A/N: Recently I was thinking of all the great stories that I have read on this site. There are about ten of them that stand out in my mind. As I thought of one of them, "Two Years Later" the thought struck me what if more time had elapsed before Chuck and Sarah got reacquainted. I couldn't stop thinking about it and this is the result. I hope you like it.
Twenty Years Later
It had been one year ago tomorrow.
He really didn't want to come back to New York but he couldn't let his in-laws down. They counted on him being here in this moment of pain.
He remembered vividly the funeral and how empty he felt. He remembered feeling that way only one other time in his life.
That thought took his mind go back twenty years. He had to snicker just a bit. A laugh was too strong a term for what he did. He hadn't thought about Sarah Walker in months. He wondered why the anniversary of his wife's death made him think of her. And then he remembered how he felt when he had learned that she had left him to go on another assignment. She left without a word and without a way for him to contact her.
He had tried… oh, how he tried.
The pain of losing Sarah was every bit as harsh as the pain of losing Tara. He had to wonder for the millionth time what ever happened to her. Was she alive or dead? He would never know, he thought.
But he was back in New York because the woman that almost erased the pain of losing Sarah, the woman he married, died of cancer one year ago tomorrow.
So now, he found himself walking the streets of Manhattan looking for a café so he could grab a sandwich and a beer. Just killing time so I can get tomorrow behind me, he thought.
Just up ahead there were two cafés that looked suitable for his purposes. He decided to go to the one on the right and at the last minute changed his mind and dashed across the street to find a seat inside the building.
Wondering if he had made a mistake with his choice, he searched for an empty table. As he walked through the maze of tables and happy patrons talking and laughing, his eyes fastened upon a woman about his age, just shy of shoulder length, blond hair cut very stylishly and blue eyes that could see into his soul.
Those blue eyes were gazing at him like a lion that had spotted its prey. The look on the woman's face was similar to what he imagined his own expression to be.
For Chuck, it felt like he had slipped into a dream. He felt goosebumps slowly make their way up his arm and then down his spine. He felt each new bump as it was created in this moment of surreal existence. As he kept his gaze upon her eyes, he wasn't even aware that he had walked to the opposite side of her table.
"Sarah Walker?" he said. He watched as she smiled ever so slightly.
"Chuck Bartowski…I never thought I would see you again."
His first thought was to say something full of acid. Something that would cut clear to the core…but there was really nothing that he could say that would have that kind of impact on this woman he had not seen in twenty years. And, it would be immature at this point.
"You look great Sarah. I can't believe its you. How have you been?" he said sticking his hands in his pockets suddenly feeling a bit awkward. Should he reach his hand out to her or go over to her and give her a hug? He didn't know.
"I'm fine. How are you? What brings you to New York?" she asked. Her smile seemed sincere and honest.
"Actually a funeral or the anniversary of a funeral."
"I'm sorry, someone close to you?"
"Chuck, I'm so sorry."
"The worst is over at this point. Not that I don't miss her everyday."
"Would you like to sit down? I haven't ordered yet," she said sympathetically.
Chuck looked around at the busy establishment and didn't see another option, not that he would have turned her down anyway.
"Sure," he said pulling up a chair opposite of her.
She studied his face until he became a little embarrassed by the lack of words being spoken. "You look really good, Chuck. The gray hair suites you."
"It's a good thing because it seemed to happen overnight. One day I was thirty years old and happily married and the next I'm an old man and…" he stopped talking realizing what he was about to say, a widower.
He looked at his napkin suddenly embarrassed by his show of emotion. He wiped the moisture from his eye. "How about you," he said trying to change the subject. "What brings you to New York?"
"I live here."
"You moved from Washington? When?"
"About three years ago. I live about ten blocks from here."
"Do you still work for…you know?"
She smiled at him, "No, I retired just before moving here."
An awkward silence ensued followed by the appearance of a young waitress with long blonde hair and cobalt blue eyes.
Chuck thought as he looked at her that she was pretty but lacked a certain something that Sarah had twenty years ago. He looked across the table, she still has it, he thought.
