She takes him off guard with her request. All at once they are back at the beach again and he's sitting beside her, reliving the past for the both of them. He breaks his heart a second time, knowing he failed her once and fearing he's failed her again.
"Tell me again how we met," she'd said.
She takes his breath away and he's momentarily unable to both think and walk at the same time.
"Chuck?" This time there is concern in her voice. She stops and waits for him to respond but he has nothing to offer.
He swallows slowly. There is something achingly familiar about the way she says his name; a warmth long absent. He looks into her eyes cautiously, aware that he falls at his own peril but there is a discernible thaw and the colors run clear and blue.
"It was a just a thought," she says. She shrugs a bit too purposefully to be casual. "Don't worry about it."
"No. It's not that." They start walking again but he's still thinking of a way to formulate an answer for her. It's just, how does he put to words what that moment meant to him?
She'll never understand how one smile could have changed his life forever.
She'll ask him how he knew that she was the one and words will fail him when he needs them most.
"I could tell you again," he finally says. "But it's more than just a series of events." Like the stories he's told before; a memory is just words unless she was there. "I'm sorry, it's hard to explain."
"No." She doesn't let him apologize any further. "I understand." They walk together in silence and he tries to think of something else to tell her. Something light-heartened enough to make her laugh would be more like it but he doesn't feel much up to the task today.
Her mind is elsewhere anyway. He asks her whether she has plans for the afternoon but she doesn't respond. He lets the question hang in the air, unsure whether she's simply deep in thought or whether this conversation has come to its conclusion.
Then, all at once, she stops him in his step. Her grip on his wrist is so hesitant he can only just feel the warmth of her touch. Even that, slight as it is, sends tremors through his body. He goes against instinct to maintain a façade of calm.
"This is what I remember about our first meeting." Her next words come without warning. "I fell into your arms and you caught me." She smiles but it wavers at the memory. Their eyes meet, briefly, before she looks away. "You were so relieved; I could feel it in the way you held me. It was real. The love you had for me was real." She doesn't stop to look at him, to meet his gaze, and realize that it still is.
His love for her remains.
She lets go of his arm and begins to walk, lost in thought. They continue again down the sidewalk but it's clear that she's not finished.
"I worry about you." Hearing her say the words is strange to say the least. It's as if she's stolen his thoughts.
"Hey, isn't that my job?" He cuts a grin but she's not smiling; in fact her brows are furrowed deep in thought.
"I know I shouldn't, I know you're probably very good at your job."
He's not sure if she's making a joke; she doesn't seem to be or has she conveniently forgotten about their last mission together?
"It makes me very uncomfortable to know that you're out there, risking your life, and there's nothing I can do about it."
She stops walking and faces him and he just barely misses colliding into her. He holds out his hands to steady himself and a gasp, barely audible, escapes her when he grabs onto her arms. He is so close to her that he can feel the rapid thrum of her pulse; there is no bomb but there might as well be. He feels time closing in on them and the sudden honesty that lies stark in her eyes.
"Please let me come with you." It is all but a plea.
Can't? Or won't? The truth is he is just as frightened. She's risked her life enough times for him and he still hasn't gotten over the aftermath of what was supposed to be their last mission together.
It is cowardly for him to use rules and procedure to hold her at bay but it won't be forever. They won't let him leave just yet but very soon. He only needs enough time to help them rebuild an Intersect and for the knowledge in his head to become obsolete.
And maybe by then they will have come to a resolution and they can make a decision together for what comes next.
But that isn't what Sarah is asking right now.
"At least let me look over the files before you go. I have been approved for desk work, you know." She is so earnest; he's not sure how he can disappoint her.
"I don't know." And that is the truth. Of course he's thrilled, but this is all wrong.
"Put in a word with Barnes. I don't have to be on your team. I can be a consultant. I can just sit in the car." He gives her a look. "Or in an office, or in my hotel room," she amends. Clearly she's put a lot of thought into this. "Just please don't leave me in the dark."
He doesn't believe she'd stay put for a second but he knows she won't take no for an answer. Not when she's already fulfilled her half of a bargain they never agreed upon.
She gives him a look and the rest of his protest dies quietly in his throat. He's forgotten what she can be like. She's asked nicely and he shouldn't wait to see what can happen when she doesn't.
