Author's note: I was having some trouble with the most recent chapter of "Ring of Fire" and decided to just do a real quick one-off to clear my head. This story is in the Bright Side-verse, and briefly references The Seduction of Sarah Walker and foreshadows an event in Chuck vs. the Bright Side of Life. It follows immediately after the end of 1x13, "Chuck vs. the Marlin".

Sarah stood looking in through the window, not having a clue what to do. John Casey's footsteps receded across the courtyard as words from two very different men burned through her mind.

First was Chuck's insistence that she was part of his family. That touched her deeply, affecting her in a way that she should not allow herself to be affected. And really, if she allowed herself to be affected in that way, what hurt would she be exposing herself to? What would happen if Chuck ever found out about the many, many people she had killed and the thousands more whose deaths she was responsible for?

But then there was what Casey had said – about not being able to keep him there for much longer. Those words were even worse. They twisted in her gut like a knife sunk in to the hilt. She couldn't imagine the thought of Chuck being gone, the thought of walking into the Buy More one day and not seeing his smiling face looking back across the store at her.

It was why she had gone to the helipad in downtown. It was why she had had her hand on the butt of her gun, ready to draw it, ready to cause a .40 caliber hemorrhage in Agent Longshore if need be.

More than once since Christmas, as she had lain in bed, trying to fall asleep, the words had mockingly run through her head. You're in love with him, her mind told her. She refused to believe it. She refused to accept it, because she couldn't allow herself to be hurt.

And she knew that Graham and Beckman weren't going to give up on trying to extract Chuck from Los Angeles. Logically, she knew that they were right – he was in grave danger in the United States' second-largest city, and he could only truly be completely safe in a CIA facility.

But for the first time in her CIA career, she was allowing her heart to overrule logic. Even that rainy night in Cabo when Bryce had gone after the Venezuelan agent, even that torturous day in Brazil when an entire air base had been obliterated, taking thousands with it, she had allowed logic to keep control. Not now, though.

It was testament to how deep in thought Sarah was that she didn't realize the window she'd been standing in front of had opened. "Hello? Earth to Sarah?"

Sarah snapped out of her reverie. Ellie Bartowski was standing in front of her, looking out the open window. "Are you okay?"

"Uh, yeah," Sarah replied. Shaking her head. She smiled, looking back up at the older woman. "Congratulations!"

The smile on Ellie's face could have lit up Los Angeles. "Thank you!" she replied, holding up her hand so that Sarah could examine the ring closely.

It was quite the ring that Devin had inherited from his grandmother. "Wow," Sarah breathed, trying not to think about the fact that her own left hand was rather naked and probably would be for the foreseeable future.

"You want to come inside, have some breakfast?" Ellie asked Sarah.

Sarah hesitated. "You know, I'd love to, Ellie, but I just spent an hour crawling around in a dumpster helping Chuck look for, uh, his car keys… and, well…" She shrugged helplessly.

Ellie nodded. "That would explain a great many things, like the lingering mixture of coffee and ranch that's following my brother around."

Sarah smiled and nodded as well. "Yeah, so I really need to go home, shower, get into some clean clothes –"

Ellie held up a hand. "Sarah, seriously, you are more than welcome to use my shower, and we look to be the same sizes on almost everything, so I'm sure I've got something you can borrow."

Sarah had another moment of hesitation, and then a moment of clarity. Maybe she should. It would give her the chance to spend some time with Chuck, and who knew how many more chances she would have before the powers that be tried to pull him again.

Slowly she nodded. "Okay…"

"Great!" Ellie exclaimed, disappearing for a moment. Then Sarah heard the door unlock and open. "Come on in!"

Sarah tentatively entered the apartment. Nope, Chuck was nowhere to be seen. "He's already gone to clean himself up," Ellie told her, as if she was reading the younger CIA agent's mind.

Sarah followed Ellie into her bedroom. "Okay, now… hmmm," Ellie mused, opening her closet. "Aw, crap."

