“Sir! There’s movement in the Breach!”
What? The last Kaiju attack was two days ago.
Pentecost betrayed none of his concern, simply walking over to the head chief of LOCCENT in the Philippines. “Talk to me.”
The head chief, Eric, was good—more than qualified or he wouldn’t have been given the job—but Stacker couldn’t help but wish it was Choi in his chair right then. Tendo was a bright young man, if somewhat irreverent and overly friendly with the incorrigible Becket brothers. Stacker knew he could depend on him to make a good judgement call with the data they were gathering. Eric had nothing wrong with his record, of course, but he wasn’t as familiar a figure to Stacker and that made him harder to trust implicitly.
What he knew, what everyone could see, was that the blip was far too small to be a Kaiju, even when compared to the smallest of the Category Is. He ordered a chopper out to get eyes on it while sending another of the LOCCENT staff to find the marshal of this ‘Dome, Alya.
When the chopper arrived on site, they found a somewhat warped, partially melted, and highly battered evacuation pod. They didn’t necessarily have the right crew or mechanics for it—they were not anticipating a rescue—but they got someone down in the water and pried it open because while the sensors had been battered and were only giving infrequent bursts of information, what was coming through indicated someone alive and they didn’t know how long they had or how critically injured the occupant might be.
“We have everyone present and accounted for after the last deployment,” Alya said, her accented voice muted as she murmured to Stacker.
“I know,” he agreed, matching her tone.
“It’s open. Heart rate steady, breathing even, female passenger unconscious,” one of the crew reported in a relieved tone.
“Identification?” Alya asked, pitching her voice to crisp and clear.
There were a few moments of no response and Stacker pursed his lips, waiting impatiently to hear which of their Rangers had gone MIA without them knowing about it.
Was it even a Ranger? They’re the mostly likely candidates to be in the pods, but they’re not the only ones with access technically.
He couldn’t pinpoint where everyone was exactly at that moment, but he knew where every crew was assigned and he knew the marshals of their Shatterdomes well. None of them were liable to lose a Ranger except Irvine down in Sydney. Even the Becket brothers—bold, irritating, and the type to take far too much joy in a good laugh—knew better than to go AWOL, especially on Stacker’s watch. No, that sort of behavior usually only came from one particular Ranger, and if Marshal Irvine didn’t know where Scott was, his brother normally did. And Herc, at least, would’ve sounded the alarm if he had done something this phenomenally stupid. Though, Scott would've had to have gone pretty far to suddenly be a woman.
“Uh...We’re not sure, ma’am. We don’t recognize the woman or the logos.”
They both frowned.
“Get back to base. We’ll have medical on standby,” Alya ordered, which was pretty much all she could do.
Stacker resisted the urge to drum his fingers. They had a fair number of female Rangers, though considerably less than their male counterparts, and they had been made all the more iconic by their gender. The crew would’ve, or should’ve, known them on sight.
Were they that badly injured? Or, if it wasn’t a Ranger, maybe it was one of the J-techs.
He made his way down to the pad with Marshal Alya, and they waited with the medical team just to the side, out of the sun, until the chopper was in sight. They moved forward as a collective whole, the marshals letting the doctors and other emergency personnel lead the way. And while he dared not get in the way of their efforts, he did get a good look at her.
The Ranger wasn’t someone he’d seen before, though it was hard to be sure with the amount of bruising and swelling that covered her face. Mostly, he was going based off the almost absurd length of her pale, fire-gold hair, her general stature, which was fairly tall for a woman and even some men, and the logo on her battered, partially melted drivesuit. It matched none of the Jaegers currently deployed, nor the ones far enough in production to have been named.
“As soon as she’s stabilized, run her through the system. I want to know who she is,” Alya ordered and the medical staff nodded, admittedly more focused on their patient than her.
~ ~ ~ ~
“Marshal,” Alya said, stepping into his temporary office without knocking.
She held out a few sheets of paper and he took them wordlessly. He flipped through them carefully and thoroughly, taking his time because there was no way he read it correctly the first time. And yet, the second and third and fourth times didn’t tell him anything different.
Stacker eyed the results for the fifth time and frowned, honestly confused for the first time in a long time.
“There has to be a mistake,” he finally said.
Alya nodded. “That’s what we thought. We ran it several times. Never changed.”
He resisted the urge to rub his forehead. “Has anyone called Hansen to check on this?”
“Not yet. You’re closer to him than I am,” Alya said and smiled at him, glad she had someone else to give this bizarre responsibility too.
Stacker frowned at her too and the willowy woman just smiled even more placidly at him. She offered him a respectful nod and left.
“I’m bloody looking at her, Stacks,” Herc whispered into the phone, bemused as he watched Charlotte scowl and stomp out of the canteen after arguing with one of the crew members that were somewhat closer to her in age. The young man in question muttered something that made his friend look up sharply and glance around. His guilty face when he met Herc’s eyes said enough and he scowled, making the kid duck his head quickly.
Why are you making things harder? I have to work with these men later, he thought but knew he wouldn’t ask. Charlotte would tell him if it was serious, even if she’d rather be pulling out her own teeth than talking to him. She knew there was a balance that had to be kept, even if she sure did seem to enjoy pushing it.
“Apparently so am I,” Stacker returned, his tone just sharp enough for Herc to pick up on the exasperation there. “Only this Charlotte is not fifteen, and her hair’s down to the small of her back. Didn’t you just tell me about your girl giving herself an undercut or something?”
Herc sighed at the memories that brought back up. “Yes, and she still hasn’t—” He took a breath because that wasn’t relevant. “This isn’t possible.”
“I’m not saying it is. I’m saying this is what we’ve got, so this is what we’re dealing with.”
“It’s gotta be some kind of mistake.”
“Agreed. But you’re still coming over here because you’re still the most likely next of kin.”
He sighed deeper.
~ ~ ~ ~
It took almost three days for her to wake up and stay awake for more than a few moments. Most of the swelling had gone down, and for once, it had initially looked far more severe than it really was. Deep contusions covered just about every surface, she had three broken fingers, circuitry burns up and down her body, a fractured collarbone, and some heavily bruised ribs but those were all set and healing. She’d be bed-ridden for a bit, but she had a good prognosis. There hadn’t been any severe radiation poisoning or damaged to her cranium or brain as far as they could ascertain.
Usually when she stirred enough to wake, she came out of it alarmed and trying to move. Herc would reach out, make sure she didn’t pull out her IV or hit her damaged hand, and reassure her that she was in hospital and she was safe. The first time he had done it, he had been surprised by how quickly she settled down, but she had managed to open her gummy eyes and look at him.
“Dad,” she’d mumbled and sank back into unconsciousness.
He’d sat hard in his seat, taken aback. He knew what the tests had said of course, knew Stacker wouldn’t lie to him or spare his time on something so ridiculous, but being told and seeing it were two different things. She sounded like Charlotte, albeit more adult. The inflection and accent were the same, as were her eyes, which were perfect replicas of Angela’s.
And ever since, he had been talking himself around in circles trying to figure it out without resorting to the unbelievable explanation of time travel.
Today, the doctors had said she had slipped into a more natural slumber and expected her to actually stay awake for longer. Waiting for it, being somewhat afraid to leave the room lest she wake up alone, was a very uncomfortable feeling. Perhaps especially because he didn’t really feel like he knew this young woman and it was like sitting at the bedside of a stranger. He found himself itching for something, anything, to do and ended up borrowing a book from one of the nurses who smiled at him kindly and made him feel like a bloody giant by being so petite.
“We made it?”
Herc startled and nearly dropped the paperback, snapping his head up to look at her. Green eyes stared back.
“Did Becket and Mori finish it?”
“What?” Herc asked, bewildered.
Charlotte stared at him. “The plan. Did it work? Is the breach closed?”
“What plan? Who…what’s your name?” He couldn’t help the question. She frowned at him and then winced when it tugged at her still battered face.
“That’s not funny, old man.”
He frowned back, finally remembering to hit the button to call for the doctor. “Don’t call me that.”
“Then don’t act senile. Did it work? You can…if it didn’t work, just tell me,” the Ranger added, her face hard.
“Look, honestly, I don’t know. They say you’re Charlotte—”
“Charlie,” she cut in. “I’ve gone by Charlie for years. Get it right.”
“Charlie,” he repeated, the word strange. “Okay. Well, they say you’re my kid, Charlie, but older. It’s 2018, so you should only be fifteen, but…” He rubbed his face, trying to make the words sound less mad.
“That’s really not funny,” Charlie told him again flatly.
“I’m not joking. What year did you come from? What happened? How did you get here?”
“Did you hit your head? Oi, doctor, did he hit his head?”
Herc glanced back at the doctor who had walked in. “She doesn’t believe that it’s 2018.”
“Oh. Well,” the doctor said, hesitating. “I suppose that’s not terribly surprising. It’s not like this has happened before.”
~ ~ ~ ~
Given that she slept most of it, it took two days and video calling Scott, who’d been left in Sydney to watch over their Charlotte, for her to believe that it was 2018. Her face did something complicated at the sight of her uncle. Without even saying a word, she ended the call and stared at the ceiling, a scowl etched onto her face and looking perfectly at home there.
“…Did something happen to Scott?” he had to ask, slow and careful.
“What’s going to happen when I’m released?” Charlie asked instead of answering. “You can’t keep me locked up, and you can’t really announce hey, look, in addition to Kaiju, we have time-travelers. We’d get so much shit for that.”
“What happened with Scott?” Herc repeated, his tone hardening.
Green eyes met his squarely, not even a little bit cowed—but not really defiant either. Just flat, cool. Assessing. More controlled than Charlotte ever was.
“I think the general rule of thumb is don’t talk about the future, so…What’s going to happen to me?”
“I don’t know, really. The doctors know who you are, the nurses assigned to you. Pentecost. The marshals of Sydney and the ‘Dome here in the Philippines. Scott. But that’s it. We didn’t think this was something to really announce either.”
She hummed thoughtfully, and really, awake and talking to him, it wasn’t hard to see Charlotte in her. It was just so hard to believe. Time travel wasn’t real. But neither, he thought to himself wearily, were monsters from another universe. Those were strictly sci-fi and comic books once upon a time too.
“Is Pentecost here?” she asked, cutting into his thoughts before he could take himself around that argument again.
“Yes. He’s in a meeting right this second, I think, but he’s been stopping by at dinner.”
She grunted another thoughtful noise and yawned.
“Ow, ow, fuck,” she mumbled, the left hand coming up to gingerly poke at her jaw with splinted fingers. “I guess I should be grateful I got off as lightly as I did, but this is still bloody awful.”
He stared. “Lightly?”
Charlie blinked and stared back at him. “I forgot you’re not the Herc I’m used too.”
“How is this getting off lightly?” he asked again, not letting himself be distracted by that.
She just sort of shrugged, more with her face than her wounded shoulder, and wouldn’t talk to him anymore after that. Well, she was only awake for another half hour or so anyway, but he was still annoyed and worried and wondering what the hell had happened to his kid.
~ ~ ~ ~
“So what are we going to do with her?” Herc asked Stacker. He had taken a short break from Charlie’s bedside to shower and grab some food, and he’d run into Stacker on his way back to the private room.
“It’d be easier if she didn’t look so much like you. There’s nowhere secure we can put her where the resemblance won’t be noted, nor the fact that she has all the training and bearings of a Ranger when she hasn’t made it through the Academy,” Stacker said, his tone even and mild despite the fact that they were talking about Herc’s daughter. From the future. “And we’re not sticking a Ranger out with the civvies to fend for herself.”
Herc snorted faintly. “Thanks, I suppose.”
“Can we claim she’s your estranged younger sister? Or a sister you didn’t know you had?” Stacker mused, following him into the room and lowering his tone so as not to disturb Charlotte—Charlie, who was still asleep.
“Probably? Scott and I have never talked much about our childhoods. Dad could’ve fucked around and had another kid without even knowing it,” he replied bluntly, turning over every conversation he’d had with anyone about his life before the army. Thankfully, he could count them all on one hand, and they had never been in depth conversations. Nothing much there to talk about after all; life only really seemed to have started for him after he enlisted, after her met Angela. “Name wise…Angie and I named her after my grandmother. It’s what my mum once told me she would’ve named one of us if we’d been girls,” he mused. “We’ll say he did know, gave her the name, but essentially fucked off after that. So now we have two Charlottes.”
“I’ll get Choi to mock up some paperwork for you then,” Stacker said.
“Choi? Isn’t he head of LOCCENT up in Anchorage?”
“Elvis?” Charlie surprised them both by muttering. She blinked slowly, squinting at the overhead lights. “Why’re we talking about Elvis?”
Herc took a second to connect the dots and then he half-grinned, amused. “Stacker suggested getting Choi to make you some paperwork. Elvis?”
“He never minded it before. I think he liked it, actually,” Charlie said, glancing at Stacker. Her face was blank but for the briefest second, it had twitched towards a scowl. It seemed to be her default expression. “Sir.”
“Hansen. You became a Ranger?”
“Who was your co-pilot?”
“Classified, sir. For now,” she returned without missing a beat.
Stacker just arched a brow. “Do you have an objection or better idea than being your father’s half-sister, also named after your grandmother?”
Charlie’s brow contracted for a moment as she mentally worked through that. “Oh. No, I guess not.” Her brow furrowed deeper, mouth twisting downwards a little. “I’m not hanging around you at all outside, ever.”
Herc, vaguely hurt and taken aback, asked, “Why?”
“The PPDC never makes statements about family, so they’re not going to start now. Which means, the second I’m seen with either you or Scott and we look friendly? I’d be branded as a sugar baby or Jaeger fly. Now I don’t give a shit about most reporters, but I think I’m traumatized enough without being in an incestuous relationship with my dad or my uncle. Gross,” she said, still grimacing.
Herc cringed, horrified and more than a little disgusted, and Stacker, in that subtle way of his, looked like he was on the verge of a laugh.
Wanker. Wouldn’t be so funny if it was you and Mako, would it?
“Fair,” he conceded and Stacker nodded solemnly.
“Then when you’re recovered enough to be moved, you’ll go to the Sydney Shatterdome. Until then, what can you tell me about the Kaiju War? Obviously, we don’t win in the next few years.”
Charlie’s mouth twisted deeper and she laughed humorlessly. “We really fucking don’t, sir. Hey, is there any way I can talk to Newt and Gottlieb?”
“Because one, they can fake the science to justify bombing the Breach, and two, Newt is the right kind of crazy to get me home. Gottlieb is anal enough about his numbers to make sure I get there in one piece.” Stacker and Herc blinked at the same time. She just stared back at them expectantly. “Well?”
~ ~ ~ ~
“Your offspring is interesting,” Stacker murmured as they left the room to start the process of acquiring the needed items.
Interesting wasn’t really the word Herc would’ve used for it, but it wasn’t entirely wrong either.
Newt, Charlie found out over video conference, was exactly as hyperactive as ever, if slightly less tattooed. Personally, while she knew Newt treasured them, she thought the fewer Kaiju he had around to get tattooed, the better. Dr. Gottlieb was reliably the same, if dubious of her story.
