A/N Cue theme music, a picture of the running man…Cake!
Thanks, all, for reading!
Don't Own Chuck
CHAPTER 19 Seduction Minor and Major
Tribal and double
Wide awake rocks
The fatal craft
Thomas Merton, Cables to the Ace 20b
Chuck, Sarah and Casey were sitting at the central table in Castle. Bryce was talking, leaning on his cane with one hand and waving a clicker in the other.
It was one week to the day since their first meeting in Castle.
"So, we finally have a mission. We have a new player in town. Hilda Byrne."
"Hilda?" Chuck stretched the name out. "Wow."
Bryce hit the clicker and the monitor filled with a photograph of a beautiful woman. She was on the beach, emerging from the water in a white two-piece bikini.
Chuck flashed. His eyes rolled back in his head a bit, and then he returned to normal. He took a hard, non-flash look at the picture.
"Wow! Must have been a cool day at the beach."
Chuck followed his second 'Wow' and comment with a registration of worry, and a quick, furtive glance at Sarah. Her face hadn't changed, but the blue of her eyes frosted over.
"So, uh, what's up with Hilda, other than the obvious?" Chuck plunged ahead.
Casey grunted. Bryce glanced at Chuck and then back to the photograph on the monitor.
"Sorry, sorry," Chuck retreated, "We just normally look at pictures of corpses and insane terrorists. We hardly ever get swimsuit pictures."
"You might feel different if you were the team member constantly asked to wear one." Sarah's tone was slightly dangerous, her smile neutral. But Chuck could see the frost melt in her eyes.
Chuck shrugged, grinning slightly. He was not responsible for wardrobe.
"She looks like that Bond girl, from that first movie…uh..." Chuck knit his brows, trying to remember.
"Ursula Andress, Dr. No, 1962, Sean Connery. She was the shell diver, Honey Ryder." Bryce rattled all that off breathlessly.
Chuck, Sarah, and Casey all stared at Bryce. He didn't seem to notice; he was lost in an obviously pleasant reverie.
"Honey Ryder? Really?" Sarah shook her head, frowning.
Bryce resumed Earth orbit and went on. "Hilda is an assassin. Deadly. She has a long list of confirmed kills and a racing assassin bloodline that runs back to Carlos. She is one of the best and she learned from the best."
Casey jumped in with a question. "So what brings Hilda to town?"
"An arms deal," Bryce answered.
"Really? That seems odd for an assassin." Sarah waited for more information.
"Yes, Sarah, it is. Our intel, and Chuck can weigh in here, suggests that she is working for an old friend of hers, selling the plans for a new weapon to a buyer here in LA. Chuck?"
Chuck nodded. "That friend is a former member of the IRA, an old-time terrorist and a deadly guy in his own right. Peter Murphy. Murphy doesn't travel much these days. He has used Hilda before. He believes, probably rightly, that few would try to double-cross her. Everyone who ever did or tried has ended up in her crosshairs. Every. One."
Bryce glanced at Chuck. They had circled each other warily all week when both in Castle. Chuck knew why Bryce had planted the tests at Stanford, and he knew Bryce did not know that he knew. But he was not in a mood to forgive, so he hadn't mentioned it at all. He also wanted Bryce to tell him what he had done. That might make Chuck more forgiving.
Bryce's involvement with Jill after Chuck was expelled was, however, still an indigestible lump for Chuck. Unless that got cleared up, they were not going to be friends again. At least Bryce did not seem to be chasing Sarah. She must have convinced him she was not interested.
Bryce glanced away from Chuck when Chuck refused to meet his gaze. "Right. As you can guess, our mission is to get those weapon plans from Hilda. But we have good reason to believe she keeps them...on her person at all times. She has two men with her as added muscle and protection, call them Dee and Dum. She always has her knife on her person too—it is her signature weapon." Bryce's eyes flicked for a trace of a moment to Sarah. He went on.
"She is very cautious. She usually books a hotel room at a premium place and requires that the meet be conducted in her room. No one enters but Dee or Dum. She eats room service. Dee or Dum stops the cart at the door and takes it to her. No else enters but the person coming to the meet. She will have done extensive background work on that person and will be able to identify him or her without mistake."
"'Wow' is right. So how do we get to her?"
"Good question, Chuck. We don't. You do." Bryce's tone was decided.
"What, me? I'm the guy who stays out of harm's way."
"No, you aren't!" Sarah and Casey said at the same time.
"Why would she let me in her room?" Chuck asked the question then he gasped. "Oh."
"Right, as Chuck just recalled from his flash, Hilda has a particular pre-game meal, a superstition. Before any professional activity, a kill or a meet, she finds a man and takes him to her room and sleeps with him. Normally, the man leaves unharmed, although there have been times when Hilda has gotten a bit extra…spirited and the man never left the room."
Sarah kept her voice even, but Chuck could hear her gathering concern. "Are you suggesting that Chuck be Hilda's pre-game meal?"
