Chuck makes dinner for the two of them. It's soup from a can and some buttered toast but after eating hospital gruel for the past few weeks, Sarah's not one to complain. She gulps down the hot liquid in front of her and stuffs herself with bread.
Even though the soup reminds her a bit too much of brine and the toast tastes like singed cardboard, she's afraid of what will happen if she doesn't keep her mouth occupied. She's found a precarious balance; Chuck's reception is lukewarm at best but he hasn't rejected her outright either.
Just the thought of the latter spurs Sarah to chew rabidly on her toast. There are so many things she wants to say but she knows she'll screw it up. It's what she does best.
She finishes her bowl and stands up to grab seconds.
"What?" she asks, catching Chuck's curious look.
"Are you sure you want more?" he asks. It's then that Sarah realizes Chuck's barely had any of his supper. "It could be hazardous to your health."
He says it with a slight quirk at the end but his smile is so faint she has no way of knowing whether or not he's joking.
Chuck tugs gently on her wrist as he stands to his feet. "Sit. I'll get it for you."
He moves towards the kitchen but she blocks his path. "No. It's okay. I can do it myself."
"No. I want to." Chuck steps forward just as Sarah steps back and there's an awkward power struggle between the two of them. "I don't want you to exert yourself."
Sarah pauses, hoping Chuck will hear himself clearly. Where is all this excessive formality coming from? Since when had she become a stranger to him?
"It's just toasting some bread, Chuck."
He reaches out, hesitantly, and touches her shoulder. "Just...just let me do it, okay?" His voice is soft, almost on the verge of breaking, and Sarah can't imagine why he's insisting so badly. All she knows is that his eyes still flicker with relief every time he touches her; like he's still expecting to wake from a dream.
"Okay," Sarah says and returns to her seat. She waits in silence, picking up bread crumbs off the dining room table with her index finger.
Okay. It's not like she thought they could forget the last five years but she was kind of hoping they might go back a few weeks to the evening they spent in their old house.
But it's a lot to ask, isn't it?
Chuck's been through a lot since that night. He's watched her almost die in his arms. He's been lied to, manipulated, relocated....he's lost a fortune and he's had to give up what little he had left of his family.
Sarah sighs. On second thought, it's probably a miracle she's hasn't been thrown out of the house. If she were Chuck she'd phone Langley for a replacement and write up a restraining order.
The all-too-real possibility sends Sarah's heart racing and the pain in her chest begins to escalate. She grimaces and puts a hand to her chest but all that serves is to focus the pain.
"Hey." Chuck returns from the kitchen and stops in his tracks. "What's wrong?" He throws the tray onto the nearest flat surface and rushes to her side. "Do you want me to call for a doctor?"
Sarah grits her teeth and manages a smile. They were probably a three hour drive from the nearest hospital.
"I'm okay," she says. He's forbidden the "F" word. "Just...heartburn. That soup was really hot."
Chuck's worried expression doesn't ease. Even after a few minutes it's still permanently fixed in a frown.
He goes back for the tray and sets it in front of her.
"Don't drink it all so fast this time," he reminds. She thanks him and they settle back to the way they were, except Chuck's still not eating much at all.
"What is it?" she asks, after she catches him staring at her for what must be the fifth time.
He shakes his head. "Nothing," he murmurs quietly. His expression is so sombre; Sarah really doesn't understand. Has all this been a mistake?
Has he just realized she's not anything like the woman he married?
The thought kills even Sarah's nervous appetite. She pushes the platter away and her spoon clinks against the tableware causing Chuck stirs from his reverie. His frown deepens.
"What's the matter?" he asks.
Sarah stares down at her barren lap and swallows the lump forming in her throat.
"We're not married anymore." She bites her tongue but it's too late. This is precisely why she always lets Chuck do the talking.
Chuck's brows furrow ever deeper. "What?"
"Um..." Sarah shreds her lips nervously. "What I mean is...legally speaking, Sarah Walker is lying on a refrigerated slab at the county morgue awaiting a coroner's investigation and Chuck Bartowski is missing and a person of interest in relation to her death."
