A/N: Okay, prepare for crazy. Sci-fi/western. This one's been trapped in limbo on my phone for awhile without much progress. Hopefully some reviews will motivate me to write.
Disclaimer: Not owning characters in my toybox is durned annoying, but whatevs. I don't own Chuck.
Chapter 1: Bartowski and Son
July 12, 1892
The sign hanging out front of the two story storefront proclaimed 'Bartowski and Son' watch, clock, phonograph and misc repair. The whole building had a weathered, melancholy feel to it, not helped by the almost eerily synchronized ticking of the hundreds of clocks that lined the walls inside. Glass cases holding pocket watches and other merchandise made walking through the main commercial areas difficult, partially to foil would be thieves, and partially because the owner couldn't be bothered to move them.
"Chuck, are you in there?" Stephen Bartowski asked, knocking on the doorframe to his son's workshop, tucked away in the back corner of the top floor. It was mostly a rhetorical question. "I need to step out. Bryce is on the counter, but if Mrs. Bower arrives before my return you may need to back him up. Chuck, give me a sign if you heard me."
Chuck took his magnifier out of his eye and set it down next to the gold pocket watch he was working on. "I was listening. I promise."
"Good enough, son. Good enough," Stephen paused a moment, in thought before he added, "I shouldn't be gone long. Mr. Roark just wants to go over the contracts one more time."
Chuck turned on his stool and waved. "Bring me back some springsteel. We're running low again, and I don't know why. Seems like the stuff is disappearing faster than we can stock it," Chuck said, and went back to his work. He didn't spot his father wincing at the fact Chuck had noticed.
He found the problem with the watch he was fixing after a few minutes; a gear on the third layer down had bent out of true, gumming up the entire works. It would be an easy fix, just not a quick one. Chuck had to dismantle roughly two thirds of the watch before he could get at the damaged gear. He let out a sigh. Now that the puzzle was solved, he wasn't sure he could stay on task long enough to finish the repair. Still, he set to work with the tiny calipers and screwdrivers that were the watchmaker's stock in trade. After maybe an hour, an abrupt cough brought him out of his focus on the watch.
"Really, Chuck," Bryce smirked from leaning against the doorframe. "Do you actually think you'll win the heart of the lovely Miss Roberts slaving away in here all day, brother? Have I taught you nothing?"
Chuck frowned. "Jill and I are just friends, Bryce," he said. "Anyway, I heard she walked out with that Englishman, Lord Barker, two days past. I'm sure he's a much better prospect than the son of a watchmaker. I expect the announcement of the match to be the talk of Boston in a fortnight."
Bryce rolled his eyes. "And I heard her say, Mr. Barker was-" Here he pitched his voice high and womanly. "Quite full of himself and wished only to speak of the high esteem he was held in by the peerage in London. Highly unbecoming of a man purporting to be a gentleman," Bryce's grin turned smug, and let his voice turn back to its usual brassy rumble. "Unlike a certain Watchmaker's son of her acquaintance."
Chuck fumbled his calipers, and took three tries to collect them. Finally he gathered himself. "She didn't really, did she? If this is one of your jokes, Bryce Larkin, I swear I'll punch your teeth down your throat."
His grin actually slipped for a moment, but then he laughed and clapped his hands. "I actually think you mean it! Good for you, Son of 'Bartowski and Son.' Its about time you stood up for yourself. But you should know I'd never jest about the lovely Miss Roberts! She's one of the only girls in Boston who can resist my winning smile and roguish good looks."
"Not to mention your humility," Chuck put in snidely, and Bryce laughed again.
"Just so, just so dear Charles Irving," Bryce said. "If not for you my head would be the size of a surveyor's balloon."
"And just as full of hot air," Chuck said almost under his breath.
Bryce rolled his eyes. "Uncalled for, Chuck. Here I am, trying to help you win the girl you've been pining for since Harvard and you throw it in my face."
Chuck shrugged and sighed. "Yes, here you are, instead of at the counter where you belong. Father said one of the investors might be visiting today, it wouldn't do to have the shop deserted when she stops by."
"No, it would be a shame if today was just the same as yesterday, or the day before," Bryce said. "Or the day before that, or th-"
"Enough, Bryce," Chuck said. "Father's patents should come through soon and then 'Bartowski, Roark and Associates' becomes the rival of Edison's Menlo Park."
