Ed. Note – This story draws upon characters and events from several other of my fanfics: "Chuck vs Auld Lang Syne", "Chuck vs Five Men, One with a Knife", and "Chuck vs the Strange Bedfellows". Reading those previous stories is not necessary, although it might provide a little more depth to this story.

Usual disclaimers apply: I don't claim any ownership to Chuck.


Scene I - Casa Bartowski, Chuck's room

Lights from the apartment complex courtyard slipped in through the open blinds in Chuck's window, highlighting the darkness outside. He had worked hard since he had gotten off his shift to get things just right. Chuck gave a quick glance around the room, and nodded approvingly.

Tonight was an important night; he wanted everything to be perfect.

For once, Chuck's room was neat and tidy. Deep, soulful music was queued up on Chuck's stereo. Candles were lit. His lights were carefully adjusted. Only one thing was missing: Sarah. And she was coming over.

Sarah was coming over. Chuck smiled.

Unable to contain his excitement, he let the music take control. He gave a couple of herky-jerky movements, trying to match his awkward movements to the rhythm of the song. He was thoroughly enjoying himself … until he looked up to find Sarah peeking through the cracked door.

A startled "Oh!" escaped his lips, his expression communicating his surprise.

Sarah gave him a smile, "Ellie let me in."

Chuck looked sheepish as Sarah entered the room, closing the door behind her. As stunned as he was by her unexpected arrival, he was more stunned by her beauty.

Her blonde hair was softly pulled back into wavy tresses that cascaded across her shoulders. She wore a simple but low-cut black dress, with a plunging neckline that revealed an enticing hint of cleavage. Even the thought that she might have seen a little too much of his dancing couldn't distract him from the prospect of spending some time alone with her.

As he tried to gather his wits, she shut the door and took an approving look around the room. "Wow, Chuck, what do you think is going to happen tonight?" She gave him a direct look.

"W-why? Um, what do you think I think?"

Sarah advanced on him with a sultry little smile on her face. "I don't know. With the candles and the music…" She stopped right in front of him, and planted a gentle finger on his chest. "You do know that we're just spending the night for cover … right?" As she finished her question, her finger drifted up his chest to his chin, gently stroking his jawline.

The night was a direct counterpoint to a similar night a while back. Trying not to lose himself in her touch, he tried to play along, babbling, "Yeah, yeah, yeah … why would I possibly think anything else. I mean, by now I'd say I'm pretty familiar with the concept of 'faking it'."

"Well, I'm not," she said suggestively.

Chuck swallowed hard.

She continued, "We have to take this assignment very seriously." She eyed him up and down, more a piece of meat than a teammate of the undercover operative.

He found he didn't really mind so much.

Chuck's voice jumped an octave as he spoke. "OK. I'll lose the music." He pulled away from Sarah, stepping over to his iPod to shut it off. He collapsed onto the bed. "You can change in the bathroom."

"That's OK." She removed her dress, letting it slide slowly down her arms. The receding fabric exposed a purple bra and panty set covered with a see-through purple mesh. Her eyes never left his.

Chuck's jaw dropped. He tried to play off his nervousness, but he found he had trouble speaking clearly. "What? You give me crap about lighting some candles and you come in … wearing … that?"

She slowly sauntered over towards his side of the bed. "What, this? This is part of my cover."

As she approached, the room seemed to grow very warm. "Uh … well, it doesn't … cover a thing."

Sarah's smile seemed to suggest that that was the point. "And what if Ellie or Awesome were to walk in? This is exactly what a girlfriend would wear to seduce her boyfriend."

She placed a knee on the bed and threw her other leg over him, straddling him at the waist. She leaned down, very deliberately placing a hand on the pillow on either side of his head. Her mouth moved closer to his, her eyes locked on his. "I am just … being … professional."

Her mouth was so close he could feel her breath on his lips. The sensation drove him wild; he could not hold himself back any longer.

His hands slid around her neck and pulled her towards him. His mouth sought out hers, desperately seeking to quench the fire that she had ignited. Rather than calm his passion, her return kiss, soft and teasing, only inflamed him further, driving him quickly towards the edge of losing all control.

Sarah separated, sitting back up, her beauty intensified by the flickering candlelight. Chuck gazed up at her in disbelief. Her expression became even more seductive expression. She said, "Oh, Romeo…"

That seemed very odd; he gave her a questioning look. She repeated herself, her voice suddenly deeper. "Oh, Romeo…"

Chuck woke up with a start. Casey was staring down at him from far too close to his face; Chuck let out an involuntary cry.

Casey smirked as he stood up.

