A/N: When I first conceived this idea back in October, it burned so brightly within my imagination that I knew I just had to write it. And even though I suffered through a month of writer's block in November, I just couldn't put it to rest. So in late November, I chose to try my hand at crafting Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" to fit the wonderfully chaotic relationship of Chuck and Sarah. This is the finished result. It's been quite a ride full of imaginative brainstorming, late night writing sessions, and moments of pleasure when I got to share the newest chapters with all of you. Through it all, I've loved hearing what you've all had to say, and I truly appreciate the attention you've given to this (not so little) tale. Thanks so much for your enthusiasm and support. You guys rock, and I hope you have some wonderful holidays.

And now for the final chapter . . .

Stave Five: The End of It

"I'm home," Sarah murmurs. Is this real? Can this be true? Am I really back, am I really home, am I really alive? Running shaky fingers over her mattress just to test its existence, a look of wonder dawns upon her face. "I'm in bed. I'm in my bed." She comes to a sitting position, her blonde hair mussed and her blue eyes wide as she searches the confines of her room. "And I'm in my hotel room. I'm in my own room." Jumping from her bed, she pads quickly to the large window facing onto the street, her face flushedand a gradual gleam of excitement entering her vibrant eyes. "It's morning," she murmurs, staring through the window at the light flow of traffic and the straggle of mingling passersby. Her pulse increases at the sight, at the scene which greets her disbelieving, enthusiastic gaze.

Could it be? Was it possible? Had she visited spans of years, eons of memories within the space of a single night, and come home to greet the world on Christmas Day?

I have to know. I have to know if this is real, if I'm really here, if it's really still Christmas. If I really haven't missed my chance to make things right. Whirling from her window, her black night shirt rumpled and creased, she sprints for her door and out into the hall. "Excuse me!" she cries to the first woman she sees. And when the Hispanic maid turns with arched brow, she rushes forward without a second's beat. "What day is it, Ma'am?" she asks urgently, tapping her fingertips against her legs in barely contained excitement.

"¿Que?" the woman responds, motioning to her ear and furrowing her brow.

"Um," Sarah frantically wracks her mind for the Spanish version of her request, "¿Qué diá es hoy? ¿¿Qué diá es hoy??"

The woman drops her towel and blinks in surprise. "Es el diá de Navidad, la señorita," she exclaims.

"It's Christmas Day?" Sarah repeats, a wide grin spreading across her face as her heart skips a beat. She hadn't missed it. She still had time, she still had a chance. She still had an opportunity to fix it all. "Gracias, señora," she replies, rushing forward and giving the startled maid a kiss on the cheek. "Gracias!" She kisses her again. And then, as the maid raises a stunned hand to her chest at the monumental change in her hotel's most aloof guest, Sarah whirls around and races back to her room, her blonde hair flying along behind her. "Oh, by the way," she says before she closes the door, too excited to translate into Spanish, "You're the best maid I've ever had, and I'm leaving you a fat Christmas bonus." And with that, she slams her door shut, leaving the maid gaping after her.

Moments later, when Sarah is fully dressed in a blue sweater, jeans and sneakers, she takes a deep breath and looks at herself in the mirror. Just as the maid had done before her, she can't help but blink in surprise at the change that has taken place over night. Gone is the mask she's hidden behind for most of her life. Gone is the shield she's taken refuge behind every time things got too overwhelming, every time the panic intensified and the fear sent icy chills through her veins. Gone is the desire to ever take shelter behind them again. In their place stands a blonde twenty-eight year old, with rosy cheeks and bright blue eyes, and the intense desire to feel, to love, to live.

And even though she's not sure how her new outlook is going to fit with the Agency, and despite the fact that she knows she has many obstacles remain in her path, for the first time in her life she's ready to face them head on. For the first time in her life, she's ready to fight. Not with a gun, or a knife, or even her fists. But with her heart. So when her phone rings, interrupting her thoughts and jolting her back to the present, she's ready for who happens to be on the other line. "Walker," is her familiar answer. And yet the words are tinged with a touch of cheerfulness, of buoyancy that haven't been present in her voice for quite some time.

"Sarah?" comes Beckman's confused response, and she can practically see the General's brow furrowing.

"Hi, General," Sarah replies, just as cheerful, just as full of life. "How are you today?"

A weighty pause greets her, followed quickly by Beckman's gruff: "Fine. Sarah, I need you to report to the Castle immediately. I've just been given a lead on the Ring."

Even in spite of her earlier resolve, Sarah can feel herself tensing, can feel her Agent training coming into play. Can feel her cheerful demeanor fading, to be replaced by the shield of a hard-nosed CIA agent. But before she can fully give in, before it can fully take effect, Chuck's familiar loving face flickers through her mind, her nightly journeys thread through her thoughts, and her mother's parting words echo within her head. This isn't what I wanted for you, Andi.

"Sarah?" Beckman prods. "Are you still there?"

"I'm sorry, General," Sarah finds herself saying, even as her chest tightens at the ramifications of her words. "I won't be coming into work today."

"Pardon me?" the General demands, and Sarah draws herself up to her full height, bracing herself under the anger of the woman's voice.

"It's Christmas Day, General Beckman," she says, her hesitant tone growing stronger with each new word. "And I plan to spend the day with Chuck Bartowski and his family."

"Well," Beckman replies after a moment, the hesitancy clear within her voice, "I suppose the cover does have to be taken into account."

For some reason, the statement rankles Sarah more than anything else. And as her hand travels instinctively to the jewelry box resting upon her dresser, she flashes back to the scenes that she's been shown, to the shadows that she's seen. To the moment that she spent standing inside a bland Agency boardroom, staring at a picture of a much older Casey as a decrepit General Beckman dangled a silver bracelet before her face and pronounced her a burnout. A liability, who had let her emotions get in the way. Who had become a nuisance on the very Agency she had given her life to protect, all because she hadn't faced the overwhelming feelings pulsing through her chest. "Oh," she says cheerfully, a soft smile spreading across her face as she pulls a silver bracelet from her jewelry box, "It's not just a cover, General."

"I'm not sure I understand what you're saying, Sarah," Beckman replies after another long pause.

"Don't you?" Sarah replies knowingly, fingering the delicate silver charms. "Then let me explain. I'm in love with Chuck. And I'm spending Christmas Day with him and his family."

"Agent Walker," General Beckman responds, daggers present in her tone, "Did you just admit to me that you're in love with your asset? The very same asset you've been tasked with protecting? The very same asset whose well-being means the entire livelihood of this mission?"

"Actually, that's a lie," Sarah replies smoothly, even as her pulse quickens anew.