All in all, running tests, planning with Stacker, talking vaguely about how they’d found out about the answer to the Breach (she was not encouraging Newt to Drift with the damn Kaiju again, especially when he now knew they knew how to destroy the Breach) was an unexpectedly good way to pass the time.
She surprised them by being able to mentally keep up better than most others, surprised no one by pushing her recovery more than her doctors strictly cared for—but never far enough to ruin it, she wasn’t stupid nor self-destructing—and it was a little hilarious by how offended Dr. Gottlieb was when she suggested that he just make up the needed numbers to convince the U.N. that the bomb run was needed.
“I will not lie! Numbers are the closest we’ll ever get to God’s handwriting!” had been her favorite bit of the whole fiasco, and after he had hung up in high-dudgeon, her and Newt had valiantly tried not to crack up and failed. It made her ribs hurt like a bitch, but it was the first time she had laughed in God only knew how long, so she suffered for the cause.
And, really, she wasn’t miffed about the way the time was stretching out; it worked in her favor. It’d take time to run the numbers, the experiments. Time she’d have to get back into piloting shape because, given that she was the only one with the knowledge of it all, this was still her run, still her mission. She didn’t have a co-pilot (again), but that could be dealt with later.
~ ~ ~ ~
She was moved to Sydney a couple of weeks later, and quietly introduced as the Hansens’ previously unknown sister to everyone who didn’t already know the truth of her situation. That included her younger self and she was both torn because she knew how furious she’d be if she ever figured out the truth, and glad because that wasn’t a conversation she wanted to have.
She could’ve avoided the bit where she met Scott too, but that wasn’t something she could get. Not when he did know the truth and would’ve known it without ever being told thanks to Drifting with Herc. So, when they land, after a general meet and greet with Marshal Irvine, she, Herc, and Scott were all left to themselves.
Scott’s face looked like it was taking a considerable effort to wait for everyone to clear the room to speak. On her part, Charlie did her best to keep her face flat and uninterested as she studied the uncle she hadn’t seen in years. Someone she and Herc both tried very hard not to even think about. He was only a couple of inches shorter than Herc, somewhat slimmer, his nose more crooked from all the fights he got into, and his hair more orange than red. She had forgotten that, just how vivid his hair had been.
“Charlotte?” he all but exploded the second the room was theirs. “Oh my—”
“Charlie,” she cut in sharply.
He blinked at her.
“She prefers Charlie,” Herc helpfully put in.
“Ah. Charlie, then,” Scott said, bouncing back quickly and grinning at her. “Aren’t you going to give your favorite uncle a hug?”
“No,” she said flatly, deciding against pointing out that she only had the one uncle—and then, after Manila, she hadn’t even had that. “I don’t like touching people.” An excuse which was true even for this time, and they had no reason to believe that had changed or doubt that it had gotten worse over the years. She looked to Herc, who was glancing between them with a faint furrow in his brow. “I want to lie down,” she said, letting a tiny hint of pathetic into her tone. “But I can’t very well go marching about like I know where I’m going.”
“Thought you were tired of laying about?” he said lightly, gesturing for her to follow him.
“That was before a bumpy ride over here,” she lied.
Mostly, what she wanted was seclusion for a while longer. She had thought over and over about how to approach Scott, but actually seeing him face to face…She didn’t want to be anywhere near him, didn’t want to have to play nice, and she damn sure didn’t want him around anyone else. It made her skin crawl to be this close and it was a relief to follow Herc out of the room.
What the bloody hell am I going to do? she wondered not for the first time. She had a plan, sure, but what about when that was done? How long would it take for Newt and Gottlieb to get her back to her time? Could they do it? If they couldn’t, did she live the rest of her life in a lie?
Charlie kept her eyes fairly unfocused as they walked, trying not to think about how many of the people they passed had died in the years between now and where she really came from. Everything was strange enough as it was without dragging that kind of shit it.
Generally, people were polite if a little prone to staring during those first few days, and she did as she always had, ignoring them while settling into a routine and continuing on with her physical therapy. It itched under her skin that she could do so little while waiting for her collarbone to heal. Her only comfort was that Kaiju were still coming at least two, two and a half months apart. There was enough downtime that she could still pilot before the next one came.
~ ~ ~ ~
After two weeks of carefully watching Scott (from a distance no matter how hard he tried to engage her in anything), she decided that this needed to be nipped in the bud and she went looking for Herc and Scott. Slowly, carefully, she actually started to talk to him, to play card games and board games with him. He seemed delighted even though she had basically spurned him until now, even though she flatly refused to do anything more ‘adult’ such as going for a drink or out to the city. To help keep things even, she also started to reach out more to Herc and younger Charlie—well, Charlotte still; she hadn’t switched until she went into the Academy—as well, hoping to make him think that it was just Charlie trying to settle in and get used to being displace that had kept her distant.
Perhaps hardest of all was working not to cringe when he casually touched her but she eventually mastered the urge to flinch away, and after another week, she broached her true goal.
“I already know I can Drift with you,” Charlie told Herc before sliding her eyes to Scott and keeping her face thoughtful. They were sitting in the bunker that Herc and Charlotte shared, Charlotte probably off terrorizing someone. “I want to know if I’m compatible with you.”
That was something Charlie found unexpectedly hilariously, watching her younger self argue and fight and bully her way through people trying to tell her no, especially when it was a pointless rule or someone trying to tell her she wasn’t capable.
Herc was less amused and gave her frowns whenever she grinned, ones that looked exactly like the one he was giving her now. “You’ve still got some healing to do.”
“It’s just Drifting. That’s more mental than anything, I won’t stress any injuries,” she insisted and, after a few rounds of arguing it back and forth, they agreed to give it a try if she waited another week.
Scott probably would’ve done it with or without Herc’s agreement, but they all knew of the three of them, Herc had more pull with Irvine, LOCCENT, and the medical staff; he’d stall them indefinitely if they didn’t concede to one more week.
That, and Charlie as a matter of course preferred to agree with her uncle as little as possible now and would always, always, always pick Herc and Herc’s side over his, even if it went against her own interests at times.
So, one week, during which Charlie had a few nightmares. Nothing new, really, but more focused than ever on this particular clusterfuck as she wondered if it was too early, if it was too late, and what to do in either case. Ultimately, she didn’t have that many choices because no one was going to take her word, take but he will! as an excuse to lock up a perfectly good pilot with a dented but otherwise clean reputation.
She had to have proof and outright confronting him was hardly going to work. She needed the memories, needed to Drift and be sure she was in the right time—and if she wasn’t, if she was too early, maybe this would help Scott, help him realize he couldn’t do that and not have consequences. Maybe, just maybe, it’d keep him on the relatively straight and narrow.
That being said, she didn’t wait not one day beyond that extra week, and Scott agreed with a laugh despite Herc’s last minute insistence that she wait just one more day, just to be sure, yeah?
“Look, mate, she’s definitely a Hansen and definitely your kid. She isn’t going to give up,” Scott had said, as easy and relaxed as she remembered. She hated him for it, for being so chill when she couldn’t remember the last time her shoulders hadn’t been tight. “It’s just a sim-Drift and she’s already pretty healed up. This won’t jostle her collarbone badly or anything. Her doctors would be throwing fits.”
(Well, they had, but she had cornered them in private and argued them down because it wasn’t the first time she’d had too while it was the first time they’d been faced with a fully grown, sharp and focused Hurricane Charlie who wanted her own way)
~ ~ ~ ~
Charlie ruthlessly squished down any nerves as she suited up, told herself sternly that she had seen it all before thanks to Drifting with Herc, and that while it never got any easier, it couldn’t get worse and she had to see this through. Had to be sure, if only so that her dad wouldn’t have to go through it in Manila again.
With her pep talk done, she took a deep breath and walked into the room. The only LOCCENT staff there already knew who she was, knew she had Drifting experience. The marshal of the ‘Dome, Irvine, was there too, her father flanking him. She flashed the brief, cocky smile she knew they were expecting and kept moving into the mock conn-pod.
And really, the confidence wasn’t fake. She knew she was good at this, at piloting and Drifting. She was the youngest pilot ever, and her Jaeger had the highest kill count of all. She kept her head up and shoulders squared, letting the J-techs strap her in and only briefly acknowledging Scott’s encouraging smile because she couldn’t very well Drift with someone she was actively ignoring.
With a brief countdown, they were in.
The first few moments were the usual chaotic swirl as she tried to adjust to an unfamiliar mind in hers, but it seemed easier on her behalf than his. She was at least used to echo of him in Herc’s mind, whereas she was a complete mystery to him. And because, during those flashes of memories she was letting speed past her, she could taste her own anger and, yes, hate. It seemed to strike Scott particularly hard and he latched onto it, wondering who she disdained so much, and…
Charlie took a breath and dove into it.
This was it.
~ ~ ~ ~
Despite being braced for it, it still took everything she had not to throw up as she wrenched herself out of the Drift.
“Wait, wait—Charlie, please—I’m your uncle, your dad’s co-pilot,” Scott pleaded with her, panic and fear and sorrow (not for those girls, only for himself, for what he knew this would do to the few people he actually cared about. That, maybe, had always been one of the hardest things to swallow; Scott Hansen wasn’t a complete monster. Just mostly) washing over her from their lingering ghost Drift. “Who’s going to watch his back if not me? You can’t—”
He reached out and she recoiled so fast she almost tripped.
“Don’t!” she snapped at him, baring her teeth and almost glad, exultant even, that she didn’t have to hide anymore. It rose fierce and sharp in her chest. “Don’t you ever touch me and don’t you dare bring up my dad! I’ve already seen this, already been through it—because he figured it out while you were fighting a Kaiju! You almost got him killed, you bastard!”
Rage that had been simmering since the confusing disappearance of her uncle, since she found out the truth and saw how badly it had fucked up Herc, was at an all-time high. Her hands were shaking with it and she wanted to lash out so badly, but in her head, she could hear her father saying don’t do it, if you start, you won’t stop. You can’t go down for cold-blooded murder right now, you have a job to see through. He had never told her that exactly before her in her life of course, but he’d always had more control than her in some ways so it hadn’t been terribly surprising when her impulse control started sounding like him.
How much of that Scott picked up from her she wasn’t sure, but he did stop talking, stopped trying to get closer to her. He just stared at her, eyes wide and his breathing uneven because he had been utterly blindsided. He had never seen it, seen her, her fury, coming.
That was satisfying too because Herc hadn’t seen Scott’s mess coming either. He had been lost and confused, furious and devastated the first time around. And once he kicked past the initial shock and horror, he had been scared because they were supposed to be fighting a Kaiju, not each other. Because Gipsy Danger had barely been keeping the Kaiju back and Charlotte, oh god Charlotte, what do I tell her? How do I tell her? What if I don’t make it this time? What if—?
“What the hell is going on?”
Speak of the devil and he would appear. Herc barged into the mock conn-pod. His face was tight with worry but he was, as per usual, trying to force himself to be calm and unshakeable. To take in the facts before he reacted. In a weird way, that shored up her own emotions and kept them from bleeding over. Kept her eyes dry and her stomach from rebelling.
Charlie rattled off an address coldly, watching her uncle pale even further.
How are we related to you? How are you my father’s brother? How can he love us and be so cruel to anyone else? That girl was the same age as me in this time, if that.
She had wondered that for years and still wasn’t any closer to an answer.
“If you hurry, she might still be alive,” she added, which was an unexpected relief.
Herc went white, understanding crashing over him like a tsunami. He never intentionally sought out that kind of information, Scott did his best to never show it, but she knew he had caught bits and pieces and thought Scott kept it sane, safe, and consensual. The fact that he hadn’t, that Herc hadn’t caught it until too late, was one of the things he blamed himself for and regretted the most over the years.
“Oh. Oh, God, no. Scott, you didn’t—please—”
Others were starting to swarm in, Marshal Irvine and their chief, Amber, at the forefront.
“His DNA will be all over. He wasn’t clean, didn’t even try to be,” she said, feeling like her voice was coming from a long way off.
Before her words were fully out, before she was even consciously aware of it, she was moving, catching her uncle mid-lunge and taking him down to the ground as hard as possible. He fought, of course he did, but she’d had his and Herc’s and her own skills bouncing around her head for years, and now she had bits of Stacker Pentecost’s too. It was almost child’s play to keep him there until the MPs were on scene, even with the fucked-up collarbone Scott tried to use against her.
She still ended up with blood in her teeth, but she’d broken his nose and probably cracked a cheekbone after he punched her collarbone, so she wasn’t too upset about it.
~ ~ ~ ~
The doctors were, though. She hadn’t set herself back, but they were still in a tizzy and she let it wash over her without really listening. Her eyes drifted around the room aimlessly and snagged for a brief moment on the figure in the doorway.
Marshal Irvine was watching her with a shrewd look.
The fuck was he doing there anyway? Didn’t he have her uncle to press charges against?
She ignored him as much as the doctors.
~ ~ ~ ~
Charlie was not surprised to be woken up at three in the morning, nor that it was by her drunk father pounding at the door of her assigned bunker.
“You knew,” he gritted out at her as soon as she let him in, looking like he was focusing very hard on the words. “That’s why you asked for the Drift.”
He seemed both taller and broader, looming and taking up space the way he hadn’t since she was a girl—and yet, when she met his red-rimmed eyes, he seemed older and smaller.
“Yeah,” she said, because it was true and Herc had raised her to be many things, but a liar wasn’t one of them. “I was your co-pilot, old man. You couldn’t keep it from me even though you tried.”
“Why didn’t you just tell me? Why not let me…?”
It was relatively easy to bully and push him into sitting on the couch instead of answering. When he was finally sitting and she had gotten him a glass of water, though, she told him plainly, “I’m not a nice person, but I’m not cruel. I already had the memories, I could endure it again and spare everyone else,” Spare you, “so I did.” She dropped a blanket and a pillow on him for good measure. “Go the fuck to sleep. You want to hash it out in the morning, fine, but I’m going back to bed.”
“How can you sleep after that?”
“Because I’ve spent the last six years sleeping with it,” she threw over her shoulder and firmly shut her door. She wasn’t cruel, but she wasn’t nice either.
“Oh, God,” she heard him groan.
Charlie sat against her door until she was sure he had passed out, and then went to check on him. He’d drunk the water, at least, and wasn’t lying in such a way that he could choke on vomit if he ended up throwing up. She didn’t think he was that drunk, but better safe than sorry.
Not particularly satisfied with her lot in life at the moment, she went back to her bed.
~ ~ ~ ~
The exact details would probably remain a secret for years to come, but the fact that Scott Hansen had been arrested after Drifting with the third Hansen sibling was all over the base by the time she rolled out of bed for breakfast the next morning.
Herc was gone by then, but given that her routine was patterned after his, they still entered the mess at the same time. They met eyes, Herc’s still angry, and almost at the same moment, everyone noticed them and went quiet.
