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Raleigh found his soulmate three weeks after Pitfall.

 

He was laughing at Mako’s perfect impression of Pentecost's ‘Cancel the Apocalypse’ speech, about to shovel another bite of PPDC-standard porridge into his mouth, when a sudden crawling sensation down his right palm made him drop his spoon. Mako jumped at the clatter.

 

‘Ah, shit, sorry,’ Raleigh groaned. He tugged his sweater sleeve up over his hand and used it to scrub away some stray splashes on the table, ignoring the incredulous grimace which Mako gave him. When the table was clean and the set of her eyebrows had taken on a long-suffering cast, Raleigh pulled his sleeve back up to see what his soulmate had scrawled this time.

 

Notes from his soulmate weren’t an uncommon experience for him – or, at least, they hadn’t been, once.

 

When Raleigh was a kid, he’d have often woken up at odd hours of the night with robots or spaceships or monsters with big teeth scrawled all over his arms and legs. Because of this, he and Yancy had decided that his soulmate was a nocturnal vampire, until their mother, badly restraining a laugh, had explained time differences. Raleigh had loved the idea of his soulmate living somewhere cool – Iceland, maybe, or Italy, or Africa – and had been impatient to ask them all about it when they met.

 

Raleigh had followed the old superstitions with a religious determination. It was widely believed that asking a soulmate their name meant that you would never meet; his parents had believed it, and so did Raleigh. So he never asked, and neither did his soulmate. He promised himself that he wouldn't risk losing their bond. Sometimes, though, he had drawn small, clumsy pictures back.

 

After his mother and his father and Jazmine, Raleigh just…couldn’t do it any more.

 

Still, the small, skilful doodles of stars and planets and rocketships had continued to appear; sometimes, when Raleigh was awake at three in the morning, the ceiling slowly sinking down towards him, a little cartoon kaiju with X-ed out eyes and a comically lolling tongue would take shape on his thigh and made him smile.

 

Raleigh had been sixteen when a lifelike sketch of a dozing bulldog had stopped dead, halfway finished.

 

Scissure’s attack on Sydney had been on the news the next morning.

 

Three hours later, he had broken his childhood promise.

 

Please tell me you're okay, Raleigh had scribbled onto his forearm, the words made jagged and messy by his shaking hand. Yancy’s fingers had dug into his shoulder and they’d waited, silent, side by side, until:

 

I'm alive.

 

The drawings stopped.

 

Raleigh had tried for a long time to forget about it, and had partially succeeded by the age of nineteen. There had been the occasional moment where he’d found a small scrawled reminder to ‘pick up dog food’ or ‘tell taz abt faulty gauge’ somewhere on his hand. However, for the most part, there had been silence from both sides. Only once had the writing come from Raleigh’s end, and he hadn't penned it himself; Naomi had.

 

Days later, after Pentecost had reprimanded him and Yancy for a solid hour, and the medics had iced his black eye, and he’d began to truly hate himself for starting shit with his brother over such an untrustworthy woman, Raleigh had scrubbed at the faded phone number until his forearm had been red and raw and blank again. He’d stared at it for a moment, almost expecting something – but nothing had appeared, and he’d tugged his sleeve down and left to apologise to Yancy.

 

For three years, his skin had gone unmarked. Even in a cold and aching February, the worst four weeks of his life, Raleigh had curled into himself and ignored the blue pen on his bedside table.

 

The Wall had exhausted him. It reached the point that he hadn’t been able to think of anything but grey metallic struts and bright sparks and the abrasive whine of machinery, and barely registered the tiny notes appearing on his skin.

 

In the weeks prior to the destruction of the breach, Raleigh had been a little busy trying not to die to consider his silent soulmate.

 

Now, though – they’d saved the world. For the first time, he had a future. Maybe it was time to forget his childhood superstition, his teenage reluctance, and do something.

 

When he checked the scrawl on his hand, Raleigh was expecting to find something mundane like a note or a memo, and that was exactly what he found.

 

msg for l. kuo in jtech from dad:

 

Hang on...jtech?

 

As in, J-Tech?

 

As in, Raleigh's soulmate was in a Shatterdome?

 

‘Raleigh?’ The quietly firm voice was accompanied by a touch to his wrist. ‘Are you alright?’

 

Raleigh realised that he’d been staring rigidly down at his palm for almost a full minute, barely breathing.

 

‘Yeah,’ Raleigh said, shaking out of his daze. ‘Yeah, just–’

 

He was cut off by a loud crash. Both he and Mako whipped around to see Chuck Hansen midway through apologising to a startled engineer. As they watched, he ducked down, snatched up a dropped toolbox, handed it back to the woman, clapped her briskly on the shoulder, and strode off.

