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this house has worlds inside its walls

Chapter Text

Raleigh can hear both Trevin and Bruce groan at the same time—in the same exact fucking tone—as he steers them both over towards another store.

“Really, Rals?” Trevin’s hand is warm against his palm, grip tightening and teeth flashing in a quick smile when Raleigh turns back to grin impishly at him. “Don’t you have enough shirts, kid?”

“Probably have enough clothes to supply the entre PPDC by now.” The way Bruce’s voice lilts, almost sing-song, tells Raleigh without looking that the other twin is probably smiling, too. And that he thinks he’s being funny. He ignores the jab the way he always does, because, really, if either of the twins meant to actually make some kind of verbal attack, he’d be feeling the effects of it for days.

Experience is a wonderful teacher, after all.

“Who says I’m getting more clothes?” He’s pouting, or trying to, when he turns to his left to look at Bruce, but he can’t seem to get his facial muscles to cooperate quite the way he wants. It’s more to play along, anyway.

In answer, he gets a gentle eyeroll and a soft, “Really?” as Bruce inclines his head towards the store—mannequins in the display windows and racks visible through the open doors filled with pants, shorts, shirts, and other miscellany.

“Okay fine,” Raleigh turns back towards Trevin, still pulling both twins towards the store, “who says I’m getting shirts?”

“Says the fact that the last time we went shopping you bought twenty four.”

And maybe Raleigh tries his best to look chastened at that, because, really, who can blame him? If he finds something that even he feels ridiculous in but that makes the twins positively drool when they look at him, well, who’s he to say no to that? And if it happens twenty four times? Not his fault.

“Well then, fine,” he stops a few paces outside the door, eyes dropping to the floor. “If you two don’t wanna come with me, it’s whatever. Chuck. Herc, and Yance are probably at the book store by now. Unless Yance’s dragged them to that kitchen supply place again. If you wanna go join them, I’m sure I’ll be fine—”

He pulls his hands free, a pang going through him at the loss of warmth. But, really, his favorite pair of jeans had gotten ripped in the wash—probably caught on the zipper of another pair or something—so it’s not like he’s buying clothes frivolously. He’s only going for one thing. This time.

“—or if you wanna wait out here for me, you can do that, too. It’s up to you guys.”

He watches, idly, the way both twins’ hands move towards one another in identical, aborted motions. They still, Raleigh’s fairly certain, are hung up on the fact that, unlike him and Yancy or Chuck and Herc, can’t be mistaken for another else except brothers. Identical twins and all that, never mind that Trevin’s been growing his hair out a bit so they don’t look quite exactly the same—at least, not to Raleigh. It’s on his own personal agenda to help them with it, though when he’ll find the time or come up with a workable plan, he’s not sure. He makes a mental note to ask Yancy if his brother has any ideas.

His own fingers itch, clawing at the unfilled space between them, but only for a moment. Two hands descend on each of his, grips warm and sure.

“We’re fine, Rals,” Trevin’s voice is soft, soothing, apologetic. “You’re fine. We like spending time with you.”

“Just so long as you don’t try to treat us like your own personal mannequins.” Raleigh shivers as Bruce’s words crawl over the back of his neck, and he hadn’t realized they were that close to him. If he were to close his eyes and focus, he’s sure he could almost feel the warmth of their body heat sinking into his spine. However, instead, he throws his head back and lets out a short bark of a laugh that bubbled up in his throat, memories flitting across the back of his mind.

“That was only once.”

It’s a lie and he knows it, but when both twins simply grumble lowly, the sound unmistakably fond and not containing any hint of correction, he knows he’s won them over. After all, the last time he’d done it, both of them had shamelessly walked around the changing room wearing nothing but the clothes Raleigh’d given them to try on and their underwear—and sometimes only that—and he’d practically mauled them when the three of them had finally made their way home. He’s pretty sure Yancy’d been around, too, and had joined them, but it all got a bit fuzzy after he’d managed to actually get both Trevin and Bruce inside of him. Regardless, it’d turned into a win-win for them all.

“Oh, come on,” Raleigh shifts his wrists until he’s got both twins’ palms clasped firmly within his own once more, the feeling right in some perfect, near-cosmic way. “It’ll be fun! You two get to see me modeling pants this time.”

All hints of disapproval vanish at the words, and Raleigh laughs again as he pulls both of them through the doors by their joined hands.

And, sure, they’ll probably get some funny looks every now and then, since, again, the twins are obviously, well, twins. And Raleigh’s holding hands with them both. While the world is much more accepting than it used to be, not everything has changed, and not everything is liable to. But, then, they knew that—have always known that—and have also accepted that no one will ever truly understand the kind of bond that comes with drifting with someone for years on end.

And, sure, after the war, they always run the risk of someone recognizing them, even if they’ve moved to the Atlantic coast.

And, sure, one of the guys who works at the store—the one who’s gathering up the clothes people have left in the changing rooms onto a rack—mutters something under his breath about how fucking lucky Raleigh is, which Raleigh, of course, answers with a loud, “You have no idea,” earning him a swat from Trevin and a loud laugh from Bruce.

But, at the end of the day, after three new pairs of jeans—Bruce and Trevin had almost come in their pants for all three what was he supposed to do?—and a half-hour car ride, Raleigh knows he can always come home. Come home to a peck on the cheek from Yancy that will make him grab his laughing brother’s hair and haul him in for a proper kiss. Come home to Chuck rolling his eyes exasperatedly and giving him a kiss and a hug of his own, whispering, “You will be modeling those for me later,” into his ear in a deep, husky voice. Come home to Herc giving all of them the most obscene looks that Raleigh knows mean he’s planning their punishments for later because they’re late and okay maybe their lips are still slightly red and swollen when they finally walk in the door and where did that hickey come from? The thought alone of what Herc might do to them makes him shiver in anticipation.

So, no, it might not be normal, it might not even be accepted, per se, by most people, but it’s what he has. It’s what he wants. Most of all, though, it’s what he needs. And he’ll take it.

Chapter Text

Raleigh’s favorite time of day is the morning.

When he blinks his eyes open, he’s met by the angelic sight of Chuck asleep. Completely relaxed, not a single wrinkle or frown line in evidence, mouth open slightly as he drools onto a shoulder that Raleigh recognizes all too well as Yancy’s; the scars there are almost the mirror of his own, after all. He has to contain the urge to burst out in a fit of giggles, and instead bites his lip and lets the flare of discomfort distract him as he turns away.

Behind him, Bruce and Trevin are spooned together. It’s not an uncommon sight most mornings, as Raleigh’s noticed that they all seem to migrate towards their drift partner in sleep. Bruce is playing little spoon this time as he in turn has managed to wrap himself around Raleigh’s arm and leg. Herc is nowhere in sight, and Raleigh spares a moment wondering if he’s buried underneath them all again. They like to tease him that it’s because of his universal compatibility.

Trevin makes a sleepy sort of whuffing noise from behind Bruce, features scrunching up momentarily as if he’s trying to sneeze before smoothing once more, the hand Raleigh can see splayed over the smooth skin of Bruce’s chest twitching before flattening and pulling Bruce further into Trevin’s grasp. A quick glance behind the twins tells Raleigh that it’s almost six, and he lets his neck relax, his head falling back onto his pillow.

His very hard, bony pillow.

Apparently, he’s found Herc. Or, at least, Herc’s forearm.

Resting his cheek against the bands of muscle and shrugging his shoulders several times, Raleigh allows himself to sink back into the mattress and simply…relax. To simply exist in this moment.

Outside, several birds are talking to one another, their music filtering through the panes of the windows that face the tree out front. Under that, he can hear the occasional sound of sneakers striking pavement, sometimes accompanied by a jangling he’s come to recognize as being a leash hooked into a collar. If he listens closely enough, he can hear the deeper, louder sound of metal-striking-metal that means their neighbor, Jean, is out walking her great dane Rufus, or the tinnier sound of metal tags clashing that means her jack russel, Kia, is following along.

The mornings are Raleigh’s time. Though they might fight and argue and even sometimes say things designed to hurt one another—after all, six people living in one house are bound to step on each others’ toes at some point, especially six people with the kinds of baggage they all carry—their mornings never change. Oh, sure, who cuddles with whom at night, or who falls asleep with whose arms wrapped around them, those things might change. Which of them gets the last kiss before they each drop off into sleep? That can change, too. Hell, even who sleeps on which side of the bed: it all changes.

But the mornings, when none of them have awoken yet except for Raleigh?

Those never change.

They are always quiet, soft, peaceful. Beneath the sounds of the neighborhood waking just as slowly as they do, Raleigh can hear the sound of five other people breathing, can feel their body heat all soaking into his skin even when he’s on the edge of the king-size bed that barely fits them all. He can feel the tendrils of the ghost drift between himself and Yancy sluggishly pulse with shapes and colors and warmth—dreams, Raleigh knows from what Yancy’s described to him, of all of them, together, happy and laughing.

He allows himself to luxuriate in those feelings and sensations, allows them to fold over him like a soft blanket, fresh out of the dryer. He soaks them up, their warmth, their love, and commits it all to memory. Because sometimes things aren’t easy. Sometimes things get bad—really bad, like the day Yancy almost walked out on all of them because of something thoughtless Chuck had said—and sometimes things aren’t so quiet. Sometimes, it’s easy to lose sight of why they’re all here, of the fact that they all, at the end of the day, love and trust one another.

Both are such rare things nowadays, and Raleigh doesn’t want to let himself forget either of them. He likes to think that mornings such as these are the reason why they still work, even after four years: because at least one of them remembers.

A hand cards through his hair, and Raleigh nuzzles into the touch, recognizing those strong, blunt fingertips.

“Morning, Dad,” he mumbles sleepily, the nickname slipping easily from between his lips—and, truthfully, Hercules Hansen has been more of a father to him and Yancy than their sperm donor ever was. He sighs happily when Herc’s fingernails come into play on his scalp, moving in just the right way to make him melt a little further into the duvet.

“Mornin’ kiddo,” comes an equally sleepy voice, though it’s not nearly raspy enough. Raleigh frowns lightly and pokes at the ghost drift, finding that, at some point, Yancy had woken up. “You think too loud,” comes the answer to the unasked question.

Even though he can’t see his brother, Raleigh can hear the sound of flesh lightly smacking against flesh, hears his brother give soft yelp; can practically see Herc playfully swatting Yancy on the ass in his mind’s eye.

“Let y’r brother be a morning person,” Herc’s voice is gravelly, thick with dreaming. The hand in his hair never ceases in its movements. “We c’n join him in th’ shower when he’s done with his jog.”

All Raleigh hears in answer to that is a low, happy groan from Yancy, and, okay, he’d be lying if he said the idea of coming home to a shower full of naked and wet Herc and Yancy wasn’t appealing. In fact, a certain part of him is apparently finding the idea very appealing. However, when he makes to pull his limbs free from the Chuck- and Bruce-shaped octopi who have latched onto them, he’s met with low, annoyed grumbles and more than one tightening of grips.

“Maybe in a little bit,” he throws the words over Chuck’s shoulder. “Just five more minutes, yeah?”

He doesn’t wait for an answer, though, simply nuzzles into the hand on his head while simultaneously planting a kiss on Chuck’s cheek—drool and all—and runs his fingernails lightly over Bruce’s stomach, letting his entire body relax completely and fall into the love he wakes to every morning. The love that, even after four years, still manages to surprise him every day.

Chapter Text

Chuck loves video games.

He’d been deprived, Herc had told Raleigh, all his childhood, what with the Kaiju and everything else happening around the time he’d first started to show an interest in the damn things.

But then Sydney had happened. And, well, a part of Chuck had died along with his mother.

Now, though, after everything is said and done and some of them are more scarred than others, they have an eternity stretching out ahead of them with which to do…pretty much whatever they want.

And Chuck, while he’d been lying in a hospital room recovery room next to their commander, had rediscovered the joys of video gaming.

Raleigh blames himself, really. He’d been the one who’d brought the damn system into Chuck’s room, a sort of “sorry we beat each other up and you had to go down to what you were pretty certain was your death without your dad beside you and I really didn’t make that any easier on you” gift. And, for some reason, he’d underestimated just how competitive Chuck was, especially when he’d been confined to bed until his organs and immune system were fully functional on their own.

Not that he regrets it, of course. That one gift had been the thing that’d started them all on the road to where they are now.

