Chapter 14

Rivers & Roads to Recovery

January 2012

Santa Monica, CA

The Beach

Rivers and roads,
Rivers and roads

Rivers 'till I reach you.

Rivers and roads

Oh, rivers and roads
Oh rivers 'till I reach you

Rivers and roads

Rivers and roads

Rivers 'till I reach you.

The tale had been fantastic, funny and frightening, It had been ridiculous and romantic, heroic, horrifying and hilarious. It had been unlikely … and yet all made an absurd sort of sense.

No longer was Sarah the professional, cold blooded spy on a perpetual mission seek out and destroy enemies of her nation, to acquire vital intelligence and prevent rogue nations from doing the same. Now, it seemed, she was an ex-spy, out of the game for almost a year, and a married woman for just as long. Married to …

Who was this man sitting beside her, relating to her their story? It was impossible for her to know for sure - it was impossible for her to even know for sure who she was.

It would involve a calculated risk to trust Chuck Bartowski – to believe that he was telling the truth. If he was a liar, he was a very very good one. And yet there was something about his sad, wet brown eyes that promised that sincerity made a home in them. He was clearly courageous and resourceful as well as caring and warm. It required little in the way of imagination to grasp that, the CIA would have been interested in his services, despite his presentation. It required less imagination to understand that he would – without too much trouble charm a woman who spent considerable time around him. Although he lacked the easy, devil-may-care charm that most male spies seemed to possess he had a more time consuming, sincere sort of charm that seemed to engage everyone he met.

Believing herself as the woman that would fall for him was the hardest leap of all ... or was it? Every exploit of hers at that Chuck related in their five-year saga sounded oddly in character for her. She had been secretive and protective, angered by his naivety, stubbornness and immaturity, but impressed by his ingenuity and intelligence … and also by the easy, effortless seeming way he commanded the loyalty off seemingly everyone near him. At least so went his story.

John Casey, the cold-blooded, burnt out NSA killer vouched for him? John Casey was some sort of romantic at heart? It had been he that had given her her video log of her recording her thoughts about this Chuck Bartowski. Slowly, it seemed, but inexorably, she had grown closer and closer to his mark until she had fallen completely in love with him. Casey apparently had seen it over the years, and wanted her to remember it.

Ellie and Devon, the sister and the brother in law, were completely devoted to him, not only to him, but to the idea of them. Sarah had to admit that she had been impressed that the emergency room doc had had the sand to protect her brother by crashing the car while Sarah had held her at gunpoint. While that was impressive enough, Ellie seemed to be completely aware of who and what Sarah was – or was supposed to be- as she challenged her, she had very much known she was taking her life in her own hands, and did it without a thought.

And then there was Morgan, the buffoonish bearded clown who nonetheless delivered when needed. No spy by a long shot, but loyal and effective in the right circumstances. He too had been convinced that Chuck and she belonged together.

Incredibly, this nonsense made sense. Sarah found herself smiling and at peace at hearing what was in all likelihood the truth.

"You know Morgan" Chuck said hesitantly, "has this crazy idea."

"What is it?" Sarah asked. By this point there were no ideas that were crazier than the story Chuck had just spent an hour relating.

Chuck 's hesitant, awkward smile persisted. In spite of how desperate he currently was, or how hopeful and cheery he always was, Morgan's plan was the overly hopeful dreaming of a child. "He thinks that, with one kiss, you'll remember everything."

Of course he did. Sarah laughed a little at the idea. "One magical kiss?"

"I know, it's …" It was a long shot, a hopelessly idealistic plan. It was practically built of wishful thinking, and an absurd confidence that enough things would go right in the correct order for this to bear fruit. The notion hinged on the idea of Chuck getting this woman who now saw him as a stranger to allow him to kiss her, and then relied on whatever impulses and electric pathways were in Sarah's brain working out the rest.

"Chuck?" Sarah said, already at peace with how crazed the idea was, and needing no further elaboration from Chuck on the matter. Despite everything, she had made up her mind.

"Yeah?" Chuck asked.

"Kiss me." Sarah's look wasn't overly hopeful, but it was peaceful and confident. Chuck couldn't help a smile. Two wonderful moments of his life came flooding back to him. One was when Sue Bently in high school looked at him with confident daring eyes, inviting him in for the first kiss of his romantic life. The second was when Sarah Walker, the empress of his romantic life smiled and told him that she indeed was in love with him, two years ago.

Gently cupping Sarah's head in his hand he brought his lips to hers, As happy as he was at Sarah's leap of faith in trying Morgan's idea, he quieted the intellectual part of him that was genuinely curious as to whether or not this was going to work. Win or lose, each blessed moment with Sarah Walker was amazing.

