A/N Update 10/30/15 - It's still a little hard to believe that I started writing this story over three and a half years ago - and completed it.

I originally started the Lost Years as a two-hour screenplay using screenwriting freeware. My hat is off to the people who do that job. It's damn hard to write a story with a strict timeline in mind.

Set immediately after Chuck vs the Goodbye, this story was going to be my solution to an ending of the series that was simply insoluble to me. The ending of Chuck made my heart ache for Chuck and Sarah, and I needed to make it more resolute for my own peace of mind. Needless to say, it subsequently became more of a novelization that I felt logically belonged here. As of May 30, 2013, it was complete. A little rough around the edges, but complete.

I've decided to work on those rough edges some. They are mostly improvements in grammar, syntax and diction. But there is one change that many astute readers who've read this before will notice; something that bugged me from almost the moment I posted the chapter. However, it isn't one that affects the plot so I'm good with it.

The 'acts' now also have titles. And I've added eBook links for several formats to my profile page. Re-formatting the story for eBook also resulted in the last two acts being split. They were just too big. I couldn't do that easily here without creating a number of problems, and I didn't want to repost the story separately, so as a compromise I've added the breaks in the acts where they occur.

I've also edited my authors notes some to reduce some of the personal content and redundancy. All the thank yous are still here and still apply to all the nice Chuck fans who helped me with this. Also, thanks again to my wonderful wife who proofread every act but otherwise left it mostly untouched.

All of the hat-tips in this story, both to the original writers and to the writers that I admire here on FanFic . net are still here. Those of you who are observant will still see those references to a few computer games and pop-culture posited in the narrative, similarly to the way Chuck Bartowski occasionally does it in dialogue. I've tried my best to keep the characters true to canon and every edit I made was done with an eye toward making them better. Many events from the series are used as the underpinnings for this story and as a vehicle to explore just what Sarah Walker-Bartowski lost in those last three episodes of the series. Through this new adventure, we'll take a look at what can and must be done to get those lost years back and get her and Chuck back together in a fun and hopefully original way.

You can count me as one of the fans of Chuck who didn't care for the way they ended the series. Mostly because of the way that Sarah's character development of five years was so completely savaged in just three short episodes using a plot vehicle that has been so overused in television and film (and just about anywhere else you care to mention in fiction, too.) But, admittedly, the producers of Chuck gave us an ending that left the door wide open for so many interpretations of what could have come after. So, here's my version of it.

Not being the litigious type myself I really hate to have to use this unfortunate but necessary disclaimer: I don't own Chuck...Shucks...

...but if someone wants to talk me about a TV movie, I'm all ears...and full of opinion. I am a BIG fan of Chuck.

Thanks for reading,

Mac


Chuck Versus the Lost Years

Prologue - After the Kiss

- I -

They kissed. There was nothing one-sided about it. Chuck's hand slowly came up to Sarah's cheek in a gentle caress as he lost himself in it. This was a soft and tentative kiss. He wanted so much for Morgan to be right about it, that this one kiss could bring all Sarah's lost memories back to her like a Disney story, and he put his heart and soul into this kiss. But he also held back, because a part of him was very anxious that if he pulled out all the emotional stops and went too far with it he would upset Sarah and frighten her off. This kiss felt so good though, and he missed her, what they'd lost, so much. Chuck didn't want it to come to an end, so he just continued to let his lips brush tenderly over hers.

This kiss Sarah asked for that represented a promise of hope and rebirth.

What was she feeling here? There was something, but her memories weren't flooding back to her like Sarah, unexpectedly, and frantically realized she hoped they would. She knew this kiss, the feelings that were attached to it and a vague recollection of a past filled with them, but her mind wouldn't allow her to understand why. Without even realizing she was doing it her hand came up to Chucks hand on her cheek and tenderly stroked it with her fingertips – it was like an electric shock that ran from them, up her arm, and into her chest.

Sarah's other hand came sliding up Chucks back as she turned to him and it landed in a tight grip on his shoulder. She was shocked again by his touch. And then she was overcome by bewilderment. It was accompanied by a sense of loss and confusion so deep it made her heart ache in a way she hadn't experienced since her father had been dragged away by federal agents all those years ago.

