Chuck Versus the Airline

By Steampunk . Chuckster

Summary: When two strangers miss the same flight, the airline offers to put them up in a hotel until the next available flight...but there's only one room. With no other options available to them outside of sleeping in the airport terminal, they're forced to just accept it. But will it be as bad as they think? Hijinks ensue. Charah. AU.

A/N: This is based off of something real that was in the news and I couldn't resist making a short fic out of it. An airline stuck two strangers—a man and a woman—in the same hotel room after they missed a flight and when they got to the hotel room, there was only one bed. Someone retweeted it and mentioned fanfiction, and I was like (evil laugh), so here it is: my version of Chuck and Sarah being stuck in that awkward situation.

Disclaimer: At this point, it should be clear, but I'll say it anyway. I don't own Chuck. I don't own its characters. I'm not making money.


It was supposed to be easy.

But a lot of missions were supposed to be easy, and something always managed to throw a wrench in the proceedings and make shit difficult.

Apparently this mission would be no different.

She handed her identification to the TSA agent. "Pretty windy out there today, huh?" she asked, making small talk because it made the fact that she was eyeballing her tail a little less obvious.

"I wouldn't know," the agent muttered, looking at the passport and yawning. "Have a good flight, miss."

Something told her this guy didn't care whether she actually had a good flight or not but was just going through the motions of a repetitive job. She spared just a moment to wonder if she'd be able to stand a TSA job like this, checking boarding passes with IDs and passports, one after the other, an endless stream of it for hours on end. It'd be safer than her current job, that was for sure. This guy didn't have to worry about being stalked through an airport, at least. And she imagined he got good benefits. And at the end of the day, he'd go home to his cat and watch TV. (She'd seen the cat fur on his uniform.)

Part of her wanted to be in his shoes. But a bigger part of her was a little addicted to the adrenaline coursing through her as she realized she was being followed by someone, someone who'd had the foresight to purchase a boarding pass to follow her past the security point. Would he follow her onto the plane, too?

Did he know what her mission was and he was planning on stopping her?

Or was he just a creeper?

He was too good to be a random creeper.

But how'd he find out about her mission? She'd been given this assignment by the director himself, and then he'd cut off communications altogether. It was one of those if you get found out we can't help you missions. It wasn't her first—it wouldn't be her last. If Interpol and MI6 knew the CIA was going behind their backs to dispose of Irving McClocken, a human trafficker with crime rings all through the Southern states of the U.S., without traversing the proper channels, it might start an international incident. McClocken was both American and Scottish. She was to follow him into Miami, find his base of operations, gather incriminating evidence, and leak it to MI6 anonymously. Once MI6 was ready to act, they would pull CIA in on the arrest, and they'd be none the wiser that it was the CIA that had illegally gotten the evidence that sunk the bastard.

She was on her own if she was caught, though. And as terrifying as it was, this was just part of the job. Also part of the job? Sinking a shit ton of money into getting a first class ticket for this flight so that she could keep an eye on McClocken.

She needed to get on the flight without a tail, however. And there was really only one way to lose a tail, she'd found in the decade since she'd been recruited into the CIA while she was still in her senior year of high school.

The agent made a hard right, going in the wrong direction towards the exit. It would spit her out back on the bottom floor where she'd have to stand in line and wait to go through security again, but she didn't want this guy to know which flight she was getting on.

Checking her watch, she decided she had time for a wild goose chase.

As long as she played her cards right.

And Agent Sarah Walker was really good at cards.

}o{

"Attention passengers. Due to strong gusts on the airport tarmac at O'Hare, we've been advised not to land on schedule. We will be pulling up to the gate an hour later than we planned. We're very sorry for the inconvenience, especially those of you who have connecting flights..."

He didn't hear the rest of the pilot's spiel because he stuck his headphones back in his ear, blasting The 1975 into his brain as he slumped forward and let his head thunk into the seat in front of him.

The passenger in that seat spun and gave him the evil eye as he pulled back, holding up his hand in apology. "S-Sorry."

He winced to himself and looked out the window. Who would have thought that the "windy city" would have a lot of wind? He was pissed that he hadn't practiced more oversight about the flight the Buy More Corporation purchased for him to get to this dumb conference in Miami. They'd gotten him a cheaper flight that made a stop in Chicago.

