Chuck Versus Thin Ice

By Steampunk . Chuckster

Summary: On the doorstep of the Olympics, top American curler Sarah Walker has lost her mixed doubles partner and her boyfriend in one fell swoop. Her coaches throw newbie Team U.S.A. curler Chuck Bartowski onto her team and thrust them into the Olympics, hanging America's curling hopes on two people who only have a short amount of time to learn to trust one another.

A/N: What in the hell am I doing? Seriously. Someone on Tumblr asked me which Winter Olympics sports I'd put the Chuck cast into. And that got me teasing with friends about writing a Winter Olympics Chuck AU. Frea O'Scanlin and I were talking and she said Chuck and Sarah doing mixed doubles curling. Let me tell you, I laughed so damn hard. Because, no joke, I spent five days whining and complaining that curling was the only Olympic sport being shown on TV all day. Like WHHYYY CURLING AGAINN AHHHHH I'm so BOOOREEED this is BORINNNNGGGGGGG. It's all over my social media for the first few days. And friggin' Frea comes in like "MAKE THEM CURL" and I was like "Oh shit this is happening." Now a few days later, I've been researching the hell out of mixed doubles curling...And here we are. So... ENJOY, I GUESS! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA (walks away with a self-deprecating cackle)

Disclaimer: I don't own CHUCK, and I'm not making any money from this.


She'd expected a mess when she first walked into her new home. But that wasn't what she'd found. Instead, there were empty boxes broken down and stacked to the side, his things neatly placed in the living room. She'd envisioned moving boxes just being everywhere, to the point where she couldn't even walk anywhere without tripping. Maybe she'd trip on something, break her ankle, and have to opt out of the Olympics. Could broken ankles heal in eight weeks? Probably. Maybe she could tear a muscle instead.

Sarah Walker rolled her eyes at herself as she stepped inside and slowly shut the door behind her. She told her coaches she was prepared to do whatever she had to do. Getting onto the medals podium was such an incredible long shot for an American curling team. But if she could get close, if she could get to a better position than she had in the last few years with—

Shaking her head, she willed herself not to even think about that, about him. It still stung, but she thought it was mostly her pride. She knew it was mostly her pride. To have built up such a massive curling fanbase in the United States over the past few years, everyone obsessing over American's Curling Couple, rooting for them not only to win in their sport but also rooting for their relationship, their too-public-for-its-own-good relationship. He'd fed off of it. He'd loved it. But losing as often as they'd lost, never quite getting that success on the ice… The whole relationship was held up by the sport anyway, and when Bryce Larkin quit the sport, their break-up was soon to follow. At least he'd come to her about it first when he'd made the decision, and she hadn't been forced to find out about her own break-up from their "Lawker" Twitter fans.

Now the U.S. Curling Squad was wrecked, though, so screw Bryce Larkin.

And she was in the most uncomfortable, shittiest situation ever.

But at least she let the coaches know she wasn't happy about this. They knew she was angry. They knew she felt seriously put out. And luckily Diane had elbowed Langston before he could get out his "Harness that anger! Use it!" comment. He was such a clueless asshole, sometimes.

She heard muffled voices in another room, then.

And suddenly, before she could even gather herself for what was coming, still half-buried in her own mind as she was, there was a loud, "Yeah, it's in the trunk! I got it!" and a woman burst into the living room from the hallway.

She skid to a halt at seeing Sarah standing there, and her jaw dropped. "Oh my God. I'm sorry. If I knew you were here, I wouldn't have just yelled so loudly. You're Sarah."

Sarah just gaped for a second. And then she smiled tentatively. "Uh, yeah. Sarah Walker. Er…" Did her new partner have a girlfriend? Because if he did, Sarah wondered how that woman was going to handle him suddenly having to move in with his new mixed doubles partner. Their coaches were freaking insane, but—and she hated that she had to admit this—she saw the sense in it.

They were sticking two people on a team who hadn't trained together, had barely even interacted on the squad. They had eight weeks to get comfortable enough to compete at the highest level of the sport, in the Olympics for God's sake. They had to be comfortable butting heads, speaking plainly… No one was more comfortable butting heads than she and Bryce had been. They'd butt heads about everything, on and off the ice. And put on good faces for the press, for the fans, because it was good for business.

