Part 17: Kidnapping Clichés
"You have to wake up."
It wasn't so much the words being said as it was the warm familiarity of the voice speaking them that tugged her slowly from sleep. Shifting slightly, her groggy brain waffled back and forth between her desire for more rest and her want of wakefulness; both options holding happy appeal.
"C'mon Sidekick, you have to wake up."
His voice rumbled, low and deep, the gentle chiding delightfully thick in her ears. In front of others, his use of that nickname was grounds for an eye roll, but here - in the last remnants of sleep - she was unconsciously honest so she smiled charmingly, openly enjoying the term of endearment she had come to cherish.
The pad of his thumb landed delicately upon the corner of her mouth, his touch faint as he began tracing her curved lips. She puffed out a tiny, approving breath as the light contact sent tingles through her skin, the sensation encouraging her heavy lids to finally flutter open.
His dark eyes were the first thing she saw, lingering along the line of her jaw and the arch of her cheekbone as he watched her wake, his gaze peaceful and content. He hovered just above her, muscled arms braced at her shoulders and his drifting thumb absently moving to stroke the planes of her face. Against her head, she could feel his other hand; tender fingers threading languidly through her hair.
"Hi," she whispered drowsily, reaching up to cup his chin, her own thumb trailing over to his dimple and resting there affectionately.
"You have to wake up," he said again, his lips hitching into that grin she was so fond of.
Her nose scrunched with playful distaste. "I know, I know," she giggled, stretching her legs beneath the cover of his body and finding the feel of her limbs flexing against his wholly delicious.
"You have to wake up."
She felt a frown crawl gradually across her face, his strange repetitiveness confusing her. "Ollie," she began soothingly, "I am awake."
His smile was small, but loving as he leaned towards her and closed the distance between their lips, his kiss so filled with promises and secrets just for the two of them that it made her ache. Blind to everything but him, her eyelids fell closed once again and she sighed.
"Chloe," he breathed against her mouth, "wake up."
Heaving a strangled sob, her eyes burst wide open and every nerve in her body flinched, her disoriented mind grasping at the fact that she was awake for real now.
Inexplicably panicked, she sat up quickly and immediately regretted the decision. Pain exploded through her left cheek, cutting straight through to the back of her scalp and causing her eye to throb as if it were about to split in half. Gasping at the onslaught, she crumpled against the small couch she found herself upon and slammed her eyes closed as she tried to fight off the waves of nausea that were rolling through her stomach.
With the flood of pain came her disjointed memories of what had happened: The sudden turn of events at Malcolm Riley's apartment, Oliver's final words to her, the butt end of a gun connecting sickeningly with her face as masked men stormed the control room…
Drawing slow breaths in through her nose she forced her body to get used to the pulsating discomfort it was suffering from, finding a shred of relief in the knowledge that her agony seemed to be confined to her cheek and head. Slowly, her stuttering inhales became smoother and stronger as a desperately needed rush of adrenalin finally kicked in to help her through.
Peeling her eyes open wearily, she waited until the room stopped spinning before she surveyed it carefully. Though the space was dark, lights from the sprawling cityscape poured in through the large windows that stretched along the far wall, allowing her to make out her surroundings.
She was in an office.
Glancing from the polished furnishings, to the pictures that adorned the walls, to the mammoth desk positioned smack dab in the middle, she immediately recognized where she was.
She was in Oliver's office at Queen Towers.
"What the hell…?" She mumbled distractedly, the surrealism of her situation making her question if she was as awake as she'd initially thought.
Before her sluggish brain could even take a crack at sifting through her bewilderment, the office door was thrown open with a force that made her jump clear out of her skin. Her head snapped around at the sudden intrusion and the quick movement instantly proved unwise as the excruciating pounding in her skull surged.
"Miss Sullivan," Mitchell Edwards greeted, his voice full of feigned cheerfulness as he stalked purposefully into the room. "You're awake. How delightfully prompt of you."
Desperately confused, she could only stare at first, wishing for all the world that her head would just stop hurting for one minute so she could figure out what was going on. The focus she needed came fast and sharp when her eyes caught sight of the gun Mitchell gripped loosely in his right hand, its presence making everything entirely too clear.
