Thank you to all you lovely readers out there! Special thanks to Angus MacNab, beta extraordinaire and all around swell guy. Now, without further ado (about nothing...)
The ride back in Katie's car was a quiet one. Chuck was too lost in his thoughts to be much of a conversationalist, and though he knew he was probably blowing it with Katie, the encounter with Edgar still had him on edge. He noticed her taking several curious looks at him but he just couldn't bring himself to try and ease her mind. Besides, what would he say? He was pretty sure any explanation he might give would probably violate one of the very, very many papers he had signed that very afternoon.
She pulled the Porsche into a parking spot in the rear of the building and they got out and made their way toward the hotel. When they reached the stairs Katie seemed to reach her limit.
"Okay, Chuck, this has gone on long enough," she said turning to face him. The light from the stairwell lit the side of her face, leaving the rest in shadow and even in his current state of worry, Chuck took note of how very beautiful she was. "Are you going to tell me what happened at the club or not?"
"I don't know if I can," he said looking into her eyes. He wanted to tell her, he wanted to tell her everything.
"Of course you can, just open your mouth and talk," she said, giving him a teasing smile. "You haven't had much problem with it before." Chuck gazed back at her, completely serious. Her smile faded away and she took hold of his arm, giving him a little shake. "C'mon, Chuck, you're kind of starting to scare me."
"I'm scared, Katie, that's just it. He told me that if I told anyone it would… well, it would be bad."
"Who told you?"
"I'm pretty sure that's part of what I'm not supposed to tell you."
Katie made a face. "Chuck, this is nonsense!"
"No, it's not. Katie, Jill was murdered. That's definitely not nonsense."
Several emotions flitted through her eyes before they settled on sympathy. She moved her hand to his chest, laying her palm over his heart. Her touch was warm and comforting. "I'm sorry, Chuck, you're right. Maybe… maybe all this was a bit too soon for you."
He took her hand quickly, before she could pull away and folded it in his. "No, Katie, it's not about that. My life is kind of a mess right now, but I promise that… when I know what the hell is going on, you'll be the first person I'll tell." He was a little surprised to realize he meant it. His life was a complete wreck, but she was the one bright spot and maybe it was wrong to want this so soon, but he couldn't bring himself to care. "Please understand.""
She took a moment, during which Chuck convinced himself that he'd blown it completely, then she smiled. "Alright, Chuck, I'll let it go for now, but I'm worried about you." She turned and started up the stairs, pulling him along behind her once again. Chuck smiled. They already had a thing.
They paused at the door to his room and Katie let go of his hand. "So," she said softly. "I had a good time tonight. You know, before you disappeared and everything."
"Yeah, can I just apologize for that one more time?"
"If you insist. Dinner was great, your friend – Morgan? – really does have a black belt in dumplings."
Chuck laughed. "The little guy really knows his food, and knows it well," he said, then more serious. "I'm glad you had a good time and, I know I've said it multiple times now but, I'm sorry."
The short conversation was followed by a long, tension filled pause where their interrupted kiss seemed to hang in the air between them, before Katie pulled away ever so slightly. "Well, I'll see you tomorrow, in the continental breakfast line?"
"I'll be the guy hogging the waffle irons." He gave her half a grin and she returned it.
He waved and watched her close her door before turning to open his. The room was dark and he sighed, stepping inside and shutting the door before groping for the light switch.
"Where the heck is that…" His finger fumbled onto the switch and flipped it, filling the room with a dim, golden light. He turned, took several more steps into the room and then froze, dropping his keycard to the floor. "What… what the…"
His room had been completely ransacked. His bedding was torn apart, his clothes and all his things were spread across the floor and, bent over his fried laptop, was the last person on earth he wanted to find in his room.
Alexis White, her dark hair disheveled and her ruby lips curled in an ugly sneer, spun toward him. "Give it to me!" she demanded, stalking across the room. She raised her arms, reaching for him, and Chuck yelled and scrambled backward. Where her right hand should be there was a metal claw instead. It wasn't the usual, utilitarian replacement that Chuck had always found somewhat interesting, but instead it was several sharpened metal prongs that looked decidedly deadly. "Give it to me, now!" she yelled, her face twisted with rage as she lunged for him.
"Aaahhh!" Chuck hollered, his back slamming against the door as he tried to flee. Alexis fell on him and her claw impacted the metal hotel door over his left shoulder with a clang - just missing his head. Chuck shoved at her hard, knocking her back, and scrambled for the doorknob, his hands making several useless grabs before he got it open and stumbled out. He turned to see if she was following and tripped over his own feet falling on his ass as a result.
