Despite all odds, that little shit makes it out of Operation Pitfall alive. It’s mostly due to Stacker Pentecost’s bleeding heart and close friendship with Herc that the man manages to knock Chuck out and send him out in a barely-functioning pod before Striker went up in salted flames, but still. Chuck is alive.
It’s cause for celebration.
Unfortunately, he’s in a coma.
Raleigh doesn’t know why, but now that the threat of the apocalypse is no longer hanging over his head, he lets himself in indulge in things he hadn’t before. Like staring at Chuck. True, Chuck is out cold and has been for over two weeks (yeah, Raleigh’s just been sitting here, talking), but still. It’s a luxury he can now afford. Though he wonders if the fragile peace they had won before Pitfall was still enough between them for now, just so that he knows if Chuck is going to want to beat him senseless when he wakes up.
You know, for stalking him while he slept. Or whatever Mako had said, she’s so mean sometimes.
Mako. Yeah. She’s doing better, healing slowly after Pentecost’s death, helping Herc with cleaning up the PPDC and moving things over to Sydney. Herc wants to go home, Mako needs to leave hers and Raleigh needs to find one. He doesn’t know why staring at Chuck sleeping is going to help, but there you have it.
Raleigh sits in with Chuck in the medical wing of the Sydney Shatterdome, flipping through a book. He frowns. “This is… probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever read,” he says to the sleeping figure. “You would probably hate it though.” He clears his throat anyway. “Good Omens,” he starts. And then he reads.
He’s halfway through the book a week later when he hears someone come in.
“Whoa, Mako, you scared the…” Raleigh trails off. Because it’s not Mako.
The man looks young, with light, auburn-brown hair that curls at his neck and behind his ears, making a wave across his forehead. His eyes are hazel and behind thick, plastic-framed glasses, he’s cheeks scruffed with stubble. He’s in a t-shirt with the Striker Eureka logo emblazoned on it, a grey blazer over that, paired with jeans that had holes from wear in the knees and high top sneakers. He can’t be that much older than Raleigh.
Reporter or tourist, he thinks, though the man looks oddly familiar.
“Bleedin’ hell,” he says softly, his Australian accent thick. Okay. So maybe he’s just a reporter.
“I don’t think you can be in here,” Raliegh says, frowning and putting the book down. The man’s head snaps up, as though he hadn’t noticed Raleigh in the first place.
“The fuck did you just say to me, wash-up?” the man snaps, and Raleigh feels like he’s seeing Chuck the first time they met, back when he first came to Hong Kong.
“Do I know you?” Raleigh says, standing up, crossing his arms and glaring.
“No, but I know you, Raleigh Becket. Only surviving pilot of the first Gipsy Danger team. First half of the current, retired team along with Ms. Mako Mori.” At Mako’s name, the man’s voice gets oddly soft. He shakes his head. “The hell you doing in his room?”
“I’m always in here,” Raleigh snaps, then feels his neck flush in embarrassment at what that could be interpreted as. “No reporters. I don’t even know how you-”
“Reporter?” the man laughs. He shakes his head. “I’m not a fucking reporter, you bloody drongo.”
Raleigh blinks. “Then who the hell are you?”
At that, Raleigh leans around the man and sees Mako standing in the doorway, a lunch tray in each hand, probably having planned to eat lunch with Raleigh. Her eyes are wide, though, and she’s staring at the man with something like reverence and affection in her eyes. Raleigh looks around for the bulldog she’d called, thinking maybe he’d been trying to get past her or nipping at her ankles, but instead he finds nothing.
“Mako,” the man says and it slowly dons on Raleigh…
“You’re Max?” Raleigh says, spluttering. “I thought the dog was Max?”
“The dog is Max,” Mako says, still frozen. “Named after this Max. Maxwell Hansen.”
“Hansen?” Raleigh says, his voice strained. “Like Chuck Hansen?”
“More like Scott Hansen,” Max says, eyes still on Mako who hasn’t moved an inch. “My father, to be exact, unfortunately.”
Raleigh stands there, staring at the two of them, wondering why he never saw this Max character in Mako’s head. “What the hell is going on?”
Turns out, Max Hansen is 28 and Chuck Hansen’s older cousin. He’d grown up with Mako and Chuck and had entered the Academy before them, but not to pilot a jaeger.
“I’m a psychologist,” he explains later, when they’re all seated and Raleigh is eating. He sits on Chuck’s left side and Max sits on the right with Mako, surprisingly. They share her tray of food. “Specialized in dealing with rangers after they come out of the program. I am… well, was part of a group that went out and tracked down rangers that left or were discharged.”
“Why?” Raleigh asks.
“To analyze the effects of the drift on them afterward,” he says. “Sometimes I played scientist, other times I played therapist. On occasion psychiatrist.” He shakes his head, eyes glued to Chuck. “I was never able to track you down. But my data on you helped Stacker Pentecost find you, in the end, to bring you to Hong Kong.”
“Gee, thanks,” Raleigh says, and Mako shoots him a look.
“Be polite, Raleigh,” she says softly.