The kiss lasted long enough for both to lose their breaths. Morgan had been wrong. She didn't remember everything… but she did remember. Images of various places and locations flashed through her head. The docks at the Los Angeles harbor at night near this large box … Chuck's bedroom … the kitchen of Roan Montgomery … a dingy hotel somewhere in the desert … Chuck's kitchen, very near the floor … a magnificent hotel room in Paris … atop the Eiffel Tower… a cramped yet magnificently warm train compartment … the spy base in Castle… a moonlight bathed balcony overlooking a magnificent vineyard, … the grungy floor of a hospital….vague images of these and a half dozen more other places sped through her mind at the speed of imagination.

The kiss broke with their lips making an audible smack, one they could hear over the gentle rush of the Pacific waves a few dozen yards distant. With a soft gasp, Sarah leaned her forehead into Chuck's. "Oh!" she said softly. "…wow"

"Are you ok?" Chuck wanted to know.

"Yeah," Sarah breathed. She pulled back and gazed into Chuck's affectionate, concerned eyes. The miracle he had been hoping for – the complete return of her memory- hadn't happened. But memories of the many, many kisses they had shared over the last five years had broken loose, loose enough that Sarah knew and felt an odd sort of confidence that there were many more such memories in there. There had to be.

She shook her head softly and gave a small smile. "I don't remember everything Chuck…. But I just remembered some things just now." Affectionately she brought her hand up and around the side and back of Chuck's neck, pulling him in to her. Finding his ear with her lips she whispered "We kissed a lot, didn't we?"

Chuck laughed a little and perked up ever so slightly. "We did! Yes we did!" involuntarily, he gathered Sarah in his arms for a hug.

She allowed it, although she was less overjoyed that he was. She pulled back slightly to look at his face again. "Chuck …. I want to find her. The real Sarah. Your Sarah. If she's in here somewhere, I want to find her again. For you. For us."

"Okay. Great idea!" Chuck look as if he were about to weep with joy. "I'm not how to go about it though… what do we do next?"

Sarah gently stroked Chuck's face. "We don't do anything, Chuck. I have to go." In response to the look of panicked horror that attacked his face, she continued "I'm coming back though. I'll come back when I have a plan. There are some people I need to talk to first. Will you be here when I come back? Wait for me?"

His response was immediate. "I'd wait forever for you, Sarah."

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New York City, New York

The Mink Lair

"And let's give it up for Nanikeet, the nubile from the North!"

By the end of her performance, what was left of Carina's Eskimo wardrobe consisted of an ultra-skimpy fur lined bikini thong, a fury repurposed oven mitt that made for a passible arctic mitten, a facsimile single walrus tusk necklace and a good deal of glitter and white makeup. Of it all, it was the walrus tusk that was the most important, as it held her transmitter powered by a AAA battery that she could use to communicate with the rest of her team. The rest of it, her parka, goggles, scarf, cape, leggings, and bikini top were scattered hither and yon about the stage. These she gathered up along with her money before heading backstage.

The assignment had so far been so ponderous that Carina felt like the least productive agent in the DEA. At the same time, she felt like she was one of the wealthiest, as part of her cover involved hanging onto the tips thrown at her by the men patronizing the Mink Lair. Noble Sanfino was proving to be a crafty quarry. Low level drug buys had been set up, but of course her team had been unable to swoop in and follow up on every buy, for fear of broadcasting that the Mink Lair had been infiltrated. Both she and her bosses were becoming frustrated.

The informant, Katie May, had been as helpful as she could, but because of bad blood between her and her manager wasn't as privy to some of the discussions with the other girls as she had once been. The result was that this assignment was dragging on. They were now on month 7.

In the backstage dressing / locker room Katie May came up to her with an excited look. "I overheard in the girls' room that some more girls are coming in next week. They might be here against their will, and Nicos might be looking for some more drugs to keep the girls … docile."

"It could mean a big shipment," Carina said, interested. "Any word on if Noble will be there?"

Katie May looked confused "Who cares about the drugs? Isn't it worse if these girls are kidnapped?"

"Heh." Carina grumbled. "That would make it an FBI beef. If we find evidence of that, then we send it on up the food chain, but then it becomes an FBI party, not our own."

Carina dressed in her civvies and left via the stage for her post-shift debriefing at a safe house two blocks distant. While on the way there, her cell phone chirped. She retrieved the phone, and looked at the text message.

