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Where the Streets Have No Name

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Chuck doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing, standing here in the hallway in front of Raleigh’s door at half past two in the morning. Some half-baked scheme, that’s for sure. The insomnia combined stole all his common sense. The idea of Raleigh taking off into the night, leaving Chuck to be the only Ranger standing around with his thumb in his ass because the medical team keeps hounding him to stay out of the way until he’s fully healed, makes something under his skin crawl unpleasantly.

They aren’t fit for duty yet, both of them, and the faces of the doctors when he asks tells him enough about how long the recovery process is going to take.

Chuck takes a deep breath and knocks. He’s here, might as well go through with it. He knows Raleigh’s sleep schedule is fucked like his is. Hopefully Raleigh is up.

Chuck gets lucky for once in his life and Raleigh opens the door a few moments later. He looks confused, but he motions Chuck in.

Chuck glances around the room curiously, before he turns to face Raleigh.

“I hear you’re leaving,” Chuck says, and despite his best efforts, his tone comes out accusatory.

Raleigh instantly goes on the defensive, though Chuck doesn’t blame him. “Look, I know you’ll never forgive me for leaving the PPDC after everything that happened in Anchorage, but there’s nothing to hold against me this time. The war is over.”

Chuck puts his hands up, contrite. “That came out wrong, mate. I didn’t mean it like that.”

Raleigh looks at him cautiously. “How did you mean it then?”

Chuck looks down at his boots, nervously scuffing the toe of one against the floor. “I ain’t exactly doing much around here, yeah? I can’t even lift anything heavier than a tray in the mess without the doctors yelling at me. I’m just getting in everyone’s way. I can’t help with moving things into storage, and I definitely can’t help on the diplomatic side. We both know how that would go.”

They both pause to think about that. Chuck isn’t too bothered by the little smile it brings to Raleigh’s face. He’d be awful at diplomacy. He can’t even talk to the press during their pressers without shoving a foot in his big mouth.

“Yeah, so you understand exactly why I’m leaving. I’m not leaving forever. Think of it more as a vacation until I can actually do something useful.”

Chuck glances up. “Would you mind company?”

Raleigh stares at him, and he can see the surprise on Raleigh’s face.

Raleigh is quiet long enough that Chuck starts backing up towards the door. “Forget it, mate. It was a dumb idea. I’ll just-“

“Wait a second, Chuck. I didn’t say no. I was just surprised is all. Do you even know where I’m going?”

Chuck shrugs, arms crossed over his chest. “Frankly, Ray, it doesn’t really matter. I’m just tired of feeling useless here.”

Raleigh nods. “Fair enough. Have you talked to your father about taking off?”

Chuck scowls at him. “We’ve just been over how we can’t do anything around here. I don’t see why he’d clear you and not me.”

Raleigh rolls his eyes. “Not have you talked to the Marshall, Chuck. Have you talked to your dad?”

“Ain’t that the same thing?”

“Definitely not. Talk to your dad. Tell him your heading out. He’ll want to know. We’re pushing off tomorrow after breakfast. Be ready to go. I’m not afraid to leave you behind, and then you’ll have to find your own way to the states. I’ll get your ticket and stuff before tomorrow.”

“How much will I owe you?”

Raleigh shakes his head. “You can cover some of the hotels or something. That’ll be easier.”

Chuck nods seriously, feeling relieved beyond words. “Thanks, mate.”

“Sure thing, kid. I’m serious about you talking to your dad, though. I’ll ask him before we leave, and if you haven’t talked to him, I’m not taking you.”

Chuck rolls his eyes. “Whatever. I’ll talk to him, okay?”

Raleigh nods, satisfied. “Now go try and get some sleep. It’ll be a long day tomorrow.”

Chuck can feel Raleigh watching him as he walks down the hall. He doesn’t know if this is a mistake, but Raleigh didn’t look completely opposed to the idea. If Raleigh hadn’t wanted him along, Chuck knows for a fact Raleigh would have said.

----

Chuck, having no doubt Raleigh will ditch his sorry ass if he doesn’t talk to his old man, goes to find Herc as soon as the hour is reasonable enough.

Herc glances up when Chuck wanders in to the Marshall’s office with a precursory knock.

“Morning.”

“Suppose it is,” Herc says, rubbing a weary hand over his face. “What can I do for you, Chuck?”

“I was hoping I could take some of that leave I have back logged. I can’t do anything useful around here, and I hate feeling like I’m in everyone’s way. Take some time to let it all heal up, and when I come back, maybe the docs will stop hounding me about lifting boxes.”

Herc puts his pen down and sits up. “Figure we can do that for you, son. Where ya heading?”

Chuck shrugs uncomfortably. “Wherever Raleigh is going.”

Herc’s eyebrows go up. “Is that so?”

Chuck glances away, embarrassed. “I might have asked him if he wanted company. He didn’t turn me down, figure that’s the best offer I got. I ain’t ever been on my own. Not sure I like the idea of it, to be honest.”

Herc nods. He wonders what he dad sees, to cause that tight expression on his face. Is it the bruises and cuts that haven’t healed yet, or the dark circles under his eyes?

“Yeah, I understand. You leaving today with him, then?”

Chuck nods. “After breaky.”

“Guess you better go pack, then. I’ll come see you off.”

Chuck breaths out a sigh of relief. “Thanks, dad.”

Herc smiles at him, looking tired. “Course, kid. Get out of here, now. Off with ya, before he leaves you behind.”

----

Chuck is already waiting on the helicopter pad talking to his father, a duffle bag and Max at his feet, when Raleigh walks out.

Raleigh stops and turns to Mako. Chuck is too far to hear what they’re saying.

His father glances over at them, before he looks at Chuck. “Have fun, okay?”

“Yeah, I’ll try.”

Herc smiles. “I’ll take care of Max for you, but if you want to know how he’s doing, you’ll have to actually call me.”

“I’ll call. If only for those,” Chuck says, and lets himself be pulled into a hug. He’s tense for a second, before he relaxes.

“I will call,” Chuck promises as he pulls away, before dropping down to say goodbye to Max.

His father nods. “You better.”

Chuck jogs over to the helicopter, hoping in and nodding at the pilot in greeting. Raleigh climbs in a few moments later.

“Ready to go?”

Chuck grins. “Too right, mate.”

Raleigh waves at Herc and Mako, standing on the pad still, as the helicopter lifts off.

The trip is quiet for the first ten minutes before Chuck turns in his seat.

“So where are we going?”

“Well, first the helicopter is taking us to the airport.”

“We aren’t staying in the heli?”

“We’re traveling as civilians. We can’t just charter PPDC transport anymore.”

Chuck nods in understanding. “So airport.”

“Yeah, so from the airport we’ll hop a plane to Atlanta. From there,” Raleigh trails off with a shrug. “I don’t really know. I rented a car, figure we’ll just go wherever we want after that.”

Chuck shakes his head. “Didn’t realize I’d signed on for a walkabout, mate.”

Raleigh raises an eyebrow. “Nobody said you had to come. You’re free to leave at any time.”

Chuck doesn’t have a response for that, and they both go back to staring out the window.

