Rating: K+

Timeline: Post 2.04 Chuck vs. the Cougars

Summary: She lost who she was long before Arthur Graham came along, but as she dives deeper into her latest assignment, her identity becomes clear. All she wants to be is Sarah Walker.

Okay, with the awesomeness that was Chuck vs. the Cougars, I had to get this out. With all the speculation concerning Sarah's true identity, this fic spawned itself. I hope you enjoy!

Identity. She supposes it's all what it comes down to. It's an understood that by this part of her life, she's expected to have some kind of semblance of self, some kind of security in who she is. There are supposed to be a few select yet undisputed concrete details: a name, a Social Security number, family. Things that - barring unavoidable - will never change.

In her life, she's been many different people with many different back stories and countless different identities. Her name has been changed, birth date varied, appearance altered, her Social Security has spanned all possible number combinations, never mind her place of residence. The only constants in her life that she could account for have been her father, her blue eyes (they reminded him of her mother), and the prospect of yet another scam in yet another city. There was no point in cementing her current identity because chances were, in a few months, they would be off into the vast amount of possibilities in the United States, searching for, as her father liked to term it, "the next sucker."

- - -

She's pretty sure she knows when it started. She was ten when her mother was diagnosed with leukemia. The memories are over a decade old, but she recalls them with the clarity and vibrancy of an occurrence that happened days ago in the recent past. She remembers her mother's beauty, the flowing blonde hair, the brilliant blue eyes, and the wide, radiant smile that held no secrets, harbored no deceptions, only shone with the most unadulterated, uninhibited joy. But as the disease took its hold, those blue eyes dimmed, that wide smile dimmed, and the joy was replaced by pain. She can see that same pain mirrored in her father's eyes as he snaps, throwing himself into the past he thought he left behind. Her father wasn't always the straight-laced family man she saw him as, and when the desperation takes its hold to find a way, any way to save his beloved wife - even if it was just for a couple months more - he returns to the crooked past that she's only heard through bedtime stories. He draws her in quite willingly and fills her head with the tips and tricks that she's perfected. Together, they dance along a fine line of moral ambiguity because both know that one more day, one more week, one more month is a blessing, and both are seriously counting their blessings while they can.

They know they are running on borrowed time, and when that borrowed time reaches its culmination, there are two. Just two. She's not quite sure what's worse, the pain she feels, the emptiness, the void, or the pain in her father's eyes as he looks at her. She has her mother's eyes, and she knows it's not quite her he's seeing.

The days that follow are a whirlwind of despondent mourners, inconsolable relatives, and a father who's there but not quite present. She wears black like she's supposed to, cries when she can't stem the tears any longer, and nods seriously when people tell her the sincere but empty sentiments that have blended into a broken record to her ears. She knows she should stay strong; she knows they're sorry for her loss. But that's not what she wants to hear. She wants to hear her mother's voice, her tinkling laugh, light as wind chimes, and the soothing comfort of her singing voice. In the end, she's just numb, and she's lost, and she doesn't know who she is. The girl she was before had a mother. The girl she is now doesn't.

She knows her father is existing in that same blur, so it's not really a surprise when he announces out of the blue over a pseudo breakfast of day-old pizza and milk that they're moving. By this time, her grades have plummeted, her interests seem stupid, and her friends state that they don't know her anymore. Truth is, she's not really sure she knows herself. So they pack up everything, leave behind everything that reminds them of flowing blonde hair and a wind chime laugh, and start fresh. Really fresh. She watches her father burn all traces of the life he had with a wife, and she knows what that means. The biggest thing in his life has been ripped away, and he's just as lost as she is. He can't cope, so the only thing he can do to keep him remotely sane is to regress back to something he knows, and that's how to con. She throws herself into the process, absorbing everything he's teaching her because, to be honest, being someone else other than her motherless self holds a strange amount of comfort and this literal and figurative journey of theirs is bringing a bit of her father back again. It's just the two of them against the world now, and as much as it sucks, she supposes it could suck way worse.

- - -

Their first big con is in Cleveland as Richard and Rebecca Franco, a handsome widower and his daughter. Together, they target a wealthy widow who's too lonely and too clueless to realize that the charming man that's wooing her is actually methodically pilfering codes to her security system. It's almost amazing as she sees her father enchant this hapless lady with a grace and efficiency she's never seen before. To the naked eye, it's simply an effortless charm and charisma, but to her practiced one, it's robotic and calloused, almost to a point of schooled impassivity. She wonders if he's doing this because of the pain or despite it.

