Chuck vs Therapy
This is not new content. My custom was to separate my scenes with a line of broken dashes. The site decided to retroactively delete any line that starts with a dash. That made 100 of my chapters instantly unreadable. To fix them all would be a huge effort. So I decided to add a chapter at the end of each story that was the whole story.
This story was created from discussions with Brickroad. I begged her to write a sequel to her wonderful February Air. Long story short, she wouldn't. and the idea kept burning a hole in my brain until I broke down and wrote it. I did my best. But I'm still confident that Brickroad would have done a better job.
Thanks so much to BrickRoad for all of the ideas, Verkisto for all the encouragement and to Tshadow for kicking my butt when I needed it. Although I really didn't do this for the angst competition, I think that it might qualify. Right up front, I vow to never, ever write a story that doesn't have a happy ending. I hope that didn't spoil it for you. I still don't own Chuck.
Chapter 1: The Meltdown
Sarah was sitting on a leather couch in a paneled office. On one wall was a build in bookcase. It was filled with impressive looking books that looked as if they had never been opened. She was sitting directly in front of a large mahogany desk. Sitting behind the desk in a large leather chair was a distinguished looking man in a business suit. He looked to be about in his mid fifties.
For the longest time, neither one would say a word. Each sat staring daring the other to be the first to break the silence. The only sound in the room came from the grandfather clock in the corner. Finally the man broke the silence.
"Sarah, can we get started?"
"Dr. Brown," said Sarah pensively after a long pause. "Why am I here?"
"Come on Sarah," said the man. "Please call me Frank."
"Ok, Frank," replied Sarah in an annoyed tone. "Why am I here?"
"Don't you remember?" asked Frank.
Sarah sat wordlessly staring at Frank. Finally she answered sullenly.
"Everybody freaks out a little on a mission at some point. I don't know of a single agent that this hasn't happened to, at least once."
"Well, Sarah," said Frank. "I think this went a little beyond that. Wouldn't you agree?"
"Maybe," said Sarah dismissively after pausing to look at her fingernails. "I need to check in with Chuck."
"Why don't you tell me about the mission." said Frank.
"Maybe after I talk to Chuck." said Sarah firmly with a scowl. "I need my cell phone."
"Why is it so important that you talk to Chuck?" asked Frank.
"I'm worried about him." said Sarah. "He's my responsibility. And I'm sure that he's worried about me. Let me talk to him for a few minutes and then maybe we'll talk."
"I don't think that's a good idea right now." said Frank. "Let's see how this goes."
"I want to talk to Chuck." Sarah said insistently. "Now! Am I being held against my will?"
"Well," said Frank with a smile. "I wouldn't put it that way but it's true that you can't leave."
"You know," said Sarah slyly. "I can get out of here on my own. I could kill you in about fifty different ways."
"Of course," said Frank. "But you'd never make it outside. You could easily kill me but there are fifty agents outside who would catch you. And the next doctor would be talking to you strapped down and sedated. Is that what you want?"
"Come on, Frank," said Sarah with a smile as she played with her hair. "Don't be like that. Let's be friends."
"Ok, Sarah," said Frank. "Please tell me about the mission."
"What do you want to know?" Sarah said with a coy smile as she stretched her arms forcing her breasts to strain against her shirt.
"I want to know what happened."
"But that's so boring." Sarah replied with a sexy pout. "Can't we talk about something else?"
"What do you want to talk about?"
"Well," said Sarah as she leaned forward to allow Frank an excellent view down her shirt. "I want to talk about how appreciative I'd be if you would let me call Chuck. And what I'd be willing to do to prove it to you."
"Sarah," said Frank with an amused look on his face. "Just to be sure, are you offering me sex if I'll let you call Chuck?"
"I'm not sure I would call it sex," said Sarah seductively with her patented Sarah smile as she continued to play with her hair. "I'm thinking more in the fantasy realm."
"My goodness." said Frank softly with a smile as he gently shook his head. "The CIA does an excellent job at teaching you ladies seduction skills, I have to admit that. I'd be less than honest if I didn't say that I was tempted. Any man would be. You're incredibly beautiful. Fortunately, this room is being monitored. You're not the first agent to think of seducing her therapist. My wife is on the staff and regularly reviews these tapes. So in the interest of me staying happily married, I think I'll pass."
"You know," continued Frank. "I'm trying to help you here. I know that you're angry. If you would stop fighting me and work with me, this will go a lot faster. That's the fastest way you're going to get to talk to him."
Like someone had turned a light switch, Sarah's demeanor went from sexy to sullen. She just stared at Frank defiantly with her arms folded over her chest.
"Ok, Sarah, if you don't want to talk about the mission, let's talk about this Mr. Bartowski. You seem to be very interested in him." Frank said softly.
"His name is Chuck." Sarah snapped.
"Ok," said Frank. "Let's talk about Chuck. Why is it so important to you that you talk to him?"
"I already told you." said Sarah sharply. "It's my responsibility to make sure that he is safe. I'm worried about him. I'm sure that he is worried about me."
"Don't worry about that." said Frank. "Chuck is perfectly safe. I just talked to agent Casey an hour ago. Chuck knows where you are and what you're doing. And while I won't pretend that he isn't concerned, he's comfortable that you're in the right place for now."
"Please let me talk to him." said Sarah softly. "Please. I'm not going to be able to concentrate on what you want to talk about until I can talk to him."
"I'll make a deal with you," said Frank softly. "If you will cooperate with me for the rest of our morning session, I'll see about letting you talk to him for a few minutes. Is that a deal?"
"Do I have a choice?" Sarah asked sullenly after a long pause.
"We always have a choice." said Frank. "Do we have a deal?"
"Ok." said Sarah with a huge sigh.
"Tell me about your relationship with Chuck." said Frank. "What is he to you that you're so concerned for him?"
"Come on Frank," said Sarah sarcastically. "Do you think I'm stupid? Are you trying to trap me here?"
"I'm a doctor." said Frank. "Whatever you say in here is in confidence."
"Give me a break." said Sarah derisively. "I've been with the CIA for ten years. Are you expecting me to believe that they would respect patient doctor privilege?"
"Ok," said Frank with a laugh. "I see your point. "Let's say this another way, one that I had hoped to avoid. Unless you can convince me you're telling me the truth, you're not talking to Chuck today."
Sarah stared at Frank for a full minute without either saying a word. This time it was Sarah's turn to break first.
"Ok. You win. I'm in love with him. I know it's against the rules, but I am."
"That's fascinating." said Frank. "Sarah, I don't care at all about those kinds of rules. Tell me; is he in love with you?"
"Yes. I hope so. No, he is."
"And for how long would you say you've been in love?"
"Probably about three months."
"Tell me about the first time that you told him that you loved him."
"I never have told him." said Sarah sadly.
"Really?" said Frank. "Why not?"
"I'm not sure." said Sarah "I just never got around to it."
"And your other boyfriend, Bryce, was it?"
"Did you love him?"
"I guess," said Sarah. "In a way. But nothing like I feel for Chuck."
"Did you ever tell Bryce that you loved him?" asked Frank.
"Sure," said Sarah said casually. "Lot's of times."
"So," said Frank thoughtfully. "Would it be fair to say that you love Chuck more than you did Bryce?"
"Absolutely," said Sarah. "There is no comparison. It's not even close."
"Maybe it's a physical thing." said Frank. "Which one did you have the most passion for in bed?"
"Why does everything always have to be about sex?"
"Come on, Sarah," said Frank, laughing. "I'm a therapist. With us it's always about sex. Seriously, it's important. Which one is better in bed?"
"I don't know." said Sarah as she looked at the floor. "I've never been in bed with Chuck."
"Come on, Sarah," said Frank softly, "Why not? I mean, you're certainly not shy sexually. You just offered to have sex with me twenty minutes ago. Yet this man who you claim to be deeply in love with for three months? You've never told him that you love him and you've never had sex with him. But Bryce, who you say you didn't care nearly as much for, the opposite is true. I don't understand."
"I don't either." said Sarah as her eyes began to fill with tears.
"Ok, Sarah," said Frank. That's enough for this morning. "Why don't you go to your room and rest for a while. We'll talk again after lunch."
"Can I talk to Chuck?" Sarah asked expectantly. "You promised."
"Yes," said Frank with a smile as he rose from his chair. "You can talk to him for a couple of minutes. And then I want to talk to you about your mission. Is that a deal?"
"Yes." Sarah whispered as she stood up from the couch.
"And Sarah," Frank said soothingly. "I know that you feel like a prisoner here. I'm sorry about that. But please don't try anything stupid. If you try and escape, things are unfortunately going to get more unpleasant. We're genuinely trying to help you. If you will honestly work with me for a few days, I promise you'll feel better. Maybe you'll be able to have the kind of relationship with Chuck that you both want. That would be a good thing, don't you think?"
Sarah nodded as she left the room.
As soon as Sarah closed the door behind her, Frank picked up the phone.
"Janice," he said. "Could you get me in touch with Chuck Bartowski?"
"Mr. Bartowski," said Frank. "My name is Dr. Frank Brown. I'm taking care of Sarah. Would you please call me Frank?"
"Of course," said Chuck. "As long as you call me Chuck. Please tell me about Sarah. I'm very worried about her. Is she going to be ok?"
"I think that she is." said Frank. "That's why I wanted to talk to you. I need your help to help Sarah get better. I'm sure that you want that, right?"
"Of course," said Chuck. "I'll do anything to help her get better."