C. Bartowski: SOS Sarah ! SOS Sarah! She's in trouble. Need both you and Zondra here in Burbank when you can get here.

Her phone then rang with an incoming call. "Yeah hi, Z." Carina said by way of answer. "Yeah I got it too."

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Washington DC
Office of National Intelligence Director
(1 week later)

"I'm very happy you came to see me, Sarah." General Diane Beckman said in a voice that came about as closes as she could muster to genuine sympathy. "With your record and service to the CIA, just about any assignment you could ask for is on the table."

Sarah sat at in front of Beckman's large desk, the castle building of the Smithsonian Institute and a small part of the National Mall in view out of her office window. Beckman for once, did not have her computer open and active, and was given her erstwhile operative her undivided attention.

"Thank you, general," Sarah said "But I don't know if coming back to the CIA is what I really want. I actually have fairly good idea of what I want, but I'm not sure of the best way to go about it."

"What do you want?" Beckman asked.

"First I want you to answer a question. One I'm sure I already know the answer to, but I'd like to hear it from you. What Chuck Bartowski and I had was real wasn't it? He really is my husband, isn't he?"

Beckman gave a tired, slightly amused smile. "Oh yes. Very real. All too real, I often believed."

"He started off as a mark,- and I just fell for him?" Sarah asked, shaking her head slightly. "There's got to be more to it than that. I remember being good at what I did."

"Oh there's more to it than that alright Sarah. It was all right there in the baggage that yourself and Mr. Bartowski brought to the table." She gave a slight shrug. "Our trouble was that nobody really looked closely enough at either yours or his baggage."

"Really?" Sarah asked, intrigued.

"Sarah, if someone were a recovering alcoholic, do you think it would be wise to have them move into an apartment right above a liquor store? Or take a job as the night watchman of a liquor store?" Beckman asked

"Of course not." Sarah said.

"Of course not.". Beckman agreed. "Sarah, your background was very typical for field agent recruits. No close ties to family, no serious romantic relationships, and no close friends. Very much a lone wolf, and ideal for assignments where you get close to men, get what you need from them, and then burn them. That's what your assignment to Chuck Bartowski was supposed to be. What we didn't expect was for Operation Bartowski to become an ongoing affair, and we didn't respect enough the toll it would take on you. We sent an alcoholic to babysit a liquor store."

"I'm the alcoholic in the scenario?" Sarah asked.

"We're all alcoholics." Beckman informed "Everyone in the spy business is, sometimes literally. What took us by surprise was how much of a liquor store Chuck Bartowski was to you."

"How so?"

"Sarah, when we assigned you a cover identity as Chuck Bartowski's girlfriend, for some reason it didn't dawn on anybody- least of all Langston Graham- that we supplying you with a boyfriend unlike any you'd ever had before. Ellie became the sister you never had before, and Devon the brother you never had before. These situations are rare in our line of work, because let's face it, most people who become government assets don't have Chuck's style of doing things."

"So I went native." Sarah said.

"With a capital N." Beckman informed. "None of us wanted to see it or admit to it, least of all myself. And the results of Operation Bartowski inspired us to turn a blind eye to your-and his unprofessionalism."

"I'm beginning to remember things" Sarah said, slightly interested in changing the subject. "Not everything, or even most of everything. But a few things … images … memories started to shake loose. I actually think I was happy when I was with him."

Again Beckman gave a smile that bordered on condescension, so obvious to her were the words of her retort. "Yes, you were. It's so obvious now, that it's humiliating to me to be reminded that alarm bells didn't go off left and right. Sarah, romantic relationships are difficult even in the best of environments, even more difficult when careers that involve odd hours and danger are involved, and practically impossible when those careers are based on deceit and cover identities. The first day you met Chuck, you were supposed to have all the advantages. And you did. But then we decided to keep the two of you together, and that's when you started learning about Thanksgiving dinners, family birthdays, weddings, and all those other things that good little housewives do with their husbands. It didn't help that Chuck Bartowski was very good at it, as well, and was pretty much raised to want the whole family life thing. And with a powerful woman like yourself, so much the better. Ellie Bartowski gave him a good schooling in dealing with strong women. He works well with them, and doesn't feel the need to compete with or control them."

"Sounds like I kind of let the country down when I fell for him," Sarah said.

"Or we did when we assigned you to him." Beckman said, giving a sharp brief laugh through her nose. "At the time all we cared about was that he had the Intersect, and you were able to influence him. Nobody worried about the influence he'd have over you." Throwing her hands up in a shrug she said "And that's the story of how the CIA became the world's most expensive taxpayer funded matchmaking service, with you and Chuck as one of our only success stories."