He frowns. “Why are you here now?” he continues, ignoring her a bit, because he has no idea what’s going on with her, or with him, or with Max.
“Haven’t you heard, Ranger Becket?” Max says wryly. “You lot cancelled the apocalypse. The PPDC is now under the care of my uncle. He called me in to deal with those left, including you,” he adds. Then his eyes fall back to Chuck. “And I came for him.”
Raleigh looks at Chuck too and his chest clenches. Chuck is all burns and lacerations, a breathing tube in his mouth, wires in his arms and hands, machines beeping constantly. He’s pale where his skin is unblemished, bags under his eyes. His left leg ends under the knee. He’s got finger nails missing, a piece of his right thumb is gone.
Chuck’s a mess is what he is.
They’re quiet after that. Mako has to leave, to top it all off. Duty calls, she says and gives Max the sweetest smile Raleigh’s seen from her in a while.
“I will see you soon?” she says softly.
“Of course,” Max chuckles. “And Ranger Mori?” She stops at the door and turns. “Congratulations on your new status.” Mako smiles again and… wait, did she just blush? Raleigh’s frown grows deeper as she bows and leaves and Max is left with a small smile on his face.
“Okay, who are you, really?” Raleigh says.
“I’m not lying to you,” Max says. He sighs though. “We were all very close.”
“I didn’t see you in her head,” Raleigh points out smugly.
“You drifted with her all of what, three times?” Raleigh looks away. “I’m in a bit deeper than that, Ranger Becket.”
“Why won’t you call me Raleigh?”
“Because I don’t like you,” Max snaps and Raleigh sits up, ready to argue. “No, shut up. Let me get this out. I’m about to tell you something that I don’t think you’ll believe when you first hear it. But when I finish, you’ll understand.” So Raleigh does the guy a solid and shuts the fuck up. “That young man, lying in that hospital bed, comatose? He is my hero.”
“Fuck off,” Raleigh says, not like where this is going.
“No, shut up,” Max growls again. He stands up. He’s not much taller that Mako, Raleigh notices. “I may be older than him, but I have always looked up to him, in more ways than just because he happens to be taller.” Max lets a grin twitch over his lips. Then he turns serious again. “He is the bravest man I have ever known. The bravest. He gave so much up at such a young age, and he’d do it all again. He went into Pitfall expecting and accepting death and now he can’t even enjoy the life that he so deserves.”
“I don’t see what this has to do with me,” Raleigh says and kind of regrets it because man, Max looks pissed now.
“Shut the fuck up, Ranger Becket, or so help me.” He pauses and Raleigh stays silent. “It has everything to do with you. You were his hero. He worshipped you, and later on crushed on you. And when you left, you ripped his heart out and stomped all over it. Did you have your reasons? Yes, as an adult, I see that now. But did he understand when he was 16? No. Did he persevere because he wouldn’t let you ruin his dream? Yes. I’m guessing he acted out when you got brought back on, because I know him and he is still so young, he couldn’t tamper that down. Not my Chuck.” Max looks away. “My cousin is on the brink of death still because you inspired him then broke his heart. So yes, it might be irrational to blame you, but I blame you.” He looks away. “I came in and you assumed I was a groupie because of the shirt, right?” It’s black underneath the grey blazer, a bulldog with a missile between its jaws, the words Striker on top and Eureka along the outside bottom, making a kind of circle around it. If Raleigh looks close enough, he can see a tiny kangaroo on the missile in bright red. “This is how I show my pride. My pride in him. You brought down my hero,” he whispers. “So excuse me if I don’t like the idea of you just hanging around his bedside.”
Max plops back down into his seat, his cheeks flushed red, the standard Hansen Dimples of Anger cutting into his face. He doesn’t look at Raleigh and Raleigh –
Oddly enough, he gets it. This man has more to lose than anyone does, at this point.
“How could I have known?” Raleigh says.
“You couldn’t have,” Max responds, rubbing his eyes. “You really couldn’t have. I understand that. And you were thinking of only yourself when you left. Yourself and your brother, and I understand that as well. But there were people that looked up to you both. And those people got hurt in the long run. Excuse me for being bitter.”
The man is smart, Raleigh sees, knows how he feels and how it’s irrational, and he’s not justifying himself. At least there’s that.
Raleigh stands up and walks over to him. When Max looks up, he extends a hand. “Hi. I’m Ranger Raleigh Jefferson Becket. It’s nice to meet you.”
Max stares at his hand for a while, his face so conflicted before he takes the proffered hand and squeezes it firmly. His hands, Raleigh notices for some reason, are quite small and delicate.
“Dr. Maxwell Jupiter Hansen. The pleasure is mine,” he says softly. When Raleigh lets go and sits back down, Max stares at him with an odd expression on his face. “You’re something else Ranger Becket.”
“I’d rather not,” Max says and with that, he up and leaves. Raleigh sighs. Then picks up Good Omens where it had lain forgotten until now.
“Why’s the dog named after you?” Raleigh asks the next week. Max is back and Mako had just left again, oddly bubbly around the older man.
