BillAtWork's A/N:

To be honest, this is a story that I never thought would happen. I figured that my fanfic days would be over when the series ended. But there are a couple of reasons why I decided to continue. First, I'm not satisfied with the way the series ended. And although I'm convinced that it was a happy ending, I'm disappointed that it wasn't clearer. Another reason I'm excited is that there is no longer any canon to be compared with. We can take these characters anyplace we want now. That's very appealing to me. But mostly, it gives me a chance to work with BrickRoad again. The most fun I've ever had writing is when we did The Long Brick Road together. I'm very proud of that story and hope this lives up to those standards. Brickroad was one of my first Chuck friends, dating back to the first season. So it seems fitting to end our careers where they started. I hope that the love for the show and, more than that, respect for the characters that we share comes through.

Brickroad16's A/N:

This is all Bill's fault. I thought my days as a fanfic writer were winding down. I still love Chuck as much as I ever did, but I simply don't have as much time as I used to, especially since I'm expected to act like an adult now. But this has been a very fun story to write so far, and I love coauthoring with BillatWork, because I think it brings out the best of both of our styles. I have such a respect and love for this show and its community, and I hope that comes across in this story. Bill and I actually disagree over the ending. I happen to love it to bits and pieces. The good thing is we've used our differing viewpoints to strengthen this story, or at least I hope we have! I know I've had a blast playing in the Chuck sandbox for the past five years. Given the nature of its fans, I'm sure this community will still be going strong a long way down the road. So, thanks to Bill for twisting my arm into helping write this, haha, and thanks to all of you who read this. We've had a great run, haven't we?

We don't own Chuck. Actually, we don't own much of anything.

If you enjoyed this or any of the stories on this site, please take a second and send the author a review. It only takes a second – and it really, really makes a difference. That's probably more important than ever now that the series has ended. If you want to keep the Chuck fandom alive and continue to read about these characters, you really need to think about rewarding the people whose hard work make that possible.

This story is set in the middle of the kiss on the beach where the series ended. That's probably all you need to know.

The Deal

x-x-x-x-x

It was far from a Chamber of Commerce weather day in Southern California. It was grey and dreary. A blustery wind had the surf rolling in much higher than normal. But that didn't matter much to Chuck Bartowski. Because for the first time in a month he was kissing his wife. And the best part was that it was at her invitation.

It was nothing like old times, when even a quick peck could turn into a heated expression of passion and desire. After the past few weeks though, weeks full of uncertainty and pain and not a small amount of faith, Chuck knew he couldn't go there. However, it was a nice kiss. And it did last a long time. That was hopeful.

As soon as the kiss broke, Chuck looked at her expectantly. "So . . ." he breathed, "did it work? Do you remember anything?"

Sarah kept her eyes closed for a moment longer than necessary, relishing the ghost of his lips against hers. She couldn't say how, but it was as if she remembered those lips. But how could she, when she couldn't remember the man they belonged to? Opening her eyes, she looked up at the man in front of her, a man whom her head identified as her husband but whom her heart barely recognized. Inexplicably, even to herself, she was forced to admit one simple fact:

She liked him.

Even that wasn't totally honest. The truth was she liked him a lot. That realization and recognition may sound mighty tame to regular old civilians, but, for Agent Walker, that was one hell of an admission. Agents were trained to not become attached, and Sarah Walker was the best of the best. Liking someone – genuinely enjoying their company and the way their nose crinkled when they smiled – was so new for her that it confused her, scared her a little even.

But she also saw the look of hope on his face. There was another new emotion for her, but for a different reason. It was the tiny thing with feathers, the dim, flickering light that she kept buried deep down in her heart for the cold days, for fear that, if she let it out, the world would extinguish it.

She saw it in his eyes now, warm brown eyes full of optimism and affection, like he was hoping against hope that their one kiss would be that fairytale kiss, magically fixing her, restoring her to the wife he knew, and so clearly adored.

She didn't want to crush that hope. She couldn't.