They say no at first—Barnes and Langley. They don't want a repeat of the blown out office space in the middle of their LA branch. They try to elaborate but he doesn't want to know the details of her psych evaluation; it's enough that they deemed her to be high-functioning—just not with him. Him and her; they're a dangerous combination. They're afraid she'll come unhinged.
Their fears are unfounded but Chuck doesn't put up too much of an argument. He has a reason to keep her safe and he will use it for as long as he can. Which, Sarah being Sarah, is not long at all.
He tells her of their decision on a Monday and by Wednesday, Barnes phones him personally to tell there's been an appeal. By Friday he's taking her down to Castle to show her around.
"Don't forget your promise," he reminds as they descend down to the heart of the building. Their roles have reversed and now he finally understands her worry.
She rolls her eyes. "I stay in the office, I know." They don't want her on active duty and he's not going to argue with the powers that be. She's on her own with that one.
More than half the building is dedicated now to the rebuilding of the Intersect or at least until its original facilities can be properly secured and restored. It doesn't leave much room for operations so the tour is brief. She takes it all in, orientates herself quickly, but there is no flicker of recollection.
The disappointment is fleeting; he longer hangs in the hope that she will remember. And it shouldn't matter, should it? Here she is, memory or no memory.
He shows her the largest room with the mainframe last. "We do most of our work here but if you like I could have an office made for you."
"No, it's fine." A faint smile crosses her lips. He'd give anything to know what she was thinking. "I like it here."
He laughs. "You say that now but wait until you've been stuck here for a day or two. Us nerds can make for pretty dull company."
She raises her chin in silent defiance. "I'm sure I could suffer through it," she says, her voice going soft. There is something about the way she looks at him; sometimes he forgets that any of this ever happened. For a brief moment there is no pain, no sadness. There is only him and her. Them.
Behind him the doors slide open. "Hey Chuck, have you seen—" Sarah grabs his arm instinctively causing him to jump. "Oh! I'm sorry; I didn't realize you had someone in here."
Chuck turns while gently trying to loosen Sarah's talon-like grip. "Hey, Greta!" Sarah mutters something next to him but all he hears is a resonating grumble. "Remember how I said we were getting a new analyst?"
Greta says nothing, probably because he never did. Between the appeal, preparing for the next mission and driving Sarah to and from her appointments, the memo completely slipped his mind.
"This is Sarah. She'll be here on an interim basis." He flashes Greta an apologetic smile as he gives Sarah a gentle push forwards. "Sarah, this is Greta, my partner."
The women shake hands in a rigid, almost robotic, manner. His partner, usually so disarming with her charm, has never looked more unsettled. And Sarah's movements are so sharp they could cut him in half.
"It's nice to meet you," Greta says, flashing Chuck a look of confusion. "How long are you planning to work with us?"
"Permanently," Sarah says, clearly ignoring Chuck's introduction.
"It may be permanent," Chuck adds. Hadn't they just agreed in the car that she was still on probation? "We're going to see if this works out first."
"It will work out." Clearly this was not open for discussion.
Greta wrinkles her nose, a reaction he's seen only when she's confused or displeased. He has no idea, she's a hard read in the best of times. "Do you guys know each other or something?"
"Well, I wouldn't say—" He struggles to think of the best way to describe Sarah. Would it be insulting to introduce her as a friend? "She and I...we...we are-"
Sarah steps forward and spares him from delving into nonsensical blabber. "I'm his wife." Just like that. And then she smiles a smile he hasn't seen in a long time. She has the look of a woman self-assured, a woman who says what she means.
Greta waits for Chuck to say something but he's at a loss for words. He's smiling like an idiot on the inside but one look from his partner is enough to chastise him. He should apologize later; they've always kept their private and personal lives separate but he really should have told the whole team ahead of time.
"I see," she says, after a beat. "How wonderful. Welcome to the team."
The women smile at one another again but the tension in the air only dissipates after Greta's leave. Chuck breaks the silence after a safe count to ten, in case his partner is still close by.
"I thought we agreed we wouldn't discuss our relationship at work."
Sarah smiles innocently. "Did we?" She frowns. "I don't remember that."
"It was your idea!" Chuck is sure of it. She told him she didn't want to put a label on things.