The comfortable silence last until they’re settling into their seats on the plane.

“So how long is the flight?” Chuck asks curiously as the flight attendant helpfully reminds them how a seatbelt works.

Raleigh shifts to get more comfortable in his seat. “About twenty hours or so, if I remember right.”

“Twenty hours?” Chuck demands incredulously. “Mate, that’s almost an entire day in the plane.”

Raleigh turns to look at him along with several of the passengers around them.

Chuck heaves a sigh and settles into his chair unhappily. “Twenty hours.”

Raleigh rolls his eyes, before digging around in the bag at his feet. “Here, try this.”

Chuck stares incredulously at the book Raleigh puts in his hand. “A book?”

Raleigh smirks. “A book.”

Chuck huffs. “A book, he says. Read for twenty hours.”

Raleigh groans. “Chuck, seriously. It’ll go by faster than you think. You’ll be asleep for almost a third of it.”

“If only,” Chuck replies with a scoff.

Raleigh looks at him curiously.

“Well, I ain’t exactly getting a full night’s rest. Not since…”

“Oh,” Raleigh says.

Chuck turns towards the window with a grimace, running his hand over the cover of the book in his lap. Time to steer the conversation back out of territory that might hurt them both. “Thanks for the book.”

Chuck reads through half of it in the first quarter of the flight. Raleigh keeps glancing at him, radiating a smug satisfaction that Chuck ignores. It’s a good book, okay? Not like he has anything else to do for twenty damn hours.

He doesn’t know when he falls asleep. One moment, he’s reading, and the next, he’s jolting awake and bashing his forehead painfully into Raleigh’s jaw. They both lean away from each other, rubbing their respective injuries.

"Oi, sorry," Chuck says as he settles back into his own seat and blinks blearily around. Raleigh must have pushed the armrest between them up at some point. Chuck squints at it in confusion.

Raleigh yawns and rubs over his eyes. "S'okay."

Chuck looks around before he leans down and picks the book up off the floor from where it slipped from his lap.

"How much longer?"

Raleigh glances at the time on his phone

“Probably about five and a half more hours,” Raleigh says, turning his phone to show Chuck.

Chuck yawns, surprised to find they slept almost five hours, before nodding. “Okay.”

Raleigh and Chuck both go back to their respective books.

It’s a surprisingly easy flight, all things considered.

----

Chuck is still flipping through that damn book as they wait in line for their rental. They’ve gotten their luggage, and wandered through the entire airport it feels like, but they’re almost done with this part of the trip.

“Do you have any request?” Raleigh asks, as the lady behind the counter calls the person in front of them over to her.

“About?” Chuck asks, glancing up from the page he’s on.

“Where we go from here.”

Chuck shrugs. “I really don’t care as long as we can get out of the city pretty fast, yeah? I wanna be anonymous for a little bit.”

Raleigh grins. “That suits me just fine.”

----

Being anonymous goes about as well as they should have expected. They argue in the car about the best place to stop for lunch, until Raleigh pulls off to a diner with a frustrated huff.

“We’re stopping here,” Raleigh says as he puts the car in park.

Chuck wrinkles his nose in distaste, but gets out. He slams the door behind him, satisfied when it makes Raleigh scowl.

While the two of them are looking at the menu, a woman comes in carrying a baby and holding the hand of a little girl. Chuck doesn’t really pay attention to them until Raleigh tips his head in their direction quietly, not looking up from his menu.

Chuck, as casually as he can, glances over his shoulder at the family. The little girl is staring at them with wide eyes, clutching a model of Crimson Typhoon to her chest.

Chuck looks back at Raleigh and raises an eyebrow. Raleigh shrugs.

Not even a minute later, the little girl is standing shyly at the end of their table.

Chuck smiles at her. “Hello”

“Hi.”

“Charlotte! Don’t bother those gentlemen,” her mother calls from their table, looking like she’s getting ready to stand and retrieve her wayward daughter.

Raleigh waves dismissively. “She’s no bother.”

Chuck gestures at Charlotte’s model. “What you got there?”

She grins, and starts talking rapidly, waving her arms around. Chuck laughs, and pats the bench by his side, scooting over so she can hop up next to him.

“Is Crimson your favorite?” he asks when she’s settled down.

She shakes her head quickly. “No!”

“No?”

She glances at Raleigh shyly.

Chuck smiles at her. “Gypsy your favorite?”

Raleigh smiles at her too, and she nods.

“Not Striker?” Chuck says, putting a hand to his heart with an exaggerated pout.

She giggles, but shakes her head, hair bouncing.

“Wanna know a secret, Charlotte?” Chuck asks, leaning in.

She nods excitedly.

“Gypsy’s my favorite too.”

Charlotte’s mother comes to get her when the waitress brings Chuck and Raleigh’s food over to the table.

“Thank you,” she says, holding onto Charlotte’s hand. “She talks about jaegers non-stop. She wants to be an engineer so she can work on them.”

“It’s not trouble. She’s a sweet kid.”

Chuck watches them walk back to their own table, before turning back towards his food. Raleigh is staring at him with an expression Chuck doesn’t really know how to read.

“What?” Chuck asks, uncomfortable.

“Nothing. Nothing. You were just. You were good with her.”

Chuck shrugs. “I like kids. They’re easy, unlike most adults.”

Raleigh nods, before he says, “Thought it was frowned upon to lie to them, though.”

Chuck looks up from his fries in genuine confusion. “What the hell did I lie about, mate?”

“Gypsy being your favorite.”

Chuck snorts, and goes back to his fries. “Ain’t a lie, Ray.”

Raleigh doesn’t say anything to that. Chuck kind of likes the look of utter bewilderment on his face as he stares down at his plate. Chuck likes being able to surprise people.

When they attempt to pay their tab, the waitress gestures towards the little girl’s mother. “She got yours for y’all. We’re all good.”

Charlotte’s mother smiles at them when they go over to thank her. “Couldn’t let my daughter’s heroes pay for their own food.”

Chuck kneels down to get on Charlotte’s level. “You work hard in school, okay? Maybe one day I’ll be hearing about Charlotte the engineer, and she’ll be my hero, yeah?”

She smiles at him. “Okay, Mr. Chuck.”

“Atta girl,” Chuck says with a grin, standing.

When he turns to look at Raleigh, he’s wearing that same look from earlier. Chuck shrugs it off and walks out to the car.

Raleigh turns the car East, heads for the coast.

----

It’s late when they settle on a hotel. Chuck gets their room, insists on paying for it, though the man at the front desk upgrades them, free of charge. Chuck imagines their rate is still substantially lower than it should be.

That’s been happening to them a lot.

He tosses a key to Raleigh when he gets back to their car, and they carry their bags inside.

They get settled into their room, watching TV together with the rest of the lights off. It casts weird shadows across Raleigh’s face, and Chuck falls asleep watching the way it cuts and reshapes him.

He wakes up a few hours later, feeling tense and uncomfortable in his own skin, to find the room dark and empty. Chuck sits up quickly, alarmed, only to make out Raleigh’s figure on the balcony, looking out across the water.

Chuck rolls out of bed with a groan.

