A/N:I believe most fans feel as I do that Chuck Vs. Santa Claus was one the show's best episodes. For many of us, it seemed to encapsulate everything we liked about the show.

However, I always felt the aftermath of Sarah's actions were poorly dealt with in the next episode. Chuck has his nightmare (the purpose of which is obvious) and then when he confronts Sarah, she acknowledges she lied and that's about it. I suppose the intervening time was supposed to have minimized the impact of that night.

This is my attempt to deal with what was I feel was a traumatic event for both Chuck and Sarah (look closely at the expressions on her face after she shoots Mauser). It takes place immediately after Santa Claus. It starts off with the canon event but rapidly goes in a different and what I believe a more satisfactory direction, even if it's a little OOC on Sarah's part.

Hope you like my take on this. It's a one shot and complete. (I think, but sometimes I change my mind.)

Thanks to michaelfmx for his willing beta services. Any errors you see are mine.

As always I don't own Chuck, etc.

SARAH VERSUS THE DARKNESS

Christmas trees. Rain pouring down. Pistol recoiling in my hand. Smoke rising from the suppressor. Body falling.

I jerk awake, breath coming in ragged gasps, sitting bolt upright in my bed. My heart is pounding, the nightmare fresh in my mind as I look at my alarm clock.

3:07am.

Great. Just great. Right about the time they say many people die in hospitals. Like I really need another reminder about death right now.

It's obvious I'm not going to get any real sleep this night, so I roll out of bed. The sheets, clammy with my cold sweat, aren't particularly inviting in any case.

Slipping a robe over my sleepwear, I walk to what might be charitably called my kitchen area and plug in the kettle. I stand there, lost in thought as I watch the water come to a boil, unwittingly disproving the whole watched pot thing. The steam whistling from the spout cuts through my distraction and I unplug the kettle, pouring the water over the tea bag in my mug.

I suppose I should be drinking chamomile or something like that, something that will help me unwind. Instead, I go for the regular caffeine type, knowing I'm not going to be relaxing anytime soon.

Turning one of my green chairs, I sit with one knee up, the mug wrapped in my hands as I look out over the mostly darkened city. I'm not much given to poetic flights of fancy, but right now the darkness outside seems to echo what's within my heart.

I shot an unarmed man last night, one who'd surrendered. Something I had never done. Until now.

It's tearing me apart.

The look on Mauser's face is burned into my brain. That look when he realized that he wasn't going to some detention cell after all, instead seeing only death in my eyes.

When he'd fallen to the ground, it had taken every bit of my will power to stop from breaking down on the spot. Somehow, I'd managed to hold back the choking sobs, but only barely. And at that moment, I couldn't help but think about what I may have just become. Someone who has finally stepped beyond the pale of all human decency. A woman now beyond redemption.

Objectively, I know I had another option: Let Mauser live, since he would have been a valuable source of Fulcrum intel. Deal with his threats by immediately placing the Intersect in a secure bunker.

I laugh at myself for thinking, even for a single second, that I could have actually done that. I haven't been able to be objective about Chuck since that first moment in the Buy More.

No. Even though it's scant consolation, I know there never really was another choice. I'm simply incapable of standing aside and letting anyone destroy this good man, this man I love. So I did what was needed. Even if that may mean the ruin of myself, my hopes, in the process.

The scary part is that, even with all this turmoil and soul searching, I know I will not hesitate, if need be, to do the same again. No, not even that slight hesitation I'd shown in dealing with the threat Mauser represented.

It frightens me that I've become so emotionally invested in him. It wasn't that long ago that I would have scoffed at the suggestion that I would ever feel this way about another human being. Thinking myself content, I'd never felt any need to look outside myself, beyond my job. Meeting him had disconcerted, confused me. It was unnerving, so I'd fought him, tooth and nail. But right from the start, a part of me knew it was a losing battle. I've finally had to acknowledge the feelings I have for him.

Of course, I've told no one, especially not him, partly because I'm well aware that the chances for us to have any sort of real relationship are incredibly slim. Everything is stacked against us, not just the unfeeling, uncaring governmental forces imposing their rules and duties on us, but also the inevitable ramifications of my often grim baggage.

