evening_bat: Bat in flight, silhouetted against the moon. (Default)
[personal profile] evening_bat
Title: The Value of Practice
Author: [personal profile] evening_bat
Pairing: pre-Chuck/Bryce
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: ~ 2650
Warnings: Canon is a suggestion, not a rule.
Summary: Not even Bryce could be perfect at everything.
Notes: Response to this prompt over on [livejournal.com profile] comment_fic. S3 and onward of Chuck never happened.


The Value of Practice

”Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.” ~ Anton Pavlovich Chekhov


“Oh my God. I am so sorry,” Chuck babbled as he pawed through the freezer.

“Will you stop apologizing?” Bryce asked, sounding amused. “You don’t need to be sorry for anything.”

“No need? But I-”

“What’s going on here?” Ellie asked from the entrance to the kitchen and Chuck cringed.

“Nothing!” he replied hastily, slamming the freezer door shut.

“Sure, Chuck,” Ellie replied dryly. “Because ‘nothing’ makes you nearly take your own head off with appliance doors - Oh my god, Bryce! What happened to your eye?”

Chuck hunched his shoulders and looked guiltily over at Bryce, who shrugged and grinned as if his right eye weren’t purple and nearly swollen shut.

“A minor disagreement,” Bryce told her carelessly. “Did you know Chuck has a really mean right hook?”

Chuck gaped at him before hastily objecting. “I do not - Ellie, I didn’t -”

But Ellie was just shaking her head, lips twitching into a reluctant smile. “Whatever he did, I’m sure you deserved it,” she informed Bryce half-seriously. Ellie had never completely forgiven Bryce for the Stanford fiasco, no matter that Chuck insisted he was over it.

Bryce grinned ruefully and gently prodded at the edge of the bruising. “Yeah, well, I pretty much earned it by zigging when I should have zagged when I dropped by to pick him up at work today. Who knew that people could get that vicious over a little sale?”

“Stop poking at it,” Ellie scolded him, catching his chin as she gave his face a quick, professional once-over. “You know the drill, Chuck. Ibuprofen in the cupboard, ice packs in the freezer.”

“I know,” Chuck nodded. Being the tall geeky kid in high school had been its own kind of learning experience. This was nowhere near the first black eye he’d had to treat.

“Right, then. You two will have the place to yourselves tonight, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. Leftovers are in the fridge. There’s plenty to share,” Ellie bustled around the kitchen as she spoke. Her final words were called over her shoulder as she headed out for her shift at the hospital. “Don’t have too much fun!”

“Well, that was awkward!” Chuck said brightly as he opened the freezer again.

Bryce shrugged, heading for the cupboard to retrieve some ibuprofen. “At least she didn’t ask too many questions.”

True, that. Bryce’s assurances aside, Chuck was still feeling too guilty to think up a convincing lie to cover up the fact that Bryce had frozen during a spar and Chuck had socked him right in the face.

* * *

It was a few months after Ellie’s wedding that Chuck got the message from his father. Chuck’s stomach flip-flopped at the urgent request for a meeting. No information about why, of course. Just a time, a location and a security code. The only detail included was a brusque instruction to come alone.

Going at all was probably kind of foolish. Going alone as requested was bordering on stupidity. But Chuck was confident the message was genuine and it was his dad, so he made his excuses to Sarah and Casey and slipped off that night. The address led him to a plain apartment building in a nondescript neighbourhood. The security code got him through the locked front door. When he reached the designated apartment, he discovered that the door was open.

The last thing he expected to see when he walked in was his father arguing with a living, breathing Bryce Larkin. To be fair, the gobsmacked expression on Bryce’s face suggested that Chuck was the last person he’d expected to see. The glare Bryce promptly directed at Chuck’s father said volumes about how pleased he wasn’t by the surprise. Chuck barely had the presence of mind to shove the door closed behind him as he stumbled into the apartment, sinking to a shaky seat on the closest flat surface.

“You’re here,” he heard himself say numbly. “You’re alive.”

“What are you playing at?” Bryce growled at Chuck’s dad.

“I’m not playing at anything,” his father corrected mildly. “Chuck deserves better than this. And you need his help.”

Bryce recoiled slightly, then rallied. “I don’t need-”

“You were dead,” Chuck interrupted the brewing argument.

“I’m not anymore?” Bryce offered, with a weak grin.

“Again,” Chuck said dully, eyes on his shaking hands. Bryce was alive and that was good - that was great - but Chuck had seen him die and he was nowhere near over that.

“Chuck,” Bryce said uncertainly, venturing closer and laying a careful hand on Chuck’s arm. “I’m-”

“You were dead, Bryce!” Chuck burst out, voice ragged with remembered upset. He shook Bryce’s hand off, surging to his feet and glaring at him.