"I just want to warn you," said Frank. "I need you to be totally candid with me here. I need to know the total truth if I'm to help Sarah effectively. I don't give a rip about CIA rules. I need the truth. Are you in love with Sarah?"
"I'm completely in love with her." said Chuck softly.
"I'm afraid I need you to be a little more specific," said Frank with a smile in his voice. "In love is a broad term. Could you describe your feelings?"
"I'm completely, head over heels, spending the rest of my life, can't imagine my life without her, married with three kids in love, Frank." said Chuck. "Does that help?"
"It does." said Frank with a laugh. "Could you tell me why you are in love with Sarah?"
"Well," began Chuck with a laugh. "Sarah is an enigma. She is the nicest person I know and I've seen her kill men with her bare hands. She makes me laugh when she smiles and makes me cry when she frowns. I think about her every minute of every day. I can look in her eyes and forget all of my troubles. She's been gone for a little over a day and I miss her like crazy. Is that what you wanted?"
"Yes, Chuck," said Frank. "That was perfect. I do believe that you love her. She's very lucky."
"You don't believe that she loves me," said Chuck sadly. "Do you?"
"You're insecure about that aren't you?" said Frank with a laugh. "Don't worry. That's completely normal when she won't reinforce your feelings. On the contrary, Chuck, I think that she is desperately in love with you, maybe more so than you with her. That's the main issue that she has to deal with. She's scared to death."
"How can I help her?"
"Well," said Frank. "I am going to let her call you in a couple of hours. It's very important that you be calm and supportive. She has quite a case of separation anxiety. I know that your instincts are going to be to press her to tell you that she loves you but that would be a mistake. She needs to hear that you love her and you want her to get better. She especially needs to hear that you'll be waiting. I assume that's true?"
"Of course," said Chuck. "I'll do whatever it takes to help her. Can I tell her that I love her?"
"Sure," said Frank. "Tell her often. It's good for her to hear it. Just don't be disappointed when she doesn't say it back. She can't right now. You're far more important in helping Sarah get better than I am. She needs a reason to fight. Knowing that you're waiting for her is that reason. If she loses that, she's in trouble. Are we clear?"
"Very clear." said Chuck. "Trust me. You're not asking me to do anything other than what I'm already desperate to do. How long is this going to take? I really want to see her."
"That's the first question everybody asks." said Frank with a soft laugh. "It's impossible to say. Sometimes only a few days, sometimes a few months. It's up to Sarah. But she has some things going for her. The main thing is that she has a good man who loves her. Don't let her lose that. For right now anyway I think it's best if she doesn't see you. There may be a time in the next few days when I would like to speak to you together. I'm assuming you would be ok with that."
"I'll do anything, Frank. I just want her back. Will she be ever be back to normal?"
"If this goes well," said Frank with a distinct smile to his voice. "She'll be better than normal."
"Chuck, are you there?"
"Hi, Sarah, how are you doing?"
"Oh my God, Chuck I miss you. I want to come home."
"I know. I miss you too."
"Are you ok?"
"Yes. Don't worry. Casey hasn't let me out of his sight. I've been holding off on going to the bathroom for the past three hours."
"Will you promise me that you'll do what they ask you to?"
"I will. I'm not really sure why I'm here though."
"Just get better. Ok? I love you and I'll be waiting when you get back. I need you. I can't imagine my life without you."
"Frank is motioning me to get off so I'll say goodbye."
"Goodbye, Sarah. I love you."
"Goodbye Chuck, I'll talk to you soon."
As soon as Sarah hung up the phone, she turned to Frank.
"Thank you for letting me talk to him." Sarah said with her eyes shinning. "I needed to hear his voice. When can I talk to him again?"
"I'll tell you what," said Frank. "If you work with me, I'll make sure that you get to talk to him every day. Is that fair?"
"Now," said Frank. "Tell me about the mission."
"Well," began Sarah. "Chuck had flashed on a drug smuggler. We were ordered to stake out his warehouse. Chuck came along to see if he could flash on anyone …"
Casey and Sarah were crouched behind a large crate with guns drawn. Shots were flying all around them.
"How many?" Sarah asked as she fired a round.
"I don't know." Casey answered. "At least ten."
"Where's Chuck?" Sarah asked.
"Still in the car, I hope."
"Can we make it back to the car and get him out of here?" Sarah asked.
"I don't see how." Casey responded. "I'll cover you and you get back to the car and call for backup. I'll hold them off while you get Bartowski out of here."
Sarah didn't wait for a signal. She sprinted for the door. Several shots followed her but Casey's fire gave her enough time to make it out the door. When she looked inside the car, it was empty. She quickly glanced around the immediate area but there was no sign of Chuck.
Sarah panicked. She had to find Chuck. Figuring that he was in the warehouse with the bad guys, she turned and sprinted back into the warehouse. Just as she was passing where Casey was hidden a shot hit her in the chest knocking her down. And although her vest took most of the impact she lost consciousness for a moment. When she regained consciousness, Casey was kneeling over her.
"Are you all right?" he yelled.
"We have to find Chuck," Sarah screamed hysterically as she struggled to her feet.
Since bullets were still flying, Casey grabbed her by the waist and forced her to the ground. Sarah struggled against Casey trying to get loose so she could go find Chuck. She was hitting Casey with everything she had to get him to let go. All Casey could do was duck his head and hold on. As he held her, she screamed "I have to find Chuck." Over and over.
That's the condition they were in when the backup arrived. Chuck had called for backup the instant the first shot was fired and went out into the street to wait for them and show them where to go. It was well longer than an hour after the incident before Sarah could speak. All she could do was hold on to Chuck crying. Chuck, not knowing what else to do, rubbed her back as she sobbed.
"Ok, Sarah," said Frank. "You're the best agent in the CIA. Why would you foolishly charge into that firefight?"
"I thought that Chuck was in there." Sarah whispered.
"And why did you think that?" said Frank. "There was absolutely no evidence that he was in there, right? And even if he was, going changing in there wouldn't have done any good. You almost got yourself and Casey killed. Why?"
"I don't know." said Sarah with tears in her eyes. "I couldn't think. I was paralyzed. That's never happened to me before. All I could think of was that I had lost him. I'd rather die than lose him."
"Is that how you were feeling this morning when you offered to have sex with me if I would let you talk to him?" Frank asked softly.
"It's called acute separation anxiety." Frank said with a smile. "It's perfectly normal, except for deep cover CIA agents. Tell me something. I noticed that you didn't tell Chuck that you loved him on the phone. Why not?"
"I don't know."
"But you do love him," said Frank. "Don't you?"
"And you'll tell me that you love him, right?" said Frank.
"Why won't you tell him?"
"I don't know." said Sarah softly. "Why don't you tell me?"
"I think that you do know." said Frank with a smile. "You really need to say it."
"Ok, Frank. I guess you're right. I do know."
"It's ok, Sarah. Please just trust me this once. It would be therapeutic for you to just say it."
"I don't want to."
"Sarah," said Frank softly. "Do you want to get better? You need to face this."
"I'm afraid, Frank." Sarah whispered with tears filling her eyes. "Once I tell him, there's no going back."
Chapter 2: The Decision
"Good morning, Sarah." Frank said cheerily as she sat on the couch across from him. "I hope that you had a good night's sleep."
"Not really," said Sarah with a frown. "Please don't take offense, Frank, but I am really tired of being here. When can I get back to L.A.?"
"I don't take any offense at all." said Frank with a laugh. "Don't get discouraged. We've made some good progress. We still have some work to do."
"I don't understand." said Sarah with a big sigh. "Ok, I have some issues, I'll admit that. But you've helped me understand them a lot better. I always thought that people were only institutionalized when they were a risk to themselves or others. Certainly you can't believe that I'm a risk?"
"You're certainly not being institutionalized." said Frank with a smile. "I hope that you don't feel that way. Unfortunately, Sarah, you're not a normal person. You're a highly trained killing machine. The agency is going to be incredibly careful before they allow you back in the field. I can think that you would understand that."
"But can't we schedule some sessions in L.A.?" Sarah asked. "I would gladly agree to attend. I just feel trapped here. I really feel like I need to get back to Chuck."
"I know that you're going to disagree." Frank said softly. "But I really think that it's in your best interest to be here. I don't want you to feel trapped. But let's face it, Sarah, you going back to L.A. right now is not the answer."
"Please, Frank," said Sarah as tears began to form in her eyes. "I miss him."
"I know." Frank said with a smile. "You're sort of in a panic right now. You're terrified of making an emotional commitment to Chuck and you're terrified of losing him. Wouldn't you agree?"
Sarah nodded as the tears began to flow down her cheeks.
"I can help you." said Frank softly. "We can work on those issues. Can I make a deal with you? If you will calm down and truly work with me, I'll bring Chuck here. Would that work for you?"
"When?" Sarah asked as her eyes brightened.
"It could be as early as tomorrow." Frank said with a smile. "But I need you to understand, we have some work to do first. You're in no condition to see Chuck right now. Do we have a deal?"
"I guess I don't have much of a choice." Sarah said looking up into Frank's eye. "Yes, we have a deal."
"Good," said Frank as he clapped his hands. "Tell me about the instant when you realized that you were in love with Chuck."
Sarah looked down at the floor appearing to be deep in thought. After a moment she looked back up at Frank.
"I guess that would be in my apartment." she said softly. "Bryce had just come back after we thought he was dead. He asked me to return to being his partner …."
Sarah felt like cement blocks were tied to her feet while she was packing. She knew that leaving with Bryce was the smart play. She just didn't want to do it.
