NOTES: This is a brand-new adventure for Chuck and Sarah. This is an AU for Season 3. There is no Shaw & no Hannah. This is a unique adventure that assumes all of Season 1 & 2 as cannon and breaks off from there. The adventure that Chuck & Sarah go on involves the destinations and challenges from Season 23 of The Amazing Race. I changed the names of the teams as it seemed wrong to write fic about actual human beings, so all the original characters are based on an amalgamation of various TAR teams over the years. I wrote a fic like this for Covert Affairs and it was the most fun I ever had writing a fic for that universe. There will be adventure and romance and lots of cool locations, I hope you enjoy!
Sarah dropped her bag inside the door of her familiar green hotel room and took the few steps needed to fall face first on her bed. She and Casey had been in Russia for 2 weeks investigating a lead on The Ring, but every clue was a massive roadblock, and now she was home in L.A. with nothing to show for their latest efforts. The trip was exhausting and frustrating, like much of the past 3 months had been.
Three months, it had been 3 months since their lives all changed. It was 3 months ago that Ellie and Devon got married, that Sarah had danced in Chuck's arms certain they were on their way to a different life. She hadn't even had time to contemplate what that new life was going to be before all hell broke loose and Chuck had downloaded the new Intersect, after they fought so hard to get the original one out of his head. His beautiful, brilliant head.
Sarah remembered those moments, when Casey went to call Beckman and Sarah knew they only had a few minutes alone.
"Chuck, we need to run," Sarah whispered harshly.
"What?" Chuck was confused and he looked like he was in pain.
"This, whatever this is," Sarah indicated the unconscious men around them, "There is no way Beckman will let this go. You will be sucked back in to the CIA, forever now and after you just got the Intersect out of your head. We can go, I have IDs and money for both of us…."
"You do?" Chuck seemed shocked by that as he kept looking over at Bryce's body.
"Of course, I was never going to let them throw you in a bunker, Chuck," Sarah said timidly as she stroked his arm, felt the muscles tense and shudder from the intimacy of her touch or the exertion they had just endured.
"That's amazing, Sarah," Chuck said his eyes warm and soft.
"We can have that real life."
"On the run?"
"We'll settle somewhere," Sarah realized time was running out.
"I, I want you so much Sarah, you know that," he held her hand, delicately, the pad of his middle finger stroking over the pulse point on her wrist as it had the night of Ellie's rehearsal dinner, was that just last night?
"I do and I want it too. I know I didn't have a chance to tell you earlier, but I wasn't going to go with Bryce," she smiled when Chuck's eyes went wide, "I was going to find a way to stay here, with you," she knew she was practically begging him with her eyes.
"I want you so much, Sarah," he said again but she saw the resignation in his eyes.
"Chuck," a tiny sob escaped.
"I have to know what this is, what my father created and why. Sarah, I can't explain what just happened, can you?" she shook her head, "We don't know what the consequences of this might be, for the government, for me."
She knew he was right, but dammit they had just gotten rid of the Intersect. She wasn't mad at Chuck, it wasn't his fault, he did what he thought was right, but Sarah was so frustrated with yet another roadblock.
"They will make you a spy, a real spy," she cautioned.
"If I was a real spy we could be together though, right? I wouldn't be the asset any more, I wouldn't just be Chuck."
Sarah just frowned as she heard Casey's boots outside the door.
"Castle, now," Casey grunted and Chuck moved his hand from holding hers to the small of her back as he led her out of the room.
He wouldn't be just Chuck anymore and that was what scared Sarah more than anything.
As expected, as soon as Beckman saw the results of the Intersect 2.0, Chuck was whisked off to an undisclosed location for analysis and training. Sarah and Casey were tasked with interrogating the Ring operatives that had ambushed them and killed Bryce and now 3 months later Sarah had not seen or heard from Chuck since that day. Beckman was silent on his whereabouts and progress.
A cover story was crafted for Ellie and Devon, that Chuck was in Houston helping open a new Buy More. Ellie was so blissfully happy after her honeymoon she was easily convinced. Sarah kept up her cover at the Orange Orange when she was in town and kept in touch with Ellie and Morgan to keep Chuck's cover, but truth was she had no idea where he was or how he was. And he wasn't just on her mind when she ran into Morgan or Ellie, Chuck Bartowski was pretty much always on her mind. She had yet to forget the intensity of the passion she felt in that small lumpy hotel bed in Barstow. The feeling of Chuck's big warm hands on her, his lips crashing in to hers, the complete abandon they both showed.