As they finally broke the kiss Chuck saw a look in Sarah's eyes that caused his stomach to flip over in his gut. Her hand slid from his and reached for his arm as a tear rolled down her cheek. She let her head fall forward and it came to rest on his forehead as she clung to him. He could feel her body barely trembling through their embrace. A flood of conflicting emotions overcame Chuck and they sat frozen like that for several minutes. He quietly waited for Sarah and she finally broke the silence as she sat back and let her hands fall leaden back into her lap.

"Chuck, I'm afraid Morgan was wrong." She looked wistfully at her hands. "It doesn't look like we're going to get our fairytale kiss that cures all of this."

The sigh that came from Sarah caused Chuck to visibly sag. There was simply no way she could have missed it. It was also so obvious to her now that this man was deeply in love with her. One look into his brown eyes told a story only a fool could ignore. The only question unanswered was how did it happen? Something buried within her that she couldn't grasp was shouting out to her not to hurt him. She felt something special for this man. She very clearly even remembered some things, but the feelings and the memories she had were in terrible roiling conflict with what Sarah Walker, the hardcore CIA agent's disciplined mind were shouting back at her.

Langston Graham's wild card enforcer would never fall in love with an asset or another colleague, would she? But what about Bryce Larkin? She had been down this road before. And then she remembered her mission log videos and how she had reacted to Bryce's death at the hands of Fulcrum operatives when Chuck had downloaded the Intersect 2.0. She shuddered. So many conflicting thoughts and emotions. They all just felt so foreign to her, and they were overwhelming her.

The weight of them had brought her inexplicably to this very spot. And now that she'd heard Chuck's amazing and oftentimes heart-wrenching tale, Sarah Walker the CIA operative didn't know what to do with them.

She couldn't bring herself to look up at Chuck and continued to stare at her hands in her lap. "I wanted this to work. I wanted Morgan to be right about the kiss. I know that there is something, something very special between us, Chuck..." She sighed again. "But I don't remember much of any of it. And though I feel something, I don't remember you. And the anger from having five years with you ripped from my life is eating me up inside. I don't know the Sarah Walker that grew to fall in love with you anymore."

Chuck reached over and cautiously placed his hand on Sarah's. It startled her and she almost jerked her hand away but caught herself and stopped. "Trust me, Sarah, we can get through this. It may take some time, but I'll always be there for you. Always. I'll fight for you every day. If you're willing to trust me I believe we can get most of your memories back, just let me help you. You can count on me, Sarah."

Something in his words sounded hauntingly familiar; they'd accessed an emotion that was strong, and deep, something in his story. Sarah looked down at their hands and then back to him, "Chuck, thank you for telling me our story. I needed to hear it, and I want to get those lost years back. But I want the memories, and I want them to be attached back to the emotions that I'm feeling, not a memory that has been told to me that leaves me hunting for the emotion that's supposedly connected to it. Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"

Chuck tightened the grip on Sarah's hand and caught her eyes with his earnest gaze when she looked up at him. "Yes, I do understand. Let me help you. You can get them back on your own terms, and you're already starting to do that. I won't push them on you if you don't want to hear about them, and we can start over if you're willing to try that too."

It was obvious from what showed in Sarah's plying eyes that she was deeply conflicted. Though she remained silent, the mask she often wore to cover her emotions had been partially torn down.

A moment of desperate searching passed between them. "I'll tell you what," Chuck said a little shakily, "It's been a long, tough day. And I don't know about you but I could sure use something to eat. There's a good burger stand on the road off the beach, so why don't we walk over there and get something comforting and just talk for a bit; nothing heavy, just small talk and a meal, no pressure, just comfort food and good company, and some simple convers—" He snapped off the thought in an effort to stop the nervous rambling before it got out of control.

Sarah's mouth turned up a bit at the corners and the smile slowly made its way up into her eyes. Usually she had to put a stop to Chuck's rambling when he started to get going like this… where did that come from? A foggy but humorous memory stirred within her about how Chuck could still find his appetite even when things were at their worst. Stakeout food? Stuck alone in the car? Worried about her? Her worried about him?

It felt so out of reach. And it hurt. And though he'd cut himself off before saying it, the hard truth was that there was little simple about talking with Chuck right now. She began to stir, and that caused Chuck to get to his feet ahead of her and offer her a hand up. She took his hand as she rose, and they walked off of the beach together.