And he should have known.

Flights going through Chicago always ended up having issues. Maybe it was weather, maybe the airports were just cursed there.

Either way, he should've known better than to let them book this flight.

He was stuck, though. And there was no use in fretting about it.

And so he stayed in a place of semi-zen until the plane finally landed and pulled up to the gate. He was one of the last people off of the plane because they'd also bought him a seat towards the back, the assholes.

Which forced him to have to make a decision. He could sprint and maybe make the connecting flight to Miami. Or he could resign himself and not expend the energy for something he didn't even want to really do in the first place.

Who really wanted to go to a Buy More conference? And in Miami?

But because he couldn't shake the guilt, the second he cleared the tunnel, he burst past the already tired passengers waiting to board their own late flight and sprinted all the way across the airport.

He just had to hope that if he made the connector flight, his suitcase would too.

It was a high hope, he knew.

But he had to hope.

}o{

He took his shot when she came out of the bathroom, just as she'd planned.

She led her stalker down to the women's restroom around the corner from the abandoned luggage claim carousels. It was a ghost-town in this corner of O'Hare, as she'd hoped.

She needed to end this now and get back up to that flight with McClocken.

So she'd washed her hands, checked to make sure no one else was in the restroom and might walk out and witness what she was about to do, then she steeled her spine and flicked out the CIA-issued non-metal knife she'd snuck into her jacket sleeve that she could sneak past TSA security and onto the plane.

She held it in her palm and pushed the door open.

The second she cleared the door, she felt the arm slip around her neck, and just like that, she slashed his forearm open with the knife. He yelled and fell back, away from her, as she spun and landed a kick to his jaw.

He flew back and landed on his shoulder hard, grunting in pain, but he was on his feet just as quick.

This time with a gun in hand.

Shit.

How had he gotten a gun past security?

"Who are you?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?" he snarled.

"Yeah. S'why I asked."

He was shorter than she was, dark hair slicked back, probably to cover a growing bald spot on his head, his shoulders broad, body strapped with sinew. He wasn't going to be easy, most likely. He moved fast. And she saw some intelligence flashing in his dark eyes.

She shifted the knife in her palm, careful not to get his blood on her. She needed to get on that flight without bruises, without cuts, and without blood on her clothes. Damn it.

"Why are you following me?"

"You're following him. I'm just making sure you don't catch him."

"You and what army?" she snarked, before she went in, ducking under his swinging fist and slamming her shoulder into his gut.

She didn't stop until he was pinned against the wall. But before she could jam her knife into his ribcage, he brought an elbow across to hit her jaw, another fist coming around to knock her weapon out of her grasp.

She cursed, making to dive for it, but he caught her by her ponytail and yanked her back so that she hit the floor hard. Trying to catch her breath, she rolled as he brought the gun up, making a desperate kick up to catch his wrist. The gun went sailing through the air and landed on the other side of the carousel.

What kind of idiot thought he'd get away with shooting someone in an airport? It was loud, messy.

And damn it, she needed to get rid of him and get back to that flight. Quick. This had gone on for too long now. And shit, she realized belatedly, maybe that was his goal. Let McClocken's plane take off without her on it.

She'd fallen into the trap too easily.

He was on top of her then, his hand coming down and clasping around her neck, immediately squeezing hard. Maybe he didn't just want her to miss McClocken's flight. Maybe he was legitimately trying to murder her.

Not today, mother fucker…

She slammed her knee up, hoping it made contact somewhere that hurt, and when she felt a crunch at impact, his body convulsing over hers, she realized she'd hit a bullseye.

He squeaked in pain and rolled onto his back, grabbing his groin with both hands.

And she scrambled across the floor to grab her knife again. He dove after her and caught hold of her foot just as she closed her fingers around the hilt. And she swung her arm back, missing with her swipe, but catching him off-guard enough that he let go.

They wrestled for a while, each trying to get the upper hand. And she finally managed to swing her legs around to crush his throat between her thighs. He choked, his face turning red as he struggled, trying but failing to pull her legs apart.

And when he flicked his eyes up as if he'd seen someone, his bulging eyes bulging even more if that was possible, she lost her concentration for a second, thinking they'd been caught and she'd be in a pretty difficult position. She couldn't exactly say she was CIA. The agency wouldn't be backing her up this time.

