how it begins
"Ellie," Devon says, "You should probably come take a look at this."
"What?" Ellie asks, walking reluctantly away from the Powerpuff Girls cake. "Is something wrong?"
"We've had a request for a wedding cake in six months--"
"Devon, tell me you are joking," Ellie cuts him off and gestures at herself. "Do you see how I look? Do you see how Chuck looks? How Anna does? We had fifteen cakes this week and four aren't finished yet and we only have a few more hours before the last deadline. We have had fifteen cakes and we are three people! I am exhausted and have flour in my hair and chocolate on my forehead and I haven't slept more than six hours in the past 48! Is this wedding cake for the Pope? Do we have more than fifteen cakes that week?"
"We don't have any cakes yet for that week," Devon says, "and the Pope can't get married, babe. It has to do with him being the Pope."
"Devon!" Ellie shrieks, causing Chuck to wince and nearly knock over the can of Red Bull by his elbow. "Accept the request so long as they can pay!"
"Okay, it's just --"
"I don't have time," Ellie says, "We will deal with whatever crazy request they have in six months."
"But --" Ellie squeezes the piping bag, leaving Devon with icing on his face and a strange expression, almost like he thinks this is going to end up his fault. Chuck's about to go over and ask, because he does own half the bakery, after all, and if it's really important then maybe he can get through to Ellie; when the Rice Krispies wrapped around the neck of the dinosaur fall off, and he has much more important things to worry about than a wedding cake six months in the future.
how it happens
This week has nine cakes. It's almost like a vacation, Chuck thinks, considering they've had weeks with up to twenty cakes before and that was before Devon convinced Ellie and Chuck to hire Casey.
"I know it all seems very light," Ellie says, "but don't think it'll be easy. We have four birthdays, two weddings, a Christmas party, and a bar mitzvah -- and well, some of these requests are going to take a lot of cooperation and effort."
"Are you implying that we don't cooperate or put in effort normally?" Chuck asks, "Because I, for one, am offended by that. I have shed blood for this bakery, Ellie, that's my level of dedication."
"You only shed blood because you're a moron with a knife," Casey says, "You're lucky you haven't lost a finger."
"Hey, I've worked here longer than you have," Chuck says, "Just because you spent your childhood playing Rambo in the forest doesn't mean you can act like you've got more experience."
Casey smirks. "I bet I have more experience than you in a lot more things than carving with a knife, geek."
"Guys," Devon says, while Anna just rolls her eyes and continues filing her nails as she waits. "Give it a rest."
"Thank you, Devon," Ellie says, beaming at him, before snapping into proper boss mode and handing out the jobs with efficiency and a low-bullshit tolerance. The way they've agreed to run the bakery is pretty simple; Ellie acts the boss, Devon manages their clients and e-mails, while Chuck's the Sous Chef. It works well for them.
This week, the most interesting cakes are a roulette wheel and Pacman machine. There's a wedding cake with a spy theme and a Christmas Carol cake for a surprise party. The others are relatively easy in design and construction -- a cakewalk, Chuck thinks and then winces mentally.
"Let's get to work, guys," Devon says, and Chuck's about to follow Anna and Casey towards the work benches when Ellie goes, "Chuck, wait. We have...something we need to talk to you about."
"Okay, what's up?" Chuck asks, dropping back down into the chair. He sees Casey sending a curious glance back, and he considers making a face except both Ellie and Devon are making very serious faces at him, and it just doesn't seem worth the inevitable explanation of 'I wanted to see if it'd get a response'.
"This is all my fault," Ellie says, her eyes big and sad. It's not ominous at all. "Devon tried to warn me when we got the order but I refused to listen and now, well, now we're making a spy wedding cake."
"Uhm," Chuck says, when she doesn't seem to be in any hurry to continue. "We make a lot of wedding cakes, and personally, I think the whole spy idea is kind of cool. I mean, I was thinking we could do some James Bond-esque shadows on alternating white and black backgrounds with the bride being a white shadow on the black and the groom a --"
"Chuck, it's for Bryce Larkin," Ellie blurts the words out like she thinks the faster they come out; the less they're going to hurt.
"Oh." Chuck says dumbly, trying very hard to not actually think about it while still forming some sort of opinion. "You know what? I've always loved A Christmas Carol, and really, a cake about spies is much more up Casey's alley than it is mine, I mean -- you look at him, and you can't help but think that he works for the government or at the very least knows how to kill you with a strand of hair, or at least I do. He would probably use this hair killing knowledge to, y’know; kill me for taking away his cake."