- II -

When Chuck ordered their burgers and drinks Sarah shot him a slightly startled sidelong glance. A little bit taken aback, Chuck blurted out, "Hey, I haven't forgotten how you like your cheeseburger… you do still like them with extra pickles don't you?" he sheepishly added.

"Yes," she smiled. "That's the way I like my hamburgers. Thank you. It's just… well… this all so new to me right now. I'm still trying to get used to the idea that you already know me so well." It was a little unsettling. Very unsettling. No one knew Sarah Walker.

"That's just the tip of a very, very large iceberg, Sarah," Chuck said with a grin, and the sudden look on her face made him realize his Titanic had just run into that iceberg. "Sorry," he quickly added, "I'm still trying to get used to this situation too, and that was definitely the wrong thing to say!"

Sarah just looked inquisitively at Chuck in response. Chuck was often awkward, but he was almost always acutely aware of the impact of his words. But, he does have his clueless moments, she observed.

They collected their food at the window and wordlessly picked the same table to sit, lost in thought as they settled opposite each other. Both of them automatically and quickly studied their surroundings for any unseen threats, where the windows were, and the entries and exits. They looked at each other with a sudden realization of what each was doing. Without any conscious thought they were working as a team and the tension was suddenly broken.

Finally, Sarah's expression eased as she examined her hamburger in her hands for a moment and she looked up at him. "It's all right, Chuck. I think both of us know that what we're being forced to do here is not going to be a cake walk. But it's little moments like this that make me realize there is a lot of history between us I don't see."

The meal continued quietly with just a little small talk. The Sarah Walker of five years ago was not much of a talker, and Chuck was guarding his choice of words in a way he'd never found himself doing before. And though it seemed he saw glimpses of a later Sarah, he didn't want to screw this up, and it was really affecting his normal chatterbox mode of conversation. They both rose from the table at the same time and Chuck gathered the cups and wrappers and placed them in the trash receptacle. And all the time, the two of them were studying each other with quick and furtive glances.

They walked back toward the beach staring at the ground in front of their feet, each lost in their own thoughts for several minutes. As they were crossing a small bridge a short distance from their cars, Chuck looked over the side and nostalgically recalled walking with Sarah over a similar bridge on their very first 'date' about five years ago. The conversation they were having at the time came to mind. They were discussing music, and he'd asked Sarah to name her favorite band. She didn't have one, and he smiled at the memory remembering how odd he thought that was.

Sarah caught that smile of his and looked at him with subtle curiosity written on her face. "What are you thinking about?" she asked.

Chuck looked thoughtfully at her and said, "Do you remember your favorite song?"

She stopped and studied him intently, and then said, "I've never had much time for what I'd call deep music appreciation, but I do love to dance. I have a favorite song?"

"Yes; yes, you do. It's actually one I picked out for you a couple of years ago. You said you really liked it, and we have some other nice memories shared along with it, too. You don't remember it? "

Sarah's gaze fell again to her feet and she started walking again, "No. As hard as I try, I can't at all. It seems like such a trivial thing, why does it hurt so much?" A look of clouded grief crossed her face as she said it.

Chuck quickly reached over and took her hand, holding it tightly. He gave her his best reassuring smile and said, "Don't worry over it. You will remember it when you hear it. I know you will."

Sarah's features relaxed when he said it and she managed to put a small, rueful smile back onto her face. They both kept a tight grip on each others hand all the way back to their cars parked by the edge of the sand.

As they reached their cars Sarah turned, grabbed his other hand and locked her eyes on his. Chuck noticed that the look in them was mostly unreadable, but there was pain, and what was it, anger? It was swimming almost imperceptibly in the back of her hauntingly, beautiful azure eyes.

"Chuck, I'm going back to my hotel room at the Maison 23. I'm sorry, but I need some time to think, and I need to do it alone."

Chuck swallowed hard, trying with all his might to not let any pain show on his face.

Sarah was also struggling for self-control, and it was not something she was used to. Controlling her emotions was something in which she took great pride, and they had always been under her command. Why were they taking leave of her now? "I don't want to hurt you, Chuck…I don't. But I need to try to make some sense of all of this...these emotions that are trying to boil over...and figure out what they mean to the memories I have. I need some time." I need to be in control.