 

Chuck then looked down to his hand and brought a pen to it.

 

Raleigh only registered that the writing on his skin had stopped when it started again.

 

He stared at it, uncomprehending.

 

idea for proto-metallic CS successor approved

 

Raleigh’s eyes darted back up to Chuck. He was still visibly writing as he left the cafeteria. Raleigh’s skin was still itching.

 

No.

 

Mako evidently gave up waiting for him to surface from his sudden daze and grabbed his hand, tilting it towards her. Together, they observed the words appear in real time, spilling down onto Raleigh’s wrist when his soulmate ran out of space.

 

& name for striker mk 2 = guardian bravo

 

Well, shit.

 

‘That is...’

 

Mako paused. She tilted her head. It only took a second for her to put the pieces together and her head snapped up.

 

She looked exactly how Raleigh felt.

 

‘I...’ Raleigh raised his eyebrows and blew out a breath, trying to process the idea that – well, that his soulmate was, pretty unavoidably, Chuck Hansen. ‘Yeah.’

 

‘Did you…know?’

 

Raleigh pressed his lips together. Mako didn’t need any more, and leaned across the table, pinning him with a meaningful look.

 

‘Aren’t you going to do something about it, Raleigh?’

 

Raleigh used his face to express exactly how he felt about that. This earned him a cuff around the ear from Mako, and while he rubbed despondently at the back of his head, she fished out a ballpoint from her breast pocket and pulled Raleigh’s arm closer. Before his stupefied mind could catch up she was writing on his wrist, just below Chuck’s newest sentence.

 

also ask abt BPs for proto sprint ca

 

Chuck.

 

Midway through the word ‘capacitors’ Chuck's pen spasmed and Raleigh yelped as it jerked down his wrist, leaving a jagged blue line. He snatched his arm away from Mako, who gave him That Look which he’d first seen at candidate trials. He mimicked it back perfectly, and cradled his smarting wrist to his chest.

 

Raleigh’s forearm started prickling and he glanced down to see the most vivid textual representation of a shout which he’d ever witnessed.

 

MORI?!

 

Because of course they knew each other’s handwriting. They’d grown up together.

 

Shit!

 

When Raleigh turned his arm to show Mako what she’d done, she merely gave him a small smirk.

 

‘Well, you can’t let him keep thinking that, can you?’ she asked, sounding far too pleased with herself. Raleigh shot her a sour look but accepted the pen when she held it out. If there was one thing he knew for sure, it was that following Mako’s advice was usually the best way to go.

 

Beneath the inky mess which his wrist had become, he wrote:

 

No. Mako hijacked my arm.

 

While Raleigh waited for the response, Mako vaulted over the table and slipped in next to him, pressing against his side to watch his arm as though it was an especially engaging episode of Star Trek: Discovery. There was really nothing Raleigh could do but smile at this, because he had no real defences whatsoever when it came to Mako Mori.

 

Blue lines appeared on his skin.

 

Becket?

 

Raleigh made a face down at the word. He could recall with a sudden clarity how viciously the Australian had seemed to despise him when they’d first met. Since Pitfall, they’d come a little further, achieving peaceful co-habitation at best. Mako, who seemed to have repaired her childhood relationship with Hansen Jr. through sheer force of will, had been especially irked by this. However, Raleigh had been of the firm opinion – which Chuck had seemed to share – that if they never interacted, they would never fight. A win-win situation, really.

 

It had worked very well up to that point; unfortunately, Raleigh got the feeling that the strategy wouldn’t be viable any longer.

 

Yeah.

 

He was about to add ‘unfortunately’, but Mako, probably sensing what he was thinking, smacked his hand away.

 

‘Do not sabotage this, Raleigh,’ she told him sharply.

 

Raleigh was about to respond with something childish and vaguely sardonic when it hit him: the person who had obsessively loved space and sci-fi and old monster movies – that was Chuck.

 

The person who Raleigh had watched become almost freakishly good at drawing. That was him.

 

The person whose late-night doodles had carried him through his mother’s months in the hospital, and his father’s disappearance, and his sister’s death.

 

Chuck goddamn Hansen.

 

‘Shit,’ Raleigh muttered, with feeling.

 

Though Mako insisted on continuing to wait for ten more minutes, no reply came.

 

Raleigh tried to tell himself that he’d expected nothing more, and swallowed down the bitter disappointment on his tongue. He and his soulmate had never had the best, or most conventional, relationship, after all. Mako and her soulmate had always spoken; from what she’d told Raleigh, they’d kept their tradition of writing daily interesting facts to each other since Mako was six years old. She even knew her name – Stacker Pentecost had never had much patience for old superstitions.

