Just because he didn't dream about Knifehead anymore didn't mean Raleigh Becket had outgrown his nightmares. Oh, no. He had a whole new set of headmovies booting him out of what little sleep he could get these days.
Usually, he sat on the edge of his bed for a few minutes, deciding whether he should try to sleep again or get up and prowl around the empty shatterdome hallways, thinking about how few people had stayed once "indefinite leave" became an option. Wondering if he had anywhere else to go.
Acknowledging that even if he left, he'd have all the same problems and even fewer people around who understood them.
Tonight, he skipped straight to grabbing a hoodie and striding out into the chilly, curved halls. He felt strangely like an indigestible parasite moving through some strange, metal digestive tract as he went, but he guessed it was better than dwelling on the latest nightmare of falling through the Breach only to find Yancy waiting on the other side. Not his Yancy, though. This Yancy had massive claws and glowing kaiju-blue eyes and a smile that was nothing but sharp teeth and a tentacle tongue that reached out to wrap around his throat and pull him in.
He shuddered and sped his step, as if he could outrun the memory of it. Then, he heard something. A... metallic something. Scraping, maybe?
Frowning -- but not even a little bit unhappy about something distracting him from his thoughts -- he tried to follow the echoes, turning up this hallway and down that one, until he stood with his head cocked to one side in the mess hall. He hadn't exactly checked his display for the time when he escaped his room, but it had to be the wee hours of the morning. No one should be in the kitchen for hours yet, even to prep for breakfast.
So who the hell was trying and failing to be quiet in the damn kitchen at this time of night?
Still cocking his head, he shoved his hands into his hoodie pocket and was abruptly glad he hadn't put on any shoes. His heavy-duty socks muffled his footsteps enough that he was able to edge around the empty buffet and past the racked plates, bowls, and coffee cups without drawing any attention to himself.
Then, he stopped and stared, debating the chances of a successful hasty retreat before Chuck Hansen turned around and noticed him.
Unfortunately, curiosity won out. He and Chuck didn't exactly get along, though they both acknowledged that they made one hell of a self-sacrificing team when it really counted. Chuck had been willing to flip the switch on a thermonuclear bomb to clear the way for Gipsy. Raleigh had been willing to flip the switch on Gipsy to nuke the kaiju-infested planet in another dimension. Respect had been earned and given on both sides.
None of that meant Chuck wasn't an arrogant, passive-aggressive dickhead or that Raleigh had ever had enough patience to deal with that shit. That said... why was Chuck banging around in the kitchen at ass o'clock in the morning? Did the big Australian jerk have nightmares, too?
What the hell was he doing?
An open loaf of bread sat off to one side, along with a wedge of cheese and a tub of butter. The second he registered the ingredients for a grilled cheese sandwich, Raleigh's stomach woke up and roared. Loudly.
Chuck startled and spun around, spatula in hand like a weapon, then froze, much as Raleigh had. "Oi, what the fuck, mate?"
Just as startled, he blurted the first thing that came to mind. "I could ask you the same thing."
Assured that he wasn't being attacked, the brat lowered the spatula and stood up straight. "None of your goddamn business, Ray. The fuck are you doing sneaking about this time of night?"
He bristled, then actually took a good, hard look at the jerk who had been a dick to him since Day One. In the harsh glow of the lone fluorescent bank turned on overhead, Chuck looked... pale. Hollow-eyed. Exhausted. The ginger hair stuck up randomly, like the kid had done his fair share of tossing and turning before giving up on sleep for the night.
So, drawing on a well of patience that had never been particularly deep or easily replenished, Raleigh decided to be honest. "Had a bitch of a nightmare. Didn't want to risk falling back into it. Decided to take a walk."
After a long moment, Chuck turned away and flipped his sandwich, then answered without turning back. "Dreamt I was visiting Pentecost's grave. To pay my respects, yeah?" The broad shoulders hunched, almost like the kid was expecting a retaliation of some sort. "He... his hand reached up from the dirt and grabbed me 'round the neck to pull me in with him."
Well. Fuck. Yeah, that'd send Raleigh on a midnight kitchen raid.