Sarah smiled. "That's about what I expected. I guess that became my real life. Which brings me to my next question."

"Which is?"

"If I understand correctly, most of the people who know the about the Intersect project are either dead or behind bars. Especially people who know about the damage it can do to someone's memory. I think that if anyone has information on what can help fix me, it'd be them. Is there anyone left?" Sarah asked.

A calculating smile crossed General Diane Beckman's face. "Oh yes. I can think of one. He's rotting away down at Atlanta Fed right now, in fact," she informed, referring to the United States Penitentiary, Atlanta. "He's having a hard time making friends down there because there's something of language barrier. He might be able to shed some light on how much work you need to recover. "

"I'd like to talk to him, if that's possible. I'm sure he could pencil me into his busy schedule."

General Beckman lifted the handset from her phone. "How does tonight after dinner sound?"

Sarah blinked twice. General Beckman was a woman who could get things done, this was known … but still that counted as fast.

"Sounds great!" she blurted out.

Beckmen held out a finger for silence as she spoke into the phone. "Yes hello this is General Beckman. I'd like a car downstairs for myself and Mrs. Bartowski in fifteen minutes, and I want Andrewsto begin the preflight on whichever Chariot is there. I'll be there within the hour."

Returning her attention to Sarah, Beckman continued with a shrug of her shoulder boards. "These stars do come in handy at times. We'll make arraignments with Atlanta Fed from the plane. I have to confess that I'm looking forward to this. You've met this prisoner before, but things being what they are, you won't remember him."

"Do you think he'll remember me?" Sarah asked, uncertain of the details of her encounter with this prisoner.

"Oh, he'll remember you."

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Atlanta GA

United States Penitentiary

(later that evening)

Clad in her skirt suit, Sarah cut very much the businesslike, professional figure. If she had been armed with a briefcase, she'd have been almost indistinguishable from any of the female ADAs and defense lawyers who had shuttled in that day, where it not for the fact that she'd be among the better looking of them, was coming in at an odd hour of the evening, and was accompanied by a one star US Air Force general.

The prisoner was already seated at a desk in the prison's interview room, wearing the Day-Glo orange jump suit common amongst prisoners. From the one-way window, Sarah and Beckman could see that he had a look of confusion on his face. It was quite irregular for federal prisoners to receive visitors at so late an hour.

"Just remember" Beckman advised, "even though we're the ones who want something from him, you'll probably be the one holding all the cards. Use that."

The buzzer alarm sounded once, and the locks on the interview room door clicked, allowing the two women to enter the interview room.

At the sight of Sarah (Walker) Bartowski entering the room and approaching, the prisoner's eyes grew wide with panic.

"Good evening Herr Docktor," General Beckman said with a faux pleasantness that even the naivest would recognize as artificial. "I hope you enjoyed your supper."

The prisoner leapt from his chair in terror and backed into the far corner of the interview room. In English thickly larded with a German accent, he accused in despair "I know you! You are Agent Valker!" To general Beckman he whined "You! You have brought her here to kill me! I svear I have told your people every-zing I know! I can tell you no-ting more!"

Sarah made sure to mask her surprise at the violent reaction the prisoner had to her. One of the first principles of interrogation was to acquire information from the suspect/asset while divulging little to none, and Sarah didn't want him to know that she was the planned beneficiary of any information he had.

Sarah folded her arms and cocked her hip, as if she were a stern mother or big sister scolding an unruly pre-teen. "Doctor Mueller, if I had wanted you dead, I wouldn't have come in the front door, and you wouldn't have had time to realize what was happening. You'd just be dead."

Beckman gestured to the table in the center of the conference. "I thought the three of us might chat."

Still not entirely sure of his safety, but grasping a certain logic in Sarah's words, Dr. Mueller nervously took his own seat opposite. "But I have told you of all my dealings mit Herr DeSmet many months ago."

"We're not here about Mr. DeSmet." Beckman informed. "We're here about somebody else who was attempting to acquire The Intersect."

Sarah took over, gender flipping her pronouns in an attempt to hide her affliction "There was a man named Nicholas Quinn. He found out that someone had been uploaded with an imperfect variant of The Intersect, where accessing information on the Intersect causes memory loss. Quinn deliberately caused this person to access the Intersect time and again, erasing all of his memories for the last five years, and taking him back to a point before he met his currant partners. He remembers his early life, his earlier friends and his earlier experiences, but not anything that happened within the last five years."

