the noose around her neck (and the rings around her finger). chuck. sarah walker, chuck bartowski. everything will change. nothing stays the same. (oh but you're in my veins and i cannot get you out). post-finale fic.

The first time she takes the rings off, she actually sits in complete and utter silence for three hours before doing it.

A part of her actually feels relieved at the time. The other part of her, the strange, foreign one actually hates herself.

She takes a long time before putting them away in a small jewelry box, along with a silver charm bracelet she doesn't remember owning, another trinket reminding her she isn't herself anymore.

(her birth name is Samantha Lisa but she hasn't been that person for most of her life. Some know her as Jenny Burton, but it's been quite a while since she's been that shy girl who played the violin and walked the high school hallways with her head down.

She's been Sarah Walker, CIA spy, for a long time but even that is no longer true.

But she's not Sarah Bartowski either.)

I don't remember, she says with her forehead pressing into his jaw. She wants to remember so much, she closes her eyes hard enough that she sees stars. She feels him lean into her, whisper it's okay in her hair (even she knows it's not okay), his thumb stroking the spot her wedding and engagement rings should be.

It suddenly feels very wrong not to wear them. (she's gasping for air and trying to get back to the surface but it's out of her reach, always.)

She disentangles herself from his arms, I'm sorry barely a whisper out of her mouth, and she's gone. She feels his gaze all the way back to her car; she knows he wants to follow her, more than anything in the world.

She's glad when he doesn't.

When she's back in the safety of her hotel room, she doesn't feel even remotely relieved.

They say she's lived there for almost three years before she moved in with Chuck. It feels as strange as his (her, their) apartment; as foreign as all the homes she found herself in with her father, never long enough to settle.

And still.

It's the most alienating thing, losing your memory.

She has a family: Ellie and Devon and a beautiful niece. She has her mother, and an adopted little sister who is safe and sound, and happy. She has a husband who looks at her with such adoration in his eyes that she can barely look at him.

(having so much love for someone cannot be possible, and yet here it radiates from every fiber in him.

She could say the same thing for her; her body vibrating with need, that strange sensation of being one half of a whole.

It overwhelms her.)

She opens her jewelry box and slides her rings on; the weight of them on her finger doesn't feel odd.

(she leaves them on.)

She drives by the building twice before finally parking her Evora in an empty space.

She reads again the one text he sent her since their encounter on the beach: I'm there for you. Always.

She waits a long time before she sees Chuck leave with Morgan. She watches them go on foot, which means she won't have much time, but it's okay.

When they're out of sight, she quietly climbs out of her car and slips into the courtyard unnoticed.

The keys jingle in her hand as she tries to remember which one opens the front door. (even not knowing right away which key is the right one is frustrating.)

When she finally opens the door, the apartment is dead silent; it's almost like she's stepping into a church and she stands reverently by the front door, her hand gripping the doorknob so tightly it will leave an imprint on her palm.

She takes in her surroundings; the Tobacco Indian by the French doors, the flamingo on the kitchen counter, the various consoles displayed behind the couch. The pictures on the shelves.

The ones on the fridge.

She takes off her shoes, enjoys the feel of the wooden floor beneath her bare feet. She wants to think it's because she wants to be as quiet as possible when she knows it's become a habit; she walks barefoot, no need to run. This place is safe.

She feels safe.

She lingers by the fridge, sees the pictures stuck there: Chuck and Morgan, Chuck and Ellie, Ellie and Devon and baby Clara. Her with the whole family. Her mother and Molly. Chuck and her.

One picture in particular catches her eye; they're in bed and he's kissing her on the cheek and she's laughing so hard her eyes are closed. The picture is slightly off-centered and she imagines him holding his phone above their heads and telling her a really bad joke, but she laughs anyway because she still thinks it's funny.

She brings her fingertips to the glossy piece of paper, and she forgets to breathe for a moment.

It was on a Sunday morning.

He wasn't telling her a joke; he was talking about how he'd like to have a little girl who would be just as badass as her mom. A mini ninja girl he would bring with him to Comic Con.

She knew about their desire to start a family (she saw the drawing, and took it with her, crumpled it and then spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to smooth out the glossy piece, before hiding it in the jewelry box along with her rings and bracelet), but she didn't know how to feel about this piece of information (she wanted to quit spying and have a child).

And now there's the live memory of this moment captured forever and she doesn't watch from a distance, not anymore; the white ceiling above her, the warmth of his body beside her, the specks of dust hanging mid-air in the morning sunlight, the hum of Burbank outside their window.

(his nose pressing against her cheek, his fingers splayed wide across her stomach and his voice a whisper in her ear as if he was telling her a secret.

And maybe he was.)

Clutching the picture in her hand, she pushes open his (her, their) bedroom door; it still looks the same as in her memory, a blend of his things and hers, and theirs.

She sits at the foot of the bed and, for once in her life, she lets herself hope.

She sees his silhouette through the shades as he crosses the courtyard, hears him insert the key in the lock. The door opens then closes, but there's no sound of shuffling feet across the floorboards.


The air suddenly stands very still, and she holds her breath, waits.

The keys clatter to the floor in the other room and then he's standing in the doorframe of the bedroom, his chest heaving and his eyes wide. "Sarah," he says her name like a prayer and she realizes it's really her name, Sarah Lisa Bartowski.

She's thought about a hundred ways to tell him but in the end, she only holds up the picture and says, "I remember that."

I feel it, she doesn't add.

"You're wearing your rings," is his only reply and he doesn't move, and she knows why; if he moves then the spell is broken and she will be gone.

"I couldn't-" her voice breaks and she clears her throat, and she feels the tears welling up, "I wasn't wearing them and it was like I couldn't breathe anymore."

I feel it.

Still, he doesn't move and the completely stunned look on his face scares her, so she does the only thing she can think of in that moment, the only thing she knows makes sense.

She kisses him.

She kisses him as if her life depended on it (come back, come back, come back please), her fingers curling in the front of his shirt as she opens her mouth to his. It's foreign and familiar at the same time, her body knowing him better than her mind right now and she presses herself closer, always closer.

(the other half of the whole and she feels complete.)

He's asked her to trust him on that beach, and she's taken that leap of faith.

She's doing it again now; having faith for the both of them.

(having faith in them.)

She doesn't take her rings off in the morning.