“You were just lying there and you weren’t moving - you weren’t breathing. Your eyes were still open!” Chuck still had nightmares about that empty blue stare.

Bryce - unshakeable, imperturbable Bryce - actually flinched. And looked away.

“Oh my God,” Chuck whispered as he realized what he’d just said.

Bryce’s eyes had been open.

* * *

Chuck kept a hand on Bryce’s shoulder as he steered him down the hallway to his room. Not that he really thought Bryce needed the guidance - he probably wouldn’t walk himself into a doorway, ice pack or no ice pack - but there was no need to take chances. Besides, it left him in a prime position to shove Bryce onto the bed when he made for the chair at Chuck’s desk. That Bryce went without much argument confirmed Chuck’s suspicion that he was hiding more bruises under his clothes and needed a bit of creature comfort. Chuck took a seat at the foot of the mattress as he watched Bryce clamber onto the bed.

“Much better than a dorm single,” Bryce sighed blissfully as he stretched out, draping the ice pack over the side of his face.

Chuck swallowed dryly at the blurry memories of a few drunken nights when a tiny dorm bed was really not big enough for two to pass out in. “For sure,” he managed aloud.

With some effort, he dragged his mind away from the sense memory of grappling with a tipsy, sleepy Bryce to find some way to cram themselves onto a too-small mattress. This wasn’t Stanford and they weren’t nineteen anymore. He needed to find some way to keep them occupied tonight. A movie marathon was always a good idea, though they’d have to pick something they’d already watched to death. No fair to try to make their way through something new, what with Bryce not being able to see out of one eye. Maybe they could start with-

“So what wouldn’t Ellie do?” Bryce inquired suddenly.

“What?” Chuck asked, startled out of his movie musings.

“What wouldn’t Ellie do?” Bryce repeated patiently. “She told us we had the place to ourselves and then said not to do anything she wouldn’t do. So what wouldn’t she do?”

Bryce!” Chuck yelped, immediately blushing crimson.

“What?” And sure, Bryce sounded innocent but Chuck knew that inside, he was laughing his ass off at Chuck’s embarrassment.

“Do not make me think of what my married sister might or might not do!” Chuck protested, screwing his face up into a disgusted grimace.

This time Bryce didn’t even bother to hide the fact that he was laughing at Chuck.

“And while we’re on the topic of requests related to my sanity, could you and Sarah please stop having quite so much fun with this will-they-won’t-they thing you’ve got going?” What was Chuck doing wrong that in three years, two hot spies had appeared in his life and embroiled him in fake relationships?

Chuck was glad that Bryce and Sarah had worked out the awkwardness between them. It was good that their past relationship hadn’t left them with any lingering issues; they worked as well together as they ever had. Which would have been great if Sarah’s feelings towards Chuck hadn’t cooled into just-friendliness along with her resolution with Bryce. And if their idea of “working together” didn’t involve boosting Chuck’s cover by way of implying Chuck hadn’t forgiven Bryce so much as fallen into bed with him out of some long-denied passion. These days Bryce was all warm smiles and fond looks in public, invading Chuck’s personal space every time they were together and Sarah encouraged it all with strictly platonic enthusiasm.

“You don’t think Sarah makes a good fag hag?” Bryce inquired, brows furrowing in mock concern.

Chuck gave him a horrified look. “Never say that to me ever again,” he pleaded.

And there went Bryce again, grinning like Chuck was the best entertainment he’d ever had.

“You know,” Chuck said, aiming for a vaguely threatening tone, “I’m getting better with this Intersect stuff. Keep it up and I’m going to start figuring out ways to use it to black your other eye.”

Bryce didn’t seem particularly threatened. “Whatever works for you.”

* * *

It just figured that Bryce was better at using the Internet than Chuck was. He had the emotional control that Chuck had never mastered and he’d figured out how to consciously access the data buried in his brain. Chuck had better recall of the split-second images but Bryce had learned a degree of precision with his information retrieval of which Chuck was frankly jealous. Not surprised, mind you. This was Bryce, after all.

There was just one little problem. For all of Bryce’s success with data mining the Intersect, he was experiencing trouble with the physical flashes.

“And by ‘trouble’, you mean...?” Chuck asked.

“I mean they practically short circuit my nervous system,” Bryce answered in disgust. “It’s like my body can’t integrate what I want it to do with what the Intersect is telling it to do. Not at the same time, anyway. And freezing up in the middle of a fight is not a good survival strategy, let me tell you.”

Chuck fought back a shudder. He still hadn’t quite come to terms with Bryce’s recent life-and-deaths and he was really hoping it was a long time before he had to contend with the idea of Bryce dying again. Never again would be awesome, in fact. The thought of what a wonky Intersect could do to a spy on the job didn’t bear thinking about. Chuck really didn’t want the third time to be the charm with Bryce.

“I didn’t have any problems like that,” he said. “Do you have any idea what’s causing it?”