At first, they’d played shooter games. Raleigh had never been very good at them, but he figured Chuck would probably like them, and so he pretended to be enjoying himself—not very convincingly, sure, but enough that he was certain he wasn’t ruining the experience for his new friend of sorts. Come to find out about a week and a half later when Chuck’d thrown the controller down and yelled “How the bloody fuck do you find this shit so fun?” at him that they’d apparently both been pretending. So Raleigh had gone back to his room, picked out a different, random game, and booted it up for them to play.

It had been a puzzle game. And Chuck had taken to it like a fish to water. However, when Raleigh’d asked if that was what he really enjoyed, Chuck had simply shrugged and told him, “Try me.”

As much as Chuck had loved the puzzle games Raleigh brought for him, it turned out that what Chuck loved, more than anything, were fantasy and science fiction role playing games.

Nowadays, they have a holographic projector hanging from the ceiling of their living room that spawns images over one of the walls—a far cry from the tiny, antique television Raleigh had hauled into medbay for them to use while Stacker looked on, the older man occasionally giving them a good-natured eye roll as they shouted vacillating streams of advice, encouragement, and vitriol at one another. Chuck will fire up the system when he wants to be alone, or, sometimes, when he wants time with just him and Raleigh. Yancy doesn’t like video games, never has, really—prefers reading, he says—and Herc and the twins?

Well, they consider themselves above such things. Even if Raleigh has caught them playing in the middle of the night when they think none of the “anklebiters” are watching. Yancy, too. And he knows that they know he knows, and, jesus, sometimes their relationship is complicated.

But, then again, when he’d fallen in love with five different people at once, he’d kind of realized that even the thought of having a simple life had gone out the proverbial window.

“Oiy, Ray! Get your bloody arse in gear and be a tanky piece of shit.”

Raleigh just rolls his eyes. A part of him ponders that he seems to have been doing that a lot since Pitfall, but almost never anything other than fondly.

“Right, so you don’t get your precious softie pounded by a stray monster.”

“Shove off, at least I can DPS, unlike certain people.”

“Yeah but if we both went up against the same thing, which of us do you think would have a better chance of surviving—”

“Boys,” Yancy pipes up from between them where he’s got a book propped open on his knees, acting as a buffer between the two of them at Raleigh’s behest. “You’re distracting me. Keep it down. And keep it civil or Dad’ll take all your consoles away from you two for a week again.”

“I’d be plenty civil if your fuckin’ septic of a brother would just—”

“Chuck.”

Raleigh doesn’t have to see the look Yancy is giving Chuck, he can visualize it easily enough. That deadpan stare that communicates more effectively than words ever could that he thinks “you need to stop being a moron and listen to what you’re saying for five seconds, and then you may speak.”

He hears Chuck’s teeth clack together and a grumbled, “Fine, let’s just do the bloody mission, alright?” before Yancy’s back to looking at his book. Raleigh nudges his brother in the side with his elbow, then bumps their knees. A silent thank you.

The only answer he gets is a half-lifting of the corner of Yancy’s lips, but it’s enough.

And, of course, Raleigh has to ruin it. It’s practically in his blood. He knows Yancy knows it, too, because he can see his brother sigh almost imperceptibly as Raleigh leans back to talk behind him.

“If you manage not to suck too bad, I’ll even consider splitting the loot with you.”

Needless to say, they lose their gaming privileges for a week when Herc finally comes downstairs.

Chapter Text

“Remind me again why we thought this was a good idea?”

Chuck’s complaint is loud in the relative silence, the only other sounds being the distant hum of engines, the rushing sounds of cars, from the freeway in the distance and the occasional cricket chirp. Out of the corner of his eye, Raleigh watches as Trevin reaches over—down, relative to the way he’s lying—to box Chuck’s ears lightly.

“Oi!”

“It’s called romance, Aussie junior.”

Oi, I told you not to call me—”

“Guys,” Raleigh makes sure to talk over them, can practically imagine the smug little look Trevin will have going at getting a rise out of Chuck—again—using that dumb nickname, “shut up and just…look up.”

Chuck quiets with a muted huff and a grumble, but when Raleigh reaches out a hand tentatively to shuffle himself closer, the fabric of the blanket they’ve spread over the grass clinging to his sweater in the dry autumn air, he finds that Chuck is, indeed, facing upwards. Yancy grumbles from where his head had been propped against Raleigh’s belly, but Raleigh merely pets his brother lightly to soothe him, running fingers through the blond locks that are, slowly, becoming more streaked with red—something about which Chuck has taken to teasing him mercilessly.

None of them speak for a few minutes, though Chuck does fidget against the static-y fabric at his back and pushes lightly at Raleigh’s head where he’s propped it against the kid’s arm. Raleigh, for his part, has Herc’s legs tangled with his, and a quick glance tells him that Bruce has managed to become Herc’s pillow while stealing Trevin’s shoulder for the same purpose. Trevin who also has Chuck’s head firmly in his crotch and looks far too pleased about it. Chuck has, apparently, propped his legs—clad in shorts for probably the third time that Raleigh’s known him—on Yancy’s chest, and Yancy is just, apparently, running his fingers through the wiry hairs, tugging at them occasionally with a wicked grin on his face, Chuck’s fidgeting increasing in frequency when he does.

Above them, though, is the reason Raleigh brought them all out here.

The news had said that there would be a meteor shower tonight, and, so far, there’s been, well…nothing. Even so, the stars slowly wheel above them, and Raleigh breaks the silence with stories of Orion and the Seven Sisters (“Pleiades,” Yancy corrects him softly, words holding a smug, knowing smile and drawing a grumble out of Raleigh as he tugs lightly at the red-blond strands between his fingers) as they slowly come into view. None of the others speak—except Yancy every now and then—and Raleigh tells them the story of Atlas, the sisters’ father, and the tragedy of how they came to be stars. How Orion wanted them so badly that he, too, became stars, and is endlessly pursuing them across the night sky.

“But why seven?” Raleigh can feel Chuck’s body rumbling as he speaks. “There’s more’n seven stars there.”

“Pretty sure some of those are galaxies, kid,” Yancy answers before Raleigh can, “so, yeah: way more than seven stars. And the answer is just because. Because back then people saw a bunch of points of light together and were just like, ‘looks close enough to seven, let’s go for it.’”

“But why—”

“Oi, sprog, shuddup.” Herc somehow manages to lean over and smack Chuck lightly on the chest, fondness hidden in the rebuke. “Show’s starting.”

Points of light are moving across the night sky, streaks of white and orange and blue that race each other until they pass over the horizon or fizzle out completely. Watching the stars had always made Raleigh feel small, feel very terrestrial, and facing down gigantic monsters from another dimension just a few years ago had done nothing to assuage that notion. However, here, with the men he loves, watching the heavens put on a show for them, it brings back some of his perspective. Makes him feel like the Kaiju were as small, as insignificant, as he sometimes feels.

From the soft, breathy exclamations he can hear around him, he thinks that, maybe, they all needed this. That, maybe, they’d spent so long in the Kaiju’s faces, pummeling  them or being pummeled into the dirt, that they lost sight of the greater scheme of things. Of the real scope of their lives.

Of what’s truly important.

In the dark, Raleigh feels familiar fingers twine themselves with his own, doesn’t have to look to recognize the pattern of scars Chuck carries around—like that one on his middle finger where he’d nearly lose the damn thing trying to replace one of Striker’s hydraulic pistons without someone helping him. He just smiles lightly to himself, pulling their joined limbs towards himself and planting a kiss on the other man’s digits.

They all lie there, the six of them, watching the heavens dance for them, shifting softly and getting more comfortable. Raleigh feels more than sees his lovers move about him every now and then, hears the rustle of their clothing and the soft press of lips-to-skin accompanied by soft words of affection—feels Bruce and Trevin each lean over to place tender kisses on his forehead, breathy, “Love ya, kiddo”s accompanying the motion.

He may or may not feel incredibly warm despite the chill of the night.

At one point, a particularly large meteor breaks up almost directly above them, scattering fragments in bright, whirling arcs that slowly dwindle to nothingness at the edge of the sky. All six of them ooh and ah at the silent pyrotechnic display.

When the shower is done, none of them move, all of them, it seems, content as Raleigh is to simply lie together, to bask in the presence of those around them. Eventually, though, it’s Bruce who breaks the silence. Not with words, but with a soft moan.

Chuck…”

Raleigh glances up to see that Chuck’s turned his head in Bruce’s lap and is mouthing at the growing line of hardness in Bruce’s jeans. He rolls his eyes before reaching up and flicking Chuck in the ear, earning him matching affronted huffs from both men and laughter from the other three.

“We still have dinner to eat, assholes,” he talks over them even as Chuck opens his mouth to complain and Bruce makes a low, frustrated sound. “Yance ‘n Dad worked hard on it, so don’t be dicks. There’ll be plenty of time for all that after we get back home. And aren’t in the open where anyone can see us.”

“But Rah-leeeigh,” for a moment, Raleigh has to blink and remind himself that, yes, Bruce is an adult in his early forties, “what kind of date would it be if we didn’t have a bit of fun?”

Raleigh’s about to say something smart, possibly biting, in response, but the words catch in his throat when arms wind themselves about him, cold fingers skirting the edge of his shirt before dipping under the hem of his sweater and shirt. They skate over his stomach, leaving goose bumps and heat in their wake.

“C’mon, Rals. It’ll keep.” Yancy’s voice, caressing the edge of his ear, sends shivers down his spine. “Dad ‘n I don’t mind, I promise. ‘Sides,” a tongue traces the shell of cartilage, followed by a scrape of teeth that has Raleigh’s semi bursting to life almost painfully fast, “how many chances are we gonna have to fuck under the stars—under a meteor shower—like this, huh?”

For perhaps the first time when looking up at the stars, screaming his lovers’ names loudly enough that he’s sure the people in their cars on the highway can hear him, Raleigh doesn’t feel small or alone. He feels whole and, beyond all else, loved.

“Fuck,” Bruce pants when they’re all lying together in a sweaty heap, a breeze sliding over Raleigh’s skin, making him shiver, “I vote Rals picks the dates from now on.”

 

Chapter Text

“C’mon, girl, you’re okay,” Raleigh tries to soothe the dog in his arms, rubbing a free hand through the fur under her jaw as the other holds her front leg steady. “It’s just a catheter. Just a little prick in the arm and we can finish getting you prepped and you’ll be fine—”

The dog—she’s a mutt, he’s fairly certain: small and grey with gangly little limbs that belong on a Pomeranian—lets out a little whimper, jerking in his grasp.

“Damn it, Raleigh, hold her still. What kind of tech are you, can’t even hold an eleven pound ball of fluff?”

The smirk on the other man’s face isn’t directed upwards, but Raleigh can tell that it’s for him.

“Yeah, fuck you too, Jason. I saw you and that cat yesterday—”

“Hey,” Jason’s eyes don’t move from where he’s prodding at the veins standing out on the Dog’s foreleg, smirk widening, “cats are fuckin’ evil incarnate, man. ‘Specially when you get ‘em in here. You see that one that almost took off Dr. Schuum’s face last week?”

“Who, the black one? Rita, right?” Raleigh curses as the little dog wriggles in his grasp again, turning her head to nose at his neck just above his scrubs. He has to restrain himself from twitching in near-hysterical giggles at the feeling. “No, but I did hear her yelling, trying to find the VA who put her in a top cage instead of a middle one. Was it—”

“Fuckin’ A, man, of course it was Daisy. Surprised she hasn’t gotten fired yet. You hear about the parvo puppy she walked around the entire fuckin’ clinic?”

Raleigh’s head jerks up momentarily, looking at the other man before the dog—puppy, really: she’s only six months old—makes a distressed little noise and twitches, Jason’s eyes furrowing in frustration, needle poised just above her leg.

“Sorry,” Raleigh murmurs, quickly focusing on his grip again as Jason finally slides the needle home, pulling out the metal portion once a bead of blood gathers on the end and quickly putting the rest of the catheter together, motions quick, far more efficient than Raleigh could ever hope to be. His left arm twinges at the thought, one of his fingers spasming before he can stop it, and the dog whimpers slightly as the finger puts undue pressure on the underside of her chin. Something cool rushes through his veins, and he immediately starts petting her with his now-free right hand, Jason having already taped it down.

“Sorry to you too, lil’ girl.” He places a kiss in the curls on top of her head, putting her down on the examination table so he can keep her distracted from the contraption in her arm until someone grabs her an e-collar, both hands coming to play as she stares back at him with giant, pleading eyes, whining softly.