“A little after Angela died, Herc got him the dog,” Max says, a soft look about his face. He sighs, petting the dog at his feet. “He was… 14, I think? Yeah. Right before he was going into the Academy. He was doing a stint living with me while Herc was away on PPDC business with my dad.” Max pauses, then looks up at Raleigh. “I was… twenty-one? His age now. He couldn’t stop talking about you…” Max trails off. “Anyway, he brings in this pile of wrinkles when he comes to stay over at my flat at the time. I was at the Sydney Shatterdome, getting ready to leave and start my job, officially, as a PPDC psychologist. And he just… didn’t know what to name him.”
Raleigh makes a face. “Really?” He shoots a sleeping Chuck a look of endearment, doesn’t realize it until he turns back to Max and the man is raising an eyebrow at him. Raleigh clears his throat.
“Well, he wanted to name him Gipsy. Then I said, maybe he’d better not. So then he said he’d name it Raleigh,” and now Max starts to laugh, and Raleigh’s face gets hot. “Then Yancy, then he said he had no idea and maybe he should just name it Striker if I was gonna complain.” Max shakes his head, lost in the memory. “So then I just started teasing him, said, ‘You’re naming it after everyone but me, you little shit.’ And he just says, ‘Fine then! His name is Max’ and he goes , ‘C’mon Max. Let’s go.’ Hell, the little shit responds! Goes after him and that’s when I knew we were screwed. Or at least I was.” Max stops and bites at his thumb, staring at Chuck’s body in the hospital bed. “I miss him,” he says softly, shaking his head. “He’s a good, smart kid. Pain in the ass, but, well. What more can you expect?”
“You seem close,” Raleigh says, thinking back on what Max had said last time they met.
“We are. Herc didn’t know what to do when Angela died. Sent the ankle biter to me. My mum died when I was young, so I knew what he was going through.” Max looks at Raleigh. “Why are you here, Ranger Becket?”
Raleigh shakes his head now, staring at Chuck. He shrugs. “Dunno. Seems like the only thing I can do.”
“Care to explain?”
Raleigh sighs. “The Marshall is busy salvaging what’s left of the PPDC and rebuilding the world. Mako is busy helping him. They’re both needed, wanted, happy to help. Tendo is busy too, being useful, helping out with official business, media and tech stuff. Jaeger crews are explaining how the damn things worked, our scientists are doing research, archiving all of it. They’re making history all over again.” He looks down. “I… have nowhere else to be and nothing else to do. There’s nothing else I can do.”
“Nothing else you can do, or nothing else you want to do? Because you could be lending your two-cents out to anyone in this damn ‘dome. You’re knowledgeable enough, a veteran and the only living pilot to jockey a jaeger alone. Any one of them would be lucky to have you.” He pauses. “Not that it’s a compliment, it’s just the damned truth. You’re no idiot, Ranger Becket, you must know all of this. So. Nothing else you can do, or nothing else you want to do?”
Raleigh is quiet, contemplative, because it makes sense and he knows, he knows Max is right. He kind of hates that he’s right, actually.
“I can’t leave him behind again,” Raleigh finally says quietly. “The last time I did that, he almost died, and Stacker Pentecost did. I mean, it was necessary back then. To save all of this.” Raleigh gestures vaguely around, meaning the world. He looks at Max. “I don’t have a world to help save anymore. I don’t need to leave him behind and I don’t have to. So, okay. There’s nothing else I want to do. I’ll be here until he wakes up.”
Chuck wakes up on a Wednesday.
It’s two months after Pitfall and Raleigh is in the middle of reading The Fault In Our Stars aloud when he hears, “If Hazel or Gus dies, I am going to throw the biggest tantrum and hate you for reading it to me, you twit.”
Raleigh’s head snaps up and he stares at Chuck where the man is struggling to sit up before he realizes exactly what’s wrong with him. Chuck is silent for a whole five minutes before Raleigh says slowly, shocked, “Chuck?”
“Where the fuck is my leg?” Chuck says softly. His eyes snap over to Raleigh. “Ray, where the fuck is my fucking leg?!” he screams, going into a panicked hysteria.
Raleigh doesn’t even have time to contemplate the fact that apparently Chuck could hear him most of the time and that he’d given him a nick-name; he’s just calling in doctors and ringing up Herc as they try to sedate Chuck and keep him from hurting himself and anyone else. Raleigh is unashamed to admit, it’s a bit heartbreaking.
An hour later, Chuck resurfaces from the sedation they’d put him under, and he’s silent, so silent. Herc comes in and talks to him quietly, pressing an uncharacteristic kiss to his son’s forehead. Chuck doesn’t move. Mako leaves a box of Tim-Tams on his bedside table and squeezes his hand. Raleigh sits by his side once everyone is gone.
“What happened?” he finally asks and his words crack in his throat. He looks exhausted and as if nothing is right in the world.
“You helped save the world. And Stacker got you out,” Raleigh responds. “Came with a price though. The pod was barely functioning and was horribly damaged while you were inside. They think you got caught in the explosion, rode the force to the surface. You were out there for a few days before you deliriously checked in and we finally got a GPS on you. Your leg… it was too late to save it.”
