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If you have a shot, you take it.

Chuck and Stacker have a shot. They take it. QED.

All he sees is a flash of white-hot light, and then – nothing.

Later, Hermann will tell Herc as a measure of small comfort that it happened too quickly for Chuck to feel any fear or pain.

Herc, surprisingly, is not comforted.

 

 

Chuck is dead.

 

 

Chuck wakes up.

 

 

His sheets are tangled around his sweaty body, twisted up from the force of his thrashing. Normally Max wakes him from his nightmares, but the bulldog stayed with his dad last night.

Wait, last night?

He sits up with a start.

He’s – awake, and unharmed, and – what?

The only logical conclusion, he determines, is that Stacker shoved him into an escape pod against his knowledge, but… God, he really doesn’t remember that.

He scrambles out of bed, pulling on a t-shirt and pants before heading barefoot for the door. He finds his father with Raleigh in the control room, the two of them speaking in a low voice as they look out over the loading bay.

The war clock is still running.

“What happened?” he asked as he approaches his father, irritated beyond belief that no one told him, that they just put him back to bed, that they felt he was so weak he couldn’t handle news of their failure.

Raleigh looks up. “What happened when?”

“The bomb, the breach – the category five,” Chuck says, impatient. “What happened?”

Raleigh and Herc share an open-mouthed, confused look. “What are you talking about?” Herc asks.

“The plan!” Chuck yells. “What the fuck happened?”

A gravely voice speaks up behind him. “Operation Pitfall is still in effect, Mr. Hansen, and I’d ask for you to keep your voice down.”

He turns. “You survived too?” he asks Marshal Pentecost with disbelief.

“Chuck, what are you talking about?” Raleigh leans forward and circles his fingers around Chuck’s wrist, and for a moment his hysteria is soothed, confusion fading.

Then he rips his hand away and snarls, “I detonated that bomb on Striker Eureka and I bloody well deserve to know what happened after.”

Raleigh blinks. “We haven’t detonated the bomb yet. Were you – did you dream about it?” His face is so sympathetic. It makes Chuck sick.

“It wasn’t a dream, it was real,” he protests.

Raleigh and Herc share another look, less of blank confusion and more of – of bloody sympathy.

Chuck does not need their sympathy. Chuck chose to die a hero, and that’s where he should be, not patronized as some sniveling infant.

He should be dead.

Raleigh steps forward again. “Chuck, it was a dream,” he says soothingly. He reaches out as if to grasp Chuck’s shoulder.

Chuck slaps his hand away, panicking. Nothing about this makes sense. He’s confused and scared, and the last thing he needs is to be fucking condescended to by Raleigh fucking Becket.

So he runs away, bare feet slapping against the cold metal ground, Max trailing after him.

 

 

He spends the day in a daze, trying to piece together what possibly could have happened, how he could have survived, why no one else remembers. It’s while he’s pacing in the loading dock that it finally sinks in, as he’s looking at the war clock ticking away overhead.

This isn’t the day after. It’s the day of.

Chuck has to die again. He doesn’t even know if the plan worked, if their heroic sacrifice enabled Gipsy to destroy the breach once and for all. Gipsy was so torn apart already, one slam from a kaiju would have been enough to take her down.

For all Chuck knows, he didn’t die a hero.

For all he knows, he just died.

But then Chuck looks out over the dock, and Striker Eureka’s there, beautiful and strong as she ever is.

And nothing makes sense, but for a moment, as he sees the light shine off her metal plating, everything’s okay.

 

 

Only it’s not okay.

It’s not okay.

The alarm goes off, Tendo’s voice over the comm telling them that there are two Cat4 kaiju signatures emerging from the breach. Chuck lost track of everyone in the confusion, and realizes he knows where he’s going to find them, because he’s already done this once.

He misses the Marshal’s speech because he’s getting suited up, but he knows it wouldn’t have the same effect the second time around, knowing what he knows. The idea of heroic sacrifices is ringing kind of hollow to him at the moment.

He’s jogging down the hallway to catch up with Marshal Pentecost when his father flags him down. And he just – doesn’t have the energy. He can’t do this again, can’t listen to his father’s voice crack with that crippling swirl of emotion. This is the last time his father will see him alive, he knows.

And Chuck’s tired. He’s exhausted. He can’t relive this, this chasm that opens in his chest, this rift of emotions that tears into him like knives.

So when his father opens his mouth to talk, Chuck snaps, “I don’t have the time for this right now,” and flees.