He'd played her for a fool, though. No one was there.

She'd loosened her grip just enough that he got free, snagging her hand and forcing her own knife towards her chest.

She pushed back, grunting with the effort, the blade a mere inch from her heart. She grit her teeth, pushing, pushing...He was too strong, though. It was getting closer…

She had one last chance, an idea that may or may not work.

And she wrenched her hands to the side, twisting both of their wrists. She felt the snap of his own wrist as the knife turned to point up at him. And then she shoved with every ounce of strength she had left.

The knife sank into his torso, just under his ribcage, and she flipped them over fast to keep his blood from spilling onto her clothes.

Sure, she was wearing all black, but still…

He went limp, finally dead, and she took her knife out of him, wiping it on his pants before slipping it back into her sleeve. She'd have to clean that more thoroughly later, maybe on the plane.

The plane that she needed to make.

"Shit!" she snapped. She couldn't just leave him to bleed out here. Acting fast, she grabbed his arms and dragged him, glad he wasn't leaving a bloody trail thanks to her getting him onto his back.

When she reached the carousel, she sat him up against the side of it, climbed onto the belt and hoisted him up with her. Then she shoved him through the rubber flaps, jamming at his body with her boots to get all of him hidden behind it, before she rolled off of the carousel and slumped to the floor for a second to catch her breath.

The gun!

Where had she kicked the gun? She couldn't just leave it for some kid to find.

She leapt over the carousel, standing tall and casting her gaze around the floor. She glanced at her watch and realized she only had fifteen minutes to get back up through security and make it onto that plane.

"Fuck!"

There it was. She saw it, lying on the floor a few yards away. She lunged for it, her boots skidding, snagging it, and sprinting back to where she'd stuffed her stalker and would-be murderer's body.

She couldn't leave her fingerprints here, she knew, so she wiped the gun with her jacket as best she could, then tossed it in with him, running back to her bags where she'd dropped them by the bathroom, grabbing them, and hauling ass back to security.

It didn't matter how hard she ran, though, because she hit a brick wall. Or, to be exact, a line of fifteen or so people waiting to go through security.

"Fuck," she snapped under her breath.

"Yeah, you an' me both, lady," the elderly man in front of her said over his shoulder in a thick Chicago accent.

Of course she was in the line with the elderly woman oh so slowly combing through her purse to find her phone to put in the basket, and OH I need to take off my double-knotted sneakers? I had no ideaaaaaa let me just do that at a glacial pace…

The whole point of this mission was staying under the radar, so it was with great effort that she kept herself from just leaping up onto the x-ray machine, dodging people's dumb bags, and leaping down on the other side to sprint to her gate.

She'd get stopped and arrested before the plane took off anyway, she knew. But it would also draw a lot of attention. Which was exactly what she couldn't do. So she waited, and waited.

And waited.

Until she finally got through, grabbed her boots, her bag, jacket, and phone, and sprinted like a bat out of hell to get to her gate. She shoved a businessman blocking her path while yelling on his phone and didn't stop until she got to the check-in door, but it was shut. Not only was it shut, the plane was already pulled out and moving towards the tarmac where it would take off.

Without her.

And Irving McClocken was sitting in there somewhere.

Her chance of pulling this assignment off just got pulverized. To smithereens. She was watching it take off and leave her behind. Everything just got that much harder. And she wanted to punch a hole through the stupid window.

Maybe she could go back and find out if that fucker's body was still there and she could kick it a few more times.

Trying to take some deep, calming breaths, she moved over to a nearby chair and sat, pulling her boots back on, shrugging her jacket on, and fixing everything in her bag that had been jostled by the dropping and sprinting.

There was no use in rushing, no use in charging the flight desk and yelling at them. That plane wasn't coming back. She would just have to get another flight to Miami.

That didn't make the anger and frustration subside though.

It sat in her chest like a giant, heavy bubble that made her want to tear one of these stupid waiting chairs up from the dumb tiles and throw it through a window.

However, she calmly stepped up to the desk and waited for the woman behind it to look up at her.

"Yes, ma'am, how can I help you?" Sarah tried not to imagine slapping the polite smile off of the woman's face. It isn't her fault. It isn't her fault. It isn't her fault.