“I know, I know, but hey, think of it this way,” he keeps his tone light, scrunching up her face and leaning forward to kiss the top of her head again, silently cheering at the way her tail gives a feeble twitch, “it’s not like you need your uterus, right? You’ll hardly notice it’s gone once the pain goes away.”

The e-collar bumps him in the forehead when Jason puts it on her, and Raleigh starts back, anger flaring in his gut for a split second before the way the poor puppy is suddenly looking like the most defeated thing in the world has him laughing. No matter how many times he sees it, it’s still the most pitifully hilarious sight.

“Thanks, Raleigh,” Jason waves him away with his characteristic half-smile. “Now go get lunch. You were supposed to go an hour and a half ago. Claudia’s gonna get pissed if you wreck her precious schedule. Again.”

Raleigh just laughs as the other man carries the puppy back to her cage.

“Not my fault everyone needs help right when I’m supposed to go,” he calls towards the retreating back, still smiling. “It’s almost like you all plan this or something, I swear.”

Jason—and maybe even one of the other techs; maybe Claudia—says something back, but Raleigh’s already walking through the door towards the front, waving at the part of the front desk he can see as he starts up the stairs towards the employee lounge.

“Oh, hey, Raleigh,” he recognizes Jeff’s deep, resonant voice, and pauses on the stairs, only having made it a few steps—he still has to take them one at a time if it’s raining like it is today, the damage from Scunner and Raiju savaging Gipsy’s right side flaring to life when he tries to do anything more strenuous than walking. “There’s someone here to see you. It looks like he might’ve bro—”

“Is ‘e goin’ up the steps?”

Raleigh has to suppress the shudder that voice pulls from him, sparks racing up his spine deliciously even as he grabs the handrail to ground himself. Fuck, he really can’t afford to get hard right now. Neither sweats nor scrubs are very effective at hiding, well, anything. He already gets enough comments from Jeff—straight as an arrow, shy Jeff who is also close enough to jailbait that Raleigh feels bad for even having passing thoughts about how fucking cute he is at all—that he might consider compression shorts for “that monster of yours” when he’s not even doing anything. So, no, erections at work? Big problem. No pun intended.

He opens his mouth to answer, but Jeff is already leaning over the front counter, eyebrows raised in an expression Raleigh’s fairly certain is curiosity before he turns back towards the waiting room.

“Yup. Only about five or six up, though.”

The heavy thumping of boots reaches Raleigh’s ears, and then Herc is there, a paper shopping bag in hand that clinks slightly every time he takes a step. There’s the sounds of another pair of feet, and then Yancy is there as well, grinning slyly.

“Hey,” Raleigh breathes, smile splitting his face. Here, he can distantly hear the rain striking the second story roof, hears and feels a distant growl of thunder. He makes to take a step down to greet his lover, but Herc is already there, shifting the bag to his right hand, offering his left to Raleigh with a smile of his own.

“C’mon, love,” the words are soft, meant only for him, “let’s get you upstairs, eh?”

In the next instant, Yancy is there as well—despite the shitty weather, he’s still able to take the stairs two at a time—turning Raleigh’s head with a single finger on his chin to plant a soft kiss on his lips in greeting as he offers his support as well.

Glancing back, Raleigh catches Jeff watching them, one arm propped on the marble countertop of the front desk, his chin resting firmly on the same hand. When Raleigh looks back, he shrugs with a smile and a suggestive eyebrow waggle, free hand making a small shooing motion. Raleigh can interpret that easily enough: go be with your men. He can practically hear it in the kid’s voice. He knows he should probably feel upset, maybe at the very least annoyed, but he can’t really find either within himself. He knows that, out here, the Kaiju war wasn’t as big of a deal: that people still recognize them, sure, but they aren’t quite the sensation they were—still are, to some—out west.

He’s also seen the Gipsy shirt Jeff sometimes wears under his receptionist scrubs—he seems to favor the ones that have cartoonish golden retriever puppies cuddling together—and recognizes it as one of the first prints they ever did. The kid’d probably been, god, four or five at the time? Probably used it as a sleep shirt, which would be why it’s a scrubs shirt now.

Which means Jeff knows perfectly well who he is. Probably knows exactly who Herc and Yancy are, too. Can also likely guess what the way Herc’s arm wraps around Raleigh’s waist means, or the implications behind how Raleigh practically sags into the older man’s side.

It also means that he knows exactly who Yancy is to him.

All this runs through Raleigh’s mind in the space of a heartbeat, and he maybe kind of sort of panics for a half second until he realizes that Jeff’s expression hasn’t changed from the bored, mildly curious stare. He even makes the shooing motion again.

And it’s that, more than anything, that makes the tension that’d been ratcheting up his spine and down his leg relax. Raleigh pulls a breath into his lungs, holds it for a moment, and then lets it out against Yancy’s cheek.

“Yeah, thanks. You guys been waiting long?”

“Nah, not really,” Yancy answers him as they clear the last few steps, a chaste kiss making its way onto Raleigh’s cheek. “They told us you were busy, which, y’know,” he gestures around them vaguely, “vet clinic, so it’s fine.”

Herc leaves Raleigh’s side for a moment to place the bag on the table before pulling out a chair, returning to help Yancy guide him to the table.

“I’m not completely useless, you two,” he rolls his eyes, “just scarred. And achy and old.”

“Oi, watch what you’re callin’ old.”

Raleigh grabs Herc’s ass as he sits,smiling impishly until the other two men pull up chairs, taking positions around him. Herc rustles through the bag, pulling out silverware, plates, and some of their glass tupperware that’s fogged up from the heat of what’s within, putting all of it in front of Raleigh. Yancy, though, stops Raleigh from opening anything, and instead leans over to plant a kiss on his forehead before whispering, “Let us.”

So Raleigh leans into his brother’s side, a hand still curled through one of Herc’s belt loops, and watches as the two of them dish out something that makes him practically drool onto Yancy’s shirt.

“You guys didn’t have to do this, y’know.”

“I know, love, but dad and I wanted to. Besides, I had the day off, and we figured—”

“We figured it’d be better ‘n that crap you normally go get down the street.”

Raleigh wants to argue with them, wants to say that Panera is not crap, but he can’t find it in him. Not with the rush of warmth filling his chest that has him tugging on the belt loop in his grasp to force Herc down. He gives Yancy his kiss first, swallowing the first moan that he pulls from his brother’s throat when he traces over those lips he knows and loves with his tongue before diving in, swallowing the second when he tangles scarred digits in red-blond locks and tugs gently but insistently. Once satisfied, he pulls back for a moment, smiles, whispers a quick, “Thanks, bro,” and then turns to Herc.

Herc is already waiting for him, smirking lightly, pulling him forward and not even bothering to tease, tongue sliding between gasp-parted teeth, caressing and tangling with Raleigh’s own tongue, the older man taking what Raleigh has shown him a hundred—a thousand—times is offered.

Raleigh’s mind practically melts with the difference in how the two of them kiss, in trying to adjust to the different pace, and it’s all he can do to keep himself somewhat quiet when their lips part due to a lack of oxygen and he moans, “Fuck, Dad…”

Sometimes, it still makes something in his chest clench at how easily wound up he is by them, by any of his lovers, even after all this time.

Tongue tracing over his lips, as if tasting the remnants of Raleigh still there—and he’ll be fucked if the thought of him lingering on Herc’s tongue doesn’t get him rock hard in an instant—Herc laughs lowly, steel blue eyes molten with heat.

“Later, love. For now, eat your lunch.”

Chapter Text

“Bru, Trev,” Raleigh rolls his eyes when they both turn to look at him, innocence painted across their faces, “I seem to recall getting you those shirts last year for your birthday, right?”

A pair of nods.

“I also seem to recall getting them for you the other way around.”

They both blink at him for a moment before they burst out laughing, Bruce doubling over while Trevin supports his brother. Raleigh fears for a moment they’re going to knock a lamp off the table beside the couch, but the piece of furniture escapes unscathed. He must look as confused as he feels, because both twins burst into peals of laughter once they look up at him before Trevin finally manages to catch his breath.

“S-sorry, kiddo, it’s just… you know you’re wearing Chuck’s clothes right now, right?”

He begins to protest, a loud and indignant, “No they’re n—” actually making its way into the air before he takes in the Striker logo on the sweats hanging loosely from his hips. He’d just thought that maybe they’d stretched a bit the last time he slept in them.

There’s a beat of silence before Raleigh gives voice to the thought playing through his mind on loop.

“Well. Shit.”

A few minutes and a search of the house later ends with him in front of the spare bedroom, Herc and Chuck both curled up on the double bed together, reading. The underwear Chuck’s wearing, unless Raleigh’s mistaken, were originally Yancy’s. In fact, he’s almost positive that he’d picked them out for his older brother the last time they’d gone clothes shopping together. And Herc’s shirt is definitely one of Yancy’s, too.

“Dad,” Raleigh’s voice is tight, because how the hell hadn’t he noticed? “Dad, did you mix up our laundry or something?”

Herc looks up, raising an eyebrow at him.

“Nah, kiddo, I gave up trying to keep all your shit straight when you lot seemed to stop caring whose was what.”

Raleigh swallows, looking down at the bulldog on his sweats again—his mind quietly remembers that the shirt he’s wearing is actually one of Trevin’s—before he meets Herc’s gaze.

“And, uh, when was that?”

Chuck, who hadn’t looked up from his book even when Raleigh had stormed into the room—which was against the rules they’d all decided on when they moved in together, but he’d pay for that later—looks up at that and rolls his eyes so forcefully that Raleigh’s not certain someone didn’t drop dead somewhere from sarcasm overload.

“Why do you even care, Ray? S’not like it even m—mmph!”

One of Herc’s hands drops over Chuck’s mouth, the kid glaring back at his dad and widening his mouth in a way that makes Raleigh think he’s either licking the offending palm or biting it; Herc seems to be completely unphased.

“It was prolly ‘bout, eh, three months after we all moved in here? So, ‘bout three, three and a half years? Give or take a month or two.”

When Raleigh doesn’t move, just feels a kind of shock that roots his feet to the spot, Herc makes a vague sort of waving motion with his hand.

“That all? Good. Out. Punishment’s at,” he checks the clock, which currently reads just a little before five PM, “eight tonight. Have the twins get you ready.”

Both Bruce and Trevin are, of course, standing right behind him after Raleigh backs out of the door and shuts it with a soft snick.

“So, did you—”

“Interrupt your brother and daddy Herc’s—”

“Snuggle time like a—”

“Bad little boy?”

Raleigh shudders, both as they wrap themselves around him and at the way they so effortlessly shift into… this, guiding him across the hall to the bedroom they all share, laying  his body out on the king size bed and slowly stripping him of his clothing.

“Looks like we’ve got you all to ourselves for a bit then, huh baby?” Bruce croons, straddling Raleigh’s now-naked form, reaching behind himself take Raleigh in hand. “When did daddy Herc say you were to be punished, then?”

“Eight.”

The word leaves Raleigh’s throat feeling scratchy and dry, and he has to swallow the saliva pooling in his mouth or let himself drool like an animal in heat. Both the twins, he can see, raise their eyebrows at the answer, before an identical leer spreads between them.

“Well, then,” Trevin starts, stripping his twin brother’s shirt from his body as Bruce does the same, “let’s see—”

“How many times we can make you scream our names before the main event,” Bruce finishes, reaching his hand even further back until his fingers brush between Raleigh’s spread legs.

Chapter Text

Raleigh dips the washcloth in the bowl of water beside the bed before wringing it slightly and laying it to rest on Chuck’s sweltering forehead. His younger brother—and, no, they’d never really finalized any sort of adoption of anything like that, but they don’t need to—makes a sound through his chattering teeth that reminds Raleigh of when Max had torn a muscle in his leg from trying to climb too many stairs too fast.

“I know, baby, I know,” Raleigh tries to soothe the shivers wracking his lover’s body with his fingertips, though he stops when Chuck twitches away as if they’d burned him. “I know it sucks but you’re gonna be okay, okay?”

Eyes still closed, Chuck nods fitfully, groaning lowly.

The smell of soup and Yancy reaches Raleigh’s nose, and he turns to find his brother a few steps behind him, holding a steaming bowl. Yancy doesn’t say anything, but he doesn’t need to.

“Hey love,” he tries to keep his voice low and light, though Raleigh’s not  entirely sure he  succeeds, “you feeling up to maybe eating something? Yance made you some soup.”

“Broth,” comes the soft correction, and Raleigh can only smile down at Chuck’s shivering form.

