A/N: Look at me posting all quick-like and things.
I do have a request for this chapter. Go onto my tumblr (victorianoir . tumblr . com) and take a peek at the SteamVerse soundtrack submission for today. It's the overture from Bizet's Carmen. It will really give you a feel for the first chunk of this chapter, considering that's what the orchestra is going to be playing. It's madness and brilliance. I think you'll enjoy it.
Thanks as always to anyone reading, reviewing, and using other forms of communication to let me know how you like this story. Love you all!
Summary: In 1776, George Washington declared himself King of the United States of America and began turning a new nation into the United States Empire: expanding to the west, amassing colonies and gaining power. Over one hundred years later, the government's secrets are at risk and a new way to keep them safe must be created. When those secrets are accidentally brought to inventor and toy maker Chuck Bartowski's doorstep, his future becomes uncertain as his life fills with adventures, hardships, and even a bit of romance.
Disclaimer: "Chuck" is not mine. Its characters are not mine. Though they might as well be, considering how often I think about them.
When last we left our favorite con artist, she had just discovered that the toy maker is being held captive by the assassin Harold Nooman in a private box in the audience! The overture has begun and his life is in immediate danger! Will she save him in time?
Chuck followed Harold Nooman up the stairs that led to the third floor, staying a few dozen feet behind him so as not to trigger the man's suspicion. But when he reached the top, he found the hallway completely empty. He hadn't been that far behind, had he?
He saw a row of curtains that had to lead into the private boxes, and he was absolutely certain that the assassin was behind one of them.
But which one?
He strode forward, his shoulders set in determination, intent on his goal—so intent, in fact, that he neglected to see the shadow to his right until he felt a stinging pain behind his ear and was sent to the carpeted ground in a heap. He groaned but wasn't allowed to gather himself even a little before he was hoisted back to his feet. The shiny barrel of a pistol was pressed hard against his temple suddenly.
"You wanna tell me why you been followin' me, son?" Nooman growled, his eyes flashing dangerously.
"Following—? Sir, I just want to find my seat. I'm sorry!" Chuck attempted, not having to act all that much because he was shaking like a leaf. His eyes lowered to his cane, lying on the ground more than five feet away. That was the only weapon he had allotted to himself. And now he regretted not having kept a better grip on it.
"You been followin' me since I got 'ere. Now, who're you? Who you workin' fer?"
"N-Nobody, Sir. I swear, I just want to sit in my box!"
"You lyin', snivelin' piss pot. Yer gonna tell me right now."
"ACK!" The man slammed the butt of the pistol against Chuck's head, sending him crumbling down the wall until he sat in a heap, blinking rapidly and grabbing at his head. His addled brain thought for a moment about how proud the bounty hunter would have been of the apparent hardness of his skull, considering the toy maker had received two blows now and hadn't been knocked unconscious yet.
"I ain't got time fer this," the snake-like voice muttered quietly but with plenty of impatience. The fist clutched in the shoulder of his jacket tugged him forcefully down the hallway and towards the curtains of a private box. "I got business to take care of, and I don't need nobody interruptin' it. So you gonna sit down in my box and be quiet. I see you do anythin' sneaky-like an' you die. Clear?"
Chuck waited for Nooman to push him against curtains before he turned his head over his shoulder and glared, a sudden spike of courage coming from somewhere unknown. "Though I have a feeling you'll be killing me either way, Mister Nooman."
If he was going to die anyways, might as well make it count…
"Get yer snide ass in'ere," he growled, moving the curtain aside with his gun and shoving Chuck through, before following a moment later. "Sit down in that chair'n shut yer trap. Or else."
Without retort, Chuck Bartowski sat in the chair closest to the railing, feeling the hard steel of the pistol poking into his back.
The overture was about to begin, as the warning bell had been rung a few minutes earlier. Chuck could think of nothing that might save his life at this point. He tried not to feel foolish for dragging himself into this situation. That wouldn't help anything. And perhaps if he died, the Prussian ambassador might live.
No. That was a stupid theory. There was a rifle leaning against the corner of the box. The moment he was dead, Nooman would take cover, lift the rifle to his shoulder and kill Albrecht Huber. It would be over in a moment.
Because he was a naturally observant person, even during times of peril apparently, he cast his eyes over the audience. None of them knew that they were going to be a part of history tonight. They would be in the opera house the night Albrecht Huber was gunned down in his private box, during the overture of Bizet's Carmen.
A man stepped out from the curtains and a bright light shone on his face, causing him to squint for a moment. He received loud applause as he swept his incredibly tall top hat off of his head and bowed modestly, holding a hand up. He raised a closed fist to his lips and Chuck realized the man was holding one of the newer models of voice megafiers. They were much smaller now, apparently. The Buy More had gotten a small stock of the first model and they sold out by the end of the month.
"Welcome, welcome! I'm Ulrich Rettinson—" Another cheer erupted from the floor seats. "Simmer down, simmer down."
That was all Chuck heard of his opening speech, he was so focused on the faces of the others in the boxes. The women with large hats sitting in the front of the mezzanine. The little boy draped over the upper balcony railing. Would he be traumatized for the rest of his life from seeing the Prussian Ambassador's head explode like a science experiment?
