Chuck stood in front of the mirror, straightening his tie. His Nerd Herd tag was carefully clipped to the lapel of his rarely-worn jacket. He had eschewed his usual Chuck Taylors in favor of a pair of dress shoes today.
If one had seen Chuck Bartowski at that moment, they would've been curious. They would've wondered why the person who so often went to work with his tie loosened, his shirt untucked, and a pair of Converse shoes on his feet would be so concerned about his appearance today.
Well, the fact of the matter was, today was Chuck Bartowski's last day at the Buy More.
Three weeks before, he had been sent out on a Nerd Herd call to fix a computer. That computer turned out to be the laptop of the general manager of the Westside Pavilion, a shopping mall on Pico Boulevard near Westwood.
The GM had taken the laptop – a MacBook Pro – to an Apple store, only to be told by one of the "Geniuses" that it was a hopeless case. And so, when Chuck was able to get it up and running in thirty minutes' time, the GM was suitably impressed – and offered Chuck a job.
Chuck was offered the position of Information Technologies Director for the Westside Pavilion – in other words, he was asked to be the mall's own personal Nerd Herd. He would be on call more, and he would probably work more hours – but the job also came with a 44,000 per year salary and some really good benefits.
But he had one day, one shift left at the Buy More. One last chance to yell at Lester and Jeff for being ridiculous. One last chance to watch Morgan do something truly boneheaded. One last chance to watch in glee as Casey gets pushed to the edge of throwing an appliance at somebody. One last chance to potentially get flashed by Anna.
One last chance to get dragged into the home theatre lounge by Sarah for something other than a briefing or a lecture.
He had thought about that last one on more than one occasion. Fallen asleep thinking about it, even.
He had to be nice to Casey today. He was counting on the NSA agent for a ride home – after all, if he wasn't going to be an employee of the Buy More any longer, he was going to have to turn over the Herder. He wasn't too concerned about getting a car – he would have the money in fairly short order, and until then, it was an hour's bus ride from the apartment to the mall.
The powers that be at the NSA and the CIA hadn't been very pleased with the idea of Chuck leaving the Buy More and going to a mall. In fact, General Beckman had started yelling at Chuck about the stupidity of a mall job, and had then ordered him to stay at the Buy More. At that point, something very rare happened – Chuck Bartowski lost his temper. He snapped and told General Beckman to go suck a big one.
General Beckman was not very pleased with that. However, having received assurances from a desperately-trying-not-to-laugh Sarah Walker and John Casey that Chuck would be alright at a mall, she grudgingly agreed to let Chuck change jobs.
The drive from the apartment to the Buy More was uneventful. Chuck listened to Kevin and Bean on the way in, as usual. At least that was one part of his daily routine that would be unchanged when his new job started on Monday.
As with most Fridays at the Buy More, it was painfully slow in the morning. Chuck had to force himself not to look at his watch and count down the time left.
It hit Chuck just how slow the morning was when he saw John Casey – JOHN CASEY! – of all people starting to doze off against a shelf. He sighed and was about to go try to wake Casey up when he got called into Big Mike's office.
"You wanted to see me, Big Mike?" he asked, walking in.
"Sit down, Bartowski," Big Mike replied, indicating the chair across from him. "You've been with us a long time."
"Yes, sir, over five years," Chuck said. Not that he had ever wanted to work here in the first place, but there hadn't been too many opportunities for a depressed guy who had just been kicked out of Stanford.
Big Mike smiled. "Well, your time and devotion to the company has been greatly appreciated," he said. "And I wanted you to have a token of gratitude not just from the Buy More, but a token of my gratitude."
Chuck raised an eyebrow. "Well, Big Mike, you really didn-"
Big Mike cut him off and stood. "Chuck, I want you to have my marlin," he said, reaching up and removing the stuffed, duct-taped, E-Bay bought prize marlin from the wall.
Chuck's other eyebrow went up. "Uh, Big Mike, really, I coul-"
"Not a word, Bartowski," Big Mike said – and was that a TEAR in his eye?! "Take the fish."
So when Chuck walked back out onto the floor with the marlin, there were more than a few odd looks. Morgan strolled over to Chuck.