 

Liwen Shao. Raleigh couldn’t wait to meet her. Whoever shared a soul with Mako was sure to be extraordinary.

 

Hell, even Stacker and Herc had been friends since they were young, through their bond. Sure, they’d assumed it to be platonic until recently, but at least they had always acknowledged it.

 

Raleigh and Chuck, on the other hand, had seemed hell-bent on denial since the start.

 

‘Okay,’ Raleigh finally said, tiring of waiting for a reply which wouldn't come. He nudged Mako gently in the ribs. ‘Up. I gotta go hit something.’

 

Mako sighed. ‘Don’t injure yourself.’

 

Touching a finger to his forehead in a casual salute, Raleigh proceeded to make his way to the Shatterdome gym. He wouldn’t deny his anger; despite everything he’d been telling himself since he was sixteen, deep down he’d always nursed the hope that someday he’d meet his soulmate and they’d fall in love. Raleigh was glad that he’d finished binding his knuckles when he had that realisation, because the urge to hit something right then was overwhelming. He laid into the punching bag with unbridled emotion, the sharp staccato of his hits echoing through the empty gym.

 

As sweat trickled down his neck and the bag’s chain rattled, Raleigh growled beneath his breath.

 

‘Chuck. Goddamn. Hansen.’

 

He punctuated each word with a particularly vicious punch to the bag.

 

Eventually, Raleigh was forced to concede that the physical catharsis wasn’t working as it should have. Whenever he thought that he was beginning to calm down, the image of Chuck’s smug face after the candidate trials appeared in his mind, vividly high definition, smirking obnoxiously, and his vision turned red all over again. His shoulders heaved as he tore the wrappings off his hands, screwed them into a ball, and threw them across the room. His hands were shaking. Clenching them into tight fists, he stalked off to find a pen.

 

Six minutes later, Raleigh was in his room writing You're an asshole in tiny letters onto his thigh.

 

It only took seconds for a reply to form below it.

 

fuck off ray

 

Raleigh’s lip curled in contempt.

 

I wish I could.

 

He paused.

 

Charlie.

 

The response to that was instant and full of aggression.

 

don't FUCKING call me that!!

 

Raleigh smirked bitterly, vindicated, and went to take a shower.

 

Over the next few days, the situation didn’t improve; hell, if anything, it escalated. Raleigh’s words seemed to have struck a nerve somewhere, and at seemingly random moments his skin would crawl and he’d find a weird Australian insult somewhere on his body. In response, Raleigh would either write something rude or simply draw the most ridiculous angry face he could manage. This would customarily be accompanied by a smirk down at the inevitably terrible picture.

 

It was the most unapologetically spiteful Raleigh had been in his entire life. There was something about the entire situation which rubbed him the wrong way; some hidden well of boiling, repressed anger which had finally exploded out of its bounds. Maybe it was the fact that Raleigh couldn’t escape it – couldn’t escape Chuck. Maybe it was a reaction to his one remaining childhood dream being mercilessly squashed beneath a large black PPDC-issue boot. Maybe Chuck Hansen was an Australian dickhead who could never possibly care for a washed-up has-been.

 

Raleigh preferred not to think about that last option.

 

Four days after the incident in the mess hall, Raleigh was sitting on a suspended gantry above the bare bones of Gipsy Danger’s replacement. For the past half hour or so, he’d been watching textual abuse appear on his skin, which was becoming increasingly colourful with each minute he continued to not respond.

 

Raleigh’s favourite was currently:

 

your face looks like a bloody blown gasket you stupid seppo wanker

 

That was scrawled all over the back of his left hand. Down the inside of his right arm was his second favourite:

 

i hope a cassowary bloody well kicks in your ugly fucking mug

 

The third was along his left collarbone and said, simply:

 

drongo fuckwit

 

Raleigh pulled his thumb out from under the collar of his sweater and let it fall back into place against his neck, hiding the two messy words. Arms slung over the gantry’s railing, he stared down past his feet to Gipsy Avenger’s shadowed skeleton. The usual swarm of techs which lit up her steel bones with raining sparks had all been given leave for the anniversary of Caitlin Lightcap’s first successful drift, and he was alone in the immense hangar.