He was gasping for breath when Katie threw her door open and came running out, still dressed in the outfit she'd worn on their date. She looked alert and ready for anything - an avenging angel, haloed in the light from her hotel room. "What's going on?' she demanded, her eyes searching the balcony. "Why did you yell?"
"There was –" he gasped for breath, his chest tight with fear. "Someone in my room; she tried to kill me!"
"What?" Katie exclaimed and immediately turned and ran into his room through the partially closed door.
"No, Katie, don't' go in there!" Chuck called scrambling to his feet. He went after her but the door shut in his face. He heard a distinctly feminine grunt and the sound of a body being slammed against the door. "Oh my God, Katie!" He tried the door knob but it was locked. In a panic, he patted his pockets but his keycard was still inside where he'd dropped it. His heart slamming in his chest, he looked around frantically and caught sight of Katie's still open door. He ran through her room to the connecting door and threw it open, only to be confronted with the door on his side. He pushed it open hurriedly and stumbled into the room.
At first he didn't see anyone and he thought he'd lose it completely, and then Katie's arm appeared on the other side of his bed, followed by her head as she pulled herself up.
"Oh my God, are you hurt?"
"Only my pride," she said, plopping onto the mattress. "My self-defense teacher said I was ready for anything but that lady was crazy!"
Chuck all but ran across the room and pulled her up into a tight hug. "What were you thinking?" he asked into her hair. After he'd assured himself that she was actually there and breathing, he moved away. His eyes roamed over her looking for injuries.
"I don't know," she said softly. "I guess that was kind of stupid, wasn't it." Chuck frowned. Something about the docile answer rang false but he was at a loss as to how to broach that with her. The woman had just been in a fist fight in his defense, after all.
"I'm just glad you're okay, that woman is not someone you want to mess with."
She turned and looked up at him from beneath those lashes again but there was nothing coy about the look this time. "You ready to tell me what the hell is going on yet?"
Chuck sighed and sat down onto the bed. Katie sat back down beside him. "Jill was involved in something... She — she stole some information from the government and now they, and several other less than savory people, think that I have it."
Katie frowned. "Well, do you?"
"No!" he said, exasperated. He shot to his feet. "I have no idea! And now these guys are going to kill me for something I had nothing to do with. Oh, God, that one guy… I think Bartholomew said his name was Edgar… he threatened you too. This is bad, this is really bad. You should probably leave. I should probably find a new place to stay so they'll leave you alone."
"Chuck," Katie was saying, she stood up and watched him as he paced. "Chuck," she said again. When he still didn't respond she shouted it. He stopped suddenly and turned. "Chuck, don't freak out, alright."
"Too late," he said, running his hands through his hair and making it stick out in every direction.
"Hey, look, we'll figure this out okay?"
"Katie, I don't want anything to happen to you."
"I know, and that's sweet, but I'm not going to leave you to deal with this all on your own. Besides, they already know about me, so it's too late to ditch me now."
Chuck sighed and looked down at her as she stepped in close. "I don't want to ditch you."
"Good," she said, smiling. "I don't really want to be ditched. I kind of like you, Chuck."
He exhaled on a laugh. "Could there possibly be worse circumstances for us to meet under?"
"I don't know, maybe at the foot of a very active volcano?" she asked, ushering him back to the bed and sitting with him.
"Ha, yeah, that would be bad." He pulled his wallet from his back pocket and tossed it onto the nightstand. His hands were shaking. He held one up to his face, willing it to stop. "Pathetic, huh? I'm not exactly the dashing hero."
"Adrenaline does that to everybody," she said taking his hand in hers and giving it a squeeze. "Sugar helps. I'll run down to the vending machines and get us a soda to share."
"You don't have to do that," he said.
"I want to. You stay here and put your room back together, unless you want housekeeping going through your underwear." She nodded to a spot on the floor and Chuck's gaze followed to where a pile of his boxers had been dumped on the floor. He felt himself blush from his neck to his hairline.
"Yeah, good idea," he squeaked and she hurried out of the room. Chuck rushed over to start collecting his underwear and didn't notice Katie rush past the window in the opposite direction of the vending machines.
"That was really stupid, White. I mean, what, are you new?" The door to the room had been left ajar and Lizzie Shafai's voice traveled easily on the night air. "I mean, what did you expect her to do, ask you to join her for a mani-pedi? At least you would get a discount."
"Shut it, Lizzie." The name dripped with disdain as it fell from Alexis' tongue.
"She's right, Alex, it was stupid. If you had let us know what you were doing, we could've found a way to stall them or something."