"It's not as calming as it once was," Chuck comments, stepping out and closing the balcony door behind himself. The moon reflects off the relatively calm ocean, and the waves crash on the shore softly.

Raleigh jumps a little, glancing back at Chuck, before looking back out at the water. "No. It's not."

Chuck leans against the banister, gazing at where the water meets the horizon. "My mom loved the beach. Loved the ocean and all the things in it."

“I don't really remember what my mom liked before she got sick."

Chuck glances at him, feeling almost guilty for bringing up his mom, which is stupid. He squishes that down, but changes the subject anyway. "I thought it might be fun to surf, but I think I'm done with the beach whenever you're ready to leave."

They pack it up in the morning and don’t stop in any more coastal towns.

----

“So beaches are off the table. What next?” Raleigh asks, driving aimlessly West.

Chuck looks out the window, considering. “Well, I always liked museums as a kid.”

Raleigh laughs. “I can work with museums.”

----

They figure a museum of natural history should be safe, and head into one in the late afternoon.

Chuck isn’t really paying attention to the kid at the ticket counter, which is probably his first mistake.

“Hope you enjoy our new exhibit,” the kid says by way of goodbye.

“Yeah, sure,” Chuck says, distracted by the way Raleigh is staring thoughtfully at the whale skeleton suspended in the lobby.

Things are fine. Chuck pretends to lead Raleigh through the museum on a tour, spouting off blatantly false information to make Raleigh roll his eyes.

Then, they hit the new exhibit.

Chuck doesn’t really notice at first, until he nearly runs into an unsettlingly realistic wax figure of himself, drivesuit and all.

Chuck studies it, before turning towards where Raleigh once was, ready to make fun of the scowl at his wax figure’s face.

Raleigh is a few yards away, staring at a wax figure of Yancy, with this look of pure devastation on his face.

Chuck jogs over. “Raleigh? Raleigh, mate, let’s get out of here.”

Raleigh meekly lets Chuck take his hand and lead him out into the parking lot.

“Keys?” Chuck asks quietly, studying Raleigh’s face.

Raleigh hands them over, and spends the ride back to their hotel staring blankly out the window.

Chuck wants to burn the museum to the ground. It’s amazing, the difference between the Raleigh that was laughing at him when they first walked in and the silent one riding shotgun now.

Chuck doesn’t know what to say so, for once, he decides it’s best not to say anything at all.

----

Raleigh doesn’t say anything when they get back to the hotel room. In fact, Raleigh rolls over into his bed, and closes his eyes.

Chuck isn’t sure if Raleigh is actually asleep, or pretending to be. Chuck leaves him to it. He orders pizza when it approaches dinner time, and spends the rest of the time dicking around on his laptop.

Raleigh gets up when the pizza comes, but he only eats half a piece.

Chuck watches him.

“Ya know, we could always go out and get absolutely wasted, mate,” Chuck suggests, figuring Raleigh will frown at him, and turn into Responsible Raleigh. To Chuck’s surprise, though, he doesn’t.

Raleigh glances over at him, before his mouth ticks up at the corner. “I could go for that.”

----

Chuck stops at two drinks because despite everything, he thinks one of them should be in control of themselves. Plus, someone needs to be capable of driving them back to the hotel. Raleigh just... doesn't stop.

"What you got there, mate?" Chuck asks, nodding at the glass in Raleigh's hand.

"Brandy. It was Yancy's favorite, you know."

Chuck doesn't know how to respond to that. "Oh."

"Yeah. The bartender said I could have as much as I wanted as long as I wasn't driving. Really nice of him."

Chuck looks at the empty glasses in front of him at the bar. "Yeah, real nice of him. I think it's time to call it a night though, don't you?"

Chuck nods towards the bartender, who does indeed circle by and tell them they're all squared away. Raleigh finishes the last of his drink and stands up unsteadily. Chuck reaches out and catches his shoulder before he falls.

Raleigh smiles at him. "Thanks. I may have had a bit too much."

"Ya think?" Chuck mutters, but helps steer Raleigh clumsily through the bar and out into the street.

"Keys?" Chuck asks, as he leans Raleigh against the side of the car. Raleigh fumbles around in his pocket until Chuck reaches in and grabs them himself impatiently.

Chuck isn't sure how much of the drive to the hotel and the awkward shuffle up to their room Raleigh remembers, but he apologizes as soon as Chuck is helping him out of his shoes.

"I don't even like brandy," Raleigh admits, and Chuck looks up in alarm at his tone of voice.

"It's okay, Raleigh."

"Brandy was Yancy's favorite. Did you know that?"

Chuck nods warily, dumping Raleigh shoes to the side and helping him back into bed. "Yeah, you told me."

Raleigh takes a deep breath and says, "He said it was a drink for men with class, and he had class. I miss him. I keep thinking I'll stop, but it just never goes away. Before, I figured at least the kaiju would kill me. Them or the wall. God, I thought about how easy it would be all the time. It'd look like an accident from the top of the wall, you know. Lots of people died on top of the wall. Then Stacker came and got me. I was gonna die in Gypsy, just like he did. That would have been better. Would have been right. But I just couldn't fucking die."

Raleigh is full on crying now, these silent tears that keep sliding down his cheeks, and Chuck doesn't know what to do. What the fuck is he supposed to say?

"Raleigh, mate, it's okay to miss him. It's okay to still miss him. I still miss my mom, yeah? I don't think missing people ever goes away, but they wouldn't want us to be miserable all the time. We just have to do the best we can because they would want us to."

Raleigh grabs onto Chuck's wrist, his nails digging into the skin there. "But it was my fault. I wanted to go after that boat. Stacker said no, but I wanted to be a hero. It wasn't worth it. I want him back, Chuck. If I could do it over, I'd let them all die. That's not fucking heroic."

Chuck sits down on the edge of the bed and leans down over him, forcing Raleigh to look at him. "Listen to me, Raleigh. There is nothing wrong with wishing it was different. You gave up so much for the rest of the world. I doubt anyone would fault you for wishing for something selfish. For wanting something for yourself. I don't. And fuck what the rest of them would say anyway. You're my fucking hero no matter what, mate. Even now. Even like this."

Raleigh nods, taking in these awful short breaths that make Chuck want to be able to fix this any way he can.

Chuck moves to get up when Raleigh rolls over onto his side, but Raleigh reaches for him again.

"Please stay? I don't want to be alone. When I'm alone, it's worse. It's too loud in my head when I'm alone."

So Chuck rolls back into bed and scoots up until he can press himself against Raleigh's back, tucking in as close as he can. Raleigh eventually falls asleep, snoring the way only the truly smashed do.

Chuck gently pulls his arm out of Raleigh's grip and gets out of bed. He grabs Raleigh's phone and room key off the bedside table and slips out into the hall, glad that there’s a time difference for once. The phone rings and rings before it goes to voicemail. Chuck curses and tries again.

Mako picks up on the third ring with a short, "Yes?"

"Thank fuck. What took so long?"

"I was in a meeting, Chuck. What do you need?"