"It had better –"

"I'm not just in love with Chuck, General," Sarah replies, slipping the bracelet onto her wrist. "I'm completely in love with him. I'm so in love with him that I'm not sure they've come up with a word for how I really feel." Even as she says it, even as the words leave her lips, she can't believe what she's saying. She can't believe that she's finally getting it off her chest. She can't believe that the person she's telling is General Beckman, the very same person who called her feelings a distraction. And yet she can't stop the wide grin from spreading across her face.

"This is unacceptable, Walker," Beckman bites. "As of this moment, you are removed –"

"Let's get one thing straight, General," Sarah interrupts, reveling in the feel of the cool chain against her wrist. "I have given everything for the Agency. I have given my entire life to protecting the greater good. And Chuck Bartowski has given everything he's got to become someone he never wanted to be." Crossing her arms tightly over her chest, she slips the phone between shoulder and ear, intent on making her next words as firm, as distinct as possible. "And we're the best damn team the Agency has ever had. We've brought in more marks, we've captured more suspects than any other team in the last three decades."

"Go on," Beckman replies coolly.

Taking a deep breath, Sarah fixes her jaw and continues. "So if you want to bring down the Ring, we're the team you want," she says. "If you want to capture all enemy agents, we're the team you need. And if you want to stop them from ever being revitalized again, we're the team you've got to stand by. But there's something I need from you first."

"I'm listening, Agent," General Beckman concedes warily, and Sarah can hear her gritting her teeth in suppressed anger.

"Good," Sarah replies, the cheerful undertone reemerging within her voice. "Then listen closely. I guarantee you that we will bring down the Ring. I guarantee you that we will stifle their entire operation. But when it's all over, and every Ring agent has been brought down, then Chuck and I walk. No government interference, no agency spies. We'll be free."

The General sighs heavily into the receiver. "You've got a contract, Walker. And the Intersect is too valuable. You can't just –"

"Watch me," Sarah replies. "Because if you don't cut us loose, then I promise you that you will live to regret it."

"Are you threatening me, Agent Walker?" Beckman snaps.

"With all due respect, Ma'am," Sarah replies sweetly, "I haven't even begun to threaten you. But before I do, I was hoping we could come to an agreement."

"Very well, Walker," Beckman replies a moment later. "If you bring down the Ring, and you don't let these . . . feelings interfere with your work, then we'll consider your proposition."

"Make sure you consider it carefully," Sarah states, keeping her tone purposely light even as she searches for another suitable threat. Finally, her thoughts land on a man she'd seen that very night. A man who had commiserated the passing of true love even when he'd decided that it wasn't enough. And suddenly, she decides to risk a suspicion she's harbored since his last visit. "Because I haven't even gotten to the part about Roan Montgomery yet," she says, gripping the phone a little tighter against her ear.

"Roan Montgomery?" the General queries, a hint of disbelief punctuating her casual question.

"Mmm," Sarah replies, nodding as a slight sense of relief pervades her slender frame. "He couldn't say enough about you the last time he was here. In fact," she continues, a twinkle in her eyes, "I think he even has some pictures."

Another pause greets Sarah's words, this one much longer, this one much more weighty. "Very well, Walker," Beckman finally repeats, her tone acidic. "If you bring down the Ring and capture every last agent, then consider your contract null and void, and the Intersect free."

"I knew we could see eye-to-eye, General," Sarah replies cheerfully, her grin flaring once again. "Oh, and there's something else," she says just before she hangs up the phone.

"Yes, Walker?" is the wary reply.

"Merry Christmas!" Sarah exclaims, biting her lower lip to suppress a quick laugh. And when the phone goes dead before the General can respond, it finally bubbles up from deep within her throat, spilling from her lips and echoing off her walls, the merriment so clear within the sound that she can hardly believe it escaped from her own mouth. Slipping the phone back into her pocket, she skips from the room and down the hall, the bracelet dangling jauntily from her wrist.

Jabbing the elevator button, her conversation with Beckman resounds through her mind, playing repeatedly through her thoughts as a feeling of weightless disbelief descends upon her shoulders. Because even though she still doesn't trust the General, and even though she half expects a hasty reassignment by tomorrow morning, the fact remains that for the first time in twenty years she's ready to fight. She's ready to go head to head with her fears, with her panic, with the very Agency to which she once pledged her life. And even if Beckman goes back on her word, and even if things don't turn out as she hopes, she knows that it won't change the way she feels now. It won't change her desire to fight, her desire to live, her desire to give everything that she's got to the world she's hidden from for so long.

Yanking her phone back out of her pocket, she sends a hasty text message to Casey's cell: "Merry Christmas. Thanks for being such a great partner!" And when she receives a message back a few minutes later ("Keep your lady feelings to yourself, Walker.") and another directly after that ("MC"), she can't help but feel a rush of affection for the partner who would give her a decent funeral even when he's spent three years hiding every emotion almost as well as she has. And even though she'll never tell him that, and even though things will probably go back to normal as soon as he returns, she resolves to never forget what a wonderful partner John Casey really is. The next time they spar, she promises to let him get in a lucky punch.

Striding jovially out to the parking lot, she flashes radiant grins at everyone she sees, causing one man to trip over a chair and sending two others careening into a nearby wall as they stare in slack jawed wonder at the beautiful blonde enigma who's never so much as looked in their direction. And when she sits behind the wheel of her beloved Porsche, and she turns the key in the ignition, sending Christmas music blaring from the pristine stereo system centrally positioned upon her dashboard, she can't stop herself from singing along. "God bless ye, Merry Gentlemen," she sings off-key at the top of her voice. "Let nothing you dismay. Bum bum bum bum ba bum bum," she begins tapping the steering wheel with her palm, "Ba bum bum bum bum bum." Streaking out of the parking lot, she leaves the shadows behind her as she drives off into a bright, happy Christmas Day, a world of wonder spreading out before her very eyes.

Magnificent Christmas trees stand aloft in large, gleaming windows; thick, decorous wreaths welcome families and friends approaching the doorsteps of those they hold most dear; and displays of reindeer, snowmen and jolly Santa Clauses peer at her from various rooftops. But the thing she notices most of all, the thing that truly catches her eyes are the people. The carefree, loving people enjoying a world in which they have the simple pleasure of being together. And as she gets closer to her destination, as her Porsche moves nearer to the person she most wants to see, her heart rate picks up speed and her stomach muscles knot in anticipation of the scene she hopes to find.

But first, before she can visit Chuck, before she can even begin to set things right, there's one stop she has to make. Peeling into the parking lot of a Has Everything on the outskirts of town, she dashes to the door and pounds upon the window. And when a disgruntled janitor peers at her from the murky depths of the shop, when his eyes alight at the sight of the gorgeous blonde waiting breathlessly to be let in, he fumbles with his keys and heads quickly to the entrance of the store.

"Can I help you, Miss?" he asks, glancing at her shyly from underneath his long brown lashes.

"Hi, there," Sarah replies, smiling flirtatiously at the middle-aged man. "How would you like to make two-hundred dollars today?"