Chuck lets out a shaky sigh so similar to the one he let out when Herc was trying to tell him he loved him before he went off with Pentecost that Raleigh instinctively takes his hand and squeezes, mindful of his IV and wires. When Chuck looks up his eyes are red-rimmed and tired.
“Why are you here?”
“I don’t know,” Raleigh says honestly. “Thought you could use a little company until you woke up. Being in a hospital bed with no one for company is no fun.” The trust me, I know isn’t mentioned, but Raleigh likes to think that Chuck can hear it anyway.
“We weren’t best friends, mate,” Chuck says, looking down at their intertwined fingers, eyes a little glazed over from unshed tears that Raleigh is willing to blame on the meds if it makes Chuck feel better.
“No,” Raleigh agrees. “We weren’t. But I respected you and I’d like to think you respected me, and that that was enough, for then.”
“Yeah, it was.” Chuck’s voice is soft. It’s a side of him Raleigh is unfamiliar with. He doesn’t know what to think of it.
“But now we’ve got more time.”
“Time for what?” Chuck asks, sounding vulnerable. Raleigh can’t help but send a smile his way, because that is a very good question indeed, and by the fact that Chuck hasn’t asked him to let go of his hand yet, the answer is an interesting one.
“Care to find out?”
Their hands are still clasped when Max bursts in. He’s in an undershirt, a square of gauze hanging on by tape on his upper arm, his shirt in one of his hands.
“I was with the endocrinology nurses when Herc came and…” Max stops, panting from what seemed to be a run. His eyes narrow at the sight of them. “The fuck is this?”
Raleigh has The Fault in Our Stars in one hand, his mouth halfway open as he’s cut off midsentence. Chuck has a few tears in his eyes at the words he’s hearing. Raleigh is lazily rubbing his thumb over Chuck’s scabbed-over knuckles. They both freeze and look over to Max.
“…Max?” Chuck says, a giggle bubbling up from his chest, pouring out of his mouth. “Fucking hell… Max!” He sits up, his hand tightening on Raleigh’s for support. He still winces though. “What the hell are you doing in Sydney, mate?”
“Your idiot of a father needed some help up here and I figured, my patients would be just as comfortable in a Shatterdome as they would a dinky little office wherever the hell I found them.” He swallows thickly. “And then of course, he told me about you.” He walks over and runs a hand through Chuck’s hair. “Proud of you, koala.”
Chuck groans. “Oh my god, I was three!” Raleigh looks between them a bit in confusion, but lets the tale unfold before him without asking any questions.
“Yeah and you wouldn’t stop climbing the eucalyptus trees outside the house. Your mum was going bonkers over it, you little cunt,” Max laughs. He leans down to kiss Chuck’s brow and then pulls back, shooting a look at Raleigh. “How’s the has-been treating ya?”
Chuck seems to realize what Max is hinting at and just lifts his chin up, squeezes Raleigh’s hand tighter. “Decent,” he says, eyebrow raised and whoa. He and Max are looking similar right now. They’ve both got those strong Hansen eyes, that curling lip, the nose and the furrow in their brow when they’re being stubborn. “Used to read to me while I was out. I remember some of it. So he’s finishing this one up. Problem?”
“None that I can see,” Max says dryly. A nurse bursts in then, frowning, a kit in her hands.
“Mr. Hansen,” she starts.
“Doctor,” Max says with an eye roll. “If you don’t want to call me Max or Maxwell, then it’s Doctor Hansen, not Mr.” He turns, hands planted on his hips. “Think you can handle that, love?”
“Dr. Hansen,” she corrects herself, only a little bit of contempt in her tone. “I never got to give you your dose. I have to administer this one. But just this once. Remember? We discussed this. I never got to it as you ran out of the room like a wild-banshee.”
Max seems to freeze and a dark look comes over his face. “No, you didn’t,” he says. After rubbing a hand down his face, Max sits down. “Have at it then.”
The nurse sighs and removes the bandage from his upper arm, frowning. “Do you want a new spot? This one is a bit…”
“I don’t care, love. Just do it,” Max says with a shrug, scratching his beard. “The doc lower it?”
“Yes,” she says, concentrating on what she’s doing. She gives him a shot of something and he winces.
“Gentle,” he whines. She smiles at Raleigh and Chuck from behind him, her eyebrows wiggling.
“The prescription came through just in time for your tri-weekly dose. Something about lower levels working better for your body type?” She shrugs. “He wanted me to do the first just to make sure the right new dose was used. You can do them yourself again after.” She pauses. “Whatever. Not my business.”
“Correct, it’s not,” Max shoots back with a cheeky grin. In retaliation, she swats at the spot he’s just gotten his shot in and he winces again.
“You’re cute but mouthy,” she says. “If you’re interested in drinks, I’m off at 8.” With that, she bandages him and smiles. “All set.” Then she’s gone.
Raleigh is frowning again. “What was that all about?” He looks at Chuck who won’t make eye contact and then back at Max who won’t break it.