Chuck runs a frazzled hand through his hair. "Raleigh just fucking broke down crying about how he misses Yancy and how he wanted to die, Mako, and I don't know what the fuck I'm supposed to do."

Mako is quiet for a moment. "Oh."

"Yeah fucking oh. What do I do? I don't know how to help him. Was he like this in the drift?"

"Not always, no. Only when Yancy got brought up. And as long as someone was around, it would pass fairly quickly. I always stuck close to him when I felt anything like that from him. Where is he now?"

"Sleeping. I did what I could and he eventually calmed down enough to go to sleep. I think the brandy helped with the insomnia, at least," Chuck says ruefully.

There’s quiet over the line for a second before he asks quietly, “What do I do, Mako?”

“Be his friend. It is all you can do.”

He rests his forehead against the door to their hotel room.

Eventually, Mako says quietly. “I am glad you are with him.”

Chuck closes his eyes. “Me too.”

Mako eventually has to go back to her meeting, so Chuck goes back into their room. He stands at the door, room dark except for the glow of the digital clock on the nightstand. Raleigh is still passed out in the far bed, but something in how stiff he’s lying makes Chuck tip-toe over and crawl back in behind him. Raleigh relaxes into him almost instantly, and Chuck settles in for the long haul. If being with someone makes it better, Raleigh’s never gonna be rid of him.

Chuck will make that damn certain.

----

Chuck wakes with a start in the morning when Raleigh jerks out of his grip, and staggers into the bathroom. Chuck rolls over to look at the ceiling, listening to Raleigh retch.

Chuck rubs at his eyes tiredly, before he stands up and knocks on the door frame, leaning his head in.

“Do you want some water? Or I think they have free coffee in the lobby.”

Raleigh just groans in response.

Chuck gets him both, as well as some ibuprofen for when he stops throwing up, and sits on the edge of the bathtub while Raleigh rest his forehead on the toilet seat.

“That’s probably filthy,” Chuck points out helpfully, drinking his own coffee.

“What the fuck did I do last night?” Raleigh asks miserably, sitting up and leaning back against the wall.

Chuck is quiet for a second, considering. “You just drank a lot of brandy, mate.”

Raleigh gags a little at the mention of it, but manages to settle with a grimace. “Oh.”

Chuck watches Raleigh’s face as he clearly gears up for something.

“Did I say anything? Or do anything else? I mean, when I woke up and we were in the same bed…”

Chuck shakes his head quickly. “No, nothing like that. You, uh, you were pretty down. Said some things about yourself that had me worried, then asked me to stay because being alone made those things worse. Figured it wasn’t much of a sacrifice to cuddle ya if it made you feel better.”

Raleigh looks away, mouth twisted into an ugly frown. “Oh.”

Chuck looks into his cup of coffee. “You know, I have this nightmare, all the bloody time, where I’m in Striker. Stacker keeps telling me to get into the escape pod, but I keep saying no. ‘No, I’m not leaving you.’ Things like that, until, finally, Stacker says, ‘if you won’t, then I will. This is how it felt,’ and he gets in the pod and he leaves me there to die alone.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Chuck,” Raleigh reassures and Chuck can’t believe he was ever an asshole to him. He feels like an absolute heel because Raleigh is the kind of guy who’s quietly falling apart while reassuring Chuck to ensure he isn’t doing the same.

“It wasn’t yours either. None of it.”

Raleigh nods shakily. “Okay.”

Chuck, reaches out and puts a hand on the back of Raleigh’s neck gently. “You can talk to me, yeah? Don’t feel like you’re alone when I’m right here.”

“Yeah, I know. I know.”

Chuck sits with Raleigh in the bathroom until he’s ready to stand and try to find some food.

They don’t talk much, but that’s because they’ve said all they need to for now.

----

It takes Raleigh the better part of the day to not have to squint in the light.

“This is why I never drink,” Raleigh tells Chuck very seriously.

Chuck glances over to where Raleigh is sitting in the passenger seat with a hood pulled down low over his eyes, and can’t help but laugh.

Raleigh glares over at him, before he smiles slightly.

“So, where to now, mate? Beaches are out. Museums are definitely out. We should probably hold off on bars for a bit.”

Raleigh groans. “Yes please. Give me a month, and maybe I’ll have a lite beer.”

Chuck grins. “Okay, so, what can we do?”

Raleigh takes a minute, before he shrugs. “How about state parks? Those should be safe, right? I like hiking.”

Chuck scoffs. “Hiking?”

Raleigh shrugs again, looking out the window.

Chuck watches him, before turning back towards the road. “I guess I can stand to go hiking.”

----

It’s over a day in the car to get from where they were to the mountains and proposed hiking. They plan to break it up into several. They’re in no rush.

They stop in a little town off the highway.

They’re in for the night, settled into their respective beds. Chuck accidentally fell asleep in the car for the last thirty minutes while Raleigh was driving. He’s not all that tired, but Raleigh is still a little rundown from their previous night’s activities, so he turns off the TV and the lamp when Raleigh comes out of the bathroom and climbs into his bed.

“You can keep those on,” Raleigh says.

“It’s okay. I got my phone. It’s fine,” Chuck says, dimming the brightness on his screen.

He can be considerate.

It’s quiet in the room long enough that Chucks thinks Raleigh must have fallen asleep.

“Chuck?”

Chuck jumps, dropping his phone in surprise.

“Jesus, yeah?”

“Sorry. I… Never mind. Sorry.”

Chuck sits up, patting around him to find his cell. “Don’t never mind me, Ray. I told you this morning that you can talk to me. I meant that. You startled me is all.”

“Will you…” Raleigh hesitates.

“Will I?” Chuck asks as his hand finally brushes against his phone.

“Will you sleep in this bed?” Raleigh asks quietly, like he’s embarrassed and ready for Chuck to laugh at him.

Chuck climbs out of his bed and into the empty side of Raleigh’s.

Raleigh takes a deep breath, like he needs to settle himself, before he says softly, “Thanks. It’s dumb, but I like not having to look far for someone.”

Chuck settles in, making sure their arms are pressed together. “It’s not dumb, mate. I don’t mind. I get cold easy, anyway, so this works perfectly for me.”

Raleigh snorts, but doesn’t call his bluff.

The next night, Chuck doesn’t even bother with two queens.

Raleigh gives him a grateful smile when he sees the single king in their room.

Chuck smiles to himself when Raleigh isn’t looking.

Worth it.

----

The mountains are gorgeous, but Chuck might actually die here.

He collapses at the top of the trail, gasping.

“You’re gonna have to leave me, mate. I can’t handle this altitude.”

Raleigh stares down at him, grinning. “Come on, Chuck! We’re at the top. Now, we can appreciate the view. Everything is downhill from here.”

Chuck stares up at him, before sighing dramatically. Partially for effect, but mostly because he really is having trouble with the altitude up in the mountains. He’s fit, okay, he is, but he’s more built for short duration trips. This is a test of endurance, and he’s failing.

Raleigh and his physical fortitude can go show off somewhere else, and let Chuck die in peace.

“After this, we’re going out for drinks. I deserve a reward.”

Raleigh laughs but doesn’t argue.