Rebecca Franco is plain and unremarkable. She's average in all sense of the word. Average grades, average looks, average personality. Nothing extraordinary. Her teachers note that she is quiet and unfailingly polite but painfully reserved. They say it's the transition to a new school and a new environment. She knows the pain of her mother's passing still bleeds thick.

Despite all of that, her life progresses as normal. She just starts junior high and much to her abject mortification, Mother Nature decides to drop a little present off at her doorstep in the form of her period. She's at a loss and doesn't know exactly who to turn to. Her father is out of the question, the widow isn't even considered, and she hasn't made close enough friends to confide in them. In the end, a trip to the school nurse is all she needs for the basics, and once she plucks up the courage to ask, a trip to the drug store fills her essentials.

Of course, the charade ends, and they leave Cleveland within the year tens of thousands of dollars richer and by the time the widow is any the wiser, they are already on the road to the next city. They attempt small talk, but she knows his heart isn't in it. He's already planning their next adventure, trying to ignore the overwhelming guilt he must feel, pursuing the attentions of a woman when his heart was so clearly invested in a memory. Their scams become their escape. But both know they can never really escape it.

- - -

Next, they hit Wisconsin as Kevin and Katie O'Connell. This time, they target a major corporation, using her father's status as a consultant as a way to subtly establish an account and covertly filter money into it. With a few forged documents and a spiffy new wardrobe, her father works his way into the company's inner circle, and she's sitting pretty in one of the most elite junior highs in the Midwest. This con is a bit more prolonged than the last one, and she finds herself legitimately making friends. They stay a for a bit longer than two years, establishing a life and a background that seems to be permanent...for now.

Katie O'Connell is the midpoint between Rebecca Franco and her old life. She's regained a bit of her frivolity and indulges in simply being a kid. Of course, a few of those indulgences are under the pretense of gathering information, but she'll take what she can get. At least she doesn't have to watch the nauseating display of her father wooing another woman. She's known as the laid-back one, easy to please and slow to anger. She accumulates a small group of friends who appreciate her chill attitude and ready smile. Her grades are above average, and she actually excels in basketball. She notes it's actually as close to normal as she's gonna get.

But just like any other scam, it ends with them being a few more zeroes richer but packing up the stuff. She sheds her identity because it's off to another state and off to another different name. She's lost track at by this time. They've all blended into one muddy mess. But this one has been the most memorable by far. As they pull away from the house, waving goodbye to her best friend, she's sullen, silent, and withdrawn because Jimmy Hayes has finally cowboy-ed up enough courage to ask her out, and she won't be around to indulge in that first. He apologizes, pauses, then blanches when he realized exactly the extent of her confession. For the next few hours, she's silent for a whole other reason. Having the Sex Talk with another twenty-odd hours to go and stuck in a very small space with your father is more than just mortifying.

- - -

The small scam between Katie O'Connell and Jenny Burton is brief, but, just like the many times before, they are gone, and she doesn't even get a chance to graduate middle school. Once again, he's apologizing and consoles her with a promise. One more con, and they're through. This one is the mother lode. A long-term scam, but one that will bring them fruition for the rest of their lives. He'll be able to send her to whatever college her heart desires. And so, as Joe and Jenny Burton, they hit San Diego, California for one last con.

By this time, hormones have roared in with a vengeance and a serious vendetta against her, and she's well within the throes of puberty. She watches in horror as she shoots up from a moderately decent height to a lofty five foot-nine. She towers over her peers, and for some reason, the simple, relatively easy task of walking has now completely escaped the comprehension of her motor skills. She's gawky, awkward, and for some other inexplicable reason, pimples seem to permanently inhabit her face.

It's about a week into the school year when she deems it official: she hates high school. High school that immortalized the pretty and popular and stomped on the gawky and geeky. High school with the constant torment of Dick Duffy and stupid Heather Chandler who seemed to make it their self-imposed mission to make her life a living hell. She once asked if she could practice those knife-throwing skills on the varsity cheerleading squad, but her father laughed, shaking his head and saying however murderous she may be, being a heinous bitch was not cause enough to permanently impale a cheerleader with a twelve-inch blade. She countered that it worked for slasher films. He says she's beautiful on the inside and that all that matters. With tears in his eyes, he strokes her cheek, saying that she's her mother's daughter and will grow up to be just as beautiful as she was. She seriously doubts that.