She knew all of reasons. She had gone over them time and time again. Bryce just made much more sense. He was like her. He knew the life she had chosen. There was no question that he was a superior agent. There was no one she would rather have at her back on a mission. He would understand completely whenever she had to flirt, or even more, with a mark. Truth be told, he would more than likely be the one to suggest it. She didn't have to worry about any emotional demands from Bryce that was for sure. He was like a wind up toy. Give him sex a few times a week and he was good to go. Ok, she didn't love him. But wasn't love over rated? Wasn't her commitment to the greater good more important than love?
Chuck, on the other hand, would never be satisfied with what she could give him. He would always want more. He would never be able to understand the things that she had to do for the job. Sure, she longed for a normal life. Who wouldn't? And, yes, Chuck was the nicest man she could ever hope to meet. And yes, she liked to daydream about how their children would look. But she also knew that she had made a vow to serve the greater good. It was a shame but those two worlds don't mix very well. In order to do her duty, she would constantly have to hurt him. And she knew that she wouldn't be able to look at those sad brown eyes and continue to crush him. It was only a matter of time before he would whittle away at her resolve. First she would be his girlfriend, then his lover, then his fiancé, then his wife. She couldn't help but smile as she imagined Chuck proposing. He would go out of his way to make it a romantic experience that she would never forget. That was his style. He was always looking to make her feel good.
"Come on Walker," she told herself. "Snap out of it. You don't love him."
As Sarah continued her packing she eventually came across Chuck's favorite blouse. He never failed to compliment her every time she would wear it. It was getting to the point where she saved wearing it for special days to make sure that it made Chuck happy. As she began to fold the blouse, she smiled at how Chuck's eyes sparkled the last time she wore it. Bryce never commented on her appearance. Well only to encourage her to seduce someone. Oh, and to get her into bed, but only then when she was already semi naked. As a matter of fact, Bryce's favorite blouse was which ever one he was taking off her at the time and throwing on the floor. Sure, as a woman, she really appreciated how Chuck would always take the time to compliment her. She could see in his eyes that he meant it. He wasn't trying to butter her up to get something like Bryce would. She could really get used to hearing him compliment her for the rest of her life.
"You don't love him." she whispered to herself firmly. But the tears in her eyes were making it hard to concentrate on her packing.
When Sarah went to put the blouse in the suitcase, she realized that she had already hung it back in the closet. For the life of her, she couldn't remember doing that. She absolutely knew in her heart that if she didn't leave tonight, she never would be able to again. All she could see was Chuck's face when he heard that she was gone. The hurt look was more than she could bear. He didn't deserve to be hurt like that. He was the most genuinely nicest person she had ever met.
"You don't love him." she sobbed to herself as she threw herself onto the bed. Her neatly packed clothes went flying as she kicked the suitcase off the bed.
"So that's the point where you knew," said Frank. "What did you do about it?"
"Well, actually," Sarah said. "I treated Chuck really badly for a few days. I snapped at him and made his life pretty miserable."
"I don't know," said Sarah with a sigh. "I guess I blamed him for making me fall in love with him. It doesn't seem very fair, does it?"
"You've never told Chuck that you loved him," said Frank. "Is that right?"
Sarah nodded sadly.
"But I assume he's told you that he loves you?"
Sarah nodded again, but this time with a smile on her face.
"Tell me about the first time."
"Well," said Sarah thoughtfully. "We had gone on a cover date with Chuck's sister and her finance. Our cover was that we had been dating for about six months. I guess I sort of used that as an excuse to try and show him how I really felt…"
Chuck and Sarah were sitting in the back seat of Devon's car. From the front seat, Ellie could not contain her excitement.
"I'm so excited that you and Chuck could finally come with us to the beach." Ellie said with a huge smile. "I've been looking forward to this all week."
"I'm really glad that it worked out." said Sarah with a smile as she snuggled into Chuck. "This is really going to be fun."
Sarah could feel that Chuck was acting stiff so she smiled at him.
"It's ok, Chuck," she whispered in his ear as she nuzzled his neck. "Put your arm around me and relax. Don't worry about anything. Let's just have fun today."
The almost imperceptible nod that he gave her as he slipped his arm around her shoulder told her that he understood.
The day at the beach was one of the best days Sarah could ever remember. Chuck kept her laughing all day. She was actually surprised when they played volleyball how athletic he was. Although he was not in Devon's or her league as an athlete, he certainly didn't embarrass himself. But the thing that impressed Sarah the most was his lack of possessiveness. Naturally Sarah attracted a lot of attention in her bikini. Bryce would have gotten all macho in that situation and made sure that everybody knew they were together. If the stares bothered Chuck, he was great at not showing it. Sarah made sure that whenever any guys would overtly stare she would go over and give Chuck a quick kiss, just to let them know the situation. Chuck even suggested that Devon and Sarah take on the local volleyball champs. "It only makes sense." he explained as they were the two strongest players. Instead of pouting like Bryce would have done, Chuck actually cheered. He was even able to point out some strategy that helped Sarah and Devon win. It was a side of Chuck that Sarah had not seen much of. And it was very attractive.
On the ride home, Sarah made sure that she snuggled tightly against Chuck. Since she was still wearing her bikini, the impression she was making was obvious. Once, Sarah leaned in to give Chuck a kiss. Her eyes sparkled with amusement as she saw his eyes widen when he felt her tongue brush between his lips.
Once they got back to Ellie's place, the two couples quickly decided to head to their respective rooms. Even though Ellie was beaming at what she had witnessed all day, she was obviously more interested at being alone with Devon. As soon as Sarah led Chuck into his room, Chuck smiled.
"Thanks for today." he said softly. "You've really convinced Ellie that we're a couple."
Sarah stepped up to Chuck and put her arms around his neck. Just before she kissed him she whispered, "Have I convinced you?"
The force of the kiss pushed Chuck onto his bed with Sarah on top of him. They were still engaged in the long kiss. As soon as the kiss broke, Chuck looked at Sarah with a longing in his eyes that she had never seen.
"I don't know if I'm totally convinced that we're really a couple." he whispered. "But I am convinced that I'm totally in love with you."
With that Chuck kissed Sarah again. This time it was his tongue that made it past Sarah's lips. Sarah didn't respond to the kiss but she didn't resist it either. Then she felt Chuck's hands untying the top of her bikini. It was a testament to his hand eye coordination that he had her top off before she could react. Suddenly Chuck rolled over, putting him on top of her. One of his hands was on her bare breast while the other was attempting to slide her bikini bottom off.
Sarah quickly reacted. She rolled over and jumped off the bed.
"I'm so sorry Chuck." she said softly as she covered her breasts with her arms. "I can't do this."
Sarah grabbed her top and went in the bathroom to put it back on. When she came out Chuck was sitting on the side of the bed with his head in his hands.
"I'm sorry, Sarah," he whispered without looking up. "I guess I misinterpreted what you were saying. I'm so sorry."
"Please don't be sorry." Sarah whispered with tears in her eyes. "You didn't do anything to be sorry for. This is my issue. I can't do my job and … Well, I can't do this right now. Please don't hate me."
When Chuck wouldn't look up, Sarah said "It's best if I go. I'll go out the window so Ellie doesn't know."
Chuck simply nodded without looking up.
"Chuck, please don't feel bad." Sarah said as she opened the window. "I want this as much as you do. Maybe more. I just can't right now."
As Sarah closed the window she saw Chuck throw himself face down onto his pillow. His body was heaving with emotion. Sarah had to sit in her car for over an hour before she could compose herself enough to drive home.
Frank waited a moment for Sarah to compose herself purposefully averting his gaze while she wiped the tears from her eyes. Then he turned to her softly
"You really wanted him?" Frank asked softly. "Didn't you?"
"I've never wanted anything more in my whole life, Frank. Ever."
"You told Chuck that the reason was the job." Frank said. "Do you think that he bought it?"
"What do you mean?"
"Do you think that he accepted that reason?" Frank asked insistently. "You are telling him that you couldn't be in love with him and also do your job. You're also telling him that your job is more important to you than he is."
"But that is the reason." Sarah said. "Chuck knows how important my job is to me. He knows how dedicated I am and how much I'm driven by my sense of duty. He understands. He has always accepted that I could only give him what the job would allow."
"Well," said Frank. "Then you're really not going to like what I'm about to tell you. I just got a call from Director Graham. They have decided that if you insist on seeing Chuck, you'll have to resign your position in the CIA. If you stay in the CIA, they are going to reassign you and you'll never see him again."
"What?" Sarah cried.
"I have your resignation letter right here." said Frank as he held up a clipboard that held a document. "If you sign it, Chuck will be here in the morning. If you don't, you'll never see him again."
"How can they expect me to make that decision?" Sarah said with a sob.
"I guess they think that you're right." Frank said firmly. "How can you do your job effectively and be in love with your asset? It wouldn't work. And, Sarah, you know the CIA. They don't give a rip about your personal happiness. They just want you to be effective in the field."
Sarah simply sat staring ahead unable to say a word with tears filling her eyes.
After a moment, Frank sighed.
"It's ok, Sarah," he said in a matter of fact tone. "Don't worry. I'll let Chuck know. I'm sure he'll understand. After all, he knows the life you've chosen, the sacrifices you've made. He may be a little torn up for a while but I'll make sure he gets some counseling. He'll be ok, I promise."
"Give me the letter." Sarah said through her tears.
Frank handed the clipboard to Sarah. Sarah signed the bottom of the document without looking and put the clipboard on the desk.