"Hi. Yes, I got caught up at security and that...that plane that just left? I was supposed to be on it."

The woman's face fell a little. "Oh, I'm very sorry for the inconvenience. It was at security, you say?"

"Yes. It was going very slow. I made sure I got here early and everything," she lied. "But I need to get to Miami as soon as possible. If there are any other flights today that I can squeeze onto, I'd really appreciate that."

The woman nodded. "Let me see what I can find for you. Can I see your boarding pass, please?"

Sarah handed it over right as a huffing and puffing man skidded to a halt at the desk beside her.

"Hi! Hi," he panted. "Sorry. I just ran...pretty much the full length of this airport. It's a big...a big airport," he rushed out in a breath. "And I'm really...I don't exercise enough. Sorry. Sorry, that's neither here nor there. Lemme just…" He held up a finger and bent over, one hand on his knee as he tried to get his breath back.

"Raise your arms over your head," Sarah muttered, and he turned to look up at her, his eyes wide. "Over your head," she said again, demonstrating half-heartedly.

"Oh! Oh...yeah… Right. Thanks!" He straightened to his full height which was...tall, needless to say, and he lifted his arms up over his head, flattening his palms on his dark curly hair and taking deep breaths. "That was my plane that just took off," he said to the customer service agent. "The, uh, the flight to Miami," he explained. "My plane was supposed to land an hour ago but couldn't because of the wind...the wind gusts. Crazy wind gusts. So I tried. I sprinted here. But…"

"Sir, I'm very sorry," the other customer service agent said in her best sincere voice. "The weather is just one of those factors we can't control."

"Yeeeah. Us mere humans," he drawled, shrugging.

"Would you like me to find you another flight to Miami?"

"Yes… Please, thank you." He leaned his elbows on the counter. "I also … er, I was hoping I could get my bag. I doubt it had a chance to get on that plane if I couldn't make it. Not that I'm Usain Bolt or anything."

The CIA agent snorted to herself as she eavesdropped.

"Of course, sir. I'll make sure we get the bag back on the carousel with the rest of the passengers from your flight who weren't headed to connecting flights." She smiled and started click-clacking on her keyboard.

"All right, it seems the next available seat is on a flight that leaves at four-fifteen PM..." The spy turned back to her own customer service agent.

"Oh! Wow. That soon? I can do that…" It was almost three o'clock now.

"Tomorrow afternoon."

The CIA agent gaped. "That's not...four-fifteen PM today?"

"No, ma'am. Tomorrow. Every other flight is full. We can put you on standby but this close to a holiday…?" She winced and shook her head.

"A-Are there two seats on that flight? If I could get on that flight, that'd be awesome. I'll take what I can get," the tall guy who looked to be up shit creek along with her said.

"Yes, sir. We had a cancellation from a party of two. Any preference on the seat?"

Agent Walker turned to regard the man, raising her eyebrow. Suddenly, this had become a joint effort. "Um...no?"

"I'm good," he muttered, clearing his throat and turning back to the employee. "Just...whichever one."

Sarah's helper then brought her attention back with a, "Well, that's taken care of. You'll be on tomorrow's four-fifteen flight. And, as an apology for your missed flight, we're going to find you a hotel room to stay in overnight. A lot of planes are being grounded do to an incoming storm, so it's slim pickings." The woman gestured towards the chairs. "I'll find you a hotel and call you back to the counter when I've booked everything. Feel free to take a seat while you wait."

"Thank you."

Sarah tentatively moved over to sit down, watching the desk as the customer service agent picked up the phone and began making some calls. The tall guy was still leaning in, talking to the woman who'd been helping him.

She was screwed, she knew. Maybe the mission wasn't a complete failure just because she missed the flight. Once she got to Miami, she had some intel that would help her locate McClocken again. It was just going to be a lot of effort, a guessing game in a lot of ways. She'd done it before, she could do it again.

But still.

"Fuck," she breathed, watching as the man smiled and moved away from the desk. She was almost worried he would sit next to her and strike up a conversation. He seemed like the friendly type, a talker. And she really didn't want to deal with that right now.

But instead he walked right past her and sat a good twenty feet away, going into his pocket and pulling his phone out to make a call.

Thank God, she thought to herself.