Sarah had kissed Chuck before that, but there was something that morning, the look in his eyes that turned her on so much, that made her want to run away with him and never look back. Then Ellie's wedding, the second one, was so romantic and perfect and Sarah once again considered throwing away her career and taking Chuck to Mexico and not letting him out of bed for several days.
Just as she began to drift off to much needed sleep her phone buzzed. Casey's angry face was covered by a text that simply said: Castle. Now.
"Seriously?" Sarah sighed and crawled off the bed.
Despite her fatigue, Sarah perked up as she descended the stairs in Castle because Beckman was there, in the flesh not on the screen, and Casey had a large duffel at his feet.
"Hello, Agent Walker."
"General," Sarah nodded.
"I know you have just come back and I know you feel your efforts have been in vain lately, but I am happy to report that we have a very solid lead on The Ring and your new mission starts today," the General headed to the conference table and brought up some screens behind her.
"First though, I thought you would want to say good-bye to Colonel Casey, he will be heading back to the Middle East to meet up with his unit finally."
"I'm going on the mission alone?" Sarah queried.
"No," Casey smiled and reached a hand out to shake Sarah's, "Good luck, Sarah."
"Thanks, Casey. Be safe," Sarah pulled him close and hugged him despite his groan.
"I'll be back," he gave her a little squeeze before saluting Beckman and heading out of Castle.
"Have a seat, Sarah," Beckman indicated the table and sat down herself.
Sarah sat quietly and waited for Beckman to talk.
"Sarah, I am not unaware of the hard work that you and Casey have put in these past few months. One of the sources you apprehended in Ecuador has given us a lead that we think is worth investigating. Unlike Fulcrum who recruited entirely from within the intelligence community, The Ring seems to be recruiting civilians. One of their recruiting strategies is a travel company called World Challenge, ever heard of them?"
"Sure, it's like the Amazing Race without the TV exposure."
"Exactly, pairs of people travel the world competing in challenges and the winner gets a big prize. The people that sign up for this kind of experience are exactly what the Ring is looking for: strong, well-traveled with language and problem solving skills. It is an 8-week mission, if you succeed. If you are eliminated, we will put a different pair of agents on the next cycle. If you make it to the final 4, per our source, you will be approached by a Ring recruiter. The source said the recruiter might be the group leader or may even be one of the other competitors. I expect you will have an idea of who the recruiter is early on, but continue to play the game."
"Sounds pretty straightforward. Who's my partner if Casey is heading to the Middle East?"
"We considered sending you and Colonel Casey as brother and sister, but we think it would be better to send you with a romantic partner, that will allow you more private time together to strategize."
Sarah nodded her agreement to the strategy.
"Hi Sarah," his voice was the same, but when Sarah turned to the source of it the man standing there was not the same Chuck.
"Chuck," she said his name like a sigh.
"Agent Bartowski has completed his training, but not without a few setbacks," Beckman rolled her eyes when Chuck grinned.
"Are you OK?" Sarah asked as Chuck approached.
"I'm fine," he assured her as he sat at the table.
Sarah couldn't put her finger on what exactly was different about Chuck, his hair was cut differently, it was still longish but more styled, less animal shapes. His body, under the jeans and long sleeve shirt he was wearing looked more solid, less lanky and his face looked more guarded and less goofy. Aesthetically it was a potent combination, but Sarah's heart clenched, he looked like a spy.
"Agent Bartowski has been cleared for this mission despite not completing his red test," Beckman looked Sarah in the eye.
Sarah just nodded, she didn't need to say anything, but secretly she was pleased with the news. Chuck was not a killer and he didn't need to be to be a good spy.
"Your cover is boyfriend/girlfriend, I assume that won't be a problem?" Beckman nearly grinned.
"Not a problem, Ma'am," Chuck smiled and Sarah saw that goofiness return for a second.
"No, General, not a problem," Sarah concurred.
