A/N The time frame for this is really equivalent to the final scenes of Fear of Death, which, like so many of Chuck's international episodes, glossed over the fact that it takes a long time to get to places like Thailand. I don't have to worry about kidnapping Thai diplomats from their embassy, though, so it all balances out.


"You have an antitoxin?"

"Rye kidnapped Chuck!"

"I'm not sure I'm…not an agent."

"Come with me, if you want him to live."


Four days ago…

Vivian Volkoff returned from her morning run with Artemis to find a light blinking on the phone. "Miss Volkoff," it said, when she pressed the button. "Sam Riley here. I have a report on that action item you gave me a few days ago. Please call me back."

A what on the what? For once she was glad to be alone. Even the memory of that conversation brought blushes to her cheeks. She entered the number, wondering just what exactly she had stammered out that anyone, much less a lawyer for a man like her father, would consider an action item. "Mr. Riley?" The crop in her hand tapped a quick beat against the blotter. Did Chuck respond? Call back? Did he…want to see her?

"Miss Volkoff," he said, sounding pleased. "Thank you for getting back to me so quickly, but I'm afraid I have bad news. My agent Damian tried to get a message to this Mr. Charles, as you asked, but all attempts to contact him through Miss Walker were rejected."

Rejected? So she wasn't even going to be allowed to talk to him or…anything? Vivian striped the blotter with her crop. Who did Miss Walker think she was? "Is there anyone else there you can go through?" Did Chuck even know what this, this flapper was doing behind his back?

"She has a few known associates we could try, but the problem is bigger than just Miss Walker. Your father has, for reasons of his own, quashed any attempts to contact Mr. Charles or any of his team."

"He what? No!" Snap! The crop broke on the back of a wooden chair.

"I'm afraid there's nothing I can do."

She eyed the broken remains. "I quite understand." No underling would ever try to gainsay her father.

He sounded relieved. "Is there anything else I can do for you?"

The broken crop fell into the trash. "Yes." She was not an underling. "Could you make the arrangements for me to get to Moscow, as soon as possible, please?"


Today…

General Beckman looked at her briefing team. "Where are Chuck and Sarah?"

"Unknown, General," said Casey. "Portable trackers have all been recovered. Chuck's internal chip isn't screaming, but it's not registering either."

Beckman visibly braced herself, and started recording. "Agent Miller, your report?"

Carina took the center position behind the meeting table in Castle, with Casey at her side. She finished hooking up her phone to the network, and put a bulging bag on the table. "I got to this party so late that even the waiters had gone home." Carina opened the bag, and removed Sarah's phone. "The emergency beacon went off when I was about fifteen minutes out. Casey was all gung-ho to mobilize but I convinced him to wait until I'd triaged the scene, and it was just as well. We needed a cleaner team, not back-up. And a lot of extra drivers."

"Manoosh and Sam really stepped up," put in Casey. Beckman made a note.

"They did look a little green," said Carina. She uploaded a series of photographs from her phone to a computer, and put them on the monitor. "Here's why. Our kidnapper, Jim Rye, and three backup singers a lot farther than twenty feet from fame." She put up another image, a graphic of the vineyard buildings and fields for the benefit of tourists, and zoomed in a bit. "First of all, apparently it wasn't a kidnapping. Rye left a note for Sarah in his car." She put up a sixth picture.

Casey mumbled to himself as he read it. "'Please act scared'?"

"It was all a test for Chuck?"

Carina shrugged. "Gotta give him points for realism. I found his body under a balcony, which is where I guess he and Chuck were. He'd been shot in the back, and he must have fallen. He looked kind of splatted. Anyway, if you go up there–" she marked the balcony with a light pen, "You can see the spot marked by the coordinates in the note." A circle, a good distance away. "That's where I found the other three." Mark, mark, and mark.

"It looks like they were surrounding something."

"They had knives out, too." She removed three wicked-looking knives from the bag and laid them on the table.

Casey grunted, uninterested in knives. "Assassins, probably. Pros."

"Agent Bartowski?"

Carina opened up a facial recognition app and dropped the three images into it. "I'd say yes, but that means there would have been a fifth person there, since they were shot from the trees." Mark. "I have the casings and they don't look like Sarah's." She reached into a pocket for the casings and scattered them on the table next to the knives.