"Chuck, breathe," Ellie interrupts, "You're panicking."
"No, no, I'm fine. Like I said, I really like A Christmas Carol, so I'll be happy, Casey'll be happy -- or well, Casey will be not-angry, and everything will be good."
"You hate Dickens," Ellie says sadly, looking down at the clipboard with the cake request and sighs. "We'll tell them no."
"Ellie, don't -- don't do that. I mean, this is their wedding and we can't just leave them in the lurch like that. They've paid for the cake already and we'll make it for them. I just -- it can't be my project." Chuck says, although there is a part of him that's saying Bryce deserves it.
Apparently, there's a part of Ellie shouting that as well. "He got you kicked out of the CIA, Chuck! He sabotaged your reputation and completely screwed you! He deserves to be left in the lurch and to have his wedding day ruined!"
"Ellie, babe, calm down," Devon says, tucking her against his side and stroking his hand down her arm, as though he's trying to calm an animal. "One Bartowski having respiratory troubles is enough."
"Don't you think I know all of that?" Chuck asks, and he absolutely hates how broken his voice sounds. "But in a way, getting kicked out of the CIA was a good thing. I mean, it's what got us to start this place, and business is booming. I'm happy – maybe not as happy as I could be, but still pretty damn happy. Don't get me wrong, there is a part of me that's really shouting for the chance to cause him some sort of pain in return, but it's not just him we're making the cake for. It's the bride too. I mean, it's not just Bryce's wedding we'll ruin, it's also hers, and I don't -- I can't do that. Not to a person I've never met."
Ellie smiles a little at him, even though her eyes are full of anger directed at a person not in the room, and she reaches out to grab hold of his hand. "Chuck, I'm so proud to have you as my little brother, but sometimes, I just wish you weren't such an incredibly good person." She says, before she looks back down at the clipboard and seems to come to a decision. "We'll give the cake to Casey, I'll tell him to try and keep you out of the process as much as possible, okay?"
"Okay," Chuck agrees, squeezes her hand and his smile doesn't feel quite right on his face, but hey, at least he can still smile. "Thank you."
"You okay?" Ellie asks, "I mean, I know you're not, but -- do you want the office for a little bit? Talk it out? Find some old picture of Bryce and throw darts at his head?"
"No, Ellie, I think... I think I just want to get started on the cakes," Chuck says, "Maybe save the darts for later."
"Okay," Ellie says, leans out of Devon's embrace to place a quick kiss on his forehead. "I don't care what the CIA says, Chuck, you're the most talented person to ever set foot in that place, and you can do so much better than Bryce Larkin."
Chuck's tempted to ask why he hasn't had a boyfriend in over three years, why all his (too rare) dates end after one night, but he knows the answers he'll get -- he works too much, dwells too often on the past, doesn't want to let go -- and he's really not in the mood to have them listed up for him right now.
A Christmas Carol, he thinks instead, setting himself up next to Anna to help her with the cake batter, it's not as awesome as a spy-themed wedding cake, but he can make it work.
Because the cake idea is brilliant, extremely cool, and if Chuck manages to just forget about the fact that it's for Bryce's wedding, then he can get pretty excited about it.
"Bartowski, either take a picture or go away," Casey growls, startling Chuck out of his contemplation of the final pier. "You're taking up space."
"Sorry," Chuck says, backing up. "Sorry, it's just -- you're doing a good job. It looks great!" Casey arches an eyebrow, doesn't say anything, just stands there with one eyebrow raised and waits. "You know what might be a good idea though? Making the bride and groom edible, with the groom at the top and the bride scaling the cake."
"Um, it'll look cool, I think?" Chuck says as glances at his hands, then quickly back up at Casey. "It's just... it'll throw off the cake if they're both just normal bride and groom on the top, and I know most people don't do the figurine couple anymore, but I was thinking in case the rest of it looks to plain, it might be a good idea."
"Okay," Casey says, "Make the figurines and I'll put them on." Chuck shifts uneasily.
"It's your idea, Chuck, you make it happen."
"I can't," Chuck repeats, "I've got Scrooge and Tiny Tim to work on."
He heads back to his work table before Casey has a chance to say anything else. The modeling chocolate Scrooge and Tiny Tim are judging him. It's creepy, coming from small figures with limbs and facial features still missing. Chuck turns Scrooge around while he sets about giving Tiny Tim some eyes and a crutch.
He expects Casey to follow him, or maybe he just hopes it, but when he dares to look up again twenty minutes later, Casey's busy at work on the cake.