Dr. Mueller frowned and furrowed his brows. "Zis person is still alive, and misses only the memories of the last five years?" At two nods from the two women in the room, he shook his head. "Zis hardly seems possible. Temporary memory loss iz common enough mit any neurological manipulation, but should be no more severe zen a case of absentmindedness. The memories should return on their own or, if not, with simple reminders. It should be no more problematic or permanent then forgetting the name of a close friend's child or spouse. Embarrassing, but temporary."

Beckman leaned over and whispered into Sarah's ear. "Before you lost the last five years, you did forget Alex's name. Casey's Alex."

Sarah sucked in a breath and began again. "What happened was a lot more severe than absentmindedness. This person lost 5 whole years. How would someone go about recapturing those memories?"

Mueller again shook his head. "Vat you are dezcribing is zimply not possible. Nobody could zimply erase 5 years vorth of life experiences. Ze human brain iz not a file cabinet or a document explorer on a computer, where information iz stored chronologically. No neurosurgeon could take a brain, und zen delete all of tze memories from 2012, tzen 2011, tzen 2010 und so on, vile being careful to leave untargeted memories intact. No, not even if the person was being victimized by a damaged Intersect."

Sarah was now getting heated, and her self-control was starting to break. "And yet that's exactly what happened" she snarled.

Dr. Muller responded with equal heat and stubbornness. Clearly somewhere under his mad scientist credentials was a knowledgeable neurologist who, in a happier timeline would have been a university professor or successful hospital board member. "No! Zat is not exactly vat happened. It just seems so! Your patient did not so much lose five years of their memories as much as they suppressed the memory of zomzing they did, or zomzing they had, or zomeplace they vere, or zomeone they were with for five years!"

Mueller leaned back in his chair in frustration and paused as if he were a professor trying to explain something to a class full of slow students. "Memories are grouped and organized and accessed in de brain according to other criteria then date. If you vere to put your favorite food in front of you right now, you vould remember the last time you had it. And be reminded of the time before, and the time before, and so on, back to your childhood. Now, you vould not be immediately reminded of everything else that happened on the same day as the last time you had your favorite food, because not all of the things you did or saw on that day would be as remarkable or noteworthy."

Grasping at what he thought was a better example, Mueller expounded "If I wanted to suppress der General's memories over the last few years, I would not be able to simply erase the years I wanted her to forget, I'd have to focus on something to suppress, something that was with her or part of her during that time, like…" Mueller looked hard at her shoulder. "ze star on her Luftwaffe uniform. Suppressing the memories of that artifact vould likely suppress the memories of every day she wore it, going back to ze first day she became Luftgeneral, and ze last day she was oberst. The effect would be suppression of several years, but not because a concept as abstract as time was targeted for suppression."

Sarah's anger had faded and was now replaced with a faint hope- one that hinged on Mueller's choice of vocabulary. "You keep using the word 'suppressed'. You don't mean 'deleted' or 'erased'?"

Mueller scoffed. "Agent Valker, there is only von way to be confident that a person's brain no longer holds memories. Shoot zem in ze head. Zere is no such thing as reliable memory deletion mit a living subject. Only suppression. As long as a patient is alive and healthy, ze brain contains information that it received. It does not truly lose it. Even mit patients mit der Alzheimer's disease, und dementia their memories come und go as their condition worsens. The brain never truly loses the information until literally the day it dies."

"So the missing five years…" Sarah demanded Mueller continue.

"Ze subject has suppressed memories not of the five years but of something they were doing in those five years. A place they were at, an auto they drove, a child they had. It could be anything. Anything that is, that those five years had in common."

The realization immediately dawned on both women. Beneath the table, Beckman's right hand grabbed Sarah's elbow.

"Dr. Mueller, what could counteract the suppression?"

"If available, exposure to the artifact being suppressed. The entire concept of the human brain recognizing people places und things is based on the very simple concept that your brain categorizes based on sensory input. Ven it receives a stimulus; it'll search itself for memories of when it received similar stimuli. Subconsciously, the brain will try to piece together the circumstances that the artifact must have attendant to it. If the artifact is say an auto, ze brain will know that there must have been a dealership, and insurance people and probably a favorite mechanic, and will know that this information must be in there somewhere."

Still Sarah tried to grip her emotions tightly, even as the most hopeful conclusions manifested themselves. "So what your saying is this agent…."

"If he is alive, healthy, and is not regularly being artificially suppressed, will surely overcome their suppression. Memory suppression has its uses, of course, but in the end it is no-ting more than an artificial und finite invasion into a healthy brain. If the brain survives the invasion, it copes, und works to undo the damage done. If the artifact can be reintroduced, the coping should become much easier and faster."

Hiding her sweating palms, Sarah nudged general Beckman with her foot.

