Title: After the Beach
Summary: Sarah tries to learn their story for herself, but instead she starts making a new one.
Author's Note: My first Chuck fic. The ending left so many different futures for Chuck and Sarah that I wanted to explore this idea. I hope you enjoy!
In the briefing after she and Chuck come to an understanding, Sarah Walker (who can't bring herself to be called Sarah Bartowski) is surprised when General Beckman offers to rebuild the Intersect so her memories can be recovered.
Chuck explains how it would work: how they would use the Intersect upload process to implant in her mind photographs, video, stories shared by Ellie and Morgan and Casey and Chuck.
His words come fast, hope in every breath. But she shakes her head, just once, and it hurts that the hope is gone and replaced with sadness (and she barely knows this man yet when he hurts, she hurts, a feeling so foreign yet so strong and clear that even she can recognize it) and she has to explain herself.
"The problem is, it's your memories of me. Not my memories."
He looks at her, listening, always listening, then nods and tries for a smile. It doesn't compare to his real smile (she remembers that much) but she knows it's all he can give right now. And in the next briefing, he tells General Beckman that it's better for the Intersect to stay how it is: destroyed, save the one copy in his head.
As he kissed her, there wasn't a fairy-tale rush of returning memories. She only had the scraps she had already gathered: writing their names on a doorjamb, that ridiculous porn virus, the beach.
He doesn't say anything after he pulls away. Just gazes at her until it begins to feel (more) awkward and asks if she still wants to be alone.
And the thing is, she doesn't want that. And she's not sure if it's fair to tell him that, but she does.
"No. Being alone didn't work. I . . . it seems to me that you're the best person to help me find myself. I might be different by the end, even if I get most of my memories back."
She's trying to warn him. Trying to help him prepare himself, to protect his heart. Somehow, that feels very important to her. But he just nods, and smiles a little, and speaks gently.
"The apartment has two bedrooms."
So they settle into a new life, both of them. Carmichael Industries is closed, with Casey gone and Morgan focused on the transition at the Buy More and moving in with Alex. Beckman arranges funding to help Chuck begin a computer security business, and even gets her reinstated as a CIA agent, if only on paper, for Sarah knows that an agent with a Swiss cheese memory won't ever really be an agent.
They share the apartment. In the mornings, they eat breakfast together and talk about their days and whether they need milk and the movie they watched the night before. At night, they split dinner duties and then spend quiet evenings together on the couch. Chuck reads comic books and plays video games. She reads sometimes, but on the advice of her therapist (something Beckman had insisted on in exchange for Sarah's reinstatement) she does a lot of journaling. It helps. Because slowly, in this new quiet life, pieces of her memory begin to work their way out of of the prison that surrounds the last five years of her life.
She writes down what she remembers and then she fact-checks. This is difficult. Morgan is very understanding, even though he keeps encouraging her to try his fairy-tale kiss scenario again. Ellie helps, too. But most of the time, Chuck's the only person she can ask.
Sarah is thankful for the times that she remembers missions, or some interaction between Chuck and Casey, or a Buy More prank. Those are easy to talk about. In those moments, he's so open and unguarded and happy that she can feel her heart fluttering in her chest even when he's describing digging through a dumpster for Ellie's engagement ring.
But when it's about sexting or drunken hazes or a house in the suburbs, she can see him struggling. But he always explains. And she finds that it's rare that he doesn't understand the memory, isn't able to confirm whether it was real.
She must have told him so much. More than anyone had ever known about her. And when she realizes that, she's scared by how not scary this truth is.
Sarah doesn't join him on the couch for two nights after that realization.
Morgan comes over and plays video games with Chuck every other week. On those nights, she leaves them alone. One night, she walks into the kitchen to grab a bottle of water.
Morgan's voice is casual as he asks Chuck, "Still waiting?"
Sarah looks at the back of Chuck's head as he responds. "Yeah."
"She's doing okay?"
Chuck's head nods slightly. "We're talking. About normal stuff. It's all so . . . normal."
Morgan doesn't say any more, and Sarah is left wondering just what normal means.
Somewhere around the six month mark, something shifts. She finds herself watching him when he's moving around the apartment. He's taller than any man she's been involved with. That explains the wide range of stilettos in her wardrobe, she guesses. She had always loved very high heels, but she almost never wore them before, because she would tower over Bryce or most other men. But even with her highest shoes, it just brings her eye-to-eye with him.
She doesn't wear those shoes. But slowly, she gets comfortable wearing heels.
He doesn't have natural grace. He's not light on his feet. But when he's not thinking about her, he moves easily, smoothly. It's only when he knows she's looking that he stumbles and fumbles (except for that tango when he led her across the floor with controlled, blazing passion and it was like they had been dancing together for years because they had) and even occasionally drops something.
The nights on the couch begin to change. She leaves less space between them, trying to show her increasing comfort with him, yet if he notices, he only gives her a small smile (and she finds that she hates those closed-mouth smiles, and she knows this is something new because her memories always feature a Chuck who smiled with his whole body, not just his lips) and goes back to whatever he was doing.
She watches his hands move on the game controller, when he's making dinner on his nights to cook, when he's driving. He still wears his wedding ring, the glint off the metal catching her eye constantly. She gets flashes of his fingers smoothing her hair back, running down her arm to her wrist, wrapping around her hand.
She doesn't ask him about these memories. She doesn't have to. She knows they're real.
The memories start coming faster, in more detail. She writes them all down, and is able to start fitting them into place on her own. She doesn't talk to Chuck about them, because she wants to figure this out for herself. And she finds they can talk about other things, like movies and music and books and how work is going and more.