"Mum always said there wasn't much a grilled cheese couldn't fix."
Jesus. Was it the time of night that had opened the kid up? As far as Raleigh knew, that was the first time Chuck had even mentioned his mother in his earshot. Sure, he knew the story. Herc had broken down after a few beers and told him and Yancy after their team drop in Manila.
But he'd never for one second expected Chuck to talk about her. Not after how much it had poisoned the Hansens' relationship all those years. Especially not to Raleigh, of all people.
The kid -- because Chuck really was just a kid, twenty-one years old or not -- slid his sandwich out of the skillet and onto a plate, then paused, turning his head the slightest bit.
"Want one? I already have the stuff out, yeah?"
Raleigh's eyebrows rose. "Uh... yeah, actually. I can't remember the last time I had a grilled cheese sandwich."
Brandishing a knife he'd pulled out of God knows where and turning enough to actually look at him, Chuck managed a tired smirk. "Now, see, I can't let that stand." So saying, the brat cut the plated sandwich on the diagonal, then handed it off. "Comfort on a goddamn plate, 's what that is. Eat up."
Wary but starting to believe that middle-of-the-night Chuck wasn't nearly the asshole everyday Chuck was, Raleigh obligingly took the plate and turned to lean against the counter a few feet down from where the kid was already slicing himself some more cheese. He picked up a sandwich half, amused by the melted cheese stringing between the two, and took a bite.
And moaned. Loudly.
"Any more of that, and I'm gonna take it the wrong way, mate."
Fuck that. Raleigh was currently experiencing food nirvana. The bread -- a good, strong sourdough -- was crispy and buttery, a perfect complement for the gooey, melty sharp cheddar inside. Sweet mercy, but he couldn't remember the last time he'd tasted anything so simple, and yet so perfect.
Another bite, another moan. Jesus, he hadn't even known what he was missing.
"Seriously, Ray. That is not a food noise you're making."
The first half disappeared on a constant litany of soft, groaning moans, and Raleigh did not care even the slightest that Chuck's smirk was currently dialed up to eleven. The arrogant bastard had earned it.
By the time he started in on his second half of bliss, Chuck had finished making his own sandwich and actually scooted over to lean on the counter next to Raleigh. The brat made appreciative noises as he ate his own handiwork, but nothing quite so ecstatic as Raleigh's. Then again, who knew how many times the kid had rolled out of nightmares to make himself a grilled cheese over the past ten years or so?
And when they were done, Chuck washed the dishes and Raleigh dried without consulting on it, and they headed their separate ways without so much as a token argument.
Nice. But it would probably never happen again.
Another night, another set of nightmares. After the third one, Chuck gave up for good and hauled on a t-shirt and his boots to head for the kitchen. His old man sometimes gave him shit about the midnight grilled cheeses, but only sometimes. Other times, the poor bastard joined him, fresh from his own nightmares that they didn't need to talk about, that hollow-eyed look about him that Chuck was all too familiar with from his own mirror.
And from Becket last week.
Speaking of, Chuck couldn't help but be a little disgruntled to stride into the kitchens and find the wanker mucking about with the skillet Chuck usually used. Did the ratbag think he could just swoop in after a single grilled cheese and steal Chuck's soothing ritual?
Dammit. The poor sod looked exhausted and wild-eyed as he looked over his shoulder, his hair sticking up in the back and his face too pale, especially under the fluorescents. Hard to be mad at the bloke when he looked as ragged as Chuck felt.
"Sorry, I...." Becket stopped, huffed a tired laugh, and turned back to the range. "Want some French toast? I haven't made it in a dog's years, so it may be awful, but I woke up with Yancy screaming at me over the Drift and decided, fuck it, I'll give it a try." A deliberate pause. "It was his favorite."
Well, shit. No arguing with that. Plus, it might be nice to have someone hand him a plate for a change. Herc couldn't cook for shit, so the midnight grilled cheese duties had always fallen to Chuck.
"If you're sure you have enough?"
Another quiet huff. "Are you kidding? I think I overestimated my appetite by a week and a half. Or I used Mom's old recipe from memory, and she was feeding three kids and a husband."