"Yes, Casey is, well, too old to fit the type. And, let's face it, who could we send in less likely to arouse her suspicions than Chuck?"
"You mean just less likely to arouse her, don't you, Larkin?" Casey grinned evilly at Chuck. "My guess is that Bartowski's Stretch Armstrong doll would have a better chance of getting his arms around Hilda than he does. And there is no chance Bartowski's going to make her 'extra-spirited'. He'll be as safe as a gelding."
"No, actually, innocent is oddly her type." Bryce clicked through a few more pictures, all men of roughly Chuck's age, tall, dark-haired. None looked worldly. The man is the last picture, however, was dead—his throat cut, blood pooled around his head.
"We've gotten lucky, as you can see. Chuck is definitely her type." Bryce put the clicker on the table. Chuck loosened the tie of his Nerd Herd uniform. He didn't think they had gotten lucky.
Sarah was sitting very straight in her chair. "So how is this supposed to work? What is Chuck supposed to do to get the plans?"
"A little minor seduction. He needs to get her to choose him. We'll make sure that he is the only man of her type in the bar when she comes down. She usually likes to find her meal in the hotel bar. We'll have a few folks there to fill the place up, so it doesn't look like she's being steered to Chuck."
Sarah remained tensely upright in her chair. "Ok, that's how he meets her and, I suppose, gets back to her room. But what is he supposed to do when he gets back there?"
"Well, " Bryce said, poorly concealing a smile, "he'll have to do some more minor seduction."
"What?" Chuck asked, giving his head a shake as if his hearing had failed him. "When does minor become major?"
"You don't need to sleep with her, Chuck, just get her out of enough of her clothes to be sure she has the chip with the plans. Evidently, she keeps it attached to her body using a flesh-colored adhesive patch. Not easy to see unless you are...close.
"You need to be sure she has the patch, then you need to hit her with a hand-held tranquilizer. Secure the chip. You will need to spend enough time in the room for Dee and Dum to believe you have serviced...served your purpose. Then you walk away. Simple. Any junior spy could do it.
"Look, Chuck. It makes sense for you to go not only because you are most likely to make Hilda warm, but you may be able to use the Intersect once in the room to confirm that the chip is genuine or perhaps to discover other useful intel. Hilda has been in the game a while; she's tied to lots of not-nice people. Who knows what might be in that room?
"Ok. Our timetable: this will happen tomorrow night. Her drop with the buyer is supposed to take place at midnight, so we expect she will prowl the bar around 7 pm. She will want to have enough time for more than one course if she's particularly hungry."
Casey grunted gleefully, not at Larkin's comment, but at Chuck's reddened response.
"Be here tomorrow at 4 pm Chuck, everyone, and we will get you ready. Sarah, why don't you take Chuck, since you two are cover dating, and give him some advice on what a woman who is not being paid to date him might actually like."
"Fine. Come on, Chuck."
Casey's even louder gleeful grunt echoed through Castle.
Six days earlier, after the night she and Chuck met for burgers and decided on their new plan, Sarah showed up at Ellie's lab a little ahead of the scheduled time.
She knew she was going to have to face Eleanor Bartowski. Might as well get it over with.
Chuck had undoubtedly told Ellie that Sarah was now on Team Piranha. So Sarah knew that Ellie knew that Sarah knew the truth about her. Anyway, they knew about each other. Sarah approached the lab with the slow steady steps of Sydney Carton. Except Sarah could think of far, far better things to do.
Ellie heard her come in. She looked up and then looked back down at the computer before her. Sarah walked over beside her and sat down.
"I was hoping you might make time for a little girl-talk."
"Um…yes…here I am, ready for girl-talk."
"What's going on between you and my brother. He seems better, but still not at his best. Still a couple?" Sarah nodded that they were.
"What should I call you two? The Ghost and the Machine?"
"Alright. I needed to get a shot in. You've been living at my expense for a long time, Sarah. Knowing about me—while the little I knew about you was almost all false. I thought we were friends. I thought we were on the way to being best friends. But it turns out, the woman I like more than any other is a cloak and cipher.
"Well, Ellie, if its any consolation, for the last month or so you've known about me and I did not know that you did. I don't know, does that count as payback?" Sarah sighed. This talk had not started with much promise. "I wish things had been some other way."
Ellie said nothing for a full minute. She just typed away on the computer. She evidently finished what she was doing, because she pushed the computer away from her on the desk.
Ellie was sitting on a rolling stool with a rotating seat. She whirled the seat around to face Sarah. Then she launched herself, python hugging a stunned Sarah.
"Sarah, it's ok. I do know you, just like Chuck does. You think you are so hard to know, so inscrutable. And maybe you are to people whose lives you are not part of. Obviously, you are good at your job. But you are…well, I will just say it, you are like my sister. I may not know the details of your life, but I know you. It'll be nice, though, actually to believe the words you say to me."
Sarah squeezed Ellie back. "Sister? I'm the woman you like more than any other?" Sarah's questions were all delight. She squeezed Ellie harder. Ellie couldn't speak, but she nodded her head hard enough for Sarah to feel it.