“Broth, then, so even easier. Does that sound good?”

Even though Chuck’s stomach growls, he shakes his head fitfully. A sigh worms its way from between Raleigh’s lips, and he drops his head between his shoulders before sitting back up and turning towards Yancy.

“Stay here with him, Yance? You can leave it over there,” a nod towards the bedside table followed by a small smile, “just make sure you don’t dip his washcloth in it.”

“D-don’t give y’r idiot ‘f a b-brother ideas, B-B-Becket,” Chuck chatters through his teeth as Raleigh stands, laughing despite himself.

“I thought you were the idiot brother, Charlie,” he teases right back, his smile widening when Chuck opens one eye to glare at him. The glare, however, turns into something else when Raleigh turns and moves towards the door, a whimper and a, “Please don’ go, Rals,” drifting across the room. He pauses in the doorway, looking back over his shoulder.

“It’s okay, Chuck. Yance is gonna take great care of you, and I’m gonna be right back, okay? I just gotta check on Dad and B.T.”

“Y’know they’re gonna skin you if they find out you call ‘em that, right Rals?” Yancy’s voice follows him across the hallway before lowering to something more soothing as he, presumably, starts speaking to Chuck. Raleigh just chuckles lowly, knocking on the door to their main bedroom before entering.

The curtains throw harsh shadows over most of the room, slivers of light from the dying sunlight providing just enough ambient illumination that Raleigh can make out three forms on the bed. He squints, taking a step forward and shutting the door behind him, and manages to pick out the darker brown of Bruce and Trevin’s hair surrounding Herc’s slightly lighter, very much so redder color, the three of them curled together on the bed. Soft noises, whispers, float through the room, and, as Raleigh’s eyes adjust, he can make out the twins running their hands over Herc’s body, motions slow and deliberate but without the urgency of need behind them.

“Dad?” Raleigh’s voice surprises him with how loud it sounds in the stillness. “You doing okay?”

Hercules Hansen, for all that he and his son might’ve argued and fought and seemed to hate each other during the war, had never, in Raleigh’s experience, dealt with problems involving Chuck very well. When Raleigh had returned from Pitfall, Yancy greeting him with a kiss right there in front of everyone—which had been a hell of a way to let everyone know about the nature of their relationship, though no one had honestly seemed surprised—it had been to find Herc a broken shell of a man. A broken shell of a man who had easily fallen into the comfort Raleigh and Yancy had both offered, memories of Manila floating at the backs of all their minds even as they’d all fallen into bed together. They hadn’t done anything then—although, for his part, Raleigh’s fairly certain that that’d been where this thing between all of them had really, truly begun—just held on to each other as Herc had fallen apart between them, had come undone as his grief overtook him. After his shudders and sobs had ceased, he’d seemed to be nothing more than a hollowed-out remnant of his former self, barely talking and not eating unless one of the Beckets forced him to.

But then they’d found Chuck and Stacker’s pods, both of them barely alive. And, in that moment, Raleigh and Yancy had both learned what exactly Herc Hansen’s son meant to him.

Now, though, with Chuck is sick like this, in pain, Herc has…moments. Moments where he needs them. They all understand, Raleigh knows: they’re much the same way about their own copilots. Though, truthfully, the longer they spend together, the more that empathic reach seems to extend. And, if Raleigh’s being honest with himself, his motivations for coming over here are equal parts selfless and selfish.

Herc turns his head to look at him, doesn’t say anything; doesn’t need to.

“Bru, Trev,” Raleigh tries to keep his voice even, “I know you guys wanted to go spend some time with Chuck. I’ll get Dad. S’that okay?”

Again, none of them answer with words, the twins simply extricating themselves from around Herc, leaving a gap that Raleigh rushes in to fill, curling his neck until he’s nosing at Herc’s collarbone, breathing deeply and murmuring soft, gentle words of comfort. He hears Bruce and Trevin close the door behind them, the king size bed suddenly seeming so much larger without them both there to help him fill it. But it doesn’t matter. Herc needs him, needs them, and that’s what Raleigh focuses on: Yancy and the twins will take care of Chuck until Raleigh can coax Herc into the other room, the older man gently stroking the sweat-damp hair from his son’s eyes.

It might not be the most healthy way of coping with something like this—even though Raleigh’s beginning to think that maybe they should take Chuck to the hospital if he’s sick like this for another day, even if he knows Herc doesn’t trust them—and, hell, it might not even be the best. But it doesn’t matter. Because, at the end of the day, they are a family. Perhaps not the most conventional family—Raleigh’s fairly certain they’re the least conventional family he’s ever heard of—but they are all any of them have in this world.

The rest of the world might not understand that, but, thankfully, they don’t need to. As Herc has said, “It’s not any of their bloody business.”

Chapter Text

“Dad, can we get Fruity Pebbles?”

Yancy rolls his eyes so hard he’s surprised they don’t fall from his sockets as he leans over and flicks Raleigh in the ear.

“Jesus christ, Rals, how the hell do you eat that shit? I thought you cared about your abs and—”

“Hey! I work hard for these! I’m allowed to indulge every now and then!”

Herc’s glare shuts them both up.

“If your brother wants to get disgusting cereal, then that’s his choice, Yancy. Leave ‘m alone.”

“But—”

“Oi!” Chuck’s shout cuts them off as he leans over the end of the aisle. “Do we usually get two percent or whole?”

“Two gallons of skim for Rals, two of whole for Dad and the twins, and two percent for you and me,” Yancy calls back without thinking. Chuck quirks an eyebrow at him, smirking, before disappearing again. When Yancy turns back to his brother, it’s find Raleigh wearing the strangest expression. Some strange mix of a smile and…something else that makes Yancy think his brother is up to something.

“What?” Okay, maybe that came out a bit more defensively than he’d intended.

“Oh, nothing,” his brother singsongs, turning back to the cereal and picking out a box of Fruity Pebbles—just one, though, and the smallest size they have—before pushing their already overloaded cart further down the aisle. Yancy can feel the emotions swimming in his brother’s gut squirming within his own, warm and light and…is that…smugness? “Just you and your big brother tendencies.”

Yancy huffs before following, not missing the smirk Herc sends his way.

“We’re shopping for six of us, Rals. And I don’t exactly have a day job like the rest of you. Since, y’know, the rest of you aren’t—” he gestures down his body, indicating the scars that are mostly hidden by his clothes, long sleeves covering his arm and pants, his legs, though there are still a few circuitry outlines visible on the back of his neck.

“If you finish that sentence with anything other than ‘as perfect as I am,’ I will punch you across the jaw,” Raleigh’s voice is blithe as he consults the list Yancy’d written back at the house, not even looking up.  “And if you think I’m joking—”

“Rals,” Herc’s voice is soft, a rebuke hidden within its depths. Raleigh’s mouth closes, though Yancy can feel whatever warm feelings had been swimming at the back of his mind, phantoms tracing  his own limbs, shift and swirl and mix in with a cold anger—a cold frustration; an old frustration. It’s an argument they’ve had many times, and one Yancy isn’t about to rehash here in the middle of a goddamn grocery store. His brother would just end up trying to blame himself for not being fast enough, or not being smart enough, or being stupid enough to go after that damn boat in the first place.

Hey, no one ever said that living with five other people meant that life was going to be perfect, even if they all love each other.

“Fine,” Raleigh huffs, still not looking away from the list. He raises an eyebrow as he reads through it, looking back at Yancy and Herc as if they’ve grown extra heads.

“Where the hell are we gonna get Tim Tams around here?”

“Chuck wanted them,” Yancy answers easily, smiling again despite himself, dropping the self-doubt and recriminations from a moment ago. They’ve gotten good at this, all of them, realizing when it’s best to just…let things go. That, sometimes, it’s not worth it, that it’s okay to have differences of opinion. Especially when both parties involved know they’re stubborn bastards. So, yeah, they might have a conversation about this when they get home, since it’s in both of their minds and, well, when their emotions run high their ghosting tends to become stronger.

But that’s not right now.

“I tried to warn him,” he continued, sharing a smile with Herc, “that, y’know, this isn’t Australia, but, well,” he trails off with a shrug at his brother. “You know him.”

“Yeah, yeah we do.”

Chuck, of course, ruins the moment by leaning over the edge of the aisle again and shouting, “Oi! Drongos! Get your arses over here. ‘M not carrying six bloody gallons of milk on my own,” before disappearing again.

“Uh, he does know you only told him to get five, right?” Raleigh asks, almost haltingly, as if unsure whether he should laugh or not. Yancy is fighting down his own giggles as Herc brings his hands up to his face, scrubbing at the two day’s worth of stubble he’s got working.

“That boy,” Herc grumbles, as if Chuck is ten instead of twenty five, and it makes Yancy lose the battle with his laughter. It earns him a scowl and a low, “Just, go help yer brother before someone complains about the shouting, eh?”

Yancy can’t help it. Herc just looks so…so much like a father with an unruly son in that moment, that he has to take the few steps to cross over towards him and wrap his arms around him. Even places a soft kiss on Herc’s cheek for good measure.

“Sure thing, Dad.”

“Oh, get a room, you two,” Raleigh makes a fake gagging sound, and Yancy just rolls his eyes at his brother pulling away and grabbing the kid by the ear. Leans up to whisper in said ear as he drags a protesting Raleigh away,

“Oh, believe me, we will. And if you want in, you’re going to have to on your best,” he gropes Raleigh ass, so quickly any casual observer wouldn’t have even noticed anything amiss, “best behavior.”

Chuck’s confused glare at the way Raleigh’s flushing a bright crimson when they arrive at the dairy aisle just makes Yancy laugh even harder.

Chapter Text

“I’ve gotta ask: how d’you manage it?”

Herc laughs into his drink, swirling the glass a bit, the amber liquid sloshing against the edges and staining the points of light that diffract from the dim overheads. He doesn’t take another sip, though, instead turning his head to the side.

“Manage what, Stacks?”

Stacker’s drink is identical to Herc’s, and Herc watches his friend consider the glass before his eyebrows twitch upwards and the whole thing is tipped back in one swallow. The sound of the glass striking the wood of the bar is loud, though not jarring amidst the gentle background hum. Yancy and the twins had found this place a year or two back—quiet, out of the way, friendly, staff who treat them as if they're just anyone else, and the food isn't half-bad to boot—and since then it’s become their go-to place when any of them need a drink. Or just somewhere to be alone, to think.

“That,” Stacker nods over to the nearby corner. “It’s just… It’s not what I would’ve expected from you.”

Tracking his gaze to follow, Herc’s eyes come to rest on the table holding Mako and his lovers. Raleigh and Yancy are, of course, bracketing her, Chuck shoving at Raleigh’s shoulder when Raleigh says something that makes the three of them laugh and Chuck’s face flame. Bruce and Trevin are watching, both nursing their beers much like Herc, and, at least to Herc’s eye, it’s almost impossible to miss the way their hands are entwined beneath the table’s surface. As he watches, Yancy turns from his laughter, smile dropping slightly when Bruce and Trevin offer him only mouth-corner twitches in place of their own usually uproarious laughs.

“And I wouldn’t’ve expected we’d be sitting in a bar, havin’ a drink to celebrate five years since we drove the bastards back to hell.”

It’s not the strongest response Herc’s got, but he can see the crease in his friend’s forehead ease slightly.

“Point.”

They sit in silence for a moment longer, the barkeeper filling Stacker’s glass again, before the crease deepens again, and Herc watches as those hard, brown eyes soften, go distant with time.

“Wish Tam’ was here to see it.”

And, well…shit. There’s not really anything Herc can say to that, so he just nods and pretends he doesn’t notice Stacker draining his drink again and calling for another. The silence between them stretches once more, but this time it’s almost soft: a necessary silence. There’s nothing Herc can say to bring back Tamsin—nothing he can do to ease the ache he himself had learned so acutely in Sydney almost seventeen years ago. Nothing he can do to erase the guilt of surviving the same disease, if only because Stacker’d had more time, had managed to hold on long enough for an actual treatment to be invented.

The alcohol burns his throat when Herc finally takes a drink from his own glass, though he still leaves about half of it behind. He’s not looking to forget—not tonight, anyway. Somewhere behind him, he hears a shout that he knows without looking is Yancy, followed by the sound of his son’s laughter. He turns at that, and takes a moment just to watch, to see the way his son—his son, his Chuck, his son who could’ve died five years ago—lights up. The way green eyes, so like his mother’s, sparkle as Yancy flails away from whatever the little bastard’d done to him.

