A/N - I suppose that you could look at this as a bridge between 2x22 and 3x01. It takes place a few weeks after Chuck vs. the Ring, and all has not gone swimmingly for our favorite couple.

Many thousands of thanks to poa, beta extraordinaire. She took me on despite her already heavy beta workload, and this story is so much the better for her effort.

All usual disclaimers apply.

A/N #2 – Added back section breaks and fixed some small errors 3/9/11.

Chuck vs. Eleven Roses

Chuck was in a blue funk as he walked into Casa Bartowski. He didn't quite slam the door, but there was definitely an excessive use of force involved, and the resulting noise was loud enough that Devon actually paused mid-workout on his stationary bike. The Captain's eyebrows shot up, and the look on his face left no doubt in Chuck's mind that questions were forthcoming.

Sure enough, Devon was right on cue. "Bad night, Chuckster?"

x x x x x x x x x x

"Bad night" didn't even begin to describe it. He'd just come from a briefing at Castle, and he'd swear that someone in Washington had peed in Beckman's Cheerios this morning, because she'd been in as cross a mood as Chuck had ever seen her. Less than a minute into the conference call she'd bitten off his head for an ill-timed attempt at humor, and things had gone downhill from there. Her towering temper had even made a dent in the King of Grump himself; Casey had stared at the screen long after Beckman had disappeared, finally snorting and walking away with a muttered "Well, that was fun." Casey had missed the real fireworks, however, because Sarah had waited until he was up the stairs and gone before she ripped into Chuck. He could remember every word.

"What the hell was that all about, Chuck? Can't you be serious for one minute?"

"Sarah, I was just - "

"No, Chuck. I don't want to hear it. No one forced you to reload the Intersect; you did it to yourself. So if you want to be a spy, you need to grow up. No more stupid jokes, no more whining about wanting to be normal, none of it. You chose this, so do your job and SHUT THE HELL UP!"

It was over before Chuck had time to blink. Blonde hair flying, Sarah had turned on the spot and stormed up the stairs, giving him no chance to respond. He stood mute, the echoes of her raised voice still bouncing around the Castle as the freezer door slammed shut.

While fighting with Sarah was never fun, what depressed Chuck the most was that he'd almost expected it tonight. Sarah could barely stand to be in the same room with him these days. This fight had been no different than so many others recently; the exact words varied, but the theme was always the same. Shut up. Do your job. What was clearest to him, however, was the one thing she didn't actually put into words.

Leave me the hell alone. There had been no cover dates, no lunches together, nothing at all ever since . . . that night. Ellie was starting to give him funny looks and ask questions, but Sarah didn't seem to care. She wanted no part of Chuck, professionally or otherwise.

Chuck was trying to understand. After all, Sarah did have more than a few reasons to be upset, and at the top of that list was Bryce. He had been her partner and, much as Chuck tried to avoid thinking about it, her lover. His death was bound to affect her. Chuck was sure – well, pretty sure – that Sarah hadn't been in love with Bryce for a while, but he knew that you never completely got over such a close relationship. Jill had proven that in spades.

Sarah wasn't the only one grieving for Bryce, though. He'd been important to Chuck as well. Chuck had been the one in the room with Bryce at the end; he'd been the one to watch his friend die. In that moment Chuck had finally understood the stakes of the game he'd been playing for the last two years, understood that whoever these "Ring" people were, they could not be allowed to have the new Intersect. They had to be stopped. And if that was going to happen, someone had to pick up the standard that had fallen with Bryce. A functioning Intersect gave them the best chance of beating these people, and Chuck was, after all, a Bartowski.

So he reloaded the damned thing. He actually thought that Sarah might be proud. Instead, she was continually angry with him, and he couldn't figure out why. Was it because she was still here? She'd had orders to leave with Bryce; she'd told him that herself. Obviously, that wasn't going to happen now. Beckman had benched the team until she figured out what the hell to do with Chuck, but no matter what she decided, there was no debating that he was once again the Intersect, and he supposed that meant that Sarah was once again his handler. She wouldn't be jetting off on her classified mission with Bryce. Instead, she would be stuck here in California watching over a stupid little kid who'd willingly stuck his hand into the fire, not having learned anything from the first time he got burned.

