Author's Note: This story is a byproduct of many things. My desire to put off writing my end of the semester research paper as much as possible. Too many boxing movies in too short a span. "Eye of the Tiger" looping on Itunes. And of course my great appreciation for the show "Chuck". How I love this show.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. I make no claim to have a full or deep knowledge of the sport of boxing. This is just something I felt like writing. That doesn't mean I know what I'm talking about.
Chuck was actually kind of bored. There were no international terrorists to thwart, no spies to wrangle, and no Morgan drama to entangle his day. It was heaven.
He could finally get caught up with his Call of Duty 4 playing. It'd been days since he last touched a controller and he was looking forward to a few quality hours in front of the console, making the virtual world safer one virtual dead bad guy at a time. He had had enough of dealing with the real thing.
The game fired up. He settled into his specialty gaming chair. His headset was set snugly on his head. And then there were voices. Not voices from the earpiece but voices from outside his room. His sister and Awesome, those he recognized right away. But there was a third voice that was gruff yet polite, and with a little straining, he could place the voice in his mind. Casey. Oh no.
The door to his bedroom swung inward and Chuck did his best to scramble out of his chair, but he was not fast enough, and the disdainful look on Casey's face told him all he needed to know about how Casey viewed his relaxing hobby. "What are you doing here?" Chuck tried to look around Casey's hulking body to see if Ellie or Awesome were nearby. He whispered, "Is something wrong?"
Casey didn't answer, just panned his eyes up and down Chuck's body. He grunted. Chuck shifted a little nervously. "Get changed into something more comfortable. You're coming with me to the gym."
Chuck was shocked. He didn't even register that his fingers went limp and the controller dropped from his hold. He stared at Casey. "What – Casey, what?" He laughed, his voice straining. "Come on."
"I don't have all day, Bartowski." Casey appeared even more unflappable than usual. He was actually serious.
"Oh wow, you're actually serious." Chuck laughed again, he scratched the back of his head. "Uh, Casey, I don't know if you've noticed, but I don't do 'gyms'. All that sweating and grunting and guilt, not to mention everybody looking at me as I flounder like a fish pulling on the machines."
Casey rolled his eyes. "Not that kind of gym, you idiot."
"What other kind of gym is there?" Chuck was confused now.
Casey's eyes twinkled and he smiled evilly. "You'll see."
"You cannot be serious."
"What's a matter Bartowski, afraid of a little contact?"
Chuck first stared at Casey in open mouthed shock, but soon shifted his gaze to the old, musty smelling room he was standing in. Center stage, was a boxing ring, and surrounding it were punching bags, weight equipment, rows of boxing gloves, pictures of boxers, some famous, others not. Casey had brought him to a boxing gym.
"Casey, this is crazy."
Casey walked up to the ring, reaching up and resting one strong arm on the bottom most rope. "Agent Walker told me she's been teaching you basic self-defense for the past week. All I can say, it's about damn time."
Chuck smiled faintly at that. Sarah had started to teach him the basics of self-defense just a few days ago. It was part of that whole friends deal they'd recently started. Like he'd ever ask Casey for help. Not that he didn't like the guy, but he knew Casey wouldn't be as patient, or as forgiving, as Sarah would and had been when he screwed up. Chuck tried to pay attention as best he could, and he tried to learn as fast as he could, but it was a slow process. He just didn't have the coordination necessary to pick it up as fast as somebody like Sarah or Bryce. He was learning, and he was starting to get the basics down fairly well. But it was hard. It wasn't that Chuck didn't understand how to fight, he understood it very well in fact. What Sarah, and apparently now Casey, was teaching him was nothing more than the proper application of force, kinetic force to be exact. He understood that intellectually, but putting that knowledge to practical use was beyond his immediate grasp. Yeah, it was all levers and angles and fulcrums and force, but it had to be done a certain way and it had to be done unconsciously and quickly. It was bad enough worrying about not breaking his arm or falling on his head the wrong way, but trying also not to notice how the form-fitting workout clothes Sarah wore tightened around her chest when she stretched or how hard it was not to just stare at her when she got sweaty and started breathing heavy was practically impossible. It was hard not to stare at Sarah period, let alone when she got flushed and excited. He was only human.
"I just wanted to learn something easy."
"Of course, so you went to Walker."
Chuck frowned, not sure what exactly Casey was implying. "She's a good teacher."
"Yeah, I bet you're studying real hard."
Chuck was getting exasperated. "What are we doing here?"
Casey straightened into his normally perfect rigid posture, arms crossed against his chest. It made his arms look even bigger than usual in the loose short sleeved shirt he was wearing. "She's probably been teaching you the basics. It's probably all your pathetic little body can handle right now. Falls, basic holds, some evasions, maybe even an offensive move or two, but probably primarily defensive. Am I right?"
