A/N Hello friends, I posted this ficlet a few months ago. It was well received, and I thank all of you for that. There were some suggestions that it was perhaps too short. In light of that, I have expanded it here. Any feedback is welcome, and I don't own Chuck.

San Diego 1996

Dad, she's just my friend! Why are you so suspicious of her? Jenny asked with a hint of pleading in her voice.

She knew his response before she asked, but frankly, she was lonely. Looking back on the last eight years all she saw was a sea of places and faces ever-shifting but always the same. The only true constant in her life was her inner monologue. Her Dad was as amorphous as the places and people in her memory. Oscillating between friend-fun-uncle and brooding viper ready to lash out at the slightest provocation. His form depending totally upon the fares of the con job he was working.

"Darlin, we have each other, it's all we need. You know we move around a lot, I'm just trying to keep you from getting hurt." Jack said with a sad smile and eyes that shone with pity.

Jenny knew all of the cons; she wasn't a sucker. Her father knew better than to try and play her which made his sincere expression worse, much worse. Her father had no awareness of his self-deception. He truly believed in his own altruism. He constructed a world in which he was the hero. Caring selflessly for the needs of his daughter while balancing the scales of the universe, relieving those unduly blessed of some of their excess. As she had grown older, Jenny could not help but begin to see her father for who he was. She could not help but understand the distortion in reality required to believe in the life they were leading. But life was less complicated when she embraced the distortion, and Jenny was not a fan of complicated.

"Ok Dad, I'll tell her I can't go," Jenny said resigning herself to another lonely Friday.

"Cmon now Darlin, trust me on this, friends are overrated, just people to pass the time with, tv shows and books, they romanticize the whole thing. You and I are the lucky ones; we see things as they are. We aren't fooled into such childish things."

Jenny Listened... Sarah Learned

Burbank 2009
"I wanted to apologize; I could have been more sensitive before about your friendship with Morgan, it's just, it's difficult. I don't really have anyone in my life like that who cares about me."

Each word was released from her mouth with difficulty. She was exposed, exposed to him. Exposed to herself. The distortions and half-truths that shaped her reality were on full display. Revealed by their consequence, she was alone, alone and unlovable. Perhaps she never believed the distortions, perhaps she was not totally in the darkness, but she was dark, and her life was engulfed in shadow. With her apology, she knew Chuck would see her and flee from her twisted reality. He wanted to know her, know her birthday, her preferences, her middle name, instead, she brought her brokenness and laid it before his judgment seat — her judge who was a man, totally her foil. A man of light thrust unwillingly into a world of shadow. Who unintentionally exposed distortion through the simple act of his presence, of his decision to live in truth. A man who despised deception because it hampered his ability to love. The man she so admired and so feared for his light illuminated the shadows where she hid, revealing her for the dark creature she had become.

It's better this way; he deserves more than what I am...This way...I can keep him from getting hurt.

Unable to look at him she redirected her attention to the spectacle known as Jeffster, but while looking, she was not seeing. She was waiting. Waiting for the gavel to fall. Waiting for the scales to fall from Chuck's eyes, for him to see her through the shadows.

"Yeah, you do" Chuck stated pointedly.

Wonder broke across her face as she turned to look into his eyes. Sarah searched for a hint of falsehood that must be there. Where she looked for falsehood, she found fire. Her father could mimic sincerity, but not this, this was something else entirely. This was a fire that burned with intensity, consuming Chuck's entire countenance. A fire of determination, an unbreakable resolve directed furiously into her eyes with the singular goal of relaying the truth of his message.

That fire which burned within Chuck's eyes changed something in her. Many speak of life as a war between the head and the heart. For Sarah's this would be a misnomer. A war requires two sides to fight. Before Burbank, there had not been a fight. There had been a slaughter, a military occupation. A domination of cold, analytical, reason, instituting martial law within Sarah's Psyche. As Jenny Burton, feelings left her disappointed, as Sarah Walker, they would get her killed or worse they would get Chuck killed.

But, the fire in Chuck's eyes awoke something in her, kindled a small flame of doubt. Gave a small sliver of hope to the resistance of her heart. She was so overwhelmed by his words, by his body language, by his eyes. Chuck had just told her that she was family. That she was the same as Morgan. That she was a Best Friend. Despite everything about their situation, all of her secrets and lies, all of the past he was beginning to know. He declared her family. And if she knew one thing about the Bartowski's that meant something significant.

It was then that she realized it was her, Sarah, holding his hand. Not Agent Walker, Sarah and she liked it, and he deserved to know. Not everything, goodness no, she had to keep him safe and to do that she had to not be reassigned. But she wanted to tell him what his words meant to her, and something of what he meant to her. So as the song came to a close, she leaned into his ear.