"When it comes right down to it," Frank said with a smile. "That was a pretty easy decision. Wasn't it?"
Sarah just nodded.
"You didn't even look at it before you signed it?" said Frank with a broad smile. "Did you?"
Sarah just looked at him with a confused look.
Frank picked up the clipboard from the desk. He took the document out of the clipboard and ripped it into pieces.
"That was actually an application for a credit card." Frank said thoughtfully. "They send me these damn things all of the time. I never thought one would come in handy. You should really read things before you sign them."
Sarah just looked at Frank with a surprised look.
"I'm sorry to have played you like that." Frank said with a smile. "But now we both know that it's not the job. After lunch, maybe we can stop this rationalizing and get you to admit to yourself the real reason."
Chapter 3: The Reason
"Frank," Sarah said right after they had gotten back together after lunch. "Can I ask you a question?"
"Shoot." replied Frank.
"How did you know?"
"How did I know what?"
"How did you know that I would choose Chuck over my job?" Sarah asked softly.
"Well I didn't exactly know." said Frank with a smile. "But it was a pretty safe bet. If the job was the real reason you wouldn't be so conflicted. If the job was more important there really wouldn't be any decision to make, would there?"
"What if I hadn't done what you expected?" Sarah asked.
"Was there really any chance of that happening?" Frank asked with a twinkle in his eye.
"No," said Sarah with a small smile coming across her face. "But you didn't know that, did you?"
"Well," said Frank thoughtfully. "At least we would know the truth, right? Knowing the truth is the whole battle. We can't deal with issues when we don't know what they are."
"Do you know what my real issue is?" asked Sarah.
"I think so," said Frank softly. "I think that you do too. You just need to admit it to yourself."
"Could you just please tell me?" Sarah asked in a pleading tone. "Then I'll just admit it and this will be over. Then I can go back to Chuck."
"I'm sorry, Sarah." Frank said with a laugh. "It doesn't work that way. It's not going to mean anything to you if I tell you. You need to tell yourself. I know that this may sound like a scene from The Wizard of Oz, but you're the only one you'll truly believe. I know that you want to get back to Chuck. But let me ask you a question. If Chuck walked in that door right now, what would you do?"
"I don't know." Sarah said sadly.
"Precisely," said Frank. "Sarah, I know that you're tired of being here. I know that you miss Chuck. But please hang in there for just a while longer. I promise we're close to you knowing what you will do."
"I'm scared." said Sarah. "What if I decide that I can't be with Chuck? I don't think I can live with that."
"And that's the biggest reason why it's probably not going to happen." said Frank softly. "But let's face it, if the decision were that easy, you wouldn't have any trouble making it. If you are going to have anything real with Chuck, it needs to be based on what you both really want. Not what you fear. Not what you think you should want. But what you want. Let's figure out what that really is. If you're going to be with Chuck, then you'll really have a chance. If you can't be with him, well, it's better for you both to know that now."
Sarah sighed in agreement.
"Are you ready to get back to work?" Frank asked.
"Ok, Sarah," Frank said softly. "I know that this is going to be hard on you. But tell me about your dad. I know that he was an agent. That must have made for a strained relationship. Agents are usually not good at relationships. Can you talk about that?"
"Well, Frank," said Sarah. "I was much closer to my mother. But she died of cancer when I was seventeen. My dad wasn't around much. After my mom died, our relationship was kind of strained…."
"Come on, Sarah," said her dad. "You know that I can't be at your basketball game. I'm going to be out of town."
"But daddy," said Sarah. "It's the conference championship game. All of the parents are going to be introduced before the game."
"I'm sorry baby," her dad said softly. "I was never cut out to be a single parent. With my job it's going to be really hard. I didn't count on your mom dying."
"I really miss her." Sarah said sadly.
"I do too." said her dad. "But you're eighteen now, Sarah. You're not a little girl anymore. And it's time that you learned how to be a woman. And the most important lesson that you need to learn is to depend on yourself."
"I don't understand." Sarah said questioning.
"It's easy, really." said her dad. "Whenever you depend on other people, they'll eventually let you down. I know that I've let you down for the past eighteen years by putting my job first. I'm sorry that I can't sugar coat this for you baby. Do you understand?"
Sarah nodded as tears began to form in her eyes.
"I do want to tell you how proud I am," he said with a smile. "First team all conference. Wow, that's great. I can't tell you how much I love you. Look at you. You're all grown up."
"Thanks, daddy," Sarah said with her face lit up in a huge grim. "I love you too."
"Just remember, baby," he said as he hugged her tightly. "Never depend on anyone but yourself. You'll only be hurt. That's a lesson you'll need to survive in this world on your own. Do you promise me?"
"Yes, daddy, I promise."
"So, Sarah," Frank said softly. "Basically your dad was telling you that you couldn't trust anybody. Do you think that he was still grieving over your mom dying?"
"Maybe," Sarah said as she nodded. "I never thought about it that way but it makes sense."
"He was an agent." said Frank. "That's sort of how agents are conditioned to think."
"I think that he knew he was in a dangerous line of work." Sarah said sadly. "I wasn't totally sure what he did at the time. I just knew that he worked for the government and was away a lot. But now I realize he was getting me ready to be on my own. He didn't have time to do it gently. He wanted to be sure that I was ready."
"Is that why you were drawn to the CIA?" Frank said. "It's the perfect place to be totally on your own. Is that why you were so driven to become the best agent in the whole CIA? I know that your dad was killed on a mission when you were eighteen. You joined the agency right after that. Was your dad getting killed the reason?"
"Actually, Frank," said Sarah without looking up from the floor. "I was recruited at his funeral…."
It was a sunny; warn spring day as Sarah stood at her dad's grave site. She was wearing a conservative black dress. Since the day was sunny, her sunglasses seemed appropriate. Sarah held the flag that the Marine in his full dress blues had just handed her. It was the flag that just moments ago had been draped over his coffin. Since Sarah was an only child and her mother had passed away a couple of years ago, there was not much family. Her mother had two brothers and Sarah had three cousins but since they lived out of state, they were never close. Sarah had some friends from school that came to the funeral but none of them came to the grave site. For the life of her, Sarah couldn't figure out why there were so many people at the ceremony that she didn't know. And why did a Marine pick her up at her house in a limo? After all, her dad just worked for the government. One by one, the people in the blue suits drifted away leaving Sarah standing alone silently. Her Marine driver was standing at attention by the car waiting for her. Sarah had told herself that she would not cry but that was becoming a challenge. So Sarah stood alone fighting to hold back tears when a man in a dark blue business suit walked up to her.
"Hi, Sarah," the man said with a smile. "My name is Jim. I worked with your dad. Mind if I talk to you?"
"Suit yourself." Sarah answered sullenly without looking up.
"Sorry about your dad." Jim said with a smile. "He was a good man."
"Was he?" asked Sarah sarcastically.
"Of course," said Jim. "Tell me Sarah, what are your plans now? I mean you just graduated from High School. You really don't have any family to speak of. Would you consider following in your dads footsteps?"
"What would the government want with me?" Sarah asked.
"Don't sell yourself short, Sarah." said Jim with a smile. "I've been doing some checking. You're very bright. You're a super athlete. You just made all-conference in basketball, right? And you've really blossomed into a quite beautiful young lady. I'm sure that the government will have no problem using your skills."
"What would I have to do?" Sarah asked slowly.
"Don't worry." said Jim soothingly. "You'll be thoroughly trained. Sarah, I'm offering you the chance of a lifetime. You'll get to serve your country and the common good. But you'll also get to see the world and follow in your dad's footsteps. Who knows, someday you might even get to avenge his death. Wouldn't you like that?"
Sarah very slightly nodded as she met Jim's eye for the first time.
"I'll tell you what," Jim said confidently. "You think about what I'm offering you. I'll come by your house tonight and answer any questions you have. I assume you'll be alone?"
Sarah nodded sadly.
"Ok," Jim said. "I'll be by around ten."
"Can I see some ID?" Sarah said cautiously. "I've never seen you before. How do I know you're really from the government?"
Jim showed Sarah his ID. It looked official enough. It had his picture. It didn't have any specific agency identified, just like her dad's.
"Satisfied?" Jim said with a grin.
Sarah just nodded sheepishly.
"Really think this over, Sarah." Jim said as he got up to leave. "I'm offering you a life changing opportunity. It's not going to ever be offered again."
When Jim knocked on Sarah's door right at ten o'clock, she was actually grateful. She wasn't looking forward to spending that first night all alone in her big house.
"Hi Sarah," Jim said cheerily as she let him in to the house. "Have you thought about my offer?"
"It's all that I've been thinking about." Sarah said excitedly. "How is this going to work?"
"Well, Sarah," said Jim with a laugh. "The first three months you will be in training. You'll be taught how to protect yourself and how to use weapons. Then, depending on how well you do, you'll get some advanced training. That advanced training will depend on what they determine your skills are and what they need at the time."
"That sounds great." said Sarah. "Where do I sign?"
"I'll take you to the office tomorrow and we'll get you all signed up." Jim said in a matter of fact tone. "One thing that I want to make sure that you're aware of. You're not joining the Girl Scouts here. You're going to be asked to do some things that you normally wouldn't even consider doing. You're going to be asked to make some serious personal sacrifices for the common good. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"I'm ready." said Sarah firmly. "I really want this."
"One of the main things that a female agent has to learn," said Jim with a smile. "Is how to use your good looks as a weapon. You're going to need to learn how to seduce men that you've never met. Are you up to that? You're not going to turn bashful on me are you?"