"Big Mike's marlin?" he asked.
"Big Mike gave it to me," Chuck replied, a perturbed note in his voice. "Do me a favor… and go do something with it, would you?"
"Why me?!" Morgan protested.
Chuck narrowed his eyes. "Because you have proven yourself notoriously good at hiding this fish," he shot back. "Now go!"
He shoved the fish at Morgan, who reluctantly took it. As Chuck walked away, he could hear Morgan mumbling, "Jeez, you accidentally steal a guy's sister's fiancé's grandmother's engagement ring once and you never hear the end of it!"
Then it was back to the Nerd Herd desk. Ordinarily, he could count on the monotony of a Friday to be broken by going across the parking lot to the Wienerlicious at lunch, but Sarah had – much to the annoyance of Director Graham – been fired three days beforehand. Sarah had been most displeased, but Scooter had reminded her that, number one, California is an at-will state, which meant he could fire her at any time, for any reason, and number two, she sucked at the job.
Chuck was pretty certain that there was now a picture of Scooter on Sarah's practice target. However, while he would never say it aloud, he couldn't disagree with Scooter – Sarah was completely incompetent when it came to the kitchen.
But Chuck's spirits brightened considerably when, right before his lunch break started, Sarah came strolling into the store. And oh, my, did she look good.
Her outfit was simple – a rather revealing orange tank top and a pair of loose white cotton pants captured Chuck's attention immediately – along with the attention of every man in the store. Chuck couldn't help but smile when Sarah breezed right through the middle of all that and walked right up to him.
"So, how does it feel to be four hours from joining the ranks of California's unemployed?" she asked teasingly, a smile on her face.
Chuck shrugged. "Not too bad, considering I'm only going to be unemployed for the weekend," he replied. "What about you? What's with the outfit?"
Sarah sighed. "It's the uniform for my new job," she said. "They stuck me in another damn food-service position, although this one involves scooping ice cream, which is pretty difficult to screw up."
Chuck couldn't help it. "And yet, I'm sure you'll find some inventive way to do so," he gently teased.
Sarah's smile fell away, replaced by a look that Chuck immediately read as, Don't mess with me. "The CIA trained me how to kill people, Chuck, not how to serve food. And don't push your luck – I wouldn't want to have to use my training."
Chuck's eyes widened. "Yes, ma'am."
And the smile returned to Sarah's face, full force. "That is the correct and ONLY answer, bucko," she said. "Come with me."
She grabbed Chuck by the hand and led him toward the home theatre lounge. Oh, Jesus Christ, Chuck groaned mentally. Not another damn briefing.
But then things got confusing. As they headed toward the home theatre lounge, John Casey moved as if to head there with them, but Sarah just shook her head. An odd look crossed Casey's face, but he stayed put.
Sarah led Chuck into the home theatre lounge. "Sit," she ordered, pointing to the couch. Chuck did so, and Sarah closed the curtains to the lounge. She walked back to the couch and sat down next to him. Reaching out to the table, she grabbed the big universal remote that sat there.
As she picked up the remote, Chuck noticed that her hand was shaking. "Sarah?" he asked, concerned. "Are you alright?"
She nodded, but didn't say anything, instead pointing to the plasma television. "Okay," Chuck said, turning to face the screen. Sarah lifted the remote, and pressed a button. An icon in the corner of the screen indicated that a DVD had started playing –
And Sarah's face appeared on the screen. "What is going on?" Chuck asked, now completely confused.
"Just watch," Sarah whispered.
Then Sarah-on-the-screen began to speak. "Okay, Chuck, you probably think I've just about gone around the bend at this point," she said. "But I have a good reason for recording this as a video and then playing it for you."
Her image sighed on the screen. "I'm horrible at this sort of thing, Chuck. Whenever I try to talk to somebody about this in person, I turn into a nervous wreck. My stomach ties itself in knots, I start shaking, I start feeling sick… it's pretty pathetic for somebody who's been trained by the CIA to ruthlessly kill people without blinking."