Sure enough, as Chuck edged further into the room, he realized there was already a steaming hot pile of finished toast on a plate on a backburner. "Then count me in, mate."
Grinning a little and looking a bit less wild-eyed, Becket forked three thick slices onto another plate, poured on a bit of syrup, sprinkled on a little powdered sugar from God knows where, then handed the lot off. Dubious, Chuck cut into a corner, just a small bite, and taste-tested.
He blinked. "Damn, Ray. Think you missed your calling, yeah?"
Because it was good. No, it was better than good. Sweet and rich and cinnamon and some other spice he couldn't quite place -- he'd been in one shatterdome after another since he was ten, so he hadn't had a lot of time to sit and sniff seasonings -- and he took a much bigger bite to roll around and savor. Jesus. Nothing beat a grilled cheese, of course, but French toast was moving right the hell up on his list of comfort foods.
"Fuck me, mate. This is... fuck."
And damn if the bloke didn't look pleased by the commentary. Almost as pleased as Chuck had secretly been the week before with Becket making all those bliss noises.
"Most people stick to cinnamon and nutmeg, but I like to add a dash of clove, too." Grinning, the silly sod went back to dipping more toast in a disgusting-looking egg mixture. "That was Mom's little trick, and all three of us learned it well."
Some of his food pleasure dimmed, though he kept right on cutting new bites and wolfing them down. Finally, he shoved a mouthful over into his cheek and tiptoed into the pool.
"Do you think about them a lot?"
Because Chuck thought about his mum a lot. Except for those times when he didn't think about her at all for longer and longer stretches, then felt guilty as hell for it.
The broad shoulders slumped, but Becket didn't seem too downcast. "Yeah. It hurts, but it feels better at the same time. Does that make sense?"
Weirdly enough, he did. So he nodded.
"I, uh... I tried to track Jazmine down. Well, I asked Tendo to try."
His eyebrows shot up. Sometimes, he forgot that Becket's whole family hadn't died. Like he forgot that he had an uncle out there God knows where, doing God knows what.
But he didn't like to think about Uncle Scott.
"She ran away from the foster home they put her in, and the system lost track of her, but I hoped...."
He swallowed awkwardly, the glorious French toast a lump in his throat. "She might still be out there, yeah?"
The bloke nodded, but there was no agreement on his pale, set face. "I thought that. While I was on the Wall. That she was out there somewhere, safe and making a life, and if she didn't try to find me, it was because of what happened with Yance. That she hated me, and that was okay, because it was all my fault."
"It was. But I was okay with taking the blame. And I was okay with her not contacting me because of it, or because I was always on the move myself, because that meant she was out there somewhere, safe and making a life, even if she didn't want me in it."
The bloke paused, flipped the latest piece -- which looked to be the last piece, if the nigh-empty bowl of egg yuck was anything to go by -- then sighed heavily.
"But she knows exactly where I am now. Hell, the whole world knows exactly where I am. And she knows that we managed to close the Breach. I...." He swallowed hard, his back and shoulders tense. "Either she still hates me, or... something happened to her. I... I have to face it sometime, right? That she either hates me too much to forgive me or... she's been gone all along."
Jesus. He wanted to say that all should be forgiven, what with the bloke saving the world and all, but... it wasn't like the alternative was any kind of comfort, either. Which was worse?
Fuck if he knew. All he could do was watch as the sad sod piled a plate of French toast, doused it with syrup, sprinkled it with sugar, then just stared at it.
Greatly daring, Chuck leaned against the counter right next to the filled plate and tried a sad imitation of his usual cocky smirk. "Go on, mate." The smirk faltered. "Look, I know it won't help, but at least it tastes really fucking good, yeah?"
Dark blue eyes met his for a moment before the bloke managed a hint of a smile and lowered them. "Guess I got one thing right, then, huh?"
And if Chuck emptied his plate with a bit more gusto than he actually felt, well... at least the poor sod knew someone appreciated him. It was really all he could do.