"Two – two-hundred dollars?" the man stutters, his eyes going wide.

"Sure," Sarah replies easily, running her finger along his bony chest and causing him to blush. "If you'll let me buy some late Christmas presents and a Turkey dinner," she says, "And if you'll promise to deliver that Turkey dinner to two very questionable gentlemen, then I'll pay you for your troubles."

"I'm not supposed to let –"

"Oh, come on," Sarah cuts in, smiling brightly as she fixes his collar. "No one has to know."

"Well," he says, dropping his gaze and scuffing the floor with his shoe. "I guess for two-hundred dollars . . ."

"Great!" Sarah replies cheerfully, quickly abandoning her ministrations to his shirt and entering the store. "You have a photo center, right?" she calls over her shoulder as the man gapes after her in bewilderment.

An hour later, she leaves the shop with her arms weighed down with presents and a bounce in her step, a Turkey dinner headed to Jeff and Lester's front door.

~*~

Sarah stands at the threshold to Chuck's apartment, her arms wrapped around a plethora of brightly wrapped presents, her blonde hair rippling around her slender shoulders, her features fixed into a nervous, resolute line. Never before has she been so tense standing at Chuck's front door; never before has her heart beat quite so frantically. But as she bites her lower lip and stares at the thick, decorous wreath hanging above the knob; as she shifts silently upon the sidewalk and tries to work up the courage to ring the bell; as her thoughts wander to the journey she's just taken, to the lessons she's just learned, to the mission she must accomplish, she finds her stomach fluttering with a sense of excitement at the move she's about to take. At the words she knows she will finally say.

So when her arms begin to ache from the weight of the packages, and the chill Burbank wind begins to bite into the smooth skin of her rosy cheeks, she finally raises a tentative hand and knocks upon the door. And when the door swings open a few seconds later and Devon appears in her path, she can't stop the nervous smile which spreads across her flushed face. "Devon," she says blithely, shifting to get a better grasp on the presents balanced precariously within her arms. "Hi."

"Wow," Devon intones, his eyes widening at the sight. "When did Santa start hiring hot blondes to do his dirty work?"

Sarah blushes as an uneasy laugh escapes her lips. "When you find out, let me know," she returns. "I'm doing this for free."

"It's good to see you, Sarah," Devon replies, smiling smoothly as he takes the packages from her arms. "We were afraid you –"

"Sarah?" comes a familiar feminine voice. "Sarah's here?" And before another second has passed, Ellie has inserted herself in between the pair, her brow furrowed and her lips parted in surprise.

"Hi, Ellie," Sarah replies awkwardly, her gaze dropping to the pavement as she attempts to keep herself from taking refuge behind her familiar mask. As she attempts to keep herself from hiding behind her familiar shield, even as her thoughts flicker back to the scene she witnessed between Ellie and Devon, to the moment when Ellie had expressed her hatred because of everything that Sarah had done. Because of everything she had put Chuck through. Because of everything that she had become. "Merry Christmas," she finally says.

"Merry Christmas," Ellie replies blankly. And then, when she's taken a moment to come back into herself, and when the cold wind begins to batter her cheeks and toss her long brown hair, she blinks and stands up straight, a guarded expression entering her hazel eyes. "We didn't think you were going to come," she says cautiously, causing Devon to glance between them both and retreat into the safety of his home.

"Ellie," Sarah starts, and then she finds that she's not quite sure what to say. I'm sorry? I didn't know? I didn't realize how much I was hurting Chuck? How much pain I was putting him through? How much damage I was causing to myself? "I was wondering if I could still accept the invitation?" she finally resigns herself to saying, forcing her gaze back to Ellie's own. "If I could still spend Christmas with your family?"

"That depends," Ellie replies, still just as cautious, still just as guarded. "Is this just a one day thing? Or are you going to be around more permanently?"

"I'm going to be around for as long as Chuck will have me," Sarah states, the words falling from her lips before she can even think about them. But even as they sound within the chill air between the women, she knows just how true they are. "I'm going to be around for as long as he wants me to be." She almost breathes a sigh of relief when she notices Ellie's guard begin to slip, when she watches the wariness within her eyes begin to fade. Taking a deep breath, she rushes ahead. "Ellie, I'm sorry," she says, a brilliant layer of sincerity underlying her words. "You've always made me feel like a part of your family, but I didn't understand until recently just how much I wanted that. I didn't understand until recently just how much that meant to me." She opens her mouth to continue, to elaborate, but the words die in her throat before she can speak them. She's already said more than she expected, she's already revealed more than she's ever revealed before. She's already opened herself up more than she ever thought possible. So instead, she waits with bated breath for the brunette's response.

Folding her lips, Ellie's eyes turn bright as she considers Sarah's words. But slowly, her guarded expression vanishes to be replaced by a hesitant, welcoming smile. "You are a part of our family, Sarah," she says. "You've been a part of our family from the day that you met Chuck."

"Thank you," Sarah replies. And even though the conversation is still awkward, and even though she's still not quite sure how to handle this confrontation with the elder Bartowski, her heart skips a beat at the brunette's statement.

"But you have to promise me something," Ellie continues, and Sarah notices with a pang that the guarded expression continues to mingle with the acceptance reflected within her eyes.

"What's that?" she asks, shifting uneasily.

"Don't hurt him again," Ellie cautions, her forehead creasing. "He's been through enough."

"I promise," Sarah replies, her chest twisting as a slight flicker of pain wafts across her face. "I won't."

"Good," Ellie nods. "Because out of anyone I've ever known, Chuck deserves to be happy. And you make him happy, Sarah."

"Where is Chuck?" Sarah asks nervously, her cheeks slightly red from the unexpected compliment, as well as from the direct confrontation she's just endured.

Ellie stares at her, weighing her words before another smile finally spreads across her face. "In his room," she replies, stepping aside so that Sarah can enter the house. "I think he's trying to catch a few last minutes of sleep." Leaning against the wall, she studies the blonde thoughtfully for a moment. "But something tells me that he won't mind the interruption," she finally says.

"I hope not," Sarah replies nervously, even as her pulse quickens anew. Breathing in deeply, she moves toward Chuck's room, stopping quickly at the Christmas tree to pick up a bright blue bag Devon had taken from her arms a few minutes before. And when the present is dangling from her fingertips, she swallows the tightness which has entered her throat and finishes her journey to Chuck's room, hesitating only a moment before knocking softly on the door.

"Just a few more minutes," comes a familiar sleepy voice.

Sarah's heart skips a beat at the sound, at the voice. At the reminder of Chuck's proximity. Taking another deep breath, she raises her hand to knock again, her present hanging hopefully from her hand.

"Come in," Chuck calls after a short pause, and she hears the rustling of sheets and the sound of bare feet hitting a carpeted floor. Taking a moment to compose herself, to force any signs of nervousness from her face, from her voice, Sarah pushes open the door and enters the room.