“They really do make you happy, though?”

Herc doesn’t look back at his friend as he nods. Chuck’s laughter had been rare enough since the war started that it’s almost a reflex for him to force himself to absorb every second of it that he can, even now.

“Yeah, Stacks. They do. I know s’not normal, what with, well,” he does turn back, then, waving vaguely in a way he hopes communicates his meaning without him having to actually say it. That is, that he’s in a polyamorous relationship with five other people, two of whom are twin brothers, another two of whom are just brothers, and the last of whom is his own son. “But I’m happy. And, y’know, it works.”

He tosses back the last of his drink, the burn already somewhat dulled.

“I think it’s ‘cause we’ve all been there. We all know what it’s like. What it was like. And, sure,” he glances over his shoulder, watches as Yancy tries again to pull Bruce and Trevin into the conversation that Mako and Chuck had struck up, probably about something to do with engineering, “we all have our days. But we can get through them.”

Herc shrugs again, gaze moving back to the surface of the bar, tracking the swirls and patterns in the wood. Doesn’t start when a broad hand lands on his shoulder.

“I’m happy for you, old friend,” Stacker’s voice isn’t any closer than it’d been before, but there’s something else there, a warmth. “I don’t pretend to necessarily understand but…I’m happy for you.”

Chapter Text

The smell of cooking is heavy in the house, still saturating every corner as the day winds down. Bruce and Trevin are off watching football in the family room, the sound system maybe a few numbers higher than it ought to be—tradition, they’d argued. Chuck is with them, last Raleigh saw, complaining loudly that it’s not real football, and that it’s just a less exciting imitation of rugby.

“I mean, what’s the point if they’re just gonna wear all that protective equipment?” he’d grumbled, crossing his arms and burrowing further into the space he’d created for himself between the twins. They hadn’t seemed to mind.

Herc, meanwhile, is in the kitchen cleaning dishes. Raleigh and Yancy had both offered to help, but had both been waved them away.

“After the shit you two put yourselves through today, just, go,” he’d made a shooing motion at the two of them, “go be with your sister.”

Which, of course, was—and still is—the problem. Their sister.

Jazmine is here. In their house. The house that has been their refuge from the world, from disapproving eyes and nosy tabloids, for the last four and some years. And while, normally, reconnecting with their long-lost sister would be cause for celebration, it’s been thirteen years since they’ve actually talked to one another. Thirteen years since they left Jaz with Uncle Charles and hadn’t looked back.

And, sure, he’d missed her. They both had. It had been an echoing, bone-deep loss that filled the drift when they’d learned that a Kaiju had changed course, steamrolling right through their uncle’s neighborhood and presumably leaving no survivors in its wake before Mammoth Apostle had taken it down. They’d thought she was dead, and had never heard anything to the contrary. Until a phone call not even a week ago.

So. Their sister.

She’s still at the table, arms folded over the tablecloth they’d found somewhere. Her hair is shorter than Raleigh remembers it being, the tips dyed a red-blonde that looks somehow both youthful and adult. The rest of her, by contrast, is far longer than he remembers, arms and legs long and graceful. When she’d arrived, she’d towered over Raleigh by a good two inches even after she’d taken off her heels. Apparently, the Becket curse of being shorter than younger siblings extends to him, too.

Her face has grown up along with the rest of her, sharpening and rounding into adulthood. She looks so much like their mother it’s almost painful.

She’s taking in the pictures of them, the two of them, and the others. Raleigh moves opposite her, his chair scraping over the floor in time with Yancy’s. Lets Yancy sit first, an arm ready in case his brother’s knee flares up like it has a habit of doing at the worst possible moments. Jazmine turns to face them as Raleigh’s taking his own seat. Steeples her fingers, resting her chin on their tips and regarding them with a thoughtful look. Though she’d been cordial, friendly even, during the day with everyone and at dinner, they haven’t had time to talk, just the three of them. Hadn’t had time to warn her about the more unconventional nature of their household. Raleigh’s fairly certain neither of them really had the courage to do so, anyway.

“So,” Jazmine breaks the silence, laying her hands flat on the table in front of her, looking at each of them in turn, “they all seem nice. Well,” she cocks her head to the side a bit, juts her chin and raises her eyebrows in a look that is so her, so much like the sister he remembers, it nearly makes Raleigh break right then and there, “Chuck seems like a little shithead. But a nice shithead. Most of the time.”

Raleigh snorts out a laugh. Hears Yancy do the same.

“I’d say that’s pretty accurate, yeah.”

There’s a moment’s pause, Jazmine’s hands curling in on themselves on the table, before,

“He’s Herc’s kid, right?”

And that. Well. That’s probably one of the stickiest of sticking points outside the house. Used to be one inside the house sometimes, too, mostly just for Herc himself. Had taken several months—hell, almost a year—of talking and figuring things out to get over that little hurdle. Mostly, Raleigh’s fairly sure, because they don’t have the drift to blame for what they feel anymore. At least, not for them continuing to feel it.

Raleigh nods at her. Can see Yancy doing the same, can feel his brother’s trepidation mixing with his own, replacing the easy laughter from before. Feels Yancy’s hand sliding into his own under the table, palm warm.

Jazmine nods, considers one of her hands before starting to worry at her thumbnail with her teeth.

“And Bruce and Trevin are…?”

When she doesn’t fill it in herself, continues to look at them expectantly, Raleigh sucks a breath in through his nose, only to have Yancy beat him to the punch.

“Twin brothers, yes.”

She nods again, makes a little hmm’ing sound through her nose, eyes considering them.

“And, yeah,” Raleigh pipes up before she can speak again, “we’re—“

“My pain in the ass older brothers who apparently forgot what a phone looks like,” she fires back at him without missing a beat, arching an eyebrow in challenge. “Who have been in love since before I was out of middle school. And who apparently,” that eyebrow climbs higher, “think I’m blind and an idiot.”

Neither of them say anything. Jazmine goes back to biting at her thumbnail, expression unreadable. Raleigh feels like his skin is too tight, unsure how to take what Jazmine had just laid at their feet. Tightens his grip on Yancy’s hand. Swallows, trying to quell the pressure building in his chest. Holds their sister’s eyes as she looks between the two of them. After what feels like an eternity, she sighs, eyes climbing to the ceiling.

“Really? Nothing?”

“We weren’t together back then,” Raleigh blurts out. Jazmine crosses her arms over her chest, leaning back in her seat. She doesn’t make a sound, but her disbelief is palpable.

“We weren’t,” he sounds like he’s five years old again, but Raleigh can’t bring himself to care, “we—”

“Are idiots,” Jazmine interrupts him, not moving from her laid-back position, still as a statue, “and as blind and you thought I was, apparently.”

Confusion diffuses between them; Raleigh’s not sure which of them feel it first, or if it even matters, really. Something must show on their faces because Jazmine finally moves, letting out a grunt of what sounds like exasperation and throwing her hands in the air.

“Really? Really?” She looks hard at Yancy before her gaze lands heavy on Raleigh’s shoulders. “You expect me to believe that you didn’t know?”

The urge to say ‘Know what?’ is strong, but Raleigh bites the inside of his cheek to keep his mouth shut. Winces at the sharp feedback as Yancy does the same but on the other side. It gets them another exasperated sound, this time a snort.

“You two mean to tell me,” Jazmine points with both hands, an accusing finger reserved for each of them, both her eyebrows rising into her bangs, “that you seriously had no idea how obvious you two were in high school? Wait, hang on a second,” the hint of a smile pulls at the corner of her mouth, “are you telling me that I knew before either of you did?”

“Jaz,” Yancy speaks up, “we—we didn’t start…this,” he gestures between the two of them, “until we started drifting.”

But Jazmine is shaking her head before he’s even finished, the hint of a smile blossoming until she’s positively grinning.

“You two are such idiots, I swear to god. No,” she holds up a hand when Yancy tries to speak again, “you really are. I,” her shoulders shake, and it’s only then that Raleigh realizes she’s trying to hold back laughter, “I can’t believe you didn’t see. The way you two were always stuck together, the way you two would look at each other. You—god, you two are so stupid—you think I’m surprised you ended up together? I’ve known. For, literally, over a decade. Hell, the only thing that surprises me is the other four. That I didn’t see coming.”

A silence falls between them that’s filled with something that feels distinctly like hope building in Raleigh’s chest.

“So, you’re not mad?”

He gets a shrug.

“Mad? No. Confused? Sure. I mean, a dad, his son, two twin brothers, and my brothers—it sounds like the start to a walking into a bar joke. But,” she shrugs again, “they make you happy, right?”

“Yeah,” Raleigh looks over at his brother, smiling, the hope extending warm tendrils through his body, making him feel lighter. Like he’s floating, flying. “Yeah they do.”

He can see Jazmine nod out of the corner of his eye. “What about you, Yance?”

“More than anything.”

Something actually does take flight in Raleigh’s chest at that, a sound escaping from his mouth. Before he knows it, he’s leaning forward, his forehead colliding with his brother’s. Breathes in on Yancy’s exhale.

“You two are disgustingly adorable.” Jazmine’s laughter is bright, so much like the little girl Raleigh remembers chasing after them as children. He hears her stand, walking around the table. Feels one of her hands rest gently on his shoulder. “Now, how about we go join the twins in celebrating that tried and true American tradition: shouting at buff men fighting over a piece of leather.”

Chapter Text

Sometimes, they take a day for themselves. Sometimes because Yancy or Chuck has another attack, memories of their near-deaths ever present in their minds, and they need time away from the world. Sometimes because Raleigh gets caught in a ghost-RABIT of Yancy’s death. Sometimes because the ghost drift flares, almost like a hangover from the old days but with only the emotional ache that borders on physical pain and none of the bright bursts of euphoria where skin meets skin.

And, sometimes, they do it because...because they do. Because they can. Because they saved the goddamn world, risked their lives more times collectively than almost any other group of people they know or have ever met. Because each of them has baggage: memories of losing loved ones, of nearly losing loved ones, of the knowledge that sometimes their best efforts to save the innocent hadn’t been enough.

Today’s Raleigh’s fault, in a way. He knows that. He’d woken and seen only hospital walls, doctors telling him about his week-long coma and that they hadn’t recovered his brother’s body yet. And even though Yancy had literally been by his side, his throat still hurts from how hard he’s screamed and screamed and screamed for his brother. For it to not be real, for them to bring him back bring him back bring him ba

“I swear to god, Ray, if you don’t move your goddamn elbow, I’ll rip your arm off myself.”

Raleigh sighs, dropping his head to Yancy’s shoulder without a word. Wiggles around on the bed until he can yank his arm from where it’d been between him and Chuck—and had, apparently, been digging into Chuck’s side—and rests his hand on his chest. He doesn’t get a chance to do more before he hears a whuffing sound of impact and Chuck flails, the pillow that’d been thrown at him landing over Raleigh’s arm.

“Be nice, lil’ Aussie,” comes Trevin’s voice—and of course it would be Trevin who’d resorted to pillow throwing. “We know where you live. And all your ticklish spots”

“Shut up, all of you,” Yancy’s voice vibrates into Raleigh’s skull through his brother’s shoulder, “I can’t hear what they’re saying.”

“What, like we haven’t watched this stupid dragons movie a hundred times.”

“Chuck,” Herc’s voice is a low rumble.

“And it’s Raleigh’s favorite,” Yancy adds, chin resting on Raleigh’s skull and the arm he has around his shoulder tightening, “and if you have such a problem with it or with his elbows then you can shove over for someone else who won’t be a complete ass-hat.”

Chuck doesn’t answer with words. Instead, Raleigh feels him twist his entire body, jostling the bed and making the laptop open on his stomach jiggle precariously. An arm snakes up over him, Chuck’s hand clasping quietly with his own, squeezing. It’s as close as Raleigh knows he’ll get to an apology. He’ll take it.

Doesn’t stop him from purposefully elbow Chuck in the chest, though. Not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to make his point.

“Oy!”

“Love you too. Ass.”

Chapter Text

Raleigh likes to think that he can tell his partners apart with only a kiss. Well, okay, maybe not just one kiss, but definitely with several. In a row. And maybe with some tongue involved, too. Preferably more than just some.

Yancy is familiar. Sweet. Gentle most of the time. His idiot of an older brother has never really gotten out of this ‘take care of Raleigh’ phase he got into after their dad left them, never mind that Raleigh spent just as much time taking care of Yancy back then as Yancy did taking care of him. So he kisses Raleigh like he’s something precious, like he’s the center of the world—like he’s the center of the universe. Maybe spoils him a little, teasing and flirting with teeth and tongue until Raleigh’s practically begging for it, and then gives him exactly what he wants. And maybe Raleigh doesn’t plan to ever complain.

