A/N- Chapter 12 is the last chapter and an epilogue rolled into one. It has taken me far too long to write this .. and for that I apologize. Real life has 'tasked' me. I always complete my stories but have never been a 'quick' writer. That being said, thank you for being patient and following this story. And of course, all the comments, PMs and encouragement along the way.
Sincere thanks to michaelfmx for the time and effort he has put forward into editing this story. I value our collaborations, merci, mon ami.
"I love Chuck Bartowski and I don't know what to do about it."
'From Chapter 11'
Chuck was sitting beside Sarah as she touched the safety deposit box in front of them.
"Chuck, during my second year on the job, an older agent, whom I greatly respected, took me aside and explained that any field agent worth their salt had better prepare for the worst case scenario. That scenario is when you as a spy might truly be 'out in the cold'. When that day comes, you'd better have a place to go and money to speed you on your way."
Chuck had been in a bit of a trance since they'd crossed the border into Lichtenstein. It felt like he was actually living in a 'Bourne' movie and Sarah Walker was Jason Bourne.
Sarah opened the bank box and emptied the contents onto the table.
He ignored the Beretta and spare magazine that thudded on the table. The thing that caught his eye were two passports with his picture in them and four other passports with Sarah's picture inside.
Sarah smiled. "Chuck, I had these made up for you just after Agent Longshore almost put you in a bunker. I almost lost you then and I swore, in that moment, that I was never going to let them do that to you, ever."
Chuck felt a lump grow in his throat. He loved this incredibly complex but amazing woman so much. He rested his hand on her shoulder and looked down at the passports.
Sarah felt the lump in her throat and kept quiet. She took a minute to compose herself. "Chuck, I've got three different currencies here, but I think it totals to about 325,000 Swiss Francs."
She reached up and caressed his cheek with her hand.
"You don't need to talk to any 'stinking' Swiss Banker."
She smiled at him and her blue eyes were still moist. "I want to give this to you. And by the way, this is all my money. It's legit. I earned it by the sweat of my brow and some good investment advice from a Scottish Banker, Hamish Menzies … well I'll tell you about him … another time. "
Chuck was speechless but was finally able to talk. He shocked Sarah when he said, "Sarah, this is your money, I can't possibly take this from you. I wouldn't feel right taking money from my girlfriend. What kind of man does that?"
Sarah was about to argue with him when he put his hand on top of hers.
Chuck had a twinkle in his eye. "I know this isn't exactly the most romantic place, unless maybe you're an accountant …But what I was going to say … is .. it might be okay if my fiancé was gifting me this money in order to build our future together ….that might be okay."
Sarah cocked her head and narrowed her eyes. "Chuck, did you just …. I can't believe it …. did you just propose to me in a dimly lit bank vault buried three stories underground?"
Chuck gave a nervous laugh. "Ahhh, no, of course not …don't be silly … because …. that wouldn't be very romantic. Would it?"
"No, Chuck, it wouldn't be remotely romantic. There isn't a woman on this entire planet who would possibly entertain such a proposal."
A pause ensued and then a smile started to play at the corners of her mouth.
"But there is an intimate little restaurant across the street and a hotel right beside it. You might have better luck over there."
Seven Weeks Later
JetBlue Flight 1308, Dulles to Burbank
Hi, my name is Chuck and here are some things you may not know.
I'm now an engaged man. Sarah agreed to marry me in a cozy back corner of a little café in Lichtenstein.
I didn't have an engagement ring and was going to put off my proposal until Sarah handed me a small blue velvet bag. Inside was my mother's bracelet, the one I'd given Sarah almost two years before at the Christmas party at the Buy More.
I must've given her a strange look because she put her hand on my arm and said, "Chuck, when you gave this to me, I was your handler and you were my asset. I told you then that I couldn't accept it. Well, now things are different …. so for now… instead of a ring …"
So when I bent down on one knee and I proposed she held out her left hand and I fastened the bracelet onto her wrist. That bracelet means everything to me because it's really the only thing I have that connects me to my mom.
Now I know that you know, that being engaged to Sarah Walker was always my deepest wish. Some of you might even call it my greatest fantasy.
You know, the fantasy that plays out in your mind when you're sitting in chemistry class in high school, staring across the classroom at the most beautiful blonde girl you've ever seen. That same blonde, who happens to be the head cheerleader and the most popular girl in school.