"Hey," she says softly, her lips quirking upward into an affectionate smile when she notices the man standing no more than a few feet away. His slim muscles are apparent beneath a thin white t-shirt and blue boxer shorts, his curly brown hair is mussed from a long night's sleep, and his cinnamon eyes brighten the moment he sees who's walked into his room. My dad's expression, Sarah's heart skips another beat. Every time he saw my mom.

"Sarah," Chuck breathes, taking a few instinctual steps in her direction. He rakes her face with hungry eyes, cocking his head slightly as he studies the rosy hue to her cheeks and the bright light upon her face. "You came," he finally says.

"You invited me, didn't you?" she teases, her smile growing even as her stomach knots with anticipation.

"Well, yeah," Chuck replies, grinning slightly. "But I've learned that you don't always do what I ask."

"Imagine that," Sarah replies, winking. And then, because she can't wait any longer, and because she's wanted this for the last three years, she plunges ahead. "I brought you a present," she says softly, raising the bag clutched lightly in her hand. The blue material sparkles underneath his bedroom light, the gift inside jostling quietly as she hands it to Chuck.

"You didn't have to do that," his grin widens as he reaches out to grab the bag, his fingertips brushing lightly against her soft hand in the process. And as a jolt of electricity rushes through her fingers and straight into her chest, she watches with bated breath as he unwraps his gift. "It's a picture," he says, staring at the photo enclosed within the silver frame. "Of us, just after Ellie and Awesome exchanged their vows."

"It is," Sarah replies lightly, stepping to his side so that she can gaze at the portrait. "But it's more than that, too."

"What do you mean?" Chuck asks, glancing at her curiously.

Inhaling slowly, attempting to calm the rapid beating of her heart, Sarah allows a tender light to enter her vibrant blue gaze. "That's the moment that I decided that I was going to stay in Burbank," she says quietly, folding her lips as she waits anxiously for his response.

"I don't understand," Chuck replies slowly, shaking his head. "You decided you were going to stay in Burbank? But . . . what about Bryce? And the mission?" he asks, his forehead furrowing. "What about the CIA?"

"What about them?" Sarah replies gently, brushing softly against Chuck's arm even as her stomach muscles continue to knot. And when he finally notices the bracelet dangling from her wrist, the hopefulness within his eyes grows even more pronounced.

"Well, I thought –"

But she interrupts before he can finish. She's waited too long, she's put him through too much. She's put herself through too much. "I decided that they didn't compare," she says quietly, "to staying here with the man I love. I decided that they didn't compare to you, Chuck."

"What are you saying, Sarah?" Chuck queries breathlessly, his eyes dilating as he swivels to meet Sarah's affectionate gaze.

"I'm saying," she elaborates, taking a step closer to the computer nerd, the emotions more prevalent upon her face than they've ever been before, "That I can't live without you, Chuck. I'm saying that if given a choice between you and the CIA, I'd choose you in a heartbeat." Taking another step in his direction, their faces so close that she can feel his breath hot and intoxicating upon her cheek, she clarifies still further. "I'm saying that I'm in love with you, Chuck. I'm so in love with you that I don't think they've invented words to describe how I really feel."

His gaze turning bright, Chuck swallows hard as he raises his hand to caress Sarah's jaw. "I love you, too, Sarah," he whispers. "I've loved you almost since the first moment I saw you."

"I'm so sorry," she says, leaning eagerly into his touch. "I'm so sorry for everything I've put you through. For all the –"

"Shh," Chuck says, moving his index finger so that he can trace the smooth lines of her lips. "You have nothing to apologize for. I've already forgiven you."

Blinking at his ready forgiveness, at the love so visible within his features, Sarah stares at him for a long moment. She can't believe that it was this easy, she can't believe that he's forgiven her so much. She can't believe that she's standing directly before him, her feelings finally exposed, her emotions finally unleashed. And as she relishes the look within his eyes, and the expression upon his face, and the feel of his fingers against her lips, a deep yearning builds within her chest, a poignant longing runs deep within her veins. Before she knows what she's doing, before she even acknowledges the words forming upon her lips, she's threading her fingers through the curls at the back of his neck and asking: "Do you mind if I kiss you now?"

A gentle smirk plays along the corner of Chuck's mouth as his eyes dance in delight. "I think I can allow –"

But he doesn't get a chance to finish his sentence. Rising onto her tiptoes, Sarah's heart races as she quickly closes the distance between them, crushing her lips against his soft, warm mouth. And as she continues to finger his silky curls, and he wraps his strong, solid arms around her slender frame, and they fall together into a sweet, passionate dance, their bodies moving together as if one, the shadows vanish and the long night fades away, the only thoughts permeating Sarah's haze how good it feels to be in Chuck's arms and how much she wants to spend the rest of her life wrapped in his embrace.

So when they finally break apart, when Chuck leans his forehead against Sarah's own and looks deeply into her intense blue gaze, when their ragged breathing slowly returns to normal and their rapid heartbeats slowly regain a steady rhythm, it takes Sarah a moment to return to the present. And when she does, and she sees the love in Chuck's eyes, a silly grin spreads across her face. "Hey," she says softly.

"Hey," he replies, grinning as he brushes another quick kiss across her lips. And then, pulling away again, his expression turns a little more serious. "What about the Ring, Sarah?" he asks. "What about Beckman?"

She has to force back a laugh at the irony the situation poses. At the very idea that Chuck would be worried about the Ring and Beckman, while all she wants to do is spend the rest of the day kissing him. "Don't worry about it," she says, smirking. "I've got it covered."

"You do?" he asks, arching a brow.

"Let's just say that I offered Beckman a deal that she couldn't refuse," Sarah replies, her smirk growing more prominent. "And that once the Ring is eradicated," she says, her gaze going slightly cross-eyed as it travels to his swollen lips, "I intend to spend the rest of my life showing you just how sorry I really am."

"Hmm," Chuck replies, his face splitting into his familiar charming grin. "That sounds like a deal that I can't refuse." And with that, he kisses her once more, his lips caressing her mouth in a way that leaves her breathless and her pulse racing while her knees turn slightly weak.

She had almost forgotten what a good kisser Chuck Bartowski actually was. She had almost forgotten how easy it is to fall into his touch. So when he breaks the kiss this time, and leans against her forehead once more, she has to blink and forcibly return to the present moment. "So where do we go from here?" she murmurs.

"We open presents," Chuck says simply, caressing her jaw. "And drink eggnog," he continues, nuzzling her chin. "And sing Christmas carols," he elaborates, kissing her lips. "And," he says, brushing a kiss against her cheek, "Prepare ourselves to be totally," she shivers as he kisses her ear, "absolutely," goose bumps break out onto her arms when he kisses her temple, "completely heart warmed."