Chuck tried to get his bearings. The window was open, letting in the early morning light and showing how Casey had entered the room.

"Have a nice dream?" Casey asked. He walked away. "Whoever she was, she'll probably thank me for saving her from the inevitable disappointment."

Chuck rolled over and muttered to himself, "This is no way to start the day."

Scene II – Nerd Herder

It wasn't unusual for the ride over to the Buy More to be fairly quiet; Casey wasn't much of a talker. However, the Friday morning ride was a little more tense than usual.

Chuck was discomfited by Casey's early morning stunt. The NSA agent had woken Chuck up about forty minutes before his alarm was slated to go off, and had done so in a deliberately annoying way. The latter part had succeeded: Chuck was definitely annoyed. What Chuck couldn't figure out is why Casey woken him up early in the first place.

The ostensible reason for the change was that Casey wanted to start shifting their schedule randomly from time to time to make their movements less predictable. Still, Chuck couldn't help but suspect that Casey just wanted Chuck off-balance or further under his thumb … but why?

Groggily, Chuck pushed the thought aside. He was too tired to try to read minds, so he chose instead to focus on being irritated at Casey. That certainly helped when Casey made a probing comment out of the blue.

"So, I guess you're happy that Agent Walker is back."

Had Casey spoken those words at any other point, Chuck's poker face might have slipped. However, his exasperation gave him the focus he needed to avoid showing any emotion. Casey staring intently at him searching for the slightest hint of a reaction; Chuck wasn't about to give him any satisfaction.

When no reaction was forthcoming, Casey decided to dig a little more. "You two have an interesting conversation last night?"

Sarah had shown up at his door late the previous night, just a few hours removed from returning from a mission with Bryce – and from finding out that Chuck had slept with her sister, Carina. The two were supposed to share a Valentine's Day dinner, but when Sarah didn't show, Chuck had to assume the worst. He fully expected her to leave, and wasn't even sure if he would see her again. He had even packed up her things for her so their goodbye could be as quick and as painless as possible.

When she arrived, the two had exchanged few words; Chuck had struggled to even look at her. He had assumed that Sarah was just there to wish him luck and maybe give him a parting few words of advice before slipping back into the covert underworld she called home.

Instead, she had kissed him. In that one moment, everything changed.

Unfortunately, with Casey living in the apartment next door, she couldn't stay. She used a device in her cell phone to jam Casey's monitoring system, quickly apologized that she needed to leave, and went to deal with Casey. Chuck went back to his bedroom and lay staring at the ceiling until he fell asleep, a stupid, goofy grin plastered across his face.

Sarah had warned him that Casey would try to pry information out of him. Even with the warning, he was hard-pressed to keep a straight face. Unwittingly, Casey's wake-up call had given Chuck the mechanism to help him keep things hidden.

Chuck answered Casey's question with another question. "What, aren't you? This way you avoid the need to break in a new partner."

Casey was silent for a long moment. Chuck had no idea what the agent was thinking; the only response was a noncommittal grunt.

The agent probed another time or two, but each time Chuck was able to deflect. Seeing the frustration grow in Casey gave Chuck a small glow of satisfaction; it only seemed fitting that Chuck had found a way to repay Casey for the wake-up call.

Hours later, Chuck found himself in a much better mood, as getting in early to the Buy More had proven to be a blessing.

He had gone ahead and cleared out a number of items in the Nerd Herd queue before Big Mike got there. For whatever reason, the big man was unusually animated that morning, and he seemed to be looking for an excuse to go off. He accosted Chuck about two repair jobs and three standard store tasks, all of which Chuck had already completed. Deprived of an excuse to lay into him, Big Mike delivered a departing shot that was more bark than bite and went looking for easier targets.

Chuck marked off a last couple of items on his clipboard as Jeff and Lester arrived in Big Mike's wake, shaking his head. Lester said, "I see Big Mike is in a stellar mood."

Chuck shook his head in agreement. "Something's eating him, that's for sure." Dropping the clipboard behind the desk, he asked, "So, you ready to D.A.S.H.?"

"Naw, Chuck, I just ate," Lester feigned heartburn for emphasis.

Jeff added, "Running isn't really my thing. I'm more of a thinker."

Chuck said, "While I appreciate your commitment to your health, I'm talking Devon's Awesome Scavenger Hunt. You guys doing it?"

Lester said nonchalantly, "Oh, the scavenger hunt. Yeah. Is that this weekend?" He looked over at Jeff.

Jeff shook his head. "I had no idea."

"Wow, I … I really hadn't given it much thought. I guess we could do it, right Jeff?"

"My calendar's open."