And in spite of everything, she was so glad that was over.

"Ellie."

"Oh, hi."

"Sorry, you probably don't know. I'm Chuck's sister. Ellie Bartowski."

Sarah inwardly laughed at herself. "Oh! I didn't know he had a sist—Wait." It all clicked then. She'd seen this woman before. "Do you ski?"

The pretty brunette finally came further into the room. "Yeah.""The one with the flags super close together, right? Um, is that alpine?"

"Slalom. I do GS, too." She looked a little embarrassed that she was recognized.

"Right. Sorry. That one. Wow. I can't believe I didn't put it together. Bartowski and Bartowski. Duh."

So Chuck's sister was also an Olympic athlete. The only reason she'd heard of Eleanor Bartowski was because they'd made such a huge deal about her just barely getting onto the podium in qualifying. She'd had to wait for a slew of other competitors to go before she found out. And she had qualified for her first ever Olympics at thirty years old.

"Man, they really just slammed you two together, didn't they? So freaking sudden and a little intense, am I right?" Ellie asked. Sarah widened her eyes and nodded. "I'm a big fan, by the way. I forced Chuck into this sport, but he's a lot nicer when he tells the story—says it was the best fit for him, but really, I forced him." She shrugged and backed to the hallway, yelling, "Chuck, Sarah's here!" over her shoulder. Sarah thought for a moment she'd heard a soft curse come from down the hall, but maybe she'd been hearing things. "Yeah, he has such a good brain for physics and angles and I really liked watching curling when I was training with my husband up in Lake Tahoe. Chuck said he was done with sports, and I made sure he wasn't done with sports. Because what are big sisters for, huh?"

Sarah smiled politely. "Yeah."

Before she could say anything else, Chuck himself popped out of the hallway, looking out of breath, disheveled. "Hi!" he practically gasped. "Hey. Sarah. Hi. Uh, welcome." He squinted in a wince. "To your own home. Heh. Sorry."

"Hi, Chuck." It was awkwardly quiet in the room, then. "How are you?"

"Good. I'm good. This place is really nice. If we gotta do this, at least we're in the lap of luxury, huh?" His sister turned to give him the flattest look Sarah'd ever seen in her life and she bit her cheek to keep from showing her amusement. He shrugged in response.

"Yeah, it looks pretty nice," she said, shrugged her bags off and dropping them by the door.

"Oh! Hey, you need help moving? I was gonna text you to ask if you needed a truck or a van or something, but Becks said they were taking care of everything."

Becks? Oh, God.

"I just rented a U-Haul, threw it all in and drove over here. I don't have a lot of stuff, really."

"Oh. Well, lemme help you."

"You help her, Chuck, and I'll get back to scrubbing that bathroom," Ellie said, ducking back into the hallway as Chuck crossed the room to join her at the door.

These two were a bit of a whirlwind, she found, and it was rather nice to be out of the apartment. Granted, one of the Bartowskis had come with her. But he was silent as they rode the elevator down. She felt a bit bad. They were both nice, and Eleanor Bartowski—Ellie, as she'd introduced herself—was apparently one of the best slalom skiers in the world. Not that this had any sort of effect on whether she was nice or not, but it helped a lot to make a person more tolerable if they had the accolades to back it up.

And she scoffed at herself silently as she realized that wasn't true.

Chuck followed her out to her U-Haul and slid open the back, setting up the ramp and climbing into the belly of the truck. "One sec," he said, pulling his phone out. He tapped at the screen a few times, typed something, then stuck it back into his jeans pocket. "Getting reinforcements."

"Oh, that's not…necessary."

"Nah, no worries. We'll get you unloaded in no damn time at all. Bartowski Moving Services, Incorporated." He smacked his chest where a name badge might be and grinned cheekily, before diving right in, starting to stack boxes at the lip of the truck.