"I think I remember that you're a very good kisser," she said, injecting levity into her voice. The look of despair that came over his face simply broke her heart, a fact which told Sarah everything she needed to know. She desperately wanted to comfort him. "Come on, Chuck," she said, keeping the light tone. "This is Morgan we're talking about, right? I can't claim to know him very well, but how often is he right about things like this?"

That got a little smile, not much, but a little. "Hardy ever," he admitted. "So, you didn't remember anything? Nothing at all?"

"Well," Sarah said, her smile growing a little, "not anything that makes any sense anyway. I remember something about us kissing before. We were on a train . . . getting room service . . . and the porter had a French accent. But we were southern. Crazy, huh?"

"Oh, my God," Chuck said excitedly. "That happened. The first week we were together. We were in France running from the CIA. The porter was getting frustrated that we ordered so much room service. We spent the whole first two days in . . . " Chuck trailed off. His wife had decided just a few weeks before that she wasn't going to eliminate him. It wasn't the right time to put pressure, however inadvertent, on her about sex.

So used to men acting suave and debonair around her, Sarah was intrigued, endeared even, by his nervousness. It was cute. She let him off the hook by asking, "Why were we southern? Was this a mission?"

"Not at first," Chuck answered, letting out a sigh and shifting into a more comfortable position on the sand. "But you know us. Missions seem to follow us wherever we go." Then he looked sheepish. "Sorry, that was a stupid thing to say. Of course you wouldn't know that. Anyway there were some terrorists on the train and we went undercover as a couple from Atlanta on our honeymoon to catch them."

So now it was official. Chuck Bartowski was unbelievably cute when he was nervous and rambling. He certainly wasn't like any partner she had ever worked with before. "Did we catch them?" Sarah asked, feeling a smile coming to her lips.

Chuck got a little serious. "Eventually," he said. "But there were issues, like most of our missions. I screwed up our cover name. We ended up being Mr. and Mrs . . ."

"Charles Charles," Sarah finished with a laugh. "Oh, my God, I remember that. You were so . . ." Now it was her turn to trail off awkwardly. No matter that they'd just shared an adorably sweet kiss, first or not, she wasn't ready to tell him how cute he had been, especially in a snatch of memory that she was still determining was solid.

Chuck, though, misinterpreted her hesitation. Fleetingly, she wondered how often he did that, how often he chalked up her vacillations to himself instead of to her upbringing, her defenses that she's only now finding the cracks in.

"Yeah, it wasn't my proudest moment as a spy," he admitted dejectedly. "Fortunately, they were too busy trying to look down your shirt to notice. That day was the first time that you told me that I'm a good kisser. That must be what triggered your memory."

Sarah bit the corner of her lip, trying to control the hammering of her heart. If rambling Chuck was cute, jealous Chuck was even cuter. "Maybe," she agreed with something approaching a smirk, "or maybe it was the fact that you are a good kisser that triggered it."

Unfortunately, Chuck seemed to be just as ready to miss given hints as he was to misinterpret involuntary clues. She wouldn't have minded at all if he were to kiss her again, especially if it would help take their minds off this . . . this big obstacle that had him so apprehensive. She may not remember much of their relationship, but she could easily extrapolate that she was the aggressor in it, the one always holding his hand, burrowing into him at night, always pushing for an extra kiss before they parted.

"Sarah, your memories are in there," he said. "We just need to trigger them. Why don't you move back home? We can work on them together." Balking again, he quickly backpedaled to add, "I didn't mean that like it sounded. I don't expect anything from you. You can sleep in the guest room. We'll just be friends until you're ready to be more. I promise not to put any pressure on you."

Sarah looked at him carefully, wondering what had him so nervous. It sounded like a good idea. In fact, he seemed like the kind of guy to usually come up with the good ideas. For one thing, all her clothes were there. It was where she lived.

"If I could ask for one thing," Chuck said, so softly that she had to strain to hear him over the sound of the waves. "Look, I know you. If it comes to that, please promise me that you won't leave without saying goodbye. That . . . that would be hard."

