A short while later, they cuddled together under the covers, which lay bunched around their hips, him in a soft t-shirt and sleeping pants, and her in a relaxed camisole and boyshorts. She knew she wouldn't need much more than that, sleeping beside such a furnace. As she settled against his side, she closed her eyes and relaxed. Yeah, she could spend a lifetime enjoying this.
"So," she observed with a happy sigh. "We're really doing this."
"...yes?" Chuck said. "What is 'this'?"
"Making a life together."
She felt him smile.
"I still have to resist the urge to pinch myself," she muttered.
"Well, you could always just have me do it instead."
She chuckled and opened her eyes. "So..." she said, "you want to go shopping for a washer and dryer tomorrow?"
"Why, Mrs. Bartowski, I love it when you talk dirty—clothes."
She pinched him.
"Ow! What was that for?"
She smirked and caressed the spot. "I don't have to resist the urge to pinch you."
"Says me," she murmured, stretching up to give him a brief peck. "Seriously, though, what do you have planned for tomorrow?"
"Aside from the general goal of making you smile as much as possible, I don't have any specific plans. We could go visit the house, see what you think of it."
She considered this for a moment. "Okay. Do you think we could maybe visit my mom... and Molly?"
"Oh yeah, definitely. It's a school day for Molly, though, so if you want to meet her, we should probably aim to be there in the late afternoon."
"Oh. Is she in preschool?"
"Full-day kindergarten," Chuck said, a proud smile in his voice. "She loves showing you how she can count to one hundred, super fast." He gave a small laugh. "Smart as a whip, and she knows exactly how to charm your socks off, so be on your guard."
"Oh, like you are? I'd bet anything she's got you wrapped around her little finger."
"Very happily so," he confirmed. "She's such a great kid. Our new house is a lot closer to theirs, so we can visit them more often, if you want to." He paused for a moment, then said, "We had been thinking of offering to take Molly for a weekend, to give your mother a break."
Sarah nodded, raising her eyebrows. "And to give ourselves a trial run?"
"Something like that," Chuck agreed easily. "But there's no rush. And we need to finish getting the house ready first."
"Speaking of which, how are we doing for money? Do we need to start looking for work?"
"We have a buffer and could probably live comfortably for a year or two, but I don't really want to burn through our savings that fast."
"I agree. What exactly had we been planning to do with Carmichael Industries?"
"Well, you'd drawn up a whole business plan," Chuck said, a proud note in his voice. "With my computer skills and your knowledge of—I think you called it 'international bad-guy-ery'—" He chuckled. "—we wanted to go into countering cyber-terrorism and corporate espionage, helping government agencies and private companies to make their physical plant and computer systems more secure by—with their invitation—trying to penetrate their defenses, and then providing a report on any weaknesses we find."
"Like the guys in that Sneakers movie."
"Exactly." Chuck blinked. "Wow, you made a nerd reference!"
"What's nerdy about Sneakers?" Sarah asked. "There are no aliens or elves in it."
"It's a movie that nerds love, because there are nerds in it," he countered, then suddenly put on a terrible Boston accent. "'It's about the in-fah-may-shun, Mahty!'"
Sarah lifted her head and gave him a confused look.
Chuck giggled. "Never mind. Ah, so, anyway, you'd contacted a buyer's agent about looking at possible office spaces." He gestured toward his computer desk. "Everything you put together is in a folder over there, in the bottom drawer."
She frowned. "Do we really have the resources to rent office space and start up a firm like this? If we want to impress corporate clients, it has to be good space in a nice part of town. Plus, we're going to need to buy a lot of equipment, maybe hire an administrative assistant..."
"Actually, there's something that might be coming our way soon—how we got it originally is a long story—but the short version is that we might be very well off again in the near future, if Beckman makes good on her promise to expedite the unfreezing of our assets."
"'Again'?" Sarah asked.
"Yeah, it was the seed money we used to start Carmichael Industries."
"How much are we talking here?"
"We're looking at something in the neighborhood of a couple hundred million."
Sarah froze. "What?" At Chuck's nod, she narrowed her eyes and gave him a look. "Are you serious?"
"Yes," he said. "We're owed about a hundred and ninety-eight million dollars."
She scrutinized his face for any sign of a practical joke, but he seemed completely serious. After giving him a few more seconds to crack and admit that he was just pulling her leg—which he didn't do—she exhaled a short laugh and shook her head.