"Will I see you again? Are you going to stay in town? How will you fill your day?…Wha—"

She gripped his hands harder. "One mission at a time, Chuck. One day at a time. The Sarah Walker I know is a CIA officer. It's all I know how to do, besides being a con artist. And I'm not going back to that life again. So I've changed my mind. I think I'm going to ask General Beckman to forward my request to the Director for reinstatement. For the time being I'll be staying here in Burbank until I know what the Agency has in mind for me...if they even really want me. And I want to see you more too, Chuck. Call me in a few days, say Friday? And we'll go from there?"

The bile in Chuck's gut rose up and scorched his throat. He just stood there lost in her eyes for what seemed like several minutes, his heart threatening to beat out of his chest while his stomach tried to burn a hole in itself. Friday was four days away...four days. And Chuck Bartowski was at a total loss for words…how agonizingly strange that was for him. Eventually, he allowed his eyes to break away and he turned to his car.

"Wait one moment. I have something for you," he said as he unlocked the door and reached into the front seat for something. He handed her a woman's wallet. In it were Sarah Walker-Bartowski's drivers license, her checkbook, credit cards, gym membership…and some family photos.

Sarah cast him another flat and hard to decipher look and attempted to hand the wallet back. He stopped her, wrapping her hands around it, and his expression made it clear he wasn't taking no for an answer. "Sarah, you're going to need this, for a while at least. You will have living expenses to pay, and we're still married…and we have shared accounts for everything except a couple of credit cards. What is in those accounts is yours too. Please take it, and try not to read anything into my giving it to you. Don't worry too much about what you spend, just don't go and lose a hundred grand on one spin at the roulette wheel."

The comment about the roulette wheel stirred something in Sarah's memory that was both amusing and infuriating, but she didn't have a clue why.

"I also have your passport at the apartment if you find you need it, although I suspect you have others hidden around too," he added with a small tight-lipped smile.

Sarah fixed her eyes on him with a long and seriously appraising look. Though he was showing her a smile, the sadness in his eyes was palpable, like that night she said goodbye to him in the courtyard. Her heart sank. She was doing it to him again.

Does he think this is the end? Is it? "Okay, Chuck, have it your way, and… thank you," she said, smiling solicitously at him. "I'll try not to go crazy with it." And then she stood on her toes and kissed him on the cheek.

"I'll see'ya, Chuck." Sarah climbed into her car and closed the door. As she reached for the starter button she heard a tapping on the window and rolled it down.

"Sarah, I know I've already said this, but I want you to know I'm always here for you. Call me any time, day or night if you want to talk about anything. I'll try my best to just listen and keep my babbling to a minimum…unless you decide that that is what you want to hear." Chuck's smile was broken and crooked. Sarah couldn't begin to comprehend the heartbreak lurking behind that smile...but she could see it clearer than ever.

"I won't forget that, Chuck Bartowski. Keep your phone charged." And with that Sarah started her car, cast him a brief but reflective look, and drove off.

Glancing at the wallet sitting in the passenger seat, she then opened the glove box to look at the small zippered pouch that held one of her backup sets of ID's and credit cards. She'd started using that set right after she had 'escaped' from Quinn to assassinate Chuck. Sarah thought of the consequences using that backup persona had wrought and made a decision. It's time to put Sasha Miller to rest, and become Sarah Bartowski again; at least for a little while.

For the second time that day (or was it the third?), a tear ran down Sarah's cheek. Sarah Walker didn't cry. Sarah Walker-Bartowski had changed and was still somewhere inside her.

Chuck Bartowski slowly turned away as he watched her drive off and he placed his arms across the top of his car. He looked out across the sand at the moonlit dappled waves and saw only the five years he'd told Sarah about in their story as they flashed before his eyes… and he was alone.

A lone tear ran down his cheek.

- III -

Sarah Walker awoke to her alarm buzzing on the dresser across the room. She wasn't a morning person and it seemed on most mornings she had to drag herself out of bed. So she had long ago placed her alarm clock radio away from the bed to force her up when the alarm told her it was time.

Most mornings lately, she'd been waking up with a dull headache like a hangover. Sleep wasn't coming easy these days, and when she did sleep she was having some very vivid dreams, and a few that could only be classified as nightmares. Almost every one of the last several nights she'd been jolted from her sleep by a recurring nightmare. She was bound to a chair and being tortured, and the pain felt very real to her.