Sarah found herself watching him for a moment. She'd only known him for a few months now, but she didn't know him well. Definitely not well enough to live with him. He had always seemed genuinely nice, funny, and a hard worker. So at least there was that. But she'd never curled with him in the last few months he'd been on the team, as busy as she'd been with her team of women and training with Bryce.

They went back and forth, carrying her belongings up to their apartment, smiling as they passed one another.

Between the two of them, they made inroads into furniture and clothes boxes, and about a half hour later, a car pulled up to the curb while she was out by the truck, grabbing another box. The man who got out was tall, blond, and built like freaking Adonis. He waved and grinned so big as he approached that she thought his face might split right in half.

"Hey!"

"Hiiii," she answered, unsure. But then he clambered up the ramp and grabbed a box. "Um…"

"Oh, crap! Sorry! I just figured Chuck told you I was comin'. I'm not some random dude grabbing your stuff out of the back of this truck." He actually was some random dude grabbing her stuff out of the back of her truck. Literally. "I'm Devon, your partner's bro-in-law." He set the box down carefully and outstretched his hand.

"Oh. You're married to Ellie, huh?" She took his hand and shook it. His grip was…intense, to put it lightly.

"Lucky me. Am I right?"

It was so sincere and sweet that she couldn't help grinning at him. "Yeah, you must be pretty proud, your wife going to the Olympics."

"You bet! The proudest!" he said as he grabbed the box and walked down the ramp again. As he started walking away, he tossed over his shoulder a nonchalant, "Really glad we both get to go together."

Sarah paused in a kneel, frowning. "What?"

But he'd already walked away.

It took a few hours to get all of Sarah's boxes unloaded and stacked in the living room and her bedroom, but eventually Sarah was left alone with Chuck and her boxes, Ellie and Devon having dashed off to meet with their respective coaches.

Sarah eyed the couch as Chuck walked into the living room from where he'd been in the bathroom. He had a bucket of cleaning supplies in his hand. He lifted it up for her to see as he came in. "So the bathroom is spotless finally thanks to the Awesomes."

"Awesomes? Didn't you tell me that's cross-country skier slash Olympian, Devon Woodcomb?"

He laughed. "Yeah, sorry." He shook his head. "I call him Captain Awesome." She made a face. "Well, because everything he does is awesome. Cross-country skiing—I mean the guy's leg muscles are insane. First time I saw him in those tight pants they wear, I was like holy shit, dude, your legs!"

"You call him Captain Awesome?"

"Yeah. I mean, he skydives, too. Rock climbing, rafting…flossing."

She couldn't help but laugh. "I'll probably stick to Ellie and Devon for now."

"I don't blame you."

"That was really nice of them to do that," she said. "I mean, they really didn't have to clean the bathroom." She halted for a moment, about to say our bathroom. Our apartment. Our bathroom.

"No, trust me. They did," he chuckled. "It was baaaaaad."

She just bit her lip and looked at the pile of boxes she now had to unpack. Silence pervaded the room, and things were awkward again, tense. She was starting to really regret this whole thing.

And then…

"This is really weird."

Sarah let out a long breath and laughed a little. There was a strange sense of relief in her as he confirmed this was weird for him, too. "Yeah, definitely not how I saw my last eight weeks before the Olympics."

"I'm sorry."

She huffed and shook her head. "Don't worry about it. We just have to make this work. We're literally all our team's got in this event."

"Yeah." He raised his eyebrows and set the bucket he held down at his feet, rubbing the back of his head a little uncomfortably. "I'm willing to do whatever is necessary."

"Me, too. I guess that's why we're both here."

"I guess so." He glanced at his watch. "Damn, I thought it was earlier. We meet with Becks and Graham in two hours."

"Shit." She slumped onto the couch and covered her face.

She heard him approaching. She moved her hands and looked up at him as he sat on the arm of the couch. "Becks and Graham?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Uh, oh yeah, that's what I call them. Um, secretly. Don't tell Beckman. She'll crush my head with one of our rocks if she ever hears me call her Becks."

Sarah smirked and sat up, pushing the hair that escaped her braid during all of the heavy lifting from her face. "I suppose since you're the only curler in this country crazy enough to agree to do this with me, I should make sure our coach doesn't bludgeon you to death with our equipment."