She blanches. That was, quite possibly, the worst explanation she could have given. She honestly couldn't speak to save her life.
"I'm sorry. That came out wrong," she rushes to say—except she has no idea how to say it right. It's all true. Their marriage was legally over and has been for weeks.
The thought is a crushing one. What do you do when your marriage ends because of a technicality?
Chuck's gaze drops but he doesn't say anything.
Sarah's shoulders fall and she holds her breath, afraid she'll say something else regrettable. She's been lying on the hospital bed these last few weeks thinking of her future and not once did she ever consider that she might have to spend it alone.
The pang in her chest flares again and Sarah clenches her jaw to keep from letting it show. If Chuck wants his freedom, she'll give it to him. She owes him that much. If you truly love someone, you'll let them go, right?
And just when she doesn't think she can hold herself together any longer, Chuck sighs.
It's a quiet, thoughtful, sigh but in the stillness of the dining room the noise threatens to tear down the walls. Sarah looks up expectantly, only to see that Chuck's expression hasn't changed one bit.
There's no anger, no bitterness...just...just...
Sarah shakes her head. She doesn't even know. She's just told him their marriage is over and he just shrugs it off?
Dejected, Sarah picks up her spoon and stirs the soup around. She can't bear to eat another bite, but she doesn't know what else to do.
Across the table, Chuck watches her.
He doesn't seem to know either.
Three in the morning and Sarah lies in bed wondering how she could have possibly fucked up badly enough to end up here again. Clutching the sheets close to her chest, she vows that if she ever fixes things with Chuck and his obligations to the CIA come to an end, they're going to buy a house without a guest room.
There's no way you can be banished to a room that doesn't exist.
Although, technically, Chuck did offer her the master bedroom—again.
Sarah tosses the sheets to the side and stares up at the ceiling. She can't figure out what she's done wrong. Chuck hasn't actually said anything like a rejection but then again, he hasn't said much at all.
You did just come back from the dead.
Her mind tries to rationalize but Sarah knows there's something else. She wouldn't be Chuck's (ex)wife if she didn't.
He cares a great deal about her, she's relatively sure of that. He doesn't want her to exert herself, won't even let her butter her own toast, and he's the one who insisted she rest early tonight.
No. There's something he's holding back.
Sarah sighs. The last five years have been hell on her and she doesn't want to go back to that—couldn't, in fact. It's either this or nothing at all—which leaves her feeling rather desperate and alone at the moment.
She looks hopelessly at the despairing single digit on the alarm clock. At least another three hours before any hint of daybreak.
And what then?
Another day of excessive politeness and sad indifference?
Sarah doesn't think she can make bear another hour of Chuck's distant affections much less for the rest of her life.
Enough of this. She'll drive herself insane just lying here.
Sarah slips on a robe and enters the darkened hallways. The silence is so acute it makes her ears ring. She treads lightly down the stairs, intending to get a drink from the tap, when she realizes the kitchen lights are still on.
Sarah back-steps, then realizes it can only be one person.
"I don't know what it means," she hears Chuck say.
Sarah's senses prickle in anticipation. Was it wrong for her to be eavesdropping on her (ex)husband?
Well...she's certainly done much worse in this lifetime. Sarah puts her skills to the test and quietly creeps toward the source.
"What is your heart telling you?" The voice, a woman's, takes Sarah by surprise. It's Agent Gardner, the other junior agent; there's no one else it could be.
"I don't know." The struggle is evident in Chuck's voice. "I really don't know anymore."
"You're sure you can't explain it better? I can't help you unless you tell me."
Chuck sighs. "Honestly, it's so complicated at this point. Everything's a mess."
"Do you still love her?"
Sarah gets as close to the edge as she can without being seen. Chuck and the junior agent are only a few meters away at the kitchen island with their backs to her.
It's easier this way; Sarah doesn't think she can hold herself together if she were to see Chuck's expression.