"This is fucked up," Morgan says, hopping into the back of his van and letting his feet dangle over the edge. "I should kick his ass."
"As much as I'd like to see you try," Chuck says, because it would be funny right up until Morgan got hurt, "I just don't think that's a good idea."
"I just -- I can't believe the nerve of this guy," Morgan marvels, "I mean, I've heard the stories and I know what he did, but he really just walked in here to do the whole concept and drawing meeting? Walked in like he owned the place?"
"Not exactly," Chuck says, "It's all gone down by e-mail and through a wedding planner, apparently. Captain Awesome's been in charge. Turns out they're not actually going to be in California until today, so the only interaction anyone's going to have with them is delivering the cake."
"At least that's something," Morgan says, "I mean, I hate this guy almost as much as you do, Chuck, but at least he didn't show up to rub it in your face."
"Bright side, huh?" Chuck asks, tilting his head up so that he's not just looking at the brickwork of the opposite building. "I guess it's healthier than my method."
"Morgan!" Ellie says, appearing in the doorway behind Chuck. "I know you and Chuck are BFFs and all, but I need those supplies now."
"Anything for you, Ellie," Morgan says brightly, "All you have to do is ask and I'll do exactly what you want."
Chuck turns his head in time to see the small frown of disgust on his sister's face. It's not as real now as it was in the beginning, and he thinks at this point it's just habit, just like Morgan's bad flirting. "In that case," Ellie says, "bring in the supplies and leave me alone, please."
"Technically, you're the one who sought him out today," Chuck points out, because Ellie's his sister but Morgan's his best bud, so he has to stick out for Morgan sometimes too.
Ellie makes a face and swats at his head, "It was a just-in-case request," she informs them, and heads back inside.
"She loves me," Morgan says, lifting up the buckets of modeling chocolate. "I promise nothing will change between us when I become your big brother."
Chuck rolls his eyes and doesn't respond as Morgan disappears inside after Ellie.
In a way, it's kind of funny how Morgan's their delivery guy. They've been friends since middle school, and they had lost touch for a little while when Chuck went off to the Culinary Institute, but the gap between them had been easy to cross once Chuck moved back to Burbank and the bakery needed cake supplies – it was just pure coincidence that they ordered it from the company Morgan works for.
He stops by two or three times a week now since business is good, and since there are also other places he has to deliver to, in the end he always has to rope Devon and occasionally Casey into helping him unload the van to save him extra trips so he'll make it to the other deliveries in time. Usually he tries to come by during Chuck's lunch break so they can talk, even though Morgan ends up at his place after work in order to play video games most nights anyway.
Chuck's not entirely sure why he didn't hear anyone coming, but he didn't, which is his excuse for the strangled yell he makes when a voice goes, "Hey Chuck."
"Bryce." Chuck says, once he's regained his cool. Not that he's ever had that much cool when it comes to Bryce in the first place though. "What are -- what are you doing here?"
"We need to talk," Bryce says, and he looks exactly the same as three years ago. "I was hoping we could do it today."
"Ah, I'm actually pretty, um, busy this week," Chuck says, getting to his feet in order to get some more space between. "How about lunch next week, sometime? Is that good?"
"Not really," Bryce says, "I'm on my honeymoon then and I was kind of hoping that you'd have decided to forgive me a little before that in order to come to my wedding on Saturday."
"I don't think that's going to happen," Chuck says honestly, because he plans on spending that particular day alone, with some alcohol and Left 4 Dead 2. Maybe Call of Duty, it depends on his mood.
"C'mon, just -- hear me out," Bryce says, "Give me a chance to explain."
"I think you had that three years ago and for a lot of days after that," Chuck says, "Maybe you should've tried it then."
"Problems, Chuck?" Casey asks, suddenly right there by Chuck's elbow and -- sliding his arm around Chuck's waist. That's new, not to mention a little disturbing. Chuck's always had this theory that any physical contact that isn't violence will make John Casey go up in smoke. Like vampires with holy water.
But the action isn't entirely unwanted.
Maybe it's a dream, Chuck thinks at that, a really emotionally confused and fucked-up dream. After all, this week already hates him. His subconscious might as well jump on the bandwagon.
Bryce's eyebrows disappear for a moment, before settling back down where they normally are and his face goes completely neutral, except for a small polite smile. "Hi, I don't think we've met before. I'm Bryce Larkin, and you are?"
"Casey," Casey says, doesn't offer anything more and from the looks of things, puts some extra squeeze into the handshake. Bryce doesn't wince.
"Okay," Chuck says, into the awkward silence after their handshake is over, "This is has been totally weird. I'm going to go...back. Inside. To the cakes."