"I'm going to do what I have to do." said Sarah firmly.
"Good," said Jim. "In that case, I think that it's time for your first lesson. Do you think that you could smile and take off your clothes for me?"
"So," said Frank sadly. "Let me get this straight. He recruited you at your father's funeral and then exploited your excitement and naivety to get you into bed? Who is this guy? Is he still with the agency? I'd like to turn him in."
"No, he's been dead for a couple of years." Sarah said with a sad laugh. "Don't worry. I'm over it. It was a long time ago. I guess I deserved it for being so stupid. He didn't make me do anything that I haven't done on missions many times."
Frank just nodded sadly.
"It's kind of funny," Sarah continued. "When I told Bryce this story, he didn't have a problem with what Jim did to me. He said that Jim was smart, that he just took advantage of a situation to get what he wanted. Bryce said that he would have done the same thing. He laughed at me for being so naive."
"What did Chuck say when you told him?" Frank asked curiously.
"I've never told Chuck," said Sarah with a smile. "But I already know how he would react. First, he would worry if I was ok. Then he would want to hunt Jim down and hurt him."
"And why haven't you told Chuck?" asked Frank. "It sounds like he would be very supportive."
"I didn't want to rub his face in the fact that here is yet another guy that I've had sex with." Sarah said sadly.
"Don't you think he would understand?" Frank asked.
"He would." Sarah said. "I just don't want to hurt him. I won't lie to him but I think it's better if I just don't volunteer that kind of stuff."
"You know," said Frank. "I actually think that it's better to get these sorts of issues out in the open. It might make Chuck feel closer to you that you trusted him enough to understand. And in any event, if you're really going to have a meaningful relationship with Chuck you're going to have to work out your different views on sex."
"Maybe you're right." Sarah said disgustedly. "Bryce was sure right about one thing. It was a very valuable lesson. I was stupid. You can't trust anybody. My dad was right. The only person that you can depend on is yourself."
Frank looked at Sarah thoughtfully for a full minute. Finally he spoke.
"Does that include Chuck?"
Sarah just sat and stared straight ahead blankly. Frank waited patiently not wanting to interfere with her thoughts. After a couple of minutes the tears started to form in her eyes.
"Oh my God," Sarah whispered, more to herself than to Frank. "That's it. If I tell Chuck that I'm in love with him, I'll have to start depending on him. That's it, isn't it?"
"Congratulations, Dorothy, you're officially back in Kansas." Frank said softly with a smile. I'm really very proud of you, Sarah. You figured it out in two days. I think that may be a record."
"Thanks," Sarah whispered through her tears.
"But the real question," Frank continued. "Is what are you going to do with that knowledge? Do you love Chuck enough to start depending on him? Do you trust him enough to know that he won't betray you? That he's not using you like Jim and Bryce did? That he won't die and leave you alone like your dad? Or are you better off continuing to be on your own, like you promised your dad? Not having to risk being devastated by someone again."
"I really love him, Frank." said Sarah wiping the tears from her eyes. "I know that I do."
"Is that going to be enough?" Frank asked softly.
Sarah just stared, not trusting herself to speak without breaking down. Finally she whispered, "It has to be."
"Well the timing couldn't be any more perfect." Frank said with a smile.
Frank picked up the phone. "Janice," he said. "Could you send him in?"
The door opened and he walked in wordlessly.
When Sarah looked up, she was looking directly into the eyes of Chuck Bartowski.
Chapter 4: Couple's Therapy
For a long moment, Sarah just sat and starred at Chuck standing with a huge grin on his face, unable to believe that he was really there. Finally Frank spoke.
"My goodness, Sarah," he said softly with a smile. "You've been crying for two days about how much you miss him. Why don't you give him a hug?"
Suddenly Sarah was in Chuck's arms. They both were hugging so tightly that breathing was becoming an issue but neither seemed to notice.
"I've been so worried about you." Chuck finally said without loosening his grip. "How are you doing? Are you feeling better?"
"I've missed you so much." Sarah replied softly.
"If you two could please hold that thought." Frank interrupted softly. "Chuck, Sarah has made some amazing progress. But we still have some work to do."
Chuck and Sarah were still in their embrace but both had loosened the death grip. Sarah had her head buried in Chuck's chest while he rubbed her back gently. As Sarah sighed contentedly, Frank was busy setting up a partition that divided the couch down the middle. The partition extended for a couple of feet in front of the couch.
"I hope you don't mind taking seats on the either side of the couch." Frank said. "It's designed so that you won't be able to see each other."
As Chuck and Sarah reluctantly broke their embrace and took seats on opposite sides of the partition, Frank spoke to them.
"I not sure if you notice," he said with a huge smile. "But I'm really looking forward to this. Since I've been working as a CIA therapist for the past ten years, I don't get the opportunity to work much with couples. As you might imagine, the CIA frowns on couples. But anyway, here are the ground rules. I'm going to be very strict about enforcing them. You are not to speak directly to each other, only to me. It may sound silly at times but it's for a reason and it's important. Do you both understand?"
Both Chuck and Sarah nodded their heads in agreement.
"Yes." Chuck added.
"Now, Chuck," said Frank soothingly. "Since you and I have never worked together before, I want to make sure that you know what to expect. This session is going to be worthless, or even worse than that if you're not going to be completely honest. I'm going to ask you to talk about some things that you're instincts are going to tell you to hide. But you need to be completely candid. You can't worry about being embarrassed or hurting Sarah's feelings. If you're angry, say so. If you're hurt, say so. We'll deal with those feeling as they come up. And, just so you know, I won't let you get away with hiding your true feelings anyway. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Frank," said Chuck clearly as he nodded his head in affirmation. "I'll do my best."
"Ok," said Frank clearly enjoying himself. "Let's start off with a test question. This really isn't about the therapy. It's just an exercise in being candid. Chuck, tell me about the last sexual fantasy that you had about Sarah."
"Oh, ,Frank, um, I'm not sure…" Chuck stammered.
"Come on, Chuck," Frank said with a short laugh. "You know that I'm not going to let you get away with that. You're going to sit there and tell me that you've never fantasized about Sarah sexually? If that's true, then we might be wasting our time. I also think that you're talking to the wrong therapist. Maybe I should refer you to a sexual orientation specialist."
"Ok," said Chuck with a huge sigh. "You're going to make me say it. Aren't you? I was sort of daydreaming while I was sitting in the waiting room a few minutes ago. Sarah may not have had many clothes on in my daydream. Do I have to describe what we were doing?"
"No," said Frank with a smile. "I think I can guess that part. That will do for the moment."
Frank turned to Sarah who had a huge grin on her face.
"I see that you're enjoying this." Frank said.
"I am." said Sarah with a twinkle in her eye while trying hard not to laugh. "I think that it's sweet. Why don't you ask him if I took my own clothes off or did he help?"
"That's funny." said Frank with a chuckle. "But turn about is fair play. Don't you think? Why don't tell me about the last time you fantasized about Chuck?"
Suddenly the grin disappeared. After a moment Sarah sighed.
"Ok," she said softly. "It was last night in bed. I was thinking about what could have happened that day after we got home from the beach. I think about that almost every night actually and what if I hadn't been such an idiot. And neither of us was wearing any clothes."
Now it was Chuck's turn to have a huge grin.
"I see that you're enjoying that as well." Frank said to Chuck.
"Well, Frank," said Chuck maintaining his huge grin. "Since it's the first time I've ever heard her say anything remotely like that, I'm more than enjoying it. I'm sort of stunned by it. Do you think you could have her say it again? Oh, and before I forget, sometimes I help her take her clothes off and sometimes she puts on a show for me. Right now, I'm leaning towards the show."
"Cute," Frank said as they all shared a laugh.
"But could you hold those thoughts for a while?" Frank asked. "I want to get back to that a little later. But, Chuck, first I want to tell you a story and get your reaction. Sarah, I'm going to tell him the story about Jim. Is that ok with you?"
"If you say so." said Sarah sadly after a moment's pause.
"Good," said Frank. "Chuck, this is about the agent that recruited Sarah into the CIA. His name was Jim and he approached her about joining the agency at her dad's funeral. That same day, Jim exploited her into sleeping with him by pretending that it was part of her training. How does that make you feel?"
"What!" Chuck immediately exclaimed excitedly as he stood up in alarm. "That's awful. Sarah, are you ok?"
"Chuck," Frank said firmly. "Please only talk to me."
"I'm sorry, Frank." Chuck said as he clenched his fists. "But how can I help her? Why hasn't she talked to me about this? He exploited her on the same day as her dad's funeral? That's the scummiest thing I've ever heard. She must have been hurting."
When Frank glanced at Sarah her smile very clearly said "I told you so."
"Calm down, Chuck." Frank said softly. "I think that Sarah is fine."
"Ok," Chuck continued excitedly. "But I have to do something. We need to find this Jim guy and teach him a lesson. Or, at least, I need to help Sarah find him and hurt him."
Frank glanced at Sarah again. Her smile had turned into a broad grin.
"Don't worry, Chuck." Frank said. "I think he's dead."
"Did Sarah kill him?" Chuck asked with a smile.
Sarah couldn't hold in her laugh.
"I don't think so." Frank said with a chuckle. "Sarah, did you kill him?"
"No," said Sarah still trying to contain her laughter. "I didn't kill him. He was killed in Iraq trying to get intel about a terrorist group. I think that it's very sweet that Chuck is worried about me. But I'm fine, really. It was a long time ago and I've used the experience as a valuable lesson. If anything, I'm sort of embarrassed that I was so gullible."