"Are you ready to order?" the waitress asked.
Sarah and Chuck looked at each other silently asking the other if they knew what they wanted.
"I'll have a Rueben and a Killians," he said looking for Sarah to order.
"I'll have a tuna sub with the works except hold the olives, and water."
Chuck and Sarah locked eyes and shared a smile. Chuck knew that that was one of the things he really knew about Sarah, she didn't like olives.
"Still picking olives off your pizza I see," he said with a small smile flirting with his lips. "You know Sarah, that may be one of the only things I really know about you…you don't like olives."
"About that Chuck…my name's not Sarah Walker. I used that only when I was in LA. I never used it again."
Chuck could not stand the suspense. He had often wondered if Sarah was her real name. "What is your name then?" he asked with a hint of exasperation.
She reached her hand across the table and took his hand in hers. "Samantha Williams, Mr. Bartowski, I'm glad to meet you." She smiled with absolute pleasure that she was able to finally tell him her real name.
"Samantha Williams…Sarah Walker, I see you kept things close to home. You took your own advice, keep things simple and tell everything as honestly as you can in your cover life." Chuck smiled more to himself than to Samantha. "I guess that's a mystery I won't have to wonder about for the rest of my life."
Samantha did not return his smile and became serious. "Chuck, I was a good agent. I did a lot of good. I hope you know that leaving LA on September 12, 2008 was the hardest assignment I was ever given. I almost couldn't do it."
Chuck studied his menu for a while. Then looked directly into Samantha's eyes. "Sarah, I mean Samantha, I spent a year trying to find out where you were, what your name was…anything about you. Just when I thought I had a lead…it would disappear.
I don't know what would have happened if I had not met Tara." He broke eye contact. "She saved me."
"I'm sorry Chuck that I had to leave like that. I was ordered out without a word to you and was out of the country the same day I left LA. I don't think a day went by for the next three years that I didn't think about you…about how you were doing. But I couldn't use CIA resources to find out." She stopped to look around the café. "You know I met your wife once."
"I don't understand?"
"When I retired from the CIA, I took a flight out to LA the next day to look you up. I intended to stay for a week and relive old times. I googled your name and got your address. I drove to your house and walked up to your door and knocked. I was a little surprised when I met Tara Bartowski. I claimed to be some pollster or some kind of survey taker and spent about fifteen minutes asking her questions about politics I think. Of course, I found out how you were doing without her knowing what was going on. I left when I found out you were expected home soon. I left for home the next morning.
"I thought you planned to stay for the week?"
"Flights can be changed," she said sadly remembering her trip.
"Why didn't you just stay or call me so we could talk?" Chuck said. "Hey," he said suddenly. "I think I remember that. Tara said that she had a pollster stop by. She said that she asked some generic questions but only seemed interested when asking questions about me. That was you wasn't it?"
Samantha shook her head. "Sounds like it."
"Why didn't you stay?" he said again.
Samantha looked away from Chuck for a second and then back to him. "I was a little surprised when I found out you were married. I guess I didn't expect that although I don't know why. After I found out you were happy, I thought it was probably best to move on and let you move on too."
"Sarah, I mean Samantha-"
"It's OK Chuck, you can call me Sarah. Somehow it just doesn't sound right when you call me Samantha…Sarah's fine."
They smiled at each other again. This time the awkward pause was interrupted by the waitress bringing their food.
Chuck grabbed his sandwich and began to dig in when he noticed that Sarah was saying a prayer. He hastily sat his food on his plate and joined her.
"Since when did you start praying over your food?" he said after she had finished.
"I've been a spiritual person my whole life. That was just not a part of the real Samantha Williams that I could ever allow you to know."
"Wow," he said amazed. "Sarah, it just goes to show how little I really knew you."
She smiled sadly. "Chuck, I talked with Casey one time about you and me.
Everyone knew how you felt about me but no one knew how I felt about you, not even you for sure. But I told Casey that I was falling in love with you and I wanted to try to make it work between us. I'm sure he went to his boss. It was only a matter of weeks before I was reassigned."