Raleigh wasn't surprised to find Chuck in the kitchen at a few minutes past 3 AM. Not this time. He was surprised, however, when the kid just glanced up from his plate, nodded a welcome, and went back to his grilled cheese. Since the fixin's were already on the counter, Raleigh turned the range back on and started buttering two slices of sourdough.
Oddly enough, Chuck shook his head. "Just couldn't sleep."
He could definitely understand that, so he just nodded and slapped the bottom piece of bread on the warm skillet. The kid kept eating his sandwich, and it could probably be considered rude for the two of them to be in the same place but ignoring each other, but it wasn't. They weren't ignoring. They were just... tired.
God, he was so tired.
But he was also better, he thought. A little better all the time. And he was surprisingly grateful for the company, even if they didn't really chitchat.
Then, halfway through his last triangle of grilled cheese, Chuck huffed a quiet laugh. "You know what I wanted to be when I grew up?"
He found himself grinning, though he hadn't given his mouth permission. "I'm guessing you mean before being a jaeger pilot became your all-consuming passion."
"A marine biologist."
Blinking, he shot the kid a look somewhere between "what the fuck" and "I'm impressed".
"When I was just a sprog, we went to the beach for the day, and I found a jellyfish in the sand. Mum said not to touch it because it would sting me, but I wanted so bad to put it back in the ocean because even a five-year-old knows that water things die when they're not in the water."
The grin spread, and he shot the brat a knowing look. "You waited until her back was turned and tried to pick it up, didn't you."
It wasn't a question. He knew.
"Oh, my God, nothing had ever hurt like that fucker hurt."
He really shouldn't laugh, but it was probably okay because Chuck was grinning ear to ear and about one step shy of laughing, himself.
"Then Dad came running over and whipped out his dick and pissed on my hand, and I had no fucking clue what was happening. I just knew it hurt and Dad was pissed. Literally."
The laugh got bigger. Again, probably okay, because this time, Chuck was laughing, too.
"I decided right then and there that I wanted to know how something see-through that didn't even have discernible guts could put such a hurt on me. I read everything I could find on jellyfish, then moved on to cephalopods, starfish, coral, all that shite. I couldn't get enough."
The laughter faded, but the grins lingered. And Raleigh's sandwich was done, so it was perfect timing. He plated and halved, and it was crispy and gooey and frankly delightful. Bliss on a plate. Not quite as good as the one Chuck had made, somehow, but still good.
"I think that may be what first pissed me off about the kaiju. They were so goddamn toxic that even when we killed them, they just destroyed the ocean. All those reefs I studied were just... gone. No one knows how many species are extinct now because of it or if the ocean will ever recover. Hell, most of the people who studied that shit before are dead now. We may never know."
For a long moment, Raleigh continued to eat his sandwich and considered. He and Chuck never talked like this in broad daylight. Hell, they rarely even crossed paths during the day, and that wasn't entirely an accident.
It was only these nighttime kitchen excursions that opened them up. Because their defenses were down from exhaustion? Because there was a kindred feeling about being the only two people awake in the wee hours?
He didn't know. He just knew that, for whatever reason, when they were alone in the harsh puddle of fluorescent light thrown by the lone turned-on overhead, they were somehow friends. They could talk.
So: "I think, once they get most of the Kaiju Blue out of the water, at least some of the ocean life will come back."
For whatever reason, the kaijus' toxic fluids were less dense than seawater and tended to float on the surface like an acidic oilslick. While that had proven deadly to people and animals and even ships at first, it had turned into a blessing in disguise once clean-up started. It couldn't just be skimmed off, but doing so was a damn good start.
Luckily, Chuck was clearly thinking the same direction, because he nodded and put aside his empty plate. "Cephalopods will, for sure. Those fuckers can adapt to damn near anything. I wouldn't be surprised if they haven't already formed colonies in heavy toxic areas, since nothing else can live there." He shrugged. "Coral's pretty delicate, though. Even a small change in overall PH can kill off a whole reef."
Grilled cheese really was a comfort food. As he popped the last bite into his mouth and chewed with quiet bliss, Raleigh was almost positive that the nightmare that had chased him from his bed couldn't have been nearly as bad as he'd thought at the time. In fact, he was almost certain he'd really just wanted a grilled cheese.
