Scene LIII – Monday Morning, Buy More

Chuck walked back into the Buy More with a piece of gauze taped over his head wound and a renewed sense of purpose. Maybe it was defying death twice in a day, or maybe it was riding in with Casey that reminded him of something he had been thinking about lately: he had let the people and events in his life control him for too long. It was time for that to stop.

At two minutes to nine o'clock, Chuck left the home theater room and joined the other Buy More employees, standing at attention in a military-style inspection line. An intense Big Mike walked down the line, sticking a sharp number-two pencil into each employee's outstretched hand, pointed side up, as he glared into their eyes.

At precisely nine o'clock, the three maroon shirts appeared, as if by magic. They stood together towards the center of the employee line. The red-haired woman said, "Today's Buy More assessment consists of two parts: the ARGO, the Assessment of Regulations and General Operations, and a section geared specifically towards your particular role with the store."

The blond added, "We really don't expect many of you to pass. However, it is company policy, so–"

"Maybe I can save us all some time," Chuck interrupted.

There was a murmur among the Buy More employees. Big Mike eyed him nervously.

Chuck left the line and walked up to the brunette auditor. He leaned in and, in a low voice, said, "May I have a word with you please?"

It wasn't a request. He walked away without looking back.

The three auditors shared a confused look before the raven-haired woman followed Chuck to an aisle that afforded the two some relative privacy. By the time the pair arrived, the auditor thought she had things figured out. "So, you've considered my offer?" she asked. She took in a deep breath, again getting that hungry look that suggested she couldn't wait to get her claws into him. "Did you want to get right to it, or did you want to quote some more regulations to get me hot first?"

"How about if I quote BM256J, the Buy More policy on sexual harassment? That do anything for you?"

"Sexual harassment? Please. You've got nothing to back that up. Besides, who are they going to believe: a maroon shirt or a Nerd Herd supervisor?"

He held up his iPhone. His thumb triggered a high-resolution security video of her coming onto him in the cage area, audio and all. Her eyes widened. Clearly, she didn't know about the extra security measures that Casey had taken with Buy More surveillance system.

Another deft flick of his thumb flipped the player to the next video, showing her undressing him with her eyes in front of several others as she made a snide little remark, her intentions clear.

Chuck slipped the phone into his back pocket. "I also have video of you and your hellish little sorority doing your not-so-friendly interviews of employees in the home theater room, as well as the three of you taking all the donuts out of the break room and throwing them in the dumpster. Twice. I'm thinking your boss might question your methods."

Her face went ashen. "Surely there's something we can–"

"Here's a one-time offer. The store passes the audit. You three leave. If I catch the slightest hint that you and your coven are up to your tricks at this or any other Buy More locations, these videos end up on your boss's desk the next morning."

She stared at him, speechless, clearly having no idea what to do.

"This is the part when you leave," Chuck helpfully supplied.

Beaten, the brunette woman hurriedly walked back to the waiting people. "The store passes," she said tersely to Big Mike. She nodded her head, indicating that the other auditors should follow her out of the store. "Celene?" the red-head auditor asked, clearly in disbelief at her cohort's change in attitude.

"Just do it," Celene hissed. The Buy More employees watched in stunned silence as the women flew through the store to the sea of cars in the parking lot, heatedly whispering among themselves.

Big Mike smiled broadly. "There are donuts in the break room," he proclaimed magnanimously. "Why don't you all grab one?"

The crowd cheered. Jeff and Lester did an awkward chest bump in the air, falling awkwardly to the ground in the aftermath. Morgan and Anna shared what probably was an inappropriate kiss for the workplace, one of her legs wrapping around his hips. Casey just rolled his eyes at the celebration and headed towards the back of the store.

As suddenly as the smile had come to Big Mike's face, it disappeared.

"Be back to work in ten minutes," he barked gruffly.


Big Mike was walking with Chuck through the store, his chest puffed out and a grin that wouldn't quit on his face. "So what did you tell those harpies?"

"Well, I snagged copies of a couple security videos that they didn't exactly want in general circulation."

"Blackmail, Bartowski?!" For the briefest moment, Chuck thought Big Mike might be genuinely upset. He was wrong. "You might just be manager material after all," Big Mike said proudly.

Chuck could only shake his head.

The two walked through the store; Big Mike clearly enjoyed seeing the green shirts pick up the pace as they saw him approaching. "You know the best part about getting my old job back?"

Chuck asked, "The benefits?"

"No. Well, that too. No, it's that the fear is back."

"Maybe we could scale back on the fear a bit for a few days."