Darting looks at the weapon he carried, she watched as Mitchell marched over to Oliver's desk and dropped a thick document upon the gleaming surface, the stack of papers landing with a thud that echoed through the hollow room. Though this was undoubtedly the same man she'd had the misfortune of meeting at the gala, there was no mistaking the dramatic shift in his countenance. Gone was the uncomfortable awkwardness and stern manners, replaced with the kind of arrogance and cool self-assurance that made her flesh crawl. The uneasiness he had caused her during their introduction quickly morphed to total disdain and she cursed the fact that she'd only ever considered him a mere nuisance, never an actual threat.
Noticing her constant glances at the gun, his expression turned playful as he raised the firearm and displayed it mockingly. "Head injury or not," he jeered, "I trust you have enough sense to know that staying put is your best bet right now."
Her lips set into a thin line as she ignored his comment and stared at him accusingly, her prolonged silence only serving to make his smirk widen.
"C'mon now Chloe," he scoffed condescendingly. "I was really hoping for a better reaction than this."
Her glare narrowed as her teeth started grinding, the pain in her head growing insignificant compared to the feeling of her blood boiling furiously in her veins.
"Other than telling you that you're going to pay dearly for this," she declared lowly. "I have nothing to say to you."
"Really?" He chuckled, sauntering over to one of the leather chairs that faced Oliver's desk and dragging the furnishing towards her before taking a seat. "And who exactly is going to issue up my punishment," he asked scornfully. "Oliver or the Green Arrow?"
The fact that he mentioned Oliver and his alter ego in the same breath had her heated blood running cold. Instantly recognizing the attempt to lure her into divulging things she shouldn't, she reigned in her emotions and clamped her mouth closed once more, settling on staring at him contemptuously.
He met her hatred with a sneer. "Don't hold back on my account," he encouraged, disgustingly pleased with himself, "I already know everything."
She tilted her head thoughtfully, making a big production of sizing him up before laughing dismissively. "I don't think you do," she replied plainly.
He took her doubt in stride, leaning back slowly in his chair as he studied her closely. "I knew where to find you tonight," he pointed out casually, "and I knew that you'd be all by your lonesome."
Refusing to play his game, she stayed annoyingly unresponsive, her silent treatment garnering his grin.
"I can't believe that you're not the slightest bit interested," he needled. "Aren't you just a little curious to know why I'm doing this?"
"Please," she admonished bitingly. "Is this the part where you detail your evil plan? Seeing as I already have a headache, how about you spare me the cliché."
He laughed outright and his amusement had her jaw locking tensely. "You and Oliver really are cut from the same cloth, aren't you?" He noted dryly, relaxing further into his chair.
"I'll take that as a compliment," she snipped.
"Trust me, it wasn't meant as one," Mitchell drawled humourlessly. "I can assure you that your confidence in him is misguided."
"Pretty strong criticism from a kidnapper," she snarked back. "You are aware that what you're doing here is illegal, right?"
His brows quirked at her as he propped an elbow on his chair's armrest and settled his chin into his palm, looking at her incredulously. "You want to get into legalities with me?" He questioned pointedly. "What was it you were up to in that makeshift command centre of yours again? Oh that's right, coordinating a break and enter."
"Now there's a wild accusation," she retaliated. "Got any kind of proof to back that up?"
His taunting expression faded ever so slightly as her words gave him pause. "Sadly, no," he replied. "All of the computers were wiped clean."
The grin that spread across her lips never met her eyes, but it served its purpose.
"Nicely done with that, by the way," he complimented insincerely.
She shrugged innocently. "I couldn't possibly know what you mean."
He snorted derisively at her bland reply. "Be sure not to hurt yourself patting your own back," he warned, shifting in his seat to stretch his legs out comfortably, his nonchalance picking apart the momentary triumph she'd been enjoying. "Having those computer files would have just been a bonus," he sniffed carelessly. "I already got what I needed courtesy of your visit to my warehouse."
