Not Ready, Never Ready

As Chuck Bartowski waits on a rooftop for a helicopter that will take him away from all he knows, he thinks back to the people he's leaving behind and the one person he's leaving all too soon.

Disclaimer: I own nothing

Rating: K

Timeframe: During 1.13 Chuck vs. The Marlin, references to and dialogue from the pilot.

Pairings: Dash of one-sided Chuck/Sarah, mentions of Awesome/Ellie

It's official, I am HOOKED on Chuck. The last two episodes, whoa! So this one is similar to my previous two. I got the idea while watching the squee-worthy hand holding moment during Chuck vs. the Marlin. I was thinking, he's got to be dwelling on all his family he's leaving behind, and here you go…It's kind of what's going around Chuck's head as he realizes that he's leaving a world with people with whom he has grown to love and care about. Enjoy!

Charles Irvine Bartowski. Known to the world as Chuck. Six feet, three inches tall. One hundred eighty-five pounds heavy. Brown hair, brown eyes, born to Michael and Janine Bartowski, younger brother to Eleanor Faye Bartowski. Birthplace: Encino, California and current resident of Los Angeles California. Occupation: head technician of the Nerd Herd counter at the Buy More. Valedictorian of Roscoe H. Hillenkeotter High School and former student of Stanford University. The man known as the Intersect to the select few operatives of the main intelligence agencies of the United States. Age: 27 years, 4 months and 13 days. That was about everything one needed to know about Chuck Bartowski. But none of those facts would matter. For in the span of ten minutes, Charles Irvine Bartowski would no longer exist. Charles Irvine Bartowski would simply disappear.

- - -

Chuck glanced around as he shifted in the confines of the car. This is what it's come to. Transported to a location no one would know, his hands held captive in cuffs. Allowing his head to loll in the direction of Conway, Chuck directed a question to the agent. "So…this is it, huh? I'm gonna get my own padded cell. Do I get a bed or is my room kinda like my bed?"

Conway glanced back at the visibly trembling man. "It's not as bad as it sounds. The underground complex where you will be living has state of the art security and amenities. You'll even be allowed outside and visit controlled locations."

Somehow, Conway's words did little to reassure him. He was about to pull a Casey and respond in a deadpan voice with a dash of sardonic sarcasm when a much more pressing thought materialized in his brain. "Hold on, I…I can't leave without telling Ellie something, a reason for going…what should I say?"

"Nothing," Conway stated bluntly. "It's safer for them if you just disappear."

Chuck blanched. Disappear. He was to just…disappear. How could he leave without giving Ellie an explanation? After all they had been through together, after the way they had taken the broken pieces of their family and stitched them back together to create a cohesive unit far from perfect but perfect to them. He couldn't just disappear. He owed Ellie so much more than just a disappearance. This was the woman who painstakingly fit herself into a role of a mother to him when their biological mother decided that family wasn't enough. This was the woman who kissed the scrapes on his knee, held him as he broke down after the singular moment that shattered his innocence, and snorted with laughter after he had hung upside down for a good ten minutes after getting his pant leg caught on a high shelf at the Buy More and the step ladder had slid out from under him. He leaned on her for everything. Even as a child, Chuck and Ellie Bartowski looked after one another. It was the way it always was.

At just a bit over six months-old, Charles Irvine Bartowski, laughingly dubbed Chuck by his grandfather to the chagrin of his parents – even more so when the nickname stuck – was a crier. And at the moment, Chuck Bartowski was giving his father the full range of his vocal chords, much to the despair of Michael Bartowski.

"Hey, c'mon, son," Michael pleaded amidst the whimpers of the infant in his arms. "What do I gotta do?"

Amazingly, Chuck's cries shuddered to a halt, and he stared at his father, one thumb stuck stubbornly in his mouth. Shocked at the lull, Michael stared wide-eyed right back into Chuck's own brown spheres. But the silence proved to be fleeting as Chuck had only ceased just long enough to draw in a deep breath before he started again. The hopeful expression adorning Michael's face crumbled as he opened his mouth to let out a bellow of his own.

"Janine!"

Janine Bartowski poked her head in the living room to find her frazzled husband bouncing their young son in an attempt to alleviate his wailing. Cocking her eyebrow, Janine communicated the unvoiced question. In response, Michael only thrust out his arms, the squirming, bawling child held just barely captive in his grasp. Janine rolled her eyes, reaching her arms out for him. Michael practically deflated with gratitude only to bury his head in his hands as the infant reared back, sending all decibel levels quivering at their pinnacles with his latest screech.

