A/N – Post Season 2 and a slightly different take of Season 3. I am taking the liberty of using Carina's quote.

Chuck is being tested and does not seem to be able to get through. Is Sarah helping or hindering? Will they finally be able to work as a full fledged team and have an equal partnership?

Thanks to DLK for beta'ing despite a busy couple of weeks.

Chuck vs The Cardinal Rule

Spies don't fall in love.

Carina Miller

He sees all the colors so clearly, the silver of the steel blade, the bright red beads of blood appearing as if by magic, as it presses into her skin, creamy white except for the cut that is appearing. Chuck looks into her clear blue eyes and does not see fear but only love and he flashes.

A multitude of images of Sarah scroll through his brain; All of her in various stages of being injured. A broken arm in Mexico city, slashes from a knife fight in Warsaw, a harrowing gun fight in Bratislava and scrapes and bruises from other battles, all culminating in a black and white shot of Sarah in a pool of blood, her eyes open and staring. A corporal reminder forever etched in his mind of what had occurred and what could occur again. The antiseptic medical terms from her files coalescing together to give him an innate understanding of how much physical hurts she had endured up until this point in time.

The flash is different from any of the others as it does not enhance any of his abilities but actually leaves him paralyzed with the knowledge of how precious and fragile Sarah's life is. He blinks rapidly as his eyes focus again on the scene before him.

The man holding firmly onto Sarah sneers as he adjusts his knife yet again, drawing just a bit more blood when her throat convulses. All Chuck can do is to stare, his hands held limply by his side as he focuses on the drop of blood rolling gently down the contour of her throat and disappearing into her neckline. He can hear his harsh breath and that of Casey's, however, try as he might, he cannot hear Sarah's.

"Damn it, Bartowski." He hears Casey's belligerent voice as Sarah finally makes her move and lashes out at her assailant, dropping him to the ground in five seconds as she hurries to get to him. He sees Casey jog past him towards the man on the floor to give him a hand as Sarah walks quickly towards him, concern written all over her face. Her left hand swiping at her neck, the sleeve of her shirt staining red.

"Chuck, are you ok?" Her touch is warm to his chilled skin and he realizes he's shaking, with fear or self-loathing, he cannot tell. "Here, come here." She pulls him into an awkward embrace, trying to wrap her body around him and provide him with an anchor of some sort.

He can see Casey talking quietly to the other man and finally realizes it had been a test, a stupid test that he had failed spectacularly. One of Beckman's main criteria for his induction into full spyhood. He pulls out of the embrace, not wanting to but needing to see Sarah's newest injury to add to the myriad he had already flashed on.

His hand tentatively reaches out to touch the small wound but is intercepted by her hands and her words. "Chuck, it's ok. It was my fault as I moved. In fact, I should be the one apologizing to Agent Frohicke for the move I did. Are you ok? " he finally looks down at her, expelling the breath that he did not know he had been holding.

"I….I couldn't do anything." His voice is soft and tentative as he tries to recall and articulate what exactly had transpired.

"Did you flash?" Casey's question is phrased in such a way that Chuck knows that he's just confirming something he already knows and all he can do is nod.

"So why the hell, did you not go all kung fu?" It's a valid question. Casey had not known it had been a test until he saw Sarah stop struggling with her assailant. She had still moved about but he could tell that it was more for show. Both he and Sarah had fought with Beckman about these tests as initially, she had wanted Chuck to go on a solo mission. In the end, they had compromised on testing Chuck's skills should one of his partners be in mortal danger.

Casey was sure it was going to be a walk in the park considering Chuck's kung fu fighting his way through the Ring members. However, it had not been the case tonight. He had clearly seen all the signs of a flash in Chuck but none of the abilities. He let's out an exasperated grunt as he takes in Chuck's bewildered demeanor. His eyes flick to Walker and he grunts in response before stalking off to give her the time her look had signalled.

"I don't know." Chuck lowers his head and closes his eyes only to open them again as he could still see the pictures of injuries from Sarah's past case files. He's actually glad that Casey has stalked off because he does not know if he can convey what happened without exposing his fears. "I saw you." He finally looks at her when he states this.