That made sense, in a way. Chuck had always thought that Sarah was meant for more than a job as a glorified babysitter. Hell, he'd even told her that. But even so, he still couldn't quite make himself believe that this was the problem, not after everything that had happened before the wedding. Too many things didn't add up. She'd gone rogue and run away with him, ostensibly flushing her CIA career down the toilet to keep him safe. That morning in the hotel room - if it hadn't been for Morgan's thievery...hmm. And after his dad had removed the original Intersect, it looked like maybe they'd have a shot. Like Sarah wanted a shot. She'd seemed as happy as he could ever remember her being, and the night of Ellie's rehearsal dinner had been nothing short of magical. But the next day at the wedding, she'd told him that she was leaving with Bryce. He'd felt like he'd just managed to put his world together only to have it fall apart again, and he'd made some smart-ass comment and walked off to drown his sorrows in champagne.

It's always easier to figure things out after the fact, though, and the last few weeks had given him time to replay that scene in his mind, and especially to remember the look on Sarah's face. She'd been crushed. He was sure of it. It had killed her to tell him she was leaving, and he was positive that he'd seen the beginnings of tears in her eyes. Then, in the courtyard on the night of Ellie's wedding, she'd told him that she didn't want to save the world, that she wanted...what? Dad had interrupted before she could finish, dropping his bomb about the "agent" that came for Bryce, and in that moment everything went straight to hell. By the end of the night Bryce was dead, Chuck knew kung fu, and Sarah seemed to be in shock.

Her shock had faded quickly, though, replaced by the anger that had been present ever since. That anger formed an impregnable wall around Sarah, and Chuck could not find a way over it.

x x x x x x x x x x

Chuck was yanked back into the moment when Devon draped an arm over his shoulders and began guiding him towards the couch. The doctor was assuming his best big-brotherly demeanor, ready to listen to tales of woe and to dispense some hard-earned wisdom. Unfortunately, he was already dispensing something far less pleasant, and Chuck made a hasty bid for freedom.

"You know, Devon, I think I'll just sit over here on the chair to give you room, to, uh, cool off."

Devon was not a bit embarrassed. "Oh, right. Sorry about the man-fume, Chuck. Your sister kinda likes it, but I guess that one Bartowski's love potion is another one's poison, huh?" He slapped Chuck on the back and toweled off for a moment, thereby missing Chuck's slight stumble and pained expression. The doctor sat down on the couch. "So, then, Chuckster. What's up? Is everything cool?"

Chuck just couldn't hold it in anymore, but he was proud of himself for managing to limit his outburst to one loud snort. "Not really, Devon. Actually, nothing's cool at the moment."

Devon seemed taken aback. "Wow. Not awesome. But never fear, little bro – the doctor is definitely in. Let's talk it out. I guarantee you'll feel better."

Chuck started to squirm in his seat, and it wasn't because of the rather pungent aroma drifting over from the couch. "Um, yeah. Well, I don't know, Devon. I'm not sure that I want to talk about it right now. Or right here. Especially right here." He was nodding towards the front window, telepathically willing Devon to take the hint. Devon had been in Casey's apartment and seen all of the surveillance gear, and if this conversation was going to happen, Chuck wanted to keep Casey's involvement to a minimum.

Devon, however, was a little slow on the uptake. "It's okay, Chuck. Doctors these days are trained to heal the whole patient, mind and body. I'm an awesome listener, bro. Aced my Psych rotation and everything. Hit me with it."

This was getting worse by the second. Chuck could practically hear Casey grunt and say something nasty about 'lady feelings'. "Really, Devon, thanks, but I just don't think that this is the place." He was jerking his head towards Casey's apartment so hard that he thought he'd have whiplash tomorrow.

Devon finally hopped on the clue bus. "Oh. Oh, right. Hmm. Well, tell ya what, Chuckster. Ellie is pulling the night shift at the hospital and I haven't eaten yet, so why don't we head out for some grub? You know, guy's night out. Dinner and drinks, my treat. Give me fifteen to shower and dress, and we'll hit the bricks, okay?" Immensely relieved, Chuck nodded his approval. Devon headed towards the shower, tossing a seemingly innocuous comment over his shoulder as he went.