Chuck looked away and shivered, suddenly finding himself wishing he hadn't run away when he did. Maybe Sarah was the Ice Queen, and maybe she was dangerous, but she had never posed him any threat. That wasn't true. When they had fled from Sarah's home in Los Angeles, leaving Casey bound on the floor of her bedroom, she had told him about all of the weapons she kept on her person. It had been a threat. But even now, he knew it was an empty threat.
Maybe if he had stayed, if he had listened to her and opened the door…
And where was she now?
He wondered if wherever she was, she might hear about what happened to him. And in spite of everything, in spite of all of his confusing feelings where she was concerned, and not knowing whether she was a criminal or ill-meaning—He couldn't help but wonder if hearing about his death would…affect her in some way. He would settle for anything, really.
Chuck wished for there to be some way he could see her face one more time. It was a wonderful face, filled with so many emotions, in spite of the mask she tried to hide behind. And her eyes—That was where his biggest problem lie. Even with the flash on the Ice Queen, the bodies he had seen…unmoving, cold…Chuck couldn't dismiss those blue eyes. They were so expressive, filled with things he wasn't sure she wanted him to see. There was something more to Sarah Walker that the government didn't know, something a flash could never tell him in a million years. And as dangerous as she might be, he wanted to find out what that something more was.
He would never get the chance now. And he wished he had a way to jump back to this morning, so that he could know then what he knew now. To be sure, he would rather die any other way than being shot in the back by an assassin right before the same assassin took out the amb—What in hell fire?
There was a cellist sitting down in the orchestra pit who looked almost exactly like John Casey. When the man turned his face towards him, Chuck had to bite down on his lip to keep from gasping. It was John Casey.
He must have followed him here somehow…
And he didn't know Casey knew how to play cello. A multi-talented bounty hunter seemed like something of a rarity.
Chuck shook his head a little. That didn't matter.
What mattered was that John Casey was sitting down in the orchestra pit, most likely trying to find him. How he got out of his predicament in the hotel room, Chuck didn't know. And what happened to Sarah?
What if he could somehow get Casey's attention? Maybe that would work. If he did get Casey's attention, that meant the gig was up. Chuck might survive Nooman, but then he would be on the first zeppelin to Langley where he would become an experiment, probed and prodded. Was that any better than dying here in the next few minutes?
The answer was a resounding yes.
Going with Casey meant he had time. And time meant there could be a chance for him to extract himself from Casey's care. There was a chance he might escape. Casey had no idea that Chuck was the Intersect, unless he had somehow tortured that information out of Sarah Walker. But that thought was too chilling to dwell on for long.
He had to get Casey's attention without alerting Nooman. The moment he let out a peep, the gun at his back would blast a bullet right through him and all would be lost.
Chuck looked down to the orchestra pit where he saw the familiar scowl of John Casey, spitefully watching his stand partner pluck the strings of his wooden instrument. If he didn't feel the uncomfortable jab of a pistol's barrel against his lower back, he might laugh at the disdain on the bounty hunter's features.
Nooman cursed softly, just a breath, and Chuck realized the man must be nervous. While he felt no pity for the assassin, he was incredibly curious. What brought a man to believe murder could solve his problems, or society's problems, or whatever problems he might be attempting to solve?
"You know," he breathed over his shoulder. "You don't have to do this."
A scoff sounded behind him.
"We can both walk out of this right now and everyone survives."
"Shut yer trap."
There had to be a way to get Casey's attention. He seemed to be the odd man out, not just because of his surly features and bulky frame that stretched the crisp black tuxedo he wore, but because everyone else had their instruments out, while his cello case laid at his feet. He wasn't taking out his cello, which could only mean that he didn't want to open his case. There was no cello in that case. It was a weapon. Chuck had no way of knowing what weapon, but he guessed some sort of rifle. Casey could see almost the whole audience from down there. If he had a rifle, he could take it out and shoot…Chuck? Was that his intention? To kill Chuck from the orchestra pit?
It didn't matter. He needed Casey to see him.
If the tide wouldn't turn, Chuck would have to force it a little.
Maybe Casey would try to shoot him, miss, and hit Nooman instead. That would be rather fortuitous. But then he saw the bounty hunter reach over and fiddle with something on his partner's stand. Chuck bit his lip to keep his mirth from bubbling over when he saw John Casey the bounty hunter bump the stand with his elbow and tipping it, sending the sheets of music fluttering to the ground. Another stand tipped, and another, until there was a mass of people rummaging around on the ground of the pit, knocking each other's instruments and cursing.
It was a stalling tactic. A brilliant one. Especially considering the way it stopped the man on the stage from continuing his speech. He made a small joke about hired help and earned a laugh from the audience (along with a glare from the conductor), then finished his speech and let the maestro pick it up from there.
This was his only chance to get Casey's attention, he realized, as Nooman distractedly leaned forward to watch the hubbub in the orchestra pit.
Chuck quickly tugged one of the buttons of his coat until it snapped off into his palm, his movements silent and cautious in order not to alert the assassin behind him of his actions. He pulled two more off and and palmed them as well. Then he peaked over to the box next to him at a thin, heavily dressed patroness. Her face was caked with powder and rouge. The perfect target.
Perhaps he would luck out and she would be a screamer.