"Chuck, just...give me a chance to explain, okay?" Bryce says, looking for all the world like Chuck's kicked his puppy, which is blatantly unfair since if either one of them has been kicking puppies, it's Bryce. Chuck's not entirely sure what his face looks like, but there must be something showing there, because Bryce goes, "How about tomorrow night? We can meet at that bar around the corner to talk things through. You'll be free to leave whenever you want. I just...we were best friends once, Chuck. Don't you think I had my reasons?"
"I'll see if I can make it," Chuck says eventually, because this is a chance at hearing Bryce explain himself, to get some sort of closure, and he doesn't think he would ever be able to actually say no to that. No matter how angry or betrayed he's still feeling.
Bryce smiles brilliantly, pleased and surprised, and Chuck takes first a step back, and then another. Casey and the warm arm around his waist follow.
He remembers a time when he used to try his best to make Bryce smile like that, except then he would have a really accomplished feeling after. He doesn't have that now.
"Six o'clock," Bryce says, "I'll see you there. You look great, by the way."
Chuck turns away from him and listens to the fading footsteps, not looking after Bryce as he disappears down the alley. "Was that Bryce?" Devon asks, coming out from the backdoor and frowning after the retreating figure.
Chuck shakes his head as Casey's arm drops back to his side. Where it's supposed to be. "No. Just some guy asking for directions."
"Oh." Devon shrugs, features smoothing out. "Okay. Casey, you feel like helping a bro out with these buckets?"
"Sure thing," Casey says, lingers long enough for Devon to have disappeared back inside before he says; tone pitched low, "Your ex is an asshole."
"How did you know he's my ex?" Chuck asks, and then shakes his head as he decides he doesn't really want to know. "Casey, you can't tell them he was here." There's an entire well of panic threatening to bubble up inside of him. If Ellie finds out he's meeting Bryce, she'll kill him. He's not entirely sure if he's talking about Bryce or himself, but he's sure there'll be bloodshed from one of them, if not both of them. "Like, you really can't tell them, especially not Ellie."
"Fine." Casey grunts. "So long as you bring me with you tomorrow; it'll be like the whole thing never happened."
"What? Why do you want to go with?"
"I don't trust him, Bartowski," Casey says simply, "and I'm not so sure about you around him either."
Chuck smiles and doesn't care that his shoulder hurts from the position he's had to be in for the past couple of hours as he worked over the details. As always, it's worth it. "Thank you," he says, glancing at the clock on the wall before adding, "And good night. I'm done for the day."
"Early night for once, huh?" Devon nods approvingly and claps him on the back hard enough for Chuck to nearly stumble forward into the cake. "Good for you, Chuck!"
"Yeah, well, had to happen sometime, right?" Chuck says, "Casey, you coming?"
Casey's finishing the final silhouette and doesn't answer until he steps back with a satisfied grunt. "Yep."
"Oh," Ellie says, "You're going out together?"
"Just for a few drinks," Chuck says, which doesn't really make Ellie's eyebrow lose any altitude. Chuck's well aware he isn't the type to just go out for a few drinks, but he thinks Casey probably is.
"Okay," she says, her face very seriously conveying that they're going to have words later. "Have fun, you two!"
"So," Casey says, once they step out onto the street and the door is closed shut behind them. "What's the story on this guy?"
"It's a rather long story," Chuck tries to weasel out of it, and yelps when Casey grabs his arm and turns them in the other direction.
"We'll take the scenic route," Casey says, "Make him sweat a little while you talk."
"Okay," Chuck says, and does. He tells Casey all about the CIA, about how he'd met Bryce purely by accident on campus and they'd bonded over the classic computer game Zork, even writing their own culinary version of it over one of the school breaks. He doesn't go into detail about how they changed from friends to, well, more, as he doesn't think it's any of Casey's business or for that matter, important to the story. He's never actually told anyone about how Bryce changed the coding of their culinary Zork game after Chuck had thought they were done and waited for Chuck to come far enough into the game to read it. It' always felt too private.
He does, however, tell Casey all about how a couple of months before graduation, the room he'd shared with Bryce had been searched by campus police and two Tupperware containers of pot had been found amongst Chuck's socks. An anonymous tip, they'd said, but they hadn't gone near Bryce's side of the room and after, one of the guys had gone up to Bryce and thanked him. That had been the last Chuck had seen of him, as Bryce had turned around and walked away without looking back, except for a glimpse when Chuck was leaving, when he'd seen him watching from under the same tree where they'd first met.