"God, it really is like I woke up in a fairy tale, married to a rich prince."
He chuckled. "Well, it's not really my money, it's our money, and you did plenty to deserve it." When she tilted her head, he nodded and caressed her arm, smiling, although there was a tinge of sadness in his expression. "It's a long story, more than I want to get into tonight." He yawned and shot a quick glance back at the clock on his nightstand. "The short version is that it was a gift from Alexei Volkoff, offered in gratitude for all that we did to rescue a father and daughter who were caught in a bad situation."
She blinked. "Volkoff? The international arms dealer? No wonder they froze the money!"
"Oh, that isn't why it's frozen. Decker was just being an ass after one of Carmichael Industries' missions went south."
Sarah shook her head, lost. "How was Decker involved with Volkoff?"
"He wasn't," Chuck said.
"But isn't Volkoff wanted by the U.S. government? And a dozen other countries?"
"Not anymore," Chuck answered. "He's really a very sweet guy."
Sarah leveled her gaze at Chuck. "Now I know you're just pulling my leg."
"I'm really not!" he protested, giving her a toothy grin and raising his hands.
She glared at him for a long moment. "This better be good."
"Like I said, it's a long story."
"Fine," she huffed. "I look forward to hearing it."
"You will, I promise. And it is a good story, filled with self-sacrifice, love, and redemption. And it ends with a wedding. It's going to take a couple of hours, at least, to tell properly. And my mother should probably be there for you to get the whole picture."
"Okay," Sarah replied. "We'll need to have her over for dinner soon. I'd like to get to know who she is when she's not pointing a gun at me."
Chuck laughed. "Let's do it."
Sarah settled back down beside him and sighed.
Self-sacrifice, love, and redemption... The words echoed in her mind. It was a good description of the past three weeks, too. She swallowed and cuddled closer for a moment, filled with gratitude for her own story, made possible entirely because of the man lying in her arms.
"So," Chuck said. "Is there anything on your bucket list that you'd like to do before life gets busy again?"
Sarah blinked. "Hmm... I don't know."
"Any hobbies you want to take up? Say, bungee jumping?"
"I've already done that," she said. "It was fun, but I don't feel like I need to do it again."
"Right. Okay. Let's see... What clues have you given me in the years I've known you?" Chuck made a thoughtful noise. "Most of what we do in our downtime is stuff that I enjoy doing, like watching nerdy movies or TV shows, or going out to see bands. Although you do seem to enjoy yourself. And you like good food..."
"Do I have any favorite restaurants around here?"
"Oh yeah, a few." He smiled. "We can go out for dinner tomorrow night. Your pick."
"Assuming my mother doesn't pressure us into staying for dinner."
Chuck laughed. "Good point. She probably will. Speaking of which, we should pick up something for dessert. And maybe a bottle of wine."
Sarah smiled, already picturing the next day spent with him and her rediscovered family. Waking up, making love, helping Ellie and Devon get everything into the moving truck, trying some new food at a restaurant that Chuck promised she would love, driving out to see their new house, planning their projects and imagining the future space, hugging her mother... and meeting her new little sister.
Something warmed in Sarah's chest. She had always wanted a sibling. She swallowed at the thought of getting to know her mother again, and seeing just what a wonderful mother this woman had become to this little girl. If Sarah ever had a child, she would have someone else to go to with questions... and Ellie would probably be full of advice and reassurance, too.
Wow... so this was what having a family felt like. She smiled to herself.
"I can't believe that I can't think of a hobby you might enjoy," Chuck suddenly said.
She adjusted where her head was resting to look up at him. "It's okay."
"No, it's really not," he said, frowning. "Why did I never notice before that we always did stuff that I enjoy?"
"If I didn't enjoy it, too, I wouldn't have done it."
He glanced at her. "Yeah, I guess... But I just feel bad. Okay, now I'm on a mission to find out what you like to do." It almost sounded like a threat.
"There's plenty of stuff I like to do," she protested.
She shrugged. "I like sparring."
He chuckled. "Yeah, I guess you do. You always give me a great workout."
She grinned, raising herself to prop her head on one hand. "Oh yeah?"
"Even when I had the Intersect, you could still take me. You couldn't always win, but..." He smiled. "It was a fifty-fifty thing. It actually challenged me. You were one of the few people who could."
