Summary: For a few days, Bryce lets himself pretend to be the guy who would've stayed friends with Chuck. It's almost a vacation.
Pairing: Bryce/Chuck (unrequited)
Remixed fic: Things Bryce Larkin Knows (http://futuresoon.livejournal.com/65425.html) by futuresoon
Notes: Written for RemixRedux08.
At twenty-six, Bryce Larkin knows more than most people. He knows how to disarm a Korean bomb, how to speak perfect Chinese with a slight Russian accent, how to pick handcuffs using a paperclip and the quietest ways to kill someone. He knows government secrets -- the ones he's supposed to know and the ones he shouldn't have found -- the expected etiquette at black-tie events and just enough about a range of subjects to follow almost any conversation.
Bryce knows what he's doing. It's dangerous but he'll bring Fulcrum down. He's going to do what he signed up to do (protect his country) and hopefully not die in the process.
That hopefully is the thing he's least sure of; it's the thing he doesn't know.
He does know how to treat a gunshot through the thigh: bandage it, then slink around his hotel room, swallowing painkillers and ordering room service; wait until he can walk without limping before he tries to escape the country.
Currently, he's lying on his ridiculously huge bed, playing World of Warcraft online. This is where knowing too much becomes boring, because he knows how to win. It's his third day of self-enforced detention and he's considering virtual suicide, just to start again and see if he can create his next invincible army in less than thirty-six hours.
Bryce is trying to find a way to force his troops to attack each other when the email comes. It's from firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s probably spam, but the subject line is in Klingon ('Today is a good day to die') so Bryce opens it out of curiosity.
So, um, hi, I guess. (Oh, this is Chuck. I should say that, right?)
I saw those defence tactics and something... It made me _think_ of you (if you get my meaning). So, um, email me back.
If you can.
PS -- If this isn't who I think this is, and you turn out to be some 14 y.o. gamer? Those moves were very cool and please don't report me as some online predator because I'm really not. I just thought you were an old friend from college. Honest.
Bryce grins. He knows he shouldn't reply -- safer for everyone, etc -- but he's bored out of his mind and half a world away. While Chuck may be sharper when it comes to computers, Bryce still knows enough to make any data left by the messages as anonymous as possible.
Just in case, he sends his reply in Klingon.
Aren't you supposed to be working?
Then he stares at his email and hits refresh three times, waiting for Chuck's reply.
I knew it was you!
And, yeah, I am. Working, I mean. I'm at work right now. We're having a 48 hour WoW Nerds vs Sales competition, which after the first 30 hours really means Morgan vs Anna. Morgan's good, but Anna's wearing a particularly short skirt and keeps bouncing on her toes with each victory, so I think the honour of the Nerd Herd is safe. It's good times for all.
What are you up to?
(Wait, am I supposed to be signing that C? Because B and C sound like we're starting an alphabet cult.)
Bryce is only halfway through reading the message -- trying to remember the employee photos on the wall at the BuyMore, to imagine technology-loving, too-smart-for-his-own-good Chuck surrounded by the collection of social misfits that make up his co-workers and having fun -- when a second message comes through.
Um, it just occurred to me that asking what you're up to might lead to... things you can't tell me. So...
Yeah. You know.
That's another thing that Bryce knows. He knows the half-shrug and sheepish grin Chuck would wear if he were saying that. He knows how Chuck would laugh it off, would roll his eyes or wave an arm, would bring up the repeat screening of the Terminator coming up this weekend. Bryce can almost hear Chuck's enthusiastic monologue on the new Sarah Connor Chronicles; he knows they'd end up comparing sci-fi girls with guns, debating whether Sarah Connor or Aeryn Sun would win in a fight.
Or they would have. If Bryce was in the same city or at least on the same continent. If Chuck's freshman obsession with Farscape had continued after Bryce got him kicked out of college. If Bryce was a different person, someone who didn't know how to hack into hotel servers and dress a gunshot wound, someone who had time to watch science fiction shows and spend hours discussing them.
It occurs to him that for the next few days, he does have time. And he's a spy: he's good at pretending to be someone he's not. He's good at using mixing truth with omissions.
Worry about the alphabet cult when our friends A and D join us.
I'm on vacation for the week. Enjoying the hell out of room service and pay-per-view. Trying to decide if I should watch Constantine or Stardust next.
He watches both, and enjoys them for different reasons. The pure cool-factor of Constantine cannot be overstated -- Keanu Reeves, demon hunting and a psychotic angel -- but there's something about the guy in Stardust that makes him think of Chuck, so he enjoys that a little more.
It's not like he's watching some fantasy romance and thinking of Chuck, he tells himself. It's not as pathetic as that.
But there's a certain wide-eyed innocence, a bumbling charm that makes him think of Chuck's easy grin and graceless stumbles. Bryce blames it on the Vicodin. He's twenty-six and he's over Chuck: over the unrequited crush, over the mortifying haze of infatuation where he noticed the curl of Chuck's hair over his collar, the stretch of Chuck's fingers on a keyboard and thought everything about Chuck was ridiculous and endearing. Bryce knows better now.
He knows that Chuck is a good guy -- the best -- that he's smart, caring and friendly. He's also an absolute dork, who will never be cool because he doesn't care enough to try, a bit of a doormat because he's too soft to mind when people take advantage in little ways. More than that, Bryce knows Chuck's off-limits.