Not that he blamed himself.
So, he grinned and nudged the kid with his elbow. "They did all those reef reclamation projects back in the early 2000s, right? Once they get the shallows clean, maybe they can reintroduce some of the tougher species and see if they catch on. Get the coral and plant life back in growth, and whatever's left will come back."
Chuck's eyes narrowed, and he leaned back to give Raleigh a suspicious look. "Oi, did you wanna be a marine biologist, too?"
He chuckled and grabbed the kid's plate to wash them both. Following his lead, Chuck gathered up the skillet, knives, and spatula.
"Yancy was addicted to Nova."
It took them a long time to wash those few dishes and longer still to remember to put away the bread and cheese. They were too busy comparing favorite episodes to make much headway.
Neither minded too much.
Chuck didn't miss that wanker. He really didn't. And if said wanker was sleeping easier, well, that was a good thing for the poor, exhausted sod.
But it had been almost three weeks since their last middle-of-the-night conversation, and as he chewed irritably at an otherwise blameless grilled cheese, he couldn't help but wish for a little company.
Not Becket, of course.
Just... someone to talk to.
Thus, when he heard a noise whilst taking the skillet and plate over to the sink to wash, he paused. He didn't like to admit he was hoping for a certain blonde bedhead to come strolling into the kitchens... but he was absolutely hoping for exactly that. He'd make the wanker a dozen grilled cheese sandwiches for another middle-of-the-night conversation about... anything, honestly.
Okay, maybe he missed the wanker.
Thus, when the blonde bedhead did, indeed, appear from around the dish rack, Chuck didn't bother hiding his grin. The bloke was scruffing at his hair, caught mid-yawn and scuffling along in socked feet. It was stupidly adorable.
"Oi, took ya long enough, didn't it?"
Blinking blearily, the silly sausage just looked at him for a long moment. "You were waiting for me?"
He blustered. "No." He hadn't been. Really. "Just heard you blundering about from the other side of the 'dome and wondered if you were gonna make it before I washed the pan."
"Oh. Sorry. I can make it mys--"
"Oi, just stay out of my way, yeah?"
Finally grinning a little, the wanker put his hands up and walked over to lean against the counter, just far enough away to be out of the way. Now that Chuck got a good look, Becket actually looked fairly well-rested. Yes, he was a bit bleary-eyed, but that was to be expected at this time of the night.
No, most of that hollow-eyed look had faded since their last kitchen excursion, and Chuck felt... weird. He suddenly had no idea what to say. On one hand, if the wanker had found a way to get some real sleep, more power to him. But it would mean no more midnight talks about coral reefs and his mum and Becket's brother and whatever the fuck else came to mind.
But that was selfish as fuck, so he cleared his throat and tried to keep his attention on cutting the cheese into even slices. "I know it's the middle of the night and all, but you're looking pretty well-rested these days, mate."
Yawning again, the silly sod rubbed the heel of one hand into his eye. "Ugh, sorry." Slumping, he shoved his hands into his pajama pants' pockets. "Yeah, my doctor's trying me on a new sleep aid."
Oh. That was....
Assembling the sandwich in the skillet didn't take all his attention, but this time, he tried to act like it did. "So... it's working, then?"
Which was good. The bloke needed the rest. Hell, they all needed the rest.
Even if it meant no more lonely kitchen confessions. Just the two of them, no expectations, no past hanging over them to muck them up. Just two blokes trading stories in the night and trying to heal as best they could.
But Becket hadn't answered yet, so Chuck snuck a look at the wanker and found him frowning at the floor.
"Is it not working?"
After all, the bloke was here. Not in bed, asleep.
The bedhead tilted one way, then the other. "Yes and no." Sighing, the poor sod rubbed at the other eye. "I mean... yeah, I sleep, but...."
He narrowly resisted the urge to prod the poor bastard with his spatula. "But...?"
Another sigh. "It knocks me out completely. It feels like I can't wake up, ya know?" A tight smile that looked more like a grimace. "And for someone who had to be awake at the drop of a kaiju alarm for the past how many years...."