"I don't work for you, Edgar," she spit.
"Still," Lizzie said. "It was stupid."
"Yes," came a cool voice as the hotel room door opened and a Katie stepped inside. "It was stupid, White. What were you thinking?"
"Oh, you want to go another round blondie?" Alexis moved toward Katie and Edgar took her arm and held her back. Katie merely crossed her arms and looked back at her with contempt.
"Enough of that," Lizzie said stepping forward. "Did you find it?"
"How could I with you three lurking around?" she demanded. "I'm trying to earn his trust, get close to him. This takes time but it's what I'm best at."
"I'll just bet it is," Alexis sneered. Katie ignored her.
"I'll find the intel and whatever it was that Jill was guarding for Fulcrum, but you three need to back the hell off."
"We are the ones who've planned this," Alexis said harshly. "We are the ones who've been working on this project for the last five years! Now she wants to come in, reap all the glory and hang us out to dry?"
"Don't be stupid, White," Katie said. "If we don't find the Intersect before the CIA or NSA do, then we won't be seeing much of anything, let alone glory. Now, I still have the luxury of walking away, but you three…" She sat primly on the chair near the window, crossed her long legs, rested her folded hands on her knee and smiled widely at them. "Just make up your mind; he's waiting for me."
Alexis growled and Lizzie rolled her eyes but Edgar crossed the room to stand in front of her. "I'll give you twenty-four hours, after that we're going to do it our way."
Katie's eyes darkened for a moment but her smile didn't falter. Behind Edgar, Alexis cursed in anger and stormed out the door, slamming it behind her.
"Well, at least she closed it this time," Katie said. She stood to her feet and went to the door herself. "You might want to pay attention to that. Wouldn't want just anyone walking in, now would we?" She looked each of them in the eye and then slipped silently out the door.
Chuck was setting the desk chair to rights when the connecting door to Katie's room opened. He swung around, hands coming up defensively, though he was pretty sure he'd be completely useless in a real fight. He relaxed when he saw Katie leaning against the frame with a bottle of Dr. Pepper in her hands.
I didn't know what you liked," she said, waving the bottle gently, "So I took a guess."
"A good choice, though I do tend to lean toward the grape."
"Ew, that's like Kool-Aid," she said, making a face as she walked toward him.
"What can I say, I'm still a kid at heart," he shrugged, his grin widening as she handed him the pop.
"Just drink it," she said with a smile and moved to sit on the bed. He did as he was told. The sugar and caffeine was surprisingly soothing as it hit his system.
"Feeling better?" she asked.
"Much," he said, sighing as he collapsed into the chair he'd just set right. He leaned toward her, offering the pop and she accepted, taking a small sip and then running her finger around the rim.
"So," she began but she was interrupted when the phone next to the bed started to ring.
Chuck looked at it and frowned. "That's weird," he said, crossing to it. "Who would be calling me but not use my cell phone?" he lifted the antiquated receiver to his ear. "Hello?"
"Hello, Mr. Bartowski, this is Alexis White," a cool, feminine voice said through the phone. Chuck recognized the name so he didn't need the clarification she offered next. "We met in your room a little while ago?"
"I know who you are," he said, trying to sound much more confident than he felt. "What do you want?"
"Oh, you know what I want, Mr. Bartowski. You know exactly what I want. Now, tell me, is Franco still there?"
"I'm sorry?" Chuck asked, completely lost now.
"The woman I had that little scuffle with before. Franco. Is she still around?"
Chuck turned and fixed his eyes on Katie. She was watching him. "Who is it?" she asked.
"Um… yeah, uh huh."
"Oh, let me guess, she's in the room with you?"
"Well, don't trust her; she's been playing you from the beginning," Alexis said, clearly relishing her news. "She's after the info, just like the rest of us."
Chuck gripped the phone as the dial tone sounded in his ear. Finally, he pulled himself together enough to set it down.
"Well, who was it?" the stranger on the bed asked. "What did they say?" Chuck just stared at her for a moment.
"They - it was the office, they wanted to know if I needed a wakeup call."
She frowned. "That's weird, they've never called me."
"Yeah," Chuck laughed nervously. "I think that girl at the counter has a crush on me." What? Are you stupid, that was lame!
She scowled at that. "Who? The brunette?"
"I don't really remember her hair color; you know what, I'm really tired." He yawned and stretched his arms over his head to prove his point. She blinked. "I gotta head out to Burbank tomorrow and see if I can get my old job back at the Buy More."