He doesn’t look back, but he can picture his father’s stricken face.

Stacker frowns as he takes his place in the harness. “Maybe you’re not as much your father’s son as I thought you were,” he mutters.

Chuck flinches, curling in a little on himself. Yep. Knives in his fucking chest.

 

 

Then there’s the Drift, and Stacker’s eyes snapping open to stare at him.

“I told you,” Chuck rasps, still coming down from the neural handshake himself.

“It was a dream, Hansen,” Stacker grits out.

“It wasn’t –”

It was a dream.” Stacker stares forward, muscles clenching in his jaw. “And even if it wasn’t, it changes nothing.”

Chuck jerks in his harness. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

“We stick to the plan,” Stacker says. “You said it yourself. If you have a shot…”

Chuck scowls.

“If you have a shot…?” Stacker prompts again, voice harder this time.

“You take it,” Chuck growls.

 

 

They have a shot.

They take it.

The white-hot blaze.

 

 

Chuck wakes up.

 

 

This time, he curls up in bed, digging his fingers into his hair. Dammit. He tried to modify his strategy this time, tried to rush so he could beat the damn Cat5 out of the breach, but it happened the same way – Gipsy Danger being crippled, Striker damaged beyond functional use.

The bomb.

He’s impatient, almost jittery, all day. This time, he thinks he has a plan. This time, he’ll tackle the kaiju into the breach.

“When you drift with someone –”

“Not now, Dad.”

“Maybe you’re not as much your father’s son as I thought you were.”

It doesn’t work.

He’s not strong enough.

 

 

Chuck wakes up.

 

 

Raleigh finds him doing pull-ups in the Shatterdome’s gym, sweat soaking his shirt around the collar and armpits.

“What are you doing?” he asks.

Chuck grunts, does another set of five. When he drops down, all of his momentum breaks, leaving him overworked and exhausted. He sways on his feet, stumbling.

“Whoa!” Raleigh catches him around the waist. “What gives, Hansen?”

“Need to be stronger,” Chuck grits out, blinking away the spots in his vision.

“I don’t know how much you know about exercising, but working yourself to death this morning sure isn’t going to help fight the kaiju this afternoon.” Raleigh smiles, but it’s somehow sad. “You’re that worried, huh?”

Chuck growls and rips himself out of Raleigh’s grasp. He storms off.

 

 

Raleigh’s right, of course. Chuck is so fatigued from his workout session that he lasts even shorter than usual against the Cat5, and he and Stacker have to detonate 600 yards from the breach.

 

 

It doesn’t matter.

 

 

Chuck wakes up.

 

 

It’s in the mess hall that he pieces it together – and really it shouldn’t have taken him this long, but he feels like no one could reasonably blame him for his confusion. But then he realizes it.

He didn’t survive.

This is Hell.

Chuck Hansen chose to die a hero. But that’s when he thought he only had to die once.

So Chuck Hansen, shame simmering low in his gut, finds a secluded corner of the Shatterdome and hides.

 

 

The alarm goes off.

The intercom calls his name.

Again.

Again.

The last time, it’s his father’s voice, echoing through the whole base with panic and raw anger coloring his tone. “Chuck, where are you? We need you in Striker, now!”

He doesn’t go.

Herc suits up, even with his injured arm.

The plan fails.

The last two remaining Jaegers fall.

The kaiju are coming.

 

 

Chuck wakes up.

 

 

This morning, Chuck throws up until his throat is raw.

So, he thinks, resting his head on his drawn-up knees, giving up isn’t an option. He’d rather die a hero than survive a coward. Even if this is Hell, even if he’s doomed to live this day for the rest of eternity, he’s not going to hide. He can’t.

Chuck’s never waited in his room for this long before, so he doesn’t expect Raleigh’s arrival. He’s surprised when a strong, warm hand smoothes over his hair, and his head snaps up, eyes wild.

“I didn’t know you were this worried,” Raleigh whispers.

Chuck thinks about jerking away, but he’s just too tired. “I’m not,” he says vaguely, not bothering to explain himself.

Raleigh slides to a seat next to him, pushing away the trashcan where Chuck had been emptying his stomach. “Herc sent me to check up on you, make sure you were ready for the drop. Wanna talk?” he asks.

Chuck does, and doesn’t. He shakes his head.

“I know Mako’s not as zen about this as she’s acting, either. And the Marshal can act confident all he wants, but he knows damn well this is our last shot. I’d be surprised if he can even get to sleep at night.” Raleigh says.