Chuck is fire. Chuck kisses like the world is falling apart around them. Kisses the way Raleigh expects he would’ve had they fucked out their issues back before Pitfall, a hint of desperation beneath the raw need and passion. He often finds himself on his back when on the receiving end of one of Chuck’s kisses, fingers tangling and rough in his hair, on his jaw, down his chest. Finds teeth on his neck or collarbone, lips and tongue working to suck a mark there that will make the others grin and laugh despite the evidence adorning their own skin. Chuck kisses without reservations, without any thought of anything other than the moment

Herc is intoxicating. Raleigh’s not sure of the exact hows or whys, all he knows is that Herc is the kind of man who seems to get off on making others get off. That when Herc kisses him, really kisses him, he finds himself drowning. Finds his legs turning to jello and all the blood in his body rushing south so fast his head spins. The other man knows what he likes and exploits that knowledge ruthlessly, fingers toying with that one sensitive spot on his side, teeth scraping over the patch of skin behind his ear that seems to be reflexively connected to his dick. Herc leaves him a quivering mess, chest heaving, his lips swollen and tingling.

The twins, though...

Kissing Bruce and Trevin is something different altogether. On their own, neither of them is exactly remarkable. Skilled enough to enjoy, definitely—Trevin enjoys teasing, while Bruce is more straightforward with his affection. Trevin tends to nip playfully at Raleigh’s tongue, fingers sneaking under his shirt to scrape blunt fingernails across his chest. Bruce, meanwhile, will cradle Raleigh’s head in his hands, kisses just this side of insistent.

Together, though. Together, the twins rival even Herc. They move with a kind of synchronicity born from almost a decade drifting together, perfectly balancing and counterbalancing one another. Trevin will tease, like he does, but Bruce will take over and follow through on his teasing while Trevin latches himself to Raleigh’s neck, to his collarbone, to his shoulder, neck, back—any parts of him he can reach. And, just when Raleigh feels like he’s drowning, like Bruce’s more aggressive methods are too much, Trevin is back, Bruce taking over where Trevin had left off. They leave him reeling, dizzy and off balance in the most delicious way.

And when things get really interesting, when several of them are involved at once, well...

Raleigh doubts he’ll ever get tired of kissing any of them.

Chapter Text

The skin on his shoulders and the back of his neck itches already, the sensation of his fingernails trying to soothe heightened and stinging. Stings more when some asshole jostles past them, as if there isn’t enough goddamn room on the wooden path for them all. It’s not like he didn’t put sunscreen on an hour ago. Fucking ginger skin.

“So, Herc, did you decide to go shirtless today just to tease the kids again, or are you trying to work on your tan?”

Herc reaches out with an arm, lightly smacking Trevin in the stomach with the back of his hand. Asshole.

“Hey!”

“I’d be wearing a shirt if someone,” he flicks Trevin in the arm this time, “hadn’t fuckin’ decided to put all mine in the wash this morning.”

“They were sandy!”

“Liar,” Bruce pipes up from Herc’s other side, expression inscrutable behind his sunglasses, though Herc catches the barest hint of a twitch at the corner of his mouth when he looks hard enough. Trevin, of course, doesn’t bother trying to correct his brother. Just rests a hand low on Herc’s back—which, thankfully, isn’t burned yet—fingers trailing up and down his spine.

“Besides, have I told you today how good you look?”

He leans over, pressing a kiss to the spot where Herc's neck and shoulders meet, feather light. Herc grunts, keeps walking.

“And how much I love you?”

He glares at Trevin out of side of his sunglasses. Keeps silent. Lets the sound of the waves in the distance and the wind curling salty about their skin do the talking for him.

“And how sorry I am?”

Another grunt. Bruce laughs, reaching over Herc to ruffle his twin’s hair.

“Gonna have to try harder than that, Trev’.”

Herc knows the moment Trevin gets his idea, whatever the hell it is. The little bastard may be pushing forty five, but he acts most of the time like he’s Chuck’s age. Or younger. Sometimes it’s endearing. Sometimes it’s nice to at least have Bruce acting like another adult in the house. Regardless, as soon as Trevin sneaks away, Herc knows he’s up to something. Yeah. Subtlety is something both Gages are lacking, though in Bruce’s case it’s not because he ever tries to be subtle about anything at all.  

They continue their journey down the boardwalk. A group of women, none of them a day over twenty one, all trip over their own feet and openly oggle him, some of them turning to whisper to their friends. Bruce takes a half-step in front of him, his hand finding Herc’s, fingers sand-rough and warm in a way so different from the sun on his skin. And maybe Herc rather enjoys the way he glares at them as they pass, the ones closest even shrinking back in apparent fear. Maybe it makes something warm, something a lot like the feel of the other man’s fingers against his own, blossom in his chest. Maybe he squeezes when Bruce makes to pull away once they’re past. Maybe it makes him a giant sap. Maybe he doesn’t care. Especially since he can practically feel Bruce’s raised hackles lowering the more he holds the contact.

They’re still holding hands by the time Trevin practically skips back towards them with a huge grin on his face and three ice cream cones balanced precariously in his hands.

“Really, Trev’?” Herc can hear the smile in Bruce’s voice without looking. Trevin nods, grin matching.

“I even got you vanilla since you’re so boring,” he hands the white cone to Bruce, who snorts but accepts it anyway, “and then dark chocolate for you, since you’re so dark and bitter.”

Herc accepts the ice cream handed him. Takes an experimental lick. It’s not bad. A bit sweet, but then what in America isn’t? It’s not too sweet, and it’s cold, making the sun currently trying to fry him alive feel that much more bearable. He shrugs and takes another lick, this one more assertive.

“What’d you get for yourself?” he asks after he swallows, gesturing with his cone at the multicolored abomination Trevin is practically deepthroating.

“Bet it’s tuti-fruity,” Bruce pipes up, voice thick. Trevin smiles wide, sticking out his tongue.

“So what if it is?”

Herc shrugs in time with Bruce, waggles his eyebrows.

“It fits you, love.”

“Does that mean I’m forgiven?”

Herc laughs then, having to clamp his mouth shut or risk spewing watery dark chocolate all over the boardwalk. Manages to swallow without killing himself.

“I’ll think about it.”

Trevin slides up close, leans in.

“What if I rub lotion into that sunburn of yours when we get back to the house? Slowly, and,” his lips practically brush the shell of Herc’s ear, “naked?”

Herc tries to act like he’s not as affected by the words, by the offer, as he actually is. And, of course, these trunks aren’t designed to conceal, well, anything. He coughs, feels his entire body flush. Bruce snickers.

“That would be a good start, yeah.”

“We could always head back now while the kids are still swimming. Make sure that burn of yours doesn’t get any worse.” Trevin runs his tongue along Herc’s earlobe, and he shudders. “Fuck in time with the waves.”

Herc nearly chokes on his ice cream. Needless to say, the three of them do an abrupt about-face, walking faster.

Chapter Text

The drink Trev’d brought him is sweating into his palm, so Bruce takes a swig. Something fruity, so Trev’d probably made it himself. Either him or Raleigh. He still has no idea how those two still have all their teeth, tendency to pick fights aside. Likes to think it’s because of the mandatory flossing he’d instituted in the house a few years back—because, as much as they might’ve tried to ignore it, morning breath is disgusting. Regardless, his drink is fruity as all hell and he can barely taste any alcohol in it. Experience tells him this is either annoying, dangerous, or some combination of the two.

Then again, this is Trev’. So. Probably both.

He huffs to himself and takes another generous swallow. Stares into the bright red liquid as he gives it a swirl, the remnants of his drink spinning and catching at the corners inside the glass. Readjusts his shoulder against the jamb between the family room and kitchen, glancing up from his drink at the projection of Times Square floating in front of the wall. Through some miracle—or maybe Stacker pulling some strings he still had left somewhere—they’d managed to find some station just broadcasting a view of the square and a small countdown in the corner. None of the concerts and newscasting bullshit. Just enough to make them feel like they’re a part of the festivities. Otherwise, quiet. Of course, it might help that that someone’d muted the channel anyway.

“Hey,” he recognizes Chuck’s voice before the kid comes up from behind and leans opposite him. “You alright?”

Bruce laughs humorlessly, not looking over—can see out of the corner of his eye that Chuck is looking at him with a kind of determination that has always reminded Bruce so much of Trevin. Keeps his eyes on the countdown, though. Just over an hour to go. Checks his drink before tilting his glass back and downing what little is left.

“That obvious, huh?”

He can see Chuck shrug, looking down at his own drink. Something mostly clear, maybe a little brown or yellow, Bruce isn’t sure.

“Dad ‘n Stacker are worried ‘bout you. Won’t say anything, though. And Trev’ keeps looking over at you like you kicked his puppy or something.”

It’s Bruce’s turn to shrug.

“Well, he did plan this whole thing with Jazmine. Invited Mako and Stacker for Raleigh and your dad.” He casts a sidelong look over at Chuck. “Still don’t know where they managed to dig up your uncle. Thought he was dead. Or in jail. Something.”

Chuck doesn’t say anything, just catches that look and stares at him, brows creasing. After a few moments—six seconds according to the countdown—he lets out a breath that sounds almost like an attempt at a chuckle that didn’t quite make it.

“That’s what this is about, isn’t it?”

“What, Scott?” Bruce turns then, brows furrowing in a mirror of Chuck’s as his back bends against the smooth wood. He casts a glance back through the kitchen to where Scott is barely visible, laughing at something, looking for all the world like the man Bruce remembers meeting so many years ago during that stint in Lima. “I mean, Herc hasn’t really told us the story of what happened, so I dunno if I can really judge him or—”

But Chuck is shaking his head, cutting him off, eyes bright.

“No no no,” waves his hand back and forth as if everything else weren’t enough, “not that. Family.”

Damn. Bruce sighs, wishing he had more drink. Straightens his spine and walks purposefully back into the kitchen, towards the rather impressive array of bottles on the island that Jazmine had gathered up in preparation for tonight. Picks one at random—something dark—and pours himself a glass. Can feel Chuck’s eyes on him as he swallows that, as he breathes out, relishing the burnt taste over his tongue, the fire sliding down his throat.

“Y’know,” he fills his glass again, “some people don’t have to complain about their kid being too smart.”

“Well it’s a good thing I’m not your kid then, isn’t it?”

Bruce doesn’t answer. Looks back through the door again, the changed point of view this time showing him Raleigh and Jazmine facing one another on the couch, somehow folding their ridiculously long legs beneath themselves. They’re chatting animatedly about something, Raleigh laughing—perhaps a bit louder for the bright orange drink in his  hand—and throwing his head back. Something sour twists in Bruce’s gut, something he knows has nothing to do with the alcohol currently swirling around in there.

“We don’t have any aunts and uncles,” he finally says, “no cousins, no neices or nephews. Our parents,” takes a breath, letting it out in a rush before he keeps talking, “both died on K-day. They were visiting San Francisco. Mom loved the gay community there, had loads of friends who were big into activism and shit.”

The laugh that works its way from his throat is anything but funny, his body orienting itself towards Chuck again and putting the living room at his back.

“I kinda doubt she’d be all that supportive of all this, though.”

Chuck nods at him, not saying anything.

“And, I don’t—I don’t know,” Bruce sighs loudly, puts his glass down blindly on the island behind  him, runs his hands over his closed eyes, through his hair, “I guess it’d be nice to have—to have someone left, y’know? Someone who-who doesn’t care about the war or the particular way we ended up finding happiness or—”  

The hand on his shoulder surprises him almost as much as the hug that immediately follows it.

“It’s okay,” Chuck’s voice is muffled against Bruce’s shoulder, “I get it. But,” the hand on his shoulder is back, another on the other side, both of them gripping hard as Chuck’s eyes meet his, “you’re wrong. You do have someone. Us.”

“But—”

“Bruce,” something in Chuck’s voice makes him snap his jaw shut, “stop talking, alright? ‘Cause this is awkward enough saying to your face, or even just saying.”

Bruce nods, blinking. Chuck takes a noisy breath and lets it out before he continues speaking.