"C'mon, Chuck…shhhh…Mommy's got you. Alright now…"

Chuck still continued his tirade, this time adding flailing arms and kicking feet with the limited motor skills of his six-month development as he paid no attention to the entreaty of his mother. Sighing with exasperation, Janine handed Chuck back to his father.

"I'm sorry, honey, but I'm in the middle of a conference call. You're going to have to watch him until I'm done."

Helplessly, Michael switched his hold on his son, jiggling him against his shoulder as he scanned the room for any one of Chuck's toys that could possibly sedate him. Finally, his eyes settled on his baby girl, the two year-old playing with the plastic stethoscope and thermometer gifted to her by Michael's mother.

"I know, let's go see your sister, huh? C'mon, let's see Ellie."

The moment Chuck settled beside Ellie and his deep brown pools connected with her crystal jade spheres, his cries ceased, and he grinned the big toothy grin that would evolve into the full-blown Chuck smile with time. His pudgy hands scrabbled for purchase before he caught a hold of his big sister's hand, squirming in delight with a squeal. For her part, Ellie shook the hand captive in Chuck's grasp teasingly, prompting an elated shriek from her little brother, and she drew him into a mini hug. Entranced with her new patient, Ellie pressed the stethoscope to Chuck's heart, carefully measuring his heart beat. Chuck played along in unconscious comprehension, clapping his hands in glee as his big sister catered to him with meticulous care.

Michael Bartowski observed his two children interacting so peacefully and cohesively, nearly crying with relief at the relative silence. The thought struck him as Ellie playfully crossed her eyes, sticking her tongue out at Chuck who erupted in the cacophonic giggles of an infant. The only time Chuck was ever really still was when he was with Ellie. Michael leaned back, his arms crossing over his chest as he shook his head in disbelief, huffing out an incredulous chuckle.

"Well, whattya know?"

It was the first memory he had. Him and Ellie. He couldn't imagine life without her. Then the thought smacked him right upside the head. He would have to. He wouldn't have her around every day. He wouldn't be able to see Ellie get married, to walk her down the aisle and give her away. Hell, he wouldn't even be able to find Devon's engagement ring and see him propose. He had given the Captain his blessing sincerely. He was truly honored to have the blonde surgeon propose. Ellie deserved the pure love and happiness Devon could give her. No one was more deserving than Ellie, especially after all they had been through.

Chuck remembered the first time he met Devon. Awesome was a force of nature on first impression, slightly intimidating with the sheer volume of his happiness. But even then, Chuck knew. He wouldn't have to be the man in her life anymore. Awesome…Devon…was more than capable and willing to shoulder the task. He had known that from the first time they met, and he knew it now.

Chuck shoved his hands into his black slacks, one toe of his All-Star Chuck Taylors scuffing against the cement as he waited for his sister and the new boyfriend she had been gushing about ever since she had first met him a little over a month ago. Chuck scratched the back of his head in an attempt to ease the apprehension coursing through his veins. It was getting serious. He knew it was. She wouldn't bring Devon to meet him if it wasn't. Hell, it took him almost a month and a half before he mustered up the courage to introduce Jill to Ellie. It was an unspoken agreement between the Bartowski siblings that and if the other sibling didn't approve, the relationship was pretty much doomed. Chuck let out a deep breath. This was serious.

"Chuck!"

Chuck rotated to find his sister jogging towards him, noticeably alone. "Hey, Ellie." Glancing over her shoulder, he scanned the immediate area for any male that could possibly personify the assumed persona of Ellie's new boyfriend. "Where's Devon?"

Before Ellie could answer, a booming voice cut through the air,drifting in their direction. "Oh, man, Ells, parking around this place is a bear. So not awesome…"

A radiant beam crossed Ellie's features in the guise of a smile, and she whipped around, grabbing an outstretched hand before tugging the man to a stop before her brother. Ellie clasped her hands before her as she bobbed up and down on her heels, grinning at Chuck expectantly. "Chuck, this is Devon."

