A/N: This story takes place sometime after everyone's favorite episode, Chuck vs. The Fake Name, with the time shifted a little so it takes place in July. It's AU from that point on. There's a mix of action, romance, drama, spy craft, and intrigue. Also, one of my favorite things to do is create back-story elements so expect a fair bit of that too. I don't own Chuck, Irwin's, Fred Meyer, Value Village, or any kind of public transportation. Any other establishments are fictional. Let me know what you think and enjoy :)

Also, thank you, thank you, thank you to the fantastic Frea O'Scanlin who made this really awesome cover with various elements of the story in it.

Sarah had been absently staring through the dark porthole window for several minutes when she began to see the fiery little anemones blooming along the coastline. They flashed in clusters, pink, green, purple, and red, brilliant then fading to be replaced by more. In the coach cabin it was waiting room somber, but down below California was celebrating the 4th of July with explosives, barbecue, and watermelon.

Sarah wondered, if she added it all up, how much time she'd spent looking down at her planet from an airplane window. Something about it reminded her of those rare days in her youth when her father would give her a break from "earning" and take her to the aquarium or the zoo. She'd watch the animals swimming, pacing, and foraging in their miniaturized versions of the world, finding it appealing how they were nearly oblivious to her observation. Nowadays, viewing humanity from airplane windows gave her a similar satisfaction, a sense of control, of order.

She turned from the window to look at her traveling companion. Chuck did not give her orderly feelings. Currently he was staring at his laptop screen, which was displaying some bland romantic comedy, but his mind was clearly somewhere else. She could only imagine where, since he'd become a closed book to her the last few months. It hadn't been like that when they had first met. At one time he had been so open, honest, and intuitive. Without knowing it, he had completely slipped past her guard, giving her a sense of warmth, giddy and heart racing, affectionate and familiar, that she'd never had with another man. Then he'd gone and yanked it all out from under her in a single moment to prove to himself, or to god knew who else, that he could be an intelligence officer. Sarah could see the empty chasm of her future yawning in front of her, she need only look at her partner Casey for an example of where that lead, but she was sure she wasn't going to fall for another one of these human traps.

She blinked her eyes and let out a deep sigh, hoping to put the melodrama out of her head. Chuck pulled off his headphones and turned towards her.

"What's up? You okay?"

"Just tired. And I wish we didn't have to disappoint Ellie, going on this last minute trip. I think both of us were looking forward to a little time together this 4th"

Sarah saw the hint of a smile in his eyes. It had been a strange coincidence that she and Chuck's sister, Ellie, were becoming closer friends while Chuck's relationship with his sister was becoming more distant. Chuck's smile never made it to his lips and then faded completely.

"I think I've come to the realization that I'm going to be a constant disappointment to her."

"You know that's not true, Chuck."

"Yeah, I don't know …" His focus faded for a moment then snapped back. "You know, you should really check this movie out. It's an innovative new kind of film called a 'rom-com'." His fingers hooked quotes. "See, two people who should really be together are kept apart by a bunch of contrived high jinks, but you just know they'll get together at the end. It's a never before seen kind of cinema."

Sarah snickered at Chuck's sarcasm in spite of herself. Thinking he'd lightened Sarah's mood, Chuck went back to "watching" the movie. Sarah sighed more quietly this time. She decided the best way to put all of it out of her head was to review their mission again. She'd gone over the details both with Chuck and the head of their team, Daniel Shaw, several times, but Sarah believed preparation protected against the unexpected.

Like all of the "Bartowski" missions, this one would be entirely domestic, their little team playing a role that the CIA was rarely tasked for. The nature of their enemy, the Ring, a shadow government infiltrating the Nation's intelligence services, was such that the FBI was less suitable for the job.

Two weeks prior to the flight, Shaw had briefed them that a mole in the CIA had been discovered, Carole Takai, an analyst in the Seattle field station. Agents working at this station had been involved in the scouting of a number of the scientists involved with the Intersect Project, and for at least the last three months, Carole had been passing information regarding the program's development to a Ring cell. Shaw wanted that cell identified and shut down.

"Would you like something to drink?"

Sarah looked up to see a flight attendant hovering.

"Water for me, and I'm sure he'll have a coffee, black." Sarah couldn't understand how someone could drink so much coffee but she tried not to nag Chuck about it. When the drinks came, she downed most of the water in a few efficient gulps.

Blech. That's bitter. What kind of crap are they serving?

She forced her thoughts back to the mission. This one would be low risk … or at least the risk wasn't due to the Ring. They would be monitoring feeds from foot and rolling teams doing surveillance on the mole, supposedly watching for likely cutouts, dead drops, or signals, but in reality Chuck would be using the Intersect, that bizarre bit of science fiction that had made Chuck as asset beyond compare before he'd even attempted the training to become an officer. They were supposed to coordinate with a technician using facial recognition software to identify Fulcrum agents …

Wait, that's not right … Ring agents, not Fulcrum … why did I think of Fulcrum? Whatever.

Unfortunately they couldn't do this remotely because of recent protocol for ops against the Ring. As much as possible was to be done without long distance transmission as Beckman suspected Ms. Takai might have compromised their encryption. Sarah didn't think the trip was necessary at all, but Shaw said he had more faith in the Intersect than the facial recognition software or its more limited database. He was adamant that he wanted Chuck there to flash …

Sarah snorted imagining Chuck exposing himself to the other agent.

Cut it out Walker. Are you or are you not an intelligence professional? Focus.

As usual, Shaw had wanted Chuck to go alone, which, predictably, Sarah had resisted. She knew Shaw was testing Chuck to see if he was ready for complete independence, something she disagreed with vehemently. Still, even though they were seeing each other, Shaw outranked her. So when Sarah decided to come on the trip with Chuck, rather than disobey a direct order, she simply went on the trip without asking. Besides, she knew someone needed to be there to distract the technician while Chuck did his thing, since they couldn't let the tech know Chuck was the … the …

the what? Sarah's eyelids were feeling extremely heavy. They couldn't know that Chuck was the … Internet?

She shook her head to clear it but this only resulted in making the world slide sideways. Her tongue and lips felt too large and her mouth felt dry.

Shit! The flight attendant … drugged me!

The thought was like an earthquake, giving her enough adrenaline to shout out for Chuck. Or at least it felt like she should be shouting but all the came out was a weak slur, "Shuuurk". She had to force her head to move and just managed to turn towards Chuck. She would have screamed if she could have. He was already slumped forward, face slack, a long trail of saliva dropping from his bottom lip.

No! Do something Walker. But her consciousness began to fade and she could only think, I've got no backup. I can't protect him