And at the same time, she was really missing the perks that came with being an intelligence officer, such as being able to call Director Graham and tell him what happened, having the CIA fix it all for her, cover expenses, make sure she got to Miami in a timely enough manner that she could track McClocken down faster.

But she wasn't a CIA agent at the moment. Technically, she was. But if anyone asked, she wasn't. She couldn't be. And that meant not using the number she'd memorized by heart by now—what with all the burner phones she'd gone through, she had to memorize important numbers.

She was stuck. Alone.

She had to get through this by using her own money, her own resources.

}o{

"Will passenger Sarah Walker please come to the assistance desk at Gate L7? Sarah Walker to Gate L7. Thank you."

He glanced up from his PSP and watched as the insanely gorgeous blond woman who'd missed the same flight he'd missed stood up from her seat and went over to the desk, fixing the strap of her bag on her shoulder. She looked like she'd had a rough one. Something he would never say out loud to anyone ever. But she looked frustrated, tired, even a little pissed, though he had to give her credit for not biting the airline employee's head off after the shitty happenstance of missing a flight. She was being polite even though he imagined she'd had someplace important to be, considering how upset she'd seemed at having to wait a whole thirty hours for the next flight to Miami.

And he tried not to assume much more than that.

Suddenly her brow furrowed and she dropped her chin, looking through her eyelashes at the customer service agent. Whatever she said, he couldn't hear from where he sat, but she said it very slowly. The agent nodded and went back to her phone as the blonde stood and waited, rolling her eyes to the ceiling as if asking a higher power for help.

He could relate.

Then again, missing the first day of the four day Buy More conference sounded like a good deal if he was really honest with himself. All of those horrible ice breaker exercises… God, it sounded like hell on earth.

"Will passenger Charles Bartowski come to the assistance desk at Gate L7? Charles Bartowski, Gate L7."

He popped up to his feet and shrugged his backpack on, strolling over to the desk and leaning against it. He smiled at the woman who'd helped him earlier. "Hello again, Wanda. What've you got for me?" he asked. She'd been booking him a hotel room as well for his trouble, just like the other agent had been doing for the blond woman beside him.

"I'm sorry, excuse me, what?" He blinked and turned to see that said blonde had tilted her head, her eyebrows surging up so high they were nearly at her hairline. "What?" she asked again. "I'm sorry. I need you to repeat that. I'm not sure I heard it correctly."

"I said that we've only been able to find one available room, and since you'll be on the same flight tomorrow, we are asking if it would be at all possible for you to share the room."

Chuck's jaw fell open and he stepped up close to the blond woman's side, narrowing his eyes. "What? One room...for both of us? You mean, one room each right?"

"No, she said she wants us to share a hotel room," his fellow passenger said slowly.

"No, we're asking if it's at all possible. It's a nearby hotel and we'll provide a shuttle ride to the hotel this afternoon and back here again for your flight tomorrow," Wanda said, still smiling. He wondered if this woman had worked at a Disney park before this. And then he silently scoffed at himself. She was an airline employee. He wasn't sure if that wasn't worse than working at a Disney park. Travelers were assholes.

"This is all there is?" he asked. "This one room?"

"We'll make sure your bag is brought directly to you, Mr. Bartowski. We have it ready and waiting downstairs."

He felt like they were being railroaded into agreeing to this insane prospect.

"I'm not with him," the woman tried, gesturing between them with her thumb. "We're not...traveling together. We can't. We can't stay in the same room. I don't—I don't know him."

"If you feel unsafe, we can—"

"Unsafe?" she asked, interrupting Wanda. She then gave Chuck a look he didn't much appreciate, very obviously sizing him up. "Trust me, I'll be fine." Wow, okay. She spun back to the agents. "There has to be some sort of company policy against forcing a woman and a man who aren't traveling together, don't even know each other, to stay in the same hotel room when they've missed a flight."

"There isn't," the woman who'd been helping her said. "But we won't book it if you're uncomfortable. Plenty of passengers prefer staying in the airport terminal until their next flight and you're more than welcome."

That felt almost a little passive-aggressive now, he thought to himself. And he wondered if the blonde agreed with him. The way she raised her eyebrows made him think did. And a large part of him thought maybe he should let her handle it and see what happened. She didn't seem like much of a pushover.