Chuck was immediately suspicious. He was prepared to admit that he had a terrible poker face, but Lester's was beyond terrible. "What are you two up to?"

Jeff said, "A little something we like to call 'redemption'."

"Shut up," Lester muttered angrily out of the side of his mouth.

Chuck's eyes narrowed. Lester and Jeff had come in last place in the scavenger hunt three years running. It was especially grating to Lester because the last-place team had to complete the loser's challenge, which was never a big deal - unless you had trouble laughing at yourself. Lester and Jeff could dish it out, but they couldn't take it.

Chuck and Ellie, on the other hand, were defending champions, much to the chagrin of Devon's fraternity brothers. This year, though, Ellie and Chuck wouldn't be partners, as Chuck planned to partner with Sarah. He smiled at the thought.

Still, he was worried what Jeff and Lester might have planned. He was about to ask about it when he noticed the time. It would need to wait. "Um, don't you two have service calls to make this morning?"

"Yeah, we'll leave in a few minutes," Lester said.

"You do remember the new Buy More policy that says Nerd Herders can have their pay docked if they show up late."

"You wouldn't do that, Chuck."

Jeff added, "Yeah, you don't have the cojones."

"Actually, I don't have to do it. The Buy More Nerd Herd reporting system ties it automatically to the payroll system now. As soon as I enter that you are late for an appointment, you lose money from your pocket."

"Yeah, right." The pair looked at each other and laughed. Their laughter quickly became nervous as they notice that Chuck's confident manner wasn't changing.

Finally, they realized that he wasn't kidding. The two scrambled behind to desk to grab their bags and their repair assignments. They dashed for the front of the store, Jeff barely managing to avoid knocking a customer to the ground in the process.

Chuck shook his head and let his mind drift to more pleasant thoughts. A happy smile came to his face as he pictured a weekend cruising around Los Angeles in Sarah's car, without a bad guy – or Casey – in sight.

Scene III – Sarah's Hotel Room

Bright sunlight poured into Sarah's apartment. Given the amount of light streaming in, the room was deceptively cool. Sarah had the covers pulled up to her chin against the chill; only her face and her flowing blond hair were visible.

Her eyes were wide open, and she was smiling.

Sarah had awoken long before her alarm was supposed to go off; her internal clock was still on Venezuelan time. Her instincts told her to get up and get organized; her room was basically a disaster area after her aborted decision to leave the assignment. Piles of clothes, some folded and some unfolded, covered every available surface in the room, including the unused half of her bed.

She couldn't tolerate messes; messes meant sloppiness and disorder, and those were two traits an agent couldn't afford if he planned to have a long career. Still, she found herself preferring to lie there, replaying the events of yesterday in her head over and over again.

Kissing Chuck had been one of the hardest things she had ever done. She had become so used to seeing emotion as something to be repressed. Occasionally she would draw on a portion of a physical attraction when she needed to play the seductress for her job, but even then, emotions remained firmly removed from any actions on her mission. To step forward and to kiss Chuck, an action that came purely from her heart, went against every instinct she had honed over her CIA career.

Her racing heart had nearly stopped dead in its tracks when Chuck hadn't responded at first. She had fought against the urge to pull away, forcing her self-defense mechanisms to the background as she poured herself into that kiss. It felt mechanical, even a bit awkward at times, but she tried to funnel as much emotion as possible into her kiss so Chuck would understand how she felt about him.

Her heart started beating again when Chuck finally responded.

A strange thing happened when Chuck returned her kiss: a long dormant part of her seemed to reawaken. The instant that Chuck kissed her back, all traces of thought abandoned her. His lips would move, and she would respond. She would want to respond. She would need to respond. Lips would trigger tongues would trigger hands would trigger more primal reactions deep within her.

Sarah found herself warm and breathless and passionate and safe in his arms. Everything made perfect sense in that moment, that one perfect moment that ended all too soon.

Her memory of the rest of the conversation was cloudy. The agent and the woman overlapped and blurred in her mind; she vaguely remembered warning him that Casey would likely try to pry, and that the two of them would need to talk through things at lunch. Then she said good night with a bittersweet, all too short good-night kiss.

How she wished she could have stayed. It was another opportunity missed, like so many others lost because her job kept getting in the way. Chuck having the Intersect kept getting in the way. However, she reminded herself that having some time with Chuck was far better than the alternative – saying goodbye and never seeing him again.

She quickly evicted that last thought from her mind.

As she lay there, she tried to recapture the feeling she had during that kiss, but the feeling was elusive. It made her long for another moment so she could remember and savor that feeling once more.

The reality of what she had done started to dawn on her. Everything had changed during the kiss, and there was so much to be nervous about.