She shook her head. "Maybe Devin was right about getting that washer and dryer," Ellie grumbled, opening a dresser drawer. "Most of my clothes are in the laundry."

Sarah laughed. "I know how that goes," she agreed.

Ellie laughed with her, pulling out a babydoll t-shirt. "This is pretty much the last clean piece of casual clothing I have," she explained, tossing it to Sarah.

Sarah unfolded it and looked at the front. "Blondes have more fun," she read off the front of it, cocking an eyebrow.

"Yeah, I went through a blonde phase in college," Ellie replied. "I'm not even sure anymore what my actual natural hair color is."

"Again, I completely understand," Sarah said, though she could never really explain to Ellie WHY she understood.

"Yeah… um, are shorts okay?" Ellie asked, an apologetic note in her voice. "You're taller than me by enough that any of my jeans would look ridiculous on you."

"Ooh… shorts in January," Sarah considered. "Well, we are in Los Angeles. That should be fine."

Ellie nodded and handed her a pair of denim shorts that didn't appear to be TOO short, but which definitely pressed the limits of Sarah's indwelt, dusty but certainly not disabused Catholic modesty. "Everything you need should be in there," Ellie told her. "Just call if you need anything."

Five minutes later, Sarah stood under a stream of hot water, letting it wash over her as steam rising from the cold porcelain of the bathtub clouded the bathroom. She closed her eyes and thought about the prior twenty-four hours.

The look of shock on Chuck's face when he walked into the warehouse at Burbank Airport and saw the entire inventory of the Buy More. The equally depressing look of despair on his face when he realized that Ellie's engagement ring had gone missing. The anger she felt toward John Casey when he made his remark about Chuck forgetting what fresh air would taste like.

She thought about her utter helplessness as Lizzie had locked her in the freezer, and then feeling it again as she watched "Detective Conway" lead Chuck out of the Wienerlicious in handcuffs. The wrenching feeling she felt in her gut when Graham told her that they'd decided to extract Chuck. The trepidation she had felt when she went to draw her gun on Longshore. The bizarre combination of despair and butterflies in her stomach she had felt when Chuck grasped her hands.

Of course, that's when the water suddenly went ice cold. "Ahhh!" Sarah shrieked, hopping backwards.

As Chuck got dressed, he heard what sounded distinctly like a female voice cry out. Then he heard Devin yell, "Sorry!"

Ellie must be in the shower, and Devin must've turned the hot water on in the kitchen. That would do it.

Casting an accusing look at the showerhead, Sarah tentatively stepped back under the stream of water as it warmed up again. She finished showering and rinsed the conditioner that she had unconsciously applied out of her hair, and turned the water off.

As she toweled off, she looked at herself in the mirror. She wondered if her life might be a little easier if she got her hair cut to, say, shoulder length. Certainly make my life easier the next time I have to crawl around in a dumpster, she thought. But how would Chuck feel about it?

It took her a moment to even register that the thought had crossed her mind. Uh-oh, she thought. I'm having thoughts about how Chuck feels about the way I look without even realizing it. Not good. Sarah sighed as she pulled her still-damp hair into a ponytail.

She got dressed and folded her rather smelly clothes from the day before into a neat pile. Her bra had thankfully escaped any of the foreign substances and smells to be found in the dumpster, but superspy or not, she was not wearing the same panties two days in a row. So commando it was.

Sarah looked at herself in the mirror before walking out, and her jaw dropped. The shorts might've looked almost modest enough when Ellie handed them to her, but she felt like they barely covered her ass. Between that and the lack of underwear, she felt rather exposed – but since her other option was a pair of jeans that were covered in mustard, ranch, and god-knew-what-else, she really had no other choice.

With a sigh, she strode out into the living room, across the room, and into the kitchen where Chuck, Ellie, and Devin sat at the table. Devin looked up and saw her. "Sorry about the hot water thing, Sarah," he said.