Unsubtle bastards, she thought, and then absently wondered if this was how Becket felt after his disastrous first attempt at Drifting with Mako. Unlike him, though, she just walked to the spot she had claimed as her own and started to eat. They could gawk all they bloody wanted too. She had been stared at plenty over her career and this was probably the least embarrassing reason. She had done a good thing, that girl had lived. She’d be traumatized as hell, but she was alive and being taken care of by the best medical care they could get in Sydney. Everyone else could fuck off.
(Herc wasn’t comfortable with it either, but his face was steady and even and he sat directly across from her anyway.
She’d gotten that from him too.)
~ ~ ~ ~
Still, emotional problems run in the family and it was hardly a shock when she was pulled into his quarters and there was Charlotte, looking upset and, beneath that, confused and maybe even a little frightened.
Charlie wasn’t sure if it was really visible, if Herc could see it, or if she only could because she remembered it being there. She could remember how it felt that first day when all she knew was that for whatever reason, she had lost yet another member of her family in incredibly dangerous circumstances. She remembered the uncertainty of would it be Herc next? Would she truly be left all alone?
It was partially why she had been avoiding Charlotte for most of the day. That and the fact that the younger girl’s face had almost constantly been flushed with anger whenever they caught sight of each other, her eyes sparking because she didn’t know how or why her uncle was suddenly gone, but she did know that Charlie was at fault somehow.
This is going to go well, she thought as Charlotte’s eyes seem to bug when Charlie was all but dragged into their quarters.
Surprisingly, Charlotte seemed to decide on giving her the cold shoulder and that suited Charlie just fine. She sat down and after that, it went pretty much how she expected, how she remembered: Herc not wanting to get into detail or even tell her what was going on beyond he broke the rules, he’s been arrested, Charlotte getting redder and angrier, their words getting louder and louder while Charlie sat in the middle of it, wanting a drink.
“Why is she even here?” Charlotte shouted, finally dragging her into it. “What coul—”
“I did it,” Charlie said and stopped the entire conversation cold. Herc flashed her a look and, as was her custom, she ignored him. “I knew what Scott was hiding, I called him on it, I had him arrested.”
Charlotte stared, mouth opening and closing because she might’ve known that Charlie had something to do with it, but she probably hadn’t expected Charlie to state it so baldly. So emotionlessly.
Charlie sat forward from where she had slumped back into the battered old couch, elbows resting on her knees as she held Charlotte’s eyes squarely. She kept talking before Herc could stop her.
“Your father made the decision not to get into it so I won’t, but he hurt people, Charlotte.” Her full name still felt so bloody weird in her mouth. “Badly. I’m not sorry, never will be sorry, and one day, maybe you’ll get the whole truth and be able to fully understand. Right now, your dad needs you to accept it and move on. It sucks, but do you think it’s any better for him? Scott is his brother, his co-pilot, and you know how that is. You’ve watched them for years by now. This is hurting him as much as it’s hurting you, if not more so.”
Charlotte went very still and quiet then, eyes uncertain even if she was still angry because Charlie has just taken the wind right out of her sails.
Takes one to know one or something like that.
“Look,” she added, trying to remember how she’d wanted adults to talk to her when she was fifteen. She gentled her tone, but never stopped being frank. “You don’t know me, you don’t like me all that much right now, and honestly, you don’t have too. But I’m not trying to hurt anyone. I’m trying to help. What if your dad had found out about this in the middle of fight? It would have distracted him and gotten him hurt, maybe even killed. It’s better this way.”
“But…” Charlotte flicked blue eyes to Herc, who was watching them silently with a complicated expression Charlie couldn’t take the time to pick apart just then. “I’m fifteen.” She drew herself upright, squaring her still narrow shoulders. “I can hear it. I need to know. The others—other Rangers, other kids, other adults...I need to know.”
Charlie agreed but at the same time, she knew far better than to interfere further than she already had. Herc would be the first to admit that he wasn’t the best father, but he tried, and he took advice well. Direct contradiction? Not so much. At the end of the day, Charlotte was his responsibility, his daughter, and everything about raising her, good and bad, came down to him and he preferred it that way. She understood that now in a way she hadn’t before they started Drifting, and as irritating as it was sometimes, she could see his point and even found it warming in a way. At least it was proof he cared.
So she just looked at him, waiting.
He stared back.
“I’m not...good at this,” he finally said. “What do you think?”
Caught off guard by the question, she missed a beat before replying, “I think she’s old enough to handle some bare facts. You don’t have to go into specific details.”
“Right.” He took a deep breath and she could see the weariness and pain in his face.
She wondered if Charlotte could, if she had been that attuned and focused on her father back then. She didn’t think she was, and while she knew a lot of it now thanks to the Drift, it would’ve been easier if she had back then.
If they had actually talked.
He opened his mouth, stopped. Several times before Charlie ventured, “Do you want me…?”
Herc shook his head sharply, squared his shoulders.
Like father, like daughter, she thought and felt the bizarre urge to laugh.
“Scott...” he started. “He hurt some people.”
Charlotte nodded slowly. “That’s what Aunt Charlie said.”
Charlie stared at her boots, trying not to look as thrown by that as she was. It was the first time Charlotte had acknowledged their supposed family connection and it sounded just as peculiar as she thought it might.
“Well, yes, but he...they were women. Very young women,” Herc said, his face tight. “One of them wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for her.” He gestured to Charlie.
Charlotte frowned, and then slowly went very pale. “Oh.”
Charlie considered it for a heartbeat before quietly saying, “It’s okay that you’re going to miss him. He was your uncle and he was kind to you. That doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you human. Just...This is classified information, of course, but there are going to be rumors. Don’t defend him. He was in the wrong, nothing justifies what he did. Don’t be afraid to kick someone’s ass if they try and drag your dad down with him though. He didn’t know and we both know he would’ve done exactly what I did the second he figured it out.”
“Don’t fight,” Herc contradicted, frowning at her. “I’m not worried about my reputation.”
Charlotte just nodded, not indicating whose directions she intended to follow even if they both knew she’d probably follow Charlie’s lead.
They fell quiet for an indeterminable amount of time and it made Charlie itch to say something, do something. She had never had much in the way of patience for this kind of thing.
“Did he hurt you? Is that where your new bruises came from?” Charlotte asked right before Charlie meant to announce her intention to leave. Her voice was very small.
Oh, kid, Charlie thought, heart squeezing ineffably. Was it left over Drift-parental-instincts to want to take away that smallness? To make her as tall and confident as she should be? Was that the Herc in her head or just her? It was so hard to tell, especially without Herc—her Herc, her co-pilot—there to help her out.
“Yeah,” she answered honestly and then, when Charlotte looked even more horrified, realized the connection she had erroneously made. “Oh, shit, no, not like that. He—isn’t a good man, but he wouldn’t hurt family. I meant, when I found out, when I called for the MPs, he tried to escape and I got in his way, so he attacked. But I broke his face in return, so.”
She had too; the cheekbone had fractured in two places.
“Oh. Oh, okay. Um…”
Charlotte stood abruptly and went to her room, shutting the door with finality.
Herc sighed and rubbed his face. “Damn, but I need a drink.”
“You only get one if you pour me one too. Otherwise, I say you had enough yesterday.”
Herc winced minutely at the reminder of him ending up crashed out and hungover on her couch, and then narrowed his eyes, mouth turning down. “You do not get a say in what I drink.”
“You know, I never outgrow my stubborn nature,” she told him in candid Japanese, a language she knew Charlotte hadn’t picked up yet. Herc had never been good at it before partnering with her, but he’d understand her just fine. “After Scott, guess who spent the last five and a half years in your head? You did this same shit when it first went down and you didn’t have me then to pull it back. You were careful to never be far enough in the bottle to have Lucky Seven taken from you, but enough that you regret it later.”
Herc’s jaw tightened again and she only arched a brow, projecting bored and breezy and over it as best she could.
In the end, they shared two drinks before he pointedly poured himself a third, leaving hers empty, and put away the bottle.
Ha, she thought. Shows what you know.
When his back was turned, she downed half of his in one swallow and smirked at him when she sauntered out.
~ ~ ~ ~
Later, in the small hours of the night when she couldn’t sleep, she was going through her forms in the Kwoon when Echo Saber’s pilots came in.
“What happened? What’d you do to get your brother dismissed?” one of them asked—she didn’t care to look and see which of the two women spoke; she had never been fond of the pair—and the other quickly tacked on, “Did you need to be in the conn that badly?”
“No,” was all she said in reply.
They were not happy that she wouldn’t say anything else, that she never so much as glanced their way after that initial look, but they eventually decided to fuck off to do something else somewhere else and she was left in peace.
~ ~ ~ ~
The scandal of it did bring Stacker Pentecost back down from his ice tower in bloody Anchorage the next day, though, and along the way, there was movement in the breach. It put the entire Shatterdome on alert since they were due to have another Kaiju in the next couple of weeks. Charlie was in LOCCENT since she knew this wasn’t the Kaiju but didn’t know what else it was. And then the report came that it was looking like when they found her all over again.
Hope fluttered in her chest before she ruthlessly crushed it.
They picked up another evacuation pod, this one far less battered than hers, and the pilot of the rescue chopper, bewildered but steady, said over the line—
“He says he’s Raleigh Becket, Marshal. Of 2025.”
She could’ve heard a pin drop.
She did hear Irvine sigh very quietly, and Herc shot her a questioning look, as if trying to confirm that it was really Becket.
Charlie nodded, thinking, well there went that secret, despite having no real idea if it was Becket or not. He was a practical choice if it was intentional, but he had also been close enough to be an accident like her if that was the case. But then where was Mako?
Charlie pushed her own LOCCENT chief aside—gently, no need to get on her bad side right now—to get to the mic.
“Becket?” she asked sharply. “You better not have failed.”
“Oh, hey, I forgot what that was like,” his voice drawled right back after a beat. He probably had to get ahold of a mic like her.
That relief rose like a tidal wave and she breathed out slow and silent. She wasn’t alone. There was someone else here that knew, that would understand.
She felt an insult coming, though, so she immediately shot back, “Forgot what? What it was like to be useful?”
In the corner of her eye, she could see Herc’s startled and then disapproving expression.
“No,” Becket answered blithely. “What it was like to be immediately annoyed by the sound of someone’s voice.”
Someone made a strangled noise behind her and she rolled her eyes, amused despite herself.
“Fuck off, you dumb seppo,” she replied.
“Can’t. Tendo found some odd readings, traced them, and figured out it was you but that things went weird. Now I’ve got orders to bring you home, so.”
“Did you even finish your last set of orders? Did Mori make it out alright?”
“You know, for someone who was going to blow herself up to give me a chance, you’re awfully doubtful now,” he drawled dryly, but she could hear the irritation in his voice.
“What?” Herc said sharply.
“But for the record, yeah, we did it, and yes, she’s okay. She stayed behind to help the Marshal.”
“Oh. Well. Good. ‘Bout time you did something right.”
“You’re a pain in the ass, you know that, Hansen?”
Before she can retort her own thoughts on him, Stacker cut in briskly, “If you two are quite finished…?”
“Yes, sir,” they both respond.
“Suicide?” Herc asked when she took up her place on his right again. His voice was low and terse.
“We had three Kaiju on two damaged Jaegers—two Cat IVs and the first V. I did what I had to,” she returned just as quietly. Briefly, her eyes flicked around the room, taking in the expressions of the LOCCENT staff: bewilderment, speculation, outright confusion, and a few who just placidly went along, content that at some point, they’d hear what was really going on. “It’s the job and I know you’d have made the same call.”
His jaw tightened because she wasn’t wrong.
It was funny, really, how often she could get him to pull that expression. No one challenged and pissed off her old man quite the way she did. She might be just a little bit proud of it.
~ ~ ~ ~
They meet them out at the helicopter pad while the marshal was lecturing his staff about classified. Becket was one of the last out and he wore not a drivesuit but simple dark cargo pants, one of his useless sweaters (part of her was already gleefully laughing over how much he was going to burn in that) and had a small duffel bag over one shoulder. He looked far less fucked up than she did when she first came around, which meant this was deliberate and time had passed. How much time, though?
“You look like shit,” he told her and sounded positively cheerful about it.
“I was well within the blast radius, I’m glad to be alive and doing as great as I am,” she shot back, unconcerned. “Kwoon.”
He frowned. “I didn’t even say anything to really set you off.”
“Like I give a shit about your opinions,” Charlie retorted and rolled her eyes. “We’re testing for Drift compatibility, dumbass. Operation Pitfall with better odds and intel.”
She turned on her heel and walked off without even asking Stacker and, as expected, Raleigh was quick to fall into step with her.
“Aren’t you not supposed to mess with time?”
“I already have. The op is in progress, and I sent Scott to jail last week.” She squinted as they left the hot sun behind and entered the cool, dimmer light of the ‘Dome.
Becket nodded his understanding. “Okay,” he said, accepting that. “Let’s figure it out.”
~ ~ ~ ~
Raleigh shucked his ugly sweater when they stepped on the mat and kicked off his boots. She abandoned her own boots at the edge and they gathered their hanbos without a word being traded between them. They didn’t need to speak. They already knew how this worked well enough to do it in their sleep.
Echo Saber’s pilots were already there, as were Vulcan Specter’s, and both pairs initially ignored them. Vulcan’s Left pilot, Joseph, glanced towards them, though, and caught sight of Raleigh. He glanced away almost immediately and then did a double take. That caught his co-pilot’s attention, and them turning to watch him caught the attention of Echo’s pilots. All four stared, brows knitted and undoubtedly bemused by Raleigh. Charlie was sure they recognized him to some degree or another, but he was older, had more scars visible in his undershirt, and his current self was supposed to be stationed in Alaska. This close to a Kaiju coming, he had absolutely no reason to be showing up in their ‘Dome, especially without his co-pilot.
Charlie didn’t pay them any more mind than she had anyone else in the ‘Dome, and her and Becket squared off.
“Watch my right collarbone,” she warned. “The blast fractured it and it's been just about two months, but the docs are still leery about it.”
He nodded once and moved in.
Their first hits made a loud clatter and the world fell away, leaving just her and Becket dancing back and forth and trying to get the upper hand, to figure each other out. She’d never sparred with Becket before now (though he certainly looked like he wanted to hit her before Herc, sensing something amiss in the Force, had broken it up outside of Pentecost’s office) but she had watched him with the other candidates. Had seen videos of him in action. She didn’t know if he had looked into her at all, but he seemed to be able to counter all her moves readily enough. That might be Mako coming through, though. They had sparred together many times growing up and her memories of it would’ve bled over into Becket’s.
The first couple of rounds were decisive; a fight, rather than the dialogue it should've been. Raleigh pursed his lips as they faced each other down and Charlie took a deep breath and rolled her shoulders back.
“Slower,” Raleigh suggested and she nodded her agreement.
With painstaking care, they moved back together, getting a better feel for the other person and slowly building back up to their normal speeds. The potential connection started to spark as they moved all across the mat. Eventually, neither of them really coming out on top now that they had found their rhythm, they lost the weapons altogether, grabbed some of the lighter padding, and went hand to hand.
With the hanbos, they were graceful and precise, all control and speed. Without…
Well, they were brawlers and outside of Herc, there were precious few who would cut loose with her, even with her matching their height half the time. And of the ones who’d give her a proper fight, most held back until she taught them better.