"Chuck! Will you come with me to my hotel? I want to talk to you."

"Sure Sarah! Is everything ok?" Chuck replied, his eyes marked by sincerity and concern.

"Yes, Chuck," Sarah replied, unable to say anything else. Her heart was full, very full, and if she was honest she was not sure what she was going to say to him, and for once in her life, she did not need to know everything. What she did know is that whatever she said needed to be said in the safety of her hotel.

Perhaps it was excitement, perhaps it was dread, but the ride to the hotel seemed to take only seconds. Before she knew it, the door was closed to her hotel room, and she was faced with an increasingly apprehensive Chuck.

Chuck I... I wanted to tell you something.

Sarah stumbled, but as she spoke the words became easier.

"I just want you to know how important you are."

Chuck began to speak when Sarah cut him off

"Important not because of the intersect, but because of who you are, because of how you treat your friends, how you treat your family, how you treat strangers, and how you treat broken people like me who've done nothing but hurt and deceived the people you love. Chuck, I... I thought I lost you today, and I would have always regretted never telling you how amazing I think you are."

Sarah watched as the apprehension vanished from Chuck's face. Replaced with a river of thoughts and emotions settling into a watery smile. How would he respond? Her speech defied their typical categories of conversation. Pregnant silence they were used to, curt professionalism she knew he unfortunately understood, and she hoped that he had learned to decipher all of the emotion and affection she tried to communicate through half done sentences and half spoken actions. But direct, unfiltered, a-missional words of affection? There be dragons.

The silence hung between them, Chuck taken aback by this new revelation. Just as fear began to grip her mind, he crossed the distance between them and enveloped her in a warm embrace. His arms gentle but strong, he conveyed every ounce of love that he could wrapping her in all that he had to give.


He did not speak. Sarah Walker had just made herself vulnerable to him; he would not abuse that gift. He kept his peace, knowing how difficult this was for her, knowing how against her norm she was acting, and knowing that she was doing this for him. At that moment, Chuck began to see Sarah in a way he had never seen her before. Not as a woman so far out of his league he was kidding himself falling for her, but rather a woman who knew him and cared for him. Who would go to any length to protect him physically, and now, she was beginning to protect him emotionally.

Sarah Walker loved him. Perhaps she was not in love with him, but it finally dawned upon him that her job had little to do with her dedication to him. She saw something in him, not in the Stanford version of Chuck brimming with potential, but the Buy More version marked by defeat. Sarah saw something in him, and it was worth breaking protocol in order to share. Worth risking all sorts of conversations he knew she was terrified of all for the sake of telling him how she feels.

Chuck's heart soared at this realization, the dark cloud of doubt in her feelings, in his worth, in their future faded into the background of his mind. His mind instead totally focused on the beautiful woman in his arms.

He released her from his grip, smiling warmly at her. "Thank you, Sarah, that means so much to me. You know this whole computer-in-brain-wrecking-life thing has been difficult on me, but despite everything it brought you to me, ironically making it one of the best things that have ever happened to me." Chuck said, his voice breaking from sincerity to mirth.

"C'mon Chuck, I was being serious" Sarah said with a half grin breaking about her face.

"Sarah Walker! Are you fishing for compliments?" Chuck asked with a wry smile breaking across his face

No! Sarah replied in faux outrage. "I was trying to pay you a compliment, and you seem not to be taking me seriously." A small blush broke across her face, and a gentle grin was burgeoning into a full-on smile.

Chuck smiled back, satisfied with her reaction. He treasured her words, her revelation of herself to him, but he refused to press her into more than she was ready for. He loved her, and love is patient. She deserved his best, he could not always give that to her he knew this, he was aware of himself, his insecurity, his propensity for self-doubt. But, he knew he was more than his flaws even if he did not always act that way. But, today he could be his best, and his best he longed to give to her.

They passed the remainder of the evening in comfortable conversation, laughing, flirting, forgetting about all that was between them and simply being. The mission was not over, much of their story had not yet been written, but for this precious few hours, they enjoyed the blessed present.

A/N2 Part of me wants to use this AU revelation as a springboard towards Barstow, altering a few aspects of the leadup to Barstow, fixing a few of the "crayon" lines in Chuck vs. the Ring and perhaps even a reimagining of Season 3. However, this has been done several times, and will be walked through by better authors than me very soon… (Zettel, SC&DC) Let me know if there is any interest and I will pull out my colored pencils. Fountain pens must be reserved for the talented authors of this site.