She raised her eyebrows, but she wasn't entirely surprised. "What do you mean?"
"Well, when I fight using the Intersect, I'm essentially running a program. It only lasts for so long, and then the body-knowledge fades. But it's usually long enough to take out everyone around me in a short match. Maybe two minutes, max."
"Ah," she said. "So the moment you needed to flash again, I'd knock you to the mat?"
"Not quite," he answered with a smile. "I'm not that vulnerable. No, I mean, you could beat the Intersect's program. It's like you're a martial-arts chess master, and as good as it was, it wasn't quite as good as you, because each program could only give me mastery of a single technique at a time—plus general gymnastics. But you could switch fighting techniques at the drop of a hat. Once you figured out which one I'd flashed on, you'd just change to a different one that could take advantage of the first one's weak points. Fiendish. But awesome."
He smiled at her proudly and reached up to stroke the backs of his fingers down her cheek. "It forced me to learn how to defend against those weak points by coming up with my own moves, on the fly. If I still had all the body-knowledge, it worked pretty well. If I didn't, well... I started to develop my own techniques, independent of the Intersect. It could give me a boost, but I had to do the rest on my own.
"Eventually, after training with you and Casey for long enough, I could fight with or without the Intersect. I still preferred to use it if I had multiple opponents, because it could plot an efficient course through the physical space—and all of them—faster than I could do it alone, but I don't need it anymore."
"Yeah, I saw what you did in Berlin. Nice work."
She pursed her lips thoughtfully. "I would expect that you'd've developed your own style by now, with that kind of background."
"Yeah. It's kind of a mashup."
"Good," she said. "You'll have fewer obvious vulnerabilities." She gave him a toothy grin, looking forward to trying him out.
"You are officially the sexiest shark I have ever seen," he said, grinning back at her.
She laughed and dropped down to rest her head in the hollow of his shoulder.
"Okay, so... mixed-martial-arts sparring," he said. "I'm sure you could join a league if you wanted to."
"Do you like to create anything? Be artistic? You're a good cook."
She shrugged. "I can do a few dishes. But I don't really enjoy it. Not as a pastime."
"Yeah, same here."
She suddenly thought of something. "Cirque du Soleil."
"You want to go see a show?"
"No. I mean, sure, but... I've always thought I could do that stuff. I've just never had the chance to learn how."
"Oh, yeah, you'd be great at that." His voice took on a dreamy note. "You in a full-body leotard, doing gymnastics in midair... mmm."
She laughed and swatted him. "I think it would be fun."
"Oh yes, fun, absolutely."
"So, do you want to do it with me?"
"Me? Nah. I'd look terrible in a leotard."
"Seriously," Chuck protested. "I tried pole-dancing with Morgan once. Most awkward exercise class ever."
She laughed, her mind rebelling at the mental image. "Oh my God, really?"
"Yeah, he signed us up for the class without knowing what it was," Chuck said, covering his face with one hand. He sighed and drew his hand away. "At least it was fun looking at the rest of the class."
She lifted her head. "Tell me you two didn't just stand there ogling all the women."
"Not obviously, no," Chuck said. "Do you know how hard it is to look at someone when you're trying to flip around a pole?"
"Actually, yes," she said with a smile.
"You can have a hobby that doesn't involve me at all."
"Yeah, I know that."
"Good. Okay. Note to self: encourage wife to run away and join the circus."
She chuckled and settled against him, closing her eyes, and exhaled a long, contented sigh. Warm. Safe. Wow... what a day.
If someone had told her this morning that she would be here right now, she would have laughed in the person's face and walked away. But, amazingly, here she was, full and content and... home.
Thank you, she thought.
And it had all started because he had found her at the beach somehow. Of all the places he could have looked—
She blinked. "Chuck?"
"Where else did you look for me today?"
He took a moment to respond. "I... didn't look anywhere else."
She lifted her head. "Really? You went straight to the beach?" Then she narrowed her eyes. "You don't have a tracker on my phone or anything, right?"
"No. We keep the Location Services on our phones turned off most of the time."
She nodded. It was one of the first things she had checked before she went off-grid, hunting for Quinn. "So it was just a lucky guess?"
Chuck got a funny look on his face. "Well, not exactly. It was something Morgan said."
She smirked. "Morgan. How does he keep popping up in these moments?"