You know what I'm talking about. You're lost in a daydream, a farfetched fantasy about dating the head cheer leader, even though she doesn't even know your name.
I bet there are a lot of you who probably still believe that Sarah is way out of my league, well all I can say is …A lot of things have changed since Burbank, and I no longer believe that any more.
But don't get me wrong, Sarah is a girl in a million and I thank all the deities every day she's in love with me.
My dad kept a poem on his desk written by Robert Burns. The one line I remember is 'The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men Gang aft agley'. In other words, things don't always work out the way you plan.
Reudi's generous offer to make me a partner floundered on the hidden rocks of Swiss law and the fact that his father was a silent investor. No matter which way we tried to make the partnership work, I would always be a 'junior' partner with Reudi and his dad owning 65% of the company.
Sarah and I talked long into the night about what to do; we could accept the fact I would be a junior partner in Valyrian or turn Reudi's kind offer down and maintain the status quo.
It was Sarah who came up with a third option.
She suggested the two of us start up our own company back in the States.
She pointed out that between the two of us we had 425,000 dollars and everything that Reudi and Emily were doing in Valyrian, we could do back in the States in our own company. The added benefit, as Sarah so cogently pointed out, would be that there would be no 'junior' partners, just two equal partners.
It took four weeks for Sarah and me to say all of our goodbyes. It was a whirlwind of goodbye lunches and dinners. Reudi and Emily took us out for a special last dinner that finally ended in the wee hours of the morning. I truly felt I was leaving home to go home. It just felt so strange.
All of our funds were discreetly sent to some other accounts Sarah had set up in Burbank. She really does know how to move money around the world and still be able to remain anonymous.
The Scottish banker in her past taught her well.
However, not everything went so smoothly. Sarah leaving the CIA wasn't as easy as we'd hoped.
It took almost two full weeks for Sarah to be completely processed out of the CIA. We stayed in her Washington apartment for the duration of her 'out processing'. After our first night there, the two pictures of Bryce, one in the living room and the other one in the bedroom, were mercifully hidden away from my sight. I'm not sure if Sarah threw them out or hid them away.
I hope it was the former.
Sarah was gone twelve long hours each day as she was debriefed on her former assets and missions. And there was other stuff she simply didn't want to talk with me about. I didn't push her to tell me because I had a pretty good idea this was about her 'wet' work.
On the last day, the Director asked to meet with the both of us.
My only interaction with the CIA upper echelon up to this point had been with Langston Graham. A name that should live in infamy. I mean really, what do you say about the man who told me 'to enjoy the rest of my life' while prodding General Beckman into ordering Casey to terminate me almost the next day?
The Director I met with was charming, persuasive and, behind the very civilized and polished veneer, a powerful man who could help or hinder both of our lives.
We spent an hour with him and the final 'deal' we worked out was that Sarah would be put on what he called the reserve list. The bare bones of the deal was this; twice a year the Director could call on the both of us for a week at a time to go on a mission.
I'd been pretty quiet in the meeting up to this point. The whole thing was awfully intimidating, but when the Director put his deal forward, I couldn't hold back and blurted out, "Here are some conditions, no wet work, no seduction, Sarah and I are a team and, finally, we have the right to refuse to take up a mission."
Sarah and the Director looked a little taken aback by my outburst. But I wasn't going to back down. I clenched my jaw and looked the Director in the eye, while my leg under the table was jumping up and down.
The silence that followed was only seconds but it seemed a hell of a lot longer.
Finally the Director sat back. He looked at Sarah then at me. "Agent Walker, Mr. Bartwoski, I'll accept those terms."
He then turned his focus onto Sarah. 'Agent Walker, you've been at the tip of the CIA spear for many years and have done all that we asked while being in harm's way. I think it's time for others to learn from your experience. I was thinking that at least one week a year you could help us out at the Farm."
In return for us agreeing to this deal, the Director said that he and General Beckman might be able to steer some business to our new company.
Between you and me, I think Sarah was quite happy with the outcome of the meeting. I'm still not sure about having any connection with the CIA or the NSA, but like I said these are powerful people.