"Not the right caliber for Agent Bartowski," said Casey. He picked up one of the casings. "Too sloppy, as well."

"Maybe," said the General. "Or maybe they had more important things on their minds. Until we know the sequence of events who can say? Was there any surveillance anywhere?"

"Not at the drop site, ma'am," said Casey, holding up a stick, "But the balcony was covered."

"Let's see it, Colonel."

Casey plugged in the stick and called up the stolen security footage, moving the window to the General's monitor.

The clock started that morning, a standard interval that would be recorded and then dumped if there was no reason to keep it. The Balcony was pretty quiet most of the day, with most of the action taking place down below. A few guests went up there, flickering as Casey moved the window along the slider to get the playback into the correct range.

Something moved, and he went back. A couple, using one of the decorative benches for a non-decorative purpose. Probably why they had cameras in the first place. "Ha," said Carina, "Told you."

"And I told you not to tell me." Casey moved the slider away from the contaminated area. "Okay, here we go."


Aldebert De Smet hated loose ends. The initial pick-up was the loosest end of all, the end he was most likely to trim if it seemed ready to snag and foul an operation. If an investment must be lost, best lose it early.

People thought him heartless, cruel, but truly he was not. One warning was all he gave, any more and people would cling to hope, and hope was far crueler than he, a knife that people cut themselves on again and again. Over time, lost time, lost investments, they had learned to trust his solid word over any hope.

He even cleaned up after himself, a final, often unappreciated, kindness.

First, to begin the next stages, now that the initial capture was complete. He made the call as his men trans-shipped the case containing Agent Charles from the muffled helicopter to the disguised jet. "Doctor Mueller, prepare your machines. We have our prize." Today, once again, his warning had been heeded, and he would reward that obedience. Once he got what he wanted, none of Agent Charles' team would ever see him again, ever suffer the knowledge of what had been done to him.

It was the least he could do.


Casey, Carina, and General Beckman watched as Rye walked out onto the balcony as if he owned it, while Chuck had the sense to at least check before revealing himself. He seemed to be a little annoyed by something, too, but the recording didn't have audio and they were facing the wrong way for lip reading.

Rye handed Chuck a pair of optics and pointed.

"That's the direction Sarah would have been in," said Carina helpfully.

Chuck suddenly tensed, and shouted.

"Looks like the assassins just came out," said Casey.

Rye could clearly be seen saying the word 'flash' several times, gesticulating wildly in Sarah's direction. His plan seemed to work, as Chuck got a very strange look on his face.

"Was that a flash?" asked the General. It didn't look like anything she'd seen him do before.

"Seemed like one," said Carina, who'd only seen a few herself.

"Not–dammit, they've got company!" Several men burst through the doorway, and Chuck and Rye immediately went on the offensive. Chuck fought well, but not Intersect-level well, and was soon literally pushed out of the fight. Rye fought on alone, continuing to exhort Chuck to flash as he did.

"What just happened?" asked Carina.

Casey pulled it back, and they watched it again. "I don't see anything."

"What's Chuck doing?" asked the General.

Casey pulled it back again, and they watched Chuck…not move. "He's gone limp."

"Best thing for him," said Casey. "Saving his energy for better things…look at his hands."

"What about his hands, this video is crap."

Rye finished off the last man, and turned to look down at Chuck. Chuck said something, and Rye looked very pleased with himself, even more so than usual. Until a man stepped onto the balcony unnoticed, behind him, and raised a gun. Until his chest blew outward in a spray of red.

"Whoa!"

"All it takes is one," muttered Casey. One bullet. One mistake.

The unknown man stepped forward and gave Rye a push, then pulled Chuck up all by himself. No one was surprised that after clinging to the railing for several minutes Chuck had no strength to resist, and given that demonstration of strength, resistance would have been futile anyway. His watch came off and a pair of cuffs went on.

"Needle!" said Carina.

Casey grunted.

Carina pointed a finger at him in warning. "Don't say it."

Casey's grunt trailed off into a disappointed whine.

Chuck collapsed, the old man collected his prize and his minions, and they left. A large shadow passed overhead a few moments later and then…there was Sarah. She dropped a bag on the floor and went straight to the place where her husband had dangled. She pulled out her phone, as another woman appeared on the balcony behind her.

"Frost?"

"She was the shooter?"