That turned her smile decidedly sad. Yes, he did clearly know her. When things got hard emotionally, her instinct was to run away. That's the way it'd always been with her, probably something she picked up from her dad. Mainly, though, she was sad because here was this nice guy, genuinely kind, mourning the loss of his wife and yet having to look at her every single day, and she didn't think she'd ever come across anything sadder. Amazingly still, all that same guy could think about was how to be there for the wife he thought he'd lost.

It was overwhelming, to say the least, especially since she had no idea what to do for him in return.

So she settled for something basic – the promise he requested.

"I promise," she said. "I would never do that to you, Chuck. I do have to go to Washington for a couple of days, for a CIA debriefing. It's standard; don't worry. But when I come back, then we can start working on things." She could see the wheels turning in his head, and it wasn't hard to guess what he was thinking. "You can come with me if you need to," she said with a little softer smile, "but I think it would be better if I did this myself. I will come back, Chuck."

Chuck nodded. With as big a smile as he could manage, he suggested, "Maybe we can go out on a date when you get back."

"That'd be fun," she told him, surprising herself when she realized she meant it. A date with Chuck Bartowski did sound like fun, the sort of thing a weary CIA agent could look forward to while going through the motions of a post-injury debrief. Smiling at the prospect, she added, "It'd be like our first date."

"Yeah," Chuck said in faux exasperation, "more like our third first date."

"We must be getting good at it."

x-x-x-x-x

One thing that Chuck and Sarah had frequently done whenever they went to the beach was to visit a little take out restaurant just off the pier. The crab cakes were Sarah's favorite. Chuck often accused her of wanting to go the beach so much just for an excuse to stop and get some. Of course, that was one of the things that she didn't remember at all, and since the place wasn't all that much to look at, she was skeptical, to put it mildly. However, Chuck's eagerness was plain, and it didn't take too much pleading, though she held out more to watch him implore adorably than because she actually didn't want to, before she agreed to try one. One taste and he was proven right. She instantly fell in love . . . with the meal.

Things changed once they arrived home. The tentative hopefulness from the beach and the playfulness from the crab cake shop disappeared, leaving only awkwardness in their place. Sarah ran her hands down the thighs of her jeans. The last time she had been here was when she believed that she was in the middle of playing a long-term mark. The biggest thing on her mind that night, aside from whether he was on to her, was relief that the 'assignment' hadn't included any actual sex. It would have made an already tense situation even worse. Ironically enough, sex was foremost on her mind tonight as well, though for a completely different reason.

Chuck, for his part, was being incredibly sweet, intent on giving her some space. She couldn't quite be sure if he really was engrossed in the computer or simply pretending, but either way, he was doing it to give her time to look around and get familiar with the place. With her house. Their house.

Their home. Because it was decidedly that. She remembered picking up a photo a few nights ago, a kitchen knife in one hand, the only thing in her mind the mission. That photo had set off the first spark of doubt. This wasn't a house that belonged to an agent seducing a mark. It was a home, a space for two people to turn two separate lives into one future. All the little touches – the set of gourmet knives in the kitchen, the complementary towels in the bathroom, the photo albums in the living room, – pointed to two people who couldn't live without each other, two people who belonged together.

One of the last things Sarah noticed was the wedding ring sitting on her dresser. Up until now, it had been merely a prop. Looking at it now, it meant something else entirely. She was someone's wife. Once upon a time, of her own free will, she had given her heart to a lovely, caring man, and he had given her his in return. They had stood before an altar, before all their friends and family, and had promised to take care of each other through the toughest of times. For better or for worse. If this wasn't worse, Sarah didn't know what was. Yet here he was, faithfully keeping his promise.

A long time ago in real time, but not so far off in her mind, such a strong and deep commitment would have scared her to death. Being a cover wife was a piece of cake. Never in a million years would she have considered being a real one. Except she'd just found out that 'a million years,' for her, translated to approximately four. Or, more accurately, 564 days.

The fact that this very real wedding ring didn't make her feel uncomfortable at all was telling. The fact that she was very tempted to put it on was even more so. That was something that might help Chuck a lot, she considered. Never very verbal, she was struggling with how to let him know that he didn't need to be quite so panicked, that she wanted this to work as much as he did. More by instinct than anything though, she decided that he needed to go slowly, that pretending everything was normal wasn't really what he needed right now. Reluctantly, she took the ring off and replaced it on the dresser.