"He's just... Morgan," Chuck answered, with a shrug and a smile. "It's how he is. He's got hidden depths. And sometimes, he's so shallow you just want to stuff him in a closet and walk away."
She giggled. "So what did he say?"
Chuck made a face. "It's going to sound so cliché. I thought I had lost you, because I didn't know where you were and I didn't know what to do. He told me to stop thinking and just use my heart to find you."
She crinkled up her features, part of her melting and part of her struggling to believe something so, so... unbelievable.
"And the image that suddenly came to me was the memory of you," Chuck continued, his voice growing softer now, "sitting on that spot on the beach with me, five years ago. It was the beginning of me trusting you. And that was what I needed you to do: trust me." He sighed. "I felt like a fool, driving there, but what did I have to lose?" He ran his fingers up into her hair, his thumb brushing her cheek, his warm hazel eyes filled with affection. "I'm so glad I took the chance. Thank you for taking a chance on me."
She let the tears come a little and smiled down at him, mirroring his gesture with her own. "Ditto."
Then, with a long sigh, she settled back down beside him and closed her eyes. She wanted to stay in this moment forever.
But she couldn't.
Despite their best efforts, she knew this fairy tale would eventually come to an end, and the thought of not having him beside her someday speared her through, cold and hard.
This whole evening had been amazing, but it felt so precarious. If she hadn't noticed the exit sign off the freeway, if she hadn't felt that strange tug, if she hadn't followed it, against all reason...
Then a chill ran down her spine and she opened her eyes.
He had been led to her by something that he didn't understand, either.
"You okay?" She heard him ask, a slightly worried note in his tone, and she smiled. God, it was really nice being known this well.
"Yeah," she said slowly. "Just thinking."
She drew in a deep breath, blew it out. "Chuck, do you believe in God?"
"Oh. Wow, ah, good question." He shifted and she adjusted her position to match his. He lifted one hand briefly, palm up, before dropping it back on the bed. "I guess... yeah. Yeah, I do."
"I don't know," he said, shrugging. "I never really questioned it before. If I had to say... there's too much order in the universe. Like I'd have to have more faith to believe that all of this happened by accident, you know?"
Sarah wasn't sure, so she made a noncommittal noise.
"Why do you ask?" Chuck said. "What do you believe?"
She idly stroked a wrinkle out of his t-shirt. "Did you ever go to church... or—" She turned her head to look up at him. "—or synagogue, or something?"
"Yeah, as a kid, when my mom was still with us. I guess we were Catholic. Christmas and Easter, you know, and then the big family dinner afterward."
"Yeah," Sarah said, grinning as she relaxed her head and nestled it in the hollow of his shoulder again. "You guys do seem to be big on family dinners, if all the photos are any indication."
"Best. Time. Ever," Chuck declared. "When we successfully completed a mission, and everybody had survived and still had all their fingers and toes? Time to break out the chardonnay and the pepperoni chicken! Even Casey would be smiling."
She giggled, imagining it. "Wow, you invited him?"
"Yeah, he's family," Chuck said.
She smiled. The thought of her and Casey, family. She could see what Casey meant when he said that Chuck had softened both of them.
"Well, actually, Casey did lose a toe protecting me once," Chuck mused. "But that's it. Just one toe."
"That's more than enough."
"Oh, absolutely. So, why the God question?" Chuck asked. "What do you believe?"
"Before all of this," she answered, "I probably would have said I didn't believe in God. We make our own destiny, and there's nobody looking out for me but me. But..." She trailed off with a frown, trying to put her thoughts into words. "Do you ever feel like there might be... more, beyond what we can see?"
Chuck was silent for a long moment. "Sometimes."
"I mean, you found me."
"Just before you found me," she said, furrowing her brow, her words halting, "I... felt something."
"What was it?"
"I don't know. A feeling? Like everything was going to be okay, and I wasn't alone."
"You're not," he agreed, rubbing her back. "Where is all this coming from? You've never talked about God before."
"It never came up? Even though we had a wedding in a church?"
"Think about it: we had Morgan officiate."
She laughed. "Good point."
"Surviving from one day to the next took most of our energy," Chuck said. "When we had downtime, we usually just relaxed and enjoyed being together."
She gave a short hum of acknowledgement.
"Seriously, though," he said. "What's prompting this? Are you worried about something?"