 

A telltale itch crept down Raleigh’s right bicep like a sluggish ant. He waited, a faint smirk curling up his lips, until Chuck had finished, and eagerly pulled his sweater over his head. He set it aside, straightened his arm, and read:

 

becket you're a fuckknuckle

 

The sudden laugh which burst out of him was loud in the cavernous silence. He shook his head and ran his finger over the word ‘fuckknuckle’, snorting in amusement. God, Chuck was definitely something.

 

Raleigh’s breath stopped.

 

Oh. Shit.

 

Was this...

 

Not possible.

 

He could not be feeling affection for Chuck “Drop You Like A Sack Of Kaiju Shit” Hansen.

 

Raleigh dragged a hand down his face with a groan, because yes, he was feeling affection for Chuck “One Of You Bitches Needs A Leash” Hansen, and yes, it was absolutely goddamn ridiculous. Not only because it was brought on by Chuck’s fucking insults. He’d never considered himself a masochist, and wasn’t about to start.

 

Raleigh wasn’t a damn doormat. He categorically refused to become attached to someone who hadn’t put in the slightest amount of effort to be civil, or to work through their bond – someone who’d snubbed him from day one. Chuck “You Two Are A Goddamn Disgrace” Hansen was a stubborn, conceited jerk who was definitely not worth Raleigh’s time or regard.

 

And yet, Raleigh was soul-bonded to the asshole.

 

He didn’t want to consider what that said about him.

 

Standing, Raleigh picked up his sweater and pulled it back on. The long sleeves and shallow collar hid most of the scrawls; he knew that Chuck would only wash them off when he had to leave his room. He only ever wrote the more visible insults when Raleigh – unable to get rid of them, thanks to the one-way mechanics of the soul-bond – was out and about, while Chuck was safely isolated. Worse, he seemed to be ambidextrous, able to fill both of Raleigh’s arms with slander.

 

Raleigh only ever wrote on easily concealable places, like the thigh or the stomach. Public humiliation was a level which he found himself reluctant to sink to.

 

Chuck, on the other hand, seemed to delight in humiliating Raleigh as publicly as possible. Once he’d scrawled an insult on a very inconvenient area, and Raleigh had been forced to decline accompanying Mako on her daily visit to the medbay. The idea of Marshal Stacker Pentecost, bedridden or not, seeing Raleigh with the word ‘dickface’ written up his neck in bold blue capital letters was not one he relished.

 

Gritting his teeth, Raleigh clattered down the stairs. What, exactly, he’d done to deserve that for a soulmate, he wasn’t certain. Maybe it was some kind of cosmic joke.

 

Raleigh sure wasn’t laughing.

 

As he strode down the Shatterdome’s halls, he drew more than a few bewildered looks, a handful edging on apprehension, and maybe one or two of undiluted alarm. From this and the burning anger washing down his skin, Raleigh was aware that his expression and general demeanour were, in all likelihood, not pleasant – but when he finally shoved into his room and caught a glimpse of his reflection in the bathroom cupboard’s mirror, he was taken aback. To put it simply, Raleigh looked like he was going to set something on fire; something very large, and possibly explosive.

 

A telltale raw feeling trickled down Raleigh’s wrist and he pushed his sleeve up, watching as the insults slowly eroded from his skin. He waited until his chest, his arms, his stomach and legs were finally all free from ridiculous Australian insults. Then he uncapped a Sharpie and in the biggest, boldest words he could manage, wrote down his entire left arm and up onto the back of his hand:

 

I, CHUCK HANSEN, AM AN IDIOT.

 

Already feeling his frustrated anger begin to seep away, Raleigh smirked. Yeah, no way was he interested in Chuck “Do Us All A Favour And Disappear” Hansen. He’d much prefer to piss the entitled brat off and thicken the lines of his insult further, which he then proceeded to do.

 

Raleigh was still grinning smugly when he slipped beneath his scratchy PPDC-issue blankets and flicked off the lights. He then proceeded to sleep more deeply than he had in years – maybe, as Yancy had claimed, spite was the most powerful motivator.

 

Waking with a smile and a pleased stretch, Raleigh ambled over to the bathroom, one hand scruffing through his hair. It was getting a little too long, as was his stubble. The vague idea of shaving played through his mind as he flipped on the light switch and went over to the sink.

 

He stopped.

 

Blinked.

 

His eyes narrowed.

 

‘Chuck,’ Raleigh said darkly.

 

In his current state of mind, he was fairly certain that if he said it twice more into the mirrored cabinet, a ginger, arrogant, shameless son of a bitch would have appeared behind him to smirk and call him a dickface.

 

Which would have, at that moment, applied - in a distressingly literal sense.

 

There was a massive penis drawn on Raleigh’s forehead in blue marker, pointing up to his hairline, with his eyes as the balls. It was detailed to an excruciating degree.