"I don't understand why you didn't leave me a way to contact you?" Chuck was drudging up long dead pain from the past.
"We had only one shot. If I was reassigned there was no way we could have made it work. Under those circumstances the best thing to do, for me and you, was to make a clean break. It wasn't easy but it was the best thing to do. You know Chuck sometimes it just isn't meant to be."
Chuck didn't like her answer although he couldn't argue with her logic. He had to admit to himself that she was probably right.
"Speaking of Casey, whatever happened to him?"
"He's retired. Has a place in Alaska. Real remote I've heard."
"Boy does that sound like John Casey. I'll bet he's the happiest man on the planet."
"I don't know Chuck. John spent almost thirty years working covert operations. I don't know very many people who have put that many years in and are happy and well adjusted."
"Does that include you, Sarah?" Chuck's look of concern for his table mate was real.
"I'm doing OK. Oh, I have an occasional nightmare every once in a while but nothing like the demons John deals with I'm pretty sure."
Chuck watched Sarah without speaking. He did not like to think of her alone and dealing with the ghosts of her past.
"Did you ever find someone?" he said hoping that she had and hoping too that she had not.
"You mean a husband?" she studied his facial response. "No, I dated a couple of people over the years but I never really found anyone that measured up." She did not elaborate on who set the bar for the measurement and Chuck did not ask.
"What are you doing now that you no longer work for…your old employer?"
"I paint Chuck," she said amused with his response.
"You mean like… paintings?"
"Yeah paintings, why? Does that surprise you?"
"It just seemed like…well…it just seemed as though you weren't very creative. You didn't like music-"
"That's not true. I love music. I just didn't have time to listen to it when I was working. It was a distraction."
"I never really knew you did I?" he said sadly.
"You knew me better than I wanted you to. You might not have known about my hobbies and some of my idiosyncrasies but you knew me in a way no one else ever has."
They look at each other without speaking. Chuck could not clear the lump in his throat and Sarah's eyes seemed a little more moist than normal.
A lady at the table next to them had overheard their conversation and saw the look they shared. She elbowed her girlfriend sitting beside her and whispered to the other women at the table. Neither Chuck nor Sarah seemed aware of their scrutiny.
"Well enough about old times. Tell me about you. What are you doing now?"
"I am a Controls Engineering Manager for Rockwell Automation. I've worked for them for the last 12 years."
"Do you like it?"
"Yeah, I'm good at my job and I have a lot of friends I work with. We have poker night every other Tuesday. All in all, everything is OK."
"You don't know how happy I am to hear that. I've always wanted you to be happy."
Chuck didn't know what to say and felt slightly uncomfortable with Sarah's open display of feelings for him. It was not the Sarah that he remembered.
"Well Sarah, I guess I should be getting back. It was great running into you like this." Chuck felt as though he owed Tara more respect than to reminisce for hours with the woman she felt that she could never compete with.
It was obvious that Sarah was disappointed that Chuck was leaving but put on a brave face. "It was great to talk with you again too, Chuck. Give me a call if you're ever in New York again."
"Have either of you had the blackberry cobbler here?" the lady at the next table asked them. "I understand it's the best in the city."
Chuck looked at Sarah with a questioning glance. "Blackberry cobbler is my favorite. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and I can't say no."
Sarah motioned for their waitress. "Two orders of blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream please. Oh, and two coffee's with that." She smiled at Chuck remembering that he loved coffee with his desert.
The ladies at the next table began to whisper amongst themselves obviously pleased that their effort to keep Chuck talking with Sarah was successful.
"Did you ever see Bryce again?" Chuck asked with real interest. "I never saw or heard from him again after you left."
"We worked together two or three times after I left LA. Nothing long term just quick missions that were low priority."
Chuck shot her a questioning look.
"Nothing ever happened between us again if that's what you're asking. It seemed after LA; Bryce lost his appeal for me."
Chuck could not hide the small smile that graced his lips. "Is he OK? Or is that classified still?"