“What about you?”

Raleigh looks over, surprised at the mumbled question. He huffs a laugh. “I guess I’m pretty nervous,” he admits.

He should be, Chuck knows.

“I bet you succeed,” Chuck says, head lolling back. He slants a sidelong glance at Raleigh. “You seem like you would. After me and Pentecost get fried, I bet you make it.”

He wonders who he’s trying to convince.

“Hey, it might not go down that way,” Raleigh says, gently scolding. “Maybe we’ll get fried and you’ll have to save us all.”

Chuck smiles, but it’s grim. “Nah. I’m not good enough.” He flops his hand in a vague wave. “Need to be stronger, or faster, or something. I just can’t beat that bastard. I’ve tried. Dying is the only shot I’ve got.”

He’s so tired.

“What…?” Raleigh asks, frowning. He starts to move forward as if to get up.

Chuck slaps a hand on his chest to keep him down. His head feels like it weighs a ton, so he rests it on Raleigh’s shoulder to keep him down. No way Raleigh can get up now, right? “No, not this time.” He laughs. “I guess that’s one good thing, huh? I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

Raleigh brightens. Chuck assumes that he’s reassured that Chuck’s not suicidal because Chuck’s promising him a future. He feels a kind of fond pity for how little Raleigh knows.

“Just…” Chuck closes his eyes. “Stay, yeah?”

“Okay,” Raleigh promises.

They sit there in silence for hours, until the alarm goes off. Chuck’s sore and his leg’s asleep and he has a crick in his neck like you wouldn’t believe, but –

There are worse ways to spend his last day, he figures.

 

 

“When you drift with someone –”

Chuck stops, this time. Turns to his father. “You don’t have to say it,” he says, but his voice is soft. “I know, yeah? I promise you, I know.”

“Okay,” Herc croaks. His eyes are wet.

Chuck bends down, kisses Max’s forehead.

 

 

Chuck wakes up.

 

 

This time, he’s a man on a mission.

Pentecost has seen his memories in the drift dozens of times, and he doesn’t care. But Pentecost’s a fixed point. His job is to be predictable. So he won’t change his plan, because he’s not that guy.

Raleigh is, though.

Chuck waits in his room, pacing. Then Raleigh shows up, right on schedule.

“Hey,” Chuck says, grabbing Raleigh’s sleeve.

“Hey,” Raleigh says, brow furrowed. “Uh, your father sent me to check on you. Is everything alright?”

“Dandy,” Chuck says, dragging him away. “We’re gonna go drift.”

“Ok.” Chuck waits a beat. Then, “Wait, what?”

It doesn’t take long to convince Tendo to initiate the neural handshake. They do it in Gipsy Danger, because Chuck wants to give Raleigh what little comfort he can while he shakes up his whole world.

Chuck takes a deep breath as the drift starts up. He’s not totally sure what he’s hoping for, here, but he knows that Raleigh can do things no one else can, that he and Mako are a team worthy of legends. Raleigh will have a plan.

He comes out of the drift reassured, and then he sees Raleigh’s horrified face and he realizes how inadvertently cruel he just was.

Because Pentecost’s right.

It doesn’t change anything. The plan is the same. Get the bomb to the breach, detonate it. Die in the process, if need be.

All that’s different now is Raleigh knows what Chuck is sacrificing before it’s even happened.

“Look, don’t – don’t try to change anything, yeah?” Chuck croaks, hoarse. “Stick to the plan. If we die taking them out, then that’s okay. You guys have to get to the breach.”

“Chuck, we can’t –”

“Stick to the goddamned plan, Becket!” Chuck roars, then flees.

 

 

“When you drift with someone –"

“I can’t, Dad. I just can’t.”

“Maybe you’re not as much your father’s son as I thought you were.”

Knives in his fucking chest.

 

 

Raleigh’s an idiot, though. Too loyal by far.

So Gipsy Danger falls, trying to save Striker.

And Striker falls.

And the white-hot blaze still comes.

 

 

Chuck wakes up.

 

 

This time, he’s crying when Raleigh shows up. Really crying, because he’s finally accepted that it’s not going to change. He can’t alter history. Striker Eureka is going to fall, whether or not Raleigh or Pentecost or Chuck himself knows the truth about it. He’s going to die, and he thought he wanted that, and really, really, when it comes down to it –

He does want that.

He wants to die.

Why can’t he just fucking die already why can’t he die WHY CAN’T HE DIE

Raleigh opens the door and stops dead, shocked.

