Ed. Note. Inspiration struck the other day, so I took a break from my other story and pounded this one out. It is a one-shot that does not fall into any of my other timelines.

Standard disclaimers apply: I don't own 'Chuck'; it owns me.

Chuck found that he had trouble dragging himself out of bed lately. He forced himself to roll onto his back and open his bleary eyes, staring blankly at the ceiling.

It was coming up on eight years since he'd been unceremoniously kicked out of Stanford for a breach of student ethics he didn't commit. The majority of that time, he had worked at the local Buy More, the last two years as assistant manager.

He'd spent the first five years in a sort of daze. Betrayed by his best friend and believing that everything he had worked so hard to achieve was irreparably lost, he now realized he had spent those five years wallowing in self-pity. It was one of those revelations that was difficult to see until you removed from it … or were removed from it.

For Chuck, he had been removed from it the day his ex-best friend, Bryce Larkin, had sent him the email. He hadn't really realized anything had changed until Sarah Walker had approached him in the Buy More, using a not-really-broken cell phone as an excuse to introduce herself, and later to ask him for a date.

That date was when he realized how much things had changed. Bryce had sent him a database of government secrets that were now firmly implanted into his brain, which gave him two choices: cooperate with the CIA and the NSA, or be locked away, if not worse.

It had been nearly three years since then, three years of spending his days at the Buy More and his nights trying to support of Sarah Walker and NSA agent John Casey in a variety of missions. They had been largely successful in their missions, having largely defanged a subversive organization called Fulcrum along with ridding the metropolitan Los Angeles area of a number of nefarious characters, characters that likely would have remained at large without the efforts of Chuck and the two agents.

But the reality was that he was tired. He was tired of the eighty-plus-hour weeks. He was tired of lying to his friends and family about the inevitable times when duty called, pulling him away from them with no good explanation. He was tired of Ellie and his Stanford friends wondering why he continued to work at the Buy More.

He was even tired of maintaining the cover with Sarah.

Sarah obviously had feelings for Chuck that mirrored his feelings for her, but she remained insistent that their cover remain just that: a cover. Throughout it all, Chuck had made it clear that all she had to do was say the word, and he was ready for more. He wanted more. He needed more.

She had certainly had her share of slips over the past three years: the occasional passionate kiss when her will eroded, the infrequent moment where she questioned her own reasoning and allowed Chuck to see that she was weakening. But in the end, those slips simply made those moments all the more tantalizing before he had yet another realization that it was just a glimpse of something that could not be.

In the end, Sarah was determined to remain professional; it was an integral part of who she was. Chuck desperately wanted to respect that, but the consequence was that having her around all the time became a form of exquisite torture, stoking the fire of feelings destined to remain unfulfilled. That hardly was a recipe for healing his taxed mental state.

He looked over at the cold and empty sheets where she occasionally slept as part of their cover and sighed.

Once upon a time, Chuck had considered himself a strong person. The five years after Stanford disabused him of that notion. The infusion of the Intersect into his consciousness had initially been a blessing, helping him to rebuild his sense of confidence and replenish his mental strength.

However, he was only human; now he was just worn down by the long hours and the stress and the lies he needed to tell his friends and family.

His eyes focused on the plain white ceiling, idly wandering, looking for patterns in the drywall. Anything was preferable to looking over at the clock, knowing it would just tell him that he was running late.

C'mon, Bartowski. Get out of bed, he insisted to himself.

But, really, why did he bother getting out of bed in the morning?

The hot shower water ran over his body.

He went over today's schedule in his head. Eight hours at Buy More, followed by a mission briefing at Casey's and whatever surveillance was necessary that night. He needed to call Ellie to cancel dinner, again, and make sure Morgan knew he wouldn't be hanging around this evening. Not that Morgan ever really expected him to be hanging around any more.

He sighed, looking down at his wrinkling fingertips. Every day, he found himself lying in bed just a little bit longer, staying in the shower just a little bit longer, and driving to the Buy More just a little bit slower. At the end of it all, what was the point?

He was stuck under the CIA's thumb. Sure, he could run. He even started to put together a plan one time: he would drop the watch with the tracking chip into a FedEx package destined for some remote part of the country where it would take agents a while to track down. Maybe North Dakota or Minnesota.

He would park the Nerd Herder outside Morgan's apartment on one of the rare nights where they had no agency work, and then he would take Morgan's car and drive south into Mexico. He would be across the border inside three hours, likely before Sarah or Casey missed him. From there, he could catch a plane in Ensenada or catch a ship from one of the ports along the coast. With any luck, he'd be far enough ahead of Casey and Sarah that he would be long gone by the time they figured out where he had gone. If they figured it out.

In the end, though, his planning never got any further. He couldn't leave Ellie. He couldn't leave Morgan. And he couldn't leave Sarah.

Sarah had been too kind to him. While she never let their romantic feelings progress, she did nearly everything else she could along the way to make things easier for him. Whether it was defending a mistake he made on a mission or fighting to keep him from being extracted to a bunker, she had always been there for him. Fleeing would be a poor way of repaying her.

No, he was good and trapped, no matter which way he looked at it. That was part of what made it all so frustrating.

He turned off the tap with a sigh and reached for his towel.

Twenty minutes later, he was in his Buy More gear and heading out the front door. Casey sat on the edge of the fountain, reading the paper as he waited for Chuck so the two could ride into work together, as they had most days for the past three years.

Chuck was a good fifteen minutes late. He numbly braced himself for the inevitable lecture as Casey folded up his paper and stood up.

"Good morning," was all Casey said. The surprising part was that he actually seemed to mean it.

"Good morning to you, too," said Chuck. He studied Casey for a moment; the guy seemed almost … wistful. "What's with you today?"

Casey shrugged it off. "Nothing. Ready to go to work?"

Something was definitely weird about Casey, but for the life of him, Chuck couldn't figure out what it might be. "Sure," he said uncertainly.

The two walked in silence through one of the archways to where Chuck had parked the Nerd Herder.

Casey said, "You know, I was thinking about swinging by that bagel place on the way in and picking up a dozen for the gang."

"OK, that's it. Who are you and what have you done with Casey?" Chuck demanded. He half-expected Casey to reach down to his neck and pull off a rubber mask, revealing Bryce or Tommy or some other random Fulcrum agent who had no clue how the real Casey behaved.

That might have seemed less weird than seeing Casey act this way. He actually referred to the Buy More employees as "the gang"?

Casey shrugged. "Just in a good mood, I guess."

The odd thing was that his mood didn't really seem all that good. Chuck tried to figure it out as the pair hopped into the car. Checking his mirrors, Chuck eased the car into the street and headed for the bagel shop.