"If you're right and that's the only available room thanks to this storm grounding a bunch of planes or whatever, I'm going to need some extra incentive. Drink vouchers, food vouchers, something. Because I have never heard of anything this heinous, sticking two strangers in the same hotel room."

"Ma'am, we wouldn't normally do this, but it is the last room. Now it's already booked for you, the airline will be covering your overnight stay, and we will provide food and drink vouchers for both of you, absolutely."

Chuck leaned in a little. "We get food and drink vouchers? …Er...How much?" His fellow passenger turned and gave him a look like Really? He shrugged.

"Ten dollars for food, ten dollars for drinks."

"Each?" he exclaimed. Then he turned to the blonde. "Ten dollars for food and drinks. Each." He shrugged, unsure of how they could pass that up. But then he realized what this must feel like for her. Staying in a hotel room with a strange man she'd never met before, overnight… That was legitimately uncomfortable. God, if Ellie'd been in this situation, he'd be pissed off and worried. "Listen, why don't, uh, why don't you just take the room?" he finally offered, as much as he regretted that he wouldn't have access to a shower. "I did Boy Scouts for, like, a week when I was in the fourth grade, so I think I can handle staying in an airport overnight."

The blonde gave him a surprised look. "You're letting me have the room?"

He nodded. "Sure. Yes."

}o{

Sarah gaped at the man beside her. He'd really just offered her the whole room, a free hotel room she wouldn't have to share with any super tall strangers who may or may not be threats. Well, honestly, she'd been a little rude, but he really couldn't be much of a threat. Not to her. It was still insane that the airline thought it was at all kosher to do this to its passengers.

When she slowly turned back to the two customer service agents who'd been helping them for the past thirty or so minutes, she saw unmistakable looks on both of their faces. If she accepted this man's offer and made him sleep overnight in an airport, they'd think she was the biggest asshole on the planet.

But this was insane. And she voiced it out loud.

"This is insane." She shook her head. "I'm not...going to force you to sleep in an airport terminal. We can make this work. It's...one night."

"Are you sure?" he asked. And she had to give him credit. He was asking her sincerely.

"Yes! It's fine. One night," she repeated again. It was really just one night.

"Right. Just one night. No big. We come back to the airport tomorrow and get on the flight. Easy-peasy!"

"Exactly."

After they worked out their accommodations with Greta at the desk, the woman who'd helped Chuck turning to aid another passenger, they silently made their way down to the baggage claim area. A different one from where she'd stuffed her stalker's body, thank God.

An attendant was waiting with the man's suitcase and handed it over to him, before they ambled outside and across the busy roadway to the shuttle stop.

"At least we don't have to pay for a taxi, huh?" he finally spoke up after almost fifteen minutes of blissful silence.

Sarah just smiled a bit wanly and nodded. She was tired and annoyed.

"I'm just glad I'll have access to a shower tonight. That's really the only gripe I'd have with sleeping in the airport. No showers. I hate falling asleep feeling...dirty you know? I dunno, I can like...feel the day on me." He shivered.

She just narrowed her eyes at him a little, studying him. Huh. Interesting.

Just then a parking guard walked up to them. "Sorry, folks, but the shuttles are experiencing some heavy rush hour traffic and we won't have another one pulling in for forty to forty-five minutes. I'd suggest you get comfortable, or there is the ride share option." He gestured over to the ride share pick-up area yet another hundred or so feet away, across yet another heavily trafficked road. "I'd suggest that. The wind's pickin' up again."

He strolled off as she turned to face her apparent roommate, really kind of done with this entire day.

"Are you freakin' kidding me?" Chuck groaned, letting his head fall back. "How's a ride share getting through the traffic but not the shuttles?"

"They're nearer probably, not caught in the worst of it," she huffed. "They drive around on the airport grounds waiting for their app to flare up, I'm guessing," she said, wiggling her burn phone.

"Let's do it." He tugged his phone out of his pocket then. "Listen, it's more blustery out here than Hundred Acre Woods and I'm not feelin' it. These curls and this sensitive skin does not handle wind well. Also it's cold."

She smirked. "You really aren't dressed for Chicago, are you?"

"Nope." He tapped a few things on his phone. "There. Called a Lyft. They'll be here in seven minutes. Don't worry about the fare, either, I got it. Listen, in California, we don't do the whole...weather thing."