She tried to keep her expression neutral, but his cruel smirk was all the confirmation she needed to know that he'd seen her eyes widen at his words.
"Starting to get a little interested?" He goaded.
Her throat was tight as she choked on realization, the taste bitter in her mouth. "Riley doesn't own the Wynlie Group," she asserted quietly, hating herself for missing all of this, for not figuring any of it out. "You do."
"In a manner of speaking," Mitchell agreed. "I'm the one who controls the funds, but the paper trail points firmly at Riley. You'd be amazed what people are willing to sign when you put enough money in front of them."
She shook her head in disbelief. "Does he even know what he's sitting on?" She questioned acidly.
"Maybe," Mitchell shrugged, unconcerned. "Like the rest of them, he's not smart enough to take advantage of the situation. He just takes his lump sum and does as he's told."
"The rest of them?" She stuttered.
"Riley isn't the Wynlie Group's first owner," Mitchell laughed. "Over the years I've moved it around to different Queen Industries' employees. Some I paid to take it under their name, others never had a clue."
She could feel her heart hammering in her chest, thinking of the hours she'd spent trying to sort out the paperwork on the Wynlie Group, sickened by this revelation that the company's bouncing from owner to owner had been a deliberate ploy to hide what was really going on. A ploy she'd fallen for hook, line and sinker.
She swallowed hard. "How far back does this go?" She demanded, dreading the answer as she watched him brace his arms across his knees and lean forward in his chair, eager to address the question he'd been waiting for.
"The day I handed QI over to Oliver was the Wynlie Group's first day of business."
Chloe felt numb. He'd been doing this for years and in all of that time, no one - not her, not Oliver, none of the guys – had ever thought to so much as look.
"At first it was just for the money," Mitchell elaborated, hardly needing Chloe's prompting to willingly share his story. "After Robert and Laura died, I spent the best years of my life building QI into an empire. There was no way I was going to let some spoiled punk just waltz in and take my job without an appropriate fuck you."
She sucked in an angry breath, hating Mitchell more and more as she imagined all of the times Oliver must have gone to this man for advice and guidance, all the while never realizing he was being stabbed in the back.
"But then something strange happened," he continued, his tone recapturing Chloe's attention. "Out of nowhere, this Robin Hood wannabe starts committing thefts all over Star City, exposing the corruption, taking down these massive corporations single-handedly, the full-out, robbing the rich to give to the poor thing."
Mitchell chuckled knowingly. "I figured my number was up," he admitted. "The guy was nailing everything crooked in town and I knew it was only a matter of time until he took me down. But you know what happened?"
Chloe stared at him hard, unwilling to give him the satisfaction of hearing her ask him for his explanation, but he was unfazed by her non-compliance and merely leaned back into his chair once more as his eyes danced with mirth.
"Absolutely nothing," he finished.
Chloe's brows lowered and it was more than enough of a response for Mitchell.
"I mean, think about it!" He urged, his mood becoming strangely giddy. "This vigilante, who's whole M.O. was cleaning up the streets and shutting down every kind of criminal, never once batted an eye in my direction."
A smug smile stretched over his face. "That got me thinking about the man behind the mask," he boasted. "I realized that the costume and the theatrics were just a way to hide who he really was."
Chloe tried to hide the way her breath was hitching.
"I started tracking his movements," Mitchell went on, taking full advantage of the opportunity to finally lay everything out. "I tried to find some sort of rhyme or reason to what he was doing, but the only pattern that came out was that he never went anywhere near QI, despite the fact that I was still funnelling money into a dummy corporation."
His eyes swept around Oliver's office, stopping to stare disdainfully at certain objects as if they'd played a part in keeping the secret from him.
"I lost months trying to figure what kind of connection the asshole had to this place," he murmured hatefully. "Then one day, it just happened. Oliver walked in, back from one of his mysterious out of townmeetings, sporting another weird collection of bruises and it all hit me. Just like that, I knew."
Chloe could feel her insides churning as she listened to Mitchell in horrified fascination, her head feeling like it might bust apart. The knowledge that the man sitting across from her was poised to destroy what she held so dear made her physical pain seem so minor.