"I'll always love Sarah," he says. He states it so matter-of-factly there's no room for argument.
The strength of his conviction takes the agent aback. "Always?" she asks. There's a hint of incredulousness to her tone, as if such a statement is surely impossible.
"Always," Chuck says again; completely matter-of-fact.
Agent Gardner shrugs. "Then what's the problem?"
Chuck sighs and shakes his head. Sarah recognizes that sigh; unlike herself, Chuck Bartowski has and always will see the world in a spectrum of gray.
"Have you ever had your heart broken?"
The agent shrugs. "Sure." It's an off-handed response; from her vantage point, Sarah doubts the girl's even old enough to have truly loved another.
It seems Chuck has made the same deduction. "No. I mean really—ripped apart—torn in two—destroyed—broken—"
The agent squirms under his gaze. "I don't...I don't know," she replies. "I mean I've had some relationships that ended badly..."
Sarah hears Chuck sigh. "See? That's the thing. We didn't grow apart; we didn't fall out of love. We just caught a bad break. We ran into things that were too much for either of us." He sighs again, and this time his shoulder collapses. "Do that a couple times and..." He shakes his head. "My heart's worn out, Rachelle. I should be happy but I can't...feel." He holds out his hand and stares at it inexplicably.
"I'm numb. I'm numb all over," he says and it's a crushing confession for Sarah to hear. She bites her lips to staunch the flow of tears and quietly leans with her back against the wall. She knows exactly how he feels; the disconnect, the pain without pain, and now he feels that way towards her?
"Maybe you're just tired." The agent looks helplessly at him. "You've been working really hard lately."
Chuck shakes his head.
"If you want them to assign someone else, you'll have to call the Director. I'm sure he'll approve it. You're a very important asset."
Sarah hugs herself close to keep from shaking. Even a stranger has deduced the obvious.
"No," Chuck says. "No. It's not her fault. I just need time, I guess. I'm sorry. It's late and I shouldn't be burdening you with all this."
"It's okay," the girl says but Sarah can hear the relief in her voice. Delving into personal feelings just isn't a part of their training. "Looking after you is my job."
"Right, well thanks," Chuck says quietly. "I'll let you get back to your patrol."
"Sure thing, Mr. C. Have a good night."
Sarah hears a chair pull back and scrape across the ceramic tiles of the kitchen floor. She waits with her back against the wall until she hears the footsteps retreat and the front door open and close before she makes a move.
Chuck's still slumped in the barstool with a glass in his hand. There's a carton of milk with the spout open just a few inches away on the counter.
Wiping the tears from her chapped cheeks, Sarah steps quietly into the kitchen. She moves silently towards the sink—so silently in fact—that she misses detection.
It's the smallest sniffle that gives her away.
Chuck's head immediately snaps in her direction. He winces when they make eye contact.
Sarah quickly wipes her face again. Was it really so obvious?
"You heard that, huh?" he asks, looking guilty.
Sarah can only nod in response.
Chuck lets out a long sigh. "I didn't mean for you..." He stops and looks at her and the guilty expression only grows. "Hey..." He holds out his arms. "Come here."
Sarah stands her ground. "I just came for some water," she whispers though she makes no move to grab a glass. "I'll be out of your way in a second."
"Please?" Chuck keeps his arms open for her. "Please, Sarah?"
How can she say no?
Sarah takes half a step forward but half a step becomes one becomes two and then she can't stop herself. She falls into his arms and Chuck bundles her up in his lap, hugging her close to his chest.
"I'm sorry," he says. "You shouldn't have had to hear that."
Just the memory of his words makes Sarah shudder. "You...you don't feel the same way anymore?" she asks.
"I can't feel much of anything," Chuck says. "I'm sorry."
Sarah makes a weak attempt to staunch the onslaught of tears. She understands. It's a sensation she's all too familiar with.
After a moment she nods to his glass. "Whiskey works better, you know?"
He gives a weak smile. "I think I'll leave the heavy drinking to you; I'm not cut out for it."