But she wasn't being beaten, or shocked, or subjected to any of the many other gruesome ways a human being could abuse another. Instead, the pain was being caused by… a mirror? A rectangular hand mirror like the one she had in her bathroom to check her makeup and the hair on the back of her head with the mirror over the vanity. The mirror would reflect a flash at her like a strobe, and her head then felt like it was going to explode. A couple of times she had seen her own agonized reflection in that mirror and had awoken soaked in sweat and shaking uncontrollably.

Then there were the other dreams. Oh, my. They were filled with intense emotion, and Chuck was in most of them, Casey was too. Some of them seemed to be about missions filled with some of the most improbable events, amazing successes, and hair-raising rescues. And always there were these intense emotions attached to them… to Chuck in them.

Sarah would wake up after one of those dreams wondering if they had any basis in reality because they had such a fantasy like quality about them. In a couple of them Chuck had rescued her from almost certain death as the intensity of the dream forced her frustratingly back awake and left her wondering what would have come next. And there were dreams of snippets of conversations in various places; sitting on the edge of a fountain, in Castle, on the couch in Chuck's apartment, around the table with Chuck's family and friends…playing board games?

Then she'd awoken early yesterday morning from one particular dream, bolt upright, her body hot and her face flushed. They had been in a private compartment on a train. Having what seemed like endless, wildly passionate and very graphic sex... interspersed with meals being brought to them while they rested? Then more and more love making - what else could you call that? It finally ended so intensely it woke her up and cemented the event in her mind…and body. She'd punched her pillow in frustration and then stared at her phone on the nightstand.

This morning was very much like the others, except this time she'd managed to get back to sleep only to be awoken again by her mid-morning alarm. Sarah pushed up her sleeping mask and squinted at the clock in the bright morning light streaming through the window. Once again, overtaken by intense frustration she reached instinctively under her pillow for her favorite fighting knife and it flew across the room in a flash, pinning the clock radio to the wall.

But when it happened, her world went blinding white and her head exploded with pain; a pain similar to the one she had been experiencing in her nightmares of torture. While she lay there for several minutes trying to recollect herself as the pain passed, Sarah slowly became aware the alarm was still buzzing and her hand was still on the handle of the knife under her pillow.

What the hell just happened?

She picked her throbbing head up off the pillow and looked across the room at the clock. It was still there on the dresser, still buzzing at her. Releasing her grip on the knife, she rolled over and forced her feet to the floor. Sarah watched as her hand struck the top of the radio hard on the alarm button, and then found herself staring at her cell phone that somehow appeared in her other hand. That had happened a lot the last few days.

Tossing it one the nearby table with a deep sigh, she then half-staggered off to the shower.

The long hot shower did her some good, Sarah was feeling like a human being again as she strode out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her and another wrapped around her head. She walked over to her cell phone on the table by the window to check her messages. As expected, there were several calls and messages from Chuck.

Sarah realized as she looked at the phone that she couldn't seem to avoid Chuck in her dreams but she was sure doing a good job of it in her real life. She hadn't spoken to him in over a week since her last, and what now seemed regular, Friday phone call to him. That last Friday call had been fairly uncomfortable because Chuck's cell phone battery was going dead shortly after she'd called him and she'd razzed him about it. He was obviously stressing and didn't take her meager attempt at humor very well. She had ironically found herself offended by his response, even though she understood what he was trying to say.

He missed her, and he was frazzled and frustrated, and it could be heard in his voice no matter how hard he tried to hide it. The idea that someone could miss Sarah Walker simply felt so foreign to her. Unreal. As unreal as the emotion that accompanied her dream on that train.

She'd missed her Friday call this week and was trying not to face the reason why. Sarah knew she was building a wall around herself again like she'd done so many times in the past; trying to compartmentalize her life, avoid emotional entanglements, be Sarah Walker the spy. She could feel Chuck on the other side of that wall hammering on it with a jackhammer even as she placed more bricks on her side of it. Not talking to Chuck made it easier to place more bricks in the wall.

She was refusing all his calls but, oddly enough, she was listening to most of his voice messages. For some reason, though she loved the sound of his voice, Sarah was afraid to have a real conversation with him. Afraid?