Never hesitated for a second and she licked the blood away from her lip. His elbow had caught her in the same spot Scott had when they fought in the conn-pod. Which was fine, she got him on his slightly more damaged left side. The only hiccup came when he had her pinned and her mind flashed back hard to one of the memories she had from Scott. She wasn’t sure what her face did, but Raleigh’s grip loosened almost before she managed a strangled—
“Off! Get the fuck off!”
Becket moved back immediately, eyebrows arched. “Charlie?”
“Fucking Scott,” she muttered, her voice scathing as she rolled up into a sitting position, resting her elbows against her knees. “I’m fine. Just…give me a minute.”
He nodded and sat back himself, waiting until she took a depth breath and stood. Raleigh matched her and she didn’t have to repeat herself, assure him she could be pinned again and still be fine. She didn’t even have to call it. He just stepped into her space, aiming to catch her behind the knees, and they started all over again.
By the time they’ve called it quits, they’ve lost an equal share of matches to each other until the last one just hadn’t ended. All total, she had almost broken his nose, he just about dislocated her shoulder before she tapped out two rounds ago, and they were breathing hard, shirts sticking to them with sweat.
“We’re going to do just fine,” Charlie mused out loud. It came out faintly incredulous.
“Yeah, I’m as shocked as you,” he said dryly.
Charlie rolled her eyes. “Seppo,” she said for good measure.
Charlie stared and then laughed, in far too good a mood to muster up a proper anger. “Oh, fuck you, really? What’re you, ten?”
Raleigh just smirked, blonde hair sticking to his forehead.
A good spar; the relief of having someone who had been with her at the Breach; that they could probably do this together without involving her dad; that they could end it before that awful downward spiral; that they were going to save so many lives…All of that left her feeling inclined to be magnanimous to Becket. She smiled back, an actual smile and not just baring her teeth the way she liked too at reporters when they were getting on her nerves. He blinked at her like that was bewildering and possibly alarming.
She also enjoyed keeping him on his toes, of course.
Charlie turned away, aiming to take a shower and contemplating food, and what felt like half the Shatterdome was there, their faces incredulous. Stacker’s was familiarly blank with an edge of calculating in his eyes, but Herc was front and center, his face proud.
Which she knew, logically. She knew everything about how her dad felt about her, the good and the bad, but it was so rare that she saw it like this.
It made her heart hurt because no matter how she sassed and treated him exactly the same, this Herc wasn’t her father, wasn’t the co-pilot she had spent the last several years in a Jaeger with. And despite the prospect of a future not so torn up by war and Kaiju, she wanted nothing more just then than to go home.
Charlie gave him a nod, then let her eyes slide past him and went to take her shower without catching the eyes of anyone else.
~ ~ ~ ~
Raleigh Becket was assigned to her barrack.
“You have the space, you know each other and aren’t going to kill each other, you room with each other,” the quartermaster said, looking harassed and distracted, but also eyeing her like he was waiting for her explode all the same. “Aren’t you trying to pilot together anyway?”
“I’m fairly sure there’s some kind of law being broken here, mate.”
There wasn’t, but a point had to be made.
She growled and stalked off when he only shrugged at her.
Future Drift partner or not, why the bloody hell was she being stuck with someone so fucking cheerful?
“I will break your hand, Becket.”
~ ~ ~ ~
She stumbled from her room, the night terrors having been worse than she thought they might be after such a good round, and almost crashed over Becket.
“The fuck? Are you doing yoga?”
“Picked it up from Mako,” he said, as serene and calm as his partner ever was. “You alright there?”
She was sprawled out on the floor, her elbow and hip bone sore. She had also gotten some of her hair caught under said elbow so when she tried to straighten up, all she managed to do was end up yanking it sharply. No, she was not alright.
But what came out was, “You look awfully bendy for a guy just picking up the habit.”
He blinked, and then his mouth curved with an irritating knowingness as he looked at her with daring blue eyes. “Is that a come on, Miss Hansen?”
“It’s too fucking early for your bullshit,” she muttered, face flushing because yeah, it did sound kind of like that even if she really hadn’t meant it that way. “And it’s Ranger!” She rolled up from the ground (without pulling her hair this time) and grabbed the ugly sweater on the back of the couch. It was a bit chilly in the Shatterdome this early in the morning and his sound of protest was sweet.
“There’s going to be rumors!” he called after her, as if he thought that would change her mind.
“There’s always rumors!” she shot back and shut the door with more force than necessary. There was no one around to question her about it or even give her strange looks, so she simply stalked down towards the canteen.
She grabbed the largest mug of coffee she could find and a muffin she was mostly sure was fresh enough. Unsurprisingly, Herc was already up and seated at their normal table. She angled that way and all but flopped down, too tired to give a damn about being even remotely coordinated and graceful.
Herc arched a brow at the sight of her in the sweater.
Charlie dragged her coffee closer. “Shut up.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“You didn’t have too,” she muttered because she was right, but so was Becket, and it was real fucking annoying. “We’re not,” she added, feeling the need to clarify, “but the thing about Becket is he always has an ugly sweater. So I stole it so he wouldn’t. He’s a dick.”
Herc nodded like that was logical and Charlotte joined them, looking as bleary eyed as Charlie felt. Why was she even up this early? Charlie couldn’t remember. Had she started getting up early like the rest of the PPDC by this age? It was possible; she was fifteen and that was about when she started gearing up to go to the Jaeger Academy as soon as she turned seventeen, not realizing that in a few more months, Manila would’ve happened and Herc’s hand would’ve been forced to send her early.
They sat quietly for several moments before Charlotte blinked at her and then frowned.
“It’s going to be too hot for that later,” she pointed out as if she had only just registered the fact that Charlie was wearing a knitted sweater.
Charlie smiled faintly, having caught sight of blonde hair a few minutes ago. “I know, but I can burn it.”
“The hell you will,” Raleigh said sharply from behind her.
He dropped his tray with a clatter and gave her a dark look. She smiled wider, possibly just this side of mean. He opened his mouth, glanced at Charlotte, and then shut it with a scowl. He obviously couldn’t say what he wanted in front of what he deemed to be a child.
“...Are you Raleigh Becket?” Charlotte asked, low but with her voice probably a whole octave higher than it normally was.
Charlie froze; she hadn’t stuck around to figure out what the cover story there was, or if there even was one. Neither had Raleigh, who was already nodding absently. It stopped when he caught sight of how Charlotte’s face was starting to flush.
Oh. Oh, God, no, come on. Have mercy.
“Yes,” he confirmed out loud and smiled, bright and wide and kind at the younger girl, who turned bright pink and ducked her head.
Raleigh was far too nice to do anything like rub it in Charlie’s face in front of Charlotte, but she knew it’d be a matter of time, especially after this morning.
“Charlotte,” Charlie said, ignoring the way her own ears were on fire. Thank god her hair was covering them right now. “That’s a bit of secret too. People are going to try and connect dots, but we’re not going to confirm them outside the family, okay?”
“Okay,” Charlotte said, nodding several times. She flicked blue eyes Raleigh, blushed deeper, and looked down again.
Herc, the traitorous bastard, looked amused by the whole thing.
She had never had to deal with it and honestly didn’t know if he was the type of parent that would oh so casually mention the Gipsy Danger posters and blueprints she’d once had—and that Charlotte currently still had—hanging up in her room.
“She doesn’t know I’m her,” Charlie informed Raleigh in Japanese. “To everyone outside of my medical team in the Philippines, Newt and Gottlieb, and Marshals Irvine, Alya, and Pentecost, I’m Charlie Hansen, Herc’s younger half-sister that they didn’t know about and who recently relocated closer to home.”
He nodded, mouth full of eggs and toast.
“You know,” he said when he had finished chewing. “I thought my family had fucked up dynamics, but you Hansens take the cake.”
The look Herc gave him was positively glacial, but Charlie just arched a brow.
“Go big or go home. And I’ll burn the shit out of all your sweaters, starting with this one.”
She plucked at the sleeve she’d never admit to being comfy and worn in the right ways for emphasis.
Charlotte choked on her drink. “That’s his?”
“I stole it so he couldn’t have it,” Charlie explained again, not wanting the younger girl to get the wrong idea. “And then I’m going to burn it later.”
Raleigh said sourly, “You’re a terrible human being.”
She nodded serenely, feeling better with her morning now that she’d terrorized someone.
~ ~ ~ ~
She didn’t burn it, of course. She gave it back a little while later, right before their Drift test.
“I thought, in retrospect, deliberately pissing you off might put a bit of a damper on the Drift,” she said, more for the benefit of the two particularly gossip happy techs helping them than because she really needed to spell out the whys and wherefores of her actions to Becket. At least they’d be cleared out when the actual Drifting started. They would’ve been even without the added complication of them being time-travelers, but with no idea how the Drift was really going to go, Irvine had made doubly sure that no one who didn’t already know (which was already far more than he, Herc, or Stacker liked) would be there. “So here’s your ugly shit in one undamaged piece.”
“Your consideration is super appreciated,” Raleigh replied, dry as dust.
She smirked at him. “Ready?”
“Ready,” he confirmed, giving her a nod.
They walked into the conn-pod and were strapped in.
They didn’t need the reminders not to chase the RABIT or anything like that, so with a brief countdown, they Drift.
~ ~ ~ ~
It was brutal.
Of course it was.
They had the collective memories of seven people between them, all varying shades of fucked up.
Charlie learned what it felt like to wholepainbrotherYancyRaleighlistentomeYANCY and it left her gasping and eyes burning.
Raleigh threw up because of course being in the conn so soon after confronting Scott brought it back up.
Together, they said, “Again.”
~ ~ ~ ~
They managed to engage and hold the Drift on try three.
The rabbits were there, of course, but they didn’t chase, didn’t get caught, didn’t go out of alignment. Charlie and Raleigh focused on the job, on silence, and eventually, it worked.
“Fuck,” they both said and their voices were ragged.
“Are you okay?” Raleigh asked her and the concern there was real; she could feel it.
“Right as rain,” Charlie replied because she wasn’t but she would be. They could do this. “You?”
“Haven’t died yet.”
“Miracle of miracles. You were a clumsy shit.”
“Fuck off, Lottie.”
“Don’t,” she snapped and there was her mother’s voice, echoing in the back of her mind.
“Sorry,” Raleigh said, quiet.
“Just—do your fucking job,” Charlie mumbled, unable to muster the proper anger for it.
Raleigh, after all, had watched his mother die too, and it was slower, equally painful in its own way.
“Yeah, alright. Jesus, you’re bossy.”
“Someone’s got to keep their eyes on the prize,” she grumbled back while they walked through calibrations and formations that were like second nature to them. It was surprisingly easy now that they’d broken through the worst of the memories first.
They bickered the whole way through because it was easy, because it was familiar to them for all that they’d only been around each other for a week before Charlie was thrown back in time. Because it was easier to focus on that than the rabbits flashing at the corners.
God, they were such a mess.
“Son of a bitch,” their LOCCENT chief, Amber, said. “They did it. Look at that.”
Herc had already been looking while listening over the comms. The numbers wavered slightly if they hit a sore topic, but they had stopped breaking the Drift, had stopped going out of alignment entirely, and they never, ever dropped below ninety-four percent and mostly stayed in the ninety-five, ninety-six percent range. They weren’t a natural, perfect match but they were close enough and good enough that with some practice, they’d easily manage that one hundred percent connection.
Part of him was proud of his kid (and he’d settled on the idea that she was his kid no matter how old she was, no matter how much she liked to treat him like she wasn’t), of course he was. But part of him still mourned that she had grown up in a conn-pod at all.
With a sigh, he pushed the thought aside. This was her choice, this was her life. She was adult enough to make those decisions, and she was obviously good at it. For mercy’s sake, she had just taunted Becket about having twice his kill count and the older pilot had cheerfully pointed out that she apparently couldn’t count because she didn’t have ten to her name; she had eleven.
Eleven bloody Kaiju. She had gone up against eleven Kaiju, minimum. That didn’t account for the other Kaiju she had fought where her Jaeger hadn’t been the one to strike the killing blow and earn the mark.
“You’re right. Kiss my ass 'too young to pilot' bullshit!”
“Your dad still has you beat,” Becket pointed out, sounding wry and amused.
“So?” Charlie shot back. “I get to be smug as shit about that too. He’s my co-pilot and my dad.”
That was unexpected to hear, and Herc smiled a little.
Charlie was proud of him.
“Yeah, okay. Let your head get even bigger than it already is.”
And they were off with the pointless bickering that seemed to be keeping them steady. Every set of pilots had their quirks, though what went on was usually more...internal, more mental. Herc quirked his mouth, holding in a laugh at the thought that had occurred.
My daughter has never once been accused of being quiet.
They left the conn-pod exhausted and starving, but almost buoyant with their success, and Herc was there with drinks and some granola bars.
“Shower, then eat,” he said as if they didn’t already know. “Sleep it off.”
“Yes, sir,” they both mumble around the snacks.
Charlie watched him go with a sharp pang of guilt and betrayal that brought her closer to earth.
Her dad was her co-pilot. How could she be sharing that space with Raleigh?
Becket nudged her and tipped his head, and she followed him out.
“It’s hard,” he said when they were past listening ears. “But...it’s not...He’s not the man we know, not quite. And I don’t think either of them mind. I’m sure Yancy wouldn’t, if it was needed. If it got the job done.”
Charlie considered that, swallowing down the last of her water.
“Are you going to try and see him before we leave?”
He had mentioned the night previously that he had a way home, and while part of her wanted to take it immediately—they had the plan, they didn’t really need Charlie and Becket—she didn’t ask. This was her job, she’d see it through again.
Becket didn’t answer right away, not until they both found each other in the canteen again, hair still wet and skin still flushed from the heat of their showers.
“I don’t know. I want too, but…” He trailed off, his face conflicted.
She left it at that because he didn’t have to spell it out for her to understand.
~ ~ ~ ~
Before she could make it to her room to get some much craved sleep, she received a text from Charlotte, asking her to stop by their barracks.
Given that it was worded politely, her suspicions were up when she rapped on the metal door, but she didn’t think anything could’ve really prepared her for Charlotte bluntly asking—
“Are you me?”
Charlotte almost nervously shifted her weight but firmly said, “Are you me? Because Raleigh Becket is not that old and we look alike. And you know Jaeger Bushido but have never been through the Academy. You never should’ve been stream-lined through Drifting like that if you hadn’t, but you were. Plus, we have some of the same scars on our hands, and I’ve seen your circuitry burns but you’ve never been deployed. So. If Becket can be Becket but not, you could be me from whenever.”
“Well, damn. I was hoping to not ever have this conversation,” Charlie said, sitting on the arm of the couch. “I think it’s supposed to be damaging to your psyche or something.”
Charlotte gave her a look that accurately conveyed exactly how full of shit she found that. “It’s not like you guys made it hard to figure out, especially when they stationed you here and you never try to hide your marks.”
“We’re soldiers, not spies.”
“So that’s a yes, right?”