"But why wouldn't she tell me about this?" Chuck asked softly. "I love her. I want to help her deal with these kinds of issues. Even if it's just to listen and give her a hug, I want to be there for her. Isn't that what loving someone means?"
This time it was Frank's turn to flash the "I told you so" smile to Sarah.
"Chuck's right." Sarah said softly. "I should have told him about it. He could have made me feel better. I'm not used to having someone in my life that I can share that kind of personal stuff with. I'm sorry that I didn't. I just didn't want to rub his face in the idea of me sleeping with another man. I was afraid that it would hurt him."
"So, Chuck," said Frank. "Does it hurt you that Sarah slept with another man?"
"Well," said Chuck sadly. "I don't know about hurt, but I am sure jealous."
Sarah's smile quickly faded only to be replaced by a look of concern.
"Why would you be jealous?" Frank asked softly.
"I don't know." said Chuck slowly. "I mean I know that I have no right to be jealous. Even if she was in love with me, this was way before we had even met. It's just that I've seen Sarah work with men. I've had to watch it over and over. She seems very willing to use her um, for lack of a better term, charms to get close to men. And I'm fairly sure this is not a recent development. There are probably a lot of other times over the years that I'm not aware of. And that's her job. I get that. It's something that I'm just going to have to accept. It's a sacrifice that she's made for the greater good."
Frank nodded to let Chuck know that he understood.
"But here I am." Chuck continued. I'm totally head over heels in love with Sarah. There is literally nothing that I wouldn't do for her. I'm ready to spend the rest of my life with her if she would just let me. You'll never know what I would give to be able to hold her in my arms and express my love to her. How I would cherish that. But I've never had that chance. Yet, here is another example of some other guy getting casual sex. I always looked at those guys and even though I knew she didn't feel anything for them, I always envied them. They were so lucky. They were getting something that I wanted so badly. I wanted it so badly that I ached. I'm sorry but that hurts."
Frank glanced at Sarah and noticed the tears filling her eyes.
"Why do you think that you haven't had the chance?" Frank asked.
"It's rather obvious, Frank." said Chuck with tears starting to form in his own eyes. "Isn't it? She loves her job. She'll do anything that it requires. She doesn't love me. She's not there yet. I'm scared that she'll never get there. I don't know what I'm going to do. There's no way I can compete with the greater good."
Now Sarah was silently sobbing.
"Sarah," Frank said softly. "I can see that you're emotional. But how does what Chuck just said make you feel? Is he right?"
"No." was all that Sarah could finally choke out.
"But how can you say that?" Frank asked. "You're willing to use sex to do your job, right? I mean, can't you see what Chuck is saying? You're willing to have sex with some terrorist you've never met, but not this great guy who fiercely loves you?"
"That's not even the main issue." said Chuck sadly. "Sex is just the symbol. I've told Sarah that I love her about four times. She has never said it back. The only conclusion I can come to is that she doesn't love me. At least, not yet anyway."
Sarah took a long moment to compose herself. Finally she spoke.
"It's true that I've been willing to use sex for the job." Sarah said sadly. "That's what I've been trained to do. It's the main weapon a female agent has. And when I do it, I don't feel anything for the man. That's why I couldn't let myself be with Chuck until I could tell him that I love him. I want my first time with Chuck to be special. For the first time in my life, I want it to actually mean something."
"Come on, Sarah," said Chuck angrily. "Are you saying that you never had meaningful sex with Bryce? And sex is the minor thing here. Tell me that you've never told him that you loved him. That you don't love him more than me?"
"Chuck, please," said Frank firmly. "You can only talk to me. But Sarah, he raises a good point."
"I know, Frank," said Sarah while trying to wipe the tears from her eyes. "I'm not going to sit here and pretend that I didn't enjoy some of the times with Bryce. I did. And yes, Bryce has heard me say the words. But I didn't love him. I didn't realize that until I learned what love is. And I've never had an experience in my life that is going to mean anything like my first time with Chuck will. And if he thinks that he's been looking forward to it, I'd have to say that I'm looking forward to it even more. I hope he can understand that."
"But what would you say about the bigger issue?" Frank asked gently.
"I know," Sarah said with a sigh. "It's true that I've never been able to tell Chuck that I love him using words. I think that you've helped me work through that. But it just breaks my heart to hear him say that he has doubts about how I feel. I always assumed that he knew how I feel. I've tried to tell him in other ways. I love him. I'll always love him."
"Tell me something, Chuck." said Frank. "Why haven't you moved on? I mean, if you don't think that she loves you. And she makes you constantly watch her flirt and more with other men using her job as an excuse. Why do you still want her?"
"I have no choice." said Chuck with a sad smile. "I'm totally in love with her. I'll wait forever if that is what it takes. I think I could even live with her doing her job if I only knew for sure how she felt. Moving on would mean giving up. And that scares me. It just isn't an option. The only way I'm leaving is if she tells me to go away."
"Frank," said Sarah with a sob. "Please let me talk to Chuck. He doesn't deserve to go another minute without knowing how much I love him."
"It's better for right now if you just talk to me." Frank said firmly.
"Please." Sarah pleaded. "I need to fix this. I feel terrible. Here is the most wonderful man in the world and I'm hurting him. He doesn't deserve to be hurt. He deserves to know that he'll always be the love of my life. How every night I go to sleep thinking about what our kids are going to look like. I can't lose him."
"I'm sorry, Sarah." Frank said softly. "There is something that you still need to do first before you can give yourself totally to Chuck. I think that you know what that is."
"But don't worry too much." Frank said with a smile. "Judging by the grin on Chuck's face, I think he's getting the general idea."
Chapter 5: The Beginning
Frank and Sarah were standing at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery. The setting sun reflecting off the countless rows of identical white headstones created a calming mood.
"Are you sure that you're ready to do this?" Frank asked Sarah with a smile on his face.
"Frank, I've never been surer of anything in my life." Sarah said with an even bigger smile. "I need this. I'm the luckiest person in the world. It's time that I got on with it, don't you think?"
"If you're asking your therapist, my answer would have to be that decision is yours alone to make." said Frank softly. "If you're asking your friend, Frank, then yes, you need to get on with it."
"Here," said Frank as he handed Sarah a package. "Here are your ID and weapons. You are officially reinstated to active duty. Whatever you decide today. Welcome back, Agent Walker."
"Thanks, Frank," Sarah whispered as she hugged him. "For everything. I really appreciate it. I owe you big time."
"You're entirely welcome." said Frank as he returned the embrace. "It's so great for me to see a happy ending. It's fairly rare in this business. You can repay me by inviting me to the wedding."
"I'm sorry, Frank." Sarah said with a sparkle in her eye. "But I don't think there's going to be a wedding for you to come to. I'm going to talk Chuck into stopping in Vegas on our way home."
"And you think that Chuck is going to go for that?" Frank asked skeptically. "My bet is that he'll insist on giving you a proper wedding. If I'm right, I'll expect an invitation. Now you better get moving or Chuck and Agent Casey are going to be walking up. I only told them to give us fifteen minutes."
As Sarah started to walk away she heard Frank call to her.
"Good luck, Agent Walker. I don't expect to ever see you in my office again."
Sarah just turned her head and smiled as she continued walking. Sarah walked about a third of the way into the cemetery and stopped. She was still visible but well out of earshot when Chuck and Casey walked up.
"Well," said Frank with a smile. "You must be Agent Casey."
"Yes sir." said Casey as he shook Frank's hand. "Major John Casey, sir."
"Please, call me Frank."
"Ok, Frank," Casey replied. "My friends call me Casey."
"Friends?" Chuck whispered to himself.
"I'm sorry, Casey," said Frank. "To have dragged you to this sad place on your day off."
"I don't get off days." said Casey. "But you don't have to worry about that. This is my favorite place in Washington. It's one of my favorite places in the world."
"It is?" Chuck asked in amazement. "Why?"
"Well, Chuck," said Casey softly. "You see all of those rows of headstones? Each one of then represents someone who sacrificed their life for the greater good. I hope that someday I'll be honored here. It makes me feel proud and yet humble at the same time. This is democracy's hall of fame."
"Why are we here, Frank?" Chuck asked. "What are we waiting for?"
"Sarah is saying goodbye to her dad." Frank said with a smile. "Her dad was an agent killed on a mission when Sarah was eighteen. Sarah has come to realize that she needs to let him go and start living her own life."
"So we're just waiting for her?" Chuck asked. "What happens when she comes back?"
"No, Chuck," said Frank. "Casey and I are leaving. You're going to wait for her. You're her life now. Whatever happens now is up to you."
"Casey," Frank said curiously. "You do realize that Sarah and Chuck are going to be a couple, right?"
"It's the worst kept secret in the history of the CIA." Casey said with a laugh. "It'll be a relief to finally get it out in the open. The tension was starting to be a strain."
"Well, Chuck," Frank said as he extended his hand. "Good luck. This is what you wanted. I hope you make the most of it. Look after her. She's depending on you. I'll see you at the wedding."
"Wedding?" Chuck questioned as he shook Frank's hand. "Who's getting married?"
"Come on, Chuck." said Frank with a huge laugh. "I thought you were supposed to be some kind of genius. You're getting married. That's what you want isn't it?"
As Frank laughed at the look on Chuck's face he turned to Casey.
"Did I tell you that my best friend is the director of the Smithsonian?" he said with a smile as he led Casey away. "They are currently having an exhibition on the history of firearms. You strike me as the kind of person who would be very interested in seeing that."