And Chuck –

Chuck grabs him by his shirt collar and surges up to kiss him, mashing their lips together with enough force to split his lower lip.

Raleigh reels back, gasping, “What are you doing?”

“Help me forget,” Chuck says, eyes flashing. He yanks Raleigh inside, kicking the door shut behind him.

“You’re crying,” Raleigh whispers, rubbing away Chuck’s tears with the pad of his thumb.

Chuck swipes at his eyes with the back of his hand, impatient. “Fucking whatever.” He shakes Raleigh. “I want to forget. Distract me.”

“This isn’t healthy,” Raleigh says, but even as he says it, he’s backing Chuck up onto his bed, pushing him down and following after until he’s hovering over Chuck’s body.

Chuck laughs snidely. “Yeah, that’s really my concern here.”

Raleigh smiles, deprecating. “I guess.” He kisses Chuck.

Chuck loses himself in it.

 

 

It’s rough, violent, almost feral.

Raleigh keeps trying to slow things down, worship his body with gentle reverence, but Chuck can’t handle that right now, so he baits Raleigh with cruel lies and glares, disgust in the curl of his lips.

It doesn’t feel as good as it should, he thinks. But it’s still a distraction, still helps wipe his mind for those crucial minutes of the fate he knows is ahead.

When he closes his eyes, he can picture that massive kaiju rising from the depths.

So he doesn’t close his eyes. And when he starts to slip, when memories threaten to flood him, he says, “Come on, you bloody weakling, fuck me as hard as you wish you’d been fucked the day after your brother died.”

That gets Raleigh going, fucking him so rough the mattress shakes the metal frame.

But after, when Raleigh’s bent over the bathroom sink washing his face, eyes dead like they haven’t been in days, Chuck can’t feel that good about it.

 

 

This time, he’s looking forward to dying.

 

 

“When you drift with someone –”

Chuck ducks his head and speeds up, too emotionally flayed open to even cut him off.

“Maybe you’re not as much your father’s son as I thought you were.”

 

 

Chuck wakes up.

 

 

When Raleigh opens the door, Chuck is waiting for him, sitting on his bed with his legs crossed. “Hey,” he says, quirking his lips up at Raleigh in what someone else might call a smile.

“Hey,” Raleigh says.

Chuck waves him inside. “If this is my last day on earth –”

“Don’t say that,” Raleigh says, sitting on the edge of his bed.

“If it is,” Chuck plows on, “can I ask you for something?”

Raleigh shrugs. “Depends what, I guess?”

Chuck curls his hand around the back of Raleigh’s neck. He leans in slow, so Raleigh can pull away if he wants to.

He doesn’t.

The kiss is slow, methodical, with all the gentleness Chuck hadn’t allowed the day previous. And it’s sweet, syrupy, spreading heat through Chuck’s body from all the places they touch.

He pulls away after a while, burying his face in Raleigh’s shoulder. He presses a kiss to the curve of muscle where it meets his arm.

“You’re acting weird,” Raleigh says, not unkindly.

“It’s my last day on earth,” Chuck says in a hushed voice. “If I can’t indulge myself today, when can I?”

“Am I an indulgence?” Raleigh asks.

Chuck smiles. “Raleigh,” he says, because when all’s said and done, he likes how the name feels on his tongue. “Make it good for me, yeah? Don’t give me anything to regret, after.” He nudges his nose against Raleigh’s cheek, and Raleigh turns into it, kissing him again.

“Okay,” Raleigh breathes against his lips.

“Don’t give yourself anything to regret, either,” Chuck says.

Raleigh’s eyes go molten hot, and he turns, manhandling Chuck down onto the bed. “You’re never gonna be a regret, Chuck Hansen,” he says.

Which is – something he’s been waiting to hear for a long time, actually.

 

 

This time, when Raleigh wants to kiss his way down Chuck’s body, Chuck lets him. When he nuzzles Chuck’s hip and curls a hand around his cock, easy and smooth, he lets him. And when Raleigh fingers him open for what feels like hours, Chuck moans and writhes and digs his heels into the mattress – and lets him.

When Raleigh finally does push inside, Chuck’s body opens for him with practically no resistance, so dripping wet and stretched out that it’s an easy slide. And it’s incredible, leaving him so full. If he were a sentimental idiot, he’d say it made him feel complete.

And when Raleigh actually starts fucking him in earnest – well, Chuck doesn’t have a word for that feeling.