They both looked at Chuck’s father, who shook his head thoughtfully. “It might be connected with the state Bryce was in when the Intersect was uploaded to him,” he suggested.

“Gut shot and half dead is probably not the ideal condition for the recipient, no,” Bryce commented dryly, grimacing apologetically at the distressed frown Chuck turned on him. “Any other potential causes?”

“The control you exert over yourself isn’t just mental,” Chuck’s dad replied. “It’s possible that your training is interfering with your ability to process the skill feeds as they occur. Chuck didn’t have the benefit of being trained before he got into this; when the Intersect gives him a boost, he accepts it without fighting himself.”

“Wonderful,” Bryce sighed. “So how do I fix it?”

“Well, I do have an idea,” Chuck’s dad answered, eyes darting over to Chuck. “If Chuck agrees.”

It didn’t take too long to understand what he was suggesting.

“So you help me figure out how to process the physical flashes and I’ll help you figure out how to access the data flashes?” Bryce offered.

“Sounds like a plan!” Chuck agreed with relief. They always had made a good team; Chuck figured they were probably each other’s best chance.

Which was how Burbank got yet another resident spy and Chuck’s ex-best friend, ex-nemesis and current not-quite-boyfriend strolled back into his life.

And Chuck had been right. Bryce’s suggestion that he treat the Intersect like the computer database it was came as a welcome epiphany. Imposing that mental imagery gave Chuck a framework to manipulate and led to his first successes at controlled Intersect access. Working together, they quickly figured out that Bryce’s skills were already sufficient for most of the situations he found himself facing; he needed to work on suppressing the reflexive flashes that were tripping him up in fieldwork. He could concern himself with plumbing the depths of the Intersect’s skill base after he learned how to keep it from getting him killed on the job.

So they worked out a routine of controlled drills and mental exercises for Chuck. Bryce’s issues called for repeated sparring, which had the added benefit of giving Chuck extra fighting practice. (Bryce knew all kinds of dirty tricks he was happy to share but they quickly learned not to let Casey spar with Bryce - it never ended well for anyone.) Bryce was mostly off of the active roster for the time being, but he’d found himself some minor accountant’s position in town to keep busy. All in all, it worked pretty smoothly.

And then there were the days when Bryce missed a block during a spar and Chuck accidentally punched him in the face.

* * *

“And you are getting better at it, you know,” Bryce added, shifting the ice pack away as he spoke.

Chuck grimaced briefly, good mood faltering. “Not quickly enough,” he complained.

Bryce shrugged, an odd motion for someone lying flat on his back. “You were doing fine for yourself before me and my Intersect problems came along,” he commented. “This is only making you better. Feel bad for me, if you’ve got to pity someone. I’m not even field-worthy right now.”

Right. Bryce had to be going half out of his mind, between the inactivity and the fact that he wasn’t fit to take care of himself in the field. Chuck’s own frustration with his slow progress certainly wasn’t helped by worrying over Bryce’s Intersect troubles. He’d feel a whole lot better when Bryce got a more consistent handle on his flashes. Though a small part of him couldn’t help but hope that Bryce didn’t master the trick of it too quickly; Chuck liked having him around.

“Maybe we should get you started on yoga,” Bryce mused, interrupting Chuck’s thoughts.

“Yoga?” Chuck was appalled.

“Mm-hm. Yoga’s good for keeping yourself centred, would probably help with the emotional control problems you’re having,” Bryce told the ceiling. “Also works wonders for your balance and flexibility.”

“But - yoga!” Chuck protested inarticulately.

Bryce chuckled and then twisted, contorting himself into some impossible-looking position as he turned a smug grin on Chuck. “Flexibility comes in handy.”

Chuck found himself at a loss for an argument against that display, not helped by the inevitable distraction resulting from watching Bryce show himself off like that. He reached out and swatted at the limb closest to him, resolutely not lingering on the smooth shift of muscles under his hand.

“You and your gymnastics,” he finally managed, in a creditable imitation of an irritated tone.

Bryce just grinned and let himself collapse back onto the bed, easily reassuming his casual sprawl. Chuck glanced away as Bryce resettled himself, taking a careful, deep breath to slow the race of his heart.

And incidents like that were why this fake relationship business was so damn unfair. One of these days, Chuck promised himself, he was going to reach over, grab on to Bryce for real and demand that he put up or shut up. Or at least stop with the flirting.

When Chuck looked back, Bryce was staring at the ceiling again, one hand tucked behind his head as he scratched idly at his stomach. Chuck’s eyes were irresistibly drawn to the pale strip of skin revealed where his shirt had ridden up.

One day soon, he swore. Then Bryce could show him just how useful that flexibility could be.

Fin


I totally love the idea put forward by this prompt. Also, the potential for epic Team Bartowski + Bryce adventures! :D

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