"I don't think so," she says. Her smile is infuriatingly serene. "But in any case, you're still wearing your wedding band. I'm just adding a face to the name."
Chuck is about to argue his point when he catches himself.
"You know what? You're right." Somehow losing to her doesn't quite feel like losing at all.
It is Thursday night and she comes at seven sharp; never early or late. She's punctual to a fault, though the agreed upon time for her to leave keeps slipping later and later. Not that he'll ever complain or try to keep her longer; it's just something he notices.
Thursday nights become dates that are not dates. He reminds himself of that when he prepares; he tries not to overdress, he tries not to over-clean (he's just grateful she has no idea what the place was like before) but he forgets the mantra usually by the time he opens the door.
He always feels a bit of a fool when he sees her. He doesn't quite know how to tell her how beautiful she is; how happy she makes him when she smiles.
Tonight she wears blue. Has she remembered that it's his favorite color? Not likely, but maybe she's figured that out all on her own. She doesn't seem unsettled when she catches him staring for a little too long.
"Hello, Chuck," she says and hands him something in a paper bag. She always brings wine; she's never brought Shiraz again but a few times now she's brought his favorite Chardonnay. It can't be a coincidence.
After she takes off her shoes and puts away her bag, she greets him properly with a peck on the cheek. It's hardly anything remarkable, but a part of him still reels from the way she reaches out to him. Her lips stay on him a little longer than necessary and they stand close, far closer than friends need to be. Her eyes flit upwards to meet his and there is intimacy, however brief, in the way she seeks his gaze.
She breaks away first (she always does) and he just smiles. He made a comment once before and she blushed so hard he was afraid he'd quashed any chance of it happening again.
They talk over dinner and wine. Just when he doesn't think he could love her any more, she lets her guard down. She lets him in. The alcohol helps a little but there's more to it than that. Something's changed about her. She's not afraid to be honest with him. She tells him about her nightmares, the things that worry her (him, of course), her plans for the weekend, for the rest of her life.
He's truthful with her. He tells her about his exit strategy, about the downpayment on the house, about how he'd like them to fly to Chicago to visit his sister's family. Someday, he always says, as a disclaimer. He doesn't expect anything from her; he always tells her that, because a part of him is still trying to take in the fact that she's come back at all. He doesn't expect anything more from her.
Sarah doesn't usually say anything but at times she will nod her head, a wistful smile on her face. Someday, she repeats. Not a promise, but he's not building his hopes out of nothing either.
After dinner they clear the table together. "Don't forget, we have to review the case reports together," she warns, before he can even suggest the evening's movie. He's about to remind her who insisted on the Indiana Jones movie marathon last week but he doesn't dare. Especially not when she had to return the following night to finish said movie marathon and complete the review.
Later still, when she's rifling through his collection, he asks her what her plans are. "Your pick tonight," is her only response. Her answers have grown increasingly vague. There are no set curfews, no itineraries, and no plot points for them to follow. She's finally comfortable enough not to plan her exit before her arrival.
"How about my favorite of all time?" He's already set the DVD aside for tonight but he gives it to her to look at.
She looks at the cover and furrows her brows. "I thought your favorite of all time was The Empire Strikes Back." She shrugs and hands it back to him. "Alright, put it in."
She's right. He told her once, years ago, but he hasn't said anything since.
Sarah seems none the wiser at his revelation and Chuck doesn't want to ruin the moment. She will remember things in time, or she won't. It doesn't change anything.
Chuck joins her on the couch and takes her hand. She smiles at him and they sit, side by side, in the quiet.
Someday he will show her the torn magazine page he still keeps, wrinkled and faded, in his back pocket.
Someday he will tell her how happy she makes him just for coming home.
Someday he will tell her that he can't imagine a beginning to a story without her; she is his start and finish, his ever after.
But for now he is satisfied just have her here by his side.
A/N: That's it folks! I began writing this as a way to find some closure after the finale of the show. A year and many revisions later, here we are. Chuck has been a show I've missed very much but at least now I can imagine a happier ending for them somewhere down the road.
Many thanks to mxpw who reprised his beta-ing skills to help me see my vision through (I'm sorry I tricked you into reading more angst).
Thank you all for reading & all your feedback. You guys were wonderful.