Ed. Note: This episode is designed as episode 14, so it falls after "Chuck vs the Marlin" in the TV series.
It also refers to two of my earlier fanfics: "Chuck vs Auld Lang Syne" (episode 11a), and "Chuck vs Five Men, One with a Knife" (episode 11b).
Standard disclaimers about Chuck not belonging to me in any way apply.
Feedback is welcome, and appreciated.
Scene I – Los Angeles, Park
The only problem with getting what you want is that often you don't know what to do once you get it.
Sarah pondered the contradiction as she jogged through a park a few blocks from her hotel, her legs pumping in a steady rhythm. Los Angeles had been blessed with a warm, sunny day in early February. She was more than a little tired of the gym she had been using through the colder days of winter, so when she looked out her window at the glorious sunrise earlier that morning, she became determined to take advantage.
Her feet propelled her down the path at a rapid pace, pushing her past the many mid-morning joggers who seemed more interested in enjoying the weather than in getting a serious workout. She glanced down at her wrist; the pedometer on her sports watch indicated that she had nearly run her three miles. Up ahead, she spotted a water fountain splitting a pair of green park benches. Setting that as her target, she kicked into a final sprint.
Her running shoes knocked pebbles and dust into the air as she sprinted for her goal, her lithe legs difficult to see despite the relatively short length of the fitted black shorts she wore. With a final burst, she crossed the imaginary finish line. She gradually slowed, wiping the small beads of sweat off her face and onto the tails of her green Buy More T-shirt.
When she went to get dressed, she found she only had a choice between the Buy More T-shirt or the obnoxiously red Weinerlicious T-shirt that Scooter had given all his employees in an effort to drum up some advertising for the chain. However, she had no intention of being the cute blonde in the park wearing a T-shirt that said "Weinerlicious" in big letters.
Besides, the Buy More shirt reminded her of Chuck.
Carefully controlling her breathing to slow her heart rate, she walked over to take a long drink from the water fountain, savoring the refreshing coolness as it ran down the back of her dry throat. When she ran for her CIA job, there normally wasn't cold water waiting for her at the end, so she appreciated it all the more when there was.
Standing up, Sarah tightened her hair band around the unassuming pony tail she wore and stepped away from the fountain. Raising her arms above her head caused a readjustment of her anatomy that attracted some interest from a pair of frat boys walking past.
A tall guy with blond hair and a cocky expression walked past, spinning a football in the air between his hands. "Looking good, 'Buy More'."
Sarah gave the pair a sarcastic little nod as she finished adjusting her hair. The speaker turned to his buddy and added, "I'd sure like to 'eye a little more'."
The buddy, slightly shorter than his friend with dark hair and bright green eyes, gave a rough laugh and suggested, "Yeah, I wouldn't mind…" Sarah couldn't make out exactly what he said, as he was facing away from her as he spoke. However, she was pretty certain that she heard the word "thighs" ... and not such a nice word that rhymed with "more".
Her blood boiled. "Hey!" she shouted before she knew what she was doing.
The two guys turned around, a bit startled by her tone. She somewhat controlled her temper before continuing, "Does that type of thing really get girls for you?"
"You tell us," said the blond guy, a cocky expression on his face. "You're talking to us." His friend grinned his agreement.
Sarah took a moment to assess the two. She had to admit both were good-looking, and their athletic builds were shown off to good effect by the workout clothes they wore. Still, they had virtually no chance with her to begin with, and any chance they might have had was killed by their attitudes.
However, they didn't know that.
Deliberately eyeing them up and down suggestively, she made her way over to the pair. "I'm not really one for talking. I'm looking for a man who can, well, keep up with me."
The dark-haired student looked a little less certain of himself, but the other seemed to like her attitude. "Oh, I can keep up with you."
Focusing her twinkling eyes on the speaker, she said, "A girl's gotta have her standards."
She walked around the back of the two, looking them up and down as if they were pieces of meat. Their nervousness was becoming palpable. Good, she thought.
She swung back around to the front of the speaker and replied, "Any man of mine has to have … stamina. Do you have stamina?" She accented her question by tracing her index finger down his chest, gazing straight into his eyes with a coquettish expression. She very deliberately bit her lower lip.
His breath seemed to catch in his throat. "Absolutely," he answered, although his confident façade, along with his voice, were beginning to show signs of cracking.
"Then I'm sure you wouldn't mind a little test."
"Sure. I've already run three miles, and I'm about to run five more. Whichever of you can keep up with me, I'll come to your place tonight, and, um, prepare a little something for you." Sarah looked hungrily at him.
"You should know I ran cross-country in high school."
"Are you still in high school?"
"Then what does that matter?"
He had no answer.
She continued, "So, do you think you can keep up with me?" eyeing each in turn. They both nodded, beginning to regain their swagger. She could almost hear what they were thinking: I can outrun any girl.
Well, she was no ordinary girl. "Shall we?"
The next mile was an exercise in humiliation for the two guys. After running half a mile, Sarah had built a significant lead; she stopped to untie and retie her right shoe. After waiting a few more seconds for the guys to catch up, she took off again, quickly opening up another gap.
