Chuck vs Ever After
Chuck and Sarah attempt to move on with their lives after the events of the final episode.
Like many of Morgan's ideas, his latest is hampered by its short-sightedness. True love's kiss is great and all, but how do you get from there to happily ever after? Because as hopelessly tender and familiar as their kiss had been that day, it doesn't change a thing. The ocean between them only grows by the day, and the tides aren't likely to change in his favor any time soon.
Morgan has no answers for him and if all the countless hours of watching Disney with Clara has failed to enlighten on the subject, then Chuck doesn't stand a chance trying to figure things out alone in their empty apartment.
But how could his friend understand, when he already lives in the land of ever after?
His love for her has not wavered; he doesn't think he'll ever love anyone as deeply and completely as he loves her. No, it's not that. It's not that at all. What he fears is that the woman he loves, his wife, is lost to him forever.
It haunts him still. That moment on the train where he stood helpless and watched her disappear from sight. He should have done more; he should have fought harder. If he had known it would be their last moment together, he would have done more than just watch. Stand frozen. Scream silently.
For all the years she fought to keep him safe, his promises to return in kind have come to this.
He fought for them now, but it was too late. This Sarah didn't want him to fight; some days he wasn't sure if she wanted anything to do with him.
The ease with which everything had slipped through his fingers was so sudden and complete that he continued to function in a state of shock. He had been so close he could almost taste it. Everything; he almost had it all.
He couldn't even make his way through the first stage of grief. This was not denial but a nightmare. Almost every night he had a vision of opening his front door and a bloodied Sarah staggering into his arms. Only it's his Sarah, and everything is real—her memories, her words, her love for him. It's all real until he wakes, alone in their bed, to a different sort of reality.
The kind of reality where his Sarah never came home.
Sarah phones and asks him if he's free. She'd like to see him. Perhaps they could have coffee together—if he has the time for it.
Chuck would have laughed but the irony is lost on her.
Of course he does. Now that they are no longer risking their necks every week for the government averting death and disaster, he has more time than he knows what to do with.
They choose a neutral location, almost perfectly between her hotel and their apartment. Chuck makes sure to shave and put on something from the dresser. It's one thing to feel like a bag of excrement and another to look like one. He practices some lines in the mirror to make sure the sadness doesn't reach his eyes. His own grief is enough as is, the last thing he needs is to invite hers.
Before leaving home he looks over an old photo. He's put most of them away but every now and then he tortures himself with the reminder that she is no longer here. If he doesn't remind himself, he will forget.
Just like he's forgotten about all the walls he's had to break through to get to her or that she's wary and doesn't trust easily and has no idea who he is.
It was naïve of him to think he could tell her their story, start to finish, and it will suffice. As if she could have their stories if not the memories and they could be the way they used to be.
He wants so badly to believe that his love is enough for the both of them. He forgets that stories are just stories and that she isn't his Sarah. It's wrong for him to try and make her into anything else. He reminds himself of that before he goes.
The truth was that they had something some people spend their whole lives searching for. He was in love with an amazing woman and she had loved him in return.
It should be enough but he wants more. He wants a lifetime, forever and ever after.
So he keeps just one photo around to prevent himself from building dreams out of smokescreens.
He arrives early but she's already seated with a drink, staring off into distance. She doesn't see him yet and for a moment he's granted a reprieve from the stoic, impassive expression he's gotten so used to seeing.
He should be grateful. She makes an effort to see him every now and then, as if by telling their story he has bound her by a set of unspoken obligations to maintain appearances. When they do meet, she is always polite and never unkind. She's already given him more than he deserves.
He stares without meaning to and despite all earlier warnings, forgets for just a second that it's not Sarah sitting there, waiting for him. He has to fight with himself not to stumble over and break her reverie, to kiss her; tell her things he could never take back.
It's just—it is her. Everything about her, every cell that makes her who she is, it's all there. He can't reason with himself that she's gone when he knows that. He can't give up on them when they were so close.
He walks up slowly, counting down to the moment when she disappears behind her walls. He can read her easily enough; she's lost and afraid and he wishes he could be there to help her pick up the pieces. She's angry and she has a right to be angry but Chuck doesn't know how to help her let go.
Perhaps it's more comfortable for her to stick with what she knows.
Suddenly the light enters her eyes and she stares directly at him, aware of his presence. A ghost of a smile graces her lips and then, with more conscious effort, it breaks into a reserved grin of sorts.
He returns it with an equally nervous smile.
"Hey," she says. Chuck notes the change in her posture, the sudden directness with which she looks at him. He knows better than to ask after her when she's on the defensive.
"Hey," he replies. He allows a silence to build between them, filled with all the things he's unable to express to her.
He has to be a stronger person than he is. He can't tell her how much he misses her, how much he worries every night when he's sleeping alone in their bed. He most certainly cannot tell her how he fears she'll regain her memory one day when he's no longer around. Knowing the loss, he would never wish it upon her.
Sarah has the sensitivity not to ask him how things are. Or perhaps Chuck is not hiding it well enough. He makes a conscious effort not to sag into the seat and let the weariness weigh him down. He tries to think of the things he's grateful for.