She stepped into their closet and looked cursorily through her various outfits. Most of them she had never seen before, but there were a couple of recognizable old favorites. One thing she did notice, with a smile, was that her wardrobe was decidedly more conservative.

Then she saw it.

x-x-x-x-x

Chuck was finishing up some paperwork. The sale of the Buy More had just finalized, the transaction having cleared while they were on the beach, making him an independently wealthy man once again. Rather, an independently wealthy couple. After all, Sarah owned all of this just as much as he did. The problem was being wealthy no longer meant as much to him. The only material thing that he really wanted, their red-door dream house, would now have to wait for . . . He was scared to think of how long. Maybe forever. All the money in the world wasn't going to get Sarah back a minute faster.

As wrapped up in his internal thoughts as he was, Chuck didn't notice that Sarah was next to him.

She showed the negligee she was holding to him. "The mission on the train. The Charles Charles thing? Did I wear this?"

Chuck smiled and nodded. "It didn't really start off as a mission," he said. Swiveling in his chair, arms crossed, he asked, "How much do you remember?"

"Almost nothing," Sarah admitted sadly, sitting on the edge of the desk. "Mostly just vague feelings. I remember being impressed with how good of a kisser you were." What she didn't tell him was how important that was to her, how kissing for real was her favorite thing. It always had been, even better than sex. It was an expression of intimacy that spies hardly ever got.

"Well, that's a good thing," Chuck said as his smile broadened. "Kissing is your favorite thing. It's when you're happiest. So I'm glad that you think I'm good at it . . . or did anyway. We spent a lot of time kissing. Just so we understand each other. The beach today was far from my best effort."

Sarah was glad she was already sitting, because the absolute clarity with which he knew her hit her between the eyes, staggering her. That was something she never would have admitted out loud, to anyone. For Chuck to state it so plainly and matter-of-factly meant he knew her far better than anyone else had. It meant she'd opened up to him. Bryce would have never said anything remotely like that. To him kissing was just his signal that he was ready for sex.

She looked at the negligee. "I don't remember buying this," she said, more to change the subject than anything.

"You bought it in Paris," Chuck explained. "Surprised me with it on the train. And it definitely worked. It was the sexiest . . ." Chuck stopped and cleared his throat as he realized the intimate direction in which this conversation was headed.

Sarah couldn't help smiling. He was turning her mood completely around, and forcing her to admit, however silently, that Chuck Bartowski was an amazing man. Cute when he was embarrassed, trying so hard to be sensitive. She was half-tempted to go into the bedroom, toss on the negligee, and surprise him again. It was a little early for that though. Besides, the scene he was describing was clearly one of the highlights of their relationship, maybe of his life. If she did that tonight, all she'd be doing was cheapening the memory by offering a crude imitation.

But she couldn't go wrong with a little teasing. "I'm sorry I don't remember more of that day," she told him with the beginnings of a grin. "It sounds like we may have come close to rocking the train off its tracks."

"It was a very good day," Chuck admitted with something of his own grin. "But the honest truth is that it got so much better later. We learned to slow down and just enjoy each other." His voice softened. "That's what I miss." Shaking his head, he frowned. "Ah, I'm sorry. I promised not to put any pressure on you. And I won't."

She reached out to put a hand on his forearm. "Don't be sorry. That sounds perfect. It really seems like we had something special." As soon as the words were out of her mouth she knew how stupid it was. She quickly averted her eyes from his devastated look. "I'm sorry," she said softly. "I didn't mean to put that in past tense. You really loved me didn't you?"

A soft, warm smile came to Chuck's face. "Love," he said. "Present tense. But in case you were wondering, because you couldn't believe how a hardened CIA agent would end up with a computer nerd, you loved me back."

Sarah swallowed thickly. He knew her. He was proving that with every single conversation, nearly with every passing minute.