When I remember how he'd innocently offered to handle that for me, I smile, but only for a second. In truth, I'm utterly terrified that if he comes to know even a fraction of my history, his feelings for me will change from loving to loathing in the blink of an eye.

That's the other, bigger part of the reason why I haven't told him. Fear. How can I tell him I love him without being willing to tell him who I really am? But if I tell him that, how likely is it that he'll love me back? I'm too afraid to find out.

That's why I lied to him tonight. Why I put on my happy face, telling him that it's all OK, that Mauser's in detention. It's part of my pathetic, childish daydream that if I can hide this (and so many other things) for long enough, he will, in the meantime, somehow find enough good in me to love. A love powerful enough to overcome the revulsion I'm almost certain he'll feel when he does come to learn of my past. A love that will be able to carry us beyond that and let us have a real life of some sort.

It doesn't take a genius to see the irony in all this; that the only way I believe I can have something true is by playing false. The problem is that I've been doing just that for so many years, and what's more, I'm really, really good at it. In fact, so good, that I'm unsure if I even know how to be genuine.

That's hardly surprising when I think of the many roles I've taken on: Dutiful con artist's daughter of so many names and so many places, never letting on about my secret wish for just one name, one place to call my own. Obedient agent, carrying out my orders, while masking my repugnance for so many of the actions required of me. Kick ass, super spy girlfriend, pretending that I'm happy with the superficiality that is Bryce Larkin.

Chuck deserves so much more than that. Not someone who's playing a part. Rather, someone authentic, someone who can open her heart to him.

Someone better than me.

I should let him go, let him find that someone. But I can't bring myself to do it. After so many years of putting the greater good ahead of my own wishes, I've suddenly become selfish. Over the past months, I've caught glimpses of a life that could be, and now I'm greedy. I want it, and I want it with Chuck Bartowski.

So I find myself engaged in this frustrating, tiring mental tug-of-war. My insecurities drive me to push him away. Then my selfish desires impel me to pull him back. One step backwards for every step forward. We're trapped in this exasperating stasis and it's all my fault.

As I raise the mug to my lips, the charm bracelet catches my eye. If I hadn't already known how he feels about me and what he wants for us, this gift and how it was offered has made it perfectly clear. In his own shy, hesitant way, it was Chuck's attempt to break us out of the cycle. To get us off this seemingly endless Merry-Go-Round.

So light itself, it nonetheless sits heavily on my wrist, bearing as it does the immense weight of unstated aspirations and implied promises. I should have never accepted it, or at the absolute minimum, made my acceptance contingent on it being part of our cover. Instead, I'd done neither, only putting up a token resistance before weakly allowing him to put it on my wrist. Once again, I just couldn't bring myself to crush his hopes. Or mine, for that matter.

But even as he stood, going back to deal with Ned, I'd wanted to grab his arm, pull him back and warn him: You don't know what you're inviting into your life. What you love isn't real. I'm unworthy of your affection.

Of course, I didn't do that. Because I'm a coward. A foolishly, optimistic coward, still clinging to that one, tiny shard of hope that even my broken life has not quite managed to eradicate.

I know I should return it. Certainly, if I felt undeserving at the moment he gave it, I was even more convinced after what happened in the Christmas tree lot. But to return the bracelet will be ever so difficult, because it has quite literally become the most precious object I've ever possessed. Not the most expensive, for I've been given things much more costly than this, both from Bryce and some of my marks. However, when the time came, I'd had no trouble in relinquishing those gifts. But to give this up would mean so much more. It would be tantamount to me saying that I've given up on any hope of an actual life.

The only good thing about tonight is that he doesn't know what happened after I told him to run to Castle, and I'm grateful for that. I'm simply not ready to deal with the consequences of my actions.

I need more time. More time to show him there's still something worthwhile within me. Then, in a couple of months, when the memories aren't so fresh, I'll tell him what actually happened with Mauser. I'm not good with words, so I know I'll need to plan out what I'm going to say very carefully, to make sure he fully understands why I had to do what I did. And maybe, just maybe, at that moment he'll be able to look at me and see something other than inhuman callousness.

Just a little more time. That's all I ask.

The rapping on my door catches me by surprise. It's not a loud knock, as if the person doing it is conscious of the late hour and is trying not to disturb the other guests. Perhaps is unsure whether he even wants to wake the room's occupant.