“I heard from the guy at the coffee place this morning that there’s a cool nightclub in town. I’ve never been to a club before,” Chuck adds, grinning.

Raleigh shrugs. “You have to make it back to town first. Can’t do that if you give up here.”

Raleigh offers him a hand up with a challenging smirk. Chuck huffs, taking the offered hand and letting himself be pulled to his feet. In all honesty, he’d do just about anything to keep Raleigh this upbeat. Chuck likes the smiles that he’s been seeing, but he’s acutely aware of how quickly that can change.

“I’m only doing this for the chance to go out dancing, mate.”

Raleigh raises an eyebrow. “Dancing?”

Chuck nods. “Isn’t that what you do at clubs? Get with it, Ray.”

Raleigh rolls his eyes, but they continue on the trail.

“It really is an incredible view,” Chuck says, standing at the lookout point and staring across the mountains and into the valley.

Raleigh nods wordlessly.

Chuck won’t admit that the hike was worth it because he might be getting soft when it comes to Raleigh, but he still has his pride.

Seeing Raleigh grinning, and the sun setting across his face is definitely worth it. The view, well, that’s just a bonus.

----

They make their respective weekly calls back to Hong Kong before going out.

Chuck still feels stilted and awkward trying to talk to his father on the phone, but he thinks they’re getting better at it.

Herc tells him about the UN and the bullshit they’re going through to get continued funding, and Chuck talks about nearly dying in the mountains.

Herc laughs. “Sounds like you’re having a good time, at least.”

“I am,” Chuck admits.

“That’s good, son. I’m glad.”

They’re quiet for a second, before they exchange their goodbyes.

Raleigh comes in from their balcony that beautifully overlooks the parking lot and holds out his phone. “Mako wants to talk to you.”

“To me?” Chuck asks, confused, but he takes the phone.

Raleigh shrugs, unconcerned, before he heads into the bathroom.

Chuck takes the call out into the hallway.

“Hello?”

“Hello. I just want to say that whatever you are doing, he sounds better.”

Chuck sinks back against the wall in relief.

“That does not mean he never feels… depressed in that way, but maybe your trip is helping.”

“I’m glad to hear that, Mako. I don’t want him feeling the way he did after the museum. It was awful.”

Mako chats with him about less heavy things before Chuck hands her back over to Raleigh.

“What did you talk about?” Raleigh asks curiously once he’s ended the call.

“My dad told her about how you tried to murder me in the mountains. I had to plead my case,” Chuck replies, which isn’t a lie, but leaves out the bit where they both worried about him for a solid ten minutes.

Raleigh rolls his eyes.

“Now, are we going dancing or what?”

----

Whatever nightclub Chuck heard about is close enough to their hotel that they decide to walk.

“That way we can both have some fun,” Chuck says with a wink.

Raleigh wrinkles his nose, but doesn’t object.

Chuck realizes, upon arrival, that there is a major flaw in his plan.

He does not know how to dance. At all. Not the kind of dancing happening on the floor of this club, anyway.

Chuck hisses this realization into Raleigh’s ear as they wait to be served at the bar.

Raleigh laughs. “Give it some time. You’ll either drink enough or find the right person to dance with and it won’t matter.”

Chuck stares at him. “Have you been clubbing before?”

Raleigh stays damningly silent. Chuck files that away for later.

They settle in at the bar, where Chuck takes in the whole atmosphere. He’s two drinks in, and Raleigh nudges him.

“The girl at the end of the bar is watching you. She’d probably dance with you, if you wanted.”

He glances in the direction that Raleigh indicated and accidentally meets the eye of the girl he’s talking about. He turns quickly back around.

Raleigh raises an eyebrow.

“Not sure she’s my type.”

Raleigh nods agreeably. “I’m sure you can find a girl to dance with.”

Chuck downs the last of his beer and waves at the bartender for another.

“Not sure there are any girls who are my type, mate.”

Raleigh looks surprised, but not judgmental. “I’m sure you can find a guy to dance with, then.”

Chuck sips his new drink when it’s set in front of him. “We’ll see.”

Chuck eventually has enough beer in his system that turning to Raleigh and tugging eagerly on his sleeve seems like a good idea.

“Will you dance with me?”

Raleigh’s eyes widen. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”

“It’s a perfect idea. I like you, we’re in a club, and I want to dance. What could possibly be bad about it?”

Raleigh mutters something under his breath that Chuck is too distracted to care about.

Chuck turns on his most charming grin, and leans into Raleigh imploringly. “Please? I’ve never been dancing before.”

Raleigh caves. He finishes off the last of both their beers before letting Chuck lead him to the dance floor.

They start out face to face, just kind of swaying in time with the music. Chuck glances around, trying to follow the lead of the other couples on the floor.

Raleigh relaxes little by little, and Chuck decides they’ve graduated to the other kind of dancing he’s noticed.

“Now like this,” Chuck says, turning and backing up until he’s flush with Raleigh’s chest.

Raleigh tenses up again, hands reflexively landing on Chuck’s hips. Chuck reaches up and rest his palm on the side of Raleigh’s neck.

“Come on, Raleigh. You must have done this before, right?”

Raleigh nods, and Chuck feels the movement of it against his hand.

“Show me what you’ve got, then.”

Raleigh is quiet and still for a second, before he’s leaning in and guiding Chuck’s hips in time with the beat.

Chuck kind of loses himself there. Raleigh’s a solid, comforting, presence behind him, face pressed into Chuck’s neck. One hand is still resting on his hip, but the other is riding up higher on his thigh as the songs change. Chuck reaches back with the hand that isn’t wrapped around Raleigh’s neck to pull Raleigh in by the back of his leg.

Chuck, if he were sober, might be embarrassed by the fact that he’s half-hard in his jeans. He might nix this whole thing, and go back to sitting at the bar. He would definitely feel more embarrassed if he couldn’t feel Raleigh chubbing up against him.

As it is now, Chuck just wants Raleigh’s hand to keep creeping up the inside of his thigh like it is. Chuck tips his head back to rest on Raleigh’s shoulder, which Raleigh takes as invitation to drag his lips along the column of his throat.

Chuck is so not complaining about it. Definitely not complaining. He grinds back into Raleigh, who makes this choked off noise right in Chuck’s ear.

Raleigh’s hand is almost exactly where Chuck wants it, thumb just shy of touching the trapped head of his dick.

Chuck rolls his head to the side so he can press a kiss into the corner of Raleigh’s jaw. Raleigh turns his head to meet him.

Chuck should stop this. Chuck should pull away and at least move this somewhere more private because the way it’s going, things are going to become too heavy for this venue real fast.

Chuck turns around so he can get a better angle, locking his arms around Raleigh’s neck. Raleigh’s hands drop down to his ass and pull him in as close as they can get.

Chuck feels like he’s going to spontaneously combust with how turned on he is.

Raleigh is the one who pulls away, panting, pupils dilated wide. “We shouldn’t do this.”

Before Chuck can protest, Raleigh tugs on his hand.

“Not here. We should go back to our hotel.”

Chuck nods quickly, glad they were paying by drink instead of having a tab open they’d have to go and settle.