Casey doesn't say anything after Chuck's finished talking, just growls angrily. "Too bad I didn't bring my carving knife," he growls.
"That's very disturbing," Chuck says, though he can't help but smile, "but I appreciate the sentiment."
"You're actually going to hear this douche out?" Casey asks, "No geeky plans for revenge?"
"No," Chuck shakes his head. The bar is only a few steps away now. "He said I could leave whenever I wanted to, and there are just some things I need to know. Even if I don't feel remotely ready for it."
Casey shakes his head just as they enter the bar, "You're something else, dweeb."
Bryce is sitting in a corner, picking at the label of his beer and glancing at his watch. He looks uncomfortable, which Chuck didn't think was even possible. Bryce always looks like he's fitting in, like he's comfortable; it was one of the things Chuck found most annoying about him, since Chuck is usually awkward everywhere. "Sorry to have kept you waiting," Chuck says, sliding into the booth. They're fifteen minutes late.
"I'm not," Casey says, his grin a challenge. Bryce doesn't rise to it.
"It's fine," Bryce says, "I'm just glad you came at all." Chuck doesn't say anything in response and neither does Casey. There are a few moments of awkward silence before Bryce says, "Believe it or not, Chuck, I did it for you."
"You know what, I don't think I want to --" Chuck says, anger flaring up inside.
"Chuck, no, wait, okay," Bryce says, hand shooting out and gripping Chuck's wrist. He lets go quickly at Casey's warning growl. "Remember all those accidents that kept happening around you after Christmas break? You slipped in three different staircases, your oven and microwave kept threatening to start fires, Mr. Hakley would keep flunking your appetizers and threatening to flunk you entirely for that class. There was a bunch of other stuff too, Chuck, I know you noticed them because you usually mentioned it like it wasn't a big deal. It wasn't, not individually, but eventually it was happening too often to be just bad luck or clumsiness. I got curious, so on a whim I hacked into the CIA database --"
"You did what?" Chuck demands, voice rising in volume. "Are you crazy?"
"Something was going on!" Bryce insists, "And I found proof. Apparently Mr. Hakley had a habit of getting world famous secret recipes and selling them to the highest bidder. He was after your dad's recipes, Chuck, and remember how you always said it was kind of weird how invested he seemed in your career? That was why. He was hoping you'd let slip the location of the recipes if you trusted him enough, and since you were graduating soon, he stepped it up."
"This is insane," Casey says, "What kind of morons do you think we are?"
"It's true," Bryce insists, digs around in the bag on the seat next to him and brings out some folded-up papers that turn out to be e-mails between Mr. Hakley and a Ms. Korkler -- heckling first over David Liederman's famous cookie recipes and later, the worth of the famous Bartowski recipes. There are photographs of pages from one of Chuck's notebook, and of Chuck himself. Sometimes with Bryce and other people, but mostly on his own. "These are only a few of the things that were on his computer, okay, I know it sounds crazy. I thought it was all a joke, at first, but then the mugging happened."
"That was just a random attack," Chuck protests, because that's what the police had said. Chuck'd been walking back to the room alone when he'd been jumped and beaten, waking up in a lot of pain and to Bryce's worried face. "The police said so."
"It wasn't," Bryce said, "When I found you, there was a note." He slides it across the table top, and in angry caps is written 'THE BARTOWSKI RECIPES OR WORSE. MEET SUNDAY AT 5, UNION'. "I took it and went to the meeting myself. I was only going to tell him that I knew what he was trying to do and that'd it never work, that I had all the details I needed to go to the police should anything happen to you. He pulled a gun and said you'd probably give the recipes over quite quickly if he shot me as a warning, so I pretended to have a change of heart. I told him I'd get him the recipes for him, that you'd trust me with them, so long as he didn't do anything else to hurt you."
"You've never mentioned any of this, ever." Chuck says, "Not even a hint."
"I couldn't." Bryce says, agony in his voice. "I had to get you away quickly after that, in a way that'd make sure I couldn't be used against you and to some place that was out of his reach. He wouldn't be able to go chasing after you back to California, so I planted the pot and called the campus police, and I made sure you'd figure out it was me."
"If this is all true," Chuck's voice is nowhere near as steady as he wishes it was, "and I am not saying that I believe you, then why didn't you just tell me all of this? Why keep me in the dark? I would've given you the recipes."
"I wanted you safe, Chuck," Bryce says. "I didn't think about anything except how to make sure you were safe. I know how much those recipes mean to you and Ellie, man, you told me about your dad, remember? I wasn't about to let anyone near them, especially not some asshole who would sell it to the highest bidder."