"I'm thinking nachos."

x x x x x x x x x x

Forty minutes later Chuck was sitting in a booth, gazing forlornly into a small dish of salsa as he pondered life's random cruelty. Devon sat across from him, munching on chips and guacamole and possibly wondering why his brother in law had the stunned look of a man who'd just been slapped in the face with a wet mackerel. What the good captain had no way of knowing was that the younger man wasn't really present at the moment. Chuck had slipped two years back in time, remembering with crystal clarity the evening when he sat three booths up and one over, silently thanking his lucky stars as the most beautiful woman in the world told him that she liked him.

Damn Devon and his nachos, anyway. Of all the restaurants in all the towns in all the world, he has to bring me to this one. At this moment, as he pined for his own lost moment with his own Ingrid Bergman, Chuck knew exactly how Bogie felt. But at least Bogie had Paris. Hell, even Bryce had Omaha. Chuck, on the other hand, didn't have much of anything at the moment.

Sensing that Chuck wasn't going to share without some serious prodding, Devon ordered two mojitos and got to the point. "Okay, Chuck. We're far away from prying eyes. Tell me what's going on."

If only Devon realized how ridiculous that statement was, Chuck thought. They were never far away from prying eyes. Casey was most likely right outside the restaurant, waiting and watching. But Chuck doubted that his NSA handler had bothered to outfit this pseudo-Mexican dive with electronic surveillance gear, which made this as close to a private conversation as Chuck could get these days. He took a pull on his mojito – not bad – and dived in.

"I can't tell you much, Devon, and I'm sorry about that. I'd tell you everything if I could. To make a very long, very weird story short, I made a spur of the moment decision – I guess you could call it a 'career choice' - and it completely changed everything. My boss doesn't know what to do with me, which makes her seriously mad because she doesn't like things that she can't easily control. She yells a lot more now, and that's no fun, but I can handle that because she's never really liked me all that much anyway. The real problem is that my new. . . status. . .has completely messed up my relationship with, uh, the rest of my team. And I have no idea how to fix it."

"You're talking about Sarah." Devon was quite obviously trying to hide a smile.

Chuck's eyes flew wide open. Realizing that his reaction gave him away, he took a drink and tried to play it off. He failed miserably. "Wh-what? What do you mean? Sarah? That's just not...well, yeah. I mean, kind of. We, well, we, um, um. We are teammates. So I was talking about her. But that's not...you meant...well, we are teammates." Chuck shoved several chips into his mouth to stop the babbling.

Chuck looked like he wanted to crawl inside his mojito glass, so Devon voiced what the younger man couldn't bring himself to say. "Look, Chuck, I don't know all the details, but I've watched you and Sarah for two years now. I've seen the way you look at her. And I've seen the way she looks at you, especially when she thinks nobody's watching. Maybe you can't tell me exactly what the deal is between you two, but I can see for myself that you aren't just 'teammates'. You care about each other a lot more than that. So what's the problem?"

Chuck looked appraisingly at his brother-in-law. He didn't want to tell Devon any more about his other life than he had to, because he wanted to keep him – and by extension, Ellie – safe. But this wasn't a matter of national security, was it? Besides, after two years of lying to everyone about his relationship with Sarah, he desperately wanted to talk to someone, especially someone who would not only listen, but care. He sighed, and made the decision to come clean.

"We weren't allowed to be together. There were lots of almosts, lots of little slips, but we kept things professional – well, she did, anyway. I've been crazy about her from the start, and I know she's felt something for me too, but she would never give in. She kept saying it was because of the rules, but I don't think that was it, or at least not all of it. I think maybe she's been afraid...afraid that she'd be transferred if anyone found out, afraid that she wouldn't be able to protect me, maybe afraid of having something real. Maybe all of those things. I just don't know." Chuck took another drink, lost in thought, remembering the missed opportunities of the past two years. Devon just waited.

Chuck snapped out of it after a few moments. "Lately, though, all that had started to change. We'd been moving towards . . . something. There was a morning in Barstow, and then the night of your rehearsal dinner . . ." Chuck faded off, a dreamy look on his face. It disappeared quickly, though, much too quickly for Devon's liking. "Anyway, it felt like we were starting to figure things out, you know? Like we were about to go full speed ahead. Damn the torpedoes and everything. But then the bad guys showed up again and everything went sideways, and I made my decision, and nothing has been the same since. She's mad and hurt and I don't know what else, and I don't know how to fix things. She just yells at me, except when she's avoiding me completely. I just did what I thought she'd want me to do, but apparently, I was wrong. Again." He drained the rest of his drink without looking up.