“I get testosterone shots,” Max says flatly. “Since I was 19.”
“Why?” Raleigh asks, feeling like he’s not getting it.
“That’s what happens when someone transitions their gender, you galah,” Max says, without shame. Raleigh’s eyes drop to the older man’s chest. “Took care of those already,” Max says with an eye roll. Raleigh’s eyes drop to the bulge in Max’s pants. “Called a packer, mate. Can’t tell the difference when it’s in your pants.” There may be a smirk on his face. Raleigh isn’t sure.
“Is that why you’re so… small? Or is that just a Hansen Height thing?” Raleigh blurts. He’s not judging. He’s met all types and really, this changes absolutely nothing.
“I’m small,” Max says, squinting at him. “Right. I’m done here.” He stands up, rubbing his arm. “You get better yeah?” he says to Chuck who smiles and nods. “Good then.” Max leaves and it’s quiet in the room.
“So he used to be-”
“Nope,” Chuck says, cutting him off, looking down at their hands. “Presented as male since before I can remember. Uncle Scott never cared ’cos it meant Max got to turn into the son he wanted but didn’t get on the first go.” His words sound bitter. “Bastard. His son tried so hard and suffered so much to get where he is and all Scott could say was that at least he got what he wanted in the end, never mind it was a fucking struggle for Max on his own with only me and Mako around for the most part before Dad found out and helped him out.”
“He doesn’t like me,” Raleigh says.
“I know,” Chuck responds. “I’ll talk to him about it. Don’t take it much to heart, he’s just protective.” Chuck squeezes Raleigh’s hand, a smile coming to his face. “Now, you were saying about Gus getting sick again?”
A month later in the mess hall, Raleigh grabs lunch for him and Chuck. He grabs a single tray filling it with foods they both like and can share when he sees it. Mako and Max are in one of the back tables, eating together. Their heads are bent close as they talk and Max is gesturing to something on his tablet, while Mako looks on in interest. Max throws a casual arm around her shoulders, directing her attention to something on the glass screen. He must say something funny, because she throws her head back and laughs, her cheeks going apple-red. Max stares in fascination.
It hits him then, like a ton of bricks to the head: Mako is crushing on Max.
Raleigh has come to that conclusion. He’s eating lunch with Chuck in the hospital room when he finds he can’t shut up about it.
“What does she see in him? He’s a dude who pries into everyone’s head and just… no. He’s a jerk. He’s… And they’ve known each other for years. And, and he’s like, nine years older than her, I mean, come on.” He looks at Chuck for support who look uncomfortable. Is he upset because Raleigh is trash-talking his favorite (and only?) cousin. “What?”
“Do you… have a thing for her then?” Chuck says, playing with his mashed potatoes and looking at the TV. He’s purposefully not looking at Raleigh now.
“What?” Raleigh says, mollified. “God no, no offense to her. I’m just… protective. She’s my copilot. And… I don’t know. It just feels weird for him to be all… up on that.”
“All up on that?” Chuck mocks, laughing and almost choking on his food. “Oh my god, you and your Americanisms.” But he looks less uncomfortable. “Don’t give him the shovel talk,” Chuck suddenly warns.
“How did you know-”
“We’ve been cooped up in a room together for two months before I woke up and now it’s a month later, I’m getting out soon and you’re still around. I know how you think, even if it’s just a little,” Chuck snarks. His dimples eat up his face and Raleigh finds himself smiling as well.
“You think?” Raleigh teases, stealing the Jell-O he’d brought in. He knows Chuck doesn’t like it anyway. “What have I said about you thinking?”
“Not to,” Chuck says and swats at Raleigh. However, it draws attention to his mangled hand, which in turn makes him look down at his stump of a left leg. He goes quiet, his lips pursed, his spoon halfway to his mouth, the food going cold.
“Chuck,” Raleigh says softly. He hesitates for a moment before leaning forward and brushing some of Chuck’s hair out of his face. It’s gotten longer since he’s been in the hospital and keeps falling into his eyes. “It doesn’t matter,” he finally chokes out wondering why his voice quivered at the end, why his face feels hot and his chest feels tight.
“Don’t be silly. Course it does, Ray,” Chuck says, his tone rigid as he forces a smile.
“Not to me,” says Raleigh finally, a tiny shake of his head. It really doesn’t matter to him. He lets his hand fall back to the bed and he looks down at it in the sheets.
It’s a bit of a surprise when Chuck gently takes it in his own. Raleigh snaps his head up, but Chuck isn’t looking at him.
“If you say so,” Chuck says, his voice hushed.
“I do say so,” Raleigh says, a smile beaming from his face.
Chuck looks up and smiles a bit. Raleigh’s heart stutters.
Oh, he thinks. And then:
“Are you trying to give me the shovel talk?”
Raleigh pauses. “Maybe.”
“I’ve known Mako since she was ten,” Max says, looking at Raleigh as if he’s lost his mind.
“Yeah, and you were 19!” exclaims Raleigh. He folds his arms across his chest.