Sarah had a little trouble finding her dad's grave. After all, the rows and headstones all looked alike. She finally had to resort to counting the headstones in his row before she finally found it. There was not another person anywhere close to her.
"Hi, Daddy," she began softly as she took a big breath. "I've really missed you. I'm sorry that I haven't been here sooner. But I've been really busy."
"I think that you would be very proud of me." she continued. "I kept my promise to you. I haven't depended on anybody. And I've become the top agent in the whole CIA. It was really hard but I kept at it. Nobody helped me. I did it all on my own."
"And, Daddy," she said as tears started to fill her eyes. "I'm sorry about some of the things that I've had to do. I know that you wouldn't be proud of them. There are some things that I'm ashamed that you had to see. But I think that you would understand. You would know that a lot of people have to make tremendous sacrifices for the greater good."
"But, Daddy," Sarah said as she started to sob. "I'm sorry. Please don't be mad. I just can't do it anymore. I'm so tired of being alone. I'm just so tired, Daddy. I've given everything that I have. I just don't have anything left."
Sarah just stood there sobbing for a few minutes. Finally she composed herself.
"I met a man, Daddy." she said. "He's not like anybody I've ever known before. He's the nicest man in the whole world."
"You'd really hate him." Sarah said with a laugh through her tears. "Well, at first anyway. I think that once you got to know him that you would eventually learn to love him as much as I do."
"He wants to take care of me." she said with a smile. "And, Daddy, I know that I promised you, but I'm going to let him. I trust him. He won't let us down. I'm totally sure of that. It's time that I started living my life."
"So," Sarah continued. "We're going to be living on the west coast. So I probably won't be by again for a while. But I promise that I'll come back and introduce you to your first grandchild."
"Until then, goodbye, Daddy. I love you."
Sarah spotted Chuck standing by the entrance, waiting patiently for her. As she walked up to him, she could see the concern on his face.
"Are you ok?" Chuck asked softly as he reached gently to brush a tear off of her cheek.
"I've never felt better in my life." Sarah said with a huge smile. "Ever."
"Did your talk go well?" Chuck asked with a smile. "What did you talk about?"
"I'll tell you in a second." Sarah said. "But I'm not going to take another breath until you know exactly how I feel."
Chuck's eyes told her to continue.
"I love you." said Sarah softly. "I'm sorry but that doesn't sound good enough. I'm head over heels, crazy in love with you. And I can't imagine not spending the rest of my life with you. I can't tell you how sorry I am for making you doubt that. But, I promise, I'm going to spend every minute for the rest of my life making sure that you never doubt it again."
"I love you just as much." Chuck said with a smile. "You know that, right?"
"I need to ask you a favor." Sarah said.
"Anything," Chuck whispered. "You know that there is nothing I wouldn't do for you."
"I've never asked this of anyone in my whole life." Sarah said softly. "But I need you to take care of me."
"I'll do my best." Chuck said hesitantly. "I'm not sure how good I'm going to be with the bad guys. I'm not exactly trained for that."
"That's ok." said Sarah as she kissed Chuck tenderly. "I'll continue to take care of the bad guys. I need you to take care of the bad dreams."
"That I can do." said Chuck with a smile.
"You wanted to know what I said to my dad." Sarah said with a twinkle in her eye. "I asked him for permission for you to ask me to marry you. I told him that I trusted you."
"And what did he say?" Chuck said with a laugh.
"I wouldn't take no for an answer." Sarah said giggling. "I thought we could stop in Vegas on our way home and get married there. Would you like that?"
"I want to get married." said Chuck. "That's for sure. But wouldn't you rather wait a few weeks and have a real wedding. That way we could have all of our friends and family there. Didn't you dream about your wedding when you were a little girl? Let me give you that dream. I think that every girl deserves to be a bride once, don't you think?"
"That's what Frank said you would say." Sarah said with a sigh. "Ok. We'll wait and do it right. You're right. I have dreamed about it. And not just as a little girl. I can't wait to see the look on Ellie's face when we tell her."
"Good." Chuck said with a grin. "I'm really looking forward to telling her. But what are we going to do tonight?"
"If you have to ask that," Sarah said with a sly smile. "I don't think that you've been paying close enough attention. The question is not what. It's how many times."
"Ok," Chuck said as he felt the blush creeping up his neck. "That was stupid. What I really meant was where are we going to do what we both know we're going to do oh so many times? This is your city. Should we get a hotel room?"
"We don't have to." Sarah said with a laugh as she grabbed Chuck's hand and started to walk, pulling him along. "My, um I mean our, apartment is five minutes away from here."
"This is like my wildest fantasy come true." said Chuck with a deep laugh as they walked.
"Fantasy huh?" said Sarah with a giggle as she nudged her shoulder into Chuck's causing him to stumble a little. "Speaking of fantasies, which are you going for tonight. Are you going to help or do you want the show?"
"Whichever is faster."
Chapter 6: The Promise Kept
Chuck and Sarah walked hand in hand towards the apartment. With each step that they took Chuck could tell that Sarah was getting tenser. Her hand was starting to sweat. Finally he decided to ask her.
"Sarah, what's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong." Sarah replied but she wouldn't meet Chuck's eye."
"Come on, Sarah." Chuck said softly. "Something's wrong. Tell me."
"Ok," said Sarah as she took a big breath. "I just remembered that there are some pictures hanging in the apartment that you might not like. They are of Bryce and me."
"Why would that bother you?" Chuck asked. "We can take them down, can't we?"
"Yes," said Sarah with a sigh. "I just didn't want anything to spoil this night. I didn't want to remind you of me and Bryce. Now that's the first thing you are going to see."
"Come on, Sarah," Chuck said with a small laugh. "I know that you and Bryce were together. I'm long over that. How bad can it be? Is there a shrine to his manhood in there or something?"
"No," Sarah replied with a laugh. "He took that with him. I think that he has a special suitcase for it."
Chuck was relieved when he heard Sarah's response. But he noticed Sarah's hands were shaking as she unlocked the door. As soon as they were inside the apartment, Chuck turned to Sarah and grabbed her hands.
"Ok, Sarah," said Chuck softly but firmly. "Tell me what's really wrong. Are you having second thoughts?"
Chuck's heart sank as he watched the tears forming in Sarah's eyes.
"I'm so sorry." Sarah whispered through her tears. "I knew that's what you would think. You are never to think that again. Do you understand? Never."
"Ok," said Chuck with a smile. "If that's not it then tell me what's wrong."
"I'm scared." Sarah sobbed. "I know that you've been looking forward to this for so long. And so have I. I don't want to disappoint you."
"Come on, Sarah," said Chuck with a sarcastic laugh. "Tell me what's really wrong. How do you think that you could possibly disappoint me? Name me one man you've ever been with whom afterwards said he was disappointed. If you're not up to it, we don't have to do this tonight."
"I'm not talking about sex, stupid." said Sarah laughing through her tears. "I'm talking about life. I've never been a wife before. I've never been a mother before. I don't know how to act. I've been trained to do a lot of things. But not that."
"Oh," said Chuck with a sigh of relief. "I thought…"
"Yea," said Sarah with a laugh. "I know what you thought. Chuck Bartowski, what am I going to do with you? If you think that you're going to walk out of this apartment alive without us making love, you're just so terribly wrong. You're not leaving my sight. With your luck, you'd go to take out the garbage and some Fulcrum chick would kidnap you. Then Casey and I would have a very uncomfortable week trying to get you back"
"Well then," said Chuck laughing as he looked at Sarah. "We'd better turn off our cell phones. Otherwise we might get a call that messes up the mood. I don't know, like maybe General Beckman is the head of Fulcrum, or something like that."
"That would sure mess up the mood", Sarah agreed as she joined in the laughter. "Even thinking about General Beckman is giving me the willies."
"With my luck, I'll probably fall in the bathroom, hit my head on the tub, and be knocked unconscious." Chuck said while laughing uncontrollably. "I'll be lucky not to wind up brain damaged."
"I think that you should hold off on going to the bathroom until after." Sarah said while giggling as she hugged Chuck. "There's no sense in taking any chances."
After a moment of holding Sarah in his arms, Chuck turned serious.
"Don't worry about that other stuff." he said as he softly rubbed Sarah's back. "No one is trained to be a wife or mother. Just like their not trained to be a husband or father. It's sort of a learn as you go thing. But there is no one in the whole world that I'd rather learn with than you. I love you."
"That's sweet." said Sarah as she kissed Chuck. "I love you too."
As their kissing quickly became more passionate, they stumbled unto the bed. While they continued their frenzied necking, Sarah could feel Chuck's hand reaching up inside her shirt.
"Ah," she sighed in Chuck's ear as he began kissing her neck and her shirt hit the floor. "Second base."
"I was on second base once before." Chuck whispered between kisses as her bra quickly followed. "But I got picked off."
"Not today slugger." Sarah sighed as he slid off her pants and she began helping Chuck out of his shirt. "I'm pretty sure that you're going to score today."
"You think so?" Chuck asked as Sarah unbuckled his belt.
"I'm positive." Sarah whispered as she tossed Chuck's pants to the floor.
"Unless you fall down rounding third."
On the flight home, Sarah snuggled as tightly to Chuck as federal regulations regarding only one person per seat would allow. Normally, she hated the six hour flight across the country. Today was a notable exception as six hours of snuggling didn't seem quite long enough. Casey was on the same flight but had strategically picked a seat well out of sight. About an hour into the flight the captain began his routine announcement.