Sarah is alive and well. His friends and family are moving on with their lives. The world is a slightly safer place. Every bit counts, everything has to mean something or else what was the point of it all?
He starts to feel a little better and the tension eases.
He orders coffee; she gets a refill. They make small talk; agreeing that this cafe's nicer than the one closer to Sarah's hotel then both complain about the parking or lack thereof.
"You're keeping busy?" It's such a bland question but Chuck's not sure what else to say. He's not sure how to ask after someone when they've suffered something so traumatic.
Sarah nods unconvincingly. "Actually I'm thinking of going away for a little while." She avoids making eye contact with him which is just as well because Chuck is afraid he'll reveal too much of how he truly feels.
"Oh?" He refrains from asking the more important questions. He's not sure he has a right to know them anymore.
"I just…" She stops and looks to him for help but he doesn't say a word. He can't fill the words in for her; it would feel too much like sealing his own fate. Sarah fidgets with her bare hands, wringing them for answers. "I just need to get away. This city is too much for me right now."
For a second he sees a woman haunted by her past. It's all because of him. He can't bear to let her go and she can't seem to break free.
Chuck forgets he's staring until she looks away. He keeps forgetting and every sad, yearning look only pushes her further and further away.
"For a few days." He purposely says it as a statement, as if he could keep her close if he didn't invite any other possibilities.
Sarah doesn't respond.
"I thought I should let you know." She is pensive and her eyes reflect a degree of uncertainty that doesn't seem to fit with her usual persona.
"Thank you. I appreciate it." When her expression doesn't change, he feels he needs to reinforce the point. "You don't owe me anything, Sarah, but thank you for telling me."
She smiles slowly. "I had the sense that you would be worried." She fidgets with her hands again, betraying emotions hidden just below the surface. "So please don't." Her smile is suddenly impinged by a streak of stubbornness.
Chuck smiles. Is she remembering or does he seem like the worrying type?
"Promise," he says. He will promise to worry a little less.
He half-wondered if that was the only reason she had invited him out but they don't speak on the subject further. She visibly relaxes and they spend the rest of the time talking about trifling things. She has him help her with some features of her phone, a device she refers to with equal parts awe and hatred. Traffic and the weather come up, good neutral topics up for discussion, though Chuck struggles to keep the conversation less than intimate when speaking to her. How do you treat your wife the same way you would a stranger?
She mentions an annoying jingle that's gotten stuck in her head the past week or so and when she hums it for him he recognizes it as the tune for a taco commercial. She's not even aware it's a memory but the jingle hasn't been on TV in years. It's strange what the mind can hold on to and what it will let go of.
Chuck doesn't say very much, a feat for a man so fond of nervous babbling. He's caught by with the way she speaks, the light in her eyes when she regales him with a funny story and the rare smile that she gives only when she's so deep in a recollection that she forgets who she's speaking to.
There are moments when it's so hard to remember how things can be so different when they feel exactly the same.
Finally they have to part ways. She has some packing to still left to do and he…well, Chuck will be fine. He walks her to her car and their conversation breaks down to single syllables and awkward smiles. They say their respective goodbyes but just as she's about to get in, she stops.
"Chuck." She turns around and her voice is suddenly so soft it's barely more than a whisper.
Chuck holds his breath, his heart hammering nervously. So there was more to this than just coffee. This is the part where she tells him she's leaving for good.
"I had this dream," she finally says. "We were on a train." Chuck is not prepared for the intensity of her gaze. "You showed me something." He doesn't have enough time to put on a mask of indifference. Suddenly all his grief is there for show.
She takes it all in, but still she continues. "I told you it wasn't something I would ever forget."
Sarah smiles but it's bittersweet, caught somewhere between a crumbling mask of happiness and a sorry attempt to suppress the onslaught of tears.
Chuck has no words. The lump in his throat makes it difficult to breathe much less speak and it seems his silence already speaks volumes.
"I didn't think it was a dream," she says.
He's done this too many times; opening his heart and letting his hopes rise only to be crushed. How does he begin to explain the depths of their hopes and dreams when all she'll see is a tattered sheet ripped from a magazine?
She needed his help to remember, everyone agreed, but no one thought maybe he'd need just as much help to forget.
"It was a picture." His mouth has gotten so dry he feels like he can barely speak. He doesn't tell her the hours he's spent staring at that page, imagining her beside him, her skin flush with heat against his.
He doesn't tell her it was the last time they were happy.
"Of us?" Her eyes fail to register any glimmer of remembrance. There is only guilt and regret.
"Maybe when you're back I can show it to you."
She doesn't need to see it now. Not when she's about to leave. He's learned not to hang in hope.
Sarah nods her head. "I'd like that." She turns around and opens her car door. "Goodbye, Chuck."
Chuck holds his breath, using the last of his resolve to put on a brave face. "Goodbye, Sarah," he says.
He tells himself it's not truly goodbye, that she'll come back.
He'll see her again. He's sure of it. Maybe not in a week, maybe not in a year, but he will be waiting.
Chuck has, after all, all the time in the world now to wait.