He set one of the buttons on the side rail next to him, moving his arm stealthily. Then lined up the other two next to it. He leaned forward a bit to obstruct Nooman's view, then raised his arm and flicked the first button straight into the painted woman's box.
It pelted against her cheek hard. She made a chagrined sound and clasped a gloved hand to her face, looking around and pulling on her male companion's sleeve. He shrugged her complaints off and laughed with his friends at the confusion still going on in the pit.
Chuck followed their gaze and saw that Casey had somewhat separated himself from the scrambling musicians, his eyes scanning the audience, one hand on the cello case.
The toy maker leaned forward again and flicked another button at the woman, bouncing it off her bare shoulder. This time, the woman wailed, tugging on the man beside her and pointing wildly in Chuck's general direction. Chuck pursed his lips in feigned innocence, folding his hands on the railing and looking down into the audience.
This distraction wouldn't last for much longer, Chuck knew, and he had one last chance to get the bounty hunter's attention. One last button.
He had to make this count.
He leaned forward and made a point to aim this time. "Sorry, lady," he whispered through his teeth, flicking the button purposefully. It ricocheted off of the woman's lip and shot straight into her mouth. She choked loudly and leapt to her feet. Chuck suffered acute guilt as her husband jumped up, outraged by her embarrassing antics until he realized she was pulling another man's button from her mouth.
Chuck spun to look down into the orchestra pit as the ruckus in the box beside him crescendoed into an outright explosion.
Two piercing blue eyes raised from the pit and met the toy maker's brown ones. Chuck didn't have time to congratulate himself, or even to feel fear once the bounty hunter discovered him. Instead he widened his eyes meaningfully and jerked his head a little to alert Casey to Nooman's presence. He mouthed "He has a gun" slowly, then flicked his gaze to the assassin, before slowly looking across the auditorium at the Albrecht Huber's box.
Curling his lip, Casey looked at Chuck's companion, then turned to glance over his shoulder. When he met Chuck's gaze again, he nodded silently, then leapt to his feet, his cello case in hand. In a moment, he had disappeared beneath the stage, Chuck had no idea where to. But hope leapt in his breast, enough to send another shot of courage through his veins.
For just a moment, he thought he and the bounty hunter were on the same side. That was good enough for now.
The overture began in a rush, then, the maestro apparently attempting to calm the masses down by forcing blaring music on them. But it did nothing but create more havoc.
Nooman was startled by the woman beside them, blinking up at her as she screeched and howled about hating the opera, hating public places, hating the San Franciscan riffraff they let anywhere these days.
The toy maker took a deep, calming breath, gathered all the courage he had in him, and slammed his elbow back, connecting with something hard. Just as the cymbals crashed.
He spun and thrust his other fist out, his knuckles grazing Harold Nooman's throat. It was just enough, though. The assassin's gun hand swept up, the muzzle pointed away from Chuck, and the toy maker grabbed his attacker's wrist tightly.
His eyelids fluttered then, as a wave of dizziness overcame him, and when he blinked his eyes open again, he caught a fist flying at his face. He knocked it away just in time, but felt the man's weight fall forward against him.
A clammy hand went for his throat but Chuck thrashed enough to knock Nooman back against the railing of the box. With a skill Chuck didn't know he had, he brought his foot around and kicked the gun from Nooman's hand, sending it skittering across the box and out of the assassin's reach. Another fist connected with his mouth, busting his lip, but then he swung his own fist around and clobbered his attacker in the nose.
Blood spurt over the wall, but Nooman still climbed over him, the blood dripping down his face. A hand grabbed Chuck by his hair and shoved his head into the ground so hard that his vision exploded into an array of bright lights. He tried to channel whatever it was that had saved him at first, but felt its powerful grip on him fading fast. The assassin's other hand squeezed his throat tightly, not for the first time today, but Chuck refused to give up, bucking against his attacker wildly.
The hazy red curtain in his peripheral was suddenly jostled and an elegant heel shot out from a mass of skirts. Chuck was suddenly free of the pressure of the other man's weight on his chest. He heard two thumps and a quiet groan, then the rustle of said skirts before a familiar face hovered over him.
"Chuck!" Sarah Walker's soft fingers were on his face as he choked a little. "Dear God, talk to me. Are you alright? Chuck!"
What in God's name was she doing here? Where had she come from? And how had she known he was here? Did she know about John Casey being in this building? Did she know how much danger she was in?
Her arms were under his back then, and she was so close, hoisting him up from the ground to prop his back against the wall beside the curtains. Was all of this really happening? Or was he dead? Had the gun gone off and killed him instantaneously, and now he was in some sort of strange purgatory?
Or was this really happening? He fought against an assassin and somehow disarmed him. And Sarah Walker was here, saying something to him, her face so close to his, her hair coiffed just so with little escaped wisps of blond framing her beautiful face and her eyes concerned and vibrant.
"Sarah?" he whispered in a soft breath.
"Are you alright, Chuck? Blink or nod or something." She clutched either side of his jaw and lowered her head so that she could look into his unfocused eyes.
He clamped his mouth shut, nodding a little erratically. "I-I'm fine. I'm fine. He-He…" He swallowed thickly, pointing at Harold Nooman's unconscious form. "That's him. That's the assassin. That's—"
"I know, Chuck. You found him. We have to go, though. Now."
