime on his lips. It was a gentle kiss that went on for several long heartbeats but held a hint of something, an intensity, a heat she'd never felt before, just under the surface.

They broke apart and Sarah cleared her throat and took a drink of her beer. He gave her a knowing look.

"If I ever ask you a question you don't want to answer, feel free to do that as much as you want." He said with an impish grin.

She opened her mouth in feigned outrage and went to set her beer down and give him a sharp retort.

Just as Sarah set the bottle down on the bar, she felt a stranger's hand aggressively squeeze her ass and her feigned outrage with Chuck suddenly became very real outrage with someone else.