Chuck nodded his head, mouth compressed tightly together.
"Figures. That stuff is good and all, and God only knows the last thing you should be doing is looking for a fight with your twig arms and penchant for running away screaming like a girl."
"Hey! I don't scream like a girl, I just get really excited."
Casey's smirked thinly. "If that makes you feel better, Bartowski." He turned around and pushed down on the rope he'd been leaning on earlier. He climbed into the ring and motioned for Chuck to follow. Chuck stayed put. The last thing he was ever going to do was get into a confined space with John Casey. "Don't make me come down there and drag you here, Chuck."
With a hugely dramatic sigh, Chuck reluctantly walked up to the ring. He had no idea how the hell he was supposed to get inside of it. He tried pushing down on one of the ropes, but it didn't budge nearly enough for him to squeeze his lanky frame through the hole. "Oh Jesus Christ." Casey reached down and pushed down on the rope, allowing Chuck to squirm onto the ring mat.
Chuck scrambled to his feet and put some distance between himself and Casey. "Does Sarah know about this?"
Casey snorted and stood just off center of the ring. "Do I look stupid to you? And if you breathe a word of this to Agent Walker I'll rethink my plan of going easy on you from now on."
Chuck squeaked, eyes bulging. "From now on!? When were you doing it before?"
Casey just ignored him, motioning with his hand for Chuck to come closer. "Normally, teaching you anything about fighting would be against my better judgment. Considering your general incompetence and lack of any measurable physical abilities, plus the fact that you should never be in a situation where those skills could come in handy make me think this whole thing is unnecessary. But since you constantly refuse to follow simple instructions and have yet to grasp the importance of that computer of yours, I might as well give you a puncher's chance."
Casey walked over to the corner of a ring and picked up two pairs of sparring gloves, as well as a padded helmet. He tossed a pair of gloves at Chuck, as well as the helmet. Chuck, of course, only managed to catch one glove.
"What the hell am I supposed to do with these?"
Casey walked up to him and picked up the fallen glove and helmet. He brusquely shoved the equipment into Chuck's arms. "You're supposed to put them on, Bartowski." He reached out for one of Chuck's arms, grabbing it and pulling it up between them. "Hold still." He pulled out a roll of plain cloth, beginning to wrap it around Chuck's wrist and hand. "Always remember to tape up before putting on your gloves. It helps prevent breakings and nerve damage, also, it allows you to throw a heavier punch." Casey's hands were surprisingly deft and light as they flittered around Chuck's hand, tightening the fabric into an almost cloth shield. "Boxing is a sport of quick punches and even quicker movement. Considering your ability to evade danger, you should be a natural."
Chuck did his best not to grimace at the discomfort of the fabric digging into his skin or roll his eyes at Casey's disparaging remarks. It was like it was impossible for the man to say anything nice about him without at least adding some insult. "What Walker is teaching you is a good working basis, and hopefully all you'll ever need to know." He finished with Chuck's left hand and started on his right. "Sometimes though, you'll need to know more than just how to break a hold and that's what boxing is for." The cloth tape wrapped around the base of Chuck's wrist for the third time, but Chuck was no longer watching Casey's movement, instead looking at his face. He was doing his best to listen. "Now you must remember that for most of the people you'll be in a fight against, they'll probably be bigger, stronger, and much better trained than you. Even the best boxer in the world will be hard pressed to hold their own against somebody of Agent Walker's abilities. Boxers can be very stationary fighters, who can throw a hard punch if they can connect, but have trouble doing anything else."
"Then why am I here?"
Casey yanked on the end of tape in his hand and Chuck winced as the tape dug in even farther into his skin. "Boxing teaches you how to throw a punch, how to train and condition yourself, and most importantly for our purpose, how to take a punch as well. That's what we're going to learn."
"T-take a punch?" Chuck didn't like the sound of that at all.
Casey finished with his right hand and began to lace up Chuck's gloves. He grinned as he methodically and smoothly placed first one glove on then the other. "Believe me, I'm looking forward to it as much as you are."
Oh God. Chuck felt his face drain of color and he quickly scrambled to come up with a way of getting out of this impromptu training session. "You know what Casey, I just remember Big Mike wanted me to come in today and do some extra training on our new diagnostic system."