“Yeah,” Charlie agreed. “It is.”
“Why are you going by Charlie?”
“People kept trying to shorten it to Lottie in the Academy. Apparently, it was cute.”
Charlotte grimaced and Charlie nodded.
“Did we pilot with Dad after Scott?”
“Yeah. He wasn’t thrilled about it.” Charlotte started to scowl, something mean probably already on the tip of her tongue, but Charlie held up a hand. “He was pissed because they leveraged Scott against him to make him sign off on sending me to the Academy at barely sixteen. Because he still saw me as his baby, his only child. And he doesn’t show it well, but he’s terrified of losing the last bit of his family. He disobeyed orders and had to give up mum to save me—us.” Her throat was thick and she had to clear it. She had never really talked about this aloud before. “It was what he knew she’d have wanted, what he wanted, even though it hurt him really badly to lose her that way.
“Don’t keep thinking that he holds you at a distance because he’s not proud, or that he doesn’t love you, or that you’re some kind of a burden. Everything he does, every time he leaves, it’s because he’s trying to end this, trying make the world better for you. He’s just…really, really shitty at showing it, at talking about it, but we’re all that way, so.” She sighed. “You won’t ever Drift with him if you don’t have too, and that’s good in some ways, but that means you’re not going to see in his head the way I have these last few years. You’re going to have to be better than me about talking to him. We, my Herc and I, rely too much on the Drift.”
“I’ve been told communication is a two-way street,” Charlotte replied tartly and Charlie sort of wanted to shake her except for the part where she had a point.
“Exactly,” she concurred, which seemed to surprise Charlotte somewhat. “So that means you can’t quit when you don’t get the results you immediately want. You can’t stomp off and huff and be angry and never try again because it didn’t work that first time or the second or the fifth or the millionth. He’s your father. You love him, he loves you, so make your shit work.”
Charlotte pursed her lips. “Did you close the Drift already where you’re from? Is that how you know to do it?”
The non-sequitur didn’t throw her off too much. “More or less, yeah.”
“So you’re not going to Drift with Dad—your dad—anymore?”
“Probably not. Maybe if we volunteer for studies to help further research on the Drift,” Charlie said with a shrug.
“Are you going to work at talking to him?”
Charlie laughed a little. “Yeah. I’m going to have too, aren’t I?” Charlotte just huffed, brushing back the top of her hair. That was the only part that had any length, being exactly just long enough to tie into a little top knot when she felt like it. The rest of it had been buzzed. Why had she cut it that short again? “Now, I’m exhausted, so I’m going to go die in a corner somewhere. I’ll see you in the morning, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Charlotte said and waved her off. She didn’t look satisfied with Charlie’s words, but that was to be expected. Charlie herself was never particularly happy to just take someone else’s word for it, especially not when it came to her relationship with her father.
She left the other Hansen to it, wondering idly if Becket would still be up or if he had already gone to sleep. She wanted him to be awake so she could get around to badgering him for answers on how everyone was back home—he’d already reassured her that her father was fine and so was Max—but she also didn’t want to actually have to deal with Becket, so.
Halfway back to her bunk, she saw Herc in the hall. Briefly, she considered just passing him by but ultimately and perhaps unsurprisingly, she turned sharply and fell into step with him.
He arched a brow curiously.
“She knows,” Charlie said bluntly. “Called me out on it and I didn’t see the point in keeping up the pretense.”
Herc winced. “Did she take it badly?”
“Not as badly as she could’ve,” Charlie said with a moment of thought. She stopped and waited for him to stop and face her. The hall was deserted at the moment, but she still lowered her voice. “I’m going to tell you what I told her: unless you guys volunteer for studies or something later after we close the Breach, you’re probably never going to Drift with her, much less end up sharing headspace with her for years. That means, if you ever want your relationship with her to get any better, you’re going to have to talk to her. Which we suck at, but don’t give up when she gets mad and storms off, or if it fails and gets awkward. You’re her father, you’ve got start explaining that hey, you love your kid and you even like her most days. She’s not a mind reader, she can’t tell, and it fucked me up a lot until I got in your head enough to see differently. And we still fight.”
Herc’s face was tight with tension, and he looked frustrated—but she knew it wasn’t with her or her words, but at himself. He was his own worst critic.
“But I know down to my bones that you love me and that makes it…easier, for all that easier can be in darkest days of the Kaiju war. I’m not going to say it’s going to be better or that you’ll ever be as close as, say, the Jones’ next door, but it doesn’t have to be a constant battle either. She doesn’t have to keep feeling like a burden, you don’t have to feel like you failed. But without the Drift to help smooth that along, it’s down to you. So get your shit together with her. Step up and keep working for it like you’ve worked for everything else. Stop with the going days without spending more than five minutes with her thing. It won’t help you or her. Okay?”
He nodded once and she left him alone with his thoughts.
He probably wouldn’t get it together immediately, but he wouldn’t forget her words and she knew him well enough that he’d try, however awkwardly, to start reaching out. Her father wasn’t a coward, wasn’t a man to go for the easiest route of avoidance. Not for something this important to him.
~ ~ ~ ~
Charlie only saw him in passing for the next two days, and she only saw Charlotte once. She spent the vast majority of the time in the conn-pod, Drifting with Becket and working out the kinks in their connection. It was hard, exhausting work; it had been hard to let her father in, to be laid bare to someone else like that, much less someone such as Becket, whom she hadn’t even liked just a few days previous.
She still didn’t particularly like the blonde bastard, but she respected his abilities and, above all else, trusted that he’d do what was needed to see it through. That was all that was needed for their Drift to engage, and they had quickly gotten past being thrown out of the Drift or alignment by RABITs.
Now, they were working on not being thrown off by each other, by their conflicting ideas and approaches. Neither of them wanted to fully cede control to the other, they kept fighting to keep their own headspace and control, and that made it ridiculously hard for them to keep the Drift at one hundred percent, to take down the simulated Kaiju as fast as they knew they could. Right now, they still had a perfect score—but it took almost twice the time it probably would’ve otherwise, and they tended to walk away with grave sim-injuries.
Therefore, they were subjected to Drifting with just each other, Drifting with simulated battles, spars in the kwoon, and two very uncomfortable sessions with the on-staff psychologist who wanted them to talk it out.
Raleigh and Charlie showed perfect unity there, both sitting in absolute silence until the psychologist kicked them out eighty-seven minutes later. The second time was sixty-one minutes, forty-three seconds.
That night, Becket’s third in the past, they’re both up and haunted by the glimpses of the Anteverse she had gleaned from his memories. She had felt like she was going to crawl out of her skin and she’d rolled out of bed, intending to head to the kwoon or maybe see if the J-techs had left anything out she could tinker with.
Only, Becket had been up as well, eyes downcast and ringed with shadows. She had paused, then kicked his leg on her way out, tipping her head in a silent prompt for him to follow her. Becket had frowned, eyes sparking with annoyance for a moment before it seemed like too much work. He rolled up to his feet in a smooth, sensuous movement and trailed after her as she led the way to an empty test room where she knew there’d be an unattended headset. Their bare feet seemed unusually loud in the quiet, abandoned hallways. The Shatterdome never fully shut down, but three in the morning was still the closest they ever got to it.
They arrived and Raleigh didn’t need her to explain what they were doing, simply helping her set up the gear and get settled in.
“This is going to suck,” was all he said before initiating the neural handshake. She nodded.
By mutual and silent agreement, they didn’t think about battle strategies or Kaiju or Operation Pitfall. They just...Drifted. They tried to settle into each other, tried to dull their sharp edges enough for them to click together the way natural and perfectly matched co-pilots were supposed to be able too. It was difficult even when well matched, she knew, but it was even tougher for them because they were compatible enough for it to take, but they weren’t as well-suited to each other as Mako and Becket were, as she and her father.
But they were both two sides of the same obstinate coin and they would do their damnedest to make it work, which included lying there at three in the bloody morning, Drifting until she felt like she couldn’t see straight. Until she couldn’t immediately remember if her favorite dessert as a child had been fairy bread or crepes.
They stumbled to breakfast, probably looking as shitty as they felt even if they had taken the time to put on proper clothes and shoes. The ghost Drift was strong enough that they were still moving in perfect sync even in the way they stirred their coffees.
“What the hell have you two been doing?” Herc asked them sharply when he saw them.
Charlie scowled and Raleigh’s mouth just pursed, their first movements done separately.
“Drifting,” they both answered flatly.
“You’re clocking too many hours. That’s dangerous and I know you both know it,” Herc reminded them, frowning deeper.
“S not like we have an abundance of time, old man,” Raleigh said and blinked, giving Charlie a sour look.
Like it’s entirely my fault you picked up on that habit, she thought, rolling her eyes. She couldn’t help what bled through in the Drift and he knew it.
“If anyone was going to find a way to do it deliberately, it’d be you,” he replied nonetheless.
She flicked him off, knowing he wasn’t truly annoyed the same way he knew she wasn’t either.
Shortly after, right as they were about to try and take a nap before they were to report to the conn-room again, they got a memo on their holoscreen saying that they’d be piloting Lucky Seven. Charlie was ecstatic to have the chance to pilot the old girl, though not enough to keep her awake any longer than the time it took to read over the message.
When the alarm chimed loudly from where they had set it in the living room, she nearly fell out of the bed and stumbled about, stubbing her toe as she tried to get re-dressed. She had forgotten about the message until she left her room and found it still pulled up on the screen. For a moment, all she felt was some nostalgia for Striker Eureka, which had been the only Jaeger she’d ever been in, and then curiosity and interest in how Lucky Seven would handle. She knew a fair bit from Herc’s memories but she thought it’d probably feel different to pilot with Becket.
It wasn’t until she was walking into the training room that first threads of guilt for taking it away from her father seeped in. He was in the room, eyeing them with clear disapproval for getting back into the conn so shortly after their last Drift, after the sheer number of hours they had clocked in so short a time. He only waved her off when she vaguely approached the subject with him.
“It’s fine,” he said. “I figured something like this would be happening. Now get in there and get out as soon as possible. You two don’t need to be back in the conn for at least another day or two.”
“You know that’s not going to happen,” she immediately countered.
Raleigh grabbed her elbow and started steering her towards the conn. “We’ll take the rest of today off and just spar or something,” he compromised.
She glared at him for his presumption as Herc only shook his head and said, “So long as you two aren’t late for the meeting later.”
“What meeting?” Charlie asked Raleigh as they stepped into the mock conn-pod, pulling her arm free.
“Going over the plan in more concrete details. Presumably talk about anyone going with us,” he said. “Didn’t you read the whole thing?”
“I thought I did. Guess not.”
Yancy glanced up as the door opened and a woman a few years younger than himself walked in, her head turned to look back at whoever was subject to her annoyed expression. She was fairly tall, probably only a couple of inches shorter than him, and she had impractically long, pale fire-gold hair that was braided back.
When she looked forward, Yancy was struck first by how familiar she looked, and then secondly, by how fast her face went blank when she saw them. She stepped back, putting out a hand and stopping whoever had been following her before they could step into the door.
“Oomph,” the other person said as she, with cool green eyes fixed on Stacker, flashed a flat smile and said, “One second, Marshal.”
She shut the door before he could answer.
“Who was that?” Raleigh asked with interest.
“No,” Herc told him very firmly.
Raleigh looked somewhat taken aback, which made Yancy want to laugh (the Gage twins did laugh), but then it hit him.
She looked like Herc Hansen.
His kid’s not that old, though, right?
“What?” Raleigh asked her impatiently, looking annoyed with her abruptly shoving him back out of the doorway. He had been scrubbing his short blonde hair with a towel because they were, of course, running late and he had missed what she had seen entirely.
She only hesitated a moment, flicking her eyes around.
“Our team? It's not Vulcan and Echo like we thought it'd be. It's Romeo Blue and Gipsy Danger,” Charlie answered quietly, evenly, her previous exasperation gone as she looked at him seriously.
Raleigh stiffened, his own irritation with her instantly bleeding away.
“Oh,” was all he said after a beat. His voice was too…empty. Too flat. Devoid, maybe, was a better word. Devoid of anything.
She didn’t like it.
“I can do this,” she offered, trying to gauge where he was at. They were in a public hallway outside of Stacker’s office, and dozens of others were around. Some were already glancing their way by simple dint of them still being a curiosity, an unanswered question, and she didn’t care to draw even more attention to her co-pilot right now. “I don’t need you there.”
His jaw firmed in a move she had seen countless times in his memories and she already knew what his answer would be.
“I’m—we’ll see each other eventually.”
“But it doesn’t have to be right now,” she tried anyway.
Raleigh hesitated, then, before unsurprisingly taking a deep breath and giving her a nod.
“Okay,” Charlie said and opened the door.
“—not a thing,” Trevin Gage was insisting.
“It wasn’t,” Herc agreed. “Until my twenty-one year old popped up out of the ocean.”
“He’s not kidding,” Charlie said, sweeping in like she owned the room. “This is Raleigh Becket, who is a grand old twenty-six years old.”
“Hey,” Raleigh protested, dropping into a seat without looking at anyone in particular. She took the one on his other side, putting herself between him and Gipsy’s pilots. She didn’t know if he appreciated it, but he didn’t say anything and she was sure he’d have complained or at least shot her a look if it upset him somehow.
“What the hell,” both Beckets said, staring.
“Look at that,” Charlie said with mock amazement, fiddling with the end of her braid. “You’re just as stupid at—what? Nineteen? Twenty? I thought that was just all the knocks you took to the head.”
She was supposed to act natural, go with the routine, right? Routines were important.
“Go to hell, Charlie,” Raleigh replied with a roll of his eyes as baby Becket’s face flushed.
“Age before beauty,” she returned easily, tipping her chair back on its back legs. She even smiled at Raleigh, bright and sarcastic because him riled was better than him quiet and still.
He seemed less than impressed. “I’m not that much older than you!”
“You aged in like dog years, mate. Yeah, you are.”
Raleigh muttered unkind things about her in French and she just smirked, terribly unconcerned. She was fairly sure the only thing keeping him from shoving her chair and making her fall was Stacker walking in and starting the meeting. Admittedly his first order was for them to shut up and not speak unless spoken too, and that might’ve been why it went so smoothly. She supposed word had gotten around to him that her and Raleigh couldn’t be near each other for more than a few minutes before they picked fights with each other. They snipped and snapped and tread dangerously even when Drifting, and while that kept them balanced in a weird way, it was also half their problem and why they had spent the morning trying to Drift without pressing on each other’s bruises intentionally. She felt like they had made some progress.
The meeting didn’t need much from them anyway; it was a detailed overview of Operation Pitfall, of the next Kaiju scheduled to attack and where it’d head, what it’s signature moves were. Charlie and Raleigh had already gone over this with him and Herc before, comparing notes and what they remembered of watching over the feeds. Pentecost mostly took the lead on passing on this information, and Charlie was content to let him. Occasionally, a more detailed questioned was thrown their way, but given that Stacker Pentecost had been the one to debrief them, there was precious little anyone could ask of them that he didn’t already have an answer for. The ones that did require their input, Charlie took care of and Raleigh seemed more or less content to let her.
