The five day span of March 7th to 11th was somewhat of an emotional roller coaster for Sarah Walker. On the 7th, she celebrated the first anniversary of her marriage to one Mr. Charles Bartowski, still referred to in intelligence circles as "the Intersect", although Director Graham also rather commonly referred to him as "the pain in the ass".
Chuck had made somewhat of a tactical error in going so over the top with Valentine's Day the month before, because that meant that Sarah would be expecting something even bigger and better for their anniversary, a mere three weeks later. And yet…
Their anniversary was understated and simple, but perfect – at least as far as Sarah was concerned. Chuck rented a cabin up by Big Bear Lake – the drive there being the perfect test for his new toy, a Dodge Magnum SRT-8.
Sarah had scoffed at the fact that he wanted to get a station wagon – and the scoffing had lasted right up until he got onto the freeway in it for the first time. By the time he came screeching to a stop in front of the hotel where they now lived together, she desperately wanted to dive out of the car and kiss the ground, restraining herself only because she had a professional façade to maintain.
The cabin was rustic, but Chuck had gone to pains to make sure it was secluded and had an unparalleled view of the sunset over the lake. Sarah couldn't believe the view – she had never seen a sunset like it.
And then, Chuck made dinner. Sarah had never for a minute had a clue that Chuck could cook, but when he turned out grilled salmon filets with a mouth-watering blackberry glaze, with melt-in-your-mouth potatoes on the side, and then presented her with tiramisu MADE FROM SCRATCH for dessert, her head just about exploded.
"When, sir, did you learn how to cook?" she asked, incredulous.
"Well…" Chuck hesitated, color rising in his cheeks. But he decided it would be in his best interests to tell the full story.
"I wanted our first anniversary to be, well, perfect, I guess. I know it seems old-fashioned and clichéd, but that's just the way I am. So, I asked Ellie, and apparently, she for some reason knows the chef at this four-star restaurant in Arizona, and she sweet-talked some recipes out of him, which Awesome then painstakingly taught me how to make… and there it is."
For some reason, Sarah began to feel overly emotional, and tears came to her eyes. Chuck saw that and was somewhat alarmed. "Hey, are you okay?" he asked, rather concerned.
"Yes," Sarah whispered, almost ashamed of her tears. She stood, kissed Chuck, and embraced him. "I just… I can't imagine having married a more perfect man…"
A mildly smug look appeared on Chuck's face. "Well, that's always good to hear, I suppose," he replied. "I take it you approve?"
"Come with me, and I'll show you how much I approve," Sarah replied, grabbing his shirt sleeve as she pulled away. She wiped the tears out of her eyes, the logical part of her brain trying to figure out what the hell was the deal with the emotional reaction versus the sudden arousal she was feeling.
Twenty minutes later, as she lay curled up against Chuck, her husband lying back in bed with a rather satisfied look on her face, that logical part of her brain came up with an explanation. The rest of her brain immediately rejected the explanation, partly because it seemed unlikely, but mostly because she REALLY didn't want to hear it.
Four days later was more of an emotional low. March 11th, 2010. Six years to the day since an event that had nearly shattered her life.
In 2004, she had, completely out of the blue, fallen in love with a young man by the name of Piers de Klerk. Unfortunately, the day that she told him that she loved him was March 11th, 2004. They were in Spain, and he was getting on a commuter train to Madrid.
Four days later, she had attended his funeral in Johannesburg, and met his mother for the first time. Every year since then, she had gone out of her way – no matter where she was – to call his mother on March 11th, even if just for a few minutes. Bryce had never known, and Chuck didn't know. Chuck never would know, and really, it was for his own safety. There were just things about her past that she could never share with anybody.
It had been particularly tricky to call Francine de Klerk the year before, as she was on her honeymoon with Chuck on March 11th. But Sarah felt a sense of obligation, and so had explained her absence away on going out for an early morning jog. Chuck had never questioned her.
And now, while she was at the federal building in downtown Los Angeles, she was calling Francine de Klerk yet again. It took a moment to make the connection – a call from California to South Africa can always be a questionable proposition, and that was exacerbated by the nine-hour time difference between Los Angeles and Johannesburg.
But Francine answered on the second ring. "Hello?"
"Hello, Francine. It's Sarah Walker."
"Sarah!" the older woman said, always happy to hear from her, despite the circumstances under which they'd come to meet each other. "I'm so happy to hear from you! I wasn't sure if I'd be hearing from you anymore, after receiving the wedding announcement and the pictures."
"I couldn't just stop calling," Sarah said. "Just because I'm married doesn't mean that I'm going to forget how much Piers meant to me."
"And you're an amazing person for that," Francine de Klerk replied. "But that young man you married, Chuck Bartowski, he certainly is a looker."
Sarah laughed. "That he is. I mean, it's not what I thought of him when I first saw him, but I didn't see him the first time dressed like he was at the wedding. He was dressed in a short sleeve white shirt and a too-long black tie."
"Bit of a nerd, is he?"