Somewhere over the Pacific…

Sarah sat in one of the comfortable chairs and declined a drink, as did her 'hostess'. Sarah's gun was a comforting weight, but that's about all it could be, given their altitude and speed. A guest, of sorts, but she could be made a prisoner easily enough, if Frost ever felt so minded. Their family tie seemed a slender thing right now. "Did you really order those men to kill Chuck?"

An interesting opening, thought Frost. Most players would be trying to diminish her position as best they could, given their obvious inequality of forces. What could Sarah be hoping for, guilt? Far too late for that. "Yes."

Sarah nodded, slightly. Yet here they were, racing to the rescue. A trap, or a masterful improvisation, the kind Chuck was so good at? Not even Frost would have planned all this. "Why?"

Frost didn't blink. "Alexei told me to."

Sarah didn't blink. No doubt he had and she had, but Frost was no lackey. She'd obey, give the order, but her reasons would always be her own. Volkoff would have to be a fool to think otherwise. "Would you have let them do it?"

Frost had seen that trap coming long since. "We'll never know now, will we?" she said, as if unsure. "Under other circumstances, I might have had to be considerably more lenient." She gave Sarah a measuring look. "Good help can be so…hard to find."


Sarah's face was to the camera as she took the phone call, but since she said nothing, that didn't help them. They saw Sarah turn toward Frost as she made her entrance, but the fear on Sarah's face had nothing to do with her mother-in-law.

Casey paused the playback.

"Agent Miller, check Sarah's phone's log," said Beckman. "Find out where that call came from."

Carina scrolled through the history. "According to this it came from Chuck's phone."

"Did you recover it?"

"Yes, ma'am," said Casey. "Most of it, anyway. Probably a high-altitude toss from the helicopter."

"No way to know who she was just speaking to."

"Not directly, ma'am, but I'd bet good money that that's the first thing Sarah said here, and both of them are facing our camera." He started the file, but while Sarah's question was clear, none of them could tell if Frost spoke a name or not to answer it. He paused the recording again.

"When we're done, upload the file, Colonel, and I'll get a lip-reading analysis done ASAP."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Let's continue with this nightmare." She'd hoped to have better news for Ellie when she got in to Castle, but that didn't look like it was going to happen.

Fortunately there wasn't much nightmare to continue with. Sarah tried to push past Frost, but Frost brought her up short with a few words.

"Uh-oh," said Carina.

"Did she just say what I think she said?"

"Only if what you think she said was 'can Volkoff get Chuck back?' No, Sarah!"

Video-Sarah wasn't listening as she stripped off her own watch, leaving it and her phone in the bag at Frost's direction.

"Did she just wink at us?" asked Carina. "If Sarah doesn't kill her I will."

"What's her game?" asked Casey.

"Aside from taking advantage of her son's wife in a moment of weakness?"

"Yes, Agent Miller, aside from that," said Beckman, "Agent Frost would have plans within plans, and turning Sarah would only be part of one of them."

"So what do we do?" asked Carina, as Casey uploaded the file.

"There's only one thing we can do at this point," said Beckman. "Colonel Casey, Agent Miller, I need you to execute Protocol Seven immediately."

Casey's head came up, an expression of confusion on his face. His General looked at him expectantly, then at Carina. He followed her gaze.

Carina Miller pulled out her gun and shot Casey twice in the chest at point blank range.


Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, the Belgian roused himself at the urging of a small clock. The drug he'd given Agent Charles would be wearing off soon. Time for the next part of Phase One. Dr. Mueller had given him a raft of drugs and a specific timetable for injection, all calculated to leave Agent Charles in an optimal state for his mechanisms. Giving injections was the only part of the acquisition process he'd bothered to master for himself, and he prepared the next needle with an experienced hand. De Smet opened the box, and scanned the readouts of the devices inside. All well below normal, as expected, but they would be rising soon, and Agent Charles would be rising with them, into a chemically-induced nightmare. From that nightmare, and all the others to follow, there would be only one escape, the one allowed by Aldebert De Smet. When Agent Charles used that exit, gave De Smet what he wanted, only then would the Belgian allow Agent Charles to die.


A/N2 Chuck's in for a rough time of it. De Smet's goals in canon were extremely vague, barely enough to allow the real story to putter along. In my version the goals are a bit more defined, and both Chuck and Sarah have a tougher row to hoe ahead of them.