Chuck let his eyesight drift slightly upward. Being a rather tall man himself, it was quite the uncommon occurrence to find a person even taller, but this Devon guy had a good inch on him. His gaze connected on a pair of crystal blue eyes twinkling affably, framed against long eyelashes. Tilting his head back, Chuck expanded his slight to take in the accompanying tanned face. Wow, this man was good looking. A chiseled jaw line, full, pouty lips, and a full head of blonde hair bleached by the sun and casually tousled filled his vision. This guy had to be a model if the body straining beneath the t-shirt proved to be any indication.

Devon studied Chuck for a minute, more with curiosity rather than anything malicious before his face split into a wide, goofy grin, his right eyebrow cocked at an angle slightly higher then its symmetrical counterpart. Chuck started at the spectacle, taken aback at the image that manifested itself in his immediate eyesight. What happened to the model smirk he was fully anticipating? Charging forward, Devon bypassed Chuck's outstretched hand, forgoing the formal greeting to wrap him in an exuberant manly embrace.

"Introductory Hug," Devon explained, clapping Chuck heartily on the back, nearly sending the other man lurching into his sister, "and if I have my way, so much more where that came from, buddy." Slinging an arm around the younger brother of his new girlfriend as if the two were longtime friends, Devon allowed his grin to widen even more, shaking his head in obvious satisfaction.

"Chuck, man, I can't tell you how completely awesome it is to finally meet you. Ellie's been talking up her brilliant little brother since we first met."

Chuck huffed out an awkward laugh. "Yeah," he stuttered out. "I don't know about brilliant."

"Nonsense," Devon refuted. "Head of the Nerd Herd within two weeks? Very impressive, bro."

Coughing uneasily, Chuck diverted their topic. "So, uh, Devon, what do you do?"

"Orthopedic surgery," Devon answered. "Trust me, bro, you can only appreciate the beauty of repairing a separated shoulder when you're faced with an NFL superstar who's banking on next season's contract extension that'll bank him another sixty mil." Devon shot out that big, goofy grin again, this time partnering the gesture with a wink. "It's awesome."

Chuck did a double take, taken aback by Devon's anecdote. "You…you're a doctor?"

"Yup," Devon affirmed. "UCLA Bruin-bred and PhD'd." Devon turned to Chuck, throwing out a friendly punch to the bicep. "Hear you're a Stanford man, bro." Devon shook his head in obvious lament. "I'm not gonna lie, that's a mondo strike-a-roonie in my book. Pac 10 is brutal, and I gotta stay loyal to the ole alma mater."

Chuck offered out a weak smile. "Hey, no hard feelings there." He tried to swallow past the lump lodged in his throat and again quickly changed the subject. "How did you meet Ellie?"

"Just transferred up from San Diego," Devon replied, casting a glance to his preference of the two Bartowski siblings. "The higher ups tossed me straight into the fray, and your sister was the first person I met." Devon gazed fondly at Ellie. "Bumped into her while tending to a kid with shrapnel sticking out of his side." Devon propped an elbow on Chuck's shoulder. "Awesome how people can connect in the trauma unit while stitching up the victims of a twelve-car pile up, eh, Chuck?"

Chuck laughed feebly, his eyes flitting from Devon to Ellie as the pair stared giddily at each other, wavering between humor at the playfulness behind Devon's tone or wincing at the morbidity of the situation. He opted for neither as he wasn't too certain if Devon was joking or not. He tried to gauge the other man's seriousness but was unable to as Devon only had eyes for Ellie. Chuck wasn't quite sure exactly what to make of the handsome, boisterous, surprisingly goofy surgeon, but he did feel one thing rang certain: judging by the way Ellie was gazing into Devon's eyes, this guy, who had quite the descriptive assortment, deeming a handful of Chuck's own qualities "awesome," was going to be around for quite a while.

Chuck laughed quietly to himself, the dash of humor slightly comforting amidst his morose situation. He had predicted correctly. Devon had stuck around for more than quite awhile. Three years to be exact. Chuck smiled. Three years. Not only had it been three years since Devon entered Ellie's life, it had also been three years since he began at the Buy More. Three years since he had been a Nerd Herder and three years since he had met – for all intents and purposes – his Mini Me.