As I stand and walk towards my door, it somehow comes to me that it must be Chuck waiting on the other side. I don't know why I'm so certain, but I am. For him to come unannounced at this hour must mean he's worried. He probably needs reassurance about the safety of his friends and family and whether there might be any repercussions from Fulcrum's involvement.

If he only knew what I did to eliminate that possibility, he would be running from me, not to me.

Sighing a little as I reach for the door handle, I put on my friend-concerned-about-the-late-night-visit-face. It's so tiring, keeping up the charade that everything is OK, to pretend that I'm fine when nothing could be further from the truth. It's a part of my job I'm growing to hate.

As I open the door, it's easy to see that he's come straight from his bed. He's just thrown a hoodie over his pajamas and his chucks aren't even tied. His head is down, his features cast into shadow by the hood. I'm about to say hi when he pushes the hood back and raises his head to look my way.

Confusion. Anger. Disappointment. Disbelief. The naked emotions run across his face, changing so quickly, as if he doesn't have any idea what to think of me anymore, how to look at me anymore. It's certainly not the look he normally gives me, the one I've come to eagerly anticipate. A look I now fear I'll never see again.

He knows. And I've just run out of time.

I was seven when, for the first time, the breath had been knocked out of me. I remember the panic, thinking I'd never breathe again. That's how I feel right now. I involuntarily take a couple of steps back, releasing the door, which he continues to hold open with his arm. He stays in the doorway, seemingly unwilling to enter my room, to come any closer to me.

His voice is low, hoarse, filled with pain. "Sarah, I…I saw you shoot him. How could you do it? He'd surrendered! For God's sake, Sarah, you just can't kill someone in cold blood like that! Why, Sarah? Why did you do it?"

I close my eyes, unable to bear what I see in his. I just wish the pounding of my heart was a little louder. That way I wouldn't be able to hear his words as well.

But it isn't, so his agony is clear. "I tried to sleep, but every time I closed my eyes, all I saw was you, the gun and then Mauser falling to the ground." He pauses and gulps loudly. "It looked like you didn't even care. Like he wasn't even a human being to you. Then you came to me, smiling, and lied straight to my face, like it meant nothing!" He pauses again and then almost whispers, "Sarah, please, please tell me I'm wrong. That there's some sort of reason. Something I've missed.

"I have to know."

His anguished plea tears at my heart but his doubts so echo my own that I suddenly choke up. He's right. All I am is a monster. And a liar. Not good enough for him. I keep my eyes closed, too ashamed to look him in the face.

He doesn't speak any further and I can feel his gaze upon me as he waits for some sort of explanation. Even though I so desperately need him to understand, no words come. I just stand there, mute, powerless to defend myself.

Many seconds pass and I know I need to say something, anything. However, just as I'm able to take a breath to begin, I hear the door close. I have this sudden mental image of him turning his back and making his way down the hallway. Leaving me behind. This time for good.

So that's it. It's over. Everything I want just walked away because I couldn't open my damned mouth to tell him the truth. Because I could never find the right time to let him know how much I love him. Because I didn't have the faith, the trust, that he could return that love in spite of all that I've done, all that I've been.

During all those melancholy, sleepless hours, when I was certain all of it was going to end badly, I'd rehearsed in my mind how I was going to deal with this day. I'd thought that by doing so, I would be able to somehow cope with what I knew would be one of the most distressing moments of my life. Maybe I'd even find the strength to escape relatively unscathed. It's clear I was deluding myself, for it hurts.

Oh my god, it hurts.

I would never have believed that anything could be as painful as this. To have this, what I know is my one chance for something better, snatched away, is a devastating, crushing blow, one from which I wonder if I'll ever fully recover.

I can't stay here any longer. I'll have to call Beckman and tell her I need to be immediately reassigned. It will break my heart to leave him but not nearly as badly as it will break it to stay, knowing now there can be nothing between us.

"Sarah. Please talk to me."

His voice, quiet and gentle, shocks me out of my despondent introspection. My eyes fly open to see him with his back against the door, only a few feet away.

How could I have not been aware that he was still here? But before I can take myself to task over this, an almost overwhelming rush of joy pushes aside all other thought.

He's still here. Still within reach. He hasn't given up on me.