"He describes himself as a professional nerd," Sarah replied.
Francine sighed. "I think Piers would approve."
"I hope so," Sarah said. But as she thought about it, old emotions began to rise to the surface.
"Are you still there, Sarah?"
"Yes," Sarah said softly. "I… I don't know why, but I'm… feeling so guilty about Piers all of a sudden."
She could almost hear Francine frown at the other end. "Sarah, why? It's been six years?"
Tears began pooling in Sarah's eyes as she said, "Francine, he came to Spain… he came to Spain to see me."
"No, Sarah," Francine replied, her voice taking on a bit of an edge. "He went to Spain to do his job. The fact that you were able to be there as well was a bit of providence. Think of it – he got to tell the woman that he loved how he felt while he still had the chance."
"I know, I know," Sarah replied, practically sobbing now. "I just… I feel so guilty about it all!"
"Sarah!" Francine responded, now clearly disappointed in the younger woman. "Listen to me very carefully. First of all, I know that Piers would not approve of this line of thought. Secondly, it is certainly not in any way fair to your husband. This is something that happened six years in the past. You cannot let it affect your life, the one you've built with Chuck."
Sarah took a deep breath, collecting herself. "I know, you're right. I just… I've been so emotional the last few days… I really don't know what's going on."
When Francine de Klerk heard those words, she, as a mother of three, had a clue what was going on, but she chose to not say anything. "I'm sure you'll be fine," she assured Sarah.
Three weeks later, on April Fools' Day, Sarah found herself giving a briefing to a group of individuals – John Casey and Chuck included – who were about to go try to take down a drug network in Newport Beach. A Colombian drug lord had popped up in Venice the month before, and the intelligence he had given them, plus a couple of flashes that Chuck had experienced, had led the intelligence community to believe that the Medellin Cartel was building up quite an extensive network in Orange County.
But Sarah didn't get to go. Oh, no. As part of her agreement with the CIA, when she got married, she was relegated to analyst work, going on missions on in extreme cases. The capture of the drug lord the month before had been an extreme case. This was not.
And as a result, Sarah was pretty irritated. When she took what had turned into almost constant soreness in her chest, and piled on top of that her overwhelming emotional state the last few weeks, added in a case of raging hormones, and sprinkled a mission briefing on top of it, it was enough to really piss her off.
Nonetheless, she really had no choice in the matter. And so, at just after eight AM on April Fools' Day, she was telling this group of agents PLUS HER HUSBAND all about the mission they were about to undertake.
"We believe the drugs come in here," she said, pointing to the beach. "They load them onto speedboats, and then drop them by night. We're not even worried about that part of the operation right now – we want to capture the lieutenants.
"They hang out at the Newport Beach Country Club." She indicated a large expanse of golf course groomed greenery next to the Fashion Island mall. "The country club, unfortunately, has indicated that there is no possible way that they're going to let us do a takedown there."
"We could just tell them we're doing the takedown, and they can go screw themselves," John Casey suggested.
"Orange County, Casey," Chuck said. "Lots of bitter people with far too much money. Mostly Republicans. Angry, gun-toting, meat-eating Republicans."
"Hey, I'm an angry gun-toting, meat-eating Republican, but I'm not an asshole," Casey grumbled.
"GENTLEMEN," Sarah snapped. "Focus, please?"
Sarah bit her tongue. She hated it when Chuck said things like that in the professional environment – not because it made her look less professional, but because he knew just how to get to her.
"Alright. So, around one o'clock on Thursdays, they almost invariably go over to Fashion Island and buy themselves new suits at Saks. Ridiculous, I know, but it's a perfect capture point."
Without warning, her stomach spasmed. It hurt, and she suddenly felt viciously nauseous. She swallowed, shook her head, and continued. "We take them down, and, then, um…"
Her stomach started acting up again. She took a deep breath. "The plan is to drive them to the UC Irvine campus where they will be ext-"
This time, the spasm was unstoppable. Her eyes grew wide. "If you'll excuse me a minute –"
Sarah ran out of the room. Chuck, suddenly filled with concern, dashed out of the room after her, and reached the hallway just in time to see her barrel through the door of the ladies' room.
He ran down the hall and opened the door. He heard the distinct sound of his wife vomiting, and ducked back out. Chuck didn't do well with other people being sick – it usually set him off too.
After a moment, he opened the door again. Silence. "Sarah?"
"Yeah," he heard her voice say weakly.
"Are you okay?"
A stall door opened, and she stepped out. Her hands were shaking a little, but otherwise, she seemed to be alright – color was rapidly returning to her face, and her footing was sure as she stepped to the sink.
She took a moment to steady herself, and then turned on the faucet. Cupping her hands, she filled them with water, then lifted them to her face, rinsed her mouth, and spat the water back out.
"Yeah, I'm alright," she finally said. "I don't know what's wrong with me."
YES YOU DO! that persistently logical part of her brain insisted, but she ignored it.
"Let's get back to the briefing, okay?"