Chuck, later, when he was babbling and talking with his hands (he knocked over a cup of plastic spoons and partially disemboweled a napkin holder), had a lot of good reasons for what he was doing. Sarah had watched him, on the surveillance cameras hidden throughout the Buy More, all week; she knew exactly when the rush times were at the Orange Orange, and they left her a lot of time to sit with her chin perched on her hand and watch him. Big Mike really should pay him more, she'd thought for the twentieth time. He was the reason Morgan didn't build an impromptu bonfire in the home stereo room, he was the reason Lester and Jeff didn't mow down three people with a recumbent bicycle and a papier mache reproduction of Abraham Lincoln. (She had barely, almost, turned to Casey and asked how and why, but the question answered itself; it was Jeff and Lester, and she knew far more about them than she'd ever wanted to.)

And so, when Chuck had been his usual clumsy and offhandedly charming self with Laurel, a curvy brunette who brought a digital camera to the Nerd Herd desk, Sarah had blamed her keen attention to the girl on potential Fulcrum affiliations, attempts to compromise the Intersect, just general good sense. All the more when, a few days later, Laurel had gone so far as to lug in a monitor that she'd clearly tried to disembowel with a screwdriver, just to chat with Chuck again. Lester just wouldn't do. Not that Sarah could blame her.

Laurel passed the cursory background check. But Chuck hadn't exactly come over asking, and Sarah couldn't fault him for that. She didn't make the best cover girlfriend, and she knew that. She was just too afraid, so afraid that being close to him would put him at even more risk, that she kept him at arm's length, despite the hurt that always dulled his gaze. And he had said he would wait for her, as long as it took, but part of him had to understand that as much as they both wanted this, it just wasn't going to happen. Not like this.

"She's a great girl, Sarah, really. Really understanding. I've already told her that I have a computer-repair business on the side, and if you guys page me I will be right there, I swear, right there. It'll be fine."

And he begged with his eyes, and clasped his long fingers together and gave her that pleading smile, and Sarah thought of all the pecks on the cheek, all the brief hugs, and everything she couldn't give him.

"What if you get into a situation, and she's put at risk?" Sarah crossed her arms and held his gaze, making herself stern, ignoring the way her blood burned. "Could you live with yourself if being— if being the Intersect put someone you cared for, in danger?"

Because I couldn't, she didn't say.

"She won't be in danger." He was very sure about it. "I just..." His gaze softened, his voice became softer. "Do you remember how it was, before? To kiss someone without worrying the entire time that you couldn't let yourself feel anything, because it was never going to last?"

How does it always end up like this, Sarah wondered, and blinked hard to keep her eyes from filling, swallowed even harder, swallowed it all down.

"We can try it," she answered instead, and he swept her up in a hard hug, lifting her feet off the ground, laughing.

And she put Casey on Chuck-detail, knowing he was going to hate it, because she didn't want to see it, didn't want to see Laurel charming Ellie and laughing at Awesome's jokes and reassuring Morgan. He was closer, anyway, and it gave her a lot more time, time to train and take short-term assignments, time to comb through Laurel's entire history, because Sarah would be damned if this was how it happened, how they finally failed him. Chuck deserved this.

Then they had a briefing in the Castle and she ended up screaming at him, throwing a clipboard (which bounced harmlessly off the bulletproof glass and managed to clip Casey in the shoulder) and driving until the Porsche ran out of gas and she was fuming on the edge of the freeway, shaking with anger, heartbroken over what she had known a week earlier.

Maybe Laurel was what Chuck deserved, but she still wasn't enough.

It still wasn't fair.

When she used the Morgan door Chuck was lying on his bed, arms folded behind his head, a silhouette in the gloom. In the other room Ellie and Awesome were laughing at the television; she felt a million miles away from that, and from the expression on his face, he did too.

"Something told me I'd be seeing you," he said softly, without even looking at her.

"Chuck," she murmured, and nothing else would come, so she let herself slide down the wall, looking at her hands.

"All you had to do was say it." The bed creaked as he sat up, long legs dangling over the side, hands clasped. The intensity of his gaze made her blush.

"I can't," she said, swallowing it all down, her heart sick in her chest. "I couldn't."

"Then let me," he said, kneeling in front of her, a quiet smile on his face.

And he didn't say it, not exactly, but about thirty seconds later Sarah knew that wherever Roan Montgomery was, he was undoubtedly lighting a cigar and declaring his work finished. Two years of mostly pent-up frustration and they'd kissed so hard her lip was bleeding.

He touched his thumb to it, his own lips swelled. "I've always liked green on you, Miss Walker," he whispered.

"Shut up," she chuckled, drawing him to her again.

"I think this means Casey wins the pool," Chuck remarked, the next time they broke apart.

"I do have a gun, you know."

"Are you saying I've been a—" his mouth was on her neck, "bad boy, Agent Walker?"

"Don't make me cuff you, Mr. Bartowski."

"Oh, please, no," he protested in the weakest possible terms, and she didn't know exactly what his hands were doing, only that she didn't want them to stop.

In the morning she was going to have to talk her way out of this, to somehow justify the guilt and the grievous breach of protocol, but oh, oh God, his mouth was on her earlobe and his fingertips were drifting over the small of her back, and at least by morning, by God, it would be done, and she'd always known she would be damned either way.

She would make damn sure it was worth it.


"There was a pool?"

"No. Definitely not." He was never so serious unless he was lying.

"Have we discussed how skilled I am at... persuasion?"

"No," he answered, his brown eyes glowing, "but damn, would I love to find out."