"Good morning, folks. This is Delta flight eight nine nine six and our destination is Los Angeles International Airport. The current weather there is sunny and sixty eight degrees. We have reached our cruising altitude of twenty eight thousand feet. I'm expecting a smooth ride so I'm going to turn off the fasten seat belt sign. Feel free to move about the cabin with the exception of seat sixteen B."
Sarah suddenly snapped into agent mode. That was Chuck's seat. She quickly looked around the cabin for possible threats. Chuck continued reading his magazine oblivious to anything being wrong.
"The passenger in seat sixteen B has asked me to send a message to the passenger in seat sixteen A." the captain continued. "Sarah, will you marry me?"
As what he was saying sunk in, Sarah turned to Chuck who was holding a box with a diamond ring. He had a huge grin on his face. The plane erupted in applause as Sarah threw her arms around Chuck.
"How did I know that you would come through?" she asked as he placed the ring on her finger. "But where did you get this ring? You haven't been out of my sight since you got here."
Chuck wouldn't tell Sarah how he got the ring, telling her "That's going to be my only secret." Sarah always suspected Casey but every time she asked he would claim ignorance. Sarah tried on more than one occasion over the years to get Chuck to reveal his secret, dusting off her seduction training. Even though Chuck always enjoyed the attempts, he held firm. Sarah didn't find out the truth until Chuck toasted her at their silver anniversary party. That's when Chuck told the story of his proposal and finally confessed that he had bought the ring a couple of months ago and had been carrying it around with him praying for the chance that finally came.
Once they arrived in L.A. they went directly to Ellie's. Devon and Ellie had only two weeks to go before their wedding. Ellie had asked Sarah to be one of her bridesmaids. Sarah had agreed but always felt awkward about it, thinking that she really wasn't part of the family and that Ellie had only asked because of Chuck. Chuck and Sarah arrived at the apartment just before Ellie and Devon were due to finish their shifts.
"Do you think we have time?" Chuck asked while pulling Sarah in for a quick kiss.
"I'm afraid not, slugger," Sarah said with a gleam in her eye. "I just saw Ellie's car pull up. But don't worry. I have a long day planned back at my place."
As Ellie walked in the door, her eyes immediately lit up as she saw Chuck and Sarah.
"Hi guys," Ellie said as she hugged Chuck. "How was your trip?"
"It went a little better than expected." Chuck said with a wry grin.
"Did you get your dad's issues taken care off?" Ellie asked as she hugged Sarah.
"All but one." Sarah said coyly. "I do need to talk to you about the wedding though."
"Oh no," said Ellie as the color drained from her face. "Please tell me that you can still be in the wedding."
"Oh, don't worry, Ellie. It's nothing like that." Sarah said quickly as she held up her left hand. "I was just hoping that you might return the favor."
"Oh my God," Ellie whispered to herself as her eyes widened.
"Oh my God, Sarah" she said with tears flowing. After a moment she threw her arms around Sarah. "Oh my God, Chuck. Oh my God."
"Since when did you get so religious?" Chuck asked her with a laugh.
"Since I'm going to have a sister," Ellie said excitedly still holding Sarah in her death grip. "We have to go shopping. We have to go to a club. Do you want to go to a movie?"
"I want to do all of those things." Sarah said softly as she returned Ellie's embrace. "I'm looking forward to it. I've never had a sister either."
"Look," Ellie shouted to Devon as he entered the apartment. "Sarah's engaged."
"Congratulations," Devon said with a huge smile. "I would hug you but you seem to be occupied at the moment. You might want to loosen up the grip a little babe. She looks like she's turning blue. Who are you marrying anyway?"
"I'm just kidding." He quickly added as he put Chuck into a bear hug. "That's awesome."
Chuck and Sarah had to do a lot of arguing to talk Ellie out of the idea of a double wedding. Finally they were able to convince her that it was too close to change their plans and that Sarah would feel badly about stealing Ellie's thunder.
Right after Ellie got back from her honeymoon she spent every day with Sarah planning her wedding. Truth be told, Ellie actually enjoyed it more than she did planning her own as the pressure was off.
Finally the big day arrived.
Morgan actually looked surprisingly good in his tux. It was a fact that would serve him well later in the evening with Anna. His main function as best man was to keep Chuck from hyperventilating and to keep assuring him that Sarah would actually show up. It was one of the days he had dreamed about since he was a teen. Today he was going to walk down the aisle with Ellie. If he was disappointed that she was beginning to show from being four months pregnant, he did a good job at hiding it.
Other than Chuck, of course, the most nervous of all the wedding party had to be Casey. He was obviously very moved when Sarah asked him to walk her down the aisle. But today he was a wreck. It was funny that the man who could face flying bullets without fear was so unnerved. Naturally, Morgan spent the day taunting him with all of the different ways he could screw up.
Chuck stood in the vestibule of the church greeting guests as they arrived with Morgan by his side. Chuck was very surprised to meet General Beckman's husband. He had always pictured a small, henpecked man. He was actually quite normal looking. It was the first time he had ever seen the general out of uniform.
"In plain dress" Sarah would later correct him laughing. "If you ever see her out of uniform, I fear that we'll be visiting Frank again."
Director Graham and his wife showed up a few minutes later. Chuck noted with a fair amount of amusement that the general and director sat on opposite sides of the church. Finally, Frank and his wife arrived just minutes before the ceremony.
"Well, Chuck," Frank said with a big smile as they hugged. "I see that you won. I thought that you would insist on a real wedding."
"We compromised." said Chuck with a laugh. "We're going to spend a couple of nights in Vegas. Then we're going to Washington and spend the rest of our honeymoon in Sarah's apartment."
"Give me a call if you get the chance." Frank said. "I know that you're going to be busy, it being your honeymoon and all, but we would love to take you to dinner."
"I'll talk to Sarah." Chuck replied. "But I'm sure she'll be excited."
In the bride's dressing room, Ellie was trying to calm Sarah's nerves. That was no easy task since Sarah was really anxious. She asked Ellie what time it was about one thousand times. Finally, Ellie decided to tell Sarah a story to calm her down.
"I'll never forget that day when Chuck came home from Stanford." Ellie said softly. "He had just found out about Bryce and Jill. I could tell that he was sad but he wasn't crying. He just had sort of a distant look in his eyes. Then he whispered 'What's wrong with me' more to himself than to me. I told him that Jill just wasn't the one. I told him that the one was still out there somewhere and there was no telling how he would find her. I told him that the only thing to do was to keep looking. That the one was out there somewhere looking for him as well and if he stopped looking for even a moment, he might miss her."
"Thank you." Ellie said as she hugged Sarah as tightly as she could without messing up the look that they had worked all morning on. "Thank you for looking for him until you found him."
They stayed in their embrace for a few minutes. Finally when Sarah asked again about the time, Ellie responded "Oh my goodness, its show time."
"I have no idea what that means." Ellie said with a laugh in response to Sarah's amazed look. "Chuck told me to say that. I'll see you in a minute, sis."
As Ellie left to walk down the aisle, Casey turned to Sarah.
"I know that this is a dad thing." he said softly. "And I know that I'm not your dad. I do want you to know how proud I am of you and how happy I am for you. No one deserves this more than you two kids."
"Thanks, John," Sarah whispered as she hugged him. "Don't get me crying or I'll mess up my makeup."
"Well," said Casey as he extended his arm. "Like the lady said; its show time."
As Sarah and Casey were walking down the aisle, Morgan whispered to Chuck. "How did you get so lucky?"
Chuck, without taking his eyes off of Sarah simply replied "I have no idea."
It was Casey who surprised everyone when the preacher asked "Who gives this woman to be married to this man?"
Casey simply responded "The greater good."
There were only nine people in the church that day who understood what Casey meant. Everyone else just thought that Casey was nervous and misspoke. But all nine who did understand were deeply moved. Casey could tell by the look in Chuck's eyes that he was one of the nine.
So Chuck, the shy geek who repaired computers for eleven dollars an hour, and Sarah, the beautiful super spy who thought that she'd forgotten how to love, took the next step in their storybook love affair that had begun almost exactly a year ago as they said their vows to each other and became husband and wife.
It was a warm early spring day at Arlington National Cemetery. The Cherry Blossoms were in full bloom and the city looked glorious. Since the cemetery was a famous tourist attraction, a young couple holding hands as they pushed a baby in a stroller was not uncommon at all. Like most six month old babies, she was far more interested in the toys hanging from her stroller and not at all impressed by the majesty of the shrine. As her father took the baby out of the stroller, her eyes lit up in recognition. As her father handed the smiling baby to her mother he kissed then both.
"I'll be right back." Sarah said with a broad smile.
"I'll be waiting." Chuck replied with an equal smile.
Sarah made her way to her dad's gravesite. As usual, she had to count the headstones to find the right one.
"Hi, Daddy," she said clearly. "Remember, I promised to bring you your first grandchild?"
"Well, Daddy," she said with tears filling her eyes as she held the baby facing the headstone.
"This is Kate."
A/N: I hope that you enjoyed this story. If you didn't get the callouts, I would strongly recommend that you read –
Chuck and Sarah vs The Ex by NorCali
Chuck vs Fulcrum by NE71
Sarah vs The Long Flight
Sarah vs The Brain Snatcher
Sarah vs The Unsighted Future all by Go-Chuck-Go
These are all brilliant stories that I'm sure you'll enjoy. In your review, if you could mention how much you would like them to have Chuck and Sarah finally get together, I'd really appreciate it. There is definitely strength in numbers. Tell them that Bill sent you.