She looked at her text messages. There was a new one, from General Beckman. It had come in while she was in the shower.

Report to Castle at 19:30UTC for a video briefing re: reinstatement. – Beckman

Castle? Why Castle? There were other CIA facilities nearby where they could have done this. Dammit. How was she going to get into Castle without encountering any number of people she'd rather not see right now. As she dressed for the day, Sarah started to think about a strategy to accomplish this 'mission' unseen by anyone, especially Chuck. Somehow the way she was avoiding him felt very wrong to her, but her stubbornness wouldn't let her give in to the emotion that kept pushing back.

The day following her serendipitous meeting with Chuck, at what turned out to be their spot on the beach, Sarah had called General Beckman and requested agency reinstatement. Technically, Diane Beckman wasn't her boss anymore because she was NSA, but she had been Sarah's most recent government superior and the most logical choice to whom to make the request.

Beckman told her she would pass the request to the CIA, and she then instructed Sarah to stay in Burbank and that they would contact her in a few days to discuss her reinstatement followed by possible assignments. That had been over three weeks ago now, and it had been an excruciating wait. Why were they taking so long to get back to her about this? She waited in her room asking herself that question over and over until the appointed hour. The answer was so obvious, but she couldn't see it.

The Orange Orange yogurt shop was obviously the best choice for going in and out of Castle if she wanted to be discreet, but Sarah didn't know who would be working there at the front counter, or whether they would notify Chuck that she was there. There was little chance she could walk into the Buy More unseen without a disguise. She would have been spotted by any of the employees almost instantly. Sarah decided to risk the yogurt shop and parked her car well across the lot from it and the Buy More store.

Sarah examined the storefront while she walked across the lot. For a period of time, the shop had reverted back to private ownership after the Buy More became an Agency substation. And though it was barely profitable, supposedly they'd purchased the yogurt shop when they'd started their security business and reopened the entrance to Castle. During the telling of their story on the beach, Chuck had said it was purely for sentimental reasons. She couldn't figure out what could possibly be sentimental about froyo. The more likely reason was because the main portion of the base was under the shop, and Sarah knew she would have pressed for a redundant entrance on top of the convenience.

But, when she walked through the door of the Orange Orange all those reasons and more popped up in her mind, as suddenly as a frozen yogurt headache. She recognized the young blonde employee behind the counter right away. The strangest memories started to attempt to push themselves to the surface as the girl stopped wiping the counter, obviously recognizing her too and pleasantly greeting her. "Well, hello Mrs. Bartowski, it's so nice to see you. We've missed you around here," and she said cheerfully with a wink, "Are you finally here to check inventory?"

Oh, damn, what was her name? She'd met her a month before, actually long before that. Sarah was aware the young woman knew the store doubled as a front. She'd interviewed her for the job, but her nightmare experience with Nicholas Quinn had erased any previous memory of the young lady standing before her since being 'reintroduced' several weeks ago. Sondra? Sara? No, it's Suzy. Damn, I'm losing my touch!

She thought quickly of a ruse, and winked back, "Hello, Suzy, it's good to see you again too. Yes, I'll be in the back of the store for a bit checking inventory, but I also came to steal a pint of strawberry yogurt for Chuck. Can we keep it our secret?"

Suzy returned conspiratorial grin, "Of course, it'll be our own little secret."

"Thanks." Sarah made her way to the backroom and the walk-in freezer. Secrets. Something felt different, tugged insistently at her as the retinal scanner read her right eye. Her retina may not have changed, but her heart must have. Keeping this a secret from Chuck felt wrong.

- IV -

The large monitor in front of her came to life and on it was General Diane Beckman in her Air Force officers uniform. "Hello Sarah, it's good to see you," she said cordially.

Slightly taken aback by the General's congenial tone and the use of her given (even if once a cover) name, Sarah mentally shifted gears. "It's good to see you too, General Beckman. How are things in Washington these days?"

"Busy, very busy. There are a great many new things happening here, and not coincidentally your husband has a lot to do with them. But, unfortunately, I can't discuss many of them with you right now." Diane was looking at Sarah carefully like she was looking for any possible tell her words might elicit. It set Sarah uneasily on her guard.

"I understand general, I was hoping we could put that little problem of my clearances behind us soon. Has there been any word from the CIA about my reinstatement?"