"We can't just leave him here. He can still kill Huber."
She looked up at the ceiling, seemingly practicing some forbearance. "Trust me, he will be unconscious for a long time. Plenty of time for the ambassador's men to get him out of the opera house. We have to leave. Now."
"We have to take Nooman in," he argued.
"Why are you doing this?"
"I came here with a purpose," he said, feeling his lip smart as he spoke but ignoring it. "And I'm not giving up now."
She stopped and stared at him, and in a moment of candidness, she swiped her thumb under his lip. "Can you stand? Is anything broken?"
He shook his head and she clenched her jaw, determination shining in her eyes. God, she's so pretty.
"Good. Then get over here and help me get this bastard upright."
Chuck blinked once, then scrambled to his feet with Sarah's help. "Well, what are we going to do? We can't just carry him out like a sack of potatoes."
"Follow my lead." A handkerchief was thrust into his hand then. "And wipe your face as best you can." Chuck did so quickly, ignoring the sting.
She knelt at Nooman's side and sat him up with a grunt, then turned, meeting Chuck's gaze again. Her blue eyes were intense beneath her long, dark lashes. "And Chuck?"
"Hm?" He knelt on Nooman's other side and looked into her eyes.
He gathered up all of the fear he had been harboring about this woman, the questions and worries and assumptions that had been plaguing him ever since he flashed on the Ice Queen and escaped from the hotel room, and he figuratively tossed it over the railing to land in a heap somewhere below. Maybe trusting her again would come back to bite him. But at the moment it felt fantastic. There was time enough for talk.
A grin blossomed on his face as he hoisted Nooman's arm over his shoulder. Sarah seemed a little stunned for a moment, but then she shook her head and they stood together, the assassin hoisted between them.
They walked him through the curtains, swaying a bit beneath his weight. He noticed Sarah's embarrassed look as they passed a few audience members smoking in the hallway. The men raised their eyebrows and chuckled amongst themselves as Chuck and Sarah hauled the assumedly drunken patron along.
Chuck inwardly smirked. Whether Sarah Walker was all of the other things she had been accused of remained to be seen, but one thing was for certain. She was damn well brilliant.
"What now?" Chuck asked softly between his teeth, passing it off as a toothy grin at passersby.
"We get him out of here," she breathed back. "Can't go one bloody night wit'out drinkin' hisself ta death," she growled loudly in a perfect cockney accent. "Can't even let me 'ave one nice fancy night, Pa. Ma's gonna 'ave ye skinned'n the likes when we git to the 'otel."
Chuck saw that people were making way for them, laughing at the spectacle. And because he knew he would only make things worse by opening his mouth, he kept it firmly shut. It helped that his lip stung awfully, and he pushed it into his shoulder just in case it was still bleeding.
Walking around with a bloody lip would certainly not help their ruse along.
As they made their way past the usher, Sarah's upset over her "Pa" and his drunken state getting them all the way out onto the steps, Chuck felt the adrenaline start to wear off. His limbs were aching, especially in the frigid cold night air, and then he caught Sarah's piercing eyes. "You're a fool, Chuck Bartowski," she hissed through his teeth. "You know that?"
"I've been called worse," he shot back. "And I'm not entirely sure I know what you are," he added.
"Later," she said softly.
And suddenly Casey was striding towards them with his cello case, his eyes wide and furious.
"Sarah, look out!" Chuck nearly dropped Nooman's body in an attempt to grab her arm and pull her away, but then she stepped aside and let Casey take her place holding Nooman up.
Chuck gaped for a moment.
"Come on, ya idjit. Let's go!" Casey growled, and Chuck had no choice but to comply, his brain working a mile a minute.
Casey and Sarah were working together? Were they both bounty hunters? Were they after the Intersect? Did Bryce know about them? Had they both been hired by his IEL agent friend?
What the hell is going on?!
The fog had officially obscured just about everything past ten feet in front of them and Chuck couldn't help musing on how accurately that represented his own mind at the moment.
"Damn it. Damn this wasted city and it's damn cold fog," Casey growled. "Now what? What do we do with 'im? What the hell are you two af'er bringin' 'im out here like this?"
"He almost killed Chuck," Sarah argued. "And he was planning to kill the ambassador. What would you have me do, Major?"
"Leave 'im on the damn floor!"
"That's what I wanted to do, but someone insisted we take him."
"I didn't say I had a plan, though," Chuck interceded defensively. "You said 'follow my lead' so I assumed you had one."
"My plan was to get him out. You were supposed to do the rest!" she hissed through her teeth.
Her face was close, her eyes swirling in frustration and her jaw clenched. Chuck really had nothing he could say at that moment.
"Fine," Casey spat, shattering the strange connection that had occurred between them in that moment. "We tie somethin' heavy to 'is ankles an' drop 'im in the bay."
"What?!" Chuck snapped, getting a crick in his neck as he swung his eyes around to stare at the man over Nooman's drooping head.
"Easy as pie."
"No!" Chuck hissed. "No it is not easy as pie. Pie is a delicious, wholesome thing that is for eating. And I am not about to stand by and let you compare it to drowning a man in the San Francisco Bay!" He looked around. "And where the damn hell are we even going?"
He hated how completely he was in the dark at the moment, and everything in him hurt, even his face. All over his face. And it was cold. And there were so many secrets still.