"I really don't see that happening. I just got my mojo back, and I plan on taking it out for a little spin."

"Well, maybe we can leave it in park for a little while. See, I have few more security videos stored on my phone. I call them, 'A Day in the Life of Big Mike, Chapters I-VI'."

Big Mike's eyes narrowed. "You wouldn't."

"Did you know the store security camera in your office points directly at your computer screen? It's almost worse for you when you are using your computer than when you're just reading the tabloids."

He sighed. "All right, Bartowski. What do you want? A raise? That assistant manager job?"

Chuck looked around the store, searching for the right words. "Just … ease up on these guys a little. Nobody grows up dreaming of being a green shirt or a Nerd Herder in a Buy More. Most days are tough enough without you coming down on them like a ton of bricks."

Big Mike's eyes narrowed shrewdly. "How about we start with me providing donuts for a week, and I'll throw in not looking too carefully at all the times you seem to vanish for hours to dally with that girlfriend of yours over at the Weinerlicious."

Six months ago, Chuck would have withered under Big Mike's implied threat. However, he wasn't the same man he was six months ago. "It's a start," was all he said.

Big Mike let out a satisfied little noise. With one little sound, he said, 'I thought so, Bartowski.'

Chuck grinned. "It's good to know some things won't be changing around here."

His boss' face threatened to crack into a smile, although he hid it well. "Get back to work!" He even managed to sound somewhat angry.

"Yes, sir." Chuck walked away. Over his shoulder, he said, "By the way, you did a good job cleaning out the cache on your computer's Internet browser, but if you don't want people to know what sites you've been visiting, you'd better start cleaning out the cookies, too."

Big Mike looked around, nervous that somebody might have overheard the comment.

Scene LIV – Buy More, Home Theater Room

Casey stood alone in the curtained home theater room; General Beckman stared primly at him from the large screen on the opposite wall. "Were you able to verify whether Agent Walker has compromised herself with the Intersect?"

He thought back to Sunday afternoon, when he thought he had caught the two in the act. "No, general. I still have my suspicions, but I've been unable to verify anything."

"No matter. The new version of the Intersect is being activated as we speak. Our technicians should have the system online and operational in approximately twenty-four hours. After we get the final thumbs up, it will be time to take care of Mr. Bartowski."

Casey had been kept apprised of progress with the new Intersect, so he wasn't surprised to hear those words. "Roger that, ma'am. What should I do about Agent Walker?"

"Nothing. Even if Agent Walker is compromised, there will be nothing she can do to stop you from the Weinerlicious. When the time comes, execute your order and disappear." She nodded confidently at him. "Keep your phone on, Agent Casey." She signed off.

Casey winced at the truthfulness of her statement. General Beckman was absolutely right: nothing should stop him from putting a bullet in Bartowski tomorrow.

Except possibly for his upcoming meeting with Jennings.

Scene LV – Buy More Parking Lot

The automatic doors slid quietly shut behind Chuck as he left the Buy More. Glancing both ways for traffic before stepping off the sidewalk, he headed for the Weinerlicious, his shoes scrunching on the blacktop. The butterflies that normally began their antics about that point were noticeably absent.

As he navigated through the rows of parked cars and the bright sunshine, he thought about what Sarah had asked him. Could he respect that the job would always need to come first? Could he keep his end of the bargain?

Over the weekend, he had found that he could put the job first. He found that he had the strength to leave Sarah when she was in trouble and it was the right decision, no matter how much it hurt. He found that he had the will to risk his own life when it made sense for the team. His feelings for Sarah hadn't gotten in the way. If anything, they had helped him to do what needed doing.

He had even found that there were ways to spend time with Sarah in the midst of their complicated lives. There were moments he wouldn't trade for anything: their time at the bowling alley, their kiss at the party, the scavenger hunt in old Hollywood, waking up that morning to find Sarah nestled in his arms.

Chuck had found his answers. If the job had to come first, if that was the cost of being with Sarah, he was willing to pay that price – even if it meant risking his own life.

As he crossed a small, grassy median with a short, dormant tree, he spotted Sarah standing by their outdoor table. She was tough to miss, clad in her bright Weinerlicious uniform with her hair up in pigtails.

His breath caught. The butterflies were suddenly back, although subtly different.

He had always thought he wanted a normal life. However, no matter what trappings were put on Sarah Walker, she would never be a normal woman. Whether in a restaurant or on a rooftop, whether holding a skillet or a gun, any life with her would always be the furthest thing from normal.

It would be extraordinary.