Devon was silent. Chuck looked up from the remains of his mojito, and saw quirked lips and questioning eyes. "What?"

"Dude. Barstow? Seriously? If that's your idea of a romantic getaway, it's no wonder that Sarah's pissed."

Devon's jibe had the intended effect; the tension was broken. Chuck laughed.

"Trust me, Devon, it wasn't my first choice. Let's just say that it's a wild and crazy tale chock full of top secret things that I can't tell you."

Devon sent the waiter for two more mojitos. "Fair enough. Now, let me see if I've got this straight. You and Sarah have had the hots for each other, but it was against some rule for you to hook up. Then, after standing you off for two whole years, Sarah suddenly got down with the idea of getting together. So what changed her mind? Something had to have caused her change of heart, and I doubt that it was the magic of Barstow."

Chuck considered Devon's logic for a moment. "Yeah, something did happen. To me, actually. After Barstow, she wasn't my handler any more."

Devon took a sip of his second mojito and nodded approvingly. "And that meant that you two could legally hook up. Right?"


"But now she's mad at you and won't talk to you."

"Right again."

"Hmm. And you have no idea what caused her to go postal?"

Chuck laughed bitterly again. He seemed to be doing a lot of that lately. "Actually, I have several ideas. Each sounds as plausible as the next, and God knows that Sarah isn't giving me any clues as to which one is right."

Devon finished his second mojito and motioned for the waiter to being a third. "I can't believe that Ellie got me hooked on these. Apparently, they were quite the hit at her bachelorette party." He scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Chuckster, I've found that when you're not sure what to do, it's best to stick to the basics. I think that you need to send some trouble flowers."

"Um...trouble flowers? I don't think I'm familiar with that particular plant."

Devon chuckled. "No, dude. Trouble flowers are what you send when you're trying to apologize for screwing up."

Chuck considered this for a moment. "What if you're not sure that you screwed up? What if you kinda think you did the right thing, but she's mad anyway?"

Devon gave Chuck a gentle smile, and the younger man couldn't help feeling like a kid in a TV Land sitcom. He was Beaver Cleaver, and big brother Wally was patiently explaining the facts of life. "The first thing you need to learn is that it's not about you, bro. It doesn't matter whether or not you actually screwed the pooch. What matters is that she thinks you did."

"So I'm basically apologizing for doing nothing wrong?" Chuck knew that he was far from knowledgeable about the ways of the fairer sex, but this seemed like a pretty big leap away from common sense, not to mention that it was really unfair.

"Not exactly. What you're doing is apologizing for hurting her. Right and wrong don't enter into it. You just swallow your pride and apologize, she feels better and forgives you, and everyone's happy. Of course, if you're not cool with that, there's always the alternative."

Devon was obviously waiting for a prompt, so Chuck supplied it. "And that would be...?"

"A solo pizza and soft core porn on Skinemax."

Chuck grimaced at the too-vivid imagery. "Um, no thanks. So then, about those trouble flowers..."

"Right. Trouble flowers are a good start, because I've never met a woman who didn't like getting flowers. She's gonna know why you sent them, but at some point, no matter how mad she is, she's gonna look at them and think, 'Well, they are pretty.' That gets your foot back in the door, bro. The rest is up to you."

A slight smile formed on Chuck's lips. "Why do I get the feeling that you could write a dissertation on this subject?"

"More like a best selling series of novels, Chuckster. I am a flower-sending expert. After all, a guy doesn't catch a girl like your sister without a PhD in Chickology."

Chuck was starting on his third mojito as well, and he was starting to feel it. "See, this is the stuff I need to know. All the damned secrets I have in my head, not a one of them tells me about important stuff like flower sending. I thought flowers were just for anniversaries and stuff."

Devon assumed as much of a professorial air as was possible when finishing a third drink. "Oh, those are important, too. I call them important date flowers. Those babies can earn you big points if you remember the date without being reminded, because women don't expect us to remember our own birthdays, let alone theirs. But if you send them on the wrong day, you're hosed, and they turn into trouble flowers."