"Why admit to all of this now?" Casey asks, arm balanced along the back of Chuck's seat. It's strangely comforting. "If you were so worried about Chuck's safety then, what makes you think it's safe now?"
"Mr. Hekley died a few months ago," Bryce says, "The way I see it, the threat is gone."
"This is insane," Chuck says, repeating Casey's earlier words. "How do you expect me to believe all of this? It sounds like the plot to a really bad action movie."
"It's the truth," Bryce says, "I swear, and I know that my word might not mean a lot now, but it's all true. I've only ever wanted what was best for you. If I was going to lie to you, don't you think I would have come up with one that sounds more plausible than this?"
"I'm not sure about this, Bryce," Chuck says. "You said I could leave whenever I wanted to, and I think I might have to do that now. I need to think."
"Okay," Bryce says, nodding. "I understand, Chuck. But...if you decide there's some truth in my words, then please, Chuck, come to the wedding tomorrow. Even if it's just for a little while."
"I'll think about it, Bryce." Chuck says, and adds as an afterthought, "Is it okay if I grab these?"
"Go right ahead," Bryce says, "I thought you might want to. I have more copies at home."
"Thanks," Chuck says, and slides out along with Casey. "Have a -- have a good night."
"You too, Chuck. It really is good to see you again."
He takes a deep breath once they hit the pavement outside, in and out, nice and steady. Casey watches him in silence for a moment before he asks, "You okay?"
"Yeah, just --" Chuck takes another deep breath, "Kind of a lot to take in."
"It sounds ridiculous," Casey says, clearly taking it as an invitation to voice his opinion. "You don't really believe this guy, do you?"
"I don't know, Casey," Chuck says honestly. "It's ridiculous, but there are all those crazy stories in the news all the time, right? I mean, maybe it's so ridiculous it's true. I just -- I need to think about it."
"No," Chuck says, "I think that this, I really do need to do on my own. Thanks though, and thanks for coming with me."
Casey shrugs. "Don't mention it."
Chuck smiles at him and looks down the street, towards Enticing Icing and towards his apartment. He knows Casey's apartment is in the other direction. "I'll see you tomorrow, Casey."
There's also an old police report of a student claiming Mr. Hakley was blackmailing her, which was never fully investigated as the student turned out to have been on medication for psychosis.
He spends three hours in front of Devon's computer. Nearly every search turns up in Bryce's favor, and those that don't are usually just vague about the actual details. Everything seems to point towards a recipe-conspiracy at the Culinary Institute of America, and the few people mentioned who'd tried to step forward (a comment on a blog, an update on Twitter, report to the police) are dead. Chuck eventually falls asleep on the office couch around three.
He's not entirely sure he believes Bryce's story 100% yet, but by then it's definitely over 50.
There's no real comment on the fact that the spy cake has a small bride and groom made out of modeling chocolate on it the next morning. Casey doesn't even look all that surprised to find that additions have been made to his cake during the night. "I take it this means you've decided to go?"
"Not really," Chuck says honestly, "But I was thinking that maybe I could come along when you deliver it. I'm not okay with being there as an actual guest quite yet, but I think that as a representative of Enticing Icing, I'll be alright. Besides, you were invited too."
"Doesn't mean I had any plans to stick around," Casey points out. There's a silence while Casey looks at him, and then he sighs, "Leaving in two hours."
"I know," Chuck says, not looking up from the roulette wheel he's currently doing the final touches on. "I'll be ready."
Casey moves off, and it's half an hour of silence later when Ellie and Devon turn up. "You guys are here early," Ellie says, coming over, and Chuck really hopes she doesn't somehow sense that he spent the night on the office couch. "You two have a good night out?"
"It was an experience," Chuck says, which is true, even if the next part isn't, "He's actually frighteningly good at darts, even after a couple of beers."
"That...doesn't surprise me, Chuck," Ellie says, "I'm glad you're getting out with someone that isn't Morgan or his friends."
"I wouldn't say Lester and Jeff are his friends," Chuck protests, "More like old work acquaintances."
Ellie shrugs. "Still. They're creepy."
"And Casey's not?" Chuck asks, grinning.
"That's a different kind of creepy, and you know it," Ellie says, though she's smiling. "Next week we have eighteen cakes."
Chuck laughs. "I look forward to it."