So the next big hurdle in front of us as we head to Burbank is to smooth the waters between Sarah and Ellie. Sarah and I have worked out a reasonable story about how we got back together again and we've tried to put into the story as many snippets of the truth as we possibly can.
But I'm worried because there are two whole years of lies that Ellie and Devon still believe about Sarah and me and our fake relationship.
Ellie still thinks Sarah was this smart, beautiful girl who worked at the Orange-Orange and was really into her little brother.
Before Sarah left, Ellie had really thought that Sarah was going to become the sister she never had.
Is Ellie pissed off with Sarah? Oh, yes! When I called Ellie and Devon two days ago and told them that I'd met Sarah several weeks ago in Bern and we were now engaged, there was this long, long silence on the other end of the phone and then in an exasperated tone Ellie blurted out, "Chuck I thought you'd finally moved on in your life. Are you sure Sarah's the right girl for you? I mean, how do you know she's over Bruce or Bryan or whatever the hell his name was?"
Sarah was listening to the call and winced when she heard Ellie's exasperated outburst.
Can Sarah and I make this right between her and Ellie? I really hope so because I don't want to be the guy who got the girl of his dreams and in the bargain became estranged from his sister.
Sarah called Ellie yesterday and set up a meeting just between the two of them.
I have my doubts about this strategy and really think I should be there, you know, just in case things get a little out of hand. But Sarah said no way and was adamant that this is between her and Ellie. If she can win Ellie over, then Devon won't be a problem.
Well, now you're up to date … so wish us luck!
Next day -Bergamot Café, Santa Monica- 1:15pm
Sarah knew of this café from a previous mission five years ago.
She grabbed a table that was near a red brick wall and tucked away in the corner. It would give them a little bit of privacy for their talk. Sarah was wearing a yellow and blue summer dress with thin straps along with flats.
Her hair was loose so it could fall onto her bare shoulders, she called this her soft look.
Sarah and Chuck had worked out a very detailed story about why she'd left Burbank and what she'd been doing prior to meeting Chuck again in Bern. They'd both been very careful to minimize the lies along with omitting certain facts that she couldn't share with Ellie.
Sarah didn't bite her nails and she didn't chew gum to deal with her nervousness. In spite of the outward appearance of utter calm, she was extremely agitated and was nibbling the inside of her lip and tapping her toes under the table.
Sarah made a solemn vow to herself that she would not start off life being with Chuck and having Ellie hating her.
Ellie came into the café and quickly looked around and spotted Sarah in the corner. Good she thought, the table will afford us some privacy. She was wearing a light green dress with a halter top.
Sarah closely watched Ellie's entrance and her movements as she approached the table.
Ellie was a beautiful woman, she was two inches shorter than Sarah but still statuesque. Sarah had always loved Ellie's warm eyes, which were light brown with flecks of amber and gold revealing themselves in different shades of light.
As Ellie drew near, Sarah wasn't seeing a lot of warmth in Ellie's eyes. Sarah sighed to herself, this was going to be tough.
Brief hellos were exchanged with no hugs. Mercifully the waiter followed closely behind Ellie to take their drink order and give them the menus.
After he left, Ellie wasted no time. "Sarah, I thought you left Chuck to be with Bryan, or Bruce. What happened?"
Sarah was the one who could kill someone with her bare hands and therefore, in the grand scheme of things, the one to be feared. But now, at this precise moment, Sarah Walker was intimidated by the brunette sitting across from her.
She greatly respected Ellie Bartowski for her intelligence, her resourcefulness and because she'd held the family together after her father left them high and dry. Sarah knew that Ellie was her equal when it came to caring for and feeling protective towards Chuck.
Sarah cleared her throat. "Things between Bruce and me were never really going to work. I think I knew that when I left Burbank …"
Ellie almost snarled the response. "If you knew that, why on earth did you leave Chuck, leave our family?"
Sarah blinked when Ellie used the term 'our family'. She sighed, remembering that, for a short and wonderful time in her life, she'd been a welcome member of the Bartowski's, time for some truth. "Because I was terrified of making the commitment that Chuck wanted me to make. He wanted me to be with him … you know, like you and Devon?"
The waiter interrupted the conversation again and took their orders, and then melted into the background as if he'd never been there.
Ellie turned her head slightly and took a sip of her wine and as she did so Sarah tried to read her mood and body language.