~ ~ ~ ~
“So you’re Charlie Hansen,” Yancy said, his faint frown telling her everything she needed to know about his opinion of her and her digs at his little brother. They hadn’t necessarily stopped just because Stacker had told her to shut the hell up.
She hummed vaguely in acknowledgement, wondering what Stacker and Herc had left to talk about in private. The Marshal had dismissed them, but left with Herc before any of them could do more than nod in acknowledgement.
“How, uh…how long have you been his co-pilot?” Trevin asked.
“Three days,” she answered honestly, bringing her attention back to the room. The Gage twins—perfectly identical down to the way they tended to brush back their dark hair—were studying them like insects. The Beckets were looking at them like they were the Kaiju; alien and completely unnatural and unsettling to them.
She supposed that was reasonable.
Yancy’s brows shot up. “How long have you two known each other?”
“Total? Like a week and a half. I knew of him, of course, and I’m sure he heard of me, but we never crossed paths until right before I came back here.”
“Oh, I heard of you,” Raleigh confirmed and made it sound like a bad thing. She flipped him off.
“Well, you obviously get on well enough to Drift,” Becket said, somewhat uncertain.
Charlie laughed at him and Raleigh elbowed her none too gently.
“Don’t be mean.”
“I’m not being mean. We don’t get on, not like that. We trust each other to see it through. ‘S a different thing entirely.”
He frowned at her and she frowned back.
“Whatever,” Raleigh said. “We’ve only got another couple of days before we go and I don’t plan on spending it feuding with you.” She gave him a look and he tipped his head back, sighing loudly. “Any more than we already do,” he amended with a pointed look. “We’re supposed to be working on that, remember?”
She hummed. “Technically, Herc has all but banned us from the conn for a while, which someone agreed too, so.”
“That would be because your father doesn’t want to see our brains melting through our ears.”
“He’s not my father, per se. My father has seven years on him, five and half of which I’ve been his co-pilot. Just saying.”
“Wait,” Trevin quickly cut in. “You’ve been a pilot for five and half years? You’re twenty-one.”
“Yeah, and?” she said, tipping her chin up fractionally.
“You would have had to been piloting since you were sixteen,” Yancy pointed out.
Charlie nodded slowly. “I know. I was there.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Raleigh said with some exasperation. “Charlie is youngest ever cadet to be accepted into the Academy, and she graduated with honors. Has the highest kill count so far. Prodigy, real smart. Yada yada yada.”
“He’s just bitter that I took his spot at the PPDC’s golden child.”
“I need a drink,” Raleigh said decidedly to no one in particular, pushing up from the table.
“Now that, we can agree on.”
After some discussion, they headed into town for one of the more discreet bars that usually catered to PPDC personnel not interested in running across reporters or paparazzi. They got one of the back rooms with a private bar, and between Yancy and Bruce’s charming personalities, they talk the bartender—Lila, who looked very unimpressed by them in general but somewhat amused—into allowing them to try their hand at making drinks under her very close supervision.
A few horrible tries later, Charlie scoffed loudly and made her way around the bar.
“Let the pros handle this,” Charlie said, pushing Yancy and Bruce out of her way.
“Oh, you think can do better?” Yancy asked, challenging in that subtle-not-so-subtle way that had been lacing everything he said since he found out she was Raleigh’s co-pilot.
Hadn’t he had the reputation of being the calm Becket? He’d always seemed like he came by that fairly in the memories she had picked up from Raleigh, but maybe that was just because she had Raleigh’s passionate nature to compare it too. Admittedly, the seppo had settled down greatly over the years since Yancy’s death, and he had never really had a temper like hers, but still.
Perhaps it was just that the claws automatically came out when it came to his little brother. He was definitely the older brother, protective type. Always had been, but he’d really stepped it up as their mother had gone through chemo and especially after their father had abandoned them.
Charlie arched her brows at Yancy, undaunted. “Mate, I learned to mix from Choi and the Kaidanovskys.”
“Oh, shit,” Becket said with a laugh. “This should be interesting. Do your worst, littlest Hansen.”
“Sure thing, baby Becket,” Charlie shot back, making Lila laugh for the first time.
Was he really not worried about why Charlie was his future self’s co-pilot? Or had he just thought only one of them had been sent back and that’s why he was stuck piloting with her instead of his brother as per usual? Did they even realize it was possible for one pilot to die and the other to live?
“Hey!” he protested.
She didn’t think it had happened yet. Knifehead had been ugly for more than just the Beckets.
“Face it, dude,” Trevin said, clapping him on the shoulder. “You are technically the youngest here. Admittedly, not by much, but…”
Raleigh laughed with the others as his younger self bitched half-heartedly, but he was more interested in the easy way Charlie inspected their stock and then started mixing. She even threw in effortlessly flashy tosses and twists under Lila’s approving look as she mixed up something completely unfamiliar to him.
In what seemed like a matter of seconds, Charlie dropped an electric blue shot in front of all of them.
“Bottom’s up, boys.”
“What is this?” Raleigh asked her suspiciously, eyeing it.
“Kaiju Blue,” she said, and smirked wider at his dubious expression. “Newt, the Kaidanovskys, and I made it.”
Yeah, like that encouraged Raleigh at all to try it.
“Who’s Newt?” Yancy asked.
“Kaiju groupie scientist. That is one crazy dude, but he helped us and made everything possible, so,” Raleigh answered without turning his gaze from Charlie. He narrowed his eyes fractionally. “How hard is this going to hit?”
“Like a Kaiju.” Charlie seemed awfully delighted to be watching them, so he braced his feet on bar stool rung and leaned over the counter. He grabbed another shot glass, poured the last of the mix into it, and dropped it in front of her.
“You’re a Ranger, aren’t you? One of the boys?” he said, his tone not overtly challenging but he knew that the subtle twist in his mouth, the light in his eyes, would push her harder than Yancy’s open remarks ever would.
Her chin tipped up like clockwork and she tossed the shot back with barely a grimace.
“Can’t be that bad,” Bruce muttered and Raleigh snorted to himself.
You’ve obviously never dealt with Charlie Hansen, he thought, and saluted her before downing his own.
He was not the only one left spluttering and coughing hoarsely.
It was weirdly sweet, burned like a bitch, and had a sharp aftertaste of...citrus? Not something he’d have picked to associate with Kaiju but it did remind him of the taste in the back of his mouth when he climbed out a Jaeger after a successful deployment, so maybe that was where she got it from.
“What the hell is in that?” Bruce demanded, leaning over the bar to start inspecting the bottles she had used.
He got into a pointless argument over the ingredients with Yancy, about which measurements she’d used, and Raleigh rolled his eyes. Like she was really going to give them her recipe. If he’d learned anything about her over the last few days, it was that she’d refuse just to be contrary. The only thing she’d concede to anyone on with anything approaching ease were things directly related to the PPDC and operations because she was a competent, good soldier—but she still had to be convinced that the person was likely to know more than her in both terms of strategy and skill, and in intelligence. She had to trust that the person, believe that they might actually know what they were talking about.
And of the lot of them there, the only one who might get information from here was Lila, who looked interested and had been watching Charlie closely, not just because she was mixing it up under her watch, but out of the professional interest of learning a new drink. Charlie was an overachiever but she didn’t horde knowledge and she’d be inclined to share with Lila.
“Aren’t you kind of young to mixing it up with the Kaidanovskys?” Becket asked her while she started to make something else, as if he wasn’t younger than she was and wouldn’t be offended by the question himself.
Fortunately, Charlie seemed disinclined to pick a fight and let it roll off her back. “To some, sure. But everyone’s got have a fun pastime, and this was mine.”
“No boys? Or girls, if that’s your thing.”
“She probably ate them alive,” Raleigh mused and laughed when Charlie gave him a flat, distinctly unamused look.
“For your information, no, there wasn’t. It’s weird having sex and then having your brother see it and feel it, right? Think about if you’re Drifting with your father. One who could and probably would murder the other individual,” she said in Japanese, mindful of the presence of a non-PPDC person so close. Lila didn’t look the least bit offended as she mixed up a Cherno Alpha for Bruce, probably used to the various languages that bounced around with PPDC personnel.
All of them paused to consider that and then grimaced.
“So you’re what? A virgin?” Trevin asked curiously.
“Hey,” Raleigh said in warning, feeling like that was maybe a little too personal for someone who had at least a decade on her and had known her for all of an hour and a half, tops.
“Oh, stand down. I can tell him to rack off on my own, yeah?” Charlie said, waving him off. “Yes, as a matter fact, I am. I’ll figure out someone worth my time when my dad is most assuredly not going to find out about it.”
“Sounds like a solid plan. Don’t waste time with losers.”
Charlie looked honestly bewildered by that, like it didn’t compute.
“Why on earth would I do that?” A tiny pause and then, “That’d be like willfully spending all my free time with Becket.” She smirked impishly at him as the other two protested loudly. Raleigh only flipped her off because she hadn’t put any real bite into it, and she deposited a new round of drinks in front of them. It was more of a purple color. “This is a Gipsy.”
“So named because….?”
She grinned wider. “It’ll hit you twice as hard as a Kaiju.”
“You’re going to kill me,” Raleigh said though, honestly, he was rather pleased by the descriptor. He promptly tossed that one back too.
“That’s the plan,” Charlie confirmed brightly.
He squinted through his stinging eyes. “That’s weird, stop it.”
Stop being nice. You’re not nice, not to me, not to anyone except for Max.
He knew what she was doing, knew why she was doing it, and while he appreciated that she was trying to keep the attention on her, trying to keep Raleigh from being forced to even remotely acknowledge Yancy or Knifehead or anything unless he had too, it was bizarre.
“Smiling,” he settled on instead of getting into that. “You never smile.”
She rolled her eyes expressively and went back to making more drinks and chatting with Lila. Raleigh told himself he’d only take one more at the very most from her—the two he already head were heady to say the least—and then he’d cut himself on before she had him laid out on the floor.
~ ~ ~ ~
He still ended up on the floor, but his pride was saved by the fact that he wasn’t the only one. As a matter of fact, he and Charlie somehow ended up the most sober of the lot.
They at least made it back to their barracks under their own power after a driver picked them all up.
The others could not boast such an achievement.
~ ~ ~ ~
“Good god,” Charlie mumbled as they suited up for one last Drift before they were set to roll out Operation Pitfall.
If the Kaiju stuck to the schedule they remembered, one was due tomorrow evening, heading for Hawaii and almost making landfall the morning after. They were moving out that evening and, rather than wait around and try and recover from their hangovers, they’d decided to make sure their Drift was secured. Of all the teams, despite having the most experience in the conn, they still had the least when it came to Drifting together.
“You did it,” he reminded her tetchily.
She gave him a very dark look, and he vaguely wondered if there’d ever be a day where he simply bickered with Hansen—light and easy and more habit than anything—rather than ending up in a genuine argument with her, where their words were sharp, faces harder, and tones meaner.
He doubted it despite the way they were Drifting together, despite their active efforts. It hadn’t happened yet at any rate.
They were emotional people by nature, two sides of the same passionate coin; but while he’d had Yancy to mellow him out, grief and isolation and years of simply watching life pass him by to tone him down, all Charlie had was a mostly absent, military father, an uncle it was better she didn’t take after, and whatever calm and stability she could find while living fulltime in Sydney’s 'Dome.
(Hint: not very much at all)
Seriously, though, he had to ask later, a little annoyed. It wasn’t the first time something had coated his throat thickly when Mako strayed errantly across their minds and he hadn’t understood it any of those times either. What’s your problem with Mako? Mako’s nice to everyone, even grouchy brats like you.
Go to hell, Becket, she returned, outwardly ordering their simulated Jaeger to launch a missile at the Kaiju they were battling.
That taste was back twice as strong, memories flashing past without him chasing, but he didn’t have too.
Oh, he thought. Oh.
That sour thing that coated his throat was jealousy.
Charlie Hansen was jealous of Mako. Not because she was Mako, per se, but because of the way she was treated, of the way she was. Mako was strong, there was no question of that. She was dedicated and smart and confident—but she was slim and tiny compared to others. Her serene, quiet appearance made people interact with her differently than they did with Charlie.
It wasn’t an easy thing for him to parse out, something he hadn’t been able to understand until just now. As far as he’d seen, they were both treated the same: like PPDC personnel, like Rangers, like women. And yet, now, seen from her side of it, compared side by side…they were treated in strikingly disparate ways.
More importantly in Charlie’s mind, all the wrong ways.
She was treated like a Ranger first, and then like a woman as a sort of vague afterthought. Usually when it came to first sparring with her, or when her anger got the better of her and someone dared to wonder out loud if it was her time of the month. As the lesser pilot of Striker Eureka, like she couldn’t carry her own weight because of her gender and sometimes her age.
Everything that made her look weak or that would cause someone to negatively treat her differently seemed to come out of the fact that she was a woman, whereas everything she wouldn’t mind be feminine about, they treated her like a Ranger. She was tall and physically looked stronger than Mako, she was angry and brash and confident she’d never lose a fight, she wasn’t what anyone would be considered delicate—and so no one treated her that way.
(Raleigh had never considered treating her that way and he’d spent a remarkable number of hours over the last few days in her head)
And Charlie hated it, hated that she occasionally wanted to be pretty and feminine and delicate the way Mako seemed to achieve so effortlessly at the drop of a hat. She’d never learned how, didn’t understand it really, because she had grown up with Herc and Scott and what little femininity that could be scrapped together in active Shatterdome—all before fighting her way into a Jaeger long before she had figured it out. Once there, Herc’s personality had just as much influence on her as she did on him.
So she’d pushed and shoved and made herself fierce, clearly undesiring of any sort of thing, and people bought it, and it was like a vicious self-fulfilling cycle she didn’t know how to get out of, didn’t know to break without feeling like she was undoing everything she was. Because she was confident and strong and she’d punch the first idiot who dared to say she was anything different and—
When he let it go and just let it settle in, what it came down to was Charlie was all those things but, also, she was a very young woman too and sometimes, she wanted to feel that way more than she wanted to be so fiercely independent.
That was why she had grown out her hair after graduating from the Academy and took care of it despite the way it wasn’t practical, despite the trend being to keep it short and bobbed like Mako’s. That was all she’d give herself.
“Shut up,” Charlie snapped at him a second before he said anything. It was sharp and low, nothing like their normal bickering. This… She didn’t want him to see that, and now she was genuinely embarrassed and—ashamed?
“I’m not saying anything,” he said evenly, wanting to tell her it was okay, knowing that she didn’t want to hear it and also knowing it showed in the Drift anyway. He wasn’t a girl, he didn’t think she thought his opinion counted, but it seemed normal enough to him. Who didn’t want to be taken care of sometimes?
There’s was a wordless rush of heat and rage and he tried to mute himself down as much as possible without fully backing away from the Drift.
They didn’t talk after that.
~ ~ ~ ~
“Alright?” Herc asked when they left. “Awfully quiet there at the end.”
Charlie brushed by him without acknowledging it and he raised his eyebrows Raleigh.