A fourth mojito for each of them magically appeared. "I feel like I should be taking notes or something." Chuck fumbled in his pocket for his iPhone. "You mind if I record this?" He touched the screen and promptly dropped his phone into the basket of chips, and Devon snagged it.

"No can do, bro. If Sarah or Ellie found that recording, we'd be dead men walking. Gotta keep our trade secrets safe, right, Spy Guy?"

"Aye aye, Captain. Loose lips sink ships." Chuck saluted.

"Good man. Where was I?"

"Trade secrets."

"Right. You should send flowers the morning after a date, too. It's a nice touch. Lets her know that you didn't stop thinking about her the second you left last night. Or that morning, if it was a really good date." Devon had a sly grin on his face, and Chuck couldn't decide which was more disturbing – that Devon might be thinking about Ellie, or that he might not.

He settled for asking another question. "What if you're not sure that you wanna go out with her again? Wouldn't flowers give her the wrong idea?"

"Not if you remember a few simple rules. First, no roses after the first date. Every color of rose means something, and women take them very seriously. You'd better be sure that you mean it before you send them, especially those little red buggers. Stick to carnations, daisies, lilies – something like that."

Chuck nodded. "Roses, serious. Red roses, uber serious. Got it. What else?"

Devon finished off mojito number four. "Well, if you wanna go out with her again, you gotta send something nice. Spend a few bucks. Make it fancy. But if you're not interested in round two, then one of those ten dollar, plastic wrapped bouquets from the grocery store will do just fine. It's still a nice gesture, but she'll most likely get the point." Devon turned towards the approaching waiter, who had just shown up with mojito number five. "Awesome timing! Muchas gracias, mi amigo!"

"Why am I sending flowers to a girl I don't wanna go out with again?" Chuck looked doubtfully at his fresh drink. "And shouldn't we order some food or something?"

Devon winked. "Already handled. Nachos Grande are on the way, bro. And you're sending flowers because even though you don't wanna date her any more, you might wanna date one of her friends one day."

"I dunno, Devon. That sounds a bit mercenary."

"Nah. Just keeps everything friendly. Hey, look – the nachos have arrived! Awesome!"

The waiter sat the plate between the two men. It was roughly half the size of Texas, and it was covered from edge to edge with chips, cheese, beef, beans, sour cream, and more. Chuck couldn't remember ever seeing more food on one plate. The surgeon wasted no time burying his arms up to the elbows, and Chuck followed suit. He saw no reason why eating should interfere with his education, however. "So what else do I need to know about flowers?"

Devon paused, a sour cream-laden chip halfway between plate and mouth. "Easy there, Chuck. I've had years to perfect this stuff. There's no way you can learn it all in one night. Besides, we're getting off the subject, which as I recall was how to fix things with a certain smokin' hot blonde. You remember her, right? The one who currently has you tied in knots?"

Chuck sighed and reached for his glass, only to realize that it was empty. "Yeah, I remember her. I guess it was just easier to talk about flowers than to talk about Sarah."

Devon could see the pain in Chuck's eyes, and his heart truly ached for the younger man. He wanted nothing more than for Chuck to have with Sarah what he'd found in Ellie. "We'll figure this out, bro. That's a promise."

"I hope so, Devon. I really miss her." Chuck's voice was so small that it could have hidden under his napkin. "You really think that flowers will work?"

"That depends on you, Chuck. In order for any kind of flowers to work, they have to be sent from the heart. You have to mean them." Devon put down his empty glass and looked his brother-in-law straight in the eyes. "So the question isn't, what do you do about Sarah. The question is, how do you feel about Sarah?"

Chuck answered without hesitation. It was the same answer he'd given his dad in the courtyard, and despite everything that had happened since that night, he was still absolutely sure that he meant it.

"I love her."

Devon's smile was huge. "That's awesome, Chuck. And how does she feel about you?"

Chuck's eyes fell. "Right now, Devon, I honestly don't know. I can't get her to talk to me."

"Don't worry, Chuckster. That's what the flowers are for." Devon leaned across the table and laid his hand on Chuck's shoulder. "You need to tell her how you feel."