"What d'you think, Moron, we jes' walked here? We got a carriage."
Chuck felt a gentle hand on his back and he turned to glance over at Sarah beside him. She didn't meet his gaze, but her eyelids flickered and he knew it was by conscious effort that she kept her eyes facing forward.
They finally reached the carriage and opened the door. It took a long time, but they eventually wedged the assassin into the cab. Casey slammed the door hard, and when Nooman's head was in the way, he pushed and shoved until it clicked shut. Chuck winced. "You'll break his neck! What's the matter with you?"
With a nonplussed shrug, the bounty hunter gestured at the carriage. "Where we takin' 'im, then? To the bay?" He seemed to get a kick out of his next words, a small smile on his face and a sparkle in his eye. "I kin find me a nice big rock an' tie it to ol' Harry's toes. Drag 'im right to the bottom."
"We're not killing him," Chuck growled through clenched teeth.
"Why not? Ain't nobody gonna shed a tear over one less assassin in the world."
"Just wait a minute," Sarah finally interrupted, pushing herself between them. She lowered her hand from Casey's chest, but left the other where it was, clenched in Chuck's vest. "Let me think."
Chuck could practically see the gears churning in her head as she glared down at the dirt ground beneath their feet. And then her head snapped up and she looked straight into Chuck's eyes. "We leave him at the patrol depot."
There was silence for a moment.
"Huh. That'll work!" Casey replied, facetiously upbeat. "'Scuse me, Copper, but here's this assassin the government's been lookin' fer. We just found 'im passed out in the alley way with all these bumps an' bruises all over 'im an' a busted nose. Great idea, Walker."
Sarah grit her teeth and took a deep breath. "We can leave him there with a note, or something. We don't have to show our faces."
"This wasn't a part of our deal, Walker."
Chuck frowned deeply. "What deal?"
"We're taking him to the patrol depot, Casey. And then we have our deal."
"What deal?" Chuck parroted.
"Fine!" Casey barked. "But you two's git to babysit the body! Now git in!"
Sarah used the hand still wrapped in his vest to force Chuck into the passenger seat in the cab of the carriage, following quickly and sitting across from him. She unceremoniously shoved Nooman onto the floor and left him there in an uncomfortable position, then she reached behind her and thumped three times on the ceiling of the cab with her fist.
The carriage jolted and moved along the road.
Chuck stared at Sarah for a moment. There were so many things he wanted to ask, so many things confusing him. What was this deal Casey mentioned? Were Casey and Sarah working together? And to what end?
"What deal, Sarah?" he finally asked. She raised her head from where she had been staring at her crossed arms and met his gaze intently. She looked unsure for a moment and he leaned forward. "Please don't lie. I'm begging you to tell me the truth this time. For once."
With a sigh, she nodded. "I told him I would cut him free if he helped me find you."
"Nnnnooo?" She winced a little. "It's rather complicated. I told him an awful lot of things to get him to help me find you."
"Like what, for instance?" he asked, feeling a little impatient.
"I know how this will sound, Chuck, but I need you to trust that I'm telling you the truth even though I lied to him. I lied to him an awful lot." She wrinkled her nose sheepishly and Chuck dropped his head into his hands. "I told Major Casey that I'm using you to find Bryce Larkin just like he was planning on using you."
"To find Bryce?" He shook his head in confusion. "I don't know where Bryce is, and you told me you don't either. Or was that also a lie?"
"No, it wasn't. I have no idea where he is. And neither do you, but Casey doesn't know that."
"Not yet, anyway," Chuck murmured, letting his head fall back against the wall behind him, but he winced as he discovered a rather large bump there from when Nooman had slammed his head into the floor in the opera box.
"So what are we gonna do then?" he asked a few moments later, lowering his head again to peer at her.
Something strange happened in her eyes for a moment when she looked at him, but it was gone before he could make a study of it. And besides, he was too focused on her now angry glare directed at him. "Well, I was going to sneak you out of the opera house and we would be well on our way out of this fog-plagued city, but you insisted on dragging this load along. Giving our very own bounty hunter time to find us."
Chuck knew he was blushing and that she could see it even in the darkness of the cab. "Oh."
"Now we not only have to get rid of this body, we have to get rid of that one, too," she said, fixing him with a pointed look and throwing her thumb over her shoulder to indicate the man now driving them to the patrol depot.
"We could leave Casey at the patrol depot with a note, as well," Chuck shrugged.
She glared, but he detected a hint of nostril flaring and cheek biting as her eyes darted away from him. When she pursed her lips for just a moment, he knew he had almost made her laugh. That, more than anything, spurred him to come up with a plan. Because while the woman in front of him was a con artist, though that had not exactly been confirmed by the woman in question yet, while she had lied to him about it, and while he still had no idea what she wanted with him in the first place, Chuck could not help but trust her. Even though there were so many ways he might end up being burned.
"So…" She looked up at him when he spoke, a storm raging in her blue eyes, her brow furrowed in thought. "What do we do?"
"I might have a plan. But it's quite convoluted, so we haven't the time to delve into it just yet," she answered immediately. "First thing's first. We turn this one in at the patrol depot. And I suppose we figure the rest out then."
"Flying by the seat of our pants?" He paused. "My pants. You're wearing a dress."