"Oh," she said standing to her feet. "I guess it has been a crazy day. We should get some sleep." She came forward and gave him a hug and he tried not to stiffen at her touch. Even with the doubt creeping into his mind, she felt good and that tingle of fire still ignited where her skin touched his.
She pulled away and smiled. "And remember, if you need me, I'm just right next door. You can bang on the wall."
"Yeah, yeah, real… real close. Well, see ya."
She paused at the outside door, looking back at him with a little smile. Out of sight, her finger pressed a small sensor to the door's edge. "Night," she said and was gone.
Chuck just stood, staring after her, panic rising in his chest. It wasn't true. It couldn't be true… but it was awfully convenient… how they met, and how she found him, how she knew so quickly about Jill… no, no, coincidence. And, she could've googled him and found his business. He chewed his lip as he tried to think clearly. How could he find out the truth?
Realization dawned and Chuck scrambled to pull his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed the first of the two numbers Mr. Bartholomew had given him.
"Mr. Bartholomew, hi, hi, it's me, Chuck, um Mr. Bartowski," Chuck said, trying to control his train of thought. There was a grunt of response through the phone. "Um, from this afternoon."
"Do you have any idea what time it is, Bartowski?" came the man's gruff voice at last and Chuck felt himself begin to calm.
"Yes, yeah, I'm sorry it's just that," he swallowed and looked toward the connecting door to Katie's -or whoever's - room, which was still ajar. He moved away and cupped his hand over the phone. "I think there's someone else, someone who's picture you didn't show me today. She said her name was Katie O'Connell, but it's not, it's Franco."
"Someone else?" Bartholomew said, and Chuck heard rustling on the other end of the phone. "I've never heard of this O'Connell person. Meet me – where are you?"
"Santa Monica, the uh, The Twilight."
"Alright, meet me at Rummy's on the pier. It's by the arcade." With mocking in his voice he added, "I'm assuming you know where the arcade is."
Chuck rolled his eyes even though he knew Bartholomew couldn't see. "I know Rummy's, I can be there in about 15 minutes." Bartholomew's response was a grunt and the click of disconnection. Chuck looked at the phone. "I just don't think that guy was hugged enough as a child," he said quietly.
At a noise from the other room, Chuck spun around toward the adjoining door. Looking around as if someone might catch him, he moved quietly back across the room, stooping down to peer through the crack into Katie's room. He held his breath when she came into view. She looked just the same, long-legged and gorgeous. She sat on the edge of the bed and unzipped her boots, slipping them off one by one and setting them neatly on the floor. She couldn't be one of them. The very thought seemed completely wrong. She stood to her feet and Chuck started feeling like a peeping tom as her fingers took hold of the edge of her blouse. He started to move away but stopped as the hem of the turquoise silk lifted past her waist, revealing the shiny and very large pistol tucked into the waistband of her dark jeans.
"Oh my god," he breathed and she turned in his direction, her head tilted as if to listen. Chuck clamped his lips together and backed slowly away from the door, trying not to make a sound.
Once he felt he'd moved a safe enough distance not to be caught, he threw himself into the desk chair and let his head fall into his hands. For a moment he just sat there, berating himself for his idiocy. He'd gone from one lying woman to another. Could he be any more gullible?
Setting his mouth into a grim line, he stood to his feet and grabbed his wallet and phone from the desk, shoving them into his pockets. He opened his hotel room door as quietly as possible and crept out, checking the walkway in both directions before heading toward the stairs. He'd just reached them when he heard Katie's door open and he turned to see light from her door spilling into the night. He ran down the stairs and out into the street where a small group of taxis sat waiting. He scrambled for his wallet as he approached the first one.
"I'll give you fifty bucks, right now, if you'll just take off and drive in that direction," he said hurriedly, waving a chunk of his quickly diminishing cash at the driver and pointing north. The man shrugged took the money and put his car into drive. "Hurry up, c'mon." He glanced at the exit stairwell anxiously and hurried away.
Katie reached the bottom step in time to see the cab pull away and speed off into the dark. She frowned, darted an eye to the parking lot in the opposite direction, and then hurried to one of the remaining taxis. She hopped into the back seat and leaned forward, holding out a bill for the driver to see. "Follow that cab," she said.
The driver snapped the bill from her fingers. "What the lady wants, the lady gets," he said and maneuvered his car out on to the street to comply.
Once they had gone around the corner, Chuck stepped out of the shadows where he'd taken cover, his face a mix of hurt and determination. He climbed into the one remaining taxi and leaned against the seat, feeling weariness seep through him.
"Take me to The Pier please," he said and closed his eyes