It seems I've badly underestimated Chuck Bartowski once again.

Without even being aware of it, he's giving me that second chance to make things right. Even though I don't deserve it and am woefully unprepared, I will not let it slip away from me, too afraid to try.

I just need to find the words, the courage. Somehow.

Stepping towards him, I take his hand. He flinches a little, but I push down the stab of pain that causes. He's right to be afraid of me.

Leading him to the green chairs, I ask him to sit. After turning the other chair to face his, I do the same, so that our knees are almost touching.

I take a deep breath and look into his eyes. "I understand what it must have looked like, but there is so much you don't know. Chuck, I'm asking you to listen to me. Please give me a chance to explain. Can you do that? Can you trust me one more time?"

His eyes search my face for a few seconds, seemingly uncertain, but then he nods. Not very forcefully, but I'll take what I can get.

For a moment I'm tempted to tell him how Mauser almost got the best of me, how he came close to choking me to death. However, I'll not play the sympathy card, use it to deflect from my guilt. It would be cheating to manipulate him like that.

I gather my courage and start, "Mauser was much higher up in Fulcrum than we thought. He told me that they would never stop in their efforts to retrieve him. I believed him. We have no real idea how deeply we've been infiltrated. We could've handed him off right into the custody of another hidden Fulcrum agent without even knowing it.

"He knew you are the Intersect, so when he was rescued, or even when he just got the chance to pass on the intel, every Fulcrum agent would have known as well. Then they would've done anything and everything in order to capture you, to use you. They wouldn't have hesitated to go after your friends and family if that's what it took to get to you. And if they didn't get hold of you first, we would have had to throw you in a bunker for your own protection because if they couldn't capture you, they would have ended you.

"Do you understand?" He nods weakly. I can tell he's almost overwhelmed by my blunt portrayal of what would have been a horribly bleak future.

"I had to protect you. So I did what I had to do. There was no other choice. I couldn't let them hurt you."

"Because I'm the Intersect, right?" It's easy to hear the bitterness in his words, to see the disappointment in his expression.

I'd been uneasy when I'd realized that any explanation on my part was eventually going to reach this critical juncture. I know how I should answer that question. But I won't. I can't lie to him again.

So I take a few moments to gather my courage, take another deep breath and finally say, "No, Chuck. Because I love you."

It appears he can't process that information as he stares at me, mouth agape. I wait patiently for him to work through it. I can't hold back a small smile as I see him continue to stare at me in astonishment.

"You…you love me? " He sounds incredulous as his eyes search my face, looking for confirmation.

Making sure his eyes are looking into mine, I nod, then reply, "Yes, Chuck. I do. And that's why I lied to you."

His joyful expression is quickly replaced by one of consternation, confusion. "What?!" It's obvious he's having trouble reconciling the contradiction of my words.

"Chuck, what I did tonight was something that I've never done before. Something…horrific." My words come slowly, quietly, as I think again of those terrible few minutes.

"I was afraid that with that act, I may have become something you couldn't love. And I couldn't give that up. So I lied to you."

"Sarah, it's OK, you-"

I cut him off, a little more harshly than I should. "No, Chuck. It was shameful. Wrong. For what it's worth, and I know that's not much, I was going to tell you about this later. I'd hoped, that given time, you'd still be able to care for me even after finding out what I did. And that you'd find a way to forgive me for lying to you."

I pause, uncertain he'll truly understand my next words. "Chuck, I want your love and forgiveness. But I can't ask you for either of those right now."

"Sarah, if I'd listened to you and Casey, you probably wouldn't have found yourself in that horrible situation. Then to top it off, I basically accused you of being an emotionless murderer. But you've forgiven me and told me that you love me. Unconditionally. Do you really believe I won't do the same for you?"

I can tell he's hurt by my apparent lack of faith in him.

"No, not at all. Chuck, you're the kindest, gentlest man I've ever known and so have no doubt about your willingness. I'm not asking you to say you love me because you deserve to really know me before you say those words. To truly understand who I am and what I've done before you make the decision to forgive me…or not."

His concern for me is evident as he says, "Sarah, you don't need to do this. I've inadvertently flashed on some of your missions, so I already know a lot of what you've had to do."