You are our family. Uncle Scott might be family by blood to me, sure, but you? You ‘n Trev’ ‘n Ray ‘n Yancy? Mean so much more than something as, as,” he looks away for a moment, biting his lip in a way that Bruce would probably describe as adorable were he at liberty to say such a thing, “as accidental as blood. You’re the family I chose. Because I wanted to. Because I wanted,” he shakes Bruce’s shoulder a bit, “you. All of you. And I bloody accept you or whatever because fucking christ do you think I’d let you stick it in me if I didn’t?”

And he can’t help it. Bruce laughs. In Chuck’s face.

“Hey!”

But Bruce ignores him. Shrugs Chuck’s hands off of him and pulls the kid into a hug. Plants a kiss against the red curls beneath his cheek.

“Y’know,” he stage-whispers, “most people don’t fuck their family.”

Chuck lets out an annoyed huff, pushing himself out of Bruce’s grip. Bruce totally catches a hint of a smile dancing over his lips, though.

“Well it’s a good thing you’re in a family that doesn’t give a fuck. Now, c’mon,” he holds out his hand for Bruce to take, “be social ‘n shit.”

Bruce takes it without another thought, his own smile making his cheeks cramp.

Chapter Text

Yancy wakes to find his arms empty of his brother. Yawns widely, still on his side, and stretches as best as he can with the arm that's still securely pinning his middle to a broad chest.  He rubs at his eyes, and a quick glance down tells him it’s Herc’s arm based on the scars. That and the fact that he can see Bruce, Trevin, and Chuck all wrapped in one another on the other side of the bed, Chuck drooling on Bruce’s shoulder.

He yawns again, a bit louder this time, his jaw creaking. Messes with the blankets until he’s mostly uncovered, then reaches back and taps Herc on the ass.

“C’mon, Dad,” the name still sometimes sounds odd to his ears when he says it—it sounds much more fitting from Raleigh or Chuck’s mouths somehow—but never wrong, “time to get up.”

Herc grunts, and Yancy feels his stubble scraping over his back. Feels dry lips pressing a soft kiss between his shoulderblades. Feels those same lips travelling sideways, towards his shoulder. He chokes on a giggle when Herc brushes over a particularly ticklish spot. Smacks him on the ass again, this time harder.

“Jesus,” he huffs a bit breathlessly, squirming, “good morning to you too, Dad. Now let me up.”

Behind him, he hears and feels Herc let out a sigh against his skin before the mattress shifts.

“Fine, fine. Here,” he looks back to find Herc standing beside the bed, gloriously naked in the dappled light sneaking through the blinds, offering him a hand, “let’s go get ready then, eh?”

Herc catches him the way he always does when Yancy takes that first step out of bed, his knee flashing with pain and trying to buckle beneath him after so much disuse. Keeps an arm around him until they get to the bathroom, settling him against the sink. Gets the shower started and the temperature adjusted. By then, as with most mornings, Yancy is able to push himself to his feet while keeping a hand on the tiled wall, stepping over the rim of the tub and into the shower on his own. The water is, of course, perfect. Only has to wait about five seconds before Herc is behind him again, body warm at his back as the curtain slides shut.

Neither of them say anything, at least not in words, just move through their usual motions. Sure, Herc makes a small noise when Yancy leans his head forward into the stream, the motion no doubt spraying tiny droplets into Herc’s face. Yancy also makes a small noise, his more of a contented hum than a huff of annoyance, when Herc’s soapy hands descend on his scalp. Moans a bit as those assertive fingers massage and gentle before guiding him back into the water. While Herc shampoos, Yancy grabs a bar of soap and washes both their bodies. Grins devilishly when he’s got his hands between Herc’s legs, which of course just gets him a fond eyeroll—like usual. He can read the meaning in that simple enough.

Silly boy.

They’ll have plenty of time for that later.

They rinse and dry in silence, Herc stepping out first and preparing both their toothbrushes. Hands Yancy his once Yancy’s finished drying, already spitting his own mouthful of foam into the sink.

Getting clothes is, as always, an exercise in silence. Chuck and the twins are still sleeping—lazy assholes—so the first words Yancy and Herc exchange are in the kitchen, Yancy in sweats and a tee, Herc just in jeans.

“Pancakes?”

“Whatever y’feel like, love.”

Yancy grins.

“Well, I feel like pancakes.”

Herc nods, grabs the mixing bowls and pans while Yancy takes a trip to the pantry and fridge. Starts on coffee while Yancy scoops and mixes. They get into their usual rhythm, Yancy mixing up batter and pouring, handing the pan off to Herc when it’s time to flip them. His arm isn’t nearly as bad as Raleigh’s is, but sometimes fine motor control tasks—or even not-so-fine ones—are beyond him, depending on the day. They have a decent stack going by the time the front door opens and Raleigh wanders in, sweaty and breathing hard and grinning like a small child.

“Can I have chocolate chips in mine?”

He sidles up to Yancy, still smiling, and tries to wrap his arms around him. Yancy, though, pushes him away with a laugh.

“Only if you go upstairs and shower. You smell disgusting.”

Raleigh sticks his tongue out at him, scrunching his eyes and making a face.

“Go,” Yancy slaps him on the ass when he walks past to Herc, getting an affectionate head rub and a “G’morning, love,” from the older man, “get clean. And wake the others while you’re up there.”

“Fine, fine, I’m going.”

Raleigh’s stomping halts halfway up the steps.

“Can we have bacon, too?”

“Don’t make me come after you,” Yancy calls back, something warm rising in his chest at the identical chuckles he gets from Herc and Raleigh.

Just another morning.

Chapter Text

Their nights are almost as coordinated as their mornings.

“Rals, c’mon,” Yancy calls down the stairs, yelling to be heard over the sounds of Raleigh and Chuck beating the shit out of some mythological monster—or getting the shit beat out of them, he’s never really sure. “It’s time for bed.”

“Five more minutes!”

“Raleigh Becket,” Yancy does not smile at the authority in Herc’s voice, really, he totally doesn’t, “listen to your brother. Get your ass up here.”

The two of them wait, side by side at the top of the steps, Yancy with his hands on the banister to help support his weight, Herc hovering just behind him. He doesn’t have to look to know the older man’s arms are crossed. It doesn’t take long for the sounds of clashing metal and explosions to fade away. Takes even less time for Raleigh to swing himself around the bottom banister, propelling himself up the stairs—it’s a good day for him, lucky bastard—two or three at a time. Chuck follows, if a bit more sedately, holding his back ramrod straight and wincing every few steps.

Behind him, Yancy hears Herc make a soft noise. Chuck must hear it—or get something from the ghost drift—because he pauses about two thirds of the way up, rolling his eyes.

“‘M fine, old man.”

“Chuck—”

“Leave it.”

Yancy opens his own mouth to argue, but stops when Herc’s hand lands on his shoulder. He doesn’t say anything, and, like usual, his meaning is clear enough. This isn’t a fight they’re going to win. Sighs instead. Turns, testing his knee and finding it satisfactory before walking, slowly, towards the bedroom.

Bruce and Trevin are already there, curled up in bed together, book between them. Bruce is wearing his reading glasses that are a new addition as of last week, silver frames glinting in the yellow lamplight. Both of them look up when Yancy and Herc enter, Bruce with a finger on the bridge of his glasses and Trevin with a finger in the spine of their book to hold their place. They trade glances.

“I suppose it’s about that time, eh Brucey?”

Bruce doesn’t answer his brother with words, instead lightly taps him on the nose. Trevin giggles before glancing back over at them, face serious.

“How’s the leg?”

“Been better,” Yancy hobbles over to the dresser, pulls out a pair of loose boxers and an even looser tee—both, he’s pretty sure, were Chuck’s at one point. He knows he’ll shed them at some point while he’s asleep, he always does, but it’s the principle of the thing. “At least I could make it up and down the stairs on my own today.” He glances back up at the twins, hands still amongst their clothing. “You two want anything?”

When he gets two shaking heads, he nods, plodding over to the edge of the bed to change. Herc helps him—of course he does—pulling at the legs of Yancy’s jeans once Yancy gets the button and belt undone. Kisses the inside of his thigh with a devilish glint in his eye. Yancy maybe nudges him in the shoulder with his knee for that.

Once he’s changed, Yancy makes his way to the bathroom while Herc takes care of his own clothes. Brushes his teeth to the sounds of Raleigh showering—because, apparently, just a shower every morning isn’t good enough for some people. Has Herc’s toothbrush ready by the time the older man steps into the bathroom behind him, not wearing anything. Yancy openly leers in the mirror—and is quite proud of himself for managing it with foamy lips and a toothbrush sticking  out of the corner of his mouth—spits, then steps back to give Herc the sink. Prepares the other four brushes, making sure to put them down in the proper order—Raleigh, Chuck, Bruce, Trevin—off to the side.

Sure enough, as he’s leaning on the wall on his way back to the bedroom, he hears the water turning off in the shower. Also, Chuck emerges from the bedroom, the twins in tow, an arm around Trevin’s shoulders. The burn scars on his lower neck are a more vivid pink than usual when he passes Yancy, and he glares as if daring him to say anything. Yancy holds up a hand in surrender.

It’s not his job to work everything out between Chuck and Herc, after all. He’d made that mistake once, and only once.

He’s the first one to bed, although Raleigh and Herc wander in less than a minute after he’s settled, Raleigh as naked as Herc. They both settle around Yancy, Raleigh at his front, Herc at his back. Tonight, Raleigh opts to face him, smirking before his fingers skate under Yancy’s shirt and grab the edges, pulling it over his head.

“Hey, I was wearing that.”

“And now you’re not,” Raleigh retorts, sticking his tongue out and crowding into Yancy’s space. His head ends up beneath Yancy’s chin somehow—little brother magic, he’s sure, never mind that the kid is a freaking giraffe—and his breathing has evened out before Yancy can even complain.

By the time Chuck and the twins come in, Chuck heading for his father’s side of the bed this time while the twins both crowd Raleigh’s back, Yancy’s eyelids are heavy, sleep pulling at the edge of his consciousness.

He’s not sure if the darkness that sweeps over him is sleep or someone turning out the last lamp. Not that it matters.  

Chapter Text

For the most part, cuddling of one form or another takes up at least some part of their day. If not during the morning or while watching TV or reading or during set aside ‘date’ time, at the very least it will happen at night. None of them, Raleigh is sure, can actually fall asleep anymore without at least touching one another somehow. There’d been that one time Dad had gone away to Hong Kong for some PPDC bullshit—because, apparently, being a former Marshal, even if only for a few months, means that he wants to weigh in on current decisions. Though the flight was only a few hours in the goddamn supersonic jet they sent to pick him up, he’d come home early the next morning. He’d looked like he hadn’t slept.

And, as they all quickly found out, that’d been because he hadn’t.

So. Touching and cuddling are par for the course in their house. Used to reassure, ground, remind, and cherish. Some days it happens relatively little. And then there are days like today.

Raleigh’s day starts off like any other. He wakes up, goes to work, works, leaves work, and gets home, still smelling like nitrile gloves and antiseptic and that sterile scent of hospital he can never wash off his hands. Normally—if there were any scenario that could be described as ‘normal’ in their house—it’s to find the twins just getting back from their own jobs, Herc already there, and Yancy doing something either with Herc, with the twins, or on his own. Normally, Chuck gets home a few minutes after him, and he and Yancy have their own time on the holo to either watch something completely shitty or argue over which shitty thing they should watch for so long that they end up not watching anything at all. Sometimes Raleigh will join them once he’s changed back into real clothes. Sometimes he’ll give them their own time. Sometimes, he needs that time with them. It varies.

Today, though, Raleigh walks in the door to sounds coming from the family room already. When he gets no answer to his call into the house, he toes off his shoes and investigates. Finds the holo projector playing some dumb show about shirtless werewolves that some part of his brain remembers Chuck vaguely likes and Yancy hates. The two in question are currently curled up together on the couch, on their sides, Chuck playing little spoon to Yancy’s big. Their backs are to him, and he’s not even sure either of them are aware of his presence in the doorway.

Though he opens his mouth to ask a question, Raleigh snaps it shut when Herc’s hand—he’d recognize that calloused palm anywhere, even through two layers of fabric—lands on his shoulder.

“Sprog’s havin’ a bad day,” he says by way of explanation, voice barely audible over the holo. “Woke up late from a dream of Striker.”

Raleigh nods in understanding. Turns back to head out of the room, sliding along the back wall as quietly as he can and into the kitchen. It smells like something sweet was baked not too long ago. He doesn’t have to look up to know Herc followed him.

“Has Yancy been keeping an eye on him all day?”

Herc chuckles lowly.