Gloves now firmly ensconced around Chuck's hands, Casey brought his fists down on the ends of the gloves, causing Chuck to dip forward a bit and grunt at the sudden impact. "You're good to go." Casey grabbed the padded helmet and began to place it snugly around Chuck's head. "Wouldn't want to mess up your pretty little face, would we?" He smacked the side of Chuck's head with an open palm. "Oh, almost forgot." He fished out a mouth guard from seemingly thin air and jammed it into Chuck's gawking mouth. Casey stepped back to admire his work. "You've almost got me convinced you actually belong here. Maybe there's hope for you."
Casey began putting his own gloves on. Chuck tried to speak, but couldn't make any intelligible sounds come out past the plastic mouth guard. How did people speak with them? He barely managed to grab the guard with a gloved fist and felt a very liberated feeling. "Why aren't you taping up? And where is your helmet?"
"Don't need it. I'm not the one who's getting hit." He did, however, place a guard in his mouth.
This was it, Chuck realized. Casey was really going to make him go through with this. Time for one last chance. "Shouldn't I train first before we fight? You know, like maybe hit the ol' punching bag a few times, run a couple of miles, lift some weights, pound some slabs of meat?"
"If you start singing 'Eye of the Tiger' Bartowski, I'll take your helmet away."
Chuck clamped his mouth shut and stood still awkwardly. He looked forlornly at the exit to the gym and wondered if Sarah realized yet that he was not at home like he was supposed to be. Maybe she'd get here just in time to rescue him from what was sure to be certain death.
Casey stood only a few feet from Chuck, gloved hand resting against his hip. "You're right that you should have some basic training before getting right into sparring, but I want to see what you got, if anything, so I know what there is to work with." Casey grinned, and with the mouth guard shielding his teeth, it made his normal smiling sneer into a cruel clown glare. "Plus, I've wanted an excuse to do this for a long time." Without warning, Casey stepped forward and with only a flick of his wrist, tagged Chuck on the forehead.
Chuck sagged backwards, exhaling a gust of air, and looked at Casey's with pained eyes. "Not fair! I wasn't ready." Chuck only realized how stupid his complaint was after he'd said it.
Casey transformed into a serious, stoic wall. "No such thing as a fair fight, Chuck. Never forget that." He reached out and placed a heavy hand on Chuck's shoulder. Chuck looked from the hand to Casey and back again. "There is only you and the man in front of you. If it comes down to it, you bite, you scratch, you go for the groin, you do anything you can to survive. Understand me Chuck?" Chuck was a little taken aback by Casey's intensity and nodded his head mutely. "Good." Casey stepped back, and without preamble, smacked Chuck again in the head. And again Chuck was surprised and rocked back on his heels. Casey grinned his clown visage once more. "Not bad, Bartowski. At least you stayed on your feet." Casey went into full on instructor mode after this comment. "Okay, now listen carefully. I don't like repeating myself, so every time I have to, I'm going to hit you, do you understand?"
Chuck swallowed and nodded his head. "Good. Do what I show you."
Chuck actually thought things were not so bad. He would never ever admit that to Casey, as it would only add fuel to his fire, but he found the entire experience strangely fun. Deeply exhausting and painful, but still kind of fun. It was not like training with Sarah. Sarah was understanding, she was gentle and kind, she accepted that he didn't know what he was doing and hardly got frustrated. She accepted that he had trouble forcing himself to actually try and hurt someone, let alone the woman he was deeply infatuated with. She was practically the perfect teacher, always giving him positive feedback. Casey was nearly the exact opposite.
He was unforgiving. He was brusque and hard and uncompromising. Casey expected him to learn something immediately after showing it to him and he didn't care that he didn't like violence. But he did tell Chuck when he did something right, usually with a terse "Good" or grunted "Again", which Chuck had quickly learned to interpret as meaning 'Do it exactly like that again because you had it right'. Chuck liked the differing styles, which was something he never thought would be possible. Chuck didn't care about hurting Casey, well he cared, but not like he cared with Sarah. And he found the act of performing a physical action to such a level that John Casey, the ultimate man's man, thought he did well, was a huge ego inflating experience. Not that he did it often, or that he would ever want to become that kind of person, but it was a brief thrill.
Chuck was starting to understand why someone like Casey enjoyed boxing. It was pure, it was brutal, and it was unflinching. The idea of standing in one place while somebody pounded on you as hard as they could, taking the punishment, proving who was the bigger, stronger, tougher man, surely appealed to the basic makeup of John Casey. Chuck knew that Casey had a much larger repertoire than the average boxer, but he could see the hard efficiency in his fighting style that was rooted in a love of the pugilistic arts.
