Big Mike is a hands-off manager. At least, he likes to be. He doesn't want to have to micromanage every last little detail, preferring instead to let his employees get on with the day-to-day business of running the store. He figures they know their jobs better than he does, and besides, it keeps his blood pressure down if he stays in his office rather than walking the sales floor.

Staff turnover is fairly low. Big Mike gauges store morale by how many resignations he receives in a quarter. Aside from the students and other seasonal and weekend staff, there's a core of regulars who have worked at the Buy More for years. And at their heart, whether they know it or not, is Chuck.

Charles Irving Bartowski. He's a tall kid, in his mid-twenties just growing out of being gangly. Had a few personal setbacks, set his sights lower. But he's honest and loyal and there's something about him that the staff and customers warm to. He keeps the rowdier elements in check just by being there and pointing out how stupid most of their wackier ideas are. To Big Mike's mind, this makes him pretty much invaluable.

Big Mike likes the Buy More to run on an even keel. He doesn't like having to come out of his office, shout orders, try to steer this behemoth onto a different course. So he likes the status quo, doesn't want anyone or anything coming in and upsetting things.

He didn't think John Casey was a man to upset things.

When he hired the man, he could tell there was something more to him than his resume suggested. The man had cold eyes, a military bearing. Big Mike could tell he'd respect the chain of command in the store, wasn't afraid of hard work, wasn't afraid of the customers, unlike the useless but quota-filling nerds, Jeff and Lester.

Big Mike liked John Casey, hoped he'd do well. So he'd handed him off to the one person he could trust to train the guy without dicking around: Chuck.

And then, standing in his office, he'd seen them look at each other.

That look... Full of surprise and fear and recognition on Chuck's part, and smug confidence bordering on arrogance on John Casey's.

Big Mike knows that look. It invariably means Trouble. He doesn't have either man pegged as gay, but then again, he doesn't really care as long as the customers aren't complaining.

After that, Big Mike keeps an eye on Chuck and John. He sees the way they are always aware of each other; less a dance than prey keeping one step ahead of a predator. Chuck's performance suffers. He messes up the interview for assistant manager as if, all of a sudden, it's not important to him any more. He usually ends up pulling something out of the hat, but his flakiness means Morgan Grimes is forced to step up time and again, actually starting to grow out of his perpetual adolescence.

Maybe this isn't such a bad thing, Big Mike reflects, and doesn't pull Chuck up on his frequent absences mid-shift, his tardiness, his skipping out early. He doesn't pull John up on it either, because damn the man can sell! With him in the store, sales are up and shoplifting's been all but eliminated.

The only thing that bothers Big Mike is the messing with his security cameras. He's used to a little fiddling going on; Jeff and Lester staggering in late at night when they're too drunk to make it home, the occasional romantic liaison. But he's not stupid. And when Big Mike sees John drag Chuck into the Home Theatre room yet again while the security feed from the camera shows the room is empty, he knows the Buy More has been hacked.

Big Mike's not stupid, and he's not inept. One reason he has his staff do pretty much everything for him is so that they won't think to check up on him. Like the captain of a ship, he knows every nut and bolt, every ventilation duct and pipe in his store. He knows how to place a hidden camera in the Home Theatre room. He's not a pervert; he just wants to make sure there's nothing unpleasant going on. Nothing too illegal.

The next morning, John casually drops his camera on the desk. 'National Security,' the man says as Big Mike stares at him, and suddenly Big Mike can see just how much more there is to his employee. He nods. He's glad this man is working for him, not against him, however nominally that may be.


As John turns to go, Big Mike calls him back. 'John... He's a good kid. Don't break him.'

This time it's John's turn to nod. 'Understood.'

Big Mike doesn't want to know the details. He doesn't want to have to step in, to micromanage this, and he's not sure he could even if he tried. But he sees the way the men come to mutual respect, even a little affection, and if Chuck sometimes can't hide his bruises, John Casey wears a lot more bruises and wears them openly.

And the day he catches them up against the wall in the loading bay, kissing like the world's about to end, Big Mike knows they're doing all right. He can relax. The store's going to be okay.