"Very perceptive, Mister Bartowski," she drawled. "It is what I do best."
"Wearing a dress?"
He received another glare, though this time she couldn't quite keep in a small smirk.
"Chuck, stay in the carriage."
The toy maker really had no problem following the orders Sarah growled at him as she climbed out to the cold, wet ground and looked back inside at him. She fixed him with a steady glance and he nodded mutely.
"This shouldn't take very long," she had said, letting Casey reach in and retrieve Nooman's still unconscious body. It had been well over a half hour since Sarah had knocked him cold and Chuck wondered if the fellow might have acquired brain damage from whatever it was she had done to him.
But now the toy maker sat in the carriage alone, trying to figure out what he should do.
While he trusted Sarah for some reason he couldn't place, he still had no idea what her motives were. Obviously it had not been by chance that she had stumbled upon him in the alleyway in Los Angeles two months before. She was there specifically for him—the Intersect, to be exact.
But how had she come to know of its existence without first speaking to Bryce? And why would Bryce be in cahoots with a notorious criminal like the Ice Queen? He felt incredibly uncomfortable thinking of Sarah Walker as a "notorious criminal", but the things he knew from his flash on the Ice Queen…
He shook his head to stop from going too far down that path. She had done nothing to harm him yet and in fact even saved his life in the opera house. She asked him to trust her, but she was a master manipulator if she was the Ice Queen…
Burying his face in his hands, he felt muddled, addled, confused. And frightened.
Because John Casey was a major…a major of what exactly, Chuck couldn't even hope to guess. And he certainly didn't trust the bulky man as much as he trusted Sarah. Was he being a fool? Running away from the government instead of helping them to utilize something that could potentially…Potentially what?
Chuck had had enough flashes by now to know that the U.S. Empire was unscrupulous enough to use what he had in his head to amass more power, get a stronghold around the neck of the entire world…
Would the U.S. utilize the Intersect in such a horrible way? Maybe not…
Either way, Chuck wasn't sure what was worse. Being in the clutches of a nefarious con woman or those of a lawless bounty hunter on the payroll of a nefarious government. Because as often as Chuck Bartowski tried to be optimistic and look for the best case scenario, he was also realistic. And that meant knowing there was no way he would be able to escape this situation on his own. He needed one of them.
And he was choosing Sarah Walker, the maybe-Ice Queen.
Besides, she said she had a plan. A convoluted one, but a plan. And he wanted to hear what that plan was.
He heard someone cough once outside of the carriage, somewhere a few yards away.
Chuck gently stuck his finger between the drapes drawn over the carriage window and eased them to the side so that he could peek out.
A man was slowly moving down the street, a rifle hanging by a strap at his back, his wool hat pulled over his head and ears. His large, heavy boots thumped against the cement with each step and smoke drifted up from his face where a cigarette hung from his mouth.
It was a patrolman. Moving in the same direction that Sarah and Casey had gone not two minutes before. That meant that if he turned the next corner, he would see Sarah distracting his fellow patrolman in front of the depot building. Worse yet, he would see Casey with a limp body slung over his shoulder.
They had scoped the streets around the patrol depot and found only one patrolman on duty in that area. He had looked to be young, around the same age as Chuck himself if not a year or two younger. And Casey had made the comment that they should be careful with him—he would be eager to prove himself, eager to move up the ranks. That meant he was probably easily excitable. All of these patrolmen were. Unruly, looking for the next skirmish, made powerful by the long rifles slung over their backs and the badges sewed into the inner linings of their coats.
The young ones would be the worst. Untrained, jumpy, nervous…
And that was why both Sarah and Casey had admonished him to stay in the carriage while they disposed of their assassin charge.
Sarah's task was to distract the young patrolman with…Well, Chuck didn't like to think with what. Perhaps they would chat about the weather. But with the way Sarah had adjusted her bodice and skirts before setting off with a burdened Major Casey in her wake, Chuck wasn't sure weather would be on the docket.
He had no right to have feelings about that either way, so instead he focused on the rest of the plan.
While Sarah distracted the patrolman, Casey would sneak up behind, set Harold Nooman's unconscious body nearby, and disappear. When he was in the clear, Sarah would extract herself from the lawman's company and they would meet back at the carriage. The point was for the youth to stumble upon Nooman's body and the note they stuck on his person at some point during his patrol of that particular street. Nooman would be in custody, the youth would get a promotion, and Chuck, Sarah and Casey would be off doing…
Well he still hadn't heard Sarah's plan, damn it.
The patrolman walking down the road did in fact seem to be following Sarah and Casey.
Chuck pulled back from the window and shut his eyes tightly, taking a deep breath, before opening his eyes and clenching his jaw in determination. He knew almost nothing about Sarah Walker and John Casey, outside of the fact that they both wanted him for some purpose or another that he still wasn't very clear on. And he knew that if he just stayed here and let the patrolman stumble upon the pretty con woman and the major, there was a chance both of them would be in grave danger of being arrested or shot on the spot, depending on the patrolman's mood.
For a split second, Chuck thought of what that meant for him. He would be free to escape and leave this city to be on a train bound for home.
But it wasn't right.
He couldn't let that happen.