He's been off-limits since Bryce was nineteen and none of that's changed. (Bryce doesn't need to remember the precise reasons to trust his instinct, to know that simple rule -- Thou Shalt Not Indulge This Foolish Thing with Chuck Bartowski -- is worth obeying.) Even a heavy dose of painkillers and a killer case of boredom isn't enough of an excuse to wallow in thoughts of Chuck as the gauche romantic hero.
But it's enough of an excuse for Bryce to open up his laptop and email Chuck.
So bored. So very, very bored.
I haven't been this bored since CLC280. (I should not be longing for that class.)
There are other things Bryce shouldn't be longing for. But he knows the rule.
Chuck replies and Bryce replies to that. Over the next six hours, they send several hundred emails to each other, most of them only a few sentences. It's a little bit like being undercover. There's research involved as Bryce uses Google and Wikipedia to follow some of Chuck's references (he's been a spy for the last five years; dodging bullets and running from explosions doesn't leave a lot of time for comics and movies), then faking an informed opinion.
It's a lot like being back at college in his sophomore year. Back when he knew Chuck was his best friend but didn't know the CIA was his future. That was when he'd walked in on Jill and Chuck kissing, Chuck pressed up against Bryce's Donnie Darko poster, his hands low around Jill's back, pushing under her ugly sweater; that was when Bryce got it. When he had the embarrassing realisation that he wasn't jealous of Chuck and his cute EverQuest playing girlfriend, but jealous of Jill. (Jealous that she got to kiss Chuck Bartowski, got to mess up that scruffy cheap haircut and hear Chuck make those half-muffled moans.)
He spends hours talking about trivial things as if they're life-or-death situations, like the best sandwich to take to a deserted island (BLT, clearly) and who played the best Batman (Michael Keaton).
Chuck argues: Dude, Michael Keaton? Have you not seen Batman Begins? Christian Bale hit the tortured Bruce thing on the nail.
Actually, Bryce hasn't seen Batman Begins. But for the next few days, he's promised himself a mental vacation from who he is, so he lets himself pretend to be the kind of guy who would've stayed friends with Chuck.
You can't ignore the classics. Michael Keaton owns that role. All who came after him -- mere shadows of his intensity.
The reply is near instantaneous. Please! Christian Bale makes Batman an understandable (if a little nuts) guy who is dangerous and hot.
Hot? Bryce replies, laughing to himself and opening a can of coke from his bedside table.
He's hot, man, you can't deny it. I'm secure enough in my masculinity to say that I would totally go gay for his Bruce Wayne.
Who else would you go gay for? Bryce types, and then stares at the screen, cursor hovering over the send button. He knows his own rule.
But this isn't breaking it. It's… creatively bending it. So Bryce hits send.
It takes a few minutes for a reply to show up. Bryce almost hesitates before he opens it.
Hmmmm. Good question.
Bruce Willis as John McClane, especially in the last Die Hard. I think I'd only go bi for him in the first three films. Attacking a helicopter with a car is damn sexy -- walking over glass barefoot just makes me cringe.
Bryce takes one stuttering breath, raising his hand to his mouth in surprise. Then he takes another breath and has no idea what to say. There is a rule -- a simple rule here -- and Chuck's not supposed to be the one to break it. He types out Chuck... and then blanks. Chuck's life is in enough danger because of him; he doesn't want to make it worse.
Bryce knows what he'll do. He knows because he already did it: act to protect Chuck. He remembers the anger and pain on Chuck's face as he stepped down the fraternity stairs, holding the last cardboard box of his stuff as he walked away from Stanford. Bryce never regretted how he acted. It kept Chuck safe, gave him the chance to live a happy life without gunfire and Korean bombs.
If he has to, he'll slap Chuck down hard and fast, make the rejection really sting, and this time he'll keep a safe distance between them. But he's saved by the arrival of another message from Chuck.
I refuse to be the only one damaging my heterosexual street cred. Come on, Bryce. Surely there's some actor you'd consider switching teams for.
The relief crashes down on Bryce. Chuck didn't mean him, Chuck meant it was time for him to contribute to the topic. (If there's a part of Bryce that's disappointed, it's such a small part that's been silenced for so long he barely feels it.) So Bryce does what a spy does best: he lies. He doesn't mention the guy from Stardust, the bumbling heartfelt type that Bryce apparently falls for.
Instead, he says: Keanu Reeves in Constantine. And possibly in the Matrix Trilogy. But not in Bill and Ted.
Chuck's reply (Dude! Bill and Ted were awesome! And I mean that in a completely non-sarcastic way.) doesn't surprise Bryce at all.
Two days later, he's healed enough to hide the limp as he walks. Bryce packs his suitcases, hiding unneeded passports and orders tickets. He needs to delete his temporary email account and wipe the hard-drive of his laptop but first, he sends a quick message.
Vacation's over. Hate to email and run, but I have to.
Bryce wants to add Take care or Look after yourself or even Trust Sarah - to do the mission well, she'll fall for you but he doesn't. Because at twenty-six, Bryce Larkin knows that his fantasy of Chuck Bartowski is simple escapism: it isn't smart, it isn't safe, and it isn't something he can afford to indulge.
He keeps the goodbye short and quick. Then Bryce erases the evidence and walks away.