Sarah shakes her head ruefully. Oh, it would be so much easier that way...
"Nope. I'm done. I made a promise."
Chuck frowns. "To who?"
"Diane?" Chuck echoes, as if they knew more than one Diane.
"General Beckman—only she's not a General anymore."
"Yeah, she's on the President's cabinet, I heard about that."
Sarah nods. "I called in a favour—probably my last—to get you out of that cell and in return, she made me promise. No more alcohol."
Chuck stiffens. "Beckman got me out of the cell? I thought..." He looks affronted. "But I made a deal with the Director—"
"I'm sorry." It's another one of those unfortunate truths Sarah hadn't wanted to explain. "Diane put pressure on him but he managed to twist you into this all the same."
Chuck shakes his head, genuinely impressed. "Damn...and here I thought we'd been negotiating."
Sarah strokes his face tenderly. "Don't feel bad. He always gets what he wants; that's how it is when you're Director. You get good at getting the things you need from people."
Chuck grunts. "Bastard," he curses under his breath.
Sarah gives him that. "It's hard to beat people like that," she says. "It's best to just let it go."
Chuck sighs and holds her tighter. "You'd think if SIMIAN could figure it out I'd be able to," he grumbles.
Sarah frowns. "What do you mean?"
"Oh." Chuck blushes. "Um...well..."
Already Sarah's dreading the worst. "Chuck...."
"SIMIAN broke into the DC Department of Transportation and assigned eighteen-thousand dollars worth of unpaid parking tickets to his car."
"It wasn't my idea!" he defends, failing to hide the grin on his face.
Sarah shakes her head. Okay. So it was kind of funny.
"You need to get a handle on that program," she warns. "The Director isn't someone who likes to be made a fool."
"Tell me about it," Chuck says, though the smile on his face hasn't receded one bit.
"I'm serious, Chuck." She rests her head against his shoulder. "Don't piss him off."
"Okay." He pouts a little and Sarah feels a little guilty. It's petty but the Director hasn't made things easy for them. "I promise."
They remain as they are even though the conversation has reached an end. It couldn't be comfortable for Chuck; the barstool was flimsy and she's pretty much a dead weight in his lap. Still he holds her tightly, refusing to let go.
Sarah closes her eyes. She has no desire to move; moving would mean returning alone to the guest room and she's really in no rush.
Chuck doesn't say anything either. He seems content to cradle her in his arms; Sarah knows her own size but somehow he makes her feel infinitely small in his arms. She sighs. She hasn't felt so safe in a very, very long time.
"So, what are we going to do?" she finally asks.
Chuck yawns. "About what?"
Sarah pulls back just enough so she can trace her finger across his chest. There's no scar underneath his shirt but there may as well be.
Sarah nods sadly. "Yeah."
"I don't know," Chuck confesses. "When I thought you were dead, it just hurt so much. I just wanted it to end."
"I didn't believe them but after awhile..." He shakes his head. "When all you have to look at are four empty walls, it gets to you. And then after awhile, everything just faded. The pain and all the other feelings...just vanished."
Sarah bites her lip to hold back the tears. She has to stop crying or she'll become like the sobbing messes she's always despised.
"Oh, Chuck," she whispers and threads her fingers into his hair, bringing his head down to hers. "I'm so sorry."
"I'm sorry too," he echoes. He presses his forehead against hers. "You deserve more. I've been thinking about what Carl said that day. That if he could have Sophie back even for a day—"
"Shh..." Sarah's heard enough. "It's okay," she whispers. Even if things weren't okay; she'd make it okay.
Chuck ignores her. "I've been given a second chance and I'm squandering it. I don't know what's wrong with me."
"We can fix this," she says. "You fixed me...twice." She leans in and kisses him gently, wishing she could take away all his hurt the way he'd taken away all of hers.
His eyes flicker with hope. "So this...this goes away?"
She nods. "It can."
Sarah kisses the tips of her fingers and presses them over his heart. "I don't know. I just hope I can do for you what you did for me." She hugs him tightly. "It might take me some time to figure it out."