Raleigh just shook his head. He was sure that Herc—the Marshal, he had to remind himself—of his time knew about it, but this Herc was fifty-fifty when it came to potentially being at a loss, and Raleigh really didn’t want to get into it. He didn’t think it was his place to interfere either.
“We’re fine. We’ll still be able to make the run.”
“Jesus, you two are a pair of goal-oriented bastards. It’s not just about the op, yeah?”
Raleigh shrugged. “It is for us. Once we’re done, we go home. We can deal with everything else later.”
Herc frowned deeper at him, distinctly disapproving but, well, it was hardly as though any of them were the poster children of healthy communication or the best decision makers so Raleigh let it roll right off of him as he walked away.
“Raleigh, bro,” Yancy asked, already on his heels before Raleigh had even registered his presence. When had he gotten there? Hadn’t they left him all but passed out on a table with the Gages and the other Raleigh? Oh, wait, no, Bruce had tried very badly to flirt with Charlie on the way back to the ‘Dome and she had shoved him out of the car, making Yancy fall too. He had a shiny new scrape on his forehead and everything. “Are you really okay?”
Raleigh both wanted to keep looking at him forever and wanted to avoid him. That hollow edge, that endless black pit in his mind where Yancy had once been, throbbed and it was both comforting to be near him again and akin to torture because that wasn’t the Yancy he’d lost, not exactly, and he wouldn’t be staying around long enough to make that connection again.
(He was utterly grateful no one had even mentioned them trying to Drift)
“I’m fine,” he said, because he was. He wasn’t happy, didn’t know how to make things better for Charlie—didn’t know how to convince her that it was okay—but he was technically fine. They’d still be capable of Drifting, they could still close the Breach, and that would be everything.
Raleigh tipped his head at his brother and wondered when had they gotten to be the same height. It must’ve finally happened after he died.
“I’m fairly sure you don’t even like her.”
Yancy shrugged uncomfortably. “Well, no. Not really. She’s...she’s kind of a bitch.”
He nodded because he could see that easily. Up until the night of the drop, he had thought much the same and well, it still wasn’t entirely inaccurate.
But Charlie was much more than that now. She was fearless and dedicated and determined. She understood sacrifice and duty; at the age of just twenty-one she had been fully prepared to give her life in the hope of giving Raleigh and Mako a chance to destroy the Breach. She was rage and a deeply buried bitterness and sense of inadequacy she compensated too hard for. She was kind in a very mean sort of way.
She was his co-pilot.
“No offense,” Yancy hurriedly added and Raleigh realized he had been too quiet for too long.
“None taken,” he said. “She is sometimes. But she’s...complicated. And really, you’ve seen nothing.” He smiled faintly, thinking of their first few disastrous conflicts. “Yesterday? That’s us playing nice.”
Yancy stared at him. “What the hell, Rals?” The nickname made him flinch before he could stop himself and Yancy narrowed his eyes. “What aren’t you telling me? Why can’t you just Drift with me? You guys said it, we only need the two Jaegers really. Not even that if the Kaiju is already dead.”
“I’ve got years of shit you don’t need in your head and it’s far too much to work through in such a short time frame. For all that we’re different, I don’t have to worry about it with Charlie. We’ve both lived through it, and we get it. Where the other person is coming from, I mean.” He paused, making Yancy almost run into him as a thought occurred to him. “Say, do you happen to bring any of that thread with you?”
~ ~ ~ ~
It took several frustrating tries to get the knack of it again, but if it went the way he wanted, it’d be worth it so he persisted anyway.
Once finished, part of him wanted to have the other Charlotte—or anyone, really—give it to Charlie, but she’d know it was him as soon as they stepped into each other’s head anyway. She would know even without that because who else would? He sucked it up and carefully thought over what to say as he approached where she was eating alone for once.
At least, he comforted himself, even if I bungle the delivery, she’ll see the intent and well-meaning behind it later. Which isn’t to say it still won’t piss her off, but…
“Hey,” he settled on while taking the seat across from her. “Here.”
He held out a braided bracelet and she stared at it blankly.
“What is it?”
“A bracelet,” Raleigh said, faintly amused. “You wear it.”
“No shit,” she said, her face automatically twisting towards a scowl. “Why do you have one?”
“I made it for you.”
“You can braid?”
“Yancy could,” he answered simply. “It was something small he could do with his hands while we waited.”
It wasn’t even a particularly difficult weave, really, but he’d had a hell of time picking out the colors. He wanted something she’d actually wear, so that took out a bracelet made entirely of the coral and gold thread Yancy had originally tried to give him. However, he was also aiming for something more feminine than the darker, drab military colors she usually wore. In the end, he’d settled for a blend of white, cream, black, blue, and, because he couldn’t stop himself, a lone coral thread that wove through it strikingly.
He thought it had turned out rather well personally.
Slowly, as if it would bite her or like he was going to take it back, Charlie reached out and took the bracelet. She held it gingerly, rubbing her thumb over the threads.
“Thanks,” Charlie said uncertainly.
He counted it a win that she had taken it all, so he wasn’t offended that she tucked it away in a pocket rather than putting it on right then and there. He just nodded vaguely and ate his own lunch. The back of his mind was still ticking away at how to make things alright with her, but he decided to hold off against saying too much too soon.
~ ~ ~ ~
“Heels,” he ventured to tell her later as they finished packing up their barrack.
Well, as he did. She’d gotten a head start on him while he had been working on the bracelet.
Charlie looked up from the battered puzzle book she’d pulled out of god knew where, her face bemused. “What?”
“Heels. Heels are very much a feminine item,” he said. “But they’re also pretty fierce.”
It had occurred to him earlier that he couldn’t recall having ever seen Charlie in anything other than boots and sneakers in real life or in memory. Even at press conferences, interviews, and charity and fund-raising events, she’d only ever worn her dress blues, standing out starkly in a room full of glittering women dressed to the nines. He knew the same way she did that that was due to Herc, who had seen first hand what men could be like thanks to Scott and didn’t want Charlie to end up in that position. The websites counting down to when she was legal in various countries had very reasonably freaked him out, and he’d used their uniform to remind everyone that she wasn’t like everyone else; she was a soldier, his co-pilot and his daughter. She wasn’t a young woman to fantasize over and he’d kick the ass of the first man who tried to put the moves on her.
It hadn’t helped her complex at all, of course, but there was nothing he could do about that now and Herc had meant well. Charlie, at any rate, had been annoyed but understanding and ultimately grateful for the sign that he cared.
She stared at him. “Becket, I’ve never worn heels in my life. I’m tall enough as it is.”
“So?” He cocked his head. “Do you not like the idea of heels or do you feel a certain way about being even taller?”
“Well, it’s just…aside from Dad interfering like a nosy motherfucker, the PR people said boots and flats were better for me,” Charlie said, almost wary as she answered him. It was oddly adorable, how suspicious she was of this conversation. “Guys have never like me being taller and the majority of people we need money from are men.”
“Fuck them,” he advised wisely, leaning on the back of the couch. “What do you want?” She shrugged. “Well, if you’re not sure, what’s the harm of looking? You don’t have to get them if you don’t like them,” Raleigh pointed out reasonably.
“But…what’s the point? Becket, we’re at war with Kaiju. What good are heels going to do me?”
She only called him Becket it when it was just them, he’d noticed. When they were with others, Yancy was Yancy, his younger self was usually Baby Becket (much to his distaste and Yancy’s continuing amusement) or Becket 2.0, and she’d actually call him Raleigh. Most of the time, she didn’t even mangle his name on purpose anymore.
“What’s it going to hurt?” he countered.
“It’s not sensible.” Her ears were starting to turn pink.
He shrugged then. “It’s fun. It’s something you might enjoy. That’s what we’re fighting for—to enjoy doing our stupid shit without having to worry about getting killed by a bunch of ugly monsters from another world.”
“It’s a waste of money.”
“I disagree. It’s your choice of course, Charlie, but I think it’s worth considering.”
She twirled the end of her braid absently, frowning at him. “What do you think?”
“About you in heels?” She nodded and he smiled a little. “You’d eat everyone alive.”
He made sure his tone reflected that he saw that as a good thing, but tried not to sound too creepy about it. He wasn’t trying to hit on her—though really, the idea of her in heels was admittedly appealing; she already had legs for miles—he was trying to be helpful. Encouraging.
“I’ll think about it, alright?”
“And stop bringing up stuff like that.”
He just smiled a bit wider and left her to her sudoku book to grab the last of the few clothes he had brought back with him.
~ ~ ~ ~
She was wearing the bracelet as they boarded the plane to fly to Hawaii.
He hid his smile, ducking his head a little. Reasonably, it fell when she found a convenient reason to kick him in the shin and smirk at him, thin and sharp. He suspected she had been in his head often enough of late to not only catch his smile, but to guess at the reasons behind it.
In all honesty, in return, he should’ve seen the kick coming.
“Why are you such a child?” he grumbled, resisting the urge to rub his now sore leg.
She didn’t answer, buckling herself in with her eyes just daring him, and he glared back, irritated.
So much for progress.
The by-play was not missed by anyone, but the only one who dared to comment was Yancy.
“What? Don’t like the bracelet?” he asked with that faux pleasantry he often used when being forced to talk about their family. Becket stiffened marginally and Raleigh knew that the tone was not lost on Charlie at all. He managed to keep his cringe inward, though. “Why not just take it off?”
Charlie flicked him off with the hand wearing the bracelet without even looking his direction.
“This has nothing to do with you, mate,” she said. “Stay out of it.”
“He’s my brother.”
There were a few beats of silence and then Charlie deigned to glance his way in faint surprise. “Oh? Was that it? I thought there was a point coming.”
“Charlie,” Raleigh warned for what little good it’d do.
“You know, you said she wasn’t always a bitch, but I’m not seeing it,” Yancy said, scowling.
“Yancy,” Raleigh sighed at the same time Charlie’s eyes flashed to him, mouth somehow narrowing further. “Shut up. Charlie, don’t even front. We both know that you delight in being mean to some people. Even you have to admit that’s bitchy behavior.”
Charlie shrugged and settled back. “He’s a nosy asshole. Seems fair to me.”
“What’s wrong with you?” Yancy asked, staring at her like he genuinely didn’t understand her and what little he did comprehend, he didn’t like. “Why aren’t you a nice person?”
That did strike a chord, Raleigh knew, even if her only outward reaction was the tightening of her mouth and the flash of her green eyes.
Herc had asked her the same thing once, at a loss as he stared at his daughter like she was a foreign creature, and it had cut deeply even if she had tossed aside the question like it meant nothing to her that her father thought as much of her.
“Oi,” Herc snapped now, speaking up from his place a row up and one chair over. He had been leaving them to themselves up until then, but now he turned in his chair sharply. Had that memory already happened? Did he know how much that bothered his sort of daughter? Or did he just realize that Yancy meant this question more, that this was intended to be far more hurtful?
“Yancy,” Raleigh cut in lowly before the Australian could come maim one of their pilots. “Stop it. You don’t have to like her for this to work. All you have to do is get in Gipsy and follow us to the Breach, and technically, you don’t even have to do that. We can make it with just two Jaegers.”
“I’m not leaving you out there alone,” he said, offended by even the suggestion of staying behind.
“You’re not. I’ve got Hansen.”
It rang perfectly sincere and he was almost surprised to realize that’s because it was.
He had Charlie; he had her knowledge, her skills, her loyalty in this at least. She’d do her absolute best for him and by him so long as they were in that Jaeger, so long as they had the mission, and that was no small thing. She could be arrogant as hell about it, but she legitimately was the brightest graduate they’d ever had. She had been partnered with Herc, the only Mark I pilot they had left, and it was no little thing either that she could match him step for step.
“Damn straight,” she agreed.
Bruce looked between all of them dolefully. “You make my head hurt.”
He put in his headphones at the same time as his twin and they closed their eyes, leaving the four of them sitting in chilly silence.
“You can’t seriously compare having her watching your back to having Yancy there,” his younger self said after a long moment.
Raleigh bit back a groan, leaning his own head back.
“I’m not dealing with this,” he told the ceiling. “Charlie, pretend to be less angry with life. Or like you’re tired and pretend to go to sleep. You two, just...drop it. Don’t stir up shit right before we deploy.”
It was a long flight.
Her heart wasn’t beating faster—she wasn’t worried about two Jaegers taking on a smaller Category III Kaiju—but it beat stronger, harder, as she waited in LOCCENT. The Kaiju had arrived right on schedule and found Gipsy Danger and Romeo Blue waiting to engage it. So far, they’d held the miracle mile and--well.
This was it.
They were taking the Breach with the dead body of this Kaiju.
They had a chance.
A chance to do it right, to not lose anyone else.
Charlie planted her feet shoulder width apart, crossing her arms and focused on breathing slowly, regularly, as she watched the readings from the fight, listened to the comms. She was already suited up for when her and Raleigh would deploy, and her drivesuit made far too much noise when she was trying to be relatively subtle in adjusting her stance.
“It’s going to be fine,” Raleigh said lowly next to her.
“I know that,” she said, sliding her eyes to look sideways at him. His face was faintly grey. “You sure you need to be here?”
He nodded and Charlie left it there. Becket wouldn’t risk this mission out of pride. If it got to be too much, seeing Yancy out there without him, he’d leave. She knew that, but she also knew that being able to take it wasn’t the same as being entirely unaffected.
He’s tougher than he looks, she reminded herself. He can do this. He made a full deployment after Drifting with Mako once. You two have been doing nothing but for days, it’ll be fine.
She’d lie about breathing a sigh of relief when they won to her dying day.
~ ~ ~ ~
“You two are being uncharacteristically quiet again,” Amber remarked as they were engulfed by the dark water. “Everything okay?”
“We thought it might be distracting for the other pilots,” Charlie answered, her voice not showing the strain of pushing back the rabbits that wanted to be seen.
This is more…stressful than I thought, one of them thought.
Well, it’s one of the closer calls to death we’ve had, yeah, they agreed.
Someone snorted over the comms.
“Well, I’m not protesting,” Trevin said dryly.
“Me either, but I’ll admit, I’m surprised you two haven’t found something to bicker about,” Bruce added.
“You’ve never seen us actually work,” Raleigh replied for them, his tone grim. “Here, we’ve got nothing to fight about.”
Which was true; in this, they were in absolute agreement about what to do, how to do it, and how far they’d go to see it through.
As they directed Lucky Seven to the Breach, they continued to work in near perfect silence, only occasionally reporting back readings as they made the relatively short trip. Charlie focused with a higher intensity than usual on the instruments, on the differences between Lucky and Striker, but it was hard not to realize that with every step, she drew closer to the place where she fully intended to die.
Where Stacker Pentecost had.
Thought he took nothing into the Drift, Raleigh tentatively pushed her way, catching memories of Tamsin Seiver that neither of them should have. Of Luna’s bright eyes and daring smile. Of rain on cold streets and warm tea.
He didn’t. But when you’re that close to death, when your daughter is only seconds behind you, when you know your best friend is listening to his child die...things slip. I have a lot of odd bits and ends of his life.
Her breath came out shaky.
