Kind of a song fic, I suppose, but definitely fluff. Doesn't fit into any particular timeline.

Just wanted to take a little break from "Chuck vs Fulcrum."


Chuck stared down at his iPhone. This wasn't a decision to be taken lightly.

He supposed he could choose something goofy, like Alien Ant Farm's version of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal," or Better Than Ezra's "Juicy," but goofy didn't really seem to fit the relationship.

Ok Go's "Here We Go Again" was out. Too current, too overdone. Same went for "So Damn Hot," which was a damn shame, considering how autobiographical it was.

Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend" was a pretty good choice, especially given their cover, but something told Chuck that every time he heard it he'd be reminded that their relationship was just that - a cover. It would chip away at his hopes that one day it could be something more.

"No Sleep Tonight" by the Faders? Too suggestive.

"Right Down the Line" by Gerry Rafferty? Too 70's Easy Listening.

"Hit Me Up" by Gia Ferrel! No, too penguin-ish. Chuck smiled. Penguin-ish. He'd have to remember that one for the next conversation with Morgan that Casey would be listening in on.

Suddenly it struck him. The perfect song. He spun through his MP3s, found the file, and assigned it to her profile, sighing contentedly.

"Perfect," he said, saving the selection.

"Is that my profile?"

Chuck let out a little yelp and twisted around on the couch, losing his balance and falling to the floor. He looked up at Sarah's amused face, eyebrows arched from his carpet gymnastics, a crooked smile on her face.

"How did you get in here?" he asked, trying to extract himself from his wedged-in spot between the couch and the coffee table with as much grace as he could muster.

Sarah gestured over her shoulder, towards Chuck's room. "Morgan door," she replied. "You're usually in your room by now. What's perfect about my profile?"

Chuck stood up and adjusted his tie, holding his iPhone behind his back. "Nu-nothing," he said. "I was just-- you know, admiring the interface. That Steve Jobs, he's a… a genius, that guy."

Sarah nodded, her smile fading into a thoughtful look. "Let me see it."

"Hm?"

"The phone, Chuck. Let me see it."

"There's no reason for that."

Sarah stepped closer. "My curiosity is a reason."

Chuck felt his heart skip a beat. Whether it was from his rampant attraction to her, or his rampant fear of bodily harm, he honestly couldn't say.

"This-- you know, it's just a-- you can play with one all you want at the Apple Store, you know."

Sarah took another step. "I could make you show me, you know."

Chuck wasn't sure if she meant the fun way of making him show her, or the arm-twisted-around-the-back way of making him show her. Given his luck it would be the latter. Still, it could be worth the risk…

"You still with us, Chuck?"

"Um, sorry. Mind wandered for a second. Look, Sarah, it's no big deal. I was just playing around with ring tones."

"Really," Sarah said, taking out her phone. "Ring tones. Well, then. Let's see what mine is." She hit the speed dial for Chuck's mobile phone.

Chuck frantically keyed through the menus to silence his phone, but wasn't quite fast enough. His iPhone rang with the new tone he'd picked out for Sarah.

Sarah's brow furrowed as she listened to the opening notes. "I know that song," she said. "It's… who sings that?"

Chuck fidgeted. "It's… um… Jackson Browne."

Sarah's face registered recognition. "The Pretender," she said. Her brow shifted for just a moment; just long enough for Chuck to see her hurt expression before she covered it up with her game face. "I see."

"Sarah--"

"I have to get back," she said. "I just… I wanted to remind you about tomorrow's briefing." She turned and moved toward the door.

"Sarah, that's not what the song is--"

"Chuck," Sarah said, stopping at the door but not turning to face him. "It's no big deal. I'll see you tomorrow." She swung the door open, strode out, and shut it soundly behind her. Chuck took a step towards the door, paused, and looked down at his phone. A few more notes sounded out, then "CALL ENDED" flashed on screen as the phone went quiet.

--

Sarah locked the door to her apartment and walked over to the windows, gazing out but not really seeing anything. The Pretender, she said to herself. That's what Chuck thinks of you.

She supposed she shouldn't have been surprised. He'd done his fair share of expressing his feelings for her, whereas she had consistently dodged hers. How many times had she explained away their spending time together, or showing affection for each other, as them just building up their cover?

But she'd always hoped, always believed, that Chuck could see through it. In her private moments, she had pushed past her professional façade and convinced herself that no matter how many times she denied it to his face, Chuck would know that she really did have feelings for him. Today, in describing her with a song, Chuck had shattered that belief.

Her laptop chirped with the sound of an incoming email, taking her out of her musings. Sarah sighed and punched her password in to unlock the computer. The email was from Chuck. There was an attachment.

Sarah,
Please listen carefully, all the way through.
--C

Sarah hesitantly opened the file, and her media player launched. She grimaced as the song began to play. Great, she thought. Way to rub it in, Chuck.

She went to stop the song, but stopped when the lyrics started. She found herself listening, concentrating, on a song she'd never really paid much attention to.

It was, she realized, about dashed dreams, of shedding ideals in favor of giving in to the temptations of a cynical world. It was a sad song, to be sure, but not what she'd expected. It was a perfect metaphor for Chuck's own journey from the promising path he'd been on during his days at Stanford to his betrayal at Bryce's hands and subsequent purgatory at the BuyMore.

And then she heard it, the lyric that must have made Chuck choose the song for her; the little glimmer of hope in an otherwise dark landscape:

I'm gonna find myself a girl
Who can show me what laughter means
And we'll fill in the missing colors
In each other's paint-by-numbers dreams
And then we'll put our dark glasses on
And we'll make love until our strength is gone
And when the morning light comes streaming in
We'll get up and do it again

Sarah smiled, wiping a tear away from her eye. She took out her phone and dialed Chuck's number. She smiled at the thought that the song was playing for him now. After a single ring, she heard Chuck's soft voice.

"Hi."

"Hi," she answered quietly, smiling. There was a long pause, where neither of them said anything. Sarah felt strangely close to Chuck, even though it was just his voice - or lack of it, even - on the other side of the line.

Finally, she broke the silence. "You're the Pretender."

"You figured it out."

"I get these things eventually."

Sarah was aware of how wide she was smiling. She wondered if Chuck could hear it in her voice.

"I thought that was the way my life was going before I met you," he said. "And you can argue it all you want, but you've changed that in me. I don't see life as a dead end anymore."

Sarah's smile faded. She fiddled with the hem of her shirt. "Chuck."

"Yeah."

"Come over."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"That won't be necessary," he said.

Sarah cocked her head. "Why not?"

"I'm already here."

There was a knock on the door. Sarah hung up her phone.


Okay, some angst got in there. Bound to happen. And I don't know why I like leaving things hanging at the end like that, but I do. Sue me.

I'm always happy to get reviews, so let me know what you think. Thanks for reading. --N