"I have to caution you both not to show your hand. There will be times when you want to utilize your skills during the race and while we want you to win and play to your strengths you do not want to stand out. So, Chuck, no flashes unless absolutely necessary and Sarah keep your languages under control, most people can't speak 22 languages."
"You speak 22 languages?" Chuck gaped.
"Conversationally," Sarah shrugged.
"If you need a language to keep you in the race, use it, but otherwise play the dumb American," Beckman explained.
"Sarah, send an email to Ellie, explain your aunt needs you in Texas to help her recover from emergency surgery. Let her know the good news is you will be close to Chuck. This will help maintain Chuck's cover as well. You will have access to your phones on the trip, send her a picture every now and then to keep her happy, Grimes too if you need to," Beckman grimaced at the mention of Chuck's buddy.
"We've packed for you. You meet the group at a movie set in 30 minutes, use the Lima protocol if you need help. Good luck," Beckman stood and Sarah and Chuck followed suit.
Suddenly the General was gone and Chuck and Sarah were alone for the first time in 3 months.
"Hi," Chuck said unnecessarily and awkwardly.
"Hi," Sarah smiled warmly at him and he relaxed.
"How are you?" they both said at once and Sarah laughed.
"I missed you," Chuck reached out and then retracted his hand before he touched her and Sarah frowned.
Chuck picked up on her dissatisfaction and reached out again, cupped her elbow in his large hand and tugged gently, she willingly slipped into his embrace.
"I missed you too," she said sincerely as she breathed in the scent of him.
"You look good. I saw Casey earlier, I'm glad you're both OK."
"We're fine, but the team wasn't as much fun without you."
"No stakeout mixes."
"No stakeout mixes," Sarah nodded in agreement.
"I hate being this close to Ellie and not being able to see her. Is she OK? I was able to email occasionally."
"She's great, I see her pretty often, we miss you together. How was your training?" Sarah stepped out of his arms and missed being in them almost instantly.
"Hard," he laughed, "I still have things to learn, but this mission came up and Beckman thought I was ready. If I'm not supposed to flash I am unsure how much help I can be on this mission though."
"Don't be silly, regular people do this kind of thing all the time and I know for a fact that even without the Intersect you are far from regular, Chuck Bartowski," Sarah smiled and Chuck's heart jolted, she was flirting with him.
"Where do you think we'll go?" Chuck asked as Sarah walked towards their bags.
"I don't know, I'm excited to find out though," and Sarah realized she was.
Sarah Walker had been to the far reaches of the globe, but the idea of traveling with Chuck made all those trips pale in comparison.
"Are we OK?" Chuck touched her shoulder and she startled.
"What do you mean?" Sarah asked quietly.
"We were, I mean, things had kind of changed between us before all this started. I know that you made a very big decision about us before this," Chuck pointed to his head.
"What did you do to your hair?" Sarah asked suddenly.
"I meant the Intersect, but wait, what? Don't you like my hair?"
"I didn't say that, it's just different," she tentatively reached out and touched his hair and he pulled her close again, held her tight.
"Is there an us?" Sarah asked honestly.
"I want there to be an us, Sarah. I've always wanted that, that has not changed. I have been working hard to get back here, to the team of course, but mostly to you."
"And here you are."
"Here I am."
"And we have a mission," Sarah smiled, this was familiar, a mission with Chuck.
"And a boyfriend/girlfriend cover again," he bounced his eyebrows at her.
"You were a little eager about that with Beckman," she giggled.
"I am eager, to work with you again, to catch up on your life, to see the world with you Sarah. I know this is work and important work at that, but I have a feeling this mission is going to be good for us."
"We'll be together 24/7 for 8 weeks, I have a feeling it will make or break us," she said honestly and when Chuck frowned she added, "For what it's worth, I hope it makes us."
Chuck read the mission briefing to Sarah as she drove them to the meeting site.
"All plane tickets are pre-purchased and there will be various flights giving teams strategic advantages based on timing. Cash will be provided for all trains, cabs, ferries and busses needed and there may be vehicles provided for driving which may be standard transmission. Think you can handle a stick shift, Agent Walker?" Chuck grinned as she sped up and shifted the agency car into 5th gear.
"Sounds like quite an adventure we are going on."