"Sounds like a plan," she breathes. And then she crashes her lips to his mouth, falling once again into the electricity coursing through her chest and the emotions running through her veins. Thirty minutes later, they finally make it into the living room to open presents.

~*~

"Hey, guys," Devon greets them brightly, a fluffy Santa hat perched atop his blonde head as he rifles through the presents. "We were wondering when you were going to join us."

"Is everything okay?" Ellie asks, a hopeful glint within her hazel eyes as she gazes at her brother and his girlfriend. Both flushed and sweaty, both grinning widely through deliciously bruised lips, both holding hands so tightly that a tornado probably couldn't tear them apart, they've never looked quite so happy. They've never looked quite so much in love.

"Never been better," Chuck replies, causing Sarah to blush slightly as he glances lovingly into her gleaming blue eyes.

"So, Ellie," the blonde says, clearing her throat and averting her gaze even as her hand remains intricately linked with Chuck's own. "What's this about presents?"

"I don't know, Sarah," the doctor replies, shifting her attention to the Christmas tree, "Maybe you should tell us."

"Good God," Chuck states, his eyes widening as he takes in the sight, "Where did all those come from?"

"Santa hired a hot blonde elf to help him this year," Devon returns, his smile faltering slightly when Ellie shoots him a look. "I mean, Sarah decided to bring us a real Christmas," he clarifies, flushing guiltily. "So maybe she should start." He reaches underneath the tree for a familiar bag bearing Chuck's name, a bag that Sarah had seen just the night before, leaning forlornly against the door to her hotel room.

"Oh, um," Chuck stammers, taking a seat on the edge of the couch as Sarah reaches for the gift, "Maybe we should wait."

"We've waited long enough, I think," Sarah replies, brushing a kiss against his cheek. And as Ellie positions herself upon a nearby armchair and Devon remains poised underneath the Christmas tree, the multi-colored lights reflecting brilliantly off the white fluff of his Santa hat, she reaches expectantly into the bag and pulls out an ornate silver frame, into which a photo of she and Chuck has been lovingly placed.

"It's not as good as your gift," Chuck murmurs, gazing at the photograph. "I mean, there's no special meaning to –"

"I love it," Sarah interrupts, fingering their happy faces as they relish the joy of being wrapped within each other's arms. And as the smells of Ellie's cooking drift through the air and tease her nostrils, and the sounds of the roaring fire crackling in the newly built fireplace tickle her ears, and the feel of the cool silver chain and the sensation of Chuck's warm arms flood her senses, she can't help the rush of happiness which surges through her chest. "It's one of the best presents I've ever gotten," she says, nuzzling against his side as Ellie and Devon pretend that the stack of presents are far more interesting than they really are.

"It just reminds me of us, you know?" Chuck asks, smiling softly.

"I do," Sarah nods. And then, because Chuck is blushing at the outpouring of emotion he's sharing in front of his sister and brother-in-law, and because she's not quite sure how much more emotion her own heart can take, she glances toward the glittering tree and smiles at the other couple.

"Why doesn't someone else open a gift?" she prods, nodding at the pile of presents.

"Good idea," Devon replies, pointing at her. "Here, babe," he says, handing Ellie a present. And with that, the festivities commence. The sounds of rustling paper and happy cries fill the scene, the smells of freshly brewed cider and jostled pine waft through the air, and the sights of happy smiles and loving grins are had by all. And when it's done, when Ellie is gazing in affectionate disapproval at Devon wearing his new fedora accompanied by a black trench coat purchased by a blonde spy, and Chuck and Sarah have made it to the couch proper, their hands still firmly linked as they revel in the feel of being wrapped up in each other, and glistening new jewelry and fuzzy new sweaters and crisp new books litter the room, stacked amongst piles of crumpled wrapping paper and stacks of discarded gift bags, Sarah realizes that she's never been so happy. Sarah realizes that she's never been so grateful to be sitting here inside a warm, cozy home with a family that's invited her to share their Christmas. With a family that's invited her to stay. With a family that has, for all intents and purposes, become her own.

And when Ellie hands out two last minute presents – identical long, thin packages meant for she and Chuck – she blinks in surprise when she recognizes the wrapping. When she realizes how much they resemble the one meant to tear Chuck from her life. Only this time, Ellie's handing her one as well.

"I wasn't sure if I was going to give this to you," the doctor apologizes, slightly abashed as she squeezes the blonde's shoulder. "Not until I saw you with my brother."

"Thanks, Ellie," Sarah replies, slightly dazed. Slipping her finger underneath the flap of the sparkling green wrapping, she finds a ticket contained within its confines just as Chuck finishes opening his own gift.

"A plane ticket," the computer nerd says blankly, glancing at the ticket Sarah's holding in her own hand. "To London?"

"I got the money from Dad's emergency stash," Ellie replies, shrugging as Devon archs his brows. "I thought that maybe you two could use some time away. I know that things have been a little . . . tense lately."

"Wow, Ellie," Sarah replies slowly, gazing at the doctor in mild wonder. "This is a really big gift."

"Yeah, well," Ellie says, blushing even as she graces Sarah with an uncertain smile. "You're a big part of our family."

The blonde hesitates for a moment, considering the gift. Considering the ramifications accompanying its acceptance. Because if she really takes this plane ticket, if she really goes to London with Chuck, it means much more than a trip. It means a chance to really embrace her new life, her new goals, her new dreams. It means a chance to become a part of the Bartowski family in a way that she hasn't been part of a family for almost as long as she can remember. And for a moment, the cool feeling of fear begins to trickle through her veins, the clammy hands of panic begin to close in upon her throat. But before she can truly give into them, before she can even begin to shut down, she registers the feel of Chuck's hand in her own. And she remembers the look of love reflected within his eyes. And she realizes that she wants nothing more than to be a part of his family, to be a part of his world for the rest of her life.

"Well," she finally says, shooting Chuck a small smile, "I have developed an affinity with Dickens lately. It might be nice to see his birthplace."

Chuck's eyes widen slightly at her response. "Are you sure?" he asks cautiously. "What about work?"

"Work can wait for a few days," Sarah replies simply, a surge of warmth flooding through her chest at the expression on his face. "I don't think it's going anywhere." And even though she knows the General won't be too happy, and even though she knows the Ring still awaits in dubious circles, she feels a steely sense of determination to ensure this trip actually happens. After everything they've given up, after everything they've accomplished for the Agency, a vacation is exactly what they both need. A vacation is exactly what they both deserve. And maybe they can even get a little international surveillance done in the process. After all, the Ring must have foreign cells.

"Why, Sarah," he intones, breaking into his crooked grin. "Does this mean that you're actually going to do me the honor of taking a vacation with me?"

"Yes, Chuck," she replies, leaning in to caress his soft mouth with her eager lips. "I think I am."