"Do you, Chuck?" Ellie asks, settling down on the stool next to him. "Because I know this wasn't ever what you had in mind. The cake decorating was my dream, and I dragged you into it. This whole thing with Bryce's wedding has made me think about that a lot, and you are so talented -- not just when it comes to cakes. You could have any chef job you want, are you sure you're really happy being your big sister's Sous Chef?"
"If I didn't, Ellie, I swear I'd tell you," Chuck says, Bryce's words from the night before ringing in his head. "I'm happier here than I think I would've been anywhere else."
Ellie stares at him for a long moment, searching his eyes, and he doesn't look away. Eventually she nods. "Okay, Chuck. I'm glad you think so." She kisses him on the forehead and walks off to the one cake that is still largely unfinished, smiling to herself.
By the time Chuck and Casey have to leave in order to make the deliveries, there is only one cake left unfinished, and both Anna and Ellie are hard at work on it. "Drive safely, dudes," Devon tells them, handing them the keys to the Cake Mobile.
The Christmas Carol cake is very well-received by the twenty-three year old it was intended to surprise, and they stick around just long enough to see Scrooge and Tiny Tim get split and eaten.
It gives Chuck a weird feeling, still, to see the cakes he's spent days making actually get eaten, although at least these people aren't tearing into it, like what'd happened to the first cake he'd delivered on his own. That experience is still etched into his mind quite vividly, like this one documentary he watched as a kid of lions tearing into a zebra.
They arrive at the hotel where the wedding reception is being held early, carrying the cake between them into the hall that's decorated in shades of black and white. It looks great, Chuck thinks, setting the cake carefully down on the table they're led to and the wedding planner, after introducing herself brightly as Emma, exclaims delightedly over the cake.
"This is so great," she says enthusiastically, pulling a strand of hair behind her ear. "It's very them, they have this little inside joke, you know, about how if they hadn't ended up at the Culinary Institute of America, they'd be in the other CIA. It's totally adorable. Man, you guys did a great job! The others won't arrive for another half an hour, so occupy yourselves, but don't touch anything. I need to go do a check of the flower arrangements."
She disappears in a rush, and Casey snorts with obvious amusement after her. "That kind of cheerfulness can't be natural."
"She reminds a little of Ellie."
"Maybe on some kind of drug."
Chuck shudders. "That's so very, very wrong."
There's a grin lurking on Casey's face as he admits, "The first couple of times I met her I just figured she was actually on something."
Chuck can, in a way, understand that. The first few times Casey was brought in to work in the bakery before he actually had been hired, had been weeks when too much had gone wrong and it was truly impossible for just Ellie, Anna, Chuck and Devon to fix it. Times when Ellie is at her most brilliant and most scary, micromanaging like crazy.
It had been after the fourth time that Devon had said during dinner that it'd be stupid of them to not just hire Casey on full-time. Ellie had been skeptical as Casey was, and still is, a sculptor and the only training he'd had in the kitchen was -- as he'd admitted himself -- helping his sister cook and bake as a kid. He was good in a pinch, but there had been doubts about his capabilities for the more extensive work.
It was a useless argument as Anna had no training at all, other than what Chuck and Ellie taught her after Chuck and Anna decided to quit their job at an electronics store called the Buy More, which had been the first place that'd taken on Chuck as an employee after the whole CIA thing.
Chuck had just been apprehensive about hiring him full-time as Casey always gave off the impression that bodily harm was in Chuck's immediate future, no matter what Chuck did. A cake decorating business was no place to be twitchy.
Devon had talked them around to a trail week, which had gone absolutely swimmingly, and just halfway through the week, Casey had been made an official employee.
In hindsight, Chuck thinks, it might've been one of the best things to have happened to Enticing Icing -- even if Casey still looked like he wanted to strangle Chuck most of the time, and refused to ever actually say the bakery's name.
"You still up to congratulating the newlyweds?" Casey asks, startling Chuck out of his thoughts.
"Yeah," Chuck says, and there's a sliver of annoyance in his tone. He knows it might not be his best decision ever, but he's tired of the repeated questions. He can make up his mind on his own.
"Good, 'cause their ETA is 12 seconds."
"Oh god," Chuck says, and in his sudden panic, blurts out, "Is she prettier than me?"
This of course means that when Bryce and his...wife reach them, Casey’s laughing too hard to really greet them.
"Chuck, I'm so glad you came," Bryce says warmly, enveloping him in a quick hug. When he steps back, he leaves one hand on Chuck's shoulder and places the other one on his blonde bride's waist. "Chuck, I'd like you to meet my wife, Sarah. Sarah, this is Chuck."
"It's great to finally meet you," Sarah says with a genuine smile, shaking his hand. "I've heard so much about you from Bryce."