Chuck came in at just that moment.
"We'll talk later," Ellie told Sarah. Even after the hug, Ellie's comment still sounded mildly threatening—in a This isn't over way.
Chuck had clearly gotten some sleep. He smiled broadly when he saw Ellie and Sarah hugging. When Sarah saw him, she released Ellie. She reached into her purse and retrieved an envelope.
She walked to Chuck and handed it to him. Her eyes were openly vulnerable. He put it in his bag. He reached out and put his hand on her cheek and she leaned her head into it. She kissed the heel of his palm gently.
Ellie watched them silently. She turned and pulled her computer back to her.
"Chuck, this is ready. Are you two sure this is what you want to do?"
They both nodded. Chuck walked over and sat down on the stool Ellie yielded to him. She told him to hold his head still until the images began. There was a countdown on the screen. Ellie and Sarah both stationed themselves were so that the screen was not visible to them.
A few seconds later, Chuck's mind danced with images. He lost the capacity for spontaneous, directed thought and became pure receptivity.
All at once, with no warning, it was done. He sat frozen in front of a blank screen.
Ellie turned to him, still looking at her watch. She had known how long the download should take. Everything seemed normal. Sarah went to Chuck and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, leaning down to whisper in his ear.
"Chuck? Chuck? I forgot to tell you something important last night: I want you to keep that ring."
He blinked happily at Sarah and she leaned back to meet his gaze, then leaned close and kissed his ear.
"Well, how do you feel, little brother?"
"I don't know. I guess I feel like I finally took off a hat that was two sizes too small, one that had been strangling my head."
Ellie picked up a clipboard and took a note. "Anything else? You didn't black out, so I take that to be a good sign."
"It didn't hurt like last time."
"That's good too. It is too early to tell anything more, really. At some point, the shut-off possibility should make itself available to you. You'll 'feel' how to do it. It may take a little practice to get it to work well.
"The hand-to-hand combat skill set was included. We are unsure how soon that will manifest itself, how soon you will become aware that you have it. It will likely not manifest as a set of mental images, but rather as a kind of motor awareness, motor competency. You'll suddenly feel like you can see things that you hadn't seen before. You will be aware of physical possibilities you never were aware of before. I know that all sounds schematic, vague. You will know when it happens."
Ellie turned to Sarah. "Chuck will need to train. It probably makes the most sense for him to do it with you. Can you two find a way to do that?"
"Yes," Sarah said, "I don't think anyone would object to Chuck learning a few self-defense moves—at least, that's how we will bill it."
"Ok, but remember, Sarah. These skills are not sudden-onset, but they won't take long to develop. Be careful about who witnesses the training sessions. Don't videotape them. Chuck won't know what he can do until he does it."
Sarah's grin at Ellie carried a whiff of wickedness. "Seems often true of our boy." She saw Chuck respond with a slightly frustrated half-smile. The make-up sex they hadn't had crossed his mind, Sarah knew. It crossed hers. She should keep the innuendo under control. Who knew when they would be able to be together? "Sorry, Chuck."
Ellie turned away, laughing sympathetically under her breath as she shook her head. Watching the two of them in love was sometimes like watching two earthworms play Twister.
A week had passed since Bryce first slept again with Jill. It had happened several times since. He couldn't stay away, and she seemed happy about that.
He'd told her he was working as an accountant. She hadn't yet pushed for more information. He could tell that she was worried, as he was, about spoiling the delicate balance they had achieved. She hadn't told him much about her either, and he hadn't pushed, partly because he worried that if he did, she would. They hadn't spent a lot of time talking, at any rate.
She was working as a researcher for a bioengineering firm in town. Her hours were her own to set, she had told him, but she still mostly worked during the day, although sometimes projects might require her to work at night.
He liked the way Jill looked in the mornings, freshly scrubbed (a couple of times he had helped with that), with her lab coat folded neatly over her arm as they parted company.
Bryce knew Graham would not be happy about him being involved with anyone but Walker. Bryce knew he should walk away. Leave Jill to her daytime biological research instead of conducting it with her at night.
Bryce had taken the precaution of running her through the computer at Castle, but no red flags were raised. Stanford, employment with the firm she was still with, a work move to San Francisco, and then a work move back to LA.
Bryce knew he needed to give her up. He just didn't know if he could.
Bryce wondered now, a little, but without really ever pursuing it, about the purity of his motives in getting Chuck expelled. Maybe Jill had been more a part of that than Bryce had realized. Maybe. It had been a long time ago.
Leader smiled his death's head smile; Leader was a happy leader. Roberts was making rapid progress. She knew Larkin from college, had been his lover. She was his lover again. As the ancient Greeks said, luck loves skill. Roberts was the best of Fulcrum's agents. And her history turned out to be lucky: she'd been involved with Larkin. Larkin was still interested in her. What were the odds? She would kill him, of course; the odds of that were as good as odds got. Hard not to like those odds.
The world gives, the world takes. Leader smiled his death's head smile.