At his look, she sighed, then frowned as she tried to find words.
"When I joined the CIA," she began, "I soaked up everything they could teach me at The Farm. I challenged myself physically and mentally. Whatever goals the instructor set, I'd choose something just a little bit more, and it served me well. Graham was pleased. I had more latitude than a normal rookie. I got better assignments. I was good at my job, and I felt like I had finally found my place. People respected me, wanted me. I thought I had it all... but I didn't."
"What do you mean?" Chuck asked quietly.
She sighed. "If there's one thing they don't encourage at The Farm, it's thinking too much about why you're learning all these skills. You get taught the hows, and the uses, and the mindset that makes you willing to believe that the people who are calling the shots are making the right calls. You're defending your country, protecting all the innocents—but nobody pretends that you're going to be an innocent while you're doing it. If you can step up and handle that, then good. If not, here's the door."
He grunted in agreement.
"It's considered strength that you can lie and steal and kill," she said. "And I know what you said earlier, that you wouldn't be here right now if I couldn't do exactly what I do."
She drew in a deep breath and frowned. "But there's one part of myself that I've never challenged. I've avoided going near it. And being around you, watching how you live... how you love..." Her voice shook a little, so she swallowed, then lifted her head to look at him. "...and how you still succeed at being a spy... It makes me think that maybe I should try."
He rubbed her back, quiet and reassuring. "Try what?"
"Challenging my... soul?" She frowned, shaking her head. "See? I don't even know what to call it."
"'Soul's as good a word as any," Chuck said, smiling.
"When I was on that beach, before you came, I thought I had no safety net." She waved a hand. "I do have resources. I can disappear, and I'll be fine. But when it came to having someone I could go to... I was alone." She frowned, staring at nothing. "It was just me and the Painter."
She ducked her head. "I know, it sounds silly."
"No," Chuck said, and he shifted, reaching up to hold both sides of her head, encouraging her to look at him. "No, it doesn't." When she didn't look away, he released her and returned to rubbing her back. "Tell me."
She grimaced. "I was probably just imagining it."
"You've got great instincts," he said. "Do you think you were just imagining it?"
She frowned. "...no."
"Okay, then," Chuck said with a shrug. "Tell me. I'm not going to laugh at you, even if you say you saw a cloud shaped liked Bob Ross."
She giggled, then sighed. "No, it wasn't like that. I didn't see anyone. It just felt like..." She squinted in thought. "...how I felt in that moment was reflected by it all. You know, the restlessness of the waves, the gray sky, only a little bit of sunlight. But it was beautiful, too. I felt like it was a message." She winced, her eyes flickering to Chuck's. "Dumb, huh?"
He was frowning. "No..." he said slowly. "What was the message?"
"I don't know. Maybe... like I was understood? Valued? As if it was all there for me to see?" She expelled a breath. "When I say it this way, it sounds delusional."
But Chuck was just frowning at the ceiling.
"What are you thinking?" she asked.
"I wonder..." he murmured. "Sometimes I miss it."
"That sense of being connected to something... larger. I think maybe I used to believe more, when I was a kid, but then with everything that happened..." Chuck swallowed. "We had to fend for ourselves. The people who stuck around, like Morgan, became our family. And it was the kindness of strangers, people like Magnolia, that made it bearable." He laughed bitterly. "And lots and lots of therapy."
Sarah laid her head back down, watching him.
Chuck shrugged. "Ellie and I tried going to church for Christmas Eve once, right after Dad left, but it reminded us too much of Mom and Dad, and it was all so... not us. Strict rituals. Big and echoing. It didn't feel personal at all." He turned his gaze to Sarah. "Christmas was always the two of us, sometimes Morgan and his mother. Then Devon. Now it's Clara, and my mother, and Casey, and Alex, and you. I'm looking forward to inviting Emma and Molly this year. And I wouldn't be surprised if Gertrude got invited, too."
"Isn't she Jewish?"
"See, that's just it," Chuck said, frowning at Sarah. "Christmas is about family, about being with the people you love. Religion just gets in the way."
Sarah blinked. "Oh."
His eyebrows rose, and he said quickly, "That's not to say that I'm against you exploring it, but just that... well... How many wars have been fought in the name of religion? I want to care about people, not about dogma and labels."
"Me, too," she said, smiling.