"No, no word from the Director as yet; but Director Shepard wanted me to tell you that we will be having another video meeting with you, myself and him early next week. We should have a solid answer for you by then." She continued scrutinizing Sarah closely. "Sarah, how is Chuck?"

She should have expected this, and quickly re-schooled her features. "Chuck is fine. I just spoke with him the other day," she prevaricated. "He seems to be very busy with work these days."

Beckman's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, "Yes, we are keeping him very busy these days, but not so busy as to totally preclude any kind of personal life."

What did she mean by that? Sarah could feel the red running up her neck and tried to quell it. "General, I won't lie to you, things have been a little rough for Chuck and me, five years of lost memories is a significant problem for me, for us to cope with right now."

"So I've heard." The General's head tilted to one side and she looked at Sarah out of the corner of her eye as she asked, "Just how are you dealing with your memory loss, Sarah? Has Chuck been helping you cope with that? Are you even letting him try to help you?"

The questions made Sarah squirm in her seat, even someone untrained at reading body language would have seen it. "No, General, I've asked Chuck to refrain from telling me stories about our past. I want to remember these things on my own. It's important to me that I regain those memories on my own, and I'm trying…it's just been… very difficult," she answered truthfully. Why am I saying these things to Diane Beckman?

"I see," Diane curtly responded. "You do realize that your memory loss is going to weigh heavily on your reinstatement and what sorts of assignments you'll be given if you are reinstated, don't you?"

If I am reinstated? "I assure you, General, recovering from my memory loss has been a top priority for me, but I'm also absolutely sure I can still function as a field agent in spite of my loss of recent memories. I still remember my training, and I'm still very good at what I do."

"Yes, you are. I'll concede that point. But I'm sure you're well aware of the risks it creates. We'll meet to discuss this matter more next Monday at 2030 hours UTC, Sarah."

The general paused for a moment as if to carefully consider her next words. "Sarah, I'm only going to say this once, but you need to hear it because of what you may or may not remember. The government put some effort into developing you and your asset, Chuck as a couple after it was discovered that you had been compromised. And a lot of effort when you finally made it known how you felt about each other and became partners. You need to consider that and make some effort of your own to correct the situation you're in with..."

The General raised her brows as if the impact of it all had at last hit her as well. "Well...with the man you married, Sarah. The man who I happen to know has loved you from the very beginning...Chuck. Whether you want to or not, you shouldn't keep trying to deny where you have been the last five years and not face this head on. The Sarah Wa-…Bartowski that I know just wouldn't do that...especially to Chuck."

Sarah's stared speechless for a moment at Diane Beckman. "General, I'm doing everything—"

Beckman cut Sarah off with a wave of her hand, her expression flat but impatience showing in her eyes. "Consider carefully what I just said, Sarah. You're dismissed." And the screen went blank.

Sarah walked out of the freezer of the Orange Orange in something of a daze. When she stepped through the door from Castle into the freezer she stood in it for several minutes trying to collect her thoughts, letting the cold air soak into her to help snap her out of it.

As she walked around the corner of the front counter and headed for the door a voice penetrated through her self-imposed haze. "Umm, Sarah? Aren't you forgetting something?"

She turned to see Suzy standing at the counter with a pint of frozen yogurt in her hand. "Your frozen yogurt?" Suzy offered with a smile.

"Oh, thank you, Suzy, I completely forgot," Sarah said, obviously preoccupied as she stepped back to Suzy to take it from her hand. "Thank you."

"Sarah… you OK?"

Her glassy eyes met Susie's. "Yes, I'm fine...Suzy. Thank you for asking. Have a good afternoon." And she turned and walked out of the shop leaving the young woman with a perplexed look on her face.

- V -

Sarah spent the rest of the day thinking about what General Beckman told her during their video conference. Diane's words were causing her to pose some interesting questions to herself, questions she'd been working very hard at ignoring over the last several weeks.

At some point in the last five years, she had allowed herself to be compromised by her asset, Chuck Bartowski, and that relationship had somehow been acknowledged and approved by the Agency, something that was almost unheard of between CIA assets and their handlers.