Her father bides his time with this scam, knowing that the payoff will forever finance any whim they may wish to indulge in. She suffers through adolescence, wishing she could become invisible. She envies the people like Heather Chandler and Dick Duffy and even Mark Ratner who can readily identify with a group of people. Heather is the cheerleader, Dick, the star jock, and Mark, the woeful geek. She's not sure exactly where she fits in all that. Her personality has the reservation of Rebecca, the drive of Katie, and the vivacity of her old self. It's just as jumbled as the rest of her lives, and when she sees her father being away in handcuffs, she feels that precariously arranged mosaic crumble and she finds herself looking at a box of money and a note.

She's crushed for sure, but not crushed enough to be completely unaware of her surroundings. She nearly brains a tall, dark-skinned man with a deep, rumbly voice and an aura of intimidation surrounding him. He's responsible for saving her father (his perspective) and notes that she has a peculiar penchant for changing her name. Subsequently, he proposes a new name, Sarah Walker, and offers her a chance. A chance to save herself and possibly save her identity. She has nothing. No name, no family, no mother. Nothing. All that remains is possibility. So when he extends the hand, she grabs it and holds on for dear life. She sees this as her chance. For what, she's not quite sure, but what she does know is that who she will be is going to be far from who she is now.

- - -

She admits it's liberating as she throws herself into Sarah Walker. Sarah Walker is everything Jenny Burton wished she was: cool, confident, and devastatingly beautiful. It takes awhile, but with training sessions, lessons, and the help of highlights, she conditions her once gawky, awkward self into a fit and taut temple and grows into her looks. With a tinge of nostalgia, she idly ruminates that if her father saw her now, he would be gloating.

Her time as Sarah Walker brings about a bunch of firsts in her life: first kiss, first boyfriend, first lover, first kill, first mission, first long-term assignment, first partner. She's gotten used to the unconventional life that she leads, and to be honest, she relishes it. She knows who she is. For the first time, she's secure in her identity. She is Sarah Walker, the best deep cover operative the CIA can offer. She really should have figured because with Bryce and his betrayal and her subsequent meeting with one Chuck Bartowski, she experiences another first, one that she still isn't sure she's too comfortable with: the desperate feeling of wanting a normal life. For all his bumbling nerdiness and innocent disposition, Chuck Bartowski has embraced the enigma she is to him and opened his life, heart, and family to her. And for all her CIA-trained rigidity, she can't help but melt into that. She sees what he can offer, and although Graham's proposal saved her, Chuck's just might allow her to live again.

For her part, she sees him as who he is, simple as that: Charles Irving Bartowski, son of Matthew and Caroline Bartowski, brother of Eleanor Bartowski, leader of the Buy More's Nerd Herd, and as much of a nerd as anyone was going to get. He's secure in himself and has been for a long time. She envies that. Chuck is unabashedly himself: slightly gawky, awkward, and adorably nerdy. His identity to his peers and to himself is one and the same, no deception, no subterfuge.

He sees her as Sarah Walker and knows her as such, but with the revelation of what he believed was her real name, he throws himself headlong back into his now reinvigorated crusade to learn about her past. He had called himself Jenny's Chuck, and she couldn't quite deny that she didn't wish that were true. If only Jenny Burton had found a Chuck Bartowski back then, she probably could have avoided all of this, the sludge and garbage that made up the mosaic of her past. It's a past that he had been so ardently trying to uncover; it's a past that she fears, if he knows that truth, will drive him away from her forever. The truth is, she doesn't want him to know about it all. She doesn't want him to speculate, to guess, to ponder, to ruminate. Because she knows it all leads to roads she wants closed off. What she wants is for him to know her as she is right now. Because honestly, that's as close to her true identity as he's gonna get.

- - -

Graham had asked her the fateful day, "the question is who are you?" Back then, she couldn't tell him. She had lost her sense of self long before the CIA started feeding alternate identities to her. But now, as she looks into a pair of warm brown eyes, eyes that could darken to a velvet black with that caged passion she had seen so readily and twinkle with the unassuming charm and charisma that made him all too adorable, she desperately wishes she could forever be exactly who she was right now. Sarah Walker. Chuck's Sarah Walker.

And cut! Short, yes, but I hope it satisfies. I honestly couldn't believe how amazing that episode was and it certainly has spawned a few other fics that might make their way onto the site. So, until next timeā€¦