“What are you suggesting?” Max says and Raleigh stops. What is he suggesting? “Look, Ranger Becket-”
“My name is Raleigh.”
“Yeah and mine is Maxwell, but no one fucking calls me that,” Max snaps. “As I was saying, Ranger.” He shakes his head. “I’m not… I didn’t… I wasn’t a cradle robber, you bastard. We met up when she was in finally the Jaeger program. I made sure she was taken care of.” He rubs his eyes. “Yes, I hold some kind of affection for her. And now that she’s older…” He trails off. “I’m not going to suggest or do anything she doesn’t want.” He looks back at Raleigh. “Alright?”
Raleigh blinks and then nods, fingers scratching through his hair.
“My turn,” Max says and slams him into a wall.
“Holy shit, are they putting steroids in your testosterone or something?” Raleigh groans, trying to get free. But Max has a strong grip.
“You think you owe him your affection? Better think again. You owe him nothing,” Max sneers in his face and Raleigh turns his head and just listens. “Now, if you actually are developing feelings for him, then fine. Fine. But break his heart again.” And now Max stops. “I’ll break you Ranger Becket. I will break you. He is as close to a sibling as I have. Don’t… don’t hurt him like the world already has.”
Max lets go of him, then. And Raleigh doesn’t move, doesn’t breathe. He closes his eyes. And thinks.
When he opens them, he nods to Max.
“The world owes Chuck Hansen,” he says slowly. “But I don’t.” He looks up at Max. “It’s genuine. I can promise you that. How the rest turns out… only the future will tell.”
“And that’s all I can ask, Ranger. That’s all I can ask.” He turns to walk away. There’s a resigned edge to him, but Raleigh can understand that.“And Ranger?”
Heaving a sigh, Raleigh responds, “Yeah?”
“He likes music,” Max says out of the blue. “And he’d never admit it, but he likes it when people sing for him.”
Raleigh blinks a few times. “I’ll keep that in mind,” Raleigh says weakly.
“You do that,” says Max. There’s a hop in his step as he turns the corner.
Chuck finally gets released.
The doctors are discharging him, getting him saddled with paperwork and schedules for his physical therapy. He has the prosthetic leg attached to him, though he’s in a wheelchair. Chuck has been told numerous times, and Raleigh knows because he’s there for it all, not to try to use the prosthetic yet until he’s started PT.
Raleigh volunteers to stay with Chuck in the apartments owned by the PPDC that are being used to house those in the Shatterdome that would rather live outside of it. Chuck is all smiles at this, and Herc can only give Raleigh the side eye as he approves of the plans and signs off on Chuck’s paperwork.
“You’re going to physical therapy boy, or I’m sticking you back in the ‘dome with me,” he threatens, squinting at Chuck.
“I get it, old man,” Chuck says with an eye roll. He makes a face at Herc when his back is turned and Raleigh can’t help but laugh.
“Something funny, Ranger Becket?” Herc asks and Raleigh can only shake his head.
Chuck goes to PT, which is stressful on his nerves and makes his temper shorter than usual. Raleigh learns to deal. Sometiumes, he wonders at himself though.
“Saint Becket,” Max calls to him one day as they pass each other in the hospital wing of the Shatterdome. Max uses the psych ward as his office space.
“What?” Raleigh says. He’s only here to pick up Chuck and he’ll be late if he keeps talking to Max which means Chuck will be in an even worse mood…
“It’s what they call you down in PT. Saint Becket since you put up with Charlie’s bad attitude,” Max says with a wry grin. He wiggles his eyebrows. When he smiles, he looks a bit like Herc.
“You call him Charlie?”
“Only when he’s being a brat, which I have on good authority from Ms. Mori is all the time when he’s around you,” says Max with a shrug. “Don’t try it; he’ll skin ya alive.”
“Fair enough,” Raleigh remarks. “And I thought he was making progress?”
“Oh, he is,” Max says, walking backwards as he looks at the watch on his wrist. “But mostly because – as I’ve heard go ‘round the rumor mill in PT – he wants to actually be able to walk to you one of these days.” Max turns on his heel with a charismatic wink and walks off. “Mako and I are having dinner later if you and Charlie would care to come and chaperone.” Raleigh is sure he isn’t imagining the stupid grin o the other man’s face.
He gets to Chuck a little late, but for once, Chuck isn’t in a bad mood. In fact, he’s speaking with his physical therapist in soft measured tones. Raleigh’s noticed that Chuck has been getting along with her better these past few weeks, to the point where he’s actually asked Raleigh to go shopping to buy special ingredients for an Indian dish native to her home-city that he wanted to make for her and bring in today. By the look on her face, she’s touched.
She’s also got a new khimār tucked around her hair.
“That new?” Raleigh says, sauntering up.
“Chuck was very thoughtful and remembered it was my birthday yesterday. Alas, he didn’t have PT and decided to bring it to me today.” She’s smiling. “He’s a sweet boy when he’s not cussing at me for pushing him.”
Chuck snorts. “Which is all the time. So are you saying I’m not actually sweet?”