 

 

Afterwards, Raleigh rests with his head on Chuck’s chest, breathing slowly evening out as their bodies cool from the exertion.

“So you gonna run along back to my dad and tell him you took care of me?” Chuck asks lazily, pressing his lips against Raleigh’s hair.

Raleigh looks up, though he doesn’t stop tracing meaningless curlicues over Chuck’s belly with his fingernails. “Huh?”

“My father sent you, yeah?”

“Um, no,” Raleigh says, looking down again. “Just wanted to.”

Chuck processes this for a minute. Raleigh was lying those other days, he realizes now. Raleigh was worried about him. Or maybe, just maybe, Raleigh wanted to spend his last day with Chuck also.

“You’re not so bad, you know?” Chuck asks. “Like… I guess I kind of like you, a little.”

Raleigh’s grin is blinding. “I know.” He stretches his neck to kiss Chuck. “But it’s nice to hear, still.”

 

 

“When you drift with someone –”

“It’s okay, Dad. Don’t say it. I know.”

“Okay.” Herc whispers, blinks back tears. “Okay.”

 

 

Chuck kisses Max’s forehead.

 

 

Chuck wakes up.

 

 

He’s tried everything. He’s told Stacker, he’s told Raleigh, he even told Herc.

He’s tried getting stronger, tried anticipating the kaiju’s attacks, tried fighting better. Nothing works.

He’s drunk himself blind, hid in the closet, and had the thoughts fucked from his head.

And he’s still not good enough, and he still won’t die.

And Raleigh said he wasn’t going to be a regret. Great. But what Raleigh didn’t say, and what Chuck knew all along, was that in order to be a regret, he would have had to be a memory first.

So today, Chuck stops trying.

 

 

When Raleigh comes to check on him, he’s waiting with Max’s leash in one hand and a deck of cards in the other.

He grins up at Raleigh, bright-eyed and eager. “It’s my last day on earth, so – wanna help me enjoy it?”

He and Herc teach Mako and Raleigh euchre, playing with their standard house rules: if either team loses 10-0, they have to streak through the building. Herc and he have played this game 100 times against 100 different teams, but Mako and Raleigh are the first ones to actually lose without winning a single hand, and the hilarity of seeing Raleigh run buck naked through the mess hall is almost worth the terror of Stacker threatening to rip off his dick for humiliating his daughter.

Mako does it anyway, of course. She can appreciate the honor of following through on a bet.

He smokes a cigarette. It sucks, and he’s coughing the whole time. He finishes the damn thing anyway.

He plays catch with Max in the mess hall, sending the bulldog scrambling over tables, upending plates and utensils in the process. Somehow, he didn’t anticipate having cups of milk dumped on his head as revenge for it.

But that’s okay, because he and Raleigh trade handjobs in the shower afterward, muffling their laughter against the other’s lips.

He and Herc and Raleigh and Mako set up lawn chairs on the deck and stare out over the ocean, trading stories and dirty jokes. Chuck spends the entire time trying to get Mako to blush, but she’s got a master poker face and doesn’t twitch at even his lewdest comments.

Raleigh does, though, and Chuck takes full advantage of that, whispering all the dirty things he’d like to do to him while Mako and Herc are chatting with each other and not paying attention. Raleigh gets a blush like the sunset, varying shades of pink darkening his cheeks.

Mako teaches the men hand games and makes them sing along in Japanese, and Chuck is terrible at them, unable to sing and count the beats in his head at the same time. After his fourth fuck-up, he gives up, content to sit back and watch Raleigh and Mako. They’re perfectly in sync, hands becoming practically a blur, and their voices meld soft and sweet in harmony.

After that, he’s hungry, and he and Raleigh swing by the cafeteria to eat, feeding Max in between bites.

Chuck gets so caught up in the activities of the day that he’s startled by the alarm, something dropping in the pit of his stomach. He and Raleigh exchange looks.

“How was it?” Raleigh asks. “Not bad for a last day?”

Chuck swallows. “Pretty good, actually,” he says, trying to smile.

It was a good day. But he wants to keep trying to have a better one.

He wants to wake up with Raleigh tangled up with him in his sheets. He wants to smoke a second cigarette and see if it gets any better, he wants to get tipsy without having to feel like he’s failing himself. He wants to talk to his father without the looming threat of death forcing their words.

He wants to live.

Chuck wants, more than anything in the world, to live.