The walk back to the hotel takes a lot longer than the walk there. Mostly because they’re handsy the entire way. At one point, Raleigh pins him against the brick wall of a convenience store, and Chuck swears Raleigh is trying to steal his tongue from him.

Chuck makes them walk faster after that. He’s never been so glad to see a hotel in his life.

Raleigh settles over him on their bed, arms bracketing his head.

“What do you want?” Raleigh asks breathlessly between kisses.

Chuck shakes his head uncertainly, fingers wrapped around Raleigh’s biceps to keep him in place.

“I don’t know. I’ve never…”

Raleigh freezes, and pulls back so he can look Chuck in the eye.

“Never what?”

Chuck shrugs, tucking his chin into his chest, feeling shy suddenly. “Anything. Not like there was a lot of time for me to go out and find someone for a quickie.”

Raleigh's face does this weird twisting thing that Chuck is a little too tipsy to really understand before he's leaning down and kissing Chuck again. This kiss is soft and sweet, unlike everything else they've done so far, and if Chuck didn't know better it would feel like a goodbye kiss. Raleigh pulls back and brushes Chuck's hair away from his forehead.

It feels extremely intimate and tender. Chuck thinks he missed a cue somewhere.

"We shouldn't do this tonight," Raleigh says, brushing his fingers gently across Chuck's cheek.

"But-"

Raleigh leans down and kisses him. Another of those puzzling soft ones that Chuck really doesn't have a frame of reference for.

Chuck tilts his head in confusion when Raleigh pulls away and rolls off him.

"If you still think I look like a good idea in the morning, we can talk about it. I like you a lot, Chuck. If I found out in the morning that the beer liked me more than you do, I'm not sure I could take that."

Chuck rolls onto his side so he can look at Raleigh. Raleigh is staring up at the ceiling, chewing on his lip. Chuck clearly said something wrong, but he isn't sure what. He scoots over a little until Raleigh looks at him. He inches closer, and when Raleigh doesn't move away, he moves all the way across so he can curl into Raleigh's side.

"Okay. I'm not gonna change my mind. I've had a bit of a crush on you since we started this trip, if I'm honest, so just one more day on that isn't anything."

Raleigh turns a little so he can see Chuck's face.

Chuck nods, cheek against Raleigh's shoulder. "Yeah. But I can wait. I can be patient."

Raleigh snorts, but tucks Chuck in close. "We'll see about that."

----

Chuck wakes up with a slight headache and his mouth is dry, but Raleigh is asleep peacefully next to him. Chuck could spend the day just looking at his relaxed face. Fuck, he could do that easy.

He drifts in and out of consciousness for a bit, until suddenly one of their phones on the table is vibrating violently.

Chuck lunges for it, answering it without looking.

"Hold on," he whispers into what turns out to be his own phone, before he ducks out into the hall.

"Hello?"

"Would you care to explain why I had to talk to the UN at my meeting about you and Raleigh kissing in the middle of a night club?"

Chuck's heart sinks in his chest. "Shit."

"Simplification of the year, kid," his father says with a snort.

Chuck runs a hand over his face. "Let me get Raleigh up. I'll call you back in five."

He hangs up and goes back into their room. Raleigh is sitting up, rubbing his eyes blearily.

Raleigh looks relieved when he sees Chuck. "I thought you left."

Chuck's chest clenches painfully. "Course not, Raleigh. Never. My old man called. We, uh, we apparently caused some trouble for them last night."

Raleigh listens to Herc lecture them with his head in his hands as they both sit at the desk with the phone on speaker between them.

"The UN doesn't want to fund 'promiscuous pilots' who 'aren't needed in non-wartime scenarios'."

Chuck scowls at the phone. "I don't see how what we get up to as two consenting adults while on leave has anything to do with them."

"You think I didn't tell them as much?" Herc replies.

"So what do we have to do, then?" Chuck asks, putting a hand comfortingly on Raleigh's leg. Raleigh glances up at him with a smile that's more like a grimace. "We'll do whatever you need us to."

"I am glad to hear you say that, Chuck," Mako says over the line. Herc must have fetched her in the five minutes before Chuck called him back.

"Why?" Chuck asks suspiciously.

Chuck sits up in alarm when his father laughs. Actually laughs.

"Congratulations on your marriage. The UN apologized to us profusely when Mako told them you were happily celebrating your honeymoon on your approved leave while unfit for active duty. They were quite embarrassed by their assumption that you two were just blowing off steam. But once Mako started in on them about how it was callous of them to not allow you to celebrate such a joyous occasion, they let it drop."

Raleigh looks at the phone in horror. "Marriage? That's how we fix this?"

"I have your certificate here. Herc and myself were honored to be your witnesses," Mako says dryly.

Raleigh looks at Chuck. "Sorry, Chuck."

Chuck looks at him in confusion. "For what, mate? I was just as involved in everything as you."

"Yeah but now you're stuck with me at least until the UN is off the PPDC's back."

"Did you forget the part of last night where I was happily shoving my tongue in your mouth? I've wanted to ride you into the sunset since we left Hong Kong. Now at least you’ve made an honest man of me."

His father makes a noise is distress over the line. Chuck ignores their audience. Maybe Raleigh will be more inclined to believe him if they have witnesses.

"If anyone is stuck now, it's you, Ray."

Mako clears her throat.

"Okay, so we're married. What do we do now?" Chuck asks, tabling the 'I really like you, you dense idiot' conversation for later.

"Just keep doing what you've been doing. If you're suddenly not out and about like you have been for the past few weeks, that'll be suspicious," Herc answers, sounding uncomfortable. Chuck would feel bad except for how Raleigh is watching him with what might be wonder.

"Please keep your public displays to a minimum. There are some conversations the Marshall and I want to avoid," Mako adds helpfully.

"Roger that," Chuck says, only too glad when they say goodbye a few moments later.

He gets several messages after hanging up.

His favorite is Tendo's group message to him and Raleigh that says 'Mazel tov' with a bunch of eggplant emjois. Chuck sends a picture of his middle finger in response.

Raleigh is quiet after the call, sitting at the desk.

"We gotta talk about this," Chuck says

Raleigh nods, but doesn’t say anything. Chuck paces in front of the foot of the bed.

“Okay, I’ll start then. This isn’t exactly the ideal way to start out a relationship, I get that. I like you, though. I am interested in dating you. I want to go on more awful hikes where I can’t breathe and you run circles around me. I want to stop in skeevy diners together. I want to go out clubbing and you to fuck me into the mattresses of all these hotels we visit.”

Raleigh stares at him, eyes wide.

“If you don’t want that, that’s fine. Just tell me, okay? I can deal with that. But if I’ve gotta be married to anyone, you’re my top pick, Raleigh. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll date and then we can get married for real.”

Raleigh stands up and crosses the room, forcing Chuck to halt in his path.

Raleigh kisses him, a little desperately. “Yeah. To all that.”

Chuck grins. “Great.”

----

The news of their marriage is all over every paper and magazine within the day.

Chuck looks at them in exasperation when they stop at a gas station, flipping through the articles with a scowl.

“Why do they keep bringing up how I’ve matured and become more approachable?”

