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Chuck's surprised, during the down time. Casey and Sarah go on field trips, brief assignments around L.A., on the slow weeks. As soon as Casey and Sarah are out of his sight, as soon as he's actually dealing with laptops that have obviously been drenched in spilled coffee and jailbroken cell phones, Chuck starts wishing his life would start. He can't recall how he ever made it through a single shift at the Nerd Herd desk. He sees Morgan gleefully preparing for a pudding-balloon fight with Lester and Jeff and cracks a smile, but, as always, he imagines the exasperated expression on Ellie's face. He's stopped telling her about what happens at the Buy More; she just gives him that slightly glazed, mostly warning look.

And he's started feeling it too. Sarah's expression is a cross between indulgent and bemused, not always in a good way, when she walks into a home theater room gross-off or one of Jeff's "tea parties." And he can't blame her either.

Sarah's part of a world Chuck barely manages to negotiate alive. Of course she wants something more. He wants something more, dammit.

And it's all because of her.

He makes his way through directories and subdirectories on a virus-riddled laptop and his mind wanders, as Lester, giggling, threatens people in the speaker display area with an invisible light saber.

When the Intersect is out for good, Sarah will leave. And they've wasted so much time, denying themselves, and every now and then he's able to convince himself that she doesn't actually care about him, but those times have become few and far between.

She feels something for him. It's just not quite enough to make her forget protocol and rules. Sometimes he's sure that if Casey wasn't there, she would have let herself slip long ago.

And it's just a fantasy; he knows it is. He imagines them in a walk-up on the other side of the city, miles away from the Buy More. Burning all the grey neckties, shredding the nametag. He sees Sarah, bending over the bathroom sink in her underwear, putting on her lipstick, drawing her fingers slowly through her hair, and then turning to him with that slow sardonic smile, the one she wore when they first met, when she was really her.

"Going in late today?"

And he has some job, some job he loves, but not as much as he loves watching her slowly walk over to him with her hands on her swaying hips, her smile slipping wider.

"I think you could convince me," he grins back, grabbing her by the waist, listening to her delighted squeal as he swings her into bed over him.

He imagines them with some huge dog, the kind that would drag him along on walks, the kind that Sarah could control with just a firm commanding voice, assured on her high heels, hair blowing in the wind. He imagines her rolling her eyes whenever Morgan calls, but shooing him off for six-hour Gears of War sessions.

He imagines her never leaving, he imagines her in love with him, always in love with him.

Big Mike is bellowing something, fourteen unhappy people are lined up at the customer service desk while Anna Wu belts "Faithfully" into the intercom, and then Sarah walks in, twisting her hair into one of those effortless ponytails, and it all melts away.

"Hey," she says, and her smile is brief, but genuine, and his answering smile is slow and too obvious.

"How'd it go?"

She shrugs and he can see a bruise just under her eye, can almost feel the excited tension radiating off her in waves. She loves this life. She'd never give it up. Not for him, not for some walk-up and the promise of what he's sure will be the most amazing sex of his life.

"The same. Any flashes?"

He catches Jeff's gaze on them and leans over the counter to loop an arm around her waist, his pulse pounding the entire time, drawing her in close. He presses his mouth just under her ear and feels her eyelashes brush his cheek as her eyes flutter closed. "The most utterly boring it has ever been," he murmurs, and the angle of her body matches his, and he wonders how she fades into this so easily, how she can do this. "Absolutely nothing. And I can't vouch for what you'll see if you walk into the breakroom."

And she laughs, her throat vibrating under his lips, and sometimes, for just the space of a breath, fantasy can't hold a candle to what he has.