Chuck fidgeted as he sat in the chair of the office of the roly-poly man fittingly dubbed "Big Mike." It was his first day working at the Buy More, and right at this moment, he was feeling more than anxious. Taking a deep breath, he rearranged the tie hanging from his neck as his eyes drifted from the Chuck Taylor's encasing his feet to the nametag adorning his breast pocket. Yep. This is what three years of Stanford education got him. Big Mike held his résumé in his meaty hands, gazing down at Chuck dubiously.

"So tell me," Big Mike began, "what's a smart guy like you doing at a place like this? It says here you attended Stanford until your senior year."

Chuck cleared his throat awkwardly, avoiding Big Mike's eyes. "Uh, the five-year plan is kinda floundering at the moment," Chuck explained. "I'm kinda just trying to make ends meet till it surfaces above water again." He didn't think he needed to mention that he was framed for stealing tests by the guy who was supposed to be his brother in all ways but blood.
"Well, no matter," Big Mike waved him off. "We're glad to have ya. It'll be a nice change to have someone who actually knows what he's doing. No doubt you'll be better than those bozos currently manning the counter." Big Mike slapped Chuck's résumé on his desk, one finger pointed authoritatively at Chuck. "You whip them into shape, you hear, Bartowski."

Chuck saluted uneasily. "Uh, will do, sir."

Big Mike led him out of his office and to the main floor of the Buy More where a short man, a fully-sprouted lumberjack beard dusting his rounded cheeks, stood waiting in by the registers.

"This is Morgan Grimes," Big Mike introduced. "He'll be showing you the ropes. If you need me, I'll be in my office. So don't need me!" Turning to the smaller man, Big Mike redirected the authoritative finger to Morgan's green-clad chest. "Don't screw this up."

Morgan nodded seriously. "You got it, Big Mike."

Chuck shuffled as Big Mike stalked away, and he peered down at the strange, bearded man. Likewise, a pair of blue eyes, partially veiled beneath the strands of hair swept across the forehead, peered right back up at him, sizing up their considerable height difference. The smaller man cast a perfunctory sweep over his nametag before grabbing Chuck by the arm and steering him to the counter situated in the center of the Buy More's main aisle. With deliberate precision, Morgan Grimes turned to his newest coworker, a completely serious sheen to his eyes before he spoke.

"Okay, dudeski, let's go over the basic rules of the sacred sanctity that is this space they call the Buy More." Morgan ticked off the points on his fingers. "Number one, Big Mike is Big Mike, nothing else. You go for another title, you will know the feeling of a foot up your patooty."

Morgan continued his list. "B, see that small, bald guy over there?" Chuck nodded, his eyes zeroing in on an Asian man, just a bit taller than Morgan, his pinched face that strongly resembled a pug's arranged into a scowl. His sense of humor piqued at the quirky man, Chuck turned back to Morgan for explanation. "Harry Tang. Do not mess with him or chow mein will not be just an appetizer, it will be the state of your insides. And thirdly," Morgan gestured to the televisions plastered to the far wall of the store, "this is the Wall. It may be just a bunch of overly-expensive, high-definition televisions, but to us true Nerds it is a call. A call to abuse our authority as employees of this perennial palace and indulge in the technological advances that have long since shaped our livelihood." Wiping an imaginary tear from his eye, Morgan gazed fondly at the gaudy structure.

At Chuck's confused stare, he shrugged. "We use it to play video game tournaments when Jeff's locked Harry Tang in the storage room." With a grin, Morgan turned to the newest employee, rising up a bit on his toes to clap a hand on the other man's shoulder. "Welcome to the Buy More, hombre." Leaning against the Nerd Herd counter, Morgan gestured to the nametag hanging from Chuck's breast pocket. "Chuck. That short from something?"

"Charles," Chuck supplied.

Morgan shook his head. "Yeah, we'll go with Chuck."

The chatter between the two continued, and Chuck felt himself relax. This may not have been exactly the direction he envisioned his five-year plan going, but a little detour never hurt anyone.

To Chuck, Morgan represented a lot of things: the first true friend he had found after being kicked out of Stanford, the brother he never had, his link to a childhood of purity and innocence that existed, and most of all, Morgan represented the staple of Chuck's new life. The life that didn't revolve around a friendship with Bryce Larkin. It was his life that he longed to stay in but, as of now, was unable to. And it was Morgan who first brought his attention to the woman currently occupying every thought within his brain: Sarah Walker.

"Stop the presses!" Morgan's awestruck voice drifted into his hearing. "Who is that?!"