"Awesome," Devon pipes up from underneath the tree, interrupting her thoughts as he gazes at them from beneath his black fedora. "Remind me to tell you about the hot British –" But he realizes his mistake just before Ellie's expression turns slightly irate, clearing his throat and tipping back his hat. "Muffins," he finishes quickly, avoiding Ellie's eyes. "The Brits make great baked goods."

"Uh-huh," Ellie intones, rolling her eyes. "Come on, Devon," she says, holding out her hand. "I need some help with the Turkey."

Sarah watches them leave with a hopeful smile, her heart skipping a beat as she thinks about the family Christmas she's just shared. The first family Christmas she's really allowed herself to enjoy for the past twenty years. The only problem is, as she leans into Chuck's touch and relishes the feel of his smooth, warm hand and the sight of his radiant, joyful smile, she realizes that something's still missing. Something's still not quite right. And in that moment, her mind flickers to a familiar stranger, to a man she'd seen just that night, to a man who had been visiting his wife's grave. And as she thinks about that man, as she thinks about that grave, her thoughts shift to the mother she'd lost long ago. To the mother she'd missed all of her life. To the mother who had been the center of her world. So before she really knows what she's saying, before the words have even registered within her mind, she turns to Chuck with creased brow.

"Do you want to take a drive?" she asks. And the moment the question has left her mouth, she knows that it's the right thing to do.

"But what about the Turkey?" Chuck asks, glancing into the kitchen.

"We'll be back," Sarah promises. "There's just something I need to do first." And when Chuck agrees a moment later, pulling her to her feet with a quick kiss, she only feels a momentary twinge of doubt before a hesitant smile spreads across her face and she follows him out the door, intent on finally showing him a little piece of her past.

~*~

The road stretches out long and winding before them, illuminated only by the mild December sun as the black Porsche streaks across the highway and closer to Sarah's destination. A few straggling cars move by the tinted windows, packed with excited passengers and piled high with Christmas packages. Multi-colored lights twinkle in the distance, Christmas decorations adorn the fronts of assorted vehicles, and a general festive air pervades the entire scene. But even though she's spent a lifetime longing to enjoy a day like this, and despite the fact that she wants nothing more than to fall into the festivities herself, she's too wrapped up in the man gaping in horror through her windshield.

"Chuck?" Sarah furrows her forehead in concern as she glances toward the computer nerd. "Are you okay?"

"I'm sorry," he finally squeaks, before clearing his throat. "I'm just having a hard time getting past the idea of General Beckman and photographs." He pronounces the last word gradually, grimacing as if it's left a bad taste in his mouth.

"Well, I didn't actually say that there were any," she replies slyly, shifting into the right-hand lane.

"You mean you made that up?!" Chuck cries, staring at her incredulously. "Sarah, why would you do that?"

"It sounded like a good idea at the time," she shrugs, even as a faint twinkle dances within her eyes. "Besides, Beckman bought it."

"Which is perhaps even more disturbing," Chuck returns, shaking his head and suppressing a shudder. "I just don't understand how the conversation turned to Beckman and . . . well, you know."

Folding her lips as she signals to take the next exit, Sarah debates her next statement, considering her next move. But before she can really think about it, before she can really decide how much she wants to divulge, the words seem to fall from her mouth. "I wanted to make sure that she didn't stop us from moving on once the Ring has been eradicated," she answers truthfully.

Chuck's eyes widen as he absorbs the admission. "Wait," he says slowly, "What do you mean?"

"I mean," Sarah sighs, a hint of nervousness entering her gaze as she exits the highway, "That once the Ring has been defeated, once we've captured every last Agent, Beckman has agreed to let us move on. To let us live a normal life. No Intersect, no secrets, no lies. Just us. That is," she says hesitantly, glancing at him, "If that's what you want, Chuck."

"Sarah," he breathes, his lips parting as he leans closer to the driver's seat. "Are you saying what I think you're saying?"

Biting her lower lip, Sarah forces the fear from her chest as she's forced to clarify her words still further. As she's forced to wait even longer for Chuck's response. Because even after everything she's seen, even after everything she's learned, she still can't keep the doubt from resounding through her mind and wreaking mild havoc on her senses. So as she pulls over to the side of the road, she has to take a deep breath before she turns to look into his tumultuous, gleaming brown eyes. "I'm saying," she says, "That I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with you, Chuck. That once this thing is over and the mission is finished, we've been given permission to make our lives as normal as possible. And because I'm not so used to normal, I was hoping you'd help me figure out how it goes."

Swallowing gently, Chuck raises his hand to cup Sarah's cheek. "Why me?" he asks, even though it's fairly clear from the expression in his eyes that he knows the truth.

"Haven't we already covered that?" Sarah teases, shifting so that she can kiss the palm of his hand. "I love you, Chuck." And with that, she leans forward and brushes her lips against his own, melting into his touch as he deepens the kiss and plunges his warm tongue into the soft recesses of her mouth. She's not sure how long they remain wrapped in one another's embrace. She's not sure how much time has passed when they finally pull apart. The only thing of which she's certain, the only thing which permeates her conscious mind when she gazes into his loving cinnamon eyes, is the way her heart races when his familiar grin spreads across his face.

"Well, since you put it that way," he says, "I guess that I have no choice but to help you figure out this new stage in your life."

"You've always been so giving," Sarah rolls her eyes, relishing the feel of Chuck's thumb as it strokes her face.

"What can I say?" Chuck returns, smirking. "My father raised me to be a gentleman."

"Remind me to thank him one of these days," she replies, kissing his thumb as it roves over her lower lip.

"I'll do that," Chuck says, winking. And then, as he continues to explore her lips with his strong hand, as he continues to gaze intently into her eyes, his expression turns slightly somber, his countenance slightly more serious. "Can I ask you something?" he questions, moving his hand back to his lap.

"Sure," Sarah replies, her forehead crinkling as a sense of emptiness engulfs her at the loss of contact.

"Why now?" he queries, arching a brow. "Why tell me all of this now? I mean," he says, reaching for her hand when he notices her eyes drop in mild anticipation of what she knows he will say, "Did something happen?"

Inhaling deeply, Sarah studies Chuck's hand as his fingers wind through the negative spaces of her own, causing a warm current to spike through her wrist. "I just realized something," she finally says.

"What?" he asks quietly, squeezing her hand.

"That I was afraid." It slips forth before she can stop it, the words sounding thick and heady in the air between them as her gaze flickers back to his affectionate brown eyes. As she considers the impact of her statement, the ramifications of her admission. Biting her lower lip, she waits silently for his reaction.

"Afraid?" Chuck queries, a thin crease appearing between his eyes. "Of what?"

"You." The word is quiet, simple, and yet it holds so much weight. And when his face twists with gentle hurt and his features contort with mild pain, she rushes forward to clarify. "I'm sorry," she says quickly, massaging his hand with her fingertips. "I didn't mean that." Sighing, she blinks and glances out the windshield for a moment before returning her gaze to his own. "What I meant to say was that I was afraid of losing you, Chuck."