"He is still in the business as far as I know. We are not the best of friends now so I don't know if he would let me know if he retired."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
Sarah smiled at Chuck. "Are you really?" Somehow I don't believe that Chuck. What if I would have told you that Bryce and I were together today? Would you have been happy for me?"
"OK Sarah, you caught me. No, I would not have been happy because you deserve better than Bryce. Why did you lose touch with him anyway…I'll bet it had to do with you not be romantically involved with him. Am I right?"
"It seems everyone caught on to Bryce way before I did. Yeah, I think that's the main reason we lost touch."
"So you don't know how he is?"
"He's like the rest of us, proud of most of the things we did for our country but haunted by the few things that we can't forget."
"What can't you forget, Sarah?"
"You know I can't tell you that. Well, I can tell you this. I am haunted by the way I left you twenty years ago because I know what it had to do to you. I can't tell you how many hours of sleep I've lost over that incident. If I could go back in time knowing what I know now, I would have done things differently."
Again Chuck felt a little uneasy with Sarah's open admission to wanting to change their past. It made him feel as though he were cheating on Tara when he felt the slightest bit excited over what Sarah said.
"The past is the past Sarah. There is nothing that can change it now."
"I know that Chuck, that's why it is so painful for me."
He saw for the first time how hurt she was and eased up on her.
"Sarah, I truly wish that you would forget about that. I don't want you feeling bad on my account. As it turned out, things worked out OK for me."
Sarah was silent for a moment. She then began tentatively. "I don't feel bad just because of you Chuck. I feel bad for what I lost as well."
By now he had finished his desert. Sarah's admission made his heart race but that just brought recriminations from his conscious as he thought of Tara.
"Well Sarah, I should-"
"Chuck, would you like to see my paintings? I've got a few I think you might be interested in."
"You're serious. You really paint?"
"I'll prove it to you. My place is just ten blocks away…I'll drive."
"You drive in New York?"
"Of course. Come on."
Chuck and Sarah got up to leave with Sarah leading the way. She suddenly stopped and told Chuck to go ahead that she had left her keys on the table. She watched Chuck make his way towards the cashier and then turned back to the table they had shared. She patted the lady on the arm that had told them about the blackberry cobbler.
"I just wanted to thank you. I think I would have lost him if you hadn't stepped in when you did."
The women at the table smiled warmly at Sarah. "Well sweetie just make sure he doesn't get away this time."
"I promise you that I will do my best." Sarah said as she smiled warmly. She turned and found Chuck who had already paid and waited for her at the front door.
"Come on my car's out front," she said as she led the way.
"No way. You're kidding me, right?" Chuck said as he looked at yellow Volkswagen beetle.
"What? It gets good gas mileage and is very green."
"But what about the peace signs on the back?"
"Believe it or not but I am a pacifist. I don't believe in violence to solve problems."
"Sarah, you can't be serious. I flashed on you killing at least four men."
"That was my job. And, I dealt with the worst of the worst of people, Chuck. Had I not followed protocol I can guarantee you that I would not be alive today. But now, I live in society where rules should be followed. I really don't believe in violence to solve problems, it's the ignorant way out." Sarah stared Chuck down; she was not willing to give ground on this point.
"Fine, fine, I believe you. Don't get so pissed."
As they fastened their seat belts, Chuck could not get over the change in Sarah. The last time he was in a car with her it was her black Porsche. She would fly up and down the highway at break neck speed. And now, she sputtered along in her yellow Volkswagen Beetle with peace signs plastered across the back of it.
She drove like a granny on Sunday afternoon but eventually they made their way to Sarah's apartment.
"A loft apartment in Manhattan, the CIA must have a good retirement plan."
Sarah laughed. "They do right by us," she said not elaborating.
Chuck followed her up the stairs of the large brick building. It had been completely renovated. Sarah took him to a utility lift that served as her elevator. She stopped the lift at the second floor and stepped out. Chuck followed and whistled as he looked around.
"Wow, this is really nice. I love the wood floors. Are they original?"
"Yeah, it took a week for them to be sanded and anther week to be finished. But they are beautiful."