"That means a lot. Thank you. I think this partnership will work out great, yeah."

She smirked and shook her head. "I'm gonna hop in the shower, then," Sarah said, climbing to her feet. "I guess since we're roommates now, we're carpooling to training, huh?"

"Yep. It'd be a waste of gas, otherwise."

She sighed with a nod. "All right. You don't need the bathroom for anything, do you?"

"No, it's all yours. I'm gonna set up the TV and Internet while you're doing that."

"Oh. Okay. Thanks."

"No worries! It's what I do." He smiled at her and she smiled back, ambling towards her bedroom, ignoring the piles of clothes and personal belongings everywhere, grabbing something comfortable to wear, and disappearing into the bathroom.

Once she was in the shower, she was feeling a bit more frustrated about all of this. It wasn't Chuck's fault, and he didn't seem all that bad to be around, but for their coaches to just decide this was the only way to get them to a place of familiarity and connecting, without even consulting either of their players, was absolutely ridiculous. She was willing to do what she had to do to win, or at least to win more than she had with Bryce, but uprooting her life in Chicago and moving to Northern California? This was insane. Who in California even knew what curling was, save the people who every so often turned on their televisions during the Winter Olympics? The curling world was in an uproar over the mess that was U.S. Curling ever since Bryce had quit and the "Curling Couple" split. The U.S. Curling Association was the laughingstock of the world and they weren't helping themselves by relocating their teams to California mere weeks before the Olympic games in Pyeongchang. Why? She had no freaking idea. But it was something her coaches agreed on, and she wasn't a quitter the way Bryce was. She was doing this if it killed her, damn it.

So here she was.

Living with her partner who'd only become her partner two weeks earlier. She'd maybe exchanged a few dozen words with him—if that—in the four months since he'd been pulled into the squad. Bryce made a stink about it when he'd been in tournaments on Chuck's team:

"Where'd this guy even come from?"

"Who's even heard of him?"

"He grew up in Los Angeles. Do they even know what winter is there?"

She didn't share her boyfriend's disdain of the newcomer. In fact, she'd been so focused on her own game, on her own team of women curlers and their competitions, that she hadn't paid their new member much mind. His team won enough…at least, more than she and Bryce had in mixed doubles, so who really cared when the guy had started curling, or where he'd grown up?

Anyway, screw Bryce Larkin.

He was garbage.

Her mom sent her a picture of Bryce and Becca Tamrin, one of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit models, together on a beach in Palm Beach, Florida. The caption read: "Half of America's Curling Couple seen in Palm Beach with model, Becca Tamrin. It's really over, folks!"

It was a pernicious and mean thing for her to think, and out of character for her, too, but she hoped Becca was the type of woman who bounced when she saw Bryce's sponsorships and the money they'd gotten him dry up now that he'd quit the sport. The sponsorships were already drying up, Langston had told her last week on the plane from Chicago. He'd flown with her, having made the big decision to move as well, along with Diane Beckman, the other head coach, and those who had qualified to head to the Olympics for the U.S. Curling Team.

But then she'd met with Chuck—Her New Partner—officially for the first time in a small conference room in a San Jose business building, and the first thing he'd said was, "I'm sorry about Bryce. A-About the thing with Bryce. I mean, that you two split. I mean the team splitting. I'm just sorry. This sucks and I'm sorry." It hadn't gone down too well, but she'd played it off with a "thanks" and had a cloud over her head for the rest of the meeting. He'd managed a one-eighty today, though, helping her out and having his family here to clean and move her boxes for her. He'd told her he had Ellie and Devon help him out yesterday so that all of his "crap" was put away, boxes cleared, because he wanted her to be able to have a clean slate for when she moved in today, without worrying about stepping over his stuff, or getting their belongings mixed up. It was very thoughtful.

He wasn't half bad.

But screw Bryce Larkin, anyway.

Sarah felt good about the way her mom had texted "Good riddance" after she sent the picture, but she hadn't felt good about seeing her ex with another woman in a decidedly more comfortable situation than she was currently in.