Sarah Walker had been under the severe tutelage of Jack Burton and had learned early in life to read people.
Jack Burton always had a very specific agenda and so he taught her to look for greed, avarice, envy, anger, a need for revenge and especially naivety. All necessary feelings and emotions if you were going to con them out of their hard earned money.
Later Sarah had honed these basic skills to a very high degree with the help of the CIA. She now could read people in order to determine if she was wining them over, if they were starting to trust her.
Her life often depended on accurately reading the marks, the assets and other agents correctly.
Sarah looked at Ellie and what she saw was skepticism and a distinct lack of trust. Shit!
It was almost like Ellie was reading Sarah's mind because she leaned forward. "People don't usually view me as naïve, but when it came to you and Chuck I now know I was."
Sarah sat back in her chair and the little hairs on the back of her neck tingled. The conversation had just taken a turn that made her exceedingly nervous. She waited.
Ellie sat back and took a large sip of her wine as if to gain some liquid courage.
"Three weeks after you left Burbank, Chuck was struggling to break out of his dark mood and I think some depression. All I had from you was a small card saying how sorry you were that things hadn't worked out with Chuck and that you were headed back to D.C.
"I needed to find out what really happened between the two of you.
"So, I tried to find you."
Sarah gulped because she knew how impossible that would be for any lay person to track her down once she left Burbank. Ellie moved her chair closer to the table and leaned in.
"Devon had done a high risk triple by-pass on a retired detective named David Williams. Going into the operation Devon had carefully explained to David and the family that it was a 50-50 chance the operation would work.
"Devon did a great job and the operation was a success. He and his family were very grateful to Devon. So, we reached out to David for some help.
"He said the starting point was your DMV record. I also gave him some photographs of you and Chuck."
Ellie paused and carefully looked across at Sarah. Sarah made her face into a neutral mask. "So, Sarah guess what? There was no record of a Sarah Walker that looked like you ever having been in the California DMV, none. David asked me if I was sure. I told him that I'd seen your license several times when we were out together shopping."
Sarah took a sip of her wine and shrugged her shoulders as if to say I don't understand? How could that be?
Ellie continued, "David also told me that one day after he'd carried out his search, his former boss, the Chief of Detectives for Los Angeles, called him and suggested that he might want to drop any further inquiries about Sarah Walker. He also said the magic words 'National Security' to David."
Sarah finally spoke but there was a hitch in her voice that Ellie caught.
"So, what did you and David do?"
Ellie gave Sarah a ghost of a smile. "I stopped asking and so did David because something was terribly odd and a little intimidating. David was very nervous."
"You know Sarah, when you came into Chuck's life I was so relieved that he'd gotten together with someone so special, so beautiful, that I didn't look too closely at certain things. You see, I've always believed that Chuck deserved someone special in his life because he's such a good, kind and intelligent man. So I didn't consider it strange you would like my brother and want to be with him."
Sarah chimed in. "Ellie, you weren't wrong. I've always believed that Chuck is a special kind of man, and I always felt I was the lucky one to be in his company and that maybe he deserved someone better than me."
Ellie cocked her head to the left and fixed Sarah with a penetrating gaze.
At that moment, the waiter arrived with their food and the conversation ceased while both ladies were lost in their thoughts as they ate.
It was Ellie who took up the conversation. "Sarah, I never really seriously questioned why a girl working for less than $20 an hour could drive a $100,000 Porsche. I mean, to put new tires on that car would take what, three months of your wages?
"I never gave it a second thought that you lived for almost two years in a hotel that cost $200 a night. And by the way, I'm not a fashionista but I do recognize Manolo Blahnik shoes and Prada handbags. Hell, even though I can afford it, even I don't own a Prada handbag."
Ellie leaned forward. "So, tell me Sarah, what's the answers to all my questions about you? Who the hell are you really? Because you sure aren't merely a dispenser of deep fried wieners and yogurt! And why were you in Chuck's life? "
Sarah stared at Ellie and she knew for certain that the entire story she and Chuck had rehearsed was now useless. In the twenty seconds of silence that held sway over the table she made a decision that could put Ellie, Devon, Chuck and her at risk.