"Thank you Doctor, that was most … enlightening. Perhaps Atlanta Fed is too … primitive a facility for you to be spending your time. I'll speak to the DOJ about moving you to a more comfortable spot. Perhaps one with nicer library."

Dr. Mueller was collected and sent back to his cell, leaving Sarah and Beckman alone in the interview room. "I'll assume you came to the same conclusion I did?" Beckman said.

"Quinn didn't erase or suppress my last five years. He just suppressed all the memories I had with Chuck!" Sarah practically exploded.

"And apparently they can come back simply by spending time with him."

Sarah now spoke excitedly "When I was in the Wienerlicious in Berlin I remembered the arraignment of the cups. When I was in the Buy More I remembered ringing the desk bell the first time I was there. Chuck kissed me at the beach last week. A few things started coming back to me."

Beckman held up her hand and smiled a bit "That's probably a natural place to stop giving me details."

"He's waiting for me back in California." Sarah said.

"Well then it's time to put an end to his waiting, don't you think?" suggested Beckman.

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Los Angeles California
Echo Park
Bartowski Residence

(3 days later)

True to her word, Sarah had returned, willing to let whatever unknown and unknowable sorcery Chuck's proximity to herself take its time and work its way.

He awoke with a soft groan. Chuck still thought of the guest bedroom as Morgan's Old Room, despite the fact that Morgan had moved out last year, well before the wedding. Now he and Alex were reunited with each other and living in Casey's old pad across the courtyard.

It was an odd mixture of frustration and hope with which Chuck had woken up for the last three days. Just as one gets used to living without a deceased loved one, Chuck had gotten used to the horrible, numb reality of waking up without Sarah in the month since Quinn's attack. It was painful to both go to sleep and wake up in the room and bed where he and Sarah had shared so many heartfelt passionate encounters, and countless more profound conversations stretching back to when they had first met.

Now Sarah was back, physically at least. Although Chuck wanted nothing more than for things to be as they were and for them to sleep in the same bed together again, they had agreed that space and time for Sarah's memories to return were probably for the best.

Breakfast, Chuck decided would be an integral part of Sarah's memory jogging. Dutifully, he got up and got to work on the eggs and toast, clad in what he typically slept in, a t-shirt and sweatpants.

Somewhere about the time the first omelet was done, Chuck's cell phone chirped.

Zondra: C and I will be there in 20.

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But we never went to Comic-Con, did we? … How're you doing? … Not great … I am just being professional … yeah- world's oldest profession … It's official … you're my home, Chuck … Do you know what this is? … it's his proposal plan … I'll be out in a minute… Promise me you're not doing it for me. Or for us …you did the right thing you followed protocol …. It must have torn Bryce up not to be able to tell me… you didn't think we'd let you keep that, did you? … Arcade Fire- you're not ready for it… Sarah we've got company! … but Julia Roberts was so delightful, wasn't she?

It was like sleeping in a haunted house, Both kinds of haunted houses, the type inhabited by spirits and the amusement park ride, where unpredictable things jumped out and surprised her. Her and Chuck's bedroom was haunted by all sorts of memories ranging from the blushingly intensely erotic, to the mundane to the frightening. There was no doubt that some version of her belonged here with Chuck, and the spy in her was intrigued at the idea of making all of these memories make sense. Why was there a ninja with a pair of sai in their room at one time? Did Chuck really call her a prostitute once?

She lay awake alone in the bed, blinking a few times, happy that memories were finding her, but frustrated that they rarely made immediate sense. And this apartment was full of such memories.

No sooner was Sarah done blinking the sleep from her eyes than yet another stream of memories rushed her. These were the sounds of eggs sizzling in the frying pan from the kitchen. Sarah sat up and inhaled deeply for a minute. On her fourth inhale, the delightful aroma from the kitchen filled her nostrils, and vaguely brought memories of waking up alone to find her boyfriend or husband cooking for her – a rarity as she was the lighter sleeper, and typically up and awake first – or more commonly lounging about with her Chuck on a lazy morning while Morgan cooked.

Visitors ringing the doorbell, this early in the morning, however were not common and the sound snapped her out of her reverie. The sound of a female voice when Chuck answered the door sliced through a great deal of haze… Carina? From the CATs? Here was no long lost puzzle piece or uncertain memory – Sarah remembered Carina, Zondra and Amy very well. Quickly, Sarah pulled on a bathrobe, bound it fast around her and was prepared to come out into the dining area, when she heard Chuck's voice saying "yes it's true." It stopped her in her tracks and instead of making it to the kitchen/ dining area, she allowed her surreptitious side to win, cracked the door open ajar, and listened.

