Things Bryce Larkin Knows
Rating: PG-13, basically
Pairing: Bryce/Chuck, one-sided
Spoilers: Through 1x06, Chuck vs. the Alma Mater
Later, Bryce Larkin will look back upon the whole thing as being a slightly embarrassing affair; later still, Bryce Larkin will fervently decide that it wasn’t embarrassing at all; at the moment, Bryce Larkin is of the firm opinion that this is the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to him, barring that incident with the glue in the fourth grade.
He likes Stanford. He really does. He’s worked hard to get here, and he always wanted to be somebody important; Stanford seems like as good a place as any to get a jump-start on a wildly successful career in…something. Bryce Larkin is not under the impression that math will lead him to fame and fortune, unless he supplements it with a heavy dose of computer genius, and he’s good with computers, but he’s not great. When he was a kid, he wanted to be Batman—brilliant, skilled, and tough, beating up bad guys and having unspecified tension with Catwoman. He later figured out just what kind of tension that was, but at nine years old, even Bryce Larkin doesn’t know everything about what’s going on.
At twenty-six, Bryce Larkin will know rather more about what’s going on than most people in most countries do; at twenty-two, Bryce Larkin will know exactly as much as he needs to to make one of the most painful decisions he’s ever made; at nineteen, Bryce Larkin knows a lot of things, but he feels spectacularly clueless about what to do with them. In sum:
I am a student at Stanford: He knows he belongs here, but he doesn’t know why.
I like math, and physics, and computers, but I also like football and track: He knows what he can do, but he doesn’t know how he’ll be able to do all of them.
I’m good with people: He knows how to make friends, but he doesn’t know how to keep them.
There’s this really great girl named Jill right next door: He knows he likes her, but he doesn’t know if she likes him. And even if she does:
My roommate is Chuck Bartowski: He knows he doesn’t know anything about this at all.
It was a relief to find someone else who knew the dangers of the potential grue, and from there things mostly turned to Jill; she and Chuck clicked almost immediately, which was a little annoying. Sure, he had meant to introduce them to each other, but he’d hoped to have at least a little competition for her. Jill’s, well, Jill’s smart and funny and totally, totally hot, and she’s one of the most awesome people Bryce has ever met. Bryce likes to think that he is also smart and funny and pretty hot himself (he won’t be modest about that—it’s a simple fact), and he’s pretty sure he’s at least relatively awesome. Chuck is really smart in a very specialized way, and kind of klutzily charming, and he’s got that look about him that occasionally makes girls want to pet him for no readily-discernible reason, and Bryce doesn’t know if he’d use the word awesome, and cool is definitely off the table, but nice covers it well enough. Which is another problem in and of itself.
High school taught Bryce that nice guys do not get the girl. He was always one of the ones that did, but he wasn’t really a nice guy. Well—in the conventional sense, he was, but not in the sense the phrase has become. Nice guys are supposed to be supportive and helpful and a shoulder to cry on when it comes to girls. They are not supposed to get past the friend zone. Of course, that’s usually because they never actually try, whereas the non-nice guys throw caution to the wind and make their intentions known and thus have a rather higher success rate than those who lack a rate at all. Bryce knows that this is an inalterable aspect of the universe. But Chuck, of course, bypassed that rule entirely and somehow got to Jill before Bryce did, which completely threw him for a loop. That just isn’t supposed to happen. So when it comes to Chuck, Bryce doesn’t know what’s going on at all. It’s like the guy has his own patch of four-leaf clovers. That bastard.
Except Bryce doesn’t really hate him, or even dislike him a little. Once you get to know him, Chuck’s…difficult to hate. And even if Bryce doesn’t know what’s going on with him, he’s gotten to know the guy pretty well. Chuck likes EverQuest and Lord of the Rings and peanut butter; Chuck doesn’t like snakes and hockey and the later works of Heinlein; Chuck’s favorite movie is Tron; Chuck’s mother is dead and his father is gone and he only knows two people outside of Stanford and one of them’s his sister. Chuck isn’t actually the fraternity type, but he likes belonging to a group, even if they make fun of him a little more often than they do the others. Chuck thinks Bryce is awesome. Chuck is, against all odds, Bryce’s best friend. Chuck is smart and funny and a lot of other things. Chuck is a great roommate—he keeps the room clean and he never messes with Bryce’s stuff. Chuck is, in fact, cool, even if he doesn’t fall under the traditional definition.
So when Chuck laughing at one of Bryce’s jokes lights up his whole day, and when they’re commiserating over the hell that is CLC280 Bryce feels more at home than he ever did at home, and when Chuck retools the cooling system of Bryce’s laptop to make the air the fan pumps out smell like oranges he desperately wants to make sure Chuck gets the awesome life he deserves, Bryce knows it’s okay, because they’re friends and it’s perfectly understandable that he’d be happy around him.
And when he sees Jill kiss Chuck goodbye outside the campus cafeteria, Bryce knows the pang of jealousy he feels is directed towards Chuck, not Jill, except he doesn’t know that at all.
The moment Bryce finally realizes what’s going on is thusly, at least then, the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to him, because Bryce knows that being sort of in love with your (male) roommate actually is more embarrassing than that incident with the glue in the fourth grade. At least the psychological trauma of the incident with the glue didn’t have anything to do with sex, which is the most potentially embarrassing complication that can ever happen to anybody. It’s bizarre enough to want to put your arm around the guy’s shoulders when you watch a movie; it’s significantly more distressing to want to push him up against a wall and give him a tongue tonsillectomy without any anesthetic.
Bryce knows that goddamn puppyish smile is going to be the death of him someday.
Bryce knows enough not to tell anybody about this, possibly because nobody else might even believe him—except Jill—but mostly because he knows if he keeps it confined to his own head, he can crumple it without it ever getting out and causing any real trouble. He also knows that he’s in trouble already, because Chuck keeps grinning at him and helping him with that MUD and asking him advice on where to take Jill next and there are (a few) times when he has to go to the gym and beat the crap out of a punching bag because it’s a more socially acceptable method of release than jacking off while thinking fervently about too-wide eyes and mussed brown curls. If there’s anything Bryce knows, it’s that this is the kind of thing that will only make his life a living hell if he doesn’t do something about it.
But Bryce knows that he sure as hell isn’t going to do that about it, so instead he starts getting to know Jill a little better.
And that makes it easier, at least for a while.
At twenty-one, Bryce’s life suddenly becomes exactly what he never knew he always wanted it to be, and it’s harder to think about Chuck when he’s tackling a Russian assassin in a room rapidly filling with poisonous gas before he knocks one of the walls out with a compact grenade hidden in his pocket protector. At twenty-one, his life is, in fact, awesome, and it’s also likely to end before he’s forty, and over time it will turn him into an emotionally-repressed machine only good for saving the world and failing at relationships of any kind, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is awesome.
At twenty-two, he sees Chuck’s test scores, and he knows that it isn’t as awesome as he thought it was, and he does one last thing in honor of what he knows has been over for years.
At twenty-six, Bryce knows a lot of things, and he knows he made the right choice at twenty-two, but he also knows that there’s only one person in the world who can figure out what to do with what he’s discovered.
The last thing Bryce Larkin knows is that he wishes Chuck knew some of that too.