"Uh, well, it's great to meet you too," Chuck says, awkwardly. Sarah is wearing an absolutely stunning white dress, hair pinned up and looking, Chuck thinks, exactly like every bride wants to look on their wedding day. "This is my -- this is John Casey."
Sarah shakes his hand, smiling. "It must have been quite the joke."
"One for the books," Casey agrees, still chuckling, "Congratulations on the wedding."
"Thank you," Sarah says, and as Casey steps back, he also reveals the cake behind him. "Oh my god, that's amazing."
"Wow," Bryce says, stepping forward and Chuck uses the opportunity to take a step closer to Casey. He's not hiding behind him, just...minimizing the possibility for being the sole focus of attention again. "I knew you guys would do a great job on this, but this is just incredible."
"We've always had this little joke," Sarah explains, "Ever since I started working at the Culinary Institute and met him, that if we weren't working there, we'd be working for the Central Bureau of Investigation."
"Haaa," Chuck says, "Good one."
"It's so adorable," Sarah says, "I just love it. Honestly, you did such an amazing job on this. It's almost a shame to eat it."
"Casey did most of it," Chuck says, at the same time as Casey goes, "We're used to it."
Sarah and Bryce both laugh and look so happy next to each other. It's a relief when the guests start streaming into the hall for real, the noise level suddenly rising through the roof. "I'm sorry," Bryce says, "We'll have to make the rounds for a little bit. You'll stay for the cake-cutting, at least, I hope?"
"Oh please," Sarah says, "You have to. It'd mean so much."
"Uh, well, we might get called back in to the bakery," Chuck says, which is a blatant lie. Other than the two wedding cakes and the birthday cake, there's nothing waiting for them in the bakery other than the cakes for next week. By now, Ellie and Devon have probably closed up for the weekend.
Casey growls something that can be taken as an ambiguous affirmative.
"I really hope you stay, Chuck," Bryce says, placing his hand gently on Chuck's shoulder again and squeezing a little. "It really would mean a lot, and we have so much to talk about still."
Bryce and Sarah disappear into the crowd. Casey scowls after them, "I still don't like him."
"Yeah, well, my goodwill is wearing a little thin by now," Chuck admits, "I say we go now."
"Yeah?" Casey says, "You sure about that, Bartowski? I mean, no protest here, but I just didn't think you capable of deceit."
"Yeah, well," Chuck says, "I'm not making it a habit."
Casey snorts with amusement and gestures for Chuck to lead the way. On their way out, they bump into Emma again, who takes one look at them and exclaims, "Oh, you're not leaving already, are you? I know the couple had hoped the two of you would stay."
"Cake emergency," Casey says, "A five-tier cake fell over during transport. We're all needed."
"Oh my god," Emma says, hand covering her mouth as she gasps. "That's awful! I'm sure Bryce and Sarah will understand!"
"Yeah," Casey agrees easily, curls his fingers around Chuck's wrist and continues walking. "Give them our sincere apologizes for leaving early."
"Great job on the planning," Chuck adds before they're out of earshot. "She might not have seemed like the brightest crayon in the box, Casey, but I think even she picked up on the sarcasm there."
"Good." Casey says with some satisfaction, "I wasn't trying to hide it."
how it ends
"Chuck, there's a postcard here for you, bro, from Greece." Devon says, holding the card out until Chuck lays down the carving knife to take it from him. "Who's it from?"
"An old friend," Chuck answers, and if it had been Ellie, there would have been follow-up questions, but Devon just grins and moves back to his desk.
"Well," Casey says, from right behind Chuck's shoulder. "Since Sarah has a sunburn, than I would definitely say you're prettier."
"Casey, was that a compliment veiled in a joke?" Chuck asks, "Because if so, I gotta say, that's flattering, but so very, very unexpected."
"If that's the way you want things to go, Bartowski, you need to man up and ask," Casey replies, and moves back to his own cake, leaving Chuck staring after him in surprise. He glances back at the postcard, at Bryce's writing asking if he'd like to meet up for lunch sometime after he's back from his honeymoon, to really work things out. Try to rebuild their friendship.
"Casey," Chuck says, walking after him, "Would you like to go out to dinner sometime?"
Casey stares at him for a moment in silence, like he's surprised that Chuck's actually followed through since they've been dancing around this for a while now, before he grins and says, "Sure, Chuck, it's not like the insane amount of hours I'm forced to spend in your annoying presence already due to work is too much or anything."
"Which is a yes, right?" Chuck asks after a moment, just to make sure. "Right?"