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Zondra Rizzo had in fact arrived a few minutes before Carina, but didn't approach the apartment. The truth was that she was scared. If an enemy had killed Sarah, taking her from her friends and comrades entirely, that would be one thing, a loss they could mourn and heal from. But Chuck's phone call from earlier bespoke of a fate far more nightmarish – Sarah literally didn't remember a single thing from the last five years? Zondra wasn't sure what she'd find if she approached the house. Would Sarah have snapped and killed Chuck? Would the surprisingly competent Chuck have hurt or killed Sarah in self-defense? Sarah possibly still thought of Zondra as a traitor- nobody five years ago had suspected the sweet, dim-seeming Amy.

And so, uncharacteristically shy Zondra sat perched on her motorcycle, eyeing the apartment, and checking her phone for some badly needed reinforcement.

It came with revving growl behind her, as a glossy black Ford Mustang grumbled to a halt. The driver's side door opened, and out stepped all six feet of Carina, her rusty tresses held in place with a pair of sunglasses, until she pulled them down into place.

"They not up yet? Carina asked, jerking her head towards the apartment.

"There's movement. I think Chuck's making breakfast. I haven't gone in. was waiting for you."

"C'mon." Carina said, as she strode her way into the courtyard and around the fountain. With a glance back to the street and Zondra's bike, she asked "did you really ride that all the way from Florida?"

"What can I say, I like biking through the South." Zondra said dismissively.

Carina rang the bell. The door was immediately answered by Chuck. Both women could tell that all was not well. Chuck was decent, and not unkempt, clad as he was in a Star Trek t-shirt and sweatpants, but he hadn't shaved in a few days, and rather than a jovial happy look on his face, he had the fatigued sadness of someone who had just gotten home from a funeral- the look of one who had been sad for a matter of days and weeks, not hours and minutes.

Carina wasted no minutes. "So Sarah's lost her memories? It's true?"

"Yes it's true." Chuck said. Then opening the door widely for both women, he said. "Come on in. I was about to make breakfast. Coffee's almost on." Chuck gestured in an uncommitted way to the area around both the breakfast counter and the dining room table.

"Thanks, I need to sit," Zondra chirped with fake cheeriness, desperate to keep the mood as light as possible. "Been riding cross country and my thighs haven't hurt this much since after that night with the varsity lacrosse team"

"Which time?" Carina challenged "The time that happened in high school, the time that happened in college, or four days ago when you swung by Ole Miss?" Zondra gave her a stinky eye while she found a seat.

Chuck served the two women breakfast, and began to reiterate Sarah's recent story for what felt like the billionth and a half time. Zondra and Carina pitched into their eggs and French toast and listened with a mixture of horror and confusion. Sarah's condition was dreadful, but the ex-CATs weren't at all sure on how Chuck was hoping they could be part of any long term solution.

"Is Sarah's memory going to come back?" Zondra asked.

"The best we can say is 'maybe. We hope so'" Chuck said glumly. "According to what she said Dr. Mueller said, exposure to what her life was like over the last five years should jog her memory. Of course, the last time I spent any time with Dr. Mueller, he was trying to liquefy my brain into sludge, so I'm not really happy that his opinions are what passes for rays of hope with Sarah."

"What do you want us to do?" Zondra pressed.

Chuck nearly seemed to choke on the words, so painful they seemed to get out. "I don't know if Sarah's going to stay. Or if she's going to recover enough of her memory to make her want to stay. But either way she's going to need you two. This didn't even happen to me, and I know I'd barely make it through this if it wasn't for my family and friends. No matter what Sarah decides to do, I want you two to be there for her to let her know that she's not alone."

Carina turned her head to take a swig of orange juice, and in so doing, cast a glance down the hallway. From her perch on the stool at the breakfast counter, she had noticed something that neither Zondra or Chuck had. – the door to the master bedroom was slightly ajar. A cruel, but hopefully effective plan formed in Carina's mind.

"Heh." Carina guffawed. "Well if a girl has to loose five years of her life, she picked the right five years to lose."

Chuck's face registered confusion at the statement, convinced that he'd heard wrong. "What do you mean?"

But Zondra was horrified at Carina's callousness. "Yo!, C! Haven't you been paying attention? Our girl barely even remembers Chuck!"

"And that's kind of sad, yeah." Carina said. "But let's face it, Sarah's fallen apart in the last five years. She's gone from probably the best and smartest CAT, to a barefoot and wannabe pregnant housewife! Are you seriously proud of yourself Chuck that you took a brain that was all about disabling bombs and capturing some of the evilest people on the planet, and turning it to thoughts of Costco runs and backyard barbecues. I'll bet your last big discussion was on what type of dog to get, and what kind of Homeowners Association to join."