"I don't know if I should, Devon. I get your point, and believe me, I really want to tell her. I've wanted to tell her for a long time. But she's so angry and hurt, and it's so hard for her to open up. . . I don't want to push her away any more than I already have." Chuck's shoulders slumped, and Devon thought that he looked completely miserable.

"Okay. So we need to tell her how you feel without freaking her out. That's gonna be tough, considering how on edge she is right now. We almost have to sneak up on her, I think."

That actually got a small laugh from Chuck. "Sneak up on a trained CIA field agent? Yeah, you give that a shot. Let me know how it works out for you."

Devon chuckled, too. "Hah. That's funny, Chuck. Not exactly what I meant, but funny." But Chuck's eyes had clouded over again; the brief moment of good humor was gone.

"There's another complication, Devon. I don't know what our, uh, work status is right now. If we're back to the old rules and anyone found out, well, let's just say that it might not go over very well. "

Devon dismissed Chuck's protest with a wave of his hand. "Not a problem, bro. I've got a guy, been buying my flowers from his shop since my UCLA days. He'll take care of it. I'll tell him to use a plain card without his shop name and address, and I'll even swing by to give him cash so there's no way to trace the payment."

Devon leaned back in his seat with a slightly cocky grin and a self-satisfied air. He had given himself a 'mission', and he was loving every second of feeling like a California version of James Bond. Chuck made a mental note to give him a "Shake It Yourself" martini kit and a tuxedo for Christmas, then chided himself for making the joke because he really did appreciate the support and encouragement. Devon may be larger than life, and Chuck teased him about it often. But it was moments like this that proved Ellie had given her love wisely, because they showed that Devon's heart was larger than life, too.

"Devon? I...I'm glad that you've got my back."

"Always will, Chuck. That's what big brothers do. Now, let's figure out what you want to tell Sarah, and I'll help you pick the flowers that will say it. And if we happen to get rip-roaring drunk in the process, so much the better, bro. We'll put the plan into action tomorrow, but for now, let's order two more mojitos."

x x x x x x x x x x

After draining the better part of her hotel's hot water supply, Sarah stepped from her evening shower and walked over to the mirror. Wiping the condensation away with her hand, she looked at her own reflection. Her pink skin was enveloped in steam, and she was forcibly reminded of a lobster freshly drawn from a pot of boiling water. She had stood nearly motionless under the hot spray for almost half an hour in an attempt to clear her mind, but it had been no use; last night's fight with Chuck kept playing on an endless loop.

He hadn't deserved it. She knew that. His little joke had been no different than ones he'd made countless times. But Beckman had launched into him, and it had been all too easy for her to follow suit, yelling at him about his lack of professionalism and his flippant attitude.

It was all crap.

She knew the real reason for her anger and frustration. They had been so close. She'd needed only to speak a few words, and he would have known. I love you, and I'm not going anywhere. The missed opportunity gnawed at her heart. True, Chuck's dad had interrupted her in the courtyard after Ellie's wedding, but how many chances had she wasted before that night? How many times could she have told him how she felt? But she'd kept silent, and so he'd gone after Bryce not knowing, still thinking that she was leaving him, and he'd stupidly, senselessly, bravely turned himself back into the very thing he'd never wanted to be.

What made it even worse was that she'd actually pushed him into doing it. She could still hear herself saying it. How many times do you have to be a hero to realize that you are that guy?

His modesty was one of the things she loved most about him. He kept refusing to see what he what he was capable of, what he'd already accomplished against long odds. When she'd said those words she'd been trying to tell him how she felt about him, how wonderful and brave she thought he was, and damned if he hadn't taken those words to heart. When he'd had to choose a path, he'd taken the noble, selfless one. He was the Intersect again, and the words that kept ringing in her ears were the ones she had whispered into his on that night.

The wrong ones.

And now they were . . . where? She didn't know. Afraid and unsure, mad at him but knowing she had no right to be, she kept lashing out. The repressed emotion and near intolerable frustration of the last two years kept pouring out of her in an endless stream, all directed at the only available target. Last night was nothing new, just the latest round of the longest title fight in history. It was a fight she was becoming more and more convinced they would both lose.