He’s died a hero’s death a hundred times and it’s never been enough, it’s never given him the sense of fulfillment that he’s been waiting for.

But this day, this day filled with every unproductive leisure activity he’s never allowed himself to enjoy, has given him everything he never realized he was lacking. And it’s taught him what he’s lacking still, what he wants.

He wants the morning after.

 

 

Herc catches him in the hallway, as always. “When you drift with someone –”

“Dad.” Chuck says, stopping his father with a raised hand.

There’s so much he could say. But Chuck and his father are never going to have that kind of relationship, never going to spill ‘I love you’s like water.

They don’t have to, though.

“I know, yeah? I’ve always known.” He curls his fingers into his father’s collar. “It’s the same for me. It’s always been the same for me.”

Herc’s eyes are probably wet, but Chuck can’t tell.

He can’t see Herc’s face, with the way they’re wrapped up in each other’s arms.

 

 

The euphoria of the day is already fading when he gets into the harness, and by the time the drift is being activated, he’s settling into a state of grim misery.

“Look sharp, I can’t have you slacking off right now,” Stacker says, taking his place beside Chuck.

Chuck shrugs and knuckles his eyes. “Doesn’t matter, sir. Just gonna do it all again tomorrow anyway.”

Stacker furrows his brow at Chuck. “What?”

“Never mind, you’ll see in a minute.”

They activate the neural handshake. The drift is always deep, but this time, it threatens to swallow Chuck alive. When he comes back to himself, Stacker is staring at him.

“Well,” Stacker says eventually. “You’ve had a long day, Hansen.”

Chuck quirks his lips. “That’s an understatement, sir.”

He’s lived this day a hundred times, but the prospect of having this particular slate wiped clean is unbearable. He feels like all the pieces have finally fallen into place, like his life is in order for the first time since he was nine.

And when he wakes up, Herc won’t remember the fact that they hugged for the first time in over ten years.

And Raleigh won’t remember smiling against each other’s lips in the steamy shower, sated and happy in the afterglow.

And Chuck will remember everything.

“A hundred days of being ready to die, and this time you want to live,” Stacker comments.

Chuck nods miserably. “I won’t screw up the plan, sir,” he says. “You don’t have to worry about me not making the final play. I’ll do what I have to do.”

“I know you will, Chuck,” Stacker says, shaking his head. “You are your father’s son.”

“Disconnecting transportation,” Tendo warns over the comm. “Brace for drop.”

Chuck forces thoughts of Herc and Raleigh from his mind. He braces for impact.

 

 

Marshal Pentecost is a fixed point.

Marshal Pentecost takes care of his men.

These points, Chuck learns, are not mutually exclusive.

He’s dazed and bloody, spitting bile onto the floor of Striker’s cockpit. The category five kaiju looms overhead. He’s trying to help, but he’s dizzy and incoherent and when Stacker shoves him back into his harness, he doesn’t resist.

“Stay where you are!” Stacker roars into the comm.

“We’re coming, Striker!” Raleigh’s voice crackles through the speaker.

“No, Gipsy, you need to detonate the nuclear core inside the breach,” Stacker commands.

“Clear a path,” Chuck wheezes. He smiles. Black spots are dancing in his eyes. “For the lady.”

“Not this time, Hansen,” Stacker growls.

Chuck’s eyes slip closed. “Take care of him, Dad. Take care of Max.”

This time, there is no white-hot flash.

This time, there is only darkness.

 

 

Chuck wakes up.

 

 

Everything hurts.

When he cracks his eyes open, a wave of nausea runs through him. The light is like needles stabbing into his eyes. He has a feeling he has fewer working fingers than he normally does, and he doesn’t know if he should be more worried that the left side of his body is burning, or that the right side isn’t.

“Don’t try to get up,” comes Raleigh’s voice from above him. “They say you shouldn’t move yet. You need more sleep to recuperate.”

Chuck smiles, which hurts his face, but then again – everything hurts.

But it doesn’t matter. He could be happy never gaining full feeling in his hands again. Because he’s not waking up alone in his room. He can feel the heavy, familiar weight of Max on his feet, smell the antiseptic and ointment scent of the infirmary.

“What time is it?” Chuck rasps.

“God, I dunno.” There’s a rustling sound, and then warm lips brush against his forehead. “The only clock in here is the war clock.”

“And?” Chuck opens his eyes just a crack more, and finds Raleigh’s smiling face hovering above him.

“And it’s stopped at zero.”

And with that beautiful statement still running through his head, Chuck falls asleep.