Chuck raised an eyebrow and smiled, looking over at Sarah as the video kept playing. "In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if right about now, my hands are shaking, my mouth has gone dry, and I seem to have lost my voice."
Sarah looked at herself on the screen, annoyance written on her face. "Traitorous wench," she whispered, though not without a smile.
"Anyway, Chuck." Sarah took a deep breath onscreen. "The point to this whole thing is that I wanted you to hear this while I was with you, but I knew that I wouldn't be able to do it without being reduced to a quivering mess. So, here goes."
Chuck's attention was divided between the Sarah that was sitting next to him, who appeared to be about ready to turn into a quivering mess anyway, and the Sarah onscreen, who looked somewhat nervous despite the fact that her only company was a video camera. "Chuck Bartowski… the last eleven months of my life have been nothing short of bizarre. I was trained to operate in foreign nations, not watch over a human computer in Los Angeles.
"But they may have also been the best months of my life. I couldn't have asked for a better assignment than watching over you for all this time. And you see, during that time… I seem to have somehow fallen in love with you."
Chuck's jaw nearly hit the floor, and his eyes practically popped out of his skull. He turned to face Sarah, shock written on his face. Her face was a mixture of hope and a little bit of fear. "Chuck, if you haven't had a heart attack, I'm really hoping… I'm hoping you'll say it back."
And that's when the screen went dark, the video over. The light in the home theatre lounge was cut in half. Chuck just continued to stare at Sarah. After a moment, she whispered, "Chuck, please say something."
"I don't know what to say," he said quietly – and as tears began to form in Sarah's eyes, realized that that was absolutely not the right thing to say. "No, no, that's not what I meant," he backpedalled. "I mean, that was, that was just so heartfelt, and great, and I just have no idea how I could ever properly express how much…"
He looked up at the ceiling. "Just how much I'm gonna miss this place."
In his peripheral vision, he saw Sarah's eyes widen in anger and shock, and then as he looked back down toward her, he saw her right hand begin to move.
With a faster reaction than anybody knew he was capable of, Chuck's left hand flashed upward, grabbing Sarah's wrist and stopping her hand just before it whacked into his face. "I'm kidding," he said softly, looking into her eyes. "What I mean is that words can never really say just how much I love you."
And with that, the hard-as-nails CIA operative in front of him melted. A smile crossed her face, and she leaned toward Chuck…
"What the hell is goin' on in my home theatre lounge?" Big Mike demanded.
Casey shrugged. "No idea," he replied. "All I know is that I saw Bartowski and Walker go in there half an hour ago and lock the door. They haven't come out yet."
"Goddamn it all to hell," Big Mike grumbled. "You give a man a marlin, and how does he express his gratitude? By gettin' freaky in the home theatre lounge!"
And at that moment, the door to the lounge opened, and Chuck and Sarah exited. The employees who had gathered around the lounge scattered like cockroaches in light, leaving only Casey and Big Mike standing there. Both Chuck and Sarah looked a little rumpled, but neither looked particularly bad.
A ghost of a smile crossed Casey's lips. "Don't see that every day," he cracked.
"BARTOWSKI!" Big Mike barked. "What the hell were you doin' in there?! I've got half a mind to fi-"
He stopped himself as he realized that he couldn't really fire Chuck, as he had less than four hours left on his last shift. "Dammit, Bartowski! You better not have left a mess in there!"
Big Mike stormed off, leaving just Casey to confront Chuck and Sarah. "Please, please don't tell me this is what it looks like it is," Casey pleaded as they approached him.
Chuck shrugged. "Did you actually see anything, Casey?"
"Am I gouging my eyes out with a spoon, Bartowski?"
Chuck smiled. "So just don't say anything, Casey. Your life, and our lives, will be easier that way."
Casey shook his head and sighed in despair. As Chuck and Sarah walked away – Hand in hand?! God, they're HORRIBLE at stealth – Casey turned around and called after Chuck. "You plan on doing this at your new job, Bartowski?"
Chuck turned around, a grin on his face. "Casey, at my new job, I'll have my own office with a great big desk."
Casey made a face as if he had been punched in the gut. "Christ," he muttered. "Where the hell did I leave my spoon?"