The very idea that it had happened to her made her head spin. But, even with the disclosures at her meeting with Beckman, her dreams, and all the voice messages and texts left on her phone by Chuck, she still couldn't bring herself to pick up the phone and call him. What was she afraid of? Am I afraid? Since when in my life in the CIA have I ever been afraid of anything? Why am I afraid of Chuck?

She sat in her hotel room staring at the walls pondering her apparent fear of a relationship with one Charles Irving Bartowski and decided to handle it in the way she dealt with a lot of other problems she'd had in the past, by hitting the heavy bag. It didn't work. A cold shower didn't work either. She had more pent-up nervous energy than ever. So, Sarah fell back on plan B, going for a run. She changed into a jog-bra top, some workout pants and running shoes, and headed out the door. Sarah ran hard and she ran far, trying to cleanse her mind and her emotions so she could once again think rationally. It required nearly exhausting herself, but it seemed to be working.

As she was walking back into the hotel from her run Sarah stopped by the hotel front desk to check on her mail. The desk clerk handed her a single postcard. It had a picture of the waterfront of San Tropez on the front and a brief handwritten message on the back.

Having a great time with Gertrude and Carina here in San Tropez. We all hope you are doing well.

When are you going to pull your head out of it and see Chuck?

Your friend thru thick or thin, Casey

Wow. This was about the last thing she would ever have expected from John Casey. She was even having a hard time picturing Casey sitting on a beach relaxing, let alone writing a post card to her… and with Gertrude and Carina? What was up with that? The writing did look like his quick scrawl, though. And how did he know what was going on with her and Chuck when he was off grid in San Tropez? If that was where he really was.

Sarah shook her head ruefully and walked to her room suddenly and keenly aware that she might be under surveillance.

And rationality once again flew out the window as paranoia flew in.

More dreams. A kiss. Wow, what a kiss. They both thought they were going to die in a bomb blast and she had grabbed Chuck's face in her hands at the last second and kissed him. And he responded. My goodness, did he ever respond. It was incredible… he was incredible. Then they realized that the bomb hadn't gone off, and a very uncomfortable moment followed… for her, not for him. Chuck was very O.K. with it. The intense conflicting emotions drove her from her sleep again, and she stared at the ceiling for a long time trying to make some sense of it all.

She must have been able to get back to sleep. Another dream overtook her. This time, a very alarming and emotionally troubling one that took place in Castle. A 49B. She might be reassigned and lose Chuck, maybe forever. Things were definitely not going their way. There were feelings of tremendous loss and a sudden and passionate will to fight for him. The intense emotions once again drove her from her sleep. She was becoming very familiar with every little detail of the plaster ceiling in the darkness over her bed. And now she also understood one of the things Diane Beckman had been trying to tell her.

The rest of her week following her meeting with Beckman were much like the preceding ones. She spent much of the time spent either sitting quietly in her room thinking about her dreams and wondering what the previous five years had really been like, and trying to remember them. Or, she let the pendulum swing the other direction and tried to avoid the thoughts altogether, crowding them out by playing Angry Birds on her iPad, going to the gym, the dojo, and running...lots and lots of running.

Then one Friday morning as she was sitting at the table by her window playing Angry Birds while sipping a cup of coffee and nibbling on a croissant, a sudden realization struck her and she set down her iPad and picked up her phone. Sarah scrolled through her messages and her heart inexplicably sank. The calls and messages had stopped coming in days ago and she hadn't even noticed it. How could I have blinded myself to this? Please don't tell me he has given up! Please, Chuck, please don't give up on me!

Sarah had finally had enough of it. Everyone who cared about her had been trying to tell her. Her very subconscious was screaming at her to open her eyes and see it. Sitting at the table by her hotel window, Sarah stared out at the city beyond. Why in heavens name was this so hard to do? She had to make a decision, to stay or leave, to run or fight; to fight her own emotions or to give in to them.

For a long time, she sat staring at her cell phone sitting on the table in front of her. And after what seemed an eternity, she picked it up and hit the send button. "Hi, Chuck. Do you have any plans for dinner tomorrow night? No? Good! …Me? I'm fine, doing much better. How are things coming along at the new office?..."


A/N - Thank you for reading. Reviews are always welcome, even so long after this story was posted. Please bear in mind that this was my first attempt at full-blown fiction in over twenty-five years. The last time I did this was in college all those years ago.

Mac