It would be so easy to accept his attempt to comfort me, to agree with him and sweep it all under the rug. But I've been a coward for long enough. Too long. I have to push forward, even at the risk of losing it all.

"I appreciate that. But, Chuck, what you saw last night, as bad as it was, is only the tip of the iceberg. Also, it's likely your flashes have actually shown you very little. Before we can have any sort of a real relationship, you need to have the whole picture, not just what you've managed to piece together."

Looking into his eyes, I lean forward to take his hand, "I want this for us. More than you can imagine. But try to think how you would feel if one day you learn about some terrible things I've done, and you start wondering what kind of woman you're involved with. Like you did a few minutes ago."

He winces at that, looking embarrassed.

I go on, "Suddenly, you're asking yourself if she has any normal feelings, if she's even really human. Then you realize you can't be with a person like that. To see that in your eyes would be the worst moment of my life. To lose you after…I don't think I could handle it."

He grips my hand, squeezing it tightly. I hear the earnestness in his voice, "Sarah, that could never happen. I know I was worried, but I was never close to giving up on you. I'll never do that."

"I know you really mean that. All I can hope is that you'll feel the same way in a little while." I pause for a second or two, "Chuck, this is going to be very hard for me, so I need you to promise me a couple of things."

He nods. "What do you need me to do?"

"First of all, you need to listen carefully and as calmly as you're able. I don't know if I can do this if you freak out and keep interrupting me. OK?"

He nods again.

"Secondly, I need you to put aside your feelings for me. You have to look at me objectively and honestly analyze whether or not you could be with someone who's lived the life I have. Alright?" I feel a little hypocritical at this, asking him to be objective when I can't.

His answer comes much more slowly this time. "I'll try, Sarah. But that's going to be much more difficult. It's like you want me to think of you as some math problem and not a person, someone I care for. I'm not sure if I can look at you that way."

"I know it'll be difficult. Maybe you could pretend we've just met. That this is our first date and I'm telling you about my real life instead of the story I told you then. Can you try and do that?"

He's quiet for a few seconds. "OK. I'll do my best."

"Thank you."

I stare out the window for a few moments, gathering my thoughts, wishing for even just an extra hour or two to prepare for this. I'm just fooling myself, for in my heart I know I'll never really be ready.

I turn to him, grimly determined. "Chuck, you know at least a little about my father and how I worked with him during his cons. What you don't know is that I was seventeen when he wound up in jail, put there, supposedly for his own protection, by Langston Graham. That's when he recruited me. I know now I was vulnerable and that he took advantage of that to bring me in. I was a full-fledged CIA agent before I was twenty. That's the Sarah you need to know. The one I'm going to tell you about."

So I begin. At first, my words come haltingly, reluctantly, then as I remember my commitment to this, I start to get into a rhythm, the words flowing more freely.

I speak little about specifics of time, place or name. Not for security reasons as I figure most of that information is somewhere in his head anyways. No, I don't because I'm afraid he'll flash if I give him too many details. I don't want him learning about me and my life from some dry official report or edited video log. He needs to hear the truth from me. Unvarnished. Raw.

I shift back and forth between different times and different events, sometimes almost rambling as the memories strike me. I tell him things I've never told anyone, things I've tried not to think about. Many things of which I'm proud. Many of which I'm not. I inwardly cringe when I come to those parts of my narrative, expecting to see him turn away in disgust or horror. But he never does, not even once. Indeed, his attention never wavers. True to his promise, he just listens, his eyes fixed on mine, not saying a word.

I finally wind down, not so much stopping as tapering off, too mentally and physically exhausted to go on.

He sees this, for his next words are, "You need some rest. Ellie is expecting us in a few hours."

I hear the doubt and hope, the quaver of my voice. "You still want me?"

He looks at me for a few seconds, then smiles, his voice so gentle. "Sarah, how could I ever not want you?"

I try hard to blink back the tears. "But after what I've told you about who I am, what I've done, are you sure-"

He cuts me off gently, softly. "Sarah, it angers and sickens me to hear about the things they've demanded of you. No one should have to deal with all of that. I don't know how anyone could go through that without being severely damaged. And yet, when I look at you, do you know what I see?"

I shake my head, fearful of what he might say.

"I see an incredibly brave, strong woman who's lived that life and somehow still has managed to come out with her humanity intact."