 

Chuck always had been very good at drawing.

 

Raleigh had to sit down on his bunk and breathe very deeply for five minutes, eyes closed, before his hand was steady enough to hold a pen.

 

Are you serious? You know you have to leave your room with a dick on your face too, right?

 

He waited, ballpoint creaking a little in his grip, until his thigh began to prickle and a response appeared beneath his words.

 

bitch i never had any integrity to protect, suffer.

 

The pen snapped.

 

Sneaking his way to his absolute shithead of a soulmate’s room was difficult, especially when he was itching to steam there like a hundred-tonne locomotive, but Raleigh’s pride ultimately won out. As a result, it took him much longer than it should have to dodge and dart his way to Chuck’s door. Standing before it, the hood of his one and only hoodie drawn up over his head, jaw clenched until his temples ached, a part of him was fervently grateful that Herc had moved permanently in with Stacker. Most of him, however, was occupied with seething rage – which, when mingled with humiliation and no small amount of repressed hurt, had him slamming through the door as soon as it began to give way.

 

Chuck didn’t seem to mind. He was too busy sagging against the wall and howling with laughter, one hand half-raised to point at Raleigh.

 

'You look – fuckin’ – ridiculous,’ he choked, then lost it again.

 

Raleigh’s right eye twitched. Unfortunately, this only served to remind him of the disturbingly realistic gonad drawn around it, and before he knew exactly what he was doing one of his palms was slamming against the wall inches from Chuck’s ear, the other passive-aggressively seated on his own hip, fingers digging into the material of his sweater.

 

‘Wash it off,’ Raleigh gritted out. ‘Now.’

 

The laughter stopped, but a smirk still hovered around the edges of Chuck’s mouth, and he raised his eyebrows insolently. This furrowed the blue lines of the forehead dick which he was wearing as comfortably as one of his identical grey military-brat-brand shirts.

 

‘Don't think I will, mate,’ he replied brazenly, then moved to step out from beneath Raleigh's looming presence. Raleigh shoved him back with a hand to his chest, which he then kept there, pinning the little shit to the wall.

 

‘You fucking will.’

 

Malicious amusement disappeared from dark grey eyes, to be replaced by that barely controlled anger which always seemed to be raging below the surface. Jesus, the kid had issues.

 

Raleigh also utterly refused to regret the disappearance of his goddamn dimples.

 

‘Get your bloody hand off me,’ Chuck hissed.

 

‘No,’ Raleigh said flatly. ‘To be honest, I’m sick of you and your immaturity–’

 

Chuck scoffed. ‘My–’

 

‘–because you’ve been a jackass since the beginning. I don’t goddamn care that you have commitment issues, or an inferiority complex, or toxic masculinity–’

 

The brat’s ears were reddening, his upper lip taking on the same disgusted curl which Raleigh had punched off his face a month ago. ‘You fuckin’–’

 

‘–because I’ve been looking forwards to meeting you for as long as I can remember.’

 

Surprisingly, that shut him up.

 

Raleigh eased his loom a little and allowed the hand on Chuck’s chest to fall back to his side. ‘You helped me, Chuck. With your drawings. It wasn’t much, but it was something. Made me feel like I wasn’t alone, when I needed it the most.’

 

The kid glared up at him as his mouth twisted to the side – but it was missing the anger, the aggression. He looked more like he was working through a complicated maths problem than figuring out how best to punch in Raleigh’s face.

 

‘Wait here,’ Chuck said, and slipped past Raleigh before he could react. He watched him stride into the bathroom with a frown. After a moment, his forehead began to itch, and Raleigh huffed a laugh at himself. Ridiculously enough, he’d completely forgotten about the massive penis drawn on his forehead; in retrospect, it would probably be difficult to try and have a serious conversation with that on his face.

 

Raleigh turned to lounge against the wall, hands in his pockets, gaze skipping around the small room. It was fairly Spartan, as he’d expect from a military kid – a perfectly made bunk, a neatly ordered desk, bare white walls. Pushing off, he wandered over to the desk and absently poked around the few tidily arranged items. He picked up an odd-looking blue square and turned it over in his fingers curiously.

 

‘Oi, stop snooping.’

 

Raleigh, undaunted by Chuck’s bark, held the thing up. ‘Didn’t know you liked Play-Doh.’

 

‘That’s a mouldable rubber, you bloody idiot,’ Chuck said scathingly. Raleigh merely gave what Yance had called his shit-eating smile, which earned him a disgusted scoff and folded arms.