"I know you're looking forward to that, but please don't get your hopes up," Bryce said. "I would love to be able to put my education to use at something other than 'the counter.' And I love Stephen like a father, but this isn't the first time he's fed you that line about Menlo Park. Edison doesn't even live there any more."
Chuck rolled his eyes. "I know, Bryce. But I have a feeling about this. He showed me one of the patent documents, and it was astonishing. This time he's on to something, I'm sure of it. With Mr. Roark's money and the breakthroughs father's made... It's simply astounding!"
"Well, I defer to your judgment," Bryce said. "I never could get the hang of the Calculus like you and father."
"Modesty, from Bryce Larkin?" Chuck said in mock scandalized tones.
Bryce narrowed his eyes. "Have it your way," He said and started for the front of the building with exaggerated slowness. "If you don't wish to court the lovely Miss Roberts, perhaps I'll give it another attempt myself!" He said over his shoulder. "I'm sure she can only resist my smile for so long."
Chuck swept up his overcoat and passed Bryce in the hallway. Bryce chuckled. His plan was working prefectly. So he'd left out a couple of things, such as Jill's statement about Chuck's eyebrows. He shuddered a little where his friend couldn't see him. What could possibly attract the woman about eyebrows he could never grasp. They were eyebrows by God!
And then he walked into the store proper and his jaw dropped. Bryce managed to shut his mouth after a moment, but he thought Chuck might have more trouble. His eyes flicked up and locked inadvertently on her eyebrows, and he knew what Jill had been talking about. It took him longer than he expected or was accustomed to pulling his eyes off her eyebrows, and by the time he managed it, Chuck had found his tongue first.
"Introductions are in order," Chuck said. "Mrs. Bower, this is my father's ward, Bryce Larkin. Bryce, this is Mrs. Bower, the investor father and I were talking about this morning. As you seemed to miss it the first time through."
Bryce flushed slightly and tipped an imaginary hat at her. Mrs. Bower rolled her eyes and flipped a heavy mane of blond hair over her shoulder. She looked through him for a moment as if he was some kind of insect. Bryce was impressed in spite of himself, it had taken him almost half a minute to stop staring at her face and actually take in her figure, trim but shapely in a blue linen dress in the current fashion of things, large poofy skirts and a bustle, white lace at the cuffs and bodice. He snatched his eyes away from the bodice, hopefully before she noticed. He grinned sheepishly, but she was already locking eyes with Chuck and putting out her hand. "Actually, its Miss Bower," She smiled at Chuck and waggled the fingers of her left hand next to her outstretched right to highlight the lack of a ring. "I'm not married. Call me Sandra."
Now it was Chuck's turn to stare, but he was locked onto the absence of a wedding ring. He'd always been, and would always be the better person. Bryce was the first to say it, Chuck was too good for his own good sometimes, and Chuck had obviously heard "Mrs." Bower and tuned out from her beauty at the knowledge that she was married. It was a talent that Bryce envied, he'd often gotten himself in trouble in similar situations, and nearly had to fight two duels.
As Chuck's brain seemed to have shut off momentarily, Bryce stepped in, seized Miss Bower's hand and stooped to plant a kiss on the back. "A pleasure to meet you Sandra."
She fixed him with the stare that made him feel like an insect again and wiped her hand with a kerchief that seemed to appear by magic, "You can call me Miss Bower, Mr. Larkin."
Bryce's smile cracked and withered, though he tried to hide it. He wasn't accustomed to such a quick dismissal, but he was far from stupid. Never in all his life had Bryce Larkin pressed matters where he so obviously wasn't wanted.
"My apologies, if I offended," Bryce started. He frowned in mid-thought, his keen mind for body language and expression telling him volumes of the sudden electric thrill in the room coming from Chuck and the inestimable Miss Bower. It felt to Bryce as if one of Tesla's electrical coils was suddenly and ominously buzzing behind his head. He doubted if either of them even felt it yet, but Chuck Bartowski's luck with women seemed to have taken a turn for the better. "If you both would excuse me, I have pressing business elsewhere." Bryce gathered his bowler hat from the rack and shrugged on his coat against the September chill. "Chuck, Miss Bower," he said, tipped his hat, and made for the door like a scalded dog.
Out in the street he debated for a moment what to do. Chuck probably wasn't yet aware that he was smitten by the lovely Miss Bowers. It had taken him years to realize his feelings for Jill, but Bryce had seen from the start, just as with Sandra. It would have been somewhat entertaining to watch, Chuck trying to juggle the two, if he weren't Bryce's best friend. And Jill deserved better than to be led on and then dropped unceremoniously for the new Blond in Chuck's life. As Bryce was sure would happen. It left him in something of a cleft stick, as it were. Jill was a friend too, and he respected her too much to lie about such a thing.