Paying little attention to his best friend, Chuck flipped through the folder in his hands, the counter phone propped on his shoulder as he followed up the house call he had attended to early in the day. Engrossed in the paperwork below his eyesight, Chuck hummed nonsensically to himself. "Vicki Vale, Vicki Vale, Vick-uh-Vicki Vale, Vickity, Vickity, Vicki Vale, Vick-uh-Vicki Vale."

Chuck cast a casual glance upward in a half-hearted attempt to humor Morgan and spot the object of the other man's awe, but to his complete and utter embarrassment, he found a stunningly beautiful blonde gazing expectantly in his direction with a set of wide sapphire eyes the clearest hue of blue. Immediately, Chuck straightened, letting the phone clatter to the counter and the folder to flutter down, his hands settling on his hips in a complete charade of composed professionalism.

With a dazzling smile that sent Chuck's pulse racing for the parking lot, the goddess before him cocked her head. "I hope I'm not interrupting."

"No," Chuck denied, one hand drifting nervously to his tie, "not at all." The next sentence flew from his mouth in a stream of senseless stutter. "Uh…that's…uh…it's from Batman." Inwardly, he winced. Suave, Bartowski. Very suave. Way to sweep her off her feet.

The blonde gave a wry smile. "'Cause that makes it better…"

Chuck huffed out a laugh. The flush worming its way to his cheeks. Morgan leaned in, making his presence known as he dealt with the pleasantries. "Hi, uh, hey. I'm Morgan. This is Chuck."

"Wow, I didn't think people still named their kids Chuck," the blonde teased. "Or Morgan for that matter."

"My parents are sadists and carnival freaks found him in a dumpster," Chuck joked, poking a thumb at his friend.

"But they raised me as one of their own," Morgan quipped.

Jolting himself from the stupor the absolute beauty standing before him induced, Chuck gestured amiably. "How can I help you…"

"Sarah," she supplied.

"…Sarah," Chuck echoed, filing the information away in his brain.

"I'm here about this."

Chuck nodded his head as he ventured into a spectrum much more comfortable and cohesive to his mental processes. Picking up the parts of a disassembled cell phone, he gave the device a cursory once-over, recognizing the model immediately. "Oh yeah the IntelCel. Yeah, absolutely." Chuck popped the battery back into place, plucking his screwdriver from his pocket.

"Uh, this model has a little screw that pops loose right in the back here. You just go ahead and give it a couple quick turns and…" Chuck snapped the back cover back into place, sliding the phone back over to Sarah. "Good as new." Chuck flashed a friendly smile. "No problem."

"Wow," Sarah hummed with appreciation, "you geeks are good."

Chuck exchanged a look with Morgan before correcting her. "Nerds…I would say nerds…probably more…"

"It's no big deal, it's just…" Morgan added.

"Uh, yeah, you know…" Chuck gestured up to the sign prominently displayed over his head. "Nerd Herd…"

A frantic shout interrupted their interplay, and an extremely frazzled man rushed up to the counter, one hand tugging along a slightly somber ballerina while the other brandished a digital video camera. "Excuse me, excuse me. I have an emergency. I don't know what I did wrong, but I shot the entire recital but now it won't play back." The words left the man's lungs in a rush.

"Okay, okay…" Chuck jumped to pacify the man. "We'll just take a look." Popping open the tape deck, he squinted down at an empty slot. Raising his eyes to the man, he tilted the camera to display his findings. "You don't have a tape in here."

A blank stare greeted his vision. "But it's digital…"

Chuck could see Morgan rolling his eyes. "Oh, boy…"

"Right, yes, but you still need digital tape," Chuck patiently explained.

The man blanched, his eyes bugging out. "Oh no. Her mother's going to kill me."

Seeing the ballerina and the man close to tears, Chuck felt his heart acquiesce, and he turned to Morgan. "Uh, Morgan I need the Wall."

"It's yours."