“We can do this,” he told her both mentally and aloud after switching off their comm. “We’ve got better odds.”
“I know,” she said.
Her hands still wanted to shake as they jumped down to the chaotic bright orange and fiery yellows of the Breach.
“Fuck,” Charlie breathed.
“Fuck,” he agreed, his own flashes of memories welling up.
“Silence. The Drift is silence.”
“That’s probably easier to achieve when you don’t have seven heads and probably a good dash of PTSD between you.”
She laughed, choked and tight, and stopped talking as he flipped the comms back on to help coordinate setting up the dead Kaiju and strapping the nuclear warhead (once more given by the Russians) to it.
Their mouths were dry as they finished, a grim determination settled into their bones.
Ready? and Let’s do this echoed almost at the same moment, one of them asking permission and the other already giving it.
“Hang on, let me check…” one of them said. Her. She had said that one.
Lucky Seven slipped past the other two Jaegers, bent as if checking a fastening, and then they grabbed the Kaiju and jumped before either of the others could stop them. The comm exploded with noise as they went through the Breach.
Now, Charlie’s heart was hammering. Or maybe it was Becket’s? He’d seen this all before, had multiple nightmares about what lay beyond, dreams that had chased after her once she saw them. It was probably him.
(It was them both, she knew deep down; they were in perfect sync right now after all)
“What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing, Rangers?” Stacker thundered over them all and making them fall silent.
“Ending it,” Raleigh said tersely.
“Look, we can blow the Breach, or we can carry this a little further on, and blow Lucky and the bomb, and take out the Breach, their little headquarters, and a lot those bastards and the Precursors,” Charlie added. “Sorry about Lucky, Herc. She’s a real beaut.”
“I don’t care about the bloody Jaeger,” Herc said, his voice dark and angry. “Just—you’ll be coming back, yeah? Taking the evac pods?”
“Yes,” Raleigh answered firmly. “The auto-destruct hasn’t been damaged.” Unlike Gipsy last time. “We’ll have plenty of time to get clear.”
“Raleigh, listen to—”
“Shut up, Becket!” Charlie shouted in alarm, the rabbit hitting them hard. It felt like the ground was shaking and falling out from underneath her, the air frigid despite the temperature controls, despite the heat generated by the Breach.
“Left hemisphere going out of alignment,” Amber reported, only a slight edge of nervousness showing in her tone. “Right faltering.”
“Becket—Ray, this isn’t—this isn’t Knifehead, you’re not in Alaska,” Charlie said quickly, reaching out mentally and trying to pull Raleigh back. An icy feeling of terror and pain and my arm, oh, God-Yancy-Yancy-YANCY was starting to engulf her and she shivered. “We’re at the Breach. Remember? We’ve run this op before. Come on, you stupid seppo, bloody answer me!”
Raleigh shook his head hard, his eyes screwed shut.
“Yancy,” he mumbled.
“Don’t!” she snapped before Yancy could answer. “Yancy’s—Yancy’s fine, right now. He’s in Gipsy Danger waiting on us to come back. We’re in 2018, remember? Long before Knifehead and we’re going to fry those bastards. Operation Pit—oh. Oh my god…” She was in the Anteverse, staring at those bloody bastards even now and their harsh, oversaturated surroundings. “Ray, I need you with me,” she said quietly, eyes wide even as she started hitting buttons on automatic, arming the nuclear device. “Raleigh, please.”
“I’m—I’m here,” he said, his voice strained. “Sorry.”
“Left hemisphere, realigned. Right locked in. Neural handshake strong and holding.”
“Hey, no, it’s fine,” Charlie assured. “Just…let’s get going, yeah? I already fucking hate this place.”
“Yeah,” he agreed fervently and they finished running through the protocols as quickly as they could. “Disengaging neural handshake in five, four, three, two…”
There was a moment of disorientation as she went from being CharlieLuckyRaleighSeven to just Charlie, but she shook it off quickly.
“This is much easier than the first run,” Raleigh mused as they started the countdown on Lucky Seven.
“Don’t jinx it!” she hissed.
“Don’t you two start now,” Herc snapped at them. “Get in those evac pods!”
“We’re going as fast as we can. I didn’t want to be down here again, you know,” Raleigh grumbled.
“Again?” Yancy said faintly.
Raleigh hummed a vague note, the wrench of shrieking, tearing metal echoing in their ears. She resisted the urge to flinch, to glance around for damage.
It’s not real, it’s the ghost Drift, it’s Gipsy being torn apart, not Lucky.
Her muscles were too tight and his hands trembling faintly as they triggered their pods to come down at the same time.
“See you up top,” he told her.
“See you, seppo.”
He rolled his eyes and they launched.
~ ~ ~ ~
She popped the top of her pod off and found that Raleigh had already done the same. He’d jumped out and was swimming towards her.
“I’m fine,” she called out to him.
“I know,” he yelled back and, a few moments later, she helped him pull himself up to sit with her. He was grinning from ear to ear, eyes somehow brighter than the ocean around them despite the way early morning sun shone down on it.
Her own mouth curved, reflecting it back to him.
We did it.
Impulsively, she reached out and hugged him—and promptly knocked the both of them off balance and back into the ocean.
“Fuck!” she yelled as they went down into the cold water. They come up spluttering and laughing, completely ignoring the angry mutters in their ears.
We did it.
~ ~ ~ ~
“I ought to murder you two,” Trevin said fiercely when they were all on the chopper back to the Shatterdome. His hazel eyes were burning with anger. “Pulling a fucking stunt like that without any warning! What the hell were you thinking?”
Raleigh and Charlie didn’t deign to answer, to try and justify it.
They sat in their seats, sopping wet, freezing, and, for once, utterly at peace despite the fury of their fellow passengers.
“Nothing? Really?” Bruce added sourly.
“What do you want to hear?” Charlie snapped back, annoyed at having her good mood rained on. “That we’re sorry? Because we’re not. Ten for ten, would do it again.”
Raleigh gently touched her forearm and she settled back, wrapping her blanket tighter around her shoulders.
“Look, we faced down a lot in the next seven years,” he said mildly. “Things…got bad. Very bad. She’s not wrong about us not being sorry, but you also have to see our side. We have a lot of motivation to see the Kaiju go down.”
“And we don’t?” Yancy asked, his voice hard and brittle. “For fuck’s sake, Raleigh—”
“Don’t,” Raleigh said, calm and quiet but it cut straight through his older brother’s words. His face was flat, but his eyes were sharp and showing how much he’d aged. He looked older than Yancy just then, looked stern and cold and remote. “I didn’t make that last run, the first Operation Pitfall, with you, Yancy.”
All four pilots stared, concern openly flickering across their faces.
“Raleigh,” Charlie said, not sure if it was supposed to be a warning or a reassurance. Both, probably.
He took a deep breath, leaning back and closing his eyes. He was obviously done with the conversation.
“What did he mean?” Becket asked her, his face nervous. “Where was Yancy?”
“Not there to pilot,” she said, hoping he’d take it as Yancy simply being injured. “There was a Kaiju, and they got hurt pretty badly.”
Yancy badly enough that he died.
“Knifehead,” Yancy said quietly.
Raleigh tightened up next to her and she reached out this time, taking his hand and giving it a faint squeeze.
If she didn’t let go, no one called her on it.
~ ~ ~ ~
They traded quick looks after going through the decontamination the PPDC had whipped together before they’d landed and diverged on different paths.
Charlie wasn’t sure where Raleigh was going to go, though she felt like she had a pretty good idea, but she made her way to Herc’s temporary quarters. The older man had made sure they were alright and then stalked off, obviously still upset with their decision not to tell anyone about going into the Breach.
“You going to ignore me all night, old man?” she asked through his door when he didn’t answer her knock. “I’m not going to be here forever.”
Or for very much longer, in fact.
He opened the door and glowered at her.
“I just wanted to give you this,” she said, holding out two envelopes. “One’s for you, one’s for Charlotte.”
“Are you leaving soon?” he asked, taking them. His face was cast into a harsh relief by the hallway lights, his age showing in every line, every sprinkle of the grey hair just starting to show.
She wondered, now that the Kaiju were dead and gone, just how many years she had left with her father. If there was a chance to improve their relationship the way she was trying to make this Herc and Charlotte.
“We just need to grab a few things,” Charlie confirmed with a nod.
He nodded a couple of times and they stood there awkwardly for a moment.
“You could stay,” he offered before she could find the words to say a final goodbye.
Charlie shook her head almost immediately. “Dad—my dad—needs me. I’m all the old man has left, you know.” He nodded again, seemed to hesitate, and then just stepped forward and hugged her. His arms wrapped around her tightly and her breath caught as she hugged him back. The last time she had been this close to Herc...She’d been going on a suicide mission, and despite her bravado, both of them had been pretty sure she wasn’t coming back. “You’re doing a decent job,” she said after a moment, Herc’s words about leaving things unsaid ringing in her ears. “But I’m—remember, Charlotte, she probably won’t ever Drift with you. As much as we hate it, as much as it sucks, talk to her. Spend time with her. Don’t be too busy now that the war is over.”
“I’ll try,” he promised again and they pulled apart.
Charlie grinned a little, a bit surprised by the way tears pricked at her eyes. “Do or do not. There is no try.”
He gave her a dry look, but the corners of his mouth tipped up. “Fair enough. Good luck, Charlie.”
“Good luck, Herc,” she returned and walked away without looking back.
She wound her way through the unfamiliar Shatterdome, smiling faintly and nodding at the people celebrating as she passed by. Unlike the base in Hong Kong or Sydney, no one knew her here. In plain clothes, they had no idea she was one of the Rangers who made the jump, so most just grinned brilliantly at her and moved on. She liked that, liked being able to slip through the crowd so easily and anonymously as she headed for the spot she’d agreed to meet Raleigh.
Maybe unsurprisingly, she was the first one there and she leaned back against the wall and slid to the floor, people watching. She wondered if this had been what it looked like after they had closed the Breach the first time. If they had mourned first instead because they had lost six pilots—seven, presumably, if they counted her—in a matter of days.
Part of her was glad to have probably missed the festivities, and the other part vaguely resented not being able to fully celebrate her hard work, celebrate achieving the only real goal she’d ever had.
“Oi!” she barked at a couple who nearly stumbled into her when trying to find a quiet corner.
“Sorry!” the girl, J-tech based off her uniform, said and laughed, pulling her boyfriend along.
Charlie rolled her eyes and glanced up again when a shadow fell over her.
Raleigh stood there and mutely held out a hand. His duffel bag hung over his shoulder and she took his hand, pulling her own knapsack up with her.
“Let’s go,” she said and they headed for the doors.
Right before they slipped out, feeling eyes on her, she glanced over and around, catching Yancy’s eyes from across the room. They simply held it for a moment before he offered her a nod.
She gave him one of her own and felt her mouth twitch when Becket 2.0 crashed into him, his face shining with probably more than a couple of drinks already. Yancy looked like such an older brother just then, fond and annoyed all in the same turn. It made her heart warm, knowing he’d have many more years left to ride herd on Baby Becket.
It was probably just lingering affection from Drifting with Raleigh, she mused.
“Ready?” Raleigh asked her when they’d come to a stop.
They were standing alone outside on the beach, having left the celebrating Shatterdome behind. The End of the Apocalypse party was, if possible, gathering even more momentum and they could still hear echoes of it even from this distance.
Charlie took a deep breath. The night was cool and windy, the break of waves against the beach peaceful and rhythmic.
She stuck out a hand. He clasped her forearm and offered the weird, cylinder device with the other. It looked like it had been cobbled together from various odds and ends found in Newt’s lab, which did not fill her with confidence as she grasped the other end.
“You’re sure this is going to work?”
“As sure as Newt was,” Raleigh answered honestly.
“We’re not going to end up at the bottom of the ocean?”
“Nah. I came through that way first because we were trying to get me as close to you as possible. This little baby, Newt and Dr. Gottlieb assured me, is tied to a particular location, which would be their lab in a designated space.”
Charlie took another deep breath. “Think it’ll hurt?”
“I don’t know. Ready to find out?”
“Yeah. Let’s do this.”
Raleigh pressed down on the button with his thumb and there was a—
—rush of blurred images—
—was that her graduating?—
—her fifth kill had really been something, she liked that flip—
—Oh. Oh, no. Cherno. The triplets—
—when you Drift with someone, you feel like there’s nothing to talk about—
—I’m going to die, I should’ve said it, why didn’t I say it, how could I leave it like that—
—Y o u ’ r e n o t d y i n g t o d a y , R a n g e r H a n s e n—
“—Hansen? Ranger Hansen, are you with me? Can you open your eyes for me?”
Charlie groaned, every part of her aching as she forced her heavy eyes open.
Dr. Gottlieb crouched awkwardly over her, one cool hand pressed lightly against her cheek. He smiled when they made eye contact, which softened the planes of his face considerably.
“There you are,” he said, proud without being condescending. “Welcome home.”
She might find it funny to see him in a tizzy, but she still genuinely liked the man.
“Becket?” she managed to ask after un-sticking her tongue from the roof of her mouth.
“Sitting up with Newton—”
“Newt!” the other scientist broke in sharply.
Gottlieb rolled his eyes. “He’s in good health, Ranger Hansen. Do you think you can stand?”
“Yeah,” she said. “I just feel tired.”
“Same,” Raleigh agreed from somewhere off to her left.
She rolled her head in that direction as she started trying to push herself up. Dr. Gottlieb tried to help, but given that she had a few inches and probably a fair bit of muscle weight on him too, combined with his bad leg, there was only so much he could do. She appreciated the effort though.
Becket did look well enough and they both managed to get to their feet.
“Medical?” he asked musingly.
Charlie sighed but knew exactly how much hell she’d catch if they didn’t.
“Medical,” she repeated with resignation.
“We’ll escort you,” Newt immediately volunteered.
“We’re not talking about what happened,” Raleigh said. “Not right now, okay?”
“Okay, yeah, sure. Whatever works for you. Just…eventually, right?”
~ ~ ~ ~
Charlie spotted her father hurrying across one of the bays as they took one of the catwalks that shortened the route to medical and—well, it had been a very long couple of months and she didn’t give a shit about anyone else’s opinions anyway. She whistled loud and sharp to catch his attention and his head snapped up. When he saw her, his face went lax with relief and he veered sharply to take the stairs up to them three at a time. Mako was not far behind.
She found the energy to...not run, but fast walk to meet him, and caught up with him halfway down and all but tackled him in a hug.
His stunned, surprised face was worth it.
“Charlie,” he breathed, his voice so thick as to be nearly inaudible. He wrapped his arms around her. “Oh, Charlie.”
“Hi, Dad,” she mumbled back, feeling something in her relax that she hadn’t even known was wound up.
That prick of tears was back and this time, she let them fall, tucking her face into his shoulder like she hadn’t since she was a little girl. He just tightened his grip and even though it made it a little hard to breath, she had never felt better.
She was home.
She was alive, she’d survived.
She’d have a chance to say things out loud now.
(They do make it to medical eventually, Herc’s arm around her shoulders the whole way.)