Her success as an agent had been tied to her meticulous preparation and control of herself. By allowing things to go forward with Chuck, she had consciously ceded some of that precious control. Chuck, Casey, and her emotions all threatened to be distractions now. It was going to take some unbelievable self-discipline to remain focused during missions.

Sarah was also nervous about dating Chuck. She had never allowed herself to be truly open with a man, not even in high school in the days before she joined the CIA. She never had that luxury. It would take some serious adjusting on her part, especially since he so often deferred control to her in their field work together.

She sighed. What have I gotten myself into?

Unbidden, an image of Chuck standing in Ellie's apartment doorway sprung to her mind, the beautiful smile on his face communicating every last emotion he felt. While that smile warmed her through, she found herself again wondering if she were worthy of that kind of adoration from any man, especially as good a man as Chuck.

Did he just have her up on a pedestal because she was unobtainable? Even worse, did he have her on a pedestal because he didn't truly know her?

She supposed the former was as much a risk for her as for him. The prospect of a normal life and, to a lesser extent, dating an asset made him forbidden fruit for her as well. Besides, it was the other thing that scared her more.

She had to wonder if, in the course of dating, Chuck would discover sides of her that weren't as attractive. She had certainly done some things as an agent that would shock a man as innocent as Chuck. She sighed again. Could somebody as good-hearted as Chuck ever truly love somebody like her?

Sarah pulled herself back from the emotional edge. Going down this road wasn't going to help anything.

She reminded herself of something she had thought about on the drive home the previous evening. The spy business was about calculated gambles, gambles that should only be taken when the reward was worth the risk. As she pictured Chuck in her mind, she knew that he was a reward worth the risk.

They just had to keep Casey or the DoD from finding out. That would be disastrous.

Glancing across the room, she noticed that her alarm clock read 9:29. She threw the covers aside, crossed the room and shut off the alarm just before the numbers changed to 9:30, avoiding the annoying buzzer by mere seconds.

Her heart fluttered when she realized that she would see him in just two hours. It seemed so close and so far away at the same time.

Scene IV – Darkened Office

Four images highlighted the various quadrants of the video screen in the ornate office. The Fulcrum leader, code-named Proteus, smiled as he leaned back in his chair and surveyed the imposing group.

In the upper left was Brandon Jennings, the congressional representative from California's 42nd district. Among the four people on the video screen, his face was the only one that betrayed the slightest bit of nervousness.

In the upper right was Alex Moreno, looking severely ticked off. Proteus couldn't blame Moreno: the operation to take out the Venezuelan president had just been postponed that morning. The former FBI agent had laid several months of groundwork on the project and was none to happy to hear about the delay, especially given his feelings about the president of his homeland.

It couldn't be helped; not after the disastrous events in the jungles of Colombia. Two American agents had attacked an AUC encampment, killing 19 soldiers. In the wake of the attack, the AUC, a key component of the Venezuelan operation, killed the intermediary and refused to participate any further, preferring to retreat into the jungle to lick their wounds. Fulcrum needed to reassess the situation before they went forward. That was cold comfort to Moreno.

The pair in the third quadrant of the screen was also affected by that attack. The man and the woman were strong-arms for Los Mellizos, a drug cartel who had helped set up the alliance with the AUC. The brothers that ran the cartel were severely displeased and demanded the heads of the agents responsible.

Proteus offered a grim smile. That could certainly be arranged.

In the last quadrant was a black man who preferred to be called "The Shadow". The leader grimaced at the ostentatious nickname. Still, he couldn't deny the man had skills, which is why he was such a valuable member of Fulcrum.

Besides, he personally had adopted the code name "Proteus", which he was forced to admit didn't lack ego.

"Gentlemen," Proteus began. "Thank you for calling in. Let me remind you that while your voices are electronically masked to everyone on the call, please keep the details of any current operations or anything that might identify you out of the conversation. It will be better if the others do not know who you are."

"This better be important, Proteus," Moreno said. "There are more critical things we should be doing; I don't have time for this."

The pleasantness evaporated from Proteus' demeanor at the inferred rebuke. In a deceptively quiet tone, he responded, "You will have time for what I say you have time for."

Moreno's eyes flashed. Sullenly, the man bit back his anger and retreated into silence.

Looking at all four quadrants in turn, Proteus continued, "We have had several problems over the past couple of months. Two of the key points of our operations have been threatened, and we need to recover a few key elements. That's why I've gathered you here today. If we do not recover from these setbacks, everything else that we've worked for may be for nothing." He stayed silent for a moment, letting the gravity of the situation sink in. He found the lack of response gratifying.