She was now stuck in an apartment with a man she didn't know at all. And they'd be forced over the next eight weeks to spend all of their time together. She hadn't been able to do that with Bryce and they'd been dating. And now they expected her to do it with this random guy who hadn't even been in the curling scene for half a year? This was absolute madness.

But she'd signed on for it.

She was on the train. There was no way to get off, even if she wanted to.

Or, for a more Titanic-esque reference…This was the only ship she had, so if it went down, she was going to have to go down with it.

She could always coach curling, or teach martial arts to kids, or…something.

But her freedom would be hampered now.

And that was going to really suck.

Even driving to and from training and meetings, just fifteen minutes of being alone in the car…She couldn't even have that now. They would carpool every day.

But she refused to let herself sink into a bad place. She wouldn't let the fact that her world had been flipped upside-down throw her off her course. Getting a mixed doubles medal in PyeongChang was such a long shot, getting a medal would be a long shot for all of Team U.S.A. Curling, honestly, but she wasn't ruling herself out.

She trusted herself to do the work, study, train, et cetera. But the real question was…could she trust her new partner? Could she trust Chuck Bartowski?

-oooo-

"Wait, really? I thought you were joking."

Diane Beckman stared at him in that way of hers, unblinking, her features unmoved, hands on her hips. "Bartowski, do I look like I'm joking to you?"

His crooked smile disappeared in a flash. "No, ma'am."

He heard the minutest of choking sounds behind him and thought maybe Sarah had just muffled a laugh at his expense.

"Get into position."

"I'm not trying to be contrary, Coach, but what does a trust fall have to do with curling?" Sarah asked. Chuck inwardly thanked her for the smidgeon of support. He was glad he wasn't the only one confused by this.

"I mean, figure skating? I get it. The entire sport is, like, one big long fancy trust fall," he added. "But curling is more of a brain thing."

Their coach nodded and crossed her arms. "Well, I've been curling since I was five years old. Do you know how long that is?"

"I'm not answering that."

He heard another quiet choking sound behind him.

"Long enough. Mixed doubles curling is a different ball game altogether. It's more physical. You have to be in much better shape than you are." Chuck smarted a bit at that. "More than anything, you're right that it's a brain game. But both your brains have to be on the exact same wavelength. You're a team. It's just going to be you two working those rocks. You need to know where you want that stone to roll and how fast once it hits. Sarah, what do you think you two need before your brains can be on the exact same wavelength?" Beckman asked.

"Um. Well…" Sarah's voice halted in her throat as she searched for an answer. He had to admit, he was a bit stumped as well. "Of course, the, er…first thing we'd both need before our brains get on the same wavelength is to, well, both have brains to begin with."

Beckman turned a heavy-lidded look on Sarah. "Jesus Christ, how did I end up with two Bob Hopes today? I know Bartowski's a goof, but I at least thought I could count on you."

"What's a Bob Hope?"

Both Chuck and Beckman spun to look at her with wide-eyes, jaws agape. Her blue eyes flicked back and forth between them, and then she raised her eyebrows. "That was a joke."

Chuck snorted and held a hand up. Smirking, she met his high five, a bit tentatively he noticed.

Their coach just groaned and shook her head. "Sarah…"

"Sorry," the younger woman said, and Chuck thought he could detect the sound of a smirk in her tone.

"The answer is trust. You need to trust one another. First, you need to trust one another with your bodies."

Chuck's brain quite nearly broke at the way she'd phrased that, and he could only hope it didn't show on his face.

"You know what I mean!" she snapped at him. So it had shown on his face. Woops. "The trust fall. Trust that when you fall Sarah will catch you. And vice versa," she directed at Sarah who was still standing behind him. "When you can trust one another with that, then you can start to trust one another's skills, talents, and most importantly, decisions. Chuck, you fall first."

He threw a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure Sarah really was behind him. And just to be sure, he asked, "You ready?"

"Yes. I've got you."