Chuck frowned. "So... do you think the Painter was saying that you're supposed to go off and find religion?"
"No." She gave him an incredulous look, but then softened her features. He had promised not to laugh at what she said; she wasn't going to mock his questions, either. "Sorry. No. I just felt like I was accepted. Me. Even after everything I've done. Like maybe I don't have to be on the outside anymore, even though I'm not innocent."
Chuck's eyes grew damp, and he stroked her arm. "No, of course you don't!" He gave her a sad half-smile. "Is that really what you thought?"
She frowned, sighed, and flopped over onto her back beside him, kicking the covers a little as she went. "Maybe not in so many words, but... yeah." She frowned up at the ceiling. "You changed me. You changed me before, and you changed me again during these last three weeks."
"To be honest," Chuck said, carefully rolling onto his side to face her. "I'm not sure I did. You might not realize it, but you're not so different from who you were before. You're a lot bigger than you think you are."
She turned to look at him, arching one eyebrow, and he dropped his head in chagrin, then lifted it to smirk at her.
"There's a lot more to you than maybe even you realize," he tried again.
"Yeah," she said, smiling at the ceiling and remembering the mission logs. "But you did change me. You say I woke you up..." She reached out to cup the side of his face. "...but you woke me up, too. "
His brows drew down, but he was smiling. "In what way?"
"You made me realize what I was missing. You offered me acceptance, forgiveness, support... love. Real love. Not the using kind. The kind that hurts, but loves anyway."
His eyes were wet as he bent to kiss her, and she returned it, putting her hand on his waist with a soft sigh.
When he drew back, his eyes were alight with joy.
"Well, I will say one thing about you is different."
"You're certainly willing to tell me a lot more about what you're thinking and feeling."
Her brows drew down. "Really?"
He nodded. "Yeah. And I really appreciate it. Thank you."
She rolled toward him, curling in against his body, and he kissed her hair.
"After how much you've told me about yourself," she murmured into his chest, "it feels like the right thing to do."
"Oh, I'm not complaining," he answered, a smile in his voice. He wrapped his arms around her, and she settled back into the comfortable place, intertwining her legs with his as he pulled the covers up over them.
She lay quietly in his arms for a long moment, then said, "I have a safety net now, and it seems like it's completely thanks to you."
"No," Chuck protested.
"Well, all of my friends and family are your friends and family," she explained, looking at him. "It sounds like I wouldn't even have my mother back if it weren't for your help."
He tilted his head slightly on the pillow. "...I suppose that's true." He frowned. "That was something you said you didn't like about your relationship with Bryce."
"On our first date," Chuck said. "You told me you broke up with him because you realized that all of your friends were really his friends."
"Oh." She furrowed her brow slightly. "I must have just fed you that line for my cover."
He chuckled. "Okay, so it wasn't all real."
"No," she agreed with a smile.
"You have had trouble making your own friends," Chuck said. "You came close, once, but it turned out the woman was an assassin who was trying to kill Morgan."
"Figures," she said dryly.
He gave a half-laugh, half-sigh. "Yeah. Story of our life. Well, maybe if you take up a hobby, you'll make some real connections that way."
"Is that what normal people do?"
He laughed. "Something like that."
She smiled. "I'm looking forward to it."
She lay still for a long moment. "It's just... As much as I want to believe that we can ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after in retirement, I've got a nagging suspicion that the Intersect isn't..."
She rolled away from him and lay back, frowning up at the ceiling.
"Put it this way," she said, turning to look at him. "Whether or not you believe Decker's conspiracy threat, whoever the people are who have been trying to exploit the Intersect all this time aren't going to just give up after investing all these resources into the project. You're going to remain a person of interest to them. From what you've told me, we've dealt them some significant blows lately, but I'd be very surprised if the Intersect technology was actually destroyed along with Quinn. We bought ourselves some time, but someone is eventually going to come knocking."
"But Decker said it was Shaw who was pulling his strings, and we took down Shaw."
"Quinn wasn't working for Shaw, was he?"
Chuck frowned. "Not that I know of. He had a rogue research facility located somewhere in Japan."
"From what you've told me, I find it hard to believe that Daniel Shaw was the mastermind behind it all. He feels like... like a bishop on a chessboard. Relatively powerful, able to cut wide swaths across some things, but still not a queen, or a king."