She had lied to him repeatedly, and he had no way of knowing what was real about her and what was not, but Sarah Walker had saved his life. She protected him. There was sincerity in her pretty features when she told him she might have a plan.
And if that wasn't enough, he thought of the sound of her laughter when they had danced at Mother Harriet's by the sea all those weeks ago, and how he wasn't sure if he had been breathless because of the dancing or if it had been the sight of her wide, toothy grin as she had tilted her face up towards him.
The thought of never seeing that grin again, the light going out of her stormy blue eyes…
He wouldn't let anything happen to her. The fear of Sarah Walker coming to harm was what finally prompted him to step out of the carriage and quietly shut the door behind him.
Chuck set a calming hand on the horse's nose as he passed by, then followed the patrolman, his gait easy and casual.
"Excuse me, sir?"
The shorter man spun and peered at him with wide eyes from behind his clunky brass goggles. The suspicion in his face was evident as the leather-covered fingers of his right hand curled around the butt of his rifle. "Bit late to be out and about alone, kid."
Kid? You're only a few years older than me! Chuck wanted to say. But instead he shrugged and stopped a few feet away. "I had the late shift. Say, I had a bad day. Lost my matchbook. Wondered if you had a light."
The patrol's eyes drifted down Chuck's figure, apparently taking in his state of dress and deeming him some sort of gentleman, and perhaps therefore not worth the suspicion. "I might just," he answered with a short nod, going in his back pocket for his own matchbook.
Chuck began going through his pockets with a boggled look on his face, checking outside of his coat, inside of his coat, his trouser pockets, even going so far as to unbutton his coat and look in his suit jacket. It took him over a minute, the patrolman losing his patience within the first five seconds.
"D'you need a light or not? I ain't got all night," the patrol growled.
"Of course not. I'm terribly sorry. You have a beat to patrol. I know how that is. I was in the—"
"Listen, I don't have time a chat. Either you need it or you don't."
"I've just…misplaced my pipe."
With a grunt, the patrol put the matchbook back and walked away.
Chuck panicked. "Wait! Wait, I'm sorry. I just…" He caught up to the patrol who gave him a weary, suspicious side-eye. "It's been such a long day and I'd really love a smoke. Do you have an extra stick on you, by any chance?"
The patrolman turned his head, took the cigarette he had been smoking between his fingers, plucked it out of his mouth and blew the smoke straight into Chuck's face. "Go to hell," he said in a silky, deep growl. Chuck coughed a bit and backed up, watching as the lawman clenched the cigarette between his lips again and sauntered off.
Chuck blinked. He had to stop this fellow from seeing whatever was happening around the corner at the end of the street.
The toy maker gathered his courage and hurried after the patrolman again, moving to dart in front of him and block his way. "So sorry to disturb you again, but would you know where the closest smoke shop might be?"
"Look, kid. You don't leave me be, I'll show ya to the nearest morgue and you're gonna be wearin' a sheet, ya get me?" His long finger jabbed Chuck in the ribcage. "Now back off!"
"Sorry, sorry." The young man held his hands up and took a step back. "I can find out on my own. Thank you anyway."
He was ignored then as the patrolman finally turned the corner. Chuck followed once more and stuck his hands in his pockets, looking as far down the street as the darkness let him. He saw something shift in the shadows as Casey stepped out of the alleyway about thirty paces down the street. Harold Nooman's body was draped over his shoulder. And not another fifteen paces away from there stood the youth lawman with his back to them, Sarah looking up into his face and smiling that smile of hers that tended to light up a room, or in this case, the entirety of Market Street.
Chuck scrambled in front of the patrolman, blocking his way again and putting his hands out. "Wait! Wait, wait. I thought—"
"Get the hell out o' my way!"
A hand covered Chuck's face and he was pushed backwards roughly, stumbling and landing hard on his behind.
"The hell are ya, some kind o' nut? God damn! If you—" And then the patrolman's gaze lifted and fastened on something behind Chuck. He took only a moment to see Casey standing there with eyes wide as saucers, frozen in place with Nooman still hanging limply over his shoulders.
Chuck's head whipped back around just in time to see the patrol flip the rifle off of his back, poise it against his shoulder, and take aim. The toy maker flew up from the ground with surprisingly fast reflexes and wrapped his hand around the barrel. The rifle's muzzle was pointed away from Casey's chest by the time the patrolman pulled the trigger, but that didn't save Chuck from getting an elbow to his jaw. He hit the ground hard, shaking his head a little, dazed and blinking the stars from his vision. When he looked up, the patrolman was reaching into his coat. His hand came out clutching a pistol.
So this was it.
This was the way he died.
He braced himself for the impact of the bullet hitting him, closing one eye as he turned his head away a bit, his hands raised beside his head. Suddenly there was a blur of movement, a dull thump…and the pistol that was supposed to kill him clattered to the ground near Chuck's boots.
He clambered to grab it while watching as Major John Casey twisted his hand in the patrol's coat lapel. "Say goodnight, ya bastard."
Casey's other fist slammed into the man's face. Chuck heard a crack and thought he saw the goggles covering the man's eyes splinter from the punch.
It was only when Casey turned back around to look down at him that he realized he held a pistol in both hands. As he glanced down, he felt his hands and arms tremor violently. The impact from holding onto the rifle when it went off had done something to the nerves in his arm, and hell, he was still holding a loaded weapon.