Chuck turned back to Sarah an apologetic expression adorning his face. "So sorry…" Returning his attention to the drained father, Chuck gestured back towards the Wall, "this way…"

Over his shoulder he cast one final look at the blonde woman who blew every single concept of beauty to hell. Maybe fate would be kind to him and allow him another meeting with her. Chuck shook his head. Aw, hell…who was he kidding? A girl like her would never look twice at a guy like him. He could still hope, though. And wish. Maybe fate was feeling generous…

Chuck sighed, the sound barely audible in the confines of the vehicle, and Conway paid him no attention. No, fate wasn't kind to him. Nor was fate feeling particularly generous. As a matter of fact, Chuck deemed fate to be a malicious, vindictive creature…or at least fond of irony. In his first venture out into the dating world, he found himself in the very enjoyable company of Sarah Walker, a beautiful, amazing, sexy newcomer to Los Angeles actually interested in him…who happened to be a spy. Great. Wonderful. Well, Chuck could suppose that no other first date could really compare to theirs. After all, she managed to break into his car, crash said car, explode another car, and aim her gun at him. Oh, and let's not forget his introduction to the world's most destructive person: John Casey.

Chuck stared stupidly at his date before a thought struck him. "Wait a minute, was I not supposed to look at those pictures?"

A slight movement caught Sarah's eye, and she readied herself, one arm snaking behind her back. "Okay, I may have to aim my gun at you so just don't freak out."

Chuck's brow furrowed with concern. "Why…?"

Rather than answering him, Sarah visibly tensed, her gaze focused away from him, burning with an emotion torn between disdain and loathing. Chuck followed her eyes, registering exactly what had caused the sudden tension to wrack Sarah's body, and his own eyes widened. Immediately, he gulped, an irrational fear flooding his own body at the sight of hulking human advancing. Big man. Scary man. Big, scary man with big, scary gun and big, scary eyes. Oh, boy. Suddenly, Big Scary Man spoke in a voice that could be classified more as an irritated grunt than anything else. "It's late. I'm tired. Let's cut the crap and give him to me, now. He belongs to the NSA."

In a whippet quick motion that almost evaded Chuck's visual abilities, Sarah drew a gun from the depths of her wardrobe, wheeling around to train the weapon on Big Scary Man. "CIA gets him first," she refuted. "You come any closer and I shoot."

"Sarah…?" Chuck's voice, wavering on a girlish falsetto, drifted feebly to the warring pair. "I'm freaking out…"

"You shoot him, I shoot you, I leave both your bodies here and go out for a late snack," Big Scary Man stated plainly without pomp or circumstance. Suddenly, the mouth that was clenched so tightly split into a feral grin better suited for a panther who had just caught up with its prey than a human. "I'm thinking maybe pancakes…"

Deciding that he was probably better off sailing through the night air to crash onto an unsuspecting car than riddled with bullet holes, Chuck whipped around, sprinting towards the ridge of the very tall building amidst Sarah's strident appeal.

"Chuck, no!"

As his eyes settled on the building before him, Chuck skidded to a halt mere inches from the edge, and a myriad of images and documents danced in his conscious mind, filling his head with information. Rotating slowly, ignoring the two barrels directed at very fatal internal organs, he breathed out the first coherent thought that popped in his mind. "They're gonna kill him…"

Casey allowed his eyes to flick briefly to Chuck before settling back on Sarah. "Kill who?" he demanded.

"Stanfield," Chuck murmured, his voice tinged with potent fear. "The general," he clarified, and the rest of his information flew out in a stammered sentence. "The general Stanfield. The NATO guy."

Both Casey and Sarah turned dubious gazes at each other then back to Chuck, attempting to gauge the validity of his words.

"Look something is wrong with me, okay?" Chuck pleaded weakly. "I don't know what it is, but something is very, very wrong with me, and I'm remembering things I shouldn't know."

Now certain of the legitimacy of the information, Sarah attempted to calm him. "Okay, Chuck, talk to me," she coaxed firmly but gently. "Like what?"

"I don't know," Chuck beseeched. "I don't know." The instances rained down, jumbled together in a mosaic of images. "For example, uh, there was…there was a Serbian demolitions expert at the Large Mart today. That's kind of odd, wouldn't you say?"

Noticing the apprehension and shock prevalent in both agents' faces, Chuck turned to Big Scary Man. "Look last week, the NSA, you guys intercepted blueprints. Blueprints of a hotel," Chuck whirled, one finger pointed insistently to the structure behind him, "that hotel!" Chuck returned his attention back to Sarah. "And then the CIA, you guys found a file of schematics of a bomb in Prague. The bomb is in that hotel!"