When she saw him approach, a smile grew on her face. It was a smile laced with trust and affection, the type of smile that Chuck suspected few men, if any other men, had ever shared with her. The smile left him weak in the knees and shivering the slightest bit in wondrous disbelief.

It was a smile that, six months ago, would have left Chuck looking around to find the man who deserved that smile. He found that he no longer needed to look around.

All of that certainly wasn't normal, either.


"So, Beckman and Graham are happy with how things turned out?" Chuck asked.

Sarah dabbed some French fries in her ketchup and took a bite before answering. "Pretty happy, all things considered. They wish we'd nabbed Amafor, of course, and Plato being dead doesn't help much. However, we managed to grab a pair of Fulcrum agents, and we're interrogating them now. Hopefully that leads to some answers; there are still so many questions."

She took a sip of soda before adding, "More than anything, Graham and Beckman were almost apologetic that word of our mission got back to Fulcrum so quickly. They're looking everywhere for where the leak might be. And I mean everywhere." Her tone and her look spoke volumes.

"What, they're checking us out as well?"

"They're baffled, and frankly, I think they're a little scared. Not only did word of our mission leak, somebody helped the Los Mellizos henchmen escape as well. The directors are jumping at their own shadows right now. There's a leak, and it's a big one."

"They're really checking me out."

"Honestly, I think you're about the only one above suspicion. Back at the beginning, they wondered about your connection to Bryce, but with the way he came back into the picture, he's pretty much in the clear. There's no way Fulcrum could have expected us to intercept the shipment with Bryce's life support casket, so it couldn't have been a set-up. You and he may be the only two they don't suspect."

"I can't believe they'd suspect you or Casey, though."

"Don't let personal feelings fool you, Chuck. We don't understand how Fulcrum develops their hold over agents. Sometimes they use blackmail, sure, but most field agents are vetted to make sure they can't be blackmailed, and Fulcrum is turning agents who have been loyal for decades."

Chuck put on a look of mock fear. "So I might be having lunch with a Fulcrum agent?!" he whispered nervously. His eyes widened.

She threw a crumpled napkin at him.

He grinned.

The two ate their corn dogs and fries in silence for a long moment. The bright sun had helped the day's temperature rebound nicely, allowing the two to use their outside table. Not only did that allow them to discuss things that they couldn't let other people overhear, but it provided a sense of normalcy that Sarah enjoyed.

Still, there was a question brewing inside of her. Chuck had told her how the events of the weekend had led him to decide to take more control of his life. The weekend events had left Sarah working through something, too.

That thing distracted her as the two talked about nothing in particular. She found herself looking for some kind of opening to broach the subject, but that proved difficult, as Chuck was in one of his adorable but garrulous moods.

"So, I was thinking," he said.

"Uh oh."

He grinned back at her. "I was thinking about how you don't feel that you can talk about things that are too personal, you know, because of the whole invincible super-agent thing. So we can't talk about something like where you most enjoyed living while you grew up."

"That's right. So?"

"Maybe we could talk about things that we don't want to do in the future. For example, we could talk about where we wouldn't want to live."

She had to give him points for creativity; he had obviously given this some thought. Still, his thoughtfulness only highlighted the issue roiling beneath her surface. "OK, so where wouldn't you want to live?"

"Seattle."

She gave him a curious glance. "What's wrong with Seattle?"

"It just always seemed like such a dreary place. I don't mind the occasional rainy day, but Seattle has, what, three hundred days of rain a year? That's a little much."

"I guess it is." As he talked, she was alternately struck by small impulses to laugh giddily or to start crying. The need to ask what needed to be asked grew inside of her while scaring her like little could; she felt like she would burst if she didn't ask soon.

She hid it well; Chuck didn't notice. "One of my college buddies moved up there to work for Microsoft. He once told me that the reason the grass is so green up there is that all that rain produces mold and algae in the lawn."

"Yuck." She tried to create an opening. "Chuck–"

"I know. I have no idea whether it's true or not, but that image has always stuck in my mind: walking across a lawn that's a slimy mix of grass, mold and algae."

"Chuck, I nee–"

"I don't ever want to go to Seattle. Or for that matter–"

"Chuck!!"

He looked up from his lunch, shocked at her tone.

The words exploded out of her. "God, how could somebody like you ever like somebody like me?!"

His long moment of stunned silence didn't surprise her. His next reaction did.

He burst out laughing.

She stared dumbly at him. "What's so funny?"