Chuck's frowned deepened. "I... am not sure what to think of that theory," he said, "but can we not go inviting trouble to find us? We wanted to retire, we are retired, let's go do the kinds of things retired people do. But, you know, sans the dentures."
Sarah smiled. "Yeah, okay. Sorry. Done. I will not say the 'I' word for as long as we are in retirement."
Chuck eyed her. "Are you planning to come out of retirement?"
"No... not planning, exactly, but I want to be prepared. Can you really see me gardening and spending my days playing bingo at the community center?"
Chuck laughed. "Playing bingo? Not on your life. Gardening? Maybe." His expression softened and he carefully rolled toward her, reaching out to run his palm along her side. "We do have a big back yard now."
She chuckled and shifted, rolling to spoon up against him. "Okay, I'll consider it."
He propped his head up behind hers. "So... 'challenging your soul'... that's definitely something a retired person could look into."
"Where do you think I should start?"
"How about the library?" he suggested. "You could ask a librarian for a good starter resource, maybe something that gives an intro to philosophy and all the major world religions. You could just wander around, see what's out there, see if anything clicks with you." He paused for a beat. "Do you have a library card?"
She blinked and frowned. "I don't think I've ever had a library card."
"All right, then, Sarah Bartowski. It's settled. We are getting you a library card."
She smirked. "I could just try Google."
Chuck made a disgruntled noise. "Maybe later. You don't want to start with the internet, not for a question like this. It's a firehose of misinformation and crazy."
"That's true." She hummed in agreement. "Okay, so it's a date." She grinned and wriggled against him. "I love that you're taking me on a date to the library!"
He laughed and kissed her cheek. "I knew you could do this!"
She frowned. "Do what?"
"Thrive, even in these circumstances. God, I love you."
Straightening out with fake pomp, he waved his arm like a prince bowing to a princess. "It would be my honor to escort you through the Dewey decimal system, my lady."
"The what?" She frowned, twisting to stare back at him. "I thought I was going to look for philosophy, not math."
Chuck blinked, then grinned. "You are so cute," he said, chuckling and curling up behind her again. "The Dewey decimal system is how they organize the books in a library. You know, the 500s are for science, the 600s are for technology, the 700s are where they put all the comic books and graphic novels..." He squeezed her close to him for a moment. "I love discovering the gaps in your knowledge!"
"Yeah, well," she said, "I've still got a pretty big one."
At that, Chuck sobered, but she only smiled.
"Tell me a story about us, Chuck."
He returned her smile, his eyes growing a little damp. "Okay, which one should I pick?"
"Pick a funny one with a happy ending," she said, and he grinned, drawing her close and settling in for one of his favorites.
Yes, I do have a sequel planned! It's set 11 years in the future, and it's about way more than just their relationship. Think Chuck crossed with The Incredibles, but a lot less cartoonish, because one thing Chuck was so good at was turning on a dime from laughter to heartbreak. Plus, the show's writers only barely scratched the surface of the Intersect technology, and it has so much potential! If you'd like to be automatically notified when I start posting the sequel, just subscribe to follow me as an author.
I welcome all feedback, including critique and suggestions for improvement, so feel free to tell me what you think, and thanks for reading!
I encourage you to check out the Chuck Fanfiction group on Facebook, and join the conversation. So many great fanfic writers and readers hang out there, and it's a lot of fun.
I'm enormously grateful to all my beta readers, Jean, tbborrell, Jamie, jenditomasso, ndnickerson, n7agentbartowski, Rob M, and Spawn Hades for their invaluable input and excellent critiques on this story. Some of them, like Jean and tbborrell, actually waded all the way through it more than once!
I must acknowledge Thinkling's story Sarah vs. Finding Herself for inspiring a number of the concepts that I used in this story. If you're looking for another follow-up to the Chuck TV show, I can highly recommend that story.
Many, many thanks (and a standing ovation!) go to Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak, and all the show's writers, crew, and cast—in particular, Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski—for bringing such wonderful characters to life. You all are freakin' awesome. :)
Last but not least, I'm also grateful to my husband and daughter, for all the ways that they challenge me and show me grace; and I'm grateful to God, for the inspiration to write in the first place, and for the way He patiently teaches me as I go along.
I drew on the following source for this story:
"Feeling Good", music by Anthony Newley, lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, 1964. Referenced performance and arrangement were by Nina Simone, 1965.