Zondra's mouth flew open in shock. "Wait! What? No! Chuck! I'm totally on your side. It's because of you I have Sarah back as a friend. If she hangs with me I can be your biggest cheerleader. And I'm persuasive. I once convinced Amy to switch from Team Jacob to Team Edward!"

"Oh, yeah" Carina quipped "So you taught her all about changing teams. Guess she took that lesson to heart" Returning her look to Chuck she stormed "Sorry Chuck, but I don't think you want me hanging with Sarah, because my pitch will be all about how great her life was before those five years. She got to travel to pretty much every capital in the world, a great expense and wardrobe budget, and her job had a great purpose. Did you seriously think I was going to be your biggest cheerleader? I barely forgive you two for living in Los Angeles."

Chuck heaved a deflated sigh. "Actually … no I didn't. I know not everyone's cut out for suburbanville and family life Carina. I know that. I wasn't expecting you to pitch me. Either of you."

"Then why bring us here?" Carina asked.

Chuck broke, and his face betrayed a look of utter helplessness. "Because I want Sarah to be happy, and I don't want her to be hurting! Whether she wants to be with me or not, she's hurting. Whether I can help her remember or not, she's hurting. You're her friends, and I want you to help her feel good every now and then, and remind her she's not alone. Spend time with her and be with her, even if she's not with me."

Carina's look softened as it became apparent that Chuck was trying to hold back tears "It's really possible that Sarah's going to give up and leave me and go back to being a spy. I know that. I've known that for the last three weeks and four days! It was a miracle that she fell in love with me in the first place – I know better than to just assume that miracle can happen again! But if Sarah leaves me, it's not going to just me that she leaves. She'll be leaving Ellie and Devon and Morgan and Alex, and almost everybody she cares about and who cares about her. I don't want her to be alone, She's a people person. She's happiest when she's around friends. She's going to need you, and I want you to be there for -"

Chuck didn't get to complete the sentence. Carina's barrage of snarky put-downs and insults had done its work.

Sarah, listening from the bedroom had heard Carina's snide remarks and yet another torrent of memories came roaring back to her, of every time she had silently witnessed her Chuck being insulted and abused. It had happened a lot. Casey had done it on an almost daily basis, although for a Marine a small amount of chop-busting was practically a token of acceptance and endearment. Beckman had been dismissive of everything about Chuck towards the beginning, only gradually coming around to seeing the worth not only of The Intersect, but of the man who carried it. Carina, Zondra and Amy had been unimpressed with her Chuck upon first meeting, and those hyper-arrogant GRETAS that the government had tried so hard to groom as Chuck's replacements had been gleefully dismissive of him, one taunting him about not dropping the bomb.

All the while, Sarah, even while she was in the process of falling in love with him had been forced to bite her lip and maintain disciplined silence in the face of this abuse of her lover. She could and would take no more.

Covering the distance from the bedroom door to the kitchen in five long strides, Sarah grabbed Chuck's left shoulder and pulled, twisting him bodily to face her. With lighting speed, her hands slid up to his cheeks, steadying his head as she held him still for a long, deep, passionate kiss.

Chuck, as he was wont to when kissed by Sarah, almost lost track of the fact that there were other people in the room with them. Everything around him, the walls of the kitchen, the counters, Zondra and Carina… all seemed to fade into oblivion, until it was just the feel and taste of Sarah's lips, the soft but strong touch of her hands, and the sent of her hair.

"Wow" was what the always- eloquent Chuck said at length when the kiss broke.

Sarah caught his eyes and said "Chuck, I'm not going anywhere. I might not remember every little detail, yet, Chuck but I can remember how you made me feel." Kissing him again sharply on the lips she threw her arms around him and whispered once more into his ear "I'm not going anywhere, Chuck".

Then she whirled around, staring daggers at the two women in her kitchen. "Carina," she snarled "Don't ever speak to my husband like that again!"

The sight of an infuriated Sarah (Walker) Bartowski typically had a destructive effect on people's confidence and sense of immediate safety. Retreat and flight were favorite responses, and usually the most sensible ones.

But Carina simply regarded her friend and comrade. Accepting the risk that she might have to dodge a punch or a slap, she held her ground. As Sarah continued to glare at her in rage, it was clear that she only intended a verbal warning- this time. Carina allowed a small smile to part her lips. Smugly, she simply said "Welcome back Sarah."