If anyone had told Chuck Bartowski two years ago that the woman he was watching gliding across the ice like some sort of majestic swan across the top of a lake—the deep concentration in her blue eyes that he could see even from the second row of the stands, the determined hard line of her lips, so totally unknown to him but already easily the greatest damn woman in the entire Universe—would end up standing behind him while their mixed doubles curling coach yelled for him to "JUST FALL, DAMN IT!", he'd laugh in their face. He truly would.

Shutting his eyes, he let himself tip backwards. It felt like eons before he felt the steady pressure of her arms beneath him, holding him up by his armpits. He heard a strained huff of air leave her lungs, but she didn't drop him or let go. Instead, she helped him scramble back up to his full height.

"Sarah?" Their coach gestured for Sarah to do the same.

Chuck felt like he owed her what she'd given him, so he positioned himself behind her with a sincere, "I've got you."

She fell and he caught her easily, helping her back up again.

"Switch off a few more times until you lose that jolt of terror you feel when you're falling, just before your partner catches you."

And as they went back and forth, Chuck thought about his accident two and a half years earlier, his jump gone terribly wrong, the way he'd run away from the sport of ski jumping, lost his drive for competition altogether. Ellie'd seen his lack of purpose, the depression starting to sink in, and she'd told him about curling, even dragged him to a bonspiel just outside of Chicago when they'd all gone to visit Devon's brothers. He'd been resistant to Ellie's assurance that his two-time U.S. chess championship winning brain was perfect for the game, but once he'd seen Sarah Walker in action, it had suddenly become a lot easier to be interested in curling.

Some people might call this kismet. But he just thought perhaps Sarah Walker had gotten a really shitty break. Maybe she did something wrong in her last life. Because now she was stuck here with him instead of with Bryce Larkin, the other half of America's Curling Couple that once was but wasn't anymore.

Not that Bryce was anything less than a rat bastard for abandoning not just the team but Sarah. And it wasn't just the whole romance part, either. He'd left her partnerless just under two months from the start of the Olympics. There was still one last bonspiel before the Olympics that started, and Bryce had just dashed off, left his responsibilities, and he could have dashed her Olympic dreams. Selfish prick.

"Uh, Chuck?"

He looked down to find her shining blue eyes staring up at him from where she was lying in his arms. "Oh! Sorry!" He lifted her to stand again and she turned to face him, giving him a dubious look that made him feel just a tad embarrassed.

"Well, my mind went somewhere else entirely while we were doing this, so apparently I trust you with my body, Sarah."

Obviously amused, she pursed her lips and twisted them to the side, looking away from him.

"Sarah?" came Beckman's dry, unamused drawl. He knew he was really pushing her limits today, he could see it in the way she kept pinching the bridge of her nose. He made a mental note to dial it back a bit. He owed this woman so much. She'd helped him find his purpose again, having discovered him eight months ago during a Mammoth bonspiel. She'd recruited him to the U.S. Team after secretly following his efforts from afar for a while. And she'd done it in spite of the side-looks she'd gotten from the other curlers on the team, from her fellow coach, Langston Graham, from a few folks in charge of the federation, even. A curler from California? It was nuts. And they thought she was even more crazy for hand-picking Chuck to partner with Sarah for the first Mixed Doubles Curling event in the Winter Olympics ever. It was such a risk. He knew he'd been a risk to bring onto the team five months ago, and he was even more of a risk now. These were the Olympics, after all. But she put aside her own personal life and would be spending so much of her time with training and preparing them for how different mixed doubles was from regular team curling.

"I'm good," Sarah answered, nodding.

"Good." Beckman walked over to the table next to the white board they'd used to talk strategy, Beckman and Sarah both working to teach Chuck in particular the different rules for mixed doubles curling. It would take a bit to really sink in, but he was trying his best. "I've got these forms you both need to fill out. Just for the federation. We're hiring you."

Chuck's head snapped up, and then he turned to look at Sarah. She seemed no less surprised. "Hiring?"

"What, you think this is for fun?" Beckman asked, her lips upturned a bit. "We're paying for some of your expenses for the apartment we forced you two to share, as well as equipment. San Jose isn't cheap. And you'll get a paycheck for training. Also you have an agent, one for the two of you." Now Sarah looked really surprised as she turned to meet his gaze. This seemed like a lot of faith too soon.