"You can't prove any of this," she breathed, praying she was right.
Mitchell smirked, clearly enjoying the distress he was causing her. "I couldn't then," he acknowledged, "but I can now, thanks to you."
She felt the colour drain from her cheeks.
"I knew if I dangled the Wynlie Group out there long enough, he'd bite," Mitchell continued. "He had his head too far up his ass to see what was really going on, but I made sure that the group's dealings became suspect enough to at least pique his interest."
The satisfied smirk he wore slowly spread into a predatory smile. "I have to admit," he drawled, "I really didn't know how I was going to leverage it all to my advantage, but it was the only shot I had to trap him. I never expected him to make it so easy though."
"Riley was able to identify me," she rasped, knowing she was right as a tear slipped down her cheek before she could catch it.
"Putting a name to your face was ridiculously simple," he confirmed callously. "Former reporter, mile-long hospital record, a couple noteworthy mentions in police files… Riley may not be good for much, but he had you ID'd in ten minutes flat."
Suffocating guilt filled her chest as her mind played over her exchange with Oliver before they broke into the warehouse, her arguments against the need to shield her identity ringing in her ears.
"After that," he chuckled, "it was all just a matter of following you. I only had to see the pictures of the two of you together to know that you were my ticket to getting what I wanted."
Her eyes squeezed closed as she grimaced. "You sent the pictures to the gossip site," she surmised through clenched teeth.
Mitchell waved a hand vaguely. "Petty, I know," he accepted, "but it was the perfect distraction for your little crew. My guys were able to clear out the warehouse in broad daylight and none of you were the wiser."
Her hands were shaking as she gripped the couch she sat on, barely holding it together as failure threatened to drown her. She couldn't believe how quickly it was all unravelling, couldn't accept that the pitiful excuse for a man no more than six feet away from her was going to be the League's undoing.
"So, what happens now," she whispered disgustedly, glaring daggers at Mitchell.
His eyes went to the thick document he'd deposited on Oliver's desk upon his arrival. "Now I make a trade," he replied simply. "You – more or less in one piece – for complete control of Queen Industries."
Chloe blinked in surprise before the short, harsh laugh escaped her. "Are you really that stupid?" She growled bluntly. "Oliver's not giving you his family's company. He's not going to make that deal. Hell, I wouldn't make that deal and I'm the one with the vested interest here!"
Mitchell laughed maliciously at her. "Now who's being cliché?" He ridiculed, rising smoothly to his feet and pacing towards her, his advance sending her scurrying back until she was flush against the couch. "I saw you two at the gala with my own eyes," he told her lowly, bracing his free arm next to her shoulder so he could loom over her. "I don't have to wonder what you're worth to him. I saw it every time he looked at you. I heard it in his voice when I told him I had you."
Her eyes snapped around at his words to stare up at him.
"That's right," he mused. "I've already placed my ransom demand with the man himself." He straightened to his full height and pulled back the cuff of his jacket to glance at his rolex. "And on that note," he stated blithely, "it's just about time for us to get going."
"I'm not going anywhere with you," Chloe hissed, her chin jutting defiantly.
Mitchell's head rotated slowly towards her, his mouth setting into a grim line as he took in her insolence. Without warning, his hand shot out towards her and gripped her arm painfully, hauling her easily off of the couch and onto her feet. She threw out her free arm, fighting against him in an effort to escape, but the feel of something hard ramming into her ribs stilled her instantly.
"I'm not worth a thing to you if you kill me," she hissed, wincing as he kept the gun roughly pressed into her side. Her heart was beating double-time and her breathing was getting more and more laboured, but she pushed past her fear, forcing herself to stay calm.
"True," Mitchell grinned, slowly moving the gun from her side and trailing it across her chest until it came to rest against her shoulder. "But I can think of a few places that will bleed out slow enough that you'll technically still be alive for our rendezvous with Oliver."
Chloe's eyes dropped away from his glare to stare at the floor through frightened tears.
"That's what I thought," he snarled, pulling her towards the office door by the arm he had captured in his grasp. "Now, if you're quite through, let's not keep Ollie waiting."