Chuck looks at her with those sad doe-brown eyes. "I'm sorry. You've been through so much. I wish—"
"Shh." Sarah buries her face and all her tears into his chest. "It's okay."
"Sarah." He shakes her gently by the shoulder. "You know I love you, right? Even if I can't feel anything right now and I know it's not the same—logically—deep down—I know. I love you." He swallows. "It's just hard."
Sarah nods. She's cried enough tears to last her a lifetime, what's a few more?
"Oh, Chuck," she utters. Tears stream freely down her face and she wraps her arms tightly around his neck, hugging him tight. "I love you too."
Chuck nods and squeezes her tight enough to make her chest ache, but Sarah doesn't let go.
He smiles through his tears and when they kiss, it's the culmination of every missed opportunity.
All the times she didn't tell him what he meant to her, every moment she let slip without saying those three words—until now. Now she's handed over her heart and bared her soul.
It's all his...if he still wants it.
"Chuck," she whimpers, clinging to him. "I can't go back to the guest room."
To his credit, he doesn't laugh. He pauses thoughtfully for a moment then kisses her tenderly on the brow.
"Okay." Without another word, he stands up. She's lost so much weight at the hospital that even in his own weakened condition, Chuck easily hitches her up and carries her up the stairs. They keep walking in the darkened hallway, past the guest room, the washroom, the office, until they get to his bedroom.
He sets her down gently on the bed, and then lies down next to her.
He smiles faintly. "Better?"
Sarah returns the expression. "Much."
He puts a protective arm over her and Sarah pulls him closer, closer, until they're so tightly embraced her stitches begin to burn. She doesn't care though; she can easily live with this. She can easily get used to anything so long as Chuck holds her.
"It'll be okay," she murmurs.
Chuck nods drowsily and nuzzles her. "I know. I think we're going to be just fine."
Sarah sighs contently and closes her eyes. She'd find a way to do this for him. If Chuck could open her heart and teach her to love, then surely she'd find some way to return the favour.
She's going to make everything right this time around. Like Carl said, what they have is a gift.
This is their second chance.
A/N: This has been quite the year. What started as a little story I could pick up whenever I wanted suddenly took on a life of its own. I could never have predicted the kind of response I received and for that I have only you readers to thank. As exams and papers started to pile up my responses have lagged but know that I truly appreciated your feedback. I apologize for moving you to fits of rage or bouts of tears, which while still my intention, was a bit of a dastardly thing to do. ;) Thank you for sticking with me. Enjoy the sunshine and rainbows.
This story couldn't have been completed without the aid of my good friend, Altonish, who worked so tirelessly to make sure there was an update every Monday. He infused humor into the darkest moments of Chuck/Sarah and brought to life the "nerd" in Chuck, the devilish design in Hawkins and Watts, and the silhouette of a soul behind D Beckman. Several times I wanted to give up but he wouldn't let me. So thank you. I may have started 2C on my own but I couldn't have completed it without him.
And mxpw, you of your anti-sarah sentiments, your judgment marked the fine-line between mad antics and "acceptable" angst and your judgment was usually sound. Thanks for that. And for allowing yourself to be used as a scape-goat when the occasion arose. Thanks for that too.
I released the first chapter of 2C way back in September at the start of my last semester and now we end, nearly fifty chapters later, in April. It's an interesting coincidence that I finish the story just as I finish my life as an undergrad, but as they say; all good things must come to an end, so why not? This marks not only the end of 2C but also the last forseeable solo story I plan to write as I try to figure out what my life as a "grown-up" will entail. You will still see me dabble in writing in the collaboration project entitled "Sarah vs the Hundredth Second Chance" under mxmoo but i expect mxpw to carry most of the weight there (nudge nudge).
So dear friends, thank you for your time, your patience, your reviews...when I have a moment 2C may get an epilogue but for all intents and purposes, the journey of Chuck and Sarah and their second chance ends here.