"Of losing me?" Chuck questions softly, shaking his head. "But why?"

Swallowing gently, a slightly distant cast enters Sarah's eyes as she weighs her next statement. As she braces herself for what she knows she has to say. For what she knows she has to do. Because even though she's determined to change, even though she's determined to let him in, the fact remains that she's had no practice opening up. She's had no practice letting go. So when she finally focuses her bright blue eyes upon his own cinnamon gaze, when she finally forces herself to explore a past she's buried for so long, she can't keep her stomach from knotting and her heart from twisting in her chest. "When I was just a kid, I lost someone I really cared about," she says, a hint of trepidation reflected within her voice. "And after I lost them, my entire life changed. Everything that I ever thought I knew was taken from me."

"I'm sorry," Chuck replies gently, even as he blinks in surprise at how much she's told him. At how much she's opened up. But when she continues to gaze steadily into his eyes, when she continues to stroke his hand, his courage seems to strengthen and he continues. "Who was it?" he asks.

"My mother," is her quiet response, and Chuck's eyes brighten as his mouth parts in affectionate sympathy. But before he can offer his condolences, before he can even say anything else, she nods toward the monument beside which she's parked her sleek black Porsche. "That's why we're here," she says, and Chuck turns to find himself looking at the gates of a Riverside cemetery. "You've always wondered where I grew up," she continues. "This is it."

"You grew up in a cemetery?" Chuck asks blankly, swiveling around to gaze at her in bewilderment.

"Not exactly," she says, unable to keep herself from smirking even in spite of her recent revelation. "I grew up in Riverside. This is just the place that means the most." And with that, she leans forward to give him a peck on the lips before dropping his hand and sliding out of the car, closing the door behind her. "Come on," she says as he follows suit, the confusion still apparent on his face. "There's someone I'd like you to meet."

Grabbing his hand once more, she leads him through the crisp, chill air of the cemetery, the nervous glint within her eyes contrasting sharply with the resolute smile upon her face. And even though she feels as if she just left this place, and even though the memories of the night before are still clear within her mind, the utter fear and mind numbing panic she experienced only a few hours before are eclipsed by the warm strength which surges through her frame at the feel of Chuck's hand in her own and the knowledge that he's close by. So when she finally reaches her destination, when she finally comes to a stop beside a grave she hasn't seen for the last two decades, she leans against his side and allows herself to gain strength from his touch.

"Chuck," she says, gazing heavily at the tombstone which depicts her mother's name, "I'd like you to meet my mother."

"Your mother?" Chuck repeats, glancing at her with wide eyes. And when she turns to him with her sad, determined smile, the affection deepens upon his face and he strengthens his grip within her hand. "What's her name?" he asks quietly, reaching up to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear.

"Angela," Sarah replies, leaning into his touch. "Angela Carter."

Nodding as a compassionate hue enters his eyes, he turns back to face the grave. "Hi, Mrs. Carter," he says, smiling gently. "It's, uh, it's nice to meet you." And then his muscles seem to relax, and he falls more naturally into his speech. "Actually," he says, studying the tombstone, "I guess I should thank you. You see, you've raised an amazing daughter. A daughter who's saved my life more times than I can count. And," he continues, glancing at Sarah out of the corner of his eyes as the affection within his smile increases in wattage, "I'm completely in love with her. In fact, she's the greatest thing that's ever happened to me. So, thank you for doing such a great job."

When Chuck has finished, Sarah has to swallow the lump that has risen into her throat. "Mom, it's Andi," she begins, taking a deep breath to stop her voice from cracking. "Mom, you told me once to be happy. Well, I'm afraid that I haven't really followed your instructions very well. But," she says, turning gleaming eyes on Chuck, "I'm ready to change all that now. I'm ready to be happy. I'm ready to live my life, just like you asked. And," she says, biting her lower lip to keep it from trembling, "I'm ready to find love, and embrace it. But I have to apologize first," she continues as her eyes start to shine with unshed tears. "Because I haven't been around lately. I haven't been around for the last twenty years," she says ruefully. "But that's all going to change now. I promise to visit more regularly. I promise to be a better daughter. I promise to be a better person. Because I know that's what you'd want me to do. And I plan to spend the rest of my life trying to make you proud."

"I think she is proud of you," Chuck says softly, leaning his cheek against the top of her head. "How could she not be?"

"I haven't done many things to make her that way lately," Sarah confesses, dropping his hand so that she can wrap her arm around his lower back.

"Sarah, you've spent your life protecting other people," Chuck replies, placing a kiss atop her blonde head. "I think she knows that."

"Maybe," Sarah replies dubiously, folding her lips. But even as she says it, even as the sentiment flows through her slender frame and echoes within her mind, she feels a sudden spark alight within her chest. And before she knows what's happening, before she can even start in surprise, a voice resounds through her head. I've always been proud of you, Andi. And as she closes her eyes and relishes the sound of her mother's voice, two more statements follow the last. Be happy, sweetheart. I love you.

"I love you, too, Mom," she whispers as her chest twists and tears prickle her bright blue eyes. And then, after one last gentle glance at the grave, she turns to the man by her side with a soft smile. "Ready for a Turkey dinner?" she asks.

He studies her for a moment until he's sure that she's ready to move on, and then his grin flares anew. "And eggnog," he replies, nodding. "And stuffing. And cranberry sauce. Oh, and those little potato things that my sister makes so well."

Laughing softly, she turns with him to head back to the car, her arm still wrapped tightly around his back. "You're making me hungry," she teases, bumping against his hip.

"What can I say?" he replies. "My sister cooks a mean Christmas dinner." And then, glancing at her slyly from the edge of his eyes, "Andi."

Shaking her head, she can't help but grin. "It's a name," she says simply, shrugging.

"It's your name," Chuck replies, tightening his grip around her frame. "And I happen to like it."

"Do you now?" Sarah replies coyly, nearing the edge of the graveyard.

"Mmm," Chuck nods. "Almost as much as . . ." But his voice trails off when the graveyard suddenly increases in number as a morose figure walks slowly into their path, with shoulders slumped and eyes downcast. "Isn't that –?"

"My father," Sarah finishes, stopping in her tracks. Here to visit my mother. Here to visit his wife. Here to visit the woman he loves. And when her father's head snaps up in surprise, and his lips part when he registers who's standing before him, her chest clenches and her features twist in sympathy. "Dad," she says softly, greeting him.

"Angel," Jack Burton replies, and Sarah watches in doleful regret as he forces his familiar mask back into place. "Schnook," he nods at Chuck. "What are you two kids doing out here on Christmas Day?"