 

‘You still draw, then?’ he asked, placing the eraser back into its spot. When he looked back up, Chuck was in the middle of a would-be-casual shrug.

 

‘Nah, mate,’ he said. ‘Not much time, yeah?’

 

Raleigh’s lips twitched. ‘That dick was pretty detailed.’

 

‘Shut up, Ray.’

 

Not unexpected.

 

‘Really, though,’ Raleigh said sincerely, for some unknown reason wanting to get his point across. ‘You’re good.’

 

Chuck’s mouth twisted again and he looked away, jaw tense. ‘Thanks.’

 

So, he couldn’t take an earnest compliment. Raleigh’s sneaking suspicions were right; no matter what sort of persona Chuck liked to strut around in, Raleigh thought it was just that – a persona. Mako’s memories of a wary, almost self-conscious kid had made him wonder, and it was now being confirmed. Sure, Chuck was an idiot, and a bit of an asshole…but Raleigh hadn’t exactly been the pinnacle of maturity over the last few days.

 

‘So,’ Raleigh began, then abruptly decided to cut to the crux of the matter. ‘Why didn’t you say anything? When you realised who I was?’

 

Chuck’s eyes narrowed, big shoulders tensing. ‘Because I was bloody–’

 

The cut-off was sudden and so unexpected that even Chuck seemed taken aback. He paused, mouth firming, then continued in a tone which was nowhere near as aggressive.

 

‘Because I was surprised,’ Chuck said, then, ‘And because I didn’t fuckin’ know what to say, alright?’

 

Raleigh considered this for a moment.

 

‘I honestly thought you were just ignoring me. Didn’t think you’d be too happy about being stuck with a has-been.’

 

Raleigh tried to make the second part sound as casual as possible, forcing it past the sour, pinching feeling in his chest. Then he had to pretend to be interested in one of Chuck’s ballpoint pens, or he’d either stare intently at Chuck until he answered or blurt something damning.

 

The silence stretched on for far too long. Raleigh fiddled with the pen, determined to wait it out, no matter how the back of his neck prickled.

 

Finally:

 

‘Y’know, I…that…what I said then...’

 

Chuck seemed to be having difficulty either thinking of or forcing out the words. His voice sounded strained and increasingly frustrated, and Raleigh could imagine his stance; jaw tight, eyebrows knitted, fists opening and closing at his sides.

 

‘I didn’t – it wasn’t true, yeah? Would you look at me?’

 

The second part was both hastily tacked on and explosive, and Raleigh’s head jerked up out of pure reflex. Chuck was glaring at him hotly, but something about the set of his mouth betrayed embarrassment.

 

‘I was wrong. You saved my life. You’re a bloody hero, alright?’ He paused, then snapped, ‘Stop fuckin’ smiling like that!’

 

Raleigh merely raised his eyebrows, the smile widening. ‘Like what?’

 

‘Shut up,’ Chuck said, inelegantly.

 

Raleigh laughed, which was unfortunately only made worse when Chuck told him to shut up again at a louder volume, to the point that Chuck, ears red, was threatening to personally kick him out of his room. Raleigh managed to contain himself, mostly because there were a few points he needed to cover, and it wouldn’t work too well if he had to shout them through the door.

 

‘Sorry, sorry,’ he said, holding his hands up in a gesture of peace. Chuck gave him a narrow look, but the danger seemed to have been averted – for the moment, at least.

 

‘So,’ Raleigh began, leaning back against the desk. ‘There’s a few things we gotta talk about, Chuck.’

 

Chuck’s mouth pulled to the side in a sort of reluctant half-grimace. ‘Yeah, probably.’

 

‘No need to sound so enthusiastic about it, man,’ Raleigh replied, amused. It was about what he’d expected; Chuck seemed to view feelings about as favourably as a particularly ugly kaiju. He suspected that it ran in the family.

 

Rolling his eyes, Chuck sat down on the edge of his bed, crossing his arms over his broad chest. ‘Go on, then. Bloody talk.’

 

Raleigh deigned not to take offence to that. ‘This soul bond – we can’t ignore it forever.’ He shook his head at Chuck’s expression, a small smirk ticking up the corner of his mouth. ‘No, I’m serious. Denying it hasn’t really worked out so well. Look, it doesn’t have to be a big deal…it could always be platonic, right? I just don’t think we should keep avoiding each other.’

 

‘That could be a really fuckin’ terrible idea, you realise?’

 

‘What, if I end up having to thrash you again?’

 

Raleigh wasn’t serious, of course. He was usually reluctant to resort to physical violence; his hitting Chuck had been extremely out-of-character, and had been incited by a complicated mess of factors, which he strongly doubted would occur again. Besides…he didn’t want to fight Chuck, no matter how much of a brat the kid was.