Chuck noticed Big Scary Man's eyes bug slightly in comprehension, and the fear crept that had been momentarily replaced with the anxiety of deciphering the weird visions that had erratically flashed into his conscious mind welled up again as Big Scary Man rotated, his gun firmly trained on Chuck's chest. "He was working with Bryce!"

"No," Sarah corrected, "he opened Bryce's email." She turned back to Chuck. "Chuck, those pictures that you saw were encoded with secrets, government secrets." Sarah's gaze stressed the gravity of the situation. "If you saw them, then you know them."

"There were thousands of them."

"Wait a minute," Big Scary Man interjected. "You're telling me all of our secrets," Big Scary Man allowed the barrel of his gun to drift upward until it was aimed directly between Chuck's eyes as evidenced by the illuminated dot holding steady at the center of his forehead, "are in his head?"

"Chuck is the computer," Sarah affirmed.

Chuck started, sure he misheard her. Sure, he held a certain expertise to the intricacies of hard drives and memory, but it was hardly to the point where he embodied the actual technological machine. Yes, his head could be described as square-ish, but his face was hardly a bottomless expanse of emptiness that was a monitor. "What did you say? What does that mean?"

"Chuck, you have to listen to me," Sarah entreated determinedly. "You have to tell us where this bomb is."

Chuck cut her off before she finished her demand. "What is happening to me?"

"You said there was a bomb," Sarah tried to divert him back to a much more pressing situation. "Is there time to stop it?"

Chuck started in surprise. "What? What? Are you crazy?"

"No, we're the good guys," Big Scary Man deadpanned. "We get paid to keep bombs from exploding."

"Look, I can't…I can't help you," Chuck stammered, his palms spread wide as though the gesture would stave away the two agents insistence. "Okay, I really wish that I could, but I can't. Call Bryce, he's the guy that can save the day."

"Bryce is dead!" Sarah enlightened, her jaw set as though she was holding back something more. "He died sending those secrets to you."

The realization struck more fatally than any bullet ever could. "Bryce is dead…?"

A single gunshot pierced the air, startling all back to the task at hand. "Yeah and he's gonna have a lot of company unless you start talking," Big Scary Man growled. Rearranging his scowl into an illusory façade of pleasantry, he offered out a sardonic request of facetious civility. "So pretty please, can we diffuse the bomb now?"

It was a fateful day that was certain. All the events surrounding Bryce Larkin's nostalgic urge to contact his past brought Chuck Bartowski to now and the situation he currently found himself in. Chuck trudged up the stairs to the helipad where it all began, tugged insistently along by a CIA agent with an even more no-nonsense attitude than John Casey. Handcuffs encircled his wrists and each step weighed heavily on his body, bringing him closer to his future, a future that pretty much looked bleak, consisting of only about four walls and situated about ten feet underground…oh, with controlled visits to secure locations. A slight breeze drifted amidst the altitude, chilling Chuck despite the jacket encompassing his body. The garment did little to protect him from the wind, the cold shooting straight from the atmosphere to the crevices of his heart.

"Long Shore!" Chuck nearly shouted with relieved glee as the familiar voice cut through the air, and he turned to find the oh-so recognizable whirl of blonde hair as Sarah Walker rushed up the steps to the helipad.

Conway whipped around, eyeing his fellow operative apprehensively. "Is there a problem, Agent Walker?"

Before Sarah could reply, Chuck's stuttering voice knifed through the conversation, the normally relatively deep timbre wavering with fear. "Sarah, thank God you're here! Listen, I don't want to go yet. I…I…I…"

Sarah turned to Conway, watching the exchange warily. "Agent Casey is tracking the Fulcrum mole and he should have her in custody soon, so we can hold off on the Chuck transfer for the time being."

Conway advanced, his brow furrowed dubiously. "If there was a change in operation, I would have been contacted." Conway stared Sarah straight in the eye, his intent palpable. "I have my orders."

"We don't have to do this," Sarah responded. "This a judgment call. We can just hold Chuck here until we know for sure."

"His cover was blown! He's gone!" Conway grabbed Chuck's arm, rotating to tug him closer to the target landing.

"No! I will take full responsibility. Chuck is my asset he's my guy. Just…Just give us more time."

"I'd appreciate it," Chuck whimpered. "I really would."

