Welcome to my crazy mash up of Chuck and Charade. If you haven't seen Charade then go watch it immediately! If you haven't seen Chuck, then I'm not quite sure why you're here but go watch that too!
I want to say a huge thank you to Angus MacNab and Indigogold for being pre-readers. Indigo came through when I was feeling pretty alone in the world and Angus has been nothing less than a life saver. Thank you guys!
Snow was everywhere. It covered the rocky mountainsides and clung, heavily, to the boughs of the countless evergreen trees, making them droop gracefully. The small village spread out below the resort was equally adorned. Everywhere he looked, everything was covered in a never ending blanket of white that sparkled in the mid-afternoon sun.
Having lived all of his life in Burbank, California, Chuck Bartowski didn't often see snow, and this was his first time seeing so much of it in all at once. He let his eyes sweep over the landscape, streaked with ski runs and dotted with tiny, colorful specks of the people who had come to romp in the winter playground. He took a deep breath as he relaxed into his chair. The air was so clean and crisp it was almost painful and he chuckled to himself at the idea of his lungs going through smog withdrawal. A waitress arrived with his hot chocolate and Chuck smiled up at her as she set it in front of him. He was glad he'd let his sister Ellie talk him into coming along. Sure, skiing wasn't exactly his thing, and so far he'd managed to avoid any semblance of the sport, but the change of pace and scenery was nice, even if he had to enjoy it alone.
That last thought brought a frown to his usually jovial face, along with the bout of melancholy he'd been trying to dodge for weeks. Reluctantly, he let his mind wander to his girlfriend Jill. She had bailed on the trip at the last minute, and it was just one of many things that had him examining their relationship. The two of them had been together for seven years and living together for five but, recently, he had begun to wonder if it had ever been anything more than a figment of his imagination.
"Chuck!" Ellie Bartowski's voice was a relief to hear, pulling him from the thoughts that had been circling his mind for months now, haunting him with questions that seemed to have no answers. He looked up and smiled. There was nothing like the sight of a happy Ellie to brighten his day, and she wasn't just happy, she was vibrant. Her cheeks were pink with cold and her eyes sparkled with laughter. "There, you are," she said, pulling off her gloves and plopping down in the chair beside him. Her hands snaked out and wrapped around the mug in front of him, pulling it close and taking a sip despite his inarticulate protest. "We've been looking all over for you."
"Yeah, bro, why aren't you out there on the slopes? The powder is awesome!" Chuck flicked his gaze up to his sister's longtime boyfriend, Devon "Captain Awesome" Woodcomb, and then focused on stealing back his beverage. Once he had it in front of him again, and Ellie was giving him a playful pout, he turned and gave Awesome his attention. Athletic and extremely handsome, Devon looked like he'd stepped out of the tourist catalog for the resort.
"You'd like that wouldn't you?" Chuck said, smirking over the rim of his mug, "watching me attempt to speed down a steep hill with two sticks strapped to my feet. Have you ever seen me, Devon? Sometimes I have trouble walking."
"Oh, please, little brother," Ellie laughed, tossing her dark hair over her shoulder. "You're not that bad." He gave her a look. "Well… You could always try the bunny hill," she amended with a look she had used to taunt him for as long as he could remember.
"Ha ha," he replied. An image came to mind, of all six foot for inches of him struggling to stay upright while tiny children skied circles around him.
Devon leaned down and gave Ellie a kiss on the cheek. "Hey babe, I'm gotta make use of the little man's room. You want me to bring ya anything?"
"Mm, a hot chocolate would be nice," she replied with a quick, side eyed glance at her brother. Devon affirmed and headed off into the resort, disappearing from view. "Okay, what's going on?" Chuck, startled at the sudden shift to her serious voice and turned to find her hazel-green eyes boring into him knowingly. God, how did she do that?
"I —" he started to deny and then sighed. "I don't know, Ellie, I — I wish I knew, it's just…"
"Something's going on with you and Jill?" After a pause he nodded. "Tell me."