And in all these conversations, he doesn't ever ask her if she's remembering anything new.
She's amazed at his silent patience. She discovers many moments from the past when he wasn't like that: when he pushed and prodded her to accept him, to love him. When his frustration boiled over at her justifications and rules.
Sarah thinks that in waiting for her and seeing her rebuild herself, he's losing himself.
Some things seem to be lost for good. Their first meeting. Whenever she taught him to dance. Many of their early missions.
As if to over-compensate, her mind's grasp on other memories is extremely vivid, full of emotion and sensory details. The motel room in Barstow, with the scratchy sheets and the warmth of Chuck's body pressed against hers and the sudden clarity that he was everything. His Red Test, when the sight of him in a well-fitted suit sent warmth pooling in her belly even as her hands froze around the envelope. His proposal in the hospital, with the janitor cleaning the floors and him kneeling in front of her and the bright bright bright red of the ring box.
Everything else, though, falls between the two extremes. It's a bit like watching a movie of your life with someone else playing you: echos of emotion, some more powerful than others, but still not your own feelings.
But she finds that it doesn't matter as much as she thought it would. Because over the days they have spent together, she's been falling for him for a second time.
Nine months after the beach, she asks him out on a date over cereal and coffee.
He stares at her, his eyes (in memories or in reality, so full of emotion and always focused on her) wide. "W-w-what?"
She has to speak softly, her nerves making her hesitant, making her words even less graceful. "I understand . . . if you're not interested . . . but I'd like to go out with you, if you are."
He shakes his head. "No, no, no, I'm-I'm interested. I am chock-full of interest."
Sarah feels a smile light up her face, and Chuck's eyes go bright. And suddenly, she feels a confidence that she hasn't felt in a very long time. A sense that . . . that maybe there's hope.
Once Chuck leaves for his office, she drives to the Buy More and finds Morgan.
"I need a restaurant suggestion."
Morgan looks surprised. "And you're coming to me?"
Sarah smiles. "You do have a black belt in dumplings." And Morgan's beaming smile makes her glad that she came to him.
"I knew you'd remember. I knew it! When Chuck Bartowski is on the line, it's about doing the impossible, and you, Sarah Bar-Walker, you always do the impossible."
His slip causes her smile to tighten, but she knows that he's only following her wishes. To not be called Sarah Bartowski.
"I am remembering," she tells him. "But . . . but I'm also making new memories. And I don't want this first date to happen at someplace we ate before."
Morgan nods, vibrating with excitement, and starts listing places that he knows they've never gone. And since she remembers Morgan's extensive knowledge of Chuck, she trusts his advice.
She wants this to be new. She knows how many "first dates" they had, but she wants so badly for him to look at her and see . . . Sarah. Not his wife Sarah, not Sarah the spy he fell in love with all those years ago, but the Sarah that's in front of him. It's really ridiculous to think that new clothes and an unfamiliar restaurant will do that, but . . . she's willing to try anything.
She sends him a text, asking him to meet her at the restaurant. She spends the afternoon primping, in a way she's never done before, and shows up fifteen minutes early. She looks at herself in the plate glass window, checking the dark wash jeans, the high-heeled boots, the cornflower-blue blouse that matches her eyes.
When his car pulls into the parking lot, she suddenly feels a wave of panic. What is she doing? This is a mistake, she's getting her memories confused with real feelings, and then he steps out of the car and walks towards her (all lanky limbs and close-cropped curls and eyes that shine) and everything else falls away, and she's smiling at him and he's smiling back, a bit shyly, and she knows.
A week later, when they're on the couch and he's talking about Comic-Con, she leans over and kisses him softly.
It's the first time since the day on the beach, and he kisses her differently. Then, there was his hope that she'd respond like he thought she would. And it's not like any of her memories, either. This kiss is sweet, and a tiny bit sad, but also full of something indescribable and precious. She can feel something uncurl inside her as she kisses him.
She pulls back so she can see his face, and it's as familiar as her own face. His lips are still slightly puckered, his eyes are closed, and she knows that she's found her Chuck. And when he opens his eyes and gazes at her, she realizes he wasn't lost after all. He knew she would find her way back to him.
A year to the day that they sat on the beach, they renew their vows. Just the two of them, with Morgan and Alex. She wears a white sundress and he wears jeans and a white t-shirt. They hold hands and gaze into each other's eyes, and she feels such utter joy that at first she thinks she's remembering their wedding day. But she realizes that this is a new joy, one that's grown out of quiet moments and long conversations and the freedom of no covers and no lies.
Chuck smiles at her, the wide beaming smile that she hadn't realized she missed until the first time she saw it. Sarah smiles back and softly kisses the wedding ring that hasn't left his finger. Her engagement ring and wedding band were lost in the time when she ignored their significance, so he slides a new wedding ring on her finger. He had wanted to get her a new engagement ring, but she told him that she wanted her hand to match his.
They find a new dream house, but not before breaking into the old one and doing a bit more vandalism by taking the doorjamb with their names carved into it. The house is a fixer-upper, and Chuck throws himself into the project, adding closets and bookshelves and hiring contractors. Sarah paints and polishes, and she thinks about the two spare bedrooms that are joined by a bathroom and seem to be the perfect size for children.
And every night, as they climb into the new king-sized bed that replaced Chuck's six-year-old mattress, she gazes at the man that she fell in love with twice, and she whispers softly, "I love you, Mr. Walker."
And always, always, he smiles brilliantly at her and says, "I love you, too, Mrs. Bartowski."