He yelped and tossed it away, ignoring Casey's request not to throw said loaded weapon.
Chuck looked up, still shaking.
"You okay, kid?"
Casey's hand was outstretched, in front of his face. All Chuck had to do was reach up and take it. He was still alive. He had thought that was it. But John Casey saved his life. And now he had to get up and…
He blinked up at Casey again, not quite able to place where her voice was coming from until he felt her hands on his shoulders, her fingers squeezing tightly as she fell to her knees and half-collapsed against his back. "Is he hurt?" she asked near his ear.
"Mm mm," Casey answered, reaching up to scratch behind his ear. "Think he's in shock."
Chuck looked down at his shaking hands again and suddenly Sarah was there in front of him, kneeling close, her hands wrapped around his and holding them so very tightly. "Chuck, are you alright? Were you shot?" Her steady blue gaze swept over him. She was so calm and it was beginning to wash over him in waves. She felt so warm, holding his hands, strands of her blond hair falling over her face, having escaped the fancy chignon she had had it in for the opera.
"Course he ain't shot. He's just in shock. I told you," Casey growled testily. "Think he had his hand around the barrel of the rifle when it went off an' it rattled 'im some."
Sarah sent a scathing look up at Casey, then turned back to Chuck. "Why didn't you stay in the carriage?"
Chuck finally found his voice. "I was in the carriage! But h-he was walking by and I knew if he turned the corner he would see Casey with Nooman and—"
"You can explain later. Right now, we're only a block away from the patrol depot and that rifle was damn loud," the major interrupted. "An' now we got three unconscious individuals." He still sounded incredibly grumpy. More so than usual even.
Sarah surged to her feet and the two of them helped Chuck to his. "Least we can do is put them all in the same place, I suppose," she panted, turning around to look down the street. "I'll get mine. You two take care of this one," she nudged the boot of the lawman Casey knocked out, "and the assassin."
Three unconscious individuals?
Chuck spun to see Sarah thrusting her arms under the youth patrolman's armpits and dragging him back towards them. "What happened?"
She grunted. "I had to knock him out before he shot you or Casey. He certainly meant to. God damn trigger happy bastards, these lot are," she finished, hoisting the youth so that his back was leant against the wall by a leather smith's shop window. "Put the other two here. At least Nooman is still bound, so he won't get far before the other two wake up. Casey, does he still have our note?"
Casey bent down and patted the man's pocket. "Still here."
"Good. Line 'em up."
It took them only a moment to do that when suddenly there was the sound of approaching boots smacking against the wet ground. "We've got comp'ny!" Casey growled. "Let's go!"
The three of them rushed away from the onslaught of approaching patrolmen who had most likely rushed out of the nearby depot at the sound of gunfire. Chuck brought up the rear. Sarah's mask broke for just a moment as she looked over her shoulder at him, as though checking to make sure he was alright before she sped her pace.
Casey rounded the corner first, and Sarah spun, grabbing Chuck by his coat and shoving him the rest of the way before diving for cover after him as a loud bang sounded.
A chip of brick shot off of the wall as a bullet collided near her head, but she was unhurt Chuck was relieved to see as she popped back up to her feet. "Go, God damn it!" she snapped at him, roughly pushing him all the way to the carriage, then forcing him into it. "Casey, the hotel!"
"Yeah, easy fer you to say! You get to be inside this damn thing!" he growled with a pout as he whipped the reins and turned the carriage all the way around, going back the way they had come.
Chuck let out a sigh of relief, letting his eyes slip closed as he covered his face with his hands.
"You should have stayed in the carriage," Sarah said a few moments later, half sprawled over the seat across from him.
"If I had, you would both be in prison or dead. Judging by the piss-poor attitude of the fellow Major Casey downed, I'm leaning towards dead," he panted. He looked down at his hands again, taking a deep breath. They were still shaking, though significantly less.
The toe of her shoe snuck out from the heavy skirts of her dress and poked his shin. "Hey. You alright?"
He nodded. "I almost died. That sort of thing has a tendency to get to a fellow."
"I know. That's why I asked."
He nodded again. "I'm getting disturbingly used to these situations."
"This is you being used to—?"
"Alright. Laugh all you want," he interrupted moodily, blushing a little.
She smirked a little and was silent for a minute and a half or so, before she sat up and righted her skirts. She looked so graceful and dainty the way she did that, one eyebrow arched, even with her hair out of sorts and a faint smear of dirt on her chin. "Nevertheless, Chuck. We need to talk about what to do next."
His mood plummeted even further. He had nearly forgotten. "I know."
"Well," she chirped shortly. "He is going to have us back at the hotel in a few minutes."
Chuck sighed heavily. "Maybe we can talk then? I'd rather not talk just now, if it's all the same to you."
She watched him silently for awhile and he looked away, fingering the draperies over the window. Then he saw in his peripheral as she lowered her head and looked down into her lap. "Of course," she murmured softly. "Then we can talk."
A/N: You know those words never bode well for a relationship.
Hope you all enjoyed this chapter!
And Happy Chuckiversary even though it was yesterday! I'm grateful for all of your guys, you lovely people still reading my Chuck fic even two years after the show went off the air! You don't know HOW grateful! Thank you, all of you!