 

‘Like fuck you would, mate.’

 

‘Sure.’ Raleigh allowed himself a quick smirk. ‘Really, though. We don’t have to think too much of it. No expectations, no rules, no stress, no nothing.’ He frowned suddenly. ‘Are you even into men?’

 

‘Fuck off,’ Chuck snapped, before immediately adding, ‘Yes.’

 

‘Good to know,’ Raleigh said. Some of the smile he was biting back may have bled into his voice, because Chuck shot him a nasty look. This abruptly broke his resolve and he snickered, ducking his head, as Chuck huffed loudly.

 

‘Bloody oath,’ he growled. ‘I’m stuck with a smartass seppo fuckwit of a soulmate.’

 

‘You’re always so sweet, Chuck. You’ll make me blush if you’re not careful.’

 

Raleigh dodged the expected pillow, laughing – and no matter how many times Chuck called him a dickhead, he couldn’t hide the grin dimpling his cheeks. At any rate, Raleigh was feeling that he’d pushed his luck far enough; he was content with what he’d achieved, and a little surprised that he’d managed it without a nose being broken. So, when Chuck started telling him to fuck off, he complied, strutting out the door with one last ‘See you ‘round, Chuck.’

 

This time, Raleigh didn’t have to sneak back to his room, seeing as he’d swapped the embarrassing forehead dick for a smile.

 

His good mood lasted all the way to his early-morning spar with Mako the next day. Of course, she noticed; but she didn’t press it, merely throwing him one of her sunshine-bright grins as she flipped the bō between her hands. They sparred for perhaps half an hour, neither gaining the upper hand, merely enjoying the thrill of their perfect rhythm, until Raleigh was satisfyingly breathless. He poured an entire bottle of water onto his head, then shook like a dog as Mako snickered at him and called him a child – which didn’t stop her from copying him two minutes later.

 

Raleigh was enthusiastically towelling off his hair when his forearm began to crawl. Frowning, but unwilling to let his mind turn to the negative, he slung his towel around his neck and turned his arm.

 

The sweeping lines of Gipsy Danger’s outline were immediately recognisable. Suddenly feeling impossibly, endlessly happy, Raleigh beamed at Mako and ruffled her wet hair. She ducked deftly away and returned the favour, their laughter mingling as they wrestled like children.

 

Chuck didn’t stop with Gipsy. While Raleigh showered, dressed, raced Mako to the mess hall, and demolished three bowls of Weet-Bix, she was joined by Striker Eureka, Cherno Alpha, Crimson Typhoon, even Lucky Seven. His arms were blue with ink, and for once it didn’t irritate him; on the contrary, he kept shoving his sweater sleeve up to marvel at the detail. Every time he did, Mako would give him a small, happy look, and he’d get a corresponding fuzzy feeling in his chest.

 

So, yeah, he’d pretty much accepted that he was feeling affection for Chuck “You’re Dead Weight” Hansen, and that it wasn’t as much of a calamity as he’d initially believed.

 

Back in his room, running his fingers carefully down Gipsy’s sword, Raleigh picked up a pen from the beside table.

 

The smiley face he drew on the back of his hand was crooked and terrible. He couldn’t bring himself to care, despite how tragic it looked above the detail of Striker’s conn pod.

 

you’re an idiot appeared beneath the face. Raleigh could just imagine the reluctant amusement which Chuck was trying to hide; maybe he was twisting his mouth to repress a smile, or shaking his head and snorting, or muttering something about what a ‘bloody drongo’ Raleigh was – whatever that meant. He’d asked Herc a week or so ago; the acting Marshal had merely sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose as Pentecost chuckled.

 

Raleigh’s other hand began to prickle and he stretched out his fingers, a grin dawning on his face as he watched another smiley face appear. It was much more aesthetically pleasing than his, of course, but it was still small, simple, and stupid.

 

Raleigh traced it with his thumb, his stomach feeling a little…fluttery.

 

Alright, so maybe he’d prefer that the soulbond wasn’t platonic. He wasn’t about to lie to himself. Unfortunately, he’d never dated someone like Chuck before, and wasn’t exactly sure how to go about it. It would be so easy to misstep, and Raleigh held no delusions about his soulmate’s ability to hold a grudge. Chuck had said it himself; it could be a really fuckin’ terrible idea.

 

Still, Raleigh had never been one to back down from a challenge.