“Hey, no insulting the cripple,” Raleigh teases, standing behind Chuck and grabbing his wheelchair. “You’re in a good mood. Good day?” He ruffles Chuck’s hair before smoothing it back down and brushing a thumb softly against the other man’s cheek.
“You could say that,” Chuck says cryptically, leaning his head back to look at Raleigh and smile. When Raleigh looks up to his therapist, she just rolls her eyes, throwing her hands in the air.
“Your boy has a flair for the dramatic,” she says, gathering her things. “I daresay, this one time he deserves to.” With that, she thanks Chuck again and takes her leave.
“What’s she talking about?” Raleigh asks curiously. He’s not sure if it’s the ‘your boy’ thing or the ‘flair for the dramatic’ thing that he’s asking about though.
“Guess you’ll just have to wait and see, huh?” Chuck says, that smile still on his face and he is so pleased with himself. Self-confidence looks good on him though, so Raleigh lets it be.
They get home a short time later and Raleigh has been planning this surprise for a while. He’s only just been waiting for a good day like this from Chuck, so he wheels Chuck into the living room and says, “Gimme a minute, ok?”
“For what?” Chuck asks.
“Surprise,” responds Raleigh and he goes into his room, which is right beside Chuck’s, to grab his guitar. He comes out with it and Chuck’s eyebrows climb into his hair as his cheeks start to go red. “What?” Raleigh asks.
“What are you doing?”
“Just… wait a minute, ok?” Raleigh insists. He sits on the couch, Chuck wheeled in front of him and starts to strum on his guitar. It’s a soft tune and he’s been working on it every time Chuck is at PT to get this far.
“Didn’t know you played,” Chuck says faintly.
“Had to have a hobby back in the days the kaiju only came once every few months,” Raleigh says with a grin. “Yancy…” He trails off. “Yancy played the piano. So I picked this up and we’d sing and play for LOCCENT on off days.”
Then he clears his throat.
“Wait are you actually gonna-”
Raleigh cuts him off with strumming and a song. “You’re the northern wind sending shivers down my spine. You’re like falling leaves in an autumn night.” Chuck’s mouth snaps closed and he sits up straight in his chair, looking antsy. Raleigh continues to sing the rest of the verse, aware that Chuck is staring at him, but he just looks at his fingers as he slides them up to finger different chords, focuses on that rather than on the thrumming of his heart. When he gets to the chorus, he stalls a bit.
“Well?” Chuck says softly.
Raleigh looks up, still playing, and bites at his lip before he sings, “Oooh my love. Oooh my love. Oooh my love, you don’t know… what you do to me…” He looks back down, trying not to blush, and hops into the next verse, probably too quick but still. “You are all four seasons rolled into one…”
Raleigh continues with the song, looking up to where Chuck is sitting quietly in his chair, eyes wide and stuck on Raleigh the entire time. By the time Raleigh hits the last line of the song he feels a bit more confident, so he looks at Chuck unwaveringly as he sings, “If I could just find you tonight… oh, my love.” He finishes up with the instrumentals of it and then stops playing, letting the last note vibrate on his strings before pressing his palm against them to silence it.
When he looks up again, Chuck is standing.
“Holy shit-” he starts, unable to finish as Chuck takes the three shaky steps needed to reach the couch before reaching out in a bid for help to balance. Raleigh thoughtlessly catches his hands in his own, steadying him. “Chuck,” Raleigh breathes, squeezing their palms together.
“I’m full of surprises too, mate,” Chuck says, cheeks dimpled and flushed. There’s a string of beaded sweat on his upper lip from the strain and effort of his moment of showing off. He looks thoughtful before saying, “You have a lovely voice by the way. Also, I don’t think I can do this standing thing any longer, mind getting me on the couch or something?” Raleigh laughs in pure happiness, helping Chuck get seated before plopping down beside him. “Uh, you know, I wouldn’t mind if you did another one…”
“If you want me to sing for you, you can just ask. Come on, Charlie. Use your words,” Raleigh teases. He is not expecting the whack to the knee with Chuck’s prosthetic leg at all.
“Don’t call me that,” Chuck says with a glare. “And sing me another fucking song, you pain in the ass.”
“As you wish,” Raleigh says, still chuckling but also wincing a bit and rubbing at the bruise he can feel forming on his skin. He picks up his guitar where it had fallen with a twang to the carpeted floor in his surprise. He strums a few times and then nods when he gets the tune going that he wanted in the first place.
He clears his throat and starts, “When life leaves you high and dry, I’ll be at your door tonight. If you need help, if you need help…”
Things go well. Raleigh likes that they’re getting closer, tries to ignore the funny looks Herc gives him every time they see each other or have dinner together at the apartment. Mako likes to tease without actually teasing which drives him up the wall, but it makes Chuck laugh seeing as he’s an oblivious little twat, so Raleigh tolerates it well enough.
“I think you’re pathetic,” Max says honestly the next time Raleigh comes out of PT with Chuck. They’ve moved him on to using crutches instead of being in a wheelchair all the time and Chuck is adoring the freedom. He can walk on his own without the crutches, but since he’s still a bit tentative with it, he likes the stability they provide.