And Casey seemed to enjoy being an instructor. He was circling around Chuck, giving him pointers and reading his mind at the same time. "I love boxing. Something about standing toe-to-toe with another man and beating him into submission is extremely appealing. Too wide." Tap. "That's why Walker can beat me. Too wide again." Tap. "She's a finesse fighter. She's quick, agile, she knows how to evade and dodge, and when the moment is right, hit as hard as necessary. You're extending your arms too much again. You've got long arms, and that's good, use them to your advantage as much as possible but don't just leave them hanging out there." Hard tap. "Your buddy Bryce is the same way, although he's a much more free-flowing fighter than Walker. Not hard enough." Exasperated sigh, tap. "Again." Chuck let loose a surprisingly strong jab to Casey's abdomen. Casey shrugged off the blow like he was brushing away a fly. "You see, Walker is normally too fast for somebody like me. I like to stand in one place, face my opponent head on if possible. I'm obviously stronger but she's too quick. Good. You should not be like me, you should be like her. It's what you're suited best for. You're what we call a classic boxer. Short and quick jabs, Bartowski, short and quick jabs." Hard tap. "Stay away from your target as much as possible. A boxer can be a great fighter, but they typically only know one way of hurting somebody. You gotta know more than that if you want to survive against the kind of people we see every day." Unexpected tap. "You're extending your arm too far again, Chuck." A flying fist impacted against Chuck's head lightly. "Remember, short jabs. Never stay in one place. Jab and evade, but always stay oriented toward your opponent, don't give them an open angle of attack."
Chuck grimaced at the following hit. He'd taken countless number of those over the last hour of their sparring. He was sure he was going to have a headache when all was said and done. He did his best to shorten his punches, but most of the time, his arm flailed outward uncontrollably. "I'm trying."
"I can see that, and you've made some good progress." Casey stopped moving. "We should probably call it a day."
Oh thank God. Chuck immediately bent over, gloved hands resting on his knees, as he took in huge gulps of air. "Thank you. Thank you."
Casey started taking off his gloves. "You did some good work, Bartowski. But you hit like a girl. We're gonna have to hit the weights before we try this again."
Chuck didn't know what sounded worse, the fact that Casey expected him to go through this again, the idea of getting his bell rung over and over, or actually lifting weights. "Do I have to? I mean, I think I'd like to stick to Sarah." Chuck contorted his face into a weird shape when he realized what he'd said.
Casey snorted. "I bet you would." Chuck wasn't sure if he was thinking about what Chuck was thinking about, but chose not to go there. "Remember, not a word of this to Agent Walker. And I expect you to give me a rundown of everything she's taught you next time we meet."
"Which will be when?"
"In a few days. I'll let you know." Casey started to undo Chuck's gloves.
"I feel like I just spent three rounds with Jabba the Hutt."
"Are you calling me fat?" Casey's hands stilled their movement.
Chuck blinked and looked at Casey surprised. "No, of course not. You know who Jabba the Hutt is?"
Casey started his work back up, not quite as gentle as he had been before. "I wasn't born in a cave, Bartowski."
Chuck grimaced slightly at a sudden jerk. "Right, I'm sorry. I just didn't peg you as a fan."
Casey was prying the tape off of Chuck's hands now. "I never said I was a fan, just that I wasn't born in a cave."
Casey made quick work of the tape and Chuck opened and closed his now free hands. They were sore and even with the tape, they looked discolored and rough. "When you get home, make sure to ice your hands for a few minutes. Cool your arms if you can and take something for your head. Once your body gets used to the punishment, you won't need that as much."
"We're really going to do this?"
"We really are."
"Tell me again why Sarah can't know? I don't like lying to her. She'll notice something is up."
"I have my reasons. Right now, they're none of your concern."
"But Casey – "
Casey just looked at Chuck with a facial expression that shut Chuck up instantly. Chuck knew that look like he knew Casey's grunts. Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea. It wouldn't hurt to get another perspective and it wasn't like Casey was only using the experience as a chance to let out some aggression. He really did seem interested in helping Chuck better defend himself. For that alone, Chuck figured he owed Casey at least an effort to try.
"Fine, but I think there should be some ground rules."
"I'm listening." Casey's tone indicated that listening was the last thing on his mind.
"Obviously, nothing too obvious or both Ellie and Sarah will wonder what's going on." Casey rolled his eyes like that went without saying. "Second, and this is really important, can I call you Mickey?"
There was a brief lull as Casey seemed to process his words, but then his eyes flashed angrily and his face clouded over. "That was over the line, Bartowski." Chuck laughed and lunged away from Casey's outreaching arms. He ran to the ropes, somehow managing to squeeze between them and landing on the gym floor. He looked up at Casey who was glaring at him from inside the ring. "Well, at least you still got the running thing down."
Chuck turned around and walked toward the exit, humming "Eye of the Tiger" and smiling.