She turned around and started running backwards. "C'mon, guys. You're letting me down here." The pair had no response, devoting their effort to catching up with her.
When the two started panting and wheezing a couple minutes later, she grew bored with the game. She had expected the pair to put up a good fight for at least half of the five miles, but apparently the two spent a little too much time drinking beer and not enough staying in shape. She gave them a shrug and then turned around and took off, a smile crossing her face.
The guys stopped running almost immediately, stooping over with their hands holding the bottom of their long shorts as they tried to catch their breath.
Sarah knew she enjoyed showing up the pair a little too much, but maybe that would slow them down the next time they decided to talk that way about a woman.
Probably not, but the image of the two crouched over in defeat was still a satisfying one.
After resetting her pedometer, she started the second half of her workout in earnest. Her legs quickly rediscovered their rhythm and she started to circle the large center green at a rapid pace.
Of course, she hadn't been exactly honest with the two. The man she really wanted probably hadn't run two consecutive miles in several years, but she didn't care about that.
What unfortunately did matter was that how she felt was a moot point. He was her asset, and as his handler, she needed to protect him at all costs. And that meant no distractions when they were together.
An elderly man obstructed her as he meandered down the path; she scampered around him on the grass and quickly reestablished her rhythm.
All of this was complicated because Chuck knew how she felt. He had suspected her feelings for a long time, long before she even recognized it. Or, at least, long before she would admit her feelings to herself.
Then he was going away … his cover was compromised by a Fulcrum agent, and he was to be extracted to an underground bunker for his own protection. It had been all she could do to keep from breaking down as he said his goodbyes. Even at the end, when it was clear she couldn't keep him from being extracted, he had shown his absolute trust in her.
As if affirming the thought, she was suddenly very conscious of the necklace bouncing around her neck. A smitten smile came to her face. He was the first person she had trusted in a long time, and the trust he had shown meant a lot to her.
Still, there was nothing to be done. Her mission was to protect him, and she couldn't do that if she was distracted by his smile. Or his sense of humor. Or his scent. Or his…
Damn it. There her mind went again, wandering off. This was exactly why nothing could happen while they worked together: she had enough trouble keeping her focus as it was. If she and Chuck ever went beyond their friendship, she would be useless as a handler.
Back when she first met Chuck, she never dreamed she could find herself excited about the times when she and Chuck were forced to date for their cover. At first, the evenings they spent "dating" has just been surprisingly comfortable, but over time they had come to mean more.
Last week, they had gone to a movie theater to watch a romantic comedy that Ellie really wanted to see; the two had spent most of the movie holding hands with her head on his shoulder. They both did subtle little things that went beyond what was necessary for the cover, with him re-adjusting the position of his hand in hers several times and her wrapping her other hand around his bicep when she felt particularly close to him.
Ironically, the two now found themselves in a situation where they were most like a couple when around Ellie and Devon, or Morgan and Anna. Inevitably, though, the double-dates would end, and one or both of them would withdraw, respecting how things had to be.
It was complicated, and only becoming more so.
Looking for a distraction, she lost herself in concentrating on her pace and her breathing. It truly was a glorious day, and she fully intended to enjoy it rather than mulling over problems that had no good solutions.
The path around the park was a little over a mile and a half long. As she completed her first lap at the water fountain, she saw a pair of familiar figures ahead. They spotted the green T-shirt and the bouncing blond pony tail and scurried off the path to avoid another encounter. She smiled; she would wager a lot that they wouldn't think the same way about a Buy More any time soon.
Thinking of the Buy More quickly led her to think about Chuck again. She somehow managed to work a sigh into her breathing pattern.
Scene II – Buy More
"Gentlemen of the Buy More, please report to the Nerd Herd desk." Lester's voice was clearly heard throughout the empty store; the surprisingly nice weather meant that the usual customers were finding being outside more enjoyable than examining the latest in fine electronic goods and appliances. As usual, the bored Buy More employees were finding questionable ways to pass the time.
Jeff stood next to Lester, holding the fish bowl usually used for gathering business cards via cheap promotions. It currently held a small set of folded pieces of paper. Morgan, various other green shirts and Chuck curiously wandered over, gathering in a rough semicircle around the pair.
Deciding everyone who was coming had arrived, Lester clapped his hands. "Behold! The time for Lester's Lottery of Love has arrived once again."
Chuck said, "Not by coincidence, the time has also arrived for the Buy More legal staff to ensure that their sexual harassment insurance policies are fully funded."
"Ah, but dating between co-workers at Buy More is perfectly legal, right Morgan?"
With a smug grin, Morgan responded, "Legal and, might I add, oh-so-satisfying at break time."
Chuck said, "OK, a little too much information there, buddy."
"Dude, if dating at work is wrong, I don't want to be right."
Lester, sensing he was losing control, interjected, "That's what I'm saying. So, I've arranged a little contest. I've put everyone's name into the bowl; we'll draw a name. The person whose name is drawn will have 24 hours to get Lisa to go out on a date with him."