He got it. He did. He, too, would feel paranoid as hell if he didn't feel like he could wake up at the first sign of threat.
"I know it's stupid." The poor sod shook his head. "I should be shouting to the rooftops. Everyone keeps saying how rested I look, how I must finally be doing something right." That tight smile again. "They have no idea how long I stare at that pill every night and how much it takes to talk myself into swallowing it."
Chuck narrowed his eyes. "So you didn't tonight."
This smile was more realistic but still wan. "Busted."
He nodded and flipped the sandwich. The toast was perfect on the top side, brown and buttery and crispy. He really had gotten good at the timing over the years.
But he'd probably rather be sleeping, if he could.
And Becket should be, too. If he could.
Sighing, he looked up and caught those bleary blue eyes with his own. "Mate, you need to sleep. Can they maybe decrease the dosage?"
The wan smile again. "We tried. Ever had sleep paralysis?"
He shrugged. As far as he knew, he'd never even heard about it, let alone had it.
"Be glad." The bloke shuddered, paling a bit. "It's where your mind wakes up, but your body's paralyzed like you're still asleep. You can't move, and you start to freak out because it feels like you're trapped, and you can't tell for sure if you're awake or not, and there's no way out of it."
He blinked. "Jesus."
"Yeah. We tried it once. Never again."
"Fuck, mate, I don't blame you." He frowned down at the sandwich, then slid it out onto the plate. He knew without looking at the flip side that it was done. "I'm guessing you've already tried other meds and this is the only one that's worked?"
Nodding, the bloke rubbed at the back of his neck. "Some of them actually made the insomnia worse. One gave me a blinding headache for three days. Another one made the nightmares worse. Shit, we've been tinkering with it since we closed the Breach." To his credit, the poor sod managed a wry grin when Chuck handed over the cross-cut sandwich. "Thanks, man."
He waved the gratitude away and busied himself with putting everything away. "So if this is the one that works, this is the one you ought to use, yeah?"
Sighing heavily, Becket picked up a triangle, watching the cheese stringing between the two halves as if they were tea leaves in the bottom of a cup. As if they could guide him or tell him his future.
"I know I should. I just wish I wasn't so fucking helpless when it knocks me out."
Chuck started to protest, but that first bite seemed to knock the frustration and confusion right out of the bloke. There was that groan again, soft and definitely not something that should be caused by mere food.
Yes, that was indeed his dick taking full notice. Helpless, he watched as the rotten bastard flicked his tongue over that full lower lip to collect a tiny string of cheese. As the cut jaw clenched and relaxed whilst the pretty wanker chewed. The bob of the Adam's apple on the slow swallow.
And fucking hell, that groan....
Flustered, he turned himself away, well aware that his pajama pants were loose but of a thin flannel that wouldn't hide an erection at all, and snatched the skillet off the stove to wash it. This time, he made it all the way to the sink, safely presenting his back to the goddamn sod he'd always known was objectively attractive but who hadn't looked like sex on two feet until just--
No. Not until just now. He may have only noticed it all the way up to the top of his mind now, but... hadn't he known? Deep down? Wasn't that why he'd missed the wanker's company? Had looked forward to another midnight chat in the unflattering fluorescent lighting that somehow still managed to flatter the bastard?
Fuck. He wished like hell he knew exactly how long he'd had a goddamn crush on the bloke, because now he wasn't sure he hadn't been broadcasting it far and wide this whole fucking time.
But... probably not. Becket clearly hadn't noticed. Admittedly, the rotten sod was having a damn near sexual encounter with his food over there, but still.
And it wasn't as if they spent so much time together anywhere but in the kitchens in the middle of the night. They didn't exchange more than polite grunts to each other for months after the Breach, and really hadn't been more than civil even after the kitchen excursions started.
So, no. He was probably safe enough.
Except he wasn't, because now he knew he had a goddamn crush on Raleigh Fucking Becket, and he was going to blush like a moron every time he looked at the wanker from now on. Fuck his pale, freckled skin right out the goddamn door.
And why was the ratbag still making those goddamn noises? It was one goddamn sandwich, not an all-you-can-eat buffet.