"First, one of our key sources of information was captured." Proteus hit a key on his laptop, and a picture of Andon Minh popped up on the screen. "Mr. Minh was noticed due to his dealings with DCI Enterprises, a company unrelated to any of our operations. However, he was captured at an inopportune time, as he carried with him a very important package: coded data that we require, code-named 'Chameleon'. We believe this data, along with the rest of Mr. Minh's intelligence, was captured and moved to a CIA facility in metropolitan Los Angeles. We need that package, gentlemen."

"Next, Cell 1597, led by a foreign agent code-named Black Lightning, was activated and tasked with breaking into a key American government computer, among other things. As far as we know, the ordered penetration never occurred. The entire cell was taken down in the process, with the exception of one agent, code named Lizzie." He stopped to press another key, putting a picture of Lizzie up on the screen. "Here, we need three things: verification of whether the target computer was penetrated, the location of Lizzie, and a pair of boots."

Jennings spoke up. "I'm sorry: my transmission must have somehow been garbled. I could have sworn you said, 'a pair of boots'."

"That's right. There is a vial of liquid hidden in the false heel of each boot. And, just so you know," Proteus held up an oddly-shaped key with a long shaft and tiny teeth at the end, "without this key, any attempt to retrieve or examine the vials will crush them … and you will not like what happens if the vials break."

"What about Black Lightning?" The Shadow asked.

Proteus grunted. "Let him rot. I've read the mission report leading to his capture. The discovery of his cell was unfortunate, but he screwed up far too many times. We've got better things to do than to rescue an incompetent Venezuelan agent."

The Shadow's silence indicated assent, if not agreement.

"We also lost an ally," Proteus nodded to the Los Mellizos contingent, "when Jaime Veron was captured a couple of days ago. While the drugs and the money will be impossible to reclaim…"

One of the Los Mellizos henchmen raised his voice. "What?! Veron had fifteen million dollars of cash and merchandise. You're just going to let that go?"

Proteus leaned forward, a pained expression on his face. "Do you really think the DEA isn't hoping you'll pull some stupid stunt to try to retrieve it? Why do you think everything is still at Veron's house?"

"Because they are fools. They are government agents, filling out paperwork and leaving themselves vulnerable in the process."

"They left bait in the trap, hoping that they'll snare additional men from your cartel. Twenty agents with serious firepower are hidden around the property, just praying somebody like you will try something."

Proteus watched as the man processed the information. The henchman slammed the table in frustration. "Don't worry," Proteus reassured the man. "You'll have an opportunity to make some of the money back … and get your revenge."

Both the man and the woman looked unconvinced, but chose to hear things out. Proteus nodded approvingly.

"We cannot get the money or the cocaine. What we can get is Veron's PDA. Details of his rendezvous schedules with the other Fulcrum cells in California are unknown, but there's little doubt that he stored them on that damn organizer. If those schedules are found, the other cells will be found."

Jennings nodded strongly in agreement as Proteus continued. "We were able to regain contact with one cell," he nodded subtly at The Shadow, "but Veron altered the schedule with the other two cells, and protocol will keep them from surfacing to contact us until two more meetings are missed. That means that even if those cells aren't discovered, they will essentially be inactive for up to four weeks, which we simply do not have. They have work to do, and soon."

"Finally," Proteus continued, "while transporting a key person of interest, one of our best operatives, code-named Tommy, was captured. We are desperately trying to ascertain his whereabouts, as well as the location of Bryce Larkin, a CIA agent who has since vanished."

"Enough," the second Los Mellizos henchman said in a feminine, accented voice. "We care nothing for the integrity of Fulcrum's operations. Why do you waste our time?"

With a patient expression, Proteus looked at the man and said, "Because we will pay one hundred thousand dollars apiece for return the book or the pair of boots. Verify whether the government computer was compromised or the location of Lizzie, or return Veron's PDA, and we will pay you five hundred thousand dollars. Verify the location of Tommy, and we will pay you one million dollars."

"Chump change," the woman sniffed.

"Three agents: Sarah Walker, John Casey, and Chuck Bartowski were involved in some or all of the attacks upon our operations. Capture them, and we will pay you two million dollars. Capture Agent Bryce Larkin, and we will pay you five million dollars."

"Five million dollars would be nice, but we do not care about these items or these agents!"

"Oh, I think you do. You see, Sarah Walker and Bryce Larkin are the agents who attacked the AUC campsite three days ago."

The surprise, and the hatred, was evident to Proteus on the faces of both the Los Mellizos henchmen. "Interested now?" he asked with a malevolent grin.