"Please don't do this." Sarah stopped just short of a plea, shifting slightly. Chuck's eyes widened as he recognized her posture: shoulders square, legs spread, upper body tensed, one arm partially obstructed by the rest of her torso. It was her classic six-shooter stance. The gun always present and concealed at the small of her back was grasped in the hand partially hidden. The implications rang painfully clear.

"Okay," Conway finally acquiesced. "You've got one minute." Conway rounded on the taller man, his index finger extended for emphasis. "One minute!"

"I'm not ready, Sarah," Chuck murmured anxiously as Sarah came to stand before him. "I'm not ready to disappear."

"No, I know," Sarah assured him.

Chuck inhaled sharply, his voice softening with an emphatic request. "I need you to talk to Ellie, to Morgan, to my friends," he pleaded. "And…and…and tell them…" Chuck faltered, a furrow appearing in his brow as he searched for the right words to say to the people he loved most but would never convey that sentiment one final time. "I don't know," he admitted helplessly. Gathering himself, he turned a feeble gaze to Sarah. "Look, if I'm supposed to be dead, just say something that would make it okay that would make them feel alright. Just make sure they know how much I love them. You can do that right?" Sarah nodded vigorously in affirmation. Chuck chuckled, speaking more to himself than to the woman across from him. "Of course you can, you're Sarah. You can do anything."

Sarah quirked a somber smile, barely there amidst her tears. Chuck shot out one of his signature smiles, a weak joke at the tip of his tongue. "And hey, there's a silver lining to this too, you know. Cause we're not working together anymore. Which means we can go on a date," he reasoned. "You can come by my cell and we can hang out and you can tell me who the president is." Sarah huffed out an unwitting laugh.

"And maybe…uh," Chuck reached out, delighting in the warmth emanating from their joined palms that shot straight to his heart when she reciprocated. His much larger palms completely engulfed her smaller fingers in his grasp, and his thumbs ran rhythmically over her knuckles more for his own comfort rather than hers, "maybe we could say how we really feel…" Chuck and for the most infinitesimal moment, he saw her eyes flicker with a raw emotion not normally prevalent in her repertoire: yearning. Pure, unadulterated, genuine longing. But just as quickly as it appeared, it vanished behind her perpetually tough sheen, leaving just the shine of unshed tears welling at the surface of her eyelids, brimming but not quite eclipsing the threshold. Chuck took a deep breath, opening his mouth to speak before a third, highly unwanted voice cut through the moment.

"Time's up."

Chuck released the breath that had shuddered to a stop in his chest. Raising his head from where it had drooped down to his chest, Chuck looked once more at Conway who was stopping just short of tapping his toe with impatience before gazing down at the tear-filled eyes encompassing his vision. "Goodbye, Sarah."

A lone tear escaped from its fellows, meandering unwittingly down her cheek. He could feel his heart shattering just a tiny bit more, and it took all his strength to wrench his gaze from hers, rotate and trudge over to where Agent Conway stood waiting.

"Chuck." Chuck unwillingly turned back, taking for the last time the vision of beauty that encompassed the features of Agent Sarah Walker. A wavering smile crossed his vision as Sarah's tough façade exhibited itself in full force. "I'll save you later."

Chuck could only nod, but he knew, deep down in his heart, beneath his apprehensions, beneath the overwhelming fear, he knew it was true. He just had to find the courage to believe it.

- - -

Charles Irvine Bartowski was not ready to leave everything he had known. Despite the tedium he believed his real life to be. Despite every time he had complained about the way his five-year plan had not quite gone the way he originally planned, this was his life, he wouldn't change everything about it. He loved everything about it. And everyone. Ellie, Awesome, Morgan, the Nerd Herders, Big Mike, hell, even Casey. And especially…her. No, he couldn't leave. He wasn't ready. He didn't think he'd ever be ready. And looking into the brilliant eyes of Agent Sarah Walker, the irises the purest shade of bold, royal blue and currently shining with the delicate sheen of suppressed, unshed tears hovering at the threshold and threatening to spill over. Seeing that raw, pure emotion that he knew she was fighting to keep at bay, Charles Irvine Bartowski knew he was not ready to leave. He would never be ready.

And cut! As usual, hope you enjoyed this one. I definitely had fun writing it. Man, Chuck has seriously gotten a whole bunch of plot bunnies bouncing around in my head. Hell, I might even try my hand at a multi-chapter if the fancy strikes. Until next time!

Roxy