After a moment of opening and closing his mouth like a fish, Chuck managed to organize his thoughts enough to form a sentence. "She's hiding something from me, Ellie, something big. Something… bad."
"Chuck, how bad can it be, you two have been together for years?"
"And I think it's been there the whole time, I just didn't want to see it." He toyed with his cup. "Sometimes she gets these phone calls and she'll look over at me with this… look. Or — or she'll go on a business trip and she'll bring me back something that… doesn't fit, or she doesn't even remember seeing things that she would've seen. I mean, who doesn't at least look at the Eiffel Tower when you have to walk right past it? And the people from her work sometimes… Ellie, I know it sounds a crazy, but I — I just don't think Jill is the person I thought she was."
His sister opened her mouth to protest but after taking a long look at his face seemed to think better of it. "Are you going to break up with her?"
Chuck stared down at the few marshmallows still floating in his hot chocolate. He wasn't the kind of guy to be frivolous with relationships, but the truth was, he'd stayed in this one far too long. And he realized he couldn't even say it was because he loved her. He didn't love her. He hadn't for a long time. After what seemed like far too long, he nodded in answer to his sister's question, not making eye contact.
He felt her hand on his shoulder and finally looked up. "Hey," she said, giving him a reassuring smile. "It's alright, Chuck, I know you didn't come to this decision lightly." She twisted her mouth to the side and then admitted, "I never really felt Jill was right for you anyway. She… I'm not sure how to explain it really. She just didn't "light you up." You know, the way Devon does for me."
Chuck sighed and gave her a half smile. He hadn't realized how much Ellie's acceptance on this would mean to him. It was like a weight had been lifted from his chest. "God, El, I should've come and talked to you about this months ago."
"Yes," she said smartly, "You should have." He laughed and leaned in to give her a hug.
When Devon returned, they talked over hot chocolate and cookies for a while, until Captain Awesome began making less than subtle hints about the hot tub in his and Ellie's hotel room. Chuck made a few very loud throat clearing sounds, noticed he was drawing attention from people around them and stopped. Ellie gave him an apologetic smile and slipped off with her perfect boyfriend, leaving Chuck alone again with the spectacular view and his less than happy thoughts.
On their last day, Ellie finally convinced Chuck to put on a pair of skis. He had agreed because, though he had relished the time to think when he first arrived, excessive thinking was starting to really get to him. So he'd donned the gear, took a couple of pointer lessons and started out on a nice, easy hill. He'd had fun too – right up to the point where he'd lost control and run into a tree. After a few moments of tumbling, catawampus, through the snow, he'd been able to get back on his feet and he was walking it of when Ellie reached him. She affirmed the idea that he should just go back to the resort. He was pretty sure his pained grimace was not seen for the smile of relief it really was.
Unfortunately, that left him right back with the excessive thinking.
He tried calling a Jill again and got her voice mail, again. Since he wasn't able to reach her and start resolving the situation, and since dwelling on it was fruitless and only led to worry and frustration, Chuck decided to settle into a circumstance he found a little more familiar. Stopping off at his hotel room to grab his laptop first, he headed into the village and a local coffee shop they had passed on the way in to town – the one offering free Wi-Fi with purchase of beverage.
He ordered the biggest mocha they offered and shuffled his still sore body over to a sofa in the corner. The sight of his laptop booting up was like the sight of a sorely missed friend and he grinned, setting his drink on the table next to him so he could check his email. His gaze had hardly swept over his very full inbox, locking almost immediately on the first one – What the hell? Bryce had sent him an email? What could he possibly want? – when a voice interrupted him.
"Is this seat taken?"
Chuck looked over to find a pair of very shapely legs, clad in black ski leggings and tucked into fur topped boots. His eyes trailed up over the stylish ski jacket to a pair of the most beautiful blue eyes he'd ever seen, set perfectly into the most beautiful face he'd ever seen. Tall and slender, her blonde hair fell to her shoulders in perfect waves. His eyes widened for a moment, struck by the sight of her, before he managed a response. "Um, no-no, go ahead." He managed a smile and hoped it didn't look as lame as he felt.