His expression became incredulous. "C'mon, do you know how many times I've been asked how somebody like you could possibly be into me? That's just to my face. I can't even begin to guess how often that question has been asked behind my back."

"I'm completely serious. Chuck, you're this warm, wonderful man, and I'm this agent that's done these … things, these terrible, terrible things. If that weren't enough, I put all these rules around us: when we can see each other, how we have to act, even down to what we can and can't talk about. I know that kills you, but you somehow find ways to make it all work." She pushed a pile of mustard around its foil wrapper with her corn dog. "How could somebody like you ever love somebody like me?"

The corn dog fell to the foil. She hadn't meant to inject the word 'love' into the conversation. At least she had put it in a future tense.

Chuck seemed unaffected by either slip, physical or verbal. He just looked at her, wrapping her up safely in his liquid brown eyes. "Seriously? You don't know."

Sarah shook her head, afraid of what other words might escape if she spoke again.

He approached the answer to her question obliquely. "You know how I got kicked out of Stanford and lost my girlfriend."

"It's come up," she said, making a half-hearted attempt at a joke.

Chuck still smiled. "I spent five years recovering from that. Five years I spent as a self-pitying, unmotivated wreck of a person."

"But you did that for perfectly understandable reasons. Friendship and honesty mean everything to you. That's why what Bryce and Jill did affected you so much."

"I know that now. But when I was going through it, I couldn't see that. I couldn't see that I was still a good person."

"What's your point?"

"Just like my actions when I was struggling with my life didn't define the person that I was, what you do for your job doesn't define who you are. When you do whatever butt-kicking or stomach-turning things that you do, you don't do it because you enjoy it. OK, I take it back: maybe you enjoy some of the butt-kicking."

She managed a thin little smile.

He continued, "You don't do those things because you're a bad person; you do them because they're the right thing to do. You're dedicated and committed, and you have the internal fortitude to do what needs doing. Just because you're capable of doing those things and choose to do so in service to your country – those actions don't define you. They only prove how strong you are. You're strong enough to do all those things and keep the core of who you are intact.

"I know who you are, Sarah Walker. It doesn't matter what you do for your country. It doesn't matter what you're capable of doing. It doesn't even matter where you want to live or what your real name is. I know who you really are … and how terrific that person is."

Sarah's eyes slowly widened as his words sunk in. She had been so afraid that Chuck had simply put her on a pedestal, that he wasn't seeing the real her. Was it possible that he knew who she was better than she did?

She stood up and dropped her napkin in front of her. "Sarah?" he asked, puzzled.

She walked over to his side of the table and swung his chair around, just as she had swung Elsa's chair in the interrogation room. Before he could react, she lowered herself sidesaddle into his lap, wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him deeply.

Clearly surprised, he took a moment to react, but when he did he lost himself fully to the kiss. For a long, delicious moment, the two were alone in their own private world, their senses full of each other.

Before too long, Chuck came to his senses and withdrew. "Wait! What about Casey? He can see us here."

Sarah never even looked towards the Buy More. She simply adjusted her arms around his neck and said, a bit coyly, "I told you the job wouldn't always come first."

She leaned in to kiss him again, but his expression clearly told her that he wasn't fully convinced. She briefly tipped her head back in thought before looking back into his eyes and explaining, "We may have to sacrifice some moments to make this work, but I'm not losing this one. Not for anything."

With more than a hint of a smile, she leaned in and kissed him again, a little bit gentler but no less intensely. His worries assuaged, he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her back.

Cradled in his arms, she believed she was the person that Chuck saw. She believed she was the person reflected in his eyes.

She believed that there was hope for them, and for her, after all.

Fin


Wow. Six months of writing later, the story is finally finished. Thank you for your patience.

Obviously, there's more to this story coming. Will Casey really join Fulcrum? How do the book, the PDA and the boots fit into Fulcrum's plans? Those loose ends, along with the others, will be explored in a sequel.

As always, I'm asking that readers please, Please, PLEASE take a little time to review this and any other fanfic that you read. Reviews are about the only payment that fanfic writers receive, so please take a few minutes. And remember: feedback on what you don't like is just as valuable, if not more valuable, than what you did. I won't be bothered if you have problems with some of what I wrote, and I'll be grateful if you point out any flaws that you see. If you don't feel comfortable leaving a negative comment or review, please feel free to PM me.

Thank you to the various beta-readers who helped make this story what it is: big thanks go to Arathorn and Go-Chuck-Go, but also to kayla101blue, natty, and tshadow. Their advice has been invaluable. All mistakes are my own.

Oh, and I still don't own Chuck.