And then there was the other, even scarier thought, the one that kept sneaking around in the back of her mind. That night in the Intersect room, she had watched Chuck disarm and then systematically beat the living hell out of five highly trained Ring agents. If he could do that, what else could he do now? They hadn't been on a mission since, and part of her was itching for the release that some action would bring, sure that it would calm her troubled mind. But another, more honest part of her was afraid of the next mission. What other new abilities would Chuck demonstrate? When she hadn't been able to tell him how she felt, when he'd been an asset and a relationship forbidden, she'd shown her love by promising herself to keep him safe, to give her life for him if necessary. But on that awful night, Chuck had been the one to save her life, and Casey's as well. With these new abilities, did he even need her protection any more? And if she wasn't his protector, then what was she?

Sarah was jolted from her unpleasant thoughts by a knock at her door. She glanced at the clock – nine thirty – and wrapped herself in a towel. Grabbing her Smith and Wesson from the vanity, she drifted silently across the carpet, quietly racking the slide as she moved. Stopping just to the side of the door, she called out.

"Who is it?"

No one answered. She hadn't seen or heard from a certain brown-eyed man all day today, and she half-thought, half-hoped...


Still nothing.

There was only one way to find out. Gun pointed through the door, she moved her eye to the peephole, and looked out. No one. There was, however, something on the hallway floor. She waited and watched for a few more moments just to be sure and then, lowering her pistol, she opened the door and gazed down at what had been left for her.

They were yellow and beautiful, and there was a note taped to the blue glass vase in which they rested. She lifted them to her nose, letting their beautiful scent fill her lungs, then went back into her room and set both the vase and her gun on the vanity. She could do nothing but look at the flowers for another long moment, but finally, when it hit her that the incongruity of the gun next to the flowers perfectly summed up her romantic life, she reached for the note. She was not looking forward to reading it, because she knew what these particular flowers symbolized.


I know you feel like everything has changed, but I promise you that some things remain the same. These are to remind you that I will always be your friend, no matter what.


Yellow roses. Friendship.

Sarah sighed. It wasn't what she wanted, but it was certainly better than what they'd endured over the last few weeks. Maybe, considering everything they'd been through, it wasn't such a bad idea to go back to the beginning and start over.

Sarah took the vase to the table by the window, intending to leave the flowers where they could soak up tomorrow's sunlight. Without conscious thought she reached out to straighten them, removing the baby's breath and greenery in order to rearrange the blooms. She was lost in thought, her hands moving almost of their own accord, when suddenly her eye registered the briefest flash of deep red.

Her breath caught. Her hands froze. She looked at the yellow roses again, and an odd thought struck her. She counted silently.

Eleven. Only eleven.

Could this mean what she hoped? Heart pounding in her chest, she carefully parted the small sea of yellow, and found treasure.

One perfect crimson rose.

It had been nestled down in the middle of the arrangement, out of sight. She plucked it from the vase, and saw that another, smaller note was tied to its stem. She pulled it free and opened it with trembling hands.

When you're ready, the other eleven red roses will be waiting.

Sarah couldn't tell whether the noise she heard was the hammering of her heart or the world falling into place.

She thought that maybe it was both, and she smiled.

x x x x x x x x x x

The hotel room was dark and silent, its lone occupant asleep. In a pretty blue vase by the window sat eleven yellow roses, their blooms just beginning to open, the air already thick with their perfume. They waited for the first lazy rays of the morning sun, ready to greet it as it rose.

Sarah turned in her sleep, a soft smile still playing across her lips. She had unconsciously turned towards her nightstand, where a single red rose rested in its own glass. The heavy bloom leaned towards Sarah, whispering its message of love, waiting patiently for her to awaken.

x x x x x x x x x x

A/N - This is the first time I've had a serious, back and forth beta process while writing a story. It's been invaluable, and hopefully I'll have the good sense to do the same with my future work. Having now seen the benefits firsthand, I humbly suggest that any writer can benefit immensely from having a good beta. Thanks again, poa!

I started this story before all of the S3 spoilers and casting news started leaking. All of the speculation caused me to put the brakes on for a while, because I wasn't sure how it would fit with what everyone was surmising about the direction of 3x01. Now that it's finished, though, I think that it actually works pretty well. One could imagine that Sarah is inspired and emboldened by Chuck's red rose and asks him to run away with her, only to be crushed when he goes into agent training instead. But as my friend Aardie is fond of saying, your mileage may vary.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it.