Sarah can see that he's going into shock and holds onto his hand as she tries to make sense of what had just happened. She had been grabbed from behind and dragged backwards, as they passed by the alleyway and had only realized that the man was an agent when he used his code word. She had looked at Chuck as he flashed and prepared herself for an onslaught of some kind, only to see Chuck freeze up.

"Hey, it's fine. We're ok. I just need to know what you saw"

He swallows, not sure if he can or even wants to describe the pictures in his head. Chuck recalls that he has only seen Sarah beaten a handful of times and in all of them, she had come out the winner. His flash had showed him the flip-side of battles she had not outright won. They showed him what could still occur and it frightened him beyond all measure.

"It was a test, a stupid test and we're fine." She wants it to be the truth but she can see him slipping away. Not physically, but he had seen something in his flash and it was bothering him to the point of making him almost paralyzed.

"It could have turned into Warsaw." He shakes his head as if to clear the pictures from his mind but he knows that he will never be able to forget them anytime soon. "What if…" he does not finish the sentence because he does not want to think of a world where she is not next to him, alive and well.

Sarah places both of her hands on his face as she stares into his eyes, willing him to see that she is there, whole and alive. "I'm here and this isn't Warsaw. What did you see exactly?"

"Your case files, all of them when you got injured in some way and needed medical attention." The words are spoken dispassionately not because he is numb but because he wants to distance himself from this nightmare where he is as ineffective as he was before. Only this time, it meant not being able to back up Sarah or even Casey when he was actually suppose to.

"I couldn't move. No powers, nothing. I'm sorry." He looks at Casey who is on the phone and understands that he has to report this in. That General Beckman is going to know that he had failed in his test. Perhaps it's for the best though as he does not want to place Sarah or Casey in unnecessary danger. The only problem is the look of sadness and disappointment on Sarah's face that she is valiantly trying to hide.

Sarah holds onto his hand as tightly as she can as she processes his words. He had been frightened for her and had flashed on images that he should not have seen. It saddens her that for all that he has done for her and their country, he still has to carry the burden alone. She's disappointed with herself that she had not seen the signs earlier. "You have nothing to be sorry about." She pulls on his hand as he turns away. "Chuck?" The question she is asking is implied in her tone but he does not want to face her as he pulls away and walks towards the mouth of the alley, wanting to get away from the scene of his failure.

"Let him go." She's about to run after him but stops at Casey's words. "He needs…"Sarah knows that he needs her as much as she does him but in this instance, she's at a loss because she really does not know what else to say or how to help him.

"He needs to pull his head out of his ass"

"Casey!" Her rebuke is quick as she whips around to confront her partner, her expression both cold with anger and frustration.

"Don't kill the messenger, Walker. He asked for this chance. You were there, he practically begged Beckman to make him an agent." Casey softens his tone as he takes in Walker's guilty expression. "You didn't force him into this"

She wants so badly to believe him but deep down, she knows that contrary to Casey's words, she had forced Chuck into this. Not directly but every word she had uttered, every action on her part in relation to Chuck had always shown that he was not her equal. That he wasn't a spy but an asset.

"I could have stopped him. We could have…" Again, she knows she is saying just a tad too much but she doesn't care anymore. She figures that Casey already guessed most of it by now.

"You wouldn't have gotten very far and he's too honorable to just walk away… and so are you." He had guessed that she would have had a backup plan. He did, in case he ever got burned although the closest he had ever come to initiating anything was when he had first met Ilsa.

Her face softens as does her voice. "He said we would regret it if we just walked away. That we owed it to ourselves to give it all a try." She really believed his words, had nodded as he said them even though in her heart, she had finally admitted to wanting a normal life with him.

She looks at Chuck's silhouette dark against the window of their car and wonders if he regrets his decision. She does not want to think too specifically in terms of whether he regrets his decision to become a spy or worse yet, regrets his decision to love her and stay.

End Part 1

Questions? Comments? Should I continue?