Raleigh glances up from where he’s looking at the candy he won’t admit he wants until Chuck picks out something first.

“You have mellowed out some,” Raleigh says with a grin.

Chuck doesn’t read out the part where it observes that Raleigh looks happier nowadays. Chuck studies the side of Raleigh’s face. Chuck hopes he’s happier.

It’s a nice article, overall. Chuck hopes that they really are good for each other like the journalist of this magazine seems to think.

While Chuck is checking out at the counter, a candy bar he doesn’t really want but is getting just so Raleigh would hand him one and say, ‘well, if you’re getting something’, he sees a display of cheap, ugly rings. He picks up one of the mood rings with a smirk.

“Got you something else while I was in there,” Chuck announces as he gets into the car.

Raleigh glances up from his phone. “Yeah?”

Chuck flips the ring across to him, which Raleigh catches on reflex. He looks at it and then scowls at Chuck.

Chuck laughs, putting his seatbelt on. “Sorry I couldn’t find something nicer for our shotgun wedding, but that’ll do, right?”

“You’re hilarious,” Raleigh says, stuffing the ring into his pocket.

Chuck grins as he pulls out of the parking lot.

Chuck pulls into the lot of a much nicer hotel than they have been staying at when they stop for the night. The kind of hotel, Chuck read on his phone during their brief stop at the gas station, that has a fancy restaurant attached and everything. Raleigh looks at the building, before looking at Chuck. Chuck shrugs.

“This is our honeymoon, Ray. Get with it.”

Raleigh rolls his eyes.

Chuck also has a Plan, okay? A nicer hotel will play into that a lot better.

When the man at the front desk beams at him, and upgrades them to the presidential suite, Chuck turns to Raleigh.

“Isn’t that nice, babe?”

Raleigh narrows his eyes suspiciously, before he smiles at the hotel clerk. “That’s very nice of you, sir.”

The man sends them off with a wink. The upgrade wasn’t part of his Plan, but it’s a nice touch.

“What are you doing?” Raleigh asks as they carry their stuff to the elevator.

“Nothing! It’s not a crime for us to treat ourselves to something nice, is it?”

Raleigh doesn’t look reassured.

The room is massive, taking up the entire top floor of the hotel. There are balconies overlooking the city on all sides, multiple rooms, and a huge bed in the bedroom.

Chuck smirks when he sees it, and sets his stuff down by the door.

“Wonder how much this room actually cost nightly,” Raleigh comments as he finally wanders in after exploring the rest of the suite.

“Who cares, mate. We’re set for life. I could live here.”

Raleigh shakes his head with a fond smile.

“We should go get dinner, see what they have in the restaurant downstairs,” Chuck says, digging through his bag for the only nice shirt he brought with him. “Get your nice clothes out.”

Raleigh snorts. “Yes, dear.”

When Chuck orders them dessert, Raleigh looks at him. “Is this a date?”

Chuck rolls his eyes, and gestures around them. “Feel like that’s pretty obvious.”

He reaches across the table so he can take Raleigh’s hand. Raleigh smiles at him softly.

“Okay.”

Chuck grins. “Good.”

Chuck’s next step in The Plan is easy. He runs his fingers along the inside of Raleigh’s wrist while they sit together, bumps their legs against one another gently, makes sure to smile brightly whenever Raleigh looks at him.

“Are you trying to seduce me with a nice dinner and your dimples?” Raleigh asks, watching Chuck’s face intently.

Chuck looks down at his lap, before glancing back up at Raleigh through his lashes. “I don’t know. Is it working?”

Raleigh calls the waiter over for their check.

Chuck grins down at the table. Easy.

All Chuck’s scheming, his master Plan to get Raleigh to take him to bed, didn’t prepare him for how nervous he’d suddenly feel spread out under Raleigh.

He misses the way beer masked all that at the club.

Raleigh is so careful with him, running gentle hands up the insides of his thighs.

“Are you okay?”

Chuck nods.

“You have to tell me if you don’t like something I do, okay? If you want me to stop at any time, you just tell me. No questions asked.”

Chuck squirms, equal parts impatient and anxious. “Raleigh.”

Raleigh smiles at him. “I like it when you say my name.”

“How about you get on with this, and we can see how many times you can make me to say it?”

Raleigh raises an eyebrow. “You’re going to regret that challenge.”

“Prove it, Ray.”

Raleigh fingers him open with a single-minded focus that has Chuck panting in no time.

Raleigh,” he groans.

Raleigh presses a kiss into his shoulder. “Seven.”

Chuck can feel his smirk. “Jesus Christ, get on with it and stop bloody counting.”

It turns out that Chuck is not above begging. Chuck will take that fact to the grave, but thankfully, Raleigh caves easily for a breathy, “Please, Raleigh. Please.”

After, when they’ve cleaned up and are cuddled together in the dark, Raleigh curls in tight around him, nuzzles into his ear, and whispers, “Twenty-one.”

Chuck elbows him in the ribs.

----

When they go out and about now, people who recognize them stop them on the street to congratulate them on their marriage.

Chuck always responds by grinning and grabbing Raleigh’s hand, who blushes red at the attention.

They stop at skeevy diners.

They go on hikes Chuck is getting better at.

Raleigh fucks him good and hard in their hotel rooms, but kisses him sweet through it all.

They avoid clubs for a while because they’re kind of afraid of what Mako would say if they end up in the news again.

Chuck is living the damn dream, even though now his dad ends all his calls with, ‘Enjoy your honeymoon, son’.

Chuck will take that any day.

----

Mako calls them on a Tuesday morning.

Chuck yawns, sitting up so he can lean his cheek against Raleigh’s bare shoulder as he sits on the edge of the bed to talk to her. Chuck can just make out what she’s saying sitting like this.

“I have done everything I can to stall, but we have been getting a lot of request asking for you both to do an interview together as newlyweds. We want to control this narrative as much as we can.”

“You willingly want to put Chuck in front of cameras?” Raleigh asks.

Chuck bites into his shoulder in retaliation.

Raleigh laughs, but Mako quickly gets them back on track.

“Yeah, we’ll be on the first flight out tomorrow.”

Chuck sighs.

He knew they’d have to go back eventually. The real world wouldn’t wait forever. But god, did he want it to.

----

The only good thing about being back is the way Max wiggles into his shins the second Chuck steps off onto the helipad.

While Chuck thinks himself hard to embarrass, the banner welcoming back ‘MR and MR HANSEN-BECKET’ is pushing it. He suspects it’s Tendo’s work. Mako and Herc are the only ones who know the marriage isn’t actually real. So, of course, the techs and everyone else want to celebrate the wedding.

Raleigh ducks his head as people line up to congratulate them. Chuck reaches out and grabs his hand, equal parts reassurance for Raleigh and grounding for himself.

Mako and Herc look extremely amused from where they’re watching.

Chuck scowls at them.

The wankers.

----

Their first night back in the Shatterdome, Raleigh takes him apart slowly. No number of pleas and curses make him pick up the pace.

“Raleigh, come on, I can’t-“ Chuck pants, though he isn’t sure what he can’t do.