That made her snort, even through her frustration and exhaustion. "You have weather in California, just...not as much variety."

"It's not torture like this is."

Sarah smirked and shook her head, pulling her jacket tighter around her. She could feel the storm coming, definitely. And she'd really like to get inside of a hotel room before it hit. Granted, she thought they had a few hours or so. It'd probably hit sometime later on in the night. And hopefully she'd be sleeping in a nice comfortable bed so that she could be refreshed and ready the next morning. She had a lot of planning to do so that by the time she got to Miami, she hit the ground running. There would be thirty lost hours to make up for.

Their ride share finally pulled up and the driver leaned across the passenger seat, rolling the window down. "Charles?" he asked in a thick Chicagoan accent.

"That's me. You're Martin?"

"Yap! Get in the car!" He grinned in a very friendly manner and Sarah was not liking the prospect of sitting in a car with two incredibly talkative people. Although, she thought maybe they'd just latch onto each other and leave her alone.

She discovered that was exactly what they did.

And she also discovered that the hotel was a good fifteen minute drive away from the airport, not as close as freaking Greta said it would be. And now this Charles guy was paying for their long drive out of his own pocket.

"So California, huh? Boy, I've never been. But it seems beautiful. Never seen an ocean, just lakes. Always lakes," their driver—Martin—was saying. She'd never seen a man over sixty wear a backwards baseball cap but she supposed there was a first for everything.

"Your lakes are so giant up here that they're basically the ocean, though, right? You can't see the other side."

"S'true. Sure. But California. Palm trees. Sandy beaches for miles and miles…"

"You'll get there," Charles said, the smile on his face bright and genuine. It made his nose wrinkle a little. "I've got faith in you, Martin. Someday, you just gotta buy a plane ticket and go. Just go!"

"I might just do that, Charles."

"Chuck," her companion said, reaching forward with his hand so Martin could reach back and shake it. "My friends call me Chuck."

"Well, Chuck, nice to meet ya! What brings you two to Chicago?"

"A missed connector flight."

Martin winced. "Oh, that's not good."

As the two kept talking, Sarah settled into her corner of the backseat and just watched the man named Chuck apparently chat with the Lyft driver. She didn't notice that the grumpy edges to her mood were slowly softening as she watched him. He was just...kind. And warm. It wasn't something she was really used to seeing.

And maybe that was on her.

She didn't exactly surround herself with great people.

She didn't surround herself with people.

And in spite of the aches and pains that were starting in her body from the fight she'd gotten into with the man who'd tailed her at the airport, some of her hesitance and inherent urge to keep this guy at arm's length was wearing down. Again, it wasn't something she was really picking up on, as focused as she was on the way he used his hands when he talked, even though Martin was sitting in the seat in front of him and therefore couldn't even see his hands.

But then they started talking about science fiction movies she'd never heard of, robot aliens and American astronauts landing on planets that were inhabited by only women. It sounded ridiculous, but his excitement was palpable, filling the entire car.

"Okay, but The Day the Earth Stood Still has a message, you know? It has a resounding message about humanity."

"Baaaaaah," Martin grumbled, waving Chuck off with a hand. "Who needs a resounding message in a scifi movie about aliens taking over the planet? Just gimme the visuals of Forbidden Planet! It's scifi, for shit's sake! S'posed to be fun!"

Chuck shook his head vehemently. "Nooo, no. That's what science fiction has been since...the beginning! Since Jules Verne. There's always some sort of political or social statement in there. Like...a world we should be striving for. Inclusivity. Or...or saving the planet. You know? Environmentalism. Anti-racism, or-or anti-fascism."

"Well, we're just gonna have to agree to disagree on that. I'm about the visuals. The crazy robots, the bleak Martian landscape, the space ships, the weird suits they wear."

Chuck held his hands up in surrender. "All right, all right. We'll agree to disagree, Martin. I'm cool with that."

God, his nose really wrinkled all the way up when he grinned. She shook herself and turned to glance out of her window.

She was starting to notice the discomfiting thoughts she was having, the easing of her brittle mood, the softening around the edges, the way she really had to fight to stay grumpy about the entire situation.

And she didn't much like it.


A/N: There are a few more chapters to this. And when I say a few I mean JUST a few. Hope you enjoyed this first part. Please leave a review! Thanks!

-SC