 

Half an hour later, after a visit to Mako’s room, five minutes of puppy eyes, a grateful hug, a run back to his room, ten minutes agonising over which sweater to wear, and a determinedly casual stroll through the halls, Raleigh was again knocking on Chuck’s door. This time, when it swung open, instead of barging his way in Raleigh merely held up what was in his hand.

 

‘Star Trek marathon?’ he asked, wiggling the DVD case.

 

‘Are you fucking serious?’ Chuck said loudly. Raleigh’s stomach had barely had time to drop before he was being yanked unceremoniously into Chuck’s room. ‘Mate, I haven’t seen this show in bloody forever! Where’d you get it?’

 

Chuck wasn’t pissed. He was excited.

 

Raleigh could only hope that his expression didn’t look too ridiculously pleased, but Chuck was probably too distracted turning the case over in his hands with a reverential care to notice anyway.

 

‘Mako,’ Raleigh said, unable to look away from Chuck’s grin. ‘Pretty sure she has a massive crush on Michelle Yeoh, actually.’

 

‘Yeah, I got that idea. Even as a kid she was bloody obsessed.’

 

Chuck finally tore his eyes from the glossy cover and looked back up to Raleigh, who didn’t bother hiding his warm smile. Chuck’s face did something interesting and he quickly looked back down. ‘Right. I’ll set the telly up,’ he said, turning away quickly.

 

Without exactly knowing why, Raleigh reached out and touched his upper arm, stopping him in his tracks.

 

‘Chuck…Thanks. For Gipsy. I missed her.’

 

Chuck’s eyes flickered over his face. Raleigh stayed exactly where he was, expression open, the material of Chuck’s t-shirt soft beneath his fingers.

 

After a long moment, Chuck dipped his chin in a familiar awkward half-nod and moved away. Raleigh didn’t stop him; instead, he moved to the miserable excuse of a kitchen and poked around until he found gummy bears, M&Ms, and a packet of something called Pods.

 

‘Hey, Chuck, the hell are these?’ he asked, frowning down at the packaging. ‘Pods?’

 

Chuck squinted over from where he crouched before the small flatscreen TV. ‘You don’t know Pods?’

 

Raleigh shrugged, caught the resulting mutter of ‘Bloody Americans’, and rolled his eyes.

 

Two minutes later, he and Chuck were sprawled on the dinky little couch which had replaced Herc’s bunk. The opened treats lay between them and T’Kuvma was monologuing in guttural Klingon, Raleigh comfortably melting into the corner made by the back and the arm-rest. His legs were kicked out onto the floor and he was quickly demolishing the bag of Pods, having decided that they were the food of the gods. Chuck had grumbled a bit at this but didn’t seemed to mind.

 

Well. He hadn’t. Maybe he hadn’t expected Raleigh to finish them as quickly as he had.

 

Michael and Captain Georgiou had just reached the well when Chuck made an inarticulate noise of outrage.

 

‘You finished them all, you greedy bloody bastard!’ he shouted, throwing the empty packet of Pods at Raleigh. He batted it away, grinning.

 

‘Actually…’ he paused, held up a finger, swallowed, then nodded. ‘Now I’ve finished all of ’em.’

 

‘How are you not fat?’ Chuck asked in disbelief. ‘Fuckin’ hell. I didn’t even get one. You’re a bloody bottomless vacuum cleaner.’

 

At this description, Raleigh burst into snickers, jerking his feet away when Chuck tried to kick him.

 

‘They were really tasty, man, thanks,’ he said, through a massive shit-eating grin.

 

Chuck’s jaw jutted. Before Raleigh could entirely realise what that particular obstinately determined expression meant the packets of sweets were being knocked away and he found himself caged in by Chuck’s arms. His hands were braced either side of Raleigh’s head, knees either side of his torso, his stubborn face mere inches away.

 

That wasn’t a platonic gesture.

 

Raleigh found it hard to contain his delight, channelling it into a smirk and a slight raise of his eyebrows.

 

‘D’you mind, mate?’ Chuck asked, sounding like he was asking to borrow a pen.

 

Tilting his head graciously, Raleigh conceded. ‘Go ahead.’

 

‘You’re such a dickhead,’ Chuck bitched, and moved down to kiss him. It just felt…strangely natural. As if it was something Raleigh should’ve been doing his entire life; an idea which he had to admit wasn’t the worst in the world, though Chuck would possibly disagree. Maybe Raleigh should write it on his arm sometime, just to make the idiot splutter.

 

Chuck pulled back, dimpling wickedly.

 

‘You’re right,’ he said, suspiciously smug. ‘They are real tasty.’

 

Raleigh rolled his eyes at him and yanked him back down.