But lies are like a silent cancer that can sit for years, dormant and seemingly benign. Then one day unexpectedly they emerge and destroy in minutes what it took years to build up.
Sarah reached for her purse and took out a $100 bill and left it on the table. "Ellie, I need to show you somewhere special to me and we need a private place for me to answer some of your questions. I took a taxi here, can we go in your car?"
Ellie's eyes widened and she started to feel nervous. She wasn't sure she wanted to know the truth, but it was too late for all that. She'd been the one who'd started this line of inquiry and she meant to get some answers.
As Ellie pulled away from the curb, she reminded Sarah to buckle up her seat belt.
Sarah quickly buckled up and told Ellie to head for Cabrillo Beach, near the pier. Ellie nodded that she knew where that was. Ellie and Chuck had gone there any number of times over the years. When there dad had left them. Money had always been tight, so going to the beach was a cheap way for them to have some fun.
Once they'd parked the car, Sarah and Ellie walked side by side in silence. Sarah led them to one particular spot. When they arrived, Sarah looked at Ellie and then sat down with her hands resting on her knees and stared out into the Pacific. Ellie was now beyond curious and several times bit her tongue in order not to speak. She wanted to give Sarah lots of space to speak.
It was the longest two minutes of Ellie's life, as she waited for Sarah to gather her thoughts, calm herself and begin.
Finally, Sarah turned towards Ellie. "This is a very special place for Chuck and me. In fact, it was in this exact place I made one of the most important decisions of my life. It was to protect your brother and look after him.
"Ellie, what I'm going to tell you stays between you, me and Chuck. You can't share any of this, even with Devon. I know that's not fair because he's your husband. Maybe down the road we can share some of it with him, but for now that's the way it has to be." Sarah looked at Ellie.
Ellie took a minute to think about whether she should agree, but her curiosity and the gravity in Sarah's voice convinced her. She gave Sarah the slightest nod of her head.
Sarah told Ellie a lot of the truth but, of course, not the whole truth.
She told Ellie she was a CIA agent and who John Casey was. She didn't tell Ellie about the Intersect and if she could help it, she never would.
She didn't tell Ellie about her father being Orion because that wasn't her story to tell.
The story Ellie heard was that Chuck was one of the elite hackers in the world and that he'd come to the notice of the Intelligence community. Her job and Casey's job was to protect Chuck and keep him safe, while he helped them with his special skills.
It was essential to keep Chuck out of the arms of other intelligence organizations and nations that would want to capture him and use the knowledge he possessed for their own purposes.
Ellie asked questions along the way and Sarah answered them as truthfully as she could. Ellie at one point asked, "You mean Chuck is really that good with computers? I mean better than people working in the CIA and NSA?"
Sarah smiled. "Ellie, we both agree that Chuck is a brilliant guy. So, believe me when I say, yes he can do some things that no one in the entire world could do."
When Sarah finished telling Ellie a revised version of her two years in Burbank, the sun was much lower over the Pacific.
Ellie stretched and was frankly amazed at what Sarah had just shared. She was sorry she'd agreed not to tell Devon.
"So, your relationship with Chuck was fake?" There was a hint of anger in Ellie's tone.
Sarah sighed. "At first, yes it was a cover. But not for long. I fell in love with him in spite of strict policies and my better professional judgment. When I left Burbank I was still in love with him.
"You asked me why I left. Believe me it wasn't for another man. There were a lot of reasons….well, more like excuses really, but it was never about another man. Chuck had my heart, but I had a job. And at that point in my life, I wasn't willing to give it all up."
Ellie's eyes were smiling, because the one thing she used to believe was that Sarah Walker had been deeply in love with her brother. It had been obvious to anyone who saw them together. That's why she'd been so confused when Sarah had left all of a sudden never to be heard from again.
"So, Sarah, you said you've resigned from the CIA?" Sarah nodded yes.
"And you're both coming back here to live?" Another nod from Sarah.
"Final question, at least for now. You and Chuck are really engaged?" Sarah held up her wrist and gave Ellie a dazzling smile. Ellie saw her mother's bracelet as the fading sunlight made it sparkle.
A smile slowly spread over Ellie's face and she slowly leaned over and gave Sarah a hug.
"Sarah Walker, welcome back into the Bartowski family. And I'd better be in the bridal party when you finally set the date."