He absolutely did not imagine that groaning whisper thrumming right against his ear. He didn't.
"I'm actually kinda pissed about this. I swear I do exactly the same thing you did last time, but mine are nowhere near this good. What the hell do you do different?"
Well, shit. The good, warm, appreciated feeling came back, and he sighed. He was a goner. "Probably just not having to make it for yourself, yeah?"
"Fuck that. This is amazing. Just right."
He closed his eyes. That bastard would be the death of him. "Anyway, back to before you went all Sexual Healing on a goddamn sandwich...."
The bloke snickered, and Chuck found himself grinning and finally able to turn back and face the music. Thank God, but the rotten sod was down to one last bite.
What were they talking about before?
Oh, right. "As I was saying, I know it sucks to feel drugged like that, mate, but--"
Sighing, Becket put that last bite of sandwich down, which wasn't at all what Chuck intended. He let the rest of his thought go, then tried to rally.
"Oi, don't...." Yeah, that was going nowhere. "Look, I can't say I completely understand. I'm not an insomniac, yeah?"
Both eyebrows rose, and the bloke eyed him incredulously.
He rolled his eyes. "Okay, yes, I'm currently awake and making grilled cheese sandwiches at whatever the fuck time it is, but that's rare, yeah? And I was up because of a nightmare, not because I couldn't sleep. I can usually get to sleep just fine."
Blinking, Becket nodded slowly. "I guess that makes sense, then."
He frowned a bit. "What?"
"That I've only bumped into you a few times instead of practically every night."
It was his turn to blink.
"It's not just nightmares that keep me from sleeping. Sometimes -- most times, actually -- I just... can't."
He blinked again, feeling like he was missing something. "So you, what, go for a stroll?"
"Used to." The bloke shrugged and finally tossed the last bite into his mouth. Thankfully, he didn't groan in ecstasy again. "Lately, I've been coming here. If you're not here, I make myself something. Sometimes, I try grilled cheese, but like I said, I can't get it just right."
He was reduced to blinking for a record third time.
"What, you didn't notice I've finally started putting on some weight?"
"So...." He almost didn't want to say it because it sounded too good to be true. "Mate, are you saying you've started coming to the kitchens... looking for me?"
Shrugging as if it was nothing, the bloke strolled over with his plate and gestured for Chuck to move aside so he could wash it. "Sure. Not like we ever talk during the day. In fact, I've kinda been missing it over the past few weeks."
He blinked and realized he'd been staring, and now the bloke was staring back at him, starting to look a bit uncomfortable. And before he could stop himself, he blurted.
"I missed you, too."
Oh, fuck a one-legged jaeger. That was not what he meant to say. Because that wasn't what Becket had said. Not at all.
The poor sod's eyes went wide, then narrowed. Then, the bedhead tilted, and Becket just looked confused. "Huh."
"Oi, mate, I didn't mean--"
"Ssh. I'm thinking."
He blinked. "Did you just shoosh me?"
What a wanker. If the sod didn't look so goddamn adorable in his bleary, middle-of-the-night confusion, Chuck would be pissed. As it was, he was hard-put not to grin fondly.
"So... what you're saying is... if I were to kiss you right now, you wouldn't punch me in the face?"
One eyebrow rose. "Seriously. That's what you shooshed me to think about? How to word it so you wouldn't get punched?"
Now the wanker was obviously trying not to grin. "You gotta admit. You are a little punchy."
"Oi, you threw the first one!"
No, that wasn't a grin. That was a smirk. "You gonna pretend you didn't deserve it?"
"Ugh." Rolling his eyes, he leaned in, fairly confident of his reception. "Shut up and kiss me, yeah?"
Smirking, the ratbag did so. Lo and behold, it wasn't awkward. No punching was involved. At one point, the bloke's hand touched Chuck's arm, not to pull him in closer but just to be touching him. It was... nice. No tongues. Nothing invasive. Just--
Oh, fuck it. It was maybe the best kiss of his life, and it was barely even open mouth.
Then, the bloke pulled back just enough that their noses brushed. "So... if I said I'd feel one fuck of a lot better about taking those goddamn sleeping pills if I knew someone who could wake me up in an emergency was right there... would I get punched?"