“Shh. I got you. You’re fine,” Raleigh whispers, kissing him.

It oddly takes him back to the night after the club, when Raleigh kissed him softly before pulling away. Chuck has a bad, bad feeling.

“You would tell me if something was wrong, right?” Chuck asks later, drawing meaningless patterns on Raleigh’s chest.

Raleigh pulls him in close. “Yeah, of course.”

----

Their first interview is done by an exuberant woman who gestures a lot.

Chuck gets a headache just watching her wave her arms.

“You two tied the knot recently.”

Chuck nods, grabbing for Raleigh’s hand because Raleigh is so tense in his chair Chuck is worried he’ll strain something. Raleigh laces their fingers together, and Chuck can feel the metal of Raleigh’s prop ring. It’s a little surreal. He’s hyperaware of the one on his own hand.

“Well, give us some details! Who asked who? Was it a nice ceremony?”

“I asked him for a date first, but he proposed.”

“Wait a second, you didn’t really ask.” Raleigh turns to the interviewer. “We went to dinner, and it was a really nice restaurant. I asked him if it was a date, and he said ‘Feel like that’s pretty obvious’.”

Chuck shrugs. “It was.”

The interviewer laughs. “So you tricked him into a date?”

“It paid off, in the end.”

“And how did you propose, Raleigh?”

Chuck turns to him curiously. They haven’t really planned any of this out. They’re making it up as they go, which is probably a mistake. Chuck is definitely the more creative liar of the two. Raleigh sits up a little, and Chuck is trying to think of a way to save him, when Raleigh starts his story.

“Well, we’d been together for a bit. In a scenario where either one of you might die in your next drop, you get close pretty fast. When we made it through Pitfall, I was so relieved. He’s helped me work through some stuff, just by being with me. I don’t know how I’d have gotten by without him. He was still in medical when I asked. Looking back, that’s not exactly romantic, but I guess he didn’t mind too much.”

Chuck does a good job of keeping a straight face, but holy shit that’s an impressive story. Believable, with enough detail to be interesting, but not enough to come back and bite them later. Chuck pulls the hand he’s holding up so he can kiss Raleigh’s knuckles. Raleigh glances over at him and smiles.

“Aw,” the interviewer says, watching them both.

“And you must know, I have to ask about this,” she says, holding up a copy of the picture of them in the club.

Chuck grins. “What can I say? I mean, look at him,” Chuck says, gesturing to Raleigh. “I just couldn’t help myself.”

Raleigh flushes red and covers his face.

The questions after that are pretty lowball. What else did you do in America? Why a road trip?

When they’re done, Mako smiles at them. “Good job.”

It’s a lot easier after that, knowing what to expect.

They try and one up each other with crazy stories about their dates. They hold hands, and smile for the cameras. Chuck doesn’t really notice, not at first. They’re both busy now, and they’re both prone to bouts of insomnia. Raleigh isn’t the only one who wanders the halls at night when he can’t sleep.

Chuck thinks, in that case, it’s not entirely his fault he didn’t notice until almost a week after they first got back.

When the cameras are off, and they’re in the Shatterdome, Raleigh is distant.

They share a room now, but most of the times Chuck wakes up alone. He doesn’t know what’s wrong, and Raleigh won’t talk to him.

Mako doesn’t know anything either.

“He has not said anything indicating he is unhappy?”

Chuck drops his head down onto the table. “No! I don’t know what I did, but he’s pulling away.”

Mako frowns. “You will just have to talk to him, Chuck.”

Chuck groans, but he knows she’s right. He just isn’t sure he’s ready for whatever Raleigh is going to say.

He wishes, not for the first time, that they’d never come back.

----

Chuck is a direct individual, and he figures that’s the best approach for this. He corners Raleigh in their room and glares at him.

“Why are you avoiding me?”

Raleigh stares at him, eyes wide. “I’m not.”

“Yes, yes you fucking are. We’ve barely talked in days. You don’t touch me unless we’re doing interviews. I fucking miss you. Please, just tell me what’s wrong. If you want a divorce or whatever, I can handle it, okay?”

“That’s just it. It’s not real, and I want it to be!”

“Which part isn’t real?”

“Any of it.”

Chuck steps forward, something like anger burning under his skin. “The part where we’ve been off on vacation together wasn’t real? Or the part where we’ve been fucking in hotel rooms across America? Or maybe he part where I told you I love you over a candle lit dinner and you fucking said it back? Which part of all that?”

Raleigh stares hard at the wall, expression more closed off than Chuck has ever seen it, including before Pitfall.

“Which part of that wasn’t real, Raleigh? The marriage isn’t real, I get that, but everything else was. Or so I thought it was. If you want a damn ring, I can get you one. I’ll wear your ring, no problem.”

“This can’t last! You’re going to find something better, someone better. You’re young, Chuck. You don’t want the has-been.”

Chuck is going to kill him.

“What the fuck,” he says flatly.

“What in the fuck have I done or said that makes you think that could be anywhere in the realm of possibility? I love you. I love Raleigh Becket. Not Gypsy’s pilot. Not some media darling. Just you, mate. That’s all I need. That’s all I want.”

“I don’t want you to settle just because we got drunk on vacation and got photographed. I don’t want to trap you in something because you feel like it’s your only option.”

Chuck yanks on his hair in frustration. “You are not listening to me. I don’t feel like I’m trapped. It was a fucking dream come true for me when Mako said we were going to have to be married. How could I ever get you to want me that way? I thought it’d be impossible, but then here was my golden opportunity to try and get you to want me. I thought you did. I thought things were fine.”

Chuck takes a few steps back, uncertain suddenly. “Are you the one feeling trapped? Raleigh, you should have said. I don’t-“

“No! No. No, this has been great. This is great. I love you, Chuck, but I know our start wasn’t ideal. You’ve never been with anyone else, so I would understand if you wanted to… explore other options.”

“I don’t want other options. I have the only option I want.”

Raleigh pulls Chuck in for a hug and hides his face in Chuck’s neck. “I don’t know what I’m doing. You terrify me.”

“Me? You’re the one hiding away and making me worry. If I didn’t want this, I would say. I’m not afraid to share my opinion, remember.”

Raleigh laughs a little, tightening his arms around Chuck’s waist.

“Yeah.”

“Raleigh. Raleigh, look at me,” Chuck says.

Raleigh does slowly.

“I love you. We got married before we dated. That’s fine. It’s all ass backwards, but it seems fitting.”

Raleigh nods, looking hesitantly hopeful.

“So you can stop avoiding me, and we can get back to it, yeah?”

“Yeah. Okay.”

----

Chuck gets them some ugly plastic rings out of one of those gumball machines as a joke.

Raleigh laughs, but he keeps his, putting it on the chain with his dogtags and the mood ring Chuck got him on their trip.

Chuck tugs on the chain, running his thumb over the mood ring and watching it change color.

“I didn’t know you kept it.”

Raleigh shrugs, embarrassed. “You gave it to me. Of course I kept it.”

There’s nothing for Chuck to do besides kiss him. Sentimental bastard.

They’ll get real ones later. Until then, they have each other, and that’s enough.

----