"Maybe I should wait in the car," Chuck suggests, the irony of the statement lost in the moment. In fact, as Sarah nods gratefully and hands him the keys, she hardly takes her eyes from her father. And when he drops his arm from around her waist and steps toward the graveyard exit, she only spares him a quick, affectionate smile before answering her father's question.

"We're visiting Mom," she replies, her brow creasing as her smile turns hesitant. "What are you doing here?"

"Oh, you know," Jack shrugs, even as a flicker of pain courses through his eyes at her words. "I figured that a walk through the graveyard was just the thing to get my blood pumping. You never can get enough exercise."

"Dad," Sarah replies, sympathy mingling with the hesitancy of her expression. "How long have you been coming out here on Christmas?"

Averting his gaze, Jack licks his lips and nudges a loose stone with his loafer. "Ever since I got out of jail five years ago," he replies, his statement almost inaudible within the silent yard.

"Why didn't you ever tell me?" Sarah asks, her throat tightening as she places a hand on his arm.

"It was something I had to do alone," he replies. And then he glances back into Sarah's compassionate eyes, his careful mask sliding back into place. "But this is no place for you to be on Christmas, Angel. You must have somewhere else to go?"

"Actually," Sarah says, cocking her head as a light dawns upon her face. "I have a dinner to go to. How would you like to join me?"

Jack's eyebrows raise as he considers her invitation, but then he shakes his head. "You don't want me to rain in on your dinner plans, sweetheart," he says.

"You wouldn't be raining in on them, Dad," Sarah replies, her fingers curling around his forearm. "In fact, I'd love to have you there." And then, as she continues to look into her father's eyes, and as she watches the hesitancy grow into a mild expression of hope, she continues. "Please?" she says, her expression gentle yet resolute.

"Well, since you put it that way," he replies, a slow grin spreading across his face, "I guess I really can't say no."

"To free food?" Sarah teases, matching him grin for grin, "You've never been able to before."

"It beats conning the Salvation Army out of a Turkey dinner," Jack agrees, even as Sarah blanches slightly at the reminder. And then: "Just let me take care of something real quick, okay?"

"Sure, Dad," she says, nodding. And with that, she watches her father walk to her mother's grave and begin talking to the woman whose life had been the pinnacle of their world. To the woman whose death had changed their lives forever. To the woman whose love had made it possible to live again.

Hours later, when they've finally made it back to Burbank and she's sitting beside Chuck, their hands clasped underneath the table with her father on the other side, smiling pleasantly at Ellie and Awesome, who are positioned on either end, she realizes just how lucky she is. Just how fortunate. Because even though she's spent her life hiding from what she most wants, even though she's spent twenty years shielding herself from that which she most desires, somehow she's been given a second chance. Somehow, she's found herself in this amazing home, in the midst of these amazing people. In the midst of a real family. A family that's made her one of their own.

"A toast," Devon says, raising a glass frothing with eggnog. "To the best Christmas dinner I've ever had. Thanks, babe," he says, leaning in to kiss his wife.

Nodding, Jack raises his glass in turn. "To a terrific Christmas dinner," he agrees, winking at his daughter. "Thanks for the invitation."

"Any time," Ellie smiles. "It's great to meet Sarah's father," she glances warmly at the blonde. And then: "To being here with the people I love," she says, also raising her glass. "To being here with the people I care about."

"To the best Christmas I've ever had," Chuck chimes in, raising his glass and squeezing Sarah's hand as they exchange a loving look. "And to the best present I've ever gotten."

"To forgiveness," Sarah says softly, raising her own glass. "To family." And to love, she thinks as she squeezes Chuck's hand in return.

And then, because he's Chuck, and because he somehow always knows exactly what to say, he adds: "God bless us, Every One," and he grins at Sarah.

"I think I can drink to that," Sarah replies, unable to suppress the grin that spreads across her own face. And when everyone clinks glasses and the sounds of laughter and merriment spread through the bright, festive room, a surge of warmth floods her chest and she revels in the moment, being surrounded by people she loves and the family she's always wanted. And in that space of time, in the instant that she feels happiest, in the moment that she feels most at peace, she hears the sound of chains dropping to the ground, as if someone is finally breaking free of the restraints that have bound them for the last six months. "Good luck, Sarah," Bryce's voice wafts through the dining room air, unheard by anyone else but caressing Sarah's ears as they sound through her mind. "Be happy."

You too, Bryce, she thinks. Thank you. Thank you for everything, she finishes as she turns to Chuck and basks in the glow of his happy, radiant expression. The expression that she's longed to see for the last twenty years. The expression that means more to her than words can ever say.

After that night, Sarah Walker became a different woman. True, she still had to go on missions and she still had to defeat the Ring. There were still difficult times when she wasn't sure they were going to make it, and she worried for the safety of herself and those she loved, especially the man who had stolen her heart. But she never stopped fighting. She never gave up hope. And even though things weren't always easy, and Beckman wasn't always very cooperative, and Casey remained slightly impassive even when she still sensed signs of compassion behind his resilient grunts, she was able to overcome the obstacles. She was able to battle through the barriers. Because no matter how tough things got, no matter how hard she had to fight, she learned to rely on her feelings to get her through the difficulties. She learned to rely on her wisdom, on her heart, on her inner strength to get her past the trials, past the tribulations. She learned to rely on her love for Chuck to get her through it all.

And her relationship with the computer nerd blossomed. Never was Sarah happiest when she was with Chuck, never was she more at peace than when she was wrapped up in his embrace. And even though they had minor fights and meaningless squabbles, nothing was stronger than their love for each other. Nothing was stronger than the emotions that bound them together, that brightened their lives and touched their hearts. And when it was all over, and the Ring was defeated, Beckman was true to her word (after a little prodding from Sarah and a few more threats of nonexistent evidence), and Chuck and Sarah left the CIA and began a brilliant life together, free of the Intersect and of secrets and lies. And even though their existence was never quite normal, it was always unique and it was always full of love and happiness. For Sarah had truly found a life outside of the CIA. She had truly found an existence, a home, a family of her own.

It's important to add that Sarah never forgot the lessons she'd learned that Christmas Eve. She never forgot the shadows she had visited, the scenes she had witnessed, the memories she had been shown. And she never forgot the promise she'd made to the mother who continued to live on inside her heart. In fact, she discovered a world of peace inside herself, a world of happiness and love. She discovered that even though we get scared, even though we have moments of panic, what really matters is that we continue to love, we continue to grow, we continue to live.

You might also like to know that she had no further visits from Spirits after that night, no further lessons from shadows of her past, present and future. Even so, she was always said to celebrate Christmas better than anyone else. Through her, the spirit of the season truly shined and others were reminded of the importance of forgiveness, of family, and of love, for she embraced them all. May it be said of all of us that we remember these values, these gifts as well as Sarah Walker. May it be said of all of us that we celebrate Christmas just as well. And so, as Chuck Bartowski observed, God bless us, Every One!