It was a typical loft apartment, completely open with a kitchen and a bedroom and a studio being the only discernible rooms. The bathroom must be hidden, Chuck thought.
"Over here is the studio," Sarah said as she led Chuck to her point of interest.
Chuck saw paintings everywhere. There were probably a couple hundred paintings in her collection. He walked to one that jumped out at him. He stared at it for a second before glancing uncertainly towards Sarah.
"Is this what I think it is?" he asked.
"Isn't that you and I on the helipad right before that agent, I can't remember his name, got shot."
"Yeah, that's it. Isn't this a picture of you and me-?"
"Yeah it is."
Chuck picked up the painting and studied the detail. "Sarah, this is really good," he said. He looked closer and saw the complete anguish on Sarah's face as Chuck and her held hands. He sat the picture down abruptly. Remembering the strong emotions of that time confused him especially with his wife's ceremony tomorrow.
They looked through almost one hundred paintings, some with a background story and some that Sarah would not elaborate on. Finally, she said, "There is one more picture I want you to see. I want to give it to you." She pulled a painting from behind a cloth and turned it around slowly for Chuck to see. "I hope you like it," she said.
It was a painting of Tara sitting on their couch. "I don't understand…how could you have done this?"
"I painted it from memory. From the only time we met. I think I mentioned to her that I painted and that I thought she would make an excellent model."
Chuck let the painting slide from his hands as he heard Sarah's comments. He remembered the last time he talked with Tara before she died. He had always wondered what she meant by the words she had spoken. He had put it off as confusion. As he looked at Tara's painting and thought back to her words and just hearing Sarah say that she mentioned to Tara that she painted…it all made since to him now. He was overcome with grief and happiness and awe and other feelings he could not describe right now. His hands shook as he held the top of the painting.
Tara had told Chuck that if he ever found that painter in the years to come, not to let her get away this time. Do whatever you have to do to keep her by your side. He had never understood her meaning until just now. Somehow, Tara must have found the one picture of Sarah that he kept hidden away. She must have recognized Sarah and remembered that Sarah said she liked to paint. Then on her deathbed Tara told him that it was OK to be with Sarah.
"Chuck, are you OK?" Sarah asked concerned. She walked up beside him and reached out for his hand. As she grabbed his hand, he turned to face her and they hugged each other for the first time in twenty years. It was a comforting hug as Sarah felt Chuck's body convulse with waves of sobs. She held him tight not understanding why he had reacted to her painting in this manner.
He calmed down but they continued their embrace. She refused to let go of him as she sensed that he needed her comfort. When she felt him pull away she let go.
"Are you alright?" she asked.
He tried to smile but failed. "Yeah, I'm fine. I just understood a message Tara gave me before she died. I'm sorry for the theatrics," he said wiping at his eyes.
"It's OK; can I get something for you? Some ice tea maybe?"
"No, I really need to get back. My in-laws will be wondering where I've gone."
"I can drive you."
"No, I'll just get a cab. Thanks anyway."
Chuck began to walk towards the lift.
Sarah watched him leave in silence. Her face showed disappointment. "Don't forget Chuck…if you're ever in New York again…you know where I live."
Chuck stopped just short of the lift. "Sarah…I have to take care of some things tomorrow but I was hoping…maybe we could get a cup of coffee day after tomorrow?"
"I thought your plane left then?" she said trying not to hope against hope.
"I did…but flights can be changed."
They shared a smile and Sarah walked toward him until she stood right in front of him. She reached up and straightened his collar and ended with a swipe across his chest.
"I've waited twenty years for this coffee, please don't be late."
Chuck laughed under his breath making his head jerk up and down. He reached out and grabbed both of her hands and stood looking at her like this.
"No chance of that," he said as he stepped onto the lift and disappeared.
But after a moment Sarah heard the elevator return. Chuck did not bother to open the wire door and just spoke through it. "You know Sarah; sometimes things aren't meant to be…but if they are… not even twenty years can change it."
"I'll see you later, Chuck," she said as she turned to go to her kitchen smiling.
"Count on it, Chuck said as the lift lowered him from sight.