When Chuck heard the name "Sarah", his head jerked up. He turned to look at her – and nearly choked on the bite of pancake he had just put in his mouth.

Devin whacked him on the back, and Chuck coughed. "Uh… what… what are you doing here?" he sputtered.

"Well, your sister invited me in, and asked if I wanted to stay for breakfast…" Sarah's voice trailed off. She realized that Chuck's eyes had begun to trail from one end of her almost naked legs to the other – and at just a couple inches shy of six feet tall, it was far from the first time that that had happened – but never before had she quite felt her face and neck heating up like they were right now.

Ellie realized what Chuck was doing and reached across the table, smacking him playfully on the back of the head. "Perv," she said.

Chuck turned his gaze across the table toward his sister. "I hate you so much sometimes," he growled.

"Don't mess with me, Chuck," Ellie laughed. "I'll get out the green album."

Chuck's face went white. "Oh, no," he begged. "Please, anything but the green album."

Sarah's curiosity was piqued. "What's the green album?" she asked as she sat down at the table.

Ellie looked at her brother, a small smile on her face. "Maybe another time," she said with a conspiratorial wink.

She rose from the table, and walked toward the living room, her hand brushing across Devin's shoulders as she walked past. He took the hint, and stood, following Ellie into the living room, leaving Chuck and Sarah in the kitchen.

"So, seriously, what are you doing here?" Chuck asked, confusion evident on his face. "I was pretty sure after you said 'Good night' that you were either going to go back to your place or go get debriefed with Casey."

"Yeah," Sarah said slowly. "Getting debriefed is not exactly something I feel up to right at the moment. Casey's filing a full report, and I'm sure he's talked to General Beckman, but the ass-chewing I'm bound to receive from Director Graham is really not on my to-do list for this morning."

Chuck nodded. "That makes sense."

She smiled. "Besides, I'm sure I look like crap right now. I really hate facing people when I don't look good."

Chuck looked her over. Damp hair, pulled back in a ponytail. No makeup. Huge bags under her eyes from being up for more than twenty-four hours. A scrape on her right cheek, and a couple of cuts on her arms.

And yet, none of that mattered to him. "Nah," he replied, shaking his head. "You look beautiful."

She smiled and looked down at the table, and actually did blush at that remark. "Thank you."

Sarah felt his hand envelop her own. "Listen," he said quietly. "What I said earlier, when I, well, I guess I implied that I consider you part of my family – I really meant it."

She looked up, directly into his seemingly bottomless brown eyes. Not a trace of dishonesty in them. Not a trace of corruption. Just the honest, truthful, caring man she had come to –

Don't even think about it, she commanded herself. But she couldn't help but be touched by what he said.

"Really," he continued. "Ellie and Devin think you're pretty much the greatest thing since sliced bread… Morgan's a little jealous of the amount of time you spend with me, but he's grudgingly said that you're basically the best thing to happen to me since I left Stanford."

Sarah was a bit taken aback by that remark. "Really?"

Chuck nodded. "It, uh, it happens to be an assessment that I agree with."

Uh-oh. No, no. No waterworks. Sarah bit her bottom lip gently and willed herself not to start tearing up. "Thank you," she said, almost in a whisper. She really, really wanted to reciprocate the remark, but she was already in so deep as it was, she couldn't afford to go any deeper.

So instead of saying anything else, she stood up from her chair. Chuck looked at her in confusion. "Come here," she said, gently tugging on the hand that still held hers.

Chuck stood up, and she wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tightly. She rested her head on his chest, right below his chin, and couldn't help but let out a contented sigh.

He smiled as he wrapped his arms around Sarah. Sure, within the last eight hours, the CIA had tried to take him to a "secure" facility and a Fulcrum agent had tried to kidnap him, but it didn't matter. Right now, the world was perfect… and he felt like it could only get better.