"There will be challenges only one of us can complete, we will need to decide which of us does the challenge and we cannot change our minds after we know the details, those are called Roadblocks. Then there are joint challenges that we will do together, we will have to choose one of two, but we can switch to the other if we want, that is a Detour. There will also be clues to lead us to other clues, like a scavenger hunt I guess," Chuck flipped through the papers.
"I wonder who chooses this as their vacation," Sarah mused.
"I can totally see you doing this for fun," Chuck laughed.
"I like to think I am unique though," Sarah sniffed.
"You are that," Chuck agreed with respect.
"What else?" Sarah nodded toward the file.
"Accommodations will vary from hotel rooms to outdoor camping to overnight train or ferry cabins, all prepaid. One room per team, bed preferences cannot be guaranteed. Our bed preference is," Chuck shuffled through the papers, "one."
"I guess our cover means we are willing to share a bed," Chuck shrugged.
Sarah just nodded, she'd shared beds with partners she liked much less than Chuck. For his part, Chuck was not about to push the issue, he would sleep on the floor if Sarah wanted, he had offered that once before and she refused.
"Cell phones are allowed, but international coverage is the responsibility of the participant. Breakfast and dinner each day as a group, lunch on your own if time allows between challenges. Some challenges may involve food, if you have registered any food allergies that will be taken in to account. You don't have any food allergies, right?"
"No, although I don't love the idea of food challenges. I am picturing that hot dog eating contest they do on the 4th of July," Sarah shuddered.
"I am a champ at eating weird things, have you met my best friend?" Chuck grinned.
Sarah just snorted.
"I guess that is it. I assume the agency packed us everything we need; those bags are heavy."
"What about our cover, beyond the boyfriend/girlfriend thing, who are this Chuck and Sarah?"
Chuck shuffled through the paper work and found photocopies of their real passports, well his real passport and Sarah's Sarah Walker passport.
"Us, I guess. Our names, our addresses in California."
"OK, so I say we stick as close to the truth as possible. You work at the Buy More, I work at the Orange Orange. You have a sister and brother-in-law, I moved to LA a couple years ago, we've been dating since then."
"Easy to remember if for no other reason than it is basically the truth. One thing though, a Buy More employee and an Orange Orange employee could not afford this trip, it is close to $5,000 each."
"Your dad gave it to us as a gift," Sarah offered.
"Like the Intersect, that kind of gift," Chuck frowned.
"He wants us to think about settling down, but knows we wanted to see the world first," Sarah spun a very believable tale.
"OK," Chuck nodded as he tried not to think about actually settling down with Sarah someday.
"Well, we are here," Sarah hit the turn signal as she turned in to the lot.
A woman in a World Challenge tee shirt approached the car with a clip board.
"Hi, you guys are either Chuck and Sarah or Kevin and Lucy, my only two male/female teams left to check in," she smiled as she consulted her list and leaned in towards Sarah's open window.
"Chuck and Sarah," Chuck offered a hand in greeting, reaching across the front seat of the car.
"Jen Thomas, Event Coordinator," she smiled and shook Chuck's hand as Sarah waved.
"Hi, Jen," Sarah said nicely.
"All your paper work is in order. You can park in that lot over there. We are awaiting a couple more teams and then we'll get started, so grab a shady spot and make yourselves comfortable, there is water in a cooler under the saloon awning."
"Great," Chuck nodded.
Sarah moved in to the parking lot, parked the car and popped the trunk. Chuck hopped out and shouldered his bag and gently placed an arm around Sarah's shoulder, slipping back in to his cover easily.
Sarah looked around, there was a pair of blonde women about her age both on their phones, two pairs of young guys chatting with each other already and a slightly older couple facetiming with what sounded like a herd of children. Chuck was walking toward a pair of guys with crazy long beards, but Sarah diverted them towards a couple who were sitting on some fencing on this Western movie set they were gathering at.
"Hey," Sarah shielded her eyes against the sun.
"Hi there," the guy answered as he hopped down and stuck a hand out.
"I'm Sarah, this is my boyfriend, Chuck," Sarah noticed the woman relax a little when Sarah introduced Chuck as her boyfriend and not her brother or gay best friend.
Sarah had used her body as an asset throughout her career, but in this setting her body could have been a detriment, she was certain to make more female confidantes if they didn't think she might want to steal their men.