Chuck immediately lost interest. "Well, you can count me out. I already have a girlfriend."
Morgan said, "Likewise. Anna comes back on Valentine's Day; I'm not about to muck things up." They both took a step back from the rest of the crowd; however, they couldn't resist hanging around to see how the train wreck ended.
Lester looked annoyed, but pressed on. "OK, so all the single Buy More men will be eligible for the drawing."
Jeff raised a hand, which certainly did nothing to alleviate Lester's annoyance. "Yes, Jeff?"
"I object to the term 'single'. I prefer 'romantically challenged'."
Lester immediately ignored him. "So all the single men in the store will be eligible, and the winner of the drawing gets the first 'chance' to ask the lovely Lisa out." Lester pointed to the back of the store, where Lisa lingered in the computer peripheral section, looking curiously at the gathering in the center of the store. Sensing everyone's attention on her, she quickly looked away, developing an intense interest in the bundles of CAT5 cable on the rack to her left.
Lisa was about as shy a girl as could be found; she didn't talk to the other employees unless given absolutely no choice. She looked a bit frumpy in her over-sized green Buy More polo, and her pants were about two sizes too big, creating awkward lines as they hung askew on her frame. She wore dark-rimmed glasses that matched her frizzy black hair, currently pulled back in a loose pony tail using a dark green corduroy hair band.
Lester continued, "After 24 hours, if the original winner is unsuccessful in getting a date, we'll draw another name. This will continue once a day up to and including Valentine's Day, which means up to four lucky men will get their chance."
The various employees looked more than a little nervous at the idea; Lester decided to draw before anyone else backed out. "And the lucky winner is…" he said as he stirred through the slips of paper with his hand. He pulled out a slip and finished his thought despondently, "Lester."
He looked angrily over at Jeff. "How did my name get in there?" he hissed.
Jeff shrugged. "You told me to put the names of all the men in there."
"Not all of them, you dimwit."
Chuck and Morgan were thoroughly enjoying Lester's discomfort. "No, no, Lester, you're up," Chuck said.
Morgan added, "Yeah, show us how it's done, big guy. You're always bragging on your 'mad dating skills'."
Lester regrouped quickly, trying to act confident. "Well, the only reason I was making a fuss is I wanted one of the lonely guys to have a chance. The game's over too quickly this way. But I tell you what I'll do: I'll step aside if somebody else wants the first crack."
Almost in unison, the single men in the crowd held up their hands, muttering things like, "No," "No way," and "Uh uh."
The crowd quickly dispersed, leaving Jeff and a shell-shocked Lester standing alone by the Nerd Herd desk, the latter still clutching the winning piece of paper in his hand. Chuck and Morgan directed one final smirk at Lester before turning around to walk away.
Turning to his friend, Lester asked, "What about you?"
"No, thanks. I kinda like what I've got going on."
"Jeff, the only thing you've got going on is that you're paying for sex."
"I'm not paying for the sex; I'm paying for them to leave."
Lester shook his head. "Trust me, Jeff: you're paying for the sex. They're happy to throw in the leaving for free." With a disgusted look on his face, Lester walked away, leaving a slightly insulted Jeff standing alone with both hands supporting the fish bowl.
Meanwhile, Morgan and Chuck wandered across the store. "So, you have big Valentine's Day plans for you and Anna?" Chuck asked.
"Not really. I figured we'd just go hang out at her place and catch up on her trip."
Chuck directed an incredulous expression towards Morgan. "You're a little bit nuts if you think Anna's not expecting anything more than that."
"I don't know, Chuck. I'm so bad at Valentine's Day. Remember how Ellie reacted to the gift I got her?"
"Well, you were fourteen, she actively loathed you, and you gave her a used Super Mario Brothers video game with a Post-it note that said 'How about a little Italian tonight?'"
"It was my most prized possession, Chuck."
"Yeah, well, this one might work out a little better, what with Anna actually liking you and all."
"What about you? Big plans for Sarah?"
Chuck hesitated a moment before responding, "I have an idea or two."
He knew he couldn't share the details of what was happening between Sarah and him, but over the past few days he had come to a decision. The scene on the rooftop had shown him two things: he could be taken away at any time, and Sarah's feelings for him went beyond friendship.
Before, the idea that he could be taken away was an abstract concept he couldn't get his head around. But standing on the wind-swept helipad, waiting with the CIA agent who was going to escort him to his cell in an underground bunker somewhere, it had suddenly crystallized just how little say he had in all of this.
When you're not sure if there's a tomorrow, all there is to live for is today. Chuck wasn't sure how it would turn out, but he was going for broke this Valentine's Day.
Scene III – DNI, General Beckman's Office
General Beckman said, "And you're sure the Intersect will be adequately protected during her absence?"
"We'll basically bench the team for the time being. Just in case, we'll send a replacement agent already known to Chuck to take her place for the time being," Director Graham answered. "He'll be safe."
"And if Agent Walker doesn't return?"
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."