He growled an uncharacteristic obscenity under his breath. When had his life become so complicated? Could he pinpoint the moment, of course. The moment Chuck had laid eyes on this Sandra Bower. Bryce shook himself. Navel gazing and woolgathering, he was a man of action, and even if the course of action was unappealing, something had to be done. He resolved to call upon the Roberts' house and figure it out as he went along.
"Would you care for some tea, Miss Bower?"
"Please, call me Sandra. I insist."
Chuck swallowed the lump in his throat. "Tea, then, Sandra?"
She paused a moment, as if deep in thought, puzzling over an offer of tea. Chuck furrowed his brow, in consternation, tried to figure out a way to give her a polite means of refusal, but she beat him to it. "Tea would be lovely," she said. "Thank you. I'm no longer accustomed to such hospitality. My time in the territories has made me partial to coffee."
"I would prefer it myself," Chuck admitted, "But this is Boston, and it's a matter of principle."
Sandra frowned, "I'm not sure I take your meaning. .."
"The Boston Tea Party? We went to all that trouble with the Redcoats, we should at least drink the stuff from time to time."
She laughed, only briefly, but the sound was like water on parched earth. Chuck laughed along with her, but he could tell that something was bothering her. Though Sandra had a beautiful laugh, there was something rough and unpracticed about it. It seemed she didn't laugh much.
As Chuck poured water and put the kettle on the stove he studied her covertly in the reflection she cast in the windows. There was another puzzle here, and there was a quirk in his mind, he was well aware of it, thankfully. Chuck could never resist a good puzzle.
They made small talk while the water boiled, little of consequence, but they bantered like old friends, as if they'd known each other for years. Chuck couldn't help but be a little dazzled by her beauty, and he tripped over himself a pair of times, trying to make her laugh again unsuccessfully. Though she did grin toothily both times and blush just a touch and glance away, so she was at least trying not to laugh at him.
Chuck and Sandra were settling into a comfortable rhythm when the teakettle began whistling. A bare handful of seconds later, there was a pounding from the front door.
He wrapped a cloth around his hand and pulled the kettle from the heat, placed it on the table before Miss Bower and shrugged, "Excuse me, I'll see who that is. The tea-ball and the leaves are in the cupboard to your left."
Chuck frowned and shuffled into the front room of the store. Clocks ticking from the walls lent the whole room an odd ominous air, as if counting down to something somehow. He opened the door reluctantly.
"Mr. Bartowski?" A black coated policeman asked somberly. His brass buttons glittered in the afternoon light.
Chuck shrugged self-consciously, "You probably wish to speak to my father. I'm sorry, he's stepped out for the moment. If you leave a card, I'm sure he'll pay a call at the precinct tomorrow."
The policeman doffed his hat and held it over his heart, looking down at his feet, "That— ahem— I'm sorry. I... You're needed at the hospital, Mr. Bartowski. I'm afraid your father has run afoul of a pair of street-thieves. He's been shot."
Chuck's eyes widened and he heard a gasp from back in the store. The policeman went up on his toes to peer into the relative gloom of the shop over Chuck's shoulder, his height had screened Sandra from view. Chuck gathered himself and made every effort to keep his voice from quavering, when he turned to face her, "I'm sorry Miss Bower." He couldn't quite keep the quaver out after all. "We'll have to... I..." He couldn't get any more out past the sudden tightness of his throat.
Sandra bustled over quickly despite her bulky skirts and the labyrinthlike interior of 'Bartowski and Son.' Her face was set in a determined line, though he could see pity in her eyes, and something else. The puzzle deepened. She moved with a quickness and a grace that Chuck was sure he could never have duplicated, even in his less cumbersome trousers. She looped her arm through his, and her presence had a subtle calming effect. "Lead the way, officer," She said, in a tone that brooked no argument.
"Yes ma'am," The policeman said, clamping his hat back on so that he could tip it to her.
Waiting out in the street was a hackney coach. Mr. Roark had sent it, the policeman explained as they bounced into motion, with his regrets.
TO BE CONTINUED...
A/N: That is Sarah, just undercover. Casey won't be showing up for a while. Not really sure where this one's going at the moment, in the long term. And before anyone says anything, yeah, Chuck is getting an intersect, or something similar.