“Excuse me?” Raleigh asks.
“You heard me,” is the response, followed me a wave to Chuck as he hobbles out, crutches in hand and a smile on his face. But Chuck frowns when he looks at Raleigh.
“Is he being a dick again? I can talk to him again, honestly, I don’t mind.” Chuck looks earnest and bit on the naïve side so Raleigh gives him an indulgent smile and shakes his head. “It’s okay. But thanks.” With that he flips Max off and throws an arm around Chuck’s shoulders for good measure.
“Grow a pair, mate. I don’t have a dick and I’m more of a man than you are,” Max snarks.
“Play nice,” Chuck says with a genuine frown. “And stop pulling his pigtails; that’s my job. I think you should be more concerned with pulling Mako’s if you ever want that schoolyard crush to go anywhere, don’t you think?”
There’s a little choked gasp of surprise as Max turns around and finds Mako standing behind him, a file in hand, her mouth in the shape of a little surprised ‘o’.
“You did that on purpose,” Max says, still looking at Mako with sheer terror in his eyes.
Mako recovers first, rolling her eyes. “Yes, he did. But I am not blind Maxwell.” With that, she thrusts the file at him, turns on her heel and sashays away.
“I hate you,” Max says, watching her as she left.
“You are physically incapable of hating me,” Chuck responds with a laugh. He gently bumps heads with Raleigh to get his attention. “Shall we?” After a performance like that, Raleigh can only oblige.
So yeah. Things have been going great.
Until they don’t…
“Don’t fucking touch me!”
“Chuck,” pleads Raleigh, but Chuck sneers and gives a growl, so Raleigh backs up. They’re in their apartment a week later and this is the first fight they’ve had since… shit, Raleigh can’t even remember, that’s how long it’s been. And Chuck is still getting used to his prosthetic leg and that’s what this is all about, how he still doesn’t have that control, has trouble accepting Raleigh’s help and –
“Just… just give me a minute, alright?” Chuck says, panting. His face is red and he’s on the floor, having stumbled and fallen. He’d been doing so well in the hospital, at his therapy sessions. He drops his head into his hands and tries not to cry, Raleigh can see. “I can’t.”
“Can’t what?” Raleigh asks, a tremor to his voice that sounds so foreign to his own ears.
“I can’t do this! I can’t… live a normal life. I never have, and I didn’t think I ever would.” Chuck yanks at his light, gingery hair in frustration, having a full blown meltdown and oh, god, Raleigh should have been making sure he was really alright, should have gotten him to a psychologist or something. “I should have fucking died in that jaeger.”
Everything sort of stops at that.
“Don’t you say that!” Raleigh snaps, his voice desperate, dropping to his knees in front of Chuck while his throat closes around unshed tears. “Don’t you fucking say that Chuck Hansen, you stupid little bratty shit that pulled through the impossible and never gave up, even when everyone else did. And you still keep doing it, Jesus fuck. Don’t. Just don’t, alright?” He takes Chuck’s face in his hands, his thumbs swiping at stray tears. “Look at me.” Chuck meets his eyes, his full of tears and Raleigh’s blurring. “I went through the worst shovel talk with your scary-ass cousin who keeps giving me shit for not getting my shit together with you even though he doesn’t even like me and makes zero logical sense all the time and you are not gonna just give up when I finally realized exactly how much I want to do this with you.”
“Do what with me?” Chuck asks, the tears dripping down his face, his nose stuffy and voice sounding watery. He looks like a right mess and Raleigh wants nothing more than to pepper his face with kisses and wrap him up tight in his arms, determined never to let go. So that’s kind of what he does. Raleigh answers with a kiss and laughs at the shocked look on Chuck’s face.
“I wanna do everything with you Chuck Hansen,” he says softly, honestly, against Chuck’s mouth.
Raleigh has never seen the soft, shy smile on the other man’s face before today. He quite likes it.
Mako finds him a few weeks later.
“Better,” Raleigh admits, a smile on his face. He’s talking to a therapist now and improving on his PT “Much better.”
“And you are well?” she asks innocently. Too innocently…
“Yeah,” he responds, stopping. “Why are you-”
“Don’t try and stop my love life again,” she says sweetly, tripping him up as she walks. “I can take care of myself, though I appreciate it.” Raleigh catches himself and looks up at her in shock. Oh god, the failed shovel talk. How the hell had she found out? Unles…
“Wait, Max said-”
“Max? Max said nothing of the sort,” and with that, she straightens him out, kisses his cheek and smiles. “Thank you. I appreciate the effort.”
“I want you to be okay,” Raleigh says, pulling her into a hug. “If that makes sense.”
“It does,” she assures him, pulling away with a small smile. She starts to walk away. “Oh, and Raleigh?”
“Herc wants to come over to you and Chuck’s for lunch.”
“Okay?” Raleigh says, confused. “Why’d he-”
“He says it’s a family affair. And also, welcome to the family,” she continues.
“Would you stop cutting me off! I – wait, he said what?”
She laughs and laughs and laughs, even as he chases her down the halls.