"No." Part of him wanted to be flippant, but the rest of him knew better. "Might get laid, but not punched."
Okay, maybe a little flippant.
And totally worth it for the blush crawling up the poor sod's throat and into his face. "Jesus."
"I know, I know. Too soon."
"Definitely." But when the pretty ratbag pulled back enough to blink those baby blues at him, the wanker looked damn smug. "But not by much, maybe."
He shook his head, though his dick had once again taken notice of the timbre of Raleigh's voice. "Fucking tease."
The rotten bastard actually waggled his eyebrows. Snorting, Chuck pulled away enough to lean against the sink right next to him.
"Probably too late for you to take anything tonight, yeah?"
"Oh, God, yeah." Raleigh shook his head and dried his plate. "I'd be fucking useless all morning if I took anything now."
Nodding, he watched the bloke put their dishes away. "So... any chance we could crash in one of our rooms and watch a movie or talk or something? Might put us to sleep, either way."
"Are you calling me boring?"
He grinned. "Honestly? I'm asking if you wanna cuddle."
The blush rose up again, and Chuck began to wonder how many ways he could make the pretty sod color up. He probably wouldn't find out too many tonight, but it was definitely food for thought.
"It's been a long time. I probably really suck at it."
Shrugging, he leaned in just shy of another kiss. "Practice makes perfect?"
"Who knew Chuck Hansen was a sap?" The ratbag tilted his head just so. "How many pillows do you have?"
He blinked and pulled away enough to bring the handsome face into focus. "Is that a trick question? One?"
Shaking his head, Raleigh reached down and took Chuck's hand. It was stupid. It was also pretty fucking adorable, so Chuck didn't argue.
"That does it. My room. I have four. How the hell do you even sleep with just the one?"
He also didn't argue when the ridiculous wanker tugged him out of the kitchen. "What the fuck do you do with four pillows?"
A smirk. "Get really fucking comfortable." Oh, Jesus, that was a bonafide wink. "You'll see."
They made their way through the night-silent shatterdome hallways, still holding hands like little kids in a fairytale. It wasn't a thing Chuck could have pictured himself doing even a few weeks ago, but he rather liked it for now. He liked the occasional glances Raleigh shot him, too, as if checking to make sure this wasn't a hallucination, that it wouldn't just stop being real if he looked away for too long.
And when they shut Raleigh's door behind them and Chuck saw that the bloke did, indeed, have four big pillows tossed about on his bed, he couldn't help but wonder why he hadn't seen this coming. No, they rarely talked during the day, though he thought that was changing even as they settled in a slightly awkward heap amongst the ridiculous pillows and Raleigh keyed up a movie.
But they had fallen so easily into conversation in the kitchen quiet. He should have known. Not like he talked to anyone else that openly. Hell, he still didn't talk to his own old man that easy.
"I knew you could say my name right."
A snicker caught him offguard, and he nudged the wanker. "Fuck you. I was gonna say something profound, ya wanker."
"So say it."
"It'll sound stupid now."
Those baby blues rolled. "Just say it. Jesus."
So, he said it. "Can we maybe... talk? Tomorrow? Out...." He gestured vaguely at the door. "Out there?"
He held his breath, but he shouldn't have. He'd apparently underestimated exactly how lonely Raleigh had to have been to go looking for Chuck... Chuck... every time he couldn't sleep.
"Yeah. We can." Shifting a bit, the bloke settled again, and suddenly, their heap wasn't awkward at all. "Besides, I never told you what I wanted to be when I grew up."
He blinked, the movie forgotten. "Fuck. You didn't. What'd you wanna be?"
But the rotten sod only grinned and turned his head to plant a tiny kiss on Chuck's temple. "I'll tell you tomorrow."
He grunted, blushing. "Cheeky fucker."
But he wasn't complaining. Not one little bit. Grinning, he settled in and let himself feel completely comfortable surrounded by a frankly ridiculous number of pillows and one Raleigh Becket.
There. Just right. Like a grilled cheese sandwich in the middle of a restless night.