"Thanks." He watched as she plopped into the lush leather armchair next to him, laying her head back with a sigh, before he remembered it was rude to stare and returned to his computer. His eyes were uncooperative however, as they continued to turn to the side, trying to catch a glimpse of her.
He opened the second email, the one below Bryce's since he didn't want to deal with that yet, and scanned it twice before he was able to focus enough to make out any of the words.
— Dude, what's going on? I went by your store today and it was all closed up. Anyway, man, I know you're out there enjoying the fresh air and whatever but you need to check your email. I really need your input on my new strategy. Help me Chuck Bartowski, you're my only hope!
Morgan Grimes, his best friend since second grade, didn't feel he needed to attach a farewell to his correspondence. Chuck smiled affectionately and then frowned. The office was closed? When was this sent? He wouldn't put it past Morgan to go by on Sunday, forgetting the office was always closed on Sunday, but maybe Jill had needed to close it up for some reason?
"Damn it!" The sharp expletive coming from the woman next to him, pulled him back to the here and now. He looked over to see her smacking her phone against her palm in frustration. "Oh, this is ridiculous!"
"Um, hey now," Chuck started, unable to stand the sight of tech abuse or a damsel in distress, "Whatever the problem is, hitting is never the answer."
She looked over at him in surprise and then smirked before a soft, musical laugh fell from her lips. "I'm sorry. It's this phone, it just stops working for no reason!"
Chuck held out his hand. "Maybe I can help, let me take a look." She looked from his face to his hand and back again before handing over the small flip phone. Chuck smiled as he looked it over. "Ah, the Intellicell." He shifted in his seat and pulled his keys from his pocket. Sorting through the mass, he came up with a small screwdriver that was about three inches long with an ergonomic, rubber handle. Popping open the battery compartment, he used it to tighten a small screw in the back of the phone. "This little guy back here has a tendency to come loose." He pressed the power button until the little jingle from her service provider played through the speaker then handed it to her. "There you go, all fixed."
"Wow," she said looking it over. "You must really be a nerd if you carry around a little phone fixing screwdriver on your key-chain."
Chuck smiled widely. "Nerd and proud. Also, don't insult Winona, she's sensitive."
"Winona? You named your screwdriver?" He shrugged and gave her a guilty-as-charged grin. "Not after Winona Ryder I hope."
"Yes and no. It's from Far — you know what? Just chalk it up to an obscurely nerdy TV reference you're probably not going to get," he said, tapping his temple, "My head is full of them."
"Hmm," she said, twisting her mouth to the side in what was probably the most adorable face he'd ever seen on another human being. His heart did something resembling a somersault inside his chest and for a moment he lost the ability to breathe properly. "I'm afraid I don't watch very much TV."
"That's okay, I watch too much," he heard himself say and wondered briefly how he'd managed to talk without air.
She laughed and he knew his smile was ridiculously wide, but he couldn't do a thing to reign it in. "Well, anyway, thank you for fixing my phone, I don't know how to live without this thing." She gave him a grateful smile and all he could do was stare at her. "I really appreciate it…"
It took him much too long to realize she was fishing for his name. He yanked himself back to reality and took her hand in his. There was a definitely spark of heat when their skin made contact and he tried not to let it distract him anymore than he already was. "Chuck! I'm…" he laughed at his own absurdity and shook his head. "Sorry, Chuck Bartowski, professional nerd, at your service."
She laughed again and squeezed his hand. "Katie, Katie O'Connell." Her smile was incredible, sweet and sexy at the same time, her slightly uneven front teeth only adding to its charm.
"They call you Katie? Not Kate, or Katherine? Oh! Kat maybe." Oh god, he was rambling.
She made a face. "They call my Ms. O'Connell," she replied, and though her voice was completely serious there was a sparkle of humor in her eyes.
"Ah, I see. So, is there a Mr. O'Connell?"
Her smirk was adorable. "Not unless you count my father, no. How about you, Chuck? Is there a Mrs. Bartowski?"