There was still something she needed to know though, something that could make or break this relationship with him, something she could never figure out on her own. "Tell me something," she said quietly. "Straight up, no bullshit, no telling me what you think I want to hear."

"Anything."

"Was I happy?"

Chuck smiled the biggest grin she'd ever seen, except for maybe the one in their wedding photo hanging on the wall in the living room. "It was amazing," he admitted, a touch of wonder in his voice, opening his arms as he gesticulated animatedly, the way he did when he was explaining something he was passionate about, she'd noticed. "You totally changed. You were more than happy. You . . . were at peace. You were far more than just a hard-ass CIA agent. You started caring about people. And it was far more than just you and me. Ellie became your girlfriend. You two would be together, giggling, and I never understood a word of what you were talking about . . . but I loved watching it. Casey became your best friend. He'd never admit it, but he changed just as much as you did." He finally took a breath. "You're the one who wanted to stop spying, start a family. So yes, I'd say you were happy."

Sarah was at a loss for what to say. There was not much you could say to that. The follow-up she really wanted to ask was if he was happy. But she knew that he wouldn't be comfortable with that question. There was no way he would be honest. So she settled for – "Tell me the truth, Chuck. If there was one thing you could change about me, what would it be?"

Chuck, arms crossed and leaning back in his chair again, pondered the question for a while. "Well," he finally said, "the obvious thing is that I would hope you remember the last five years. But that's not what you meant, is it?" Then he paused for a while longer. His voice was softer when he continued, "You kept everything bottled up, never admitting your feelings, like you were afraid to allow yourself to become vulnerable to anyone, even to me. It made things so much harder than they needed to be." He gave her an encouraging smile. "Not that I'm blaming you. It's probably good you can't remember my fair share of the mistakes we made. But that's where you really grew over the years since I met you, and especially since we've been married. So I think that's what I'd change. Because you went from being scared and miserable, to fulfilled and happy, and it breaks my heart to think that you're back to how you were."

She gulped. Talk about a bull's-eye. He had just summed her up in a single breath. That was something she never thought could happen. It was unnerving. At the same time, though, it was kind of nice. The prospect of love had always been so forbidden to her that she never really allowed herself time to think about it, but now that it was here, she could imagine how nice it would be to come home to the same man every night, curl up on the couch together to watch TV, go to sleep without worrying if he'll be there in the morning.

"I know that you miss your wife," she finally said. That was an understatement. She couldn't even fathom how frustrating it was for him to have all these special memories that she didn't – couldn't – share. "I need you to be patient, because when I get back, I promise I'm going to work just as hard to get her back too. Just . . . don't give up on me, Chuck."

Chuck reached out and took her hand, gently. He said, "You have a deal. I know you don't know this, but since we've been together, I've never given up on you, and I never will." Then he stood up and yawned. "We should get some sleep. I'll drive you to the airport tomorrow morning."

"My flight's early," she protested.

"I know," was his reply.

A smile lingered on her lips as she watched him disappearing down the hall. Later that night, though, in the guest room, she couldn't stop tossing and turning. She was used to sleeping in new conditions, and this was by no means uncomfortable. It just didn't feel right. She wouldn't get much, if any, sleep tonight. Though she was accustomed to an erratic schedule as well, she found she was having a hard time keeping herself from breaking down. And she couldn't start crying. If she started, she wouldn't stop, not for a very long time. Calling upon her training, she took deep breaths and pushed it down. The truth, though, was she was haunted by Chuck's words, every single thing he said.

He had nailed her completely, in a way that no one in her life had ever come close to. He had expressed her thoughts in a way that she herself would have struggled to, even to herself. If she was going to give him his wish, maybe it was time to admit that she was already over the edge, that she wanted the old Sarah back even more than he did.

Had she really been that happy? She wouldn't have thought it possible, even if she hadn't grown up into this life of hardened emotions and tough choices. Being so completely content didn't sound like something she was capable of, and it definitely didn't sound like something she deserved.

Chuck seemed to think she deserved it though. She wasn't so sure, but there was one thing she did know.

She was going to find out.

x-x-x-x-x