"I'm Nancy, this is my fiancé, Adam," she said with a thick Boston accent.
"Not from around here," Chuck grinned.
"New Hampshire," Adam said as they all exchanged handshakes.
"So, you've already had a bit of a journey just getting here," Sarah smiled.
"Yeah, you guys from around here?"
"We are, ready for an adventure though," Chuck looked at Sarah with a wide smile, a real Chuck smile.
"I've heard this is a bit of an adventure too, some nights we might not even have hotel rooms," Nancy sounded slightly nervous.
"I'll protect you from the horrors of camping," Adam teased and Sarah thought she liked them, she imagined going out for drinks with them, like a double date.
"Jesus Christ, Kevin, lay off…." A shrill voice carried across the dusty lot and a woman with pink streaked hair threw something at the guy trailing behind her.
"They might not be ready for an adventure," Sarah grinned.
"Want some water, babe?" Chuck asked.
Sarah noticed a pair of guys over by the cooler and nodded.
"Thanks," she smiled back.
Chuck sauntered over, his long legs moving easy in his jeans, the sleeves of his long-sleeved tee shirt pushed up to his elbows, his watch glinting against the overhead sun. Sarah watched him the whole way over.
"You guys seem fairly normal," Nancy said with surprise.
"Huh?" Sarah was shaken from her admiration of Chuck's body.
"I hear some of the people that do this are pretty intense."
"It doesn't seem to be for the faint of heart," Sarah laughed.
"True, but we're just normal people, I hope we survive," Nancy looked slightly intimidated.
"I can't imagine it is in the company's best interest for any of us to die," Sarah reassured her.
Chuck, meanwhile, approached the cooler where two big guys were guzzling down some water.
"Hey there," Chuck greeted as he cracked the cooler open and took out two cold wet bottles.
"Hey," the men raised their water in salute.
"I'm Chuck, that pretty blonde over there is my girlfriend Sarah."
"Alan, this pretty fellow here is my buddy Zeke."
"Nice to meet you," Chuck wiped his wet hand on his jeans and then offered it to both men.
"You too. You ready for this?" Alan asked seriously.
"I think so. Sarah is a really good partner, she'll get me through," Chuck said honestly.
"She's a damn lot easier on the eyes than my partner, just imagine sharing a little tent with this oaf," Zeke laughed.
"Sounds cozy, but I'll stick with Sarah," Chuck looked back towards the blonde in question and smiled when she waved to him.
"OK, folks, time to gather up," Jen the Event Coordinator called through a megaphone.
Chuck migrated back to Sarah's side and handed her a bottle of water. When everyone was situated in a close semi-circle Jen abandoned the megaphone and just spoke loudly.
"We are a few minutes from departure. There are cars parked over there for you to use, your own cars if you drove here, will be valeted for you until you return – whenever in the challenge that may be. Instructions for this first trip are in the car, no hints on where you are going except it is south of here," Jen winked.
"While enroute there will be staff travelling too, they are only here for emergencies, they will not give you any assistance that is not life-saving, so don't try to get on their good side, they won't help you," Jen continued to smile.
"Any questions?" the Event Coordinator's question was met with silence.
"Everyone excited?" this time a smattering of cheers and woo-hoos emerged.
"I hope you are more excited than that," Jen rolled her eyes and people perked up a little more.
"OK, the time has come. I know there is a prize on the line here guys, but remember this really is about the journey, it is about seeing the world and experiencing different cultures. It is about facing tough challenges and staring down fears. Pick a car, read your first clue and good luck," Jen waved and all the participants raced off in a cloud of dust for the cute little compact cars parked neatly in a row.
Sarah picked the black one closest to the exit and with no discussion slid behind the wheel. Chuck had picked up some defensive driving lessons the past few months, but no one drove like Sarah Walker and she knew the fastest route to LAX of anyone he had ever met.
Chuck hopped in to the passenger seat and ripped open the envelope.
"Where are we going first?" Sarah asked, excited.
"Chile," Chuck looked up with a grin.
"You ready for this?" Sarah asked as she was already pulling out of the movie lot.
"I am," Chuck nodded, his eyes not on the road ahead but looking right at the woman driving.