I so want to believe him, accept that I am that person, but my doubts still gnaw at me, perversely driving me to disagree. "Chuck, I'm not as good as you think I am."

"Sarah, you asked me to listen carefully. Now I need you to do the same. Despite what you seem to believe about yourself, you are a good person. One who's had to perform monstrous actions, but who has refused to become monstrous in turn. So to answer your earlier question, yes, I am sure."

At his words, a sudden, unaccustomed warmth floods through me. Never has anyone even made the effort to know me the way he does.

"You've expressed your fears that what you had to do last night turned you into some sort of merciless, callous monster. Trust me, Sarah, you don't need to worry about turning into something terrible. Do you know why?"

I just shake my head again.

"First of all, a monster never worries about whether she is a monster because monsters, by definition, don't worry about what they are or what they do to others, since that's one of the things that makes them monsters in the first place. You are worried, so therefore you aren't one." As he finishes his explanation, he just looks at me with his crooked grin.

It's typical Chuck, trying to bring some lightness into an all too serious conversation.

He succeeds, making me grin in turn. "Chuck, I believe that may be an example of circular logic."

He grins back. "Maybe. Doesn't mean it isn't true."

I say nothing, just give him the look.

He's serious again. "OK, better reasons. A heartless, merciless person wouldn't care about other people the way you care. That kind of person enjoys hurting people, isn't ripped apart by those actions like you are, even when you've have no other choice. A monster is only concerned about self, wouldn't sacrifice herself for others like you've done so many times. Like you did for me last night."

How could I have ever thought he would turn me away, hate me for what I am? Blushing, momentarily ashamed by my lack of faith in him, I turn to look out my window.

As I do, I'm suddenly aware that the darkness of last night has been dispelled by the light of a new day. A day I now look forward to instead of dreading.

His words bring my attention back to him. "And one more thing, Sarah. Monsters don't love and aren't loved. Not like you love me and I love you. You see, I haven't forgotten what you told me."

I can't help but chuckle a little at that. "You'd better not, mister. After all, you're the first man who's heard me say those words when they actually meant something."

"Really?" I seem to have astonished him a second time.

"Yep."

The look of wonder this brings to his face makes me smile. A smile that rapidly turns into a yawn I can't stifle.

He takes my hand to help me rise from the chair. "Someone needs sleep."

Leading me to my bed, he helps me lie down and then tucks me in. I can't remember the last time someone did that for me. Leaning down, his eyes only inches from mine, he whispers, "Sarah, you went through all sorts of hell last night. And all because of what you did for me. I just wish there'd been some other way, one that wouldn't have dumped all this on you. To say I'm grateful would be so completely inadequate. So instead, I promise to do my very best to be worthy of the sacrifice you made for me."

He pauses. "I also promise to be there when Sarah Walker needs to be reminded of what kind of person she really is, as opposed to one she fears she's become."

When he leans in to gently kiss my forehead, I can't stop the tears that have been threatening all along.

"Better?"

I just nod, too choked up to speak.

He gestures to one of the chairs. "I'll be right there if you need anything. OK?"

As he turns, I manage to find my voice. "Chuck."

He turns back to me. "Yes, Sarah?"

"Will you hold me?"

He looks at me for a few long seconds. "As you wish."

He quickly slips off his shoes, and tosses his hoodie onto the chair.

Lifting the blanket, he says, "Scooch over a bit."

I do, and he slides in beside me. Laying on his side, he gently pulls me close, his strong arms wrapped softly, firmly around me. I rest my head against his chest, a perfect fit. While I can't seem to find the words to describe how I feel right now, I'm won't let that stop me from enjoying it.

Although my tears may seem to belie it, the truth is that I am better. Not good. Not yet. That may still be a long way off. However, now there is hope, something I didn't have a few hours ago. Because he's still here, believing in me, asking me to do the same.

I know the nightmares aren't going to stop. But today, at least, I won't have to deal with them on my own and if we can find our way through all of this mess, not ever again.

Safe in his embrace, I'm starting to drift off when I suddenly understand what I'm feeling right now. Something I haven't felt for a very long while and wondered if I would ever truly feel again.

Happiness.

The End.

A/N:Thanks for reading. Always enjoy reviews and constructive criticism.