The question was like a bucket of ice water being thrown in his face. He hadn't thought of Jill even once since they'd started talking. "No. There's no Mrs. Bartowski," he said, leaning away from her as guilt washed through him. Sure, he'd made his decision about Jill but she didn't know that and it was hardly fair for him to be flirting away when she was back home expecting him to be faithful… was it? "I have a girlfriend, but… we're breaking up." He realized that sounded too convenient, and his eyes widened. "I mean… that's why I came out here really. Because I needed to think."
"Oh, I'm sorry," she said. He looked up and found himself staring into her sympathetic blue eyes.
"Don't be. I'm the one who's sorry. I… I don't love her." Guilt twisted in his stomach and then Katie put her hand on his and, for a moment, all other sensation was blissfully absent.
"It's better then," she was saying as she gave his hand a squeeze. "That you're ending it now, instead of carrying on in a lie."
All he could do was nod.
"Well, thank you again for fixing my phone, you're a life saver. I'm, um, supposed to meet a friend in a few minutes, but maybe I'll see you around, Chuck," she said, pulling away and standing to her feet.
Years of behavior training by his sister meant he stood up too, setting his laptop on the coffee table as he did so. "I'd really like that," he said, smiling a little. Then his face fell. "Only we're heading back to Burbank tomorrow." Back to Jill, back to a mess he had to fix.
"Burbank, California or Burbank, Washington?" she asked, smiling at him. He tried not to be dazzled, but it was difficult.
"Califor – wait, there's a Burbank, Washington?"
"Not much of it," she returned, laughing softly.
Chuck laughed with her. "California."
"Well, I'll be returning to Santa Monica in a day or two," she said. "You should call me." She started to move away but he called her back.
"Wait, are… are you listed?"
She turned back, "No." She pulled a pen out of her pocket and moved in close, taking his hand and turning it palm up. Her fingers were warm and that hum was still there, like a pulse of low voltage electricity moving through his arm, and he started as she touched him. She pulled him in closer, turning his hand just so and her scent wafted over him, something tangy mixed with the scent of cold and fresh air. He watched her as she wrote a number on the palm of his hand and smiled.
"Feels like high school," he said and she grinned as she wrote her name underneath the number. 'Katie' with a little heart over the i. He took her in as she finished, taking note of little things, like the length of her lashes and the way the light played in her hair. And once more he forgot to feel guilty.
She closed his fingers over her writing and squeezed his fist gently as she smiled at him and said, "Well… see ya, Chuck."
"Yeah. See ya… Katie," he breathed and watched her disappear through the door.
It wasn't until later that night, in his hotel room, that Chuck remembered the email from Bryce.
Taking a deep breath, he opened his laptop and navigated to his email. Bryce's was still at the top of the list and, biting his lip for a moment in hesitation, he double clicked to open it. The screen went black for a moment before white words appeared.
The terrible troll raises his sword.
"What the…" Chuck frowned as he drew back from the laptop. Why on earth would Bryce send him this? What did it mean? Chuck stepped away from the desk and sat on the end of the bed, his eyes never leaving the screen. Bryce Larkin had been his fraternity brother at Stanford, his roommate, his best friend. Then, late senior year, something changed. Chuck had never understood exactly what happened or why, but Bryce had done some things, said some things about Jill that Chuck hadn't been able to forgive. At one point he'd all but ordered Chuck to break up with her. They hadn't spoken since.
And now Bryce was sending him a chapter from the game they'd created together. What did it mean? Was it an olive branch? Chuck couldn't decide, but as he looked at the screen some of the things that Bryce had told him about Jill back then, that she was a liar and not the woman Chuck thought she was, rang a little differently in his mind. Because now Chuck could see that Bryce had been right.
Determined, Chuck stood to his feet and approached the keyboard. It probably spoke to how truly pathetic he was that he didn't even have to try and remember the correct response to the game prompt, but he hardly cared. He could only hope that maybe his old friend would have some of the answers he'd been looking for.
Attack troll with nasty knife.
It was that last thing he remembered.