Beckman must have read his mind because she sighed and half-sat on the table top, propping the two stacks of forms on her thigh. "I know. It's only been a few weeks since you knew you'd be on the team together. Chuck, you just found out you were going to the Olympics. But we're putting our eggs in this basket, as it were. I've gotten the federation leadership in on it. We're all in on you two."

"Don't you think that's…a bit premature?" Sarah asked. "You haven't even seen us competing in a real mixed doubles match yet. What if we absolutely bomb?"

Chuck had the exact same thought.

"Do you think you're going to bomb, Sarah? When's the last time you bombed?" Beckman asked.

"Literally, like, a month and a half ago, with Bryce, in the worlds. We barely came in sixth place and the top world teams weren't even in that competition."

"Where's that confidence you usually have?"

"I don't know. Maybe it left with Bryce."

Chuck felt a bit awkward, being in the same room as this conversation. He felt like maybe he shouldn't be here, like maybe Sarah wouldn't want him standing here while this particular discussion was had. So he took an inch's worth of a step back and turned his head to look at the white board instead of the two women in the room with him.

"Or maybe it left because of Bryce, Sarah. Get it back." That sounded like an order, and Sarah seemed to take it as one. He could see her straighten her shoulders a bit.

"I'm doing my best, Coach. I just think maybe—"

"Sarah, don't waste your time trying to talk the federation out of paying you. I worked so hard to get this package for you two. I expect to see this investment come back to us. And that means I need to get as much work out of you two as I put into getting this deal." Beckman lifted the papers on her lap.

His new partner turned then and he felt her gaze on the side of his face. He slowly slid his own gaze over to meet hers. "Chuck?"

He fought the urge to shrug. Shrugging wasn't really appropriate in this situation. This was a big deal. There was a lot riding on this.

"Why—Why didn't you offer this when Bryce was Sarah's partner?" he asked then as the thought occurred to him.

Sarah's brow furrowed as though she hadn't thought of that, and she turned to face their coach. "Yeah, that's actually a really good question."

Beckman nodded. "It is. I've seen Bryce curl for the last few years now. He's not very good at it." Chuck's jaw dropped. "I realize it's blunt, however I wasn't the one who recruited him. That was Langston. But he thinks with his pocketbook more than he thinks in terms of curling. It's why we're such a good coaching duo. He markets the team and the players, I win the tournaments. Bryce Larkin is marketable. Obviously."

Chuck thought he saw a bit of an uncomfortable squirm from Sarah out of the corner of his eye.

"But is he a good curler?" She shrugged. "He's fine. Passable. He's pretty good on a four man team. He works best on a four man team, actually. But for mixed doubles, I never thought he was good enough at compromise, at communication, at listening."

Sarah scoffed and crossed her arms. "You got that right."

"I have faith in you two, though. I have a sense for curling, always have had it. It's in my chest. A sort of tingle that happens…For the first time in years, since I first saw you throw a rock for the first time actually, Sarah, I feel that feeling. The federation knows to trust me when I get that tingle."

"So the federation is hiring us as its permanent U.S. mixed doubles curling team based on a tingle?" Sarah asked, jutting her chin out and looking at Beckman through her eyelashes.

"I suppose so. Yes."

Sarah turned to look at him then, and he looked back.

"Good enough for me," he said.

She paused. "Me, too."

"Hand 'em over, Coach," Chuck said stretching his hand out. He felt the warmth of Sarah's gaze on him again, and he wondered what she was thinking right then. Was she thinking this was crazy? That she was crazy for doing this? Because frankly, he was stoked. He would gladly drop his freelance programming and writing career to get paid for curling. He loved curling. And with the added bonus of getting to work with these two women whom he admired and respected more than he could say, he'd sign so fast and so hard.

What did he have to lose, anyway?


A/N: SARAH'S GOT JOKES. Also screw Bryce Larkin.

LEAVE ME A REVIEW! (still laughing at myself because this is so fun)

-Evil SC