“Nah. He’s been a right brat. He’s demanded we all switch out every now and then. The twins were with him for a bit, one at a time—” Raleigh snorts; he can imagine how well that went over, “—‘n I was in there not thirty minutes ago.”

When he turns back towards Herc, Raleigh can see the understanding there, the answer to the unasked question already forthcoming.

“He didn’t want to call you back from work.”

Annoyance is a sickly twisting in his gut. Raleigh huffs, feels his face pulling into a frown.

“But that’s what family is for. I would’ve come. You guys are more important to me than a stupid job. No, I’m serious Dad,” he holds up his hand to stop whatever protest Herc might’ve been about to make, “I can always get another of those. Not like we need the money, anyway. I can’t get another of you, though. I mean, I get it—I do—and I’m not upset. Not,” he sighs, grinding his teeth and the annoyance down to nothing, “not really. I just wish I could’ve,” a gesture towards the door to the family room, “helped.”

Herc’s eyes soften, and he takes the scant steps necessary to close the distance between them. Takes Raleigh’s face in his hands and kisses him softly, sweetly, something more hidden under the press of lips than a simple declaration of affection.

“I know, love. And Charlie does, too. I’m sure if you go sit with them they won’t mind.”

Raleigh sighs into the kiss. Brings a hand up to cup the back of Herc’s palm.

“He still gets so pissed that you call him that. You know that right?”

A snort.

“Why d’you think I still do it?”

Chapter Text

Every Friday night is movie night. Because, with all of their jobs, the way their schedules—of course—never seem to really line up when they actually want to plan something, the twins had decreed that they all needed family time together. No one had opposed them, and so it had been set. Well, no one except Chuck, of course, but Raleigh’s fairly certain they’ve all learned to cope with the kid’s disagreement with everything at this point. And to see past it to what it really is.

Tonight, though, it’s Chuck’s turn to pick the movie. So, of course, they’re watching something with lots of fancy visual effects and space ships. Raleigh would’ve thought that living a life practically like something out of a cheesy, near-dystopian science fiction movie would’ve cured Chuck of his love of the genre. If anything, though, it seems to have made him love it more.

“I don’t get it,” he pipes up for perhaps the third time, “why would you mix someone with a bee?”

Someone—he’s fairly certain it’s Chuck, although it could’ve just as easily been Trev’—swats his shoulder.  

“I dunno just watch the bloody movie.”

Probably Chuck, then. He feels Yancy’s nose poking warm at the back of his neck.

“I bet you’re a crossbreed—”

“Splice,” Chuck corrects him with a tired sigh.

“—whatever, with a golden retreiver, Rals.”

Raleigh makes a huffing sound through his nose, clamps his lips together and turns to glare at his brother. Yancy’s grinning at him, all teeth, completely unrepentant.

“Like you have any room to talk,” Bruce pipes up from the other end of the couch. Yancy’s grin vanishes, turns affronted.

“I am not a golden,” Yancy retorts. “I’m obviously some sort of working breed, the way you all run me into the ground. Probably a german shepherd.”

“For fuck’s sake,” Chuck interrupts them, “you’re a fuckin’ golden retreiver now shut up and watch the movie.”

“Am not!”

“What part of shut up—”

“Boys,” Herc’s voice is low, full of promises. Ever the peacekeeper. “Hush. Yancy, love, you can be whatever you want to be. Charlie—”

“Oi!”

“—leave your brother be. It’s not his fault he’s in denial.”

It takes everything in Raleigh not to burst out laughing. Especially when it takes Yancy a few seconds to realize what Herc’d just said.

“Hey!”

Raleigh turns, leans up to nuzzle at his brother’s jaw.

“It’s okay, Yance, we can be goldens together.” He grins wide, feels the laughter still trying to escape. “I accept you for who you are.”

“But-but—”

“Hush,” Raleigh presses his smile against his brother’s skin, “just accept it.”

Yancy huffs, letting out a soft disgruntled sound so much like when they were kids that a part of Raleigh, somewhere deep in his chest, physically aches. Other than that, though, he quiets, leaving the six of them in silence save for soft sounds of breathing and the creaking of the couch as they each make constant, minor readjustments. And the movie, of course. After a few more minutes, though, Raleigh finds another question bubbling at the forefront of his mind.

“Wait, so if all the weird-looking people are, uh, splices, then what’re the weird dragon and alien-looking things splices of?”

“Komodo dragons and your mother,” Chuck retorts without even a second’s pause, “now shut it. This part is good.”

“You just want to see hot shirtless men.”

“You know you like it too.”

Boys,” Herc sounds like he’s rubbing a hand over his face, “please.”

“Yes, Dad,” they chorus at the same time. He feels and hears Yancy leaning over to whack Chuck somewhere, his brother’s fist tapping him in the shoulder.

“Show offs.”

Chapter Text

Even though it’s a day for celebration, Raleigh still finds himself wishing that Jaz hadn’t insisted on a formal wedding. Or, at least, not one with formal wear required.

“Stop your fidgetting,” Bruce whispers beside him, his palm a brand over Raleigh’s covered leg. “You’re really obvious, Rals.”

“Not helping, Bru’,” Raleigh tugs at his collar, wishing for the more than twentieth time that he could pop the top button. “Seriously, though. Why’d she have to move to Florida? I mean, Florida? I thought this place was just for old people and Cali-wannabes.”

Bruce snorts.

“You got that from Trev’, didn’t you?”

Raleigh doesn’t need to answer. The sound of Trevin trying—and failing—to restain his giggles on Bruce’s other side is answer enough. Behind them, some old lady makes a shushing noise. Raleigh makes to turn in his seat, to tell her exactly where she can shove said noise, but, almost as if on cue, the music starts.

The girl that walks down the aisle first is not Raleigh’s sister. The mother giving her away—because, as Jaz had said, fuck traditions—is not their mother. Instead, it’s the girl Jazmine has chosen to marry, being escorted—”Not given away! Escorted! Key difference.”—down the aisle by her own mother. The girl Jazmine had apparently met over ten years ago while finishing high school in an unfamiliar city. She’s Cuban, Raleigh’s sister had told him. Second generation. Family had made the crossing back when anyone who actually made it to shore was automatically granted citizenship.

“Miriana,” Jaz had told them at New Year’s, laughing with a wicked glint in her eyes—because, apparently, being straight didn’t run in the family. At all. “And if you try to call her Miri she’ll rip your dicks off.”

She’s in a deep red gown, matching the dark red ombre of her hair as it rolls down her back in waves. At least, Raleigh finds himself thinking, his sister and her girlfriend—soon to be wife—have matching taste in fashion.  

She’s also easily as tall as Jaz herself. Of course. And it looks like she gets it from her mother.

Jazmine, by contrast, is wearing her favorite color: a deep, royal blue that looks almost purple in the right light. Because, of course she would. Raleigh can remember at least three arguments they’d gotten into as kids over which it actually was. Yancy’s tie matches her dress, and Raleigh doesn’t need the constant hum of contended pride at the back of his mind to see how fucking happy Yancy is. His brother’s grin looks like it’s going to crack his face in half, and Raleigh’s fairly certain that the only reason he’s not crying is because he’s suffering and sweating in his goddamn penguin suit just as much as Raleigh is. Jazmine, of course, is beaming too, but unlike Yancy who goes back and forth between smiling at their sister and seeking Raleigh out in the crowd, Jazmine’s eyes are glued to the front.

The rest of the service is mostly a blur. The thing that sticks out mostly in Raleigh’s mind is that Yancy looks ludicrous at the front, easily four inches shorter than everyone else at the altar—even the priest. He remembers at some point Bruce grabs at his leg again, whispering, “Stop thinking about it, Rals.”

“I wasn’t—”

“You were.”

“No, I—”

“Yes. You were.”

He ends up elbowing Bruce in the side as surreptitiously as he can. He obviously fails to avoid being noticed, because Herc leans forward in his seat, fixing both of them with a glare.

So. Both of them are going to have an interesting evening, then.

At long last, Jaz and Miriana both say their vows—which Raleigh is sure are beautiful, since he can see Yancy tearing up—and then it’s all over. The newly-wed couple is recessing back, everyone files out, and the reception begins. Raleigh has to restrain himself from shoving his head in an ice-filled cooler, never mind that the reception is being held in an actual building with actual, blessed air-conditioning. He spends most of it at his sister’s side or by one or more of his lovers, since some of them—mostly Bruce and Trevin—have never been overly fond of crowds in the first place, let alone crowds of strangers.

He loses track of Chuck at one point. Wanders outside to find him not ten minutes later back in the chapel area—as much of a chapel as a field can be, anyway. Neither of them say anything, but Raleigh can almost feel the whistfulness there. He puts a hand on Chuck’s shoulder, leans over to press a dry kiss just behind his ear. Chuck doesn’t react except to put his hand on top of Raleigh’s, letting him go without a fuss when Raleigh turns to leave.

And, of course, Raleigh and Yancy both give highly embarrassing speeches. After all, that’s what big brothers are supposed to do.  

 

Chapter Text

Once the dining and speeches and games of how-dark-can-we-make-Jaz-blush are done, the dancing begins.

Yancy’s never really been one for these types of things. Going out with friends—or, as was more often the case, with Raleigh—drinking, talking each other’s ears off? That he can do all day and all night. Talking is easy. All it really required of him was a functioning brain and the ability to listen, after all.

This, though? Dancing? Publicly making a fool out of himself?

That, Yancy’s not so good at. It probably doesn’t help that he’s got various injuries from the war that could, potentially, make it much more difficult. To be fair, today’s a good day. His knee hasn’t been screaming at him all day, and his arm is behaving for the most part. So, physically, he should be fine.

Which is probably a good thing since Jazmine appears out of the throng of people, wrapping an arm through his.

“C’mon Yancy,” she pulls him towards where people are clearing a space, “you have to give me my first dance.”

“Wh-what? Why me?” he splutters, following anyway. Jazmine turns back just enough that he can see her rolling her eyes.

“Because, stupid, I said so.”

“I thought you were above stupid, sexist traditions.”

That gets him a punch in the arm—a fucking hard one, jesus christ—and a grin that’s positively sinister.

“I am. So unless you want me to kick your short little ass back to New York, I suggest you give me my first dance.”

If anyone had told him when they were kids that his sweet, somewhat quirky sister would turn into such a hardass bridezilla, he’d’ve probably laughed in their faces. As it is, he takes the rebuttal for what it is and laughs anyway. It gets him another punch, but his sister’s smile is somehow shy this time.

“Fine, fine, anything for you. Although,” he nearly steps on her feet when Jazmine arranges their arms where they’re apparently supposed to go and takes the lead, “I hope you know that, even if you’re taller than me, you’re still always gonna be my little sister.”

Jaz steps on his toes—though thankfully she doesn’t use her heel—and keeps grinning at him.

“Careful, mister.”

Yancy hmm’s at her. Continues swaying, continues following. The music is soft, slow, and after a minute Yancy hears Jazmine sigh. She leans her head to the side, gently knocking their skulls together. The action is so reminiscent of Raleigh that Yancy almost busts out laughing right then and there.

“You’ll always be my big brother, too.”

He hmm’s at her again, this time questioningly. He can feel the eyes of everyone in the room on them, but ignores them through sheer force of habit.

“You said I’d always be your little sister. I just,” Jaz sighs again, this time practically right in his ear, “you’ll always be my big brother, too. My biggest brother,” her breathy laughter is warm against his scalp, “even if you’re also the tiniest.”

“Don’t think that just because this is your wedding day I won’t spank you right here and now,” he teases her, drawing another laugh out of her.

“I think I’ll leave the kinky shit to you and Raleigh. But thanks for the offer. Very considerate of you.”

Yancy feels his face flame, Jazmine’s laughter now hard enough that it’s shaking him. It only takes her a few moments to quiet, though, the two of them continue swaying.

“I thought you were broken the first time Mom had me give you a bath.”

Yancy doesn’t know why he says it, what prompts it. Just that the words spill out. Jazmine makes a noise. Yancy can’t see her, but he’s sure her eyebrows have climbed into her bangs.

“Oh?”

“I was stupid,” he defends, “and young, and to be fair the only experience I’d had was giving Raleigh one. And boy parts and girl parts—”

“I get it,” Jaz snorts, the sound clashing with the otherwise calm atmosphere. “So what did you do?”

The song ends before Yancy can answer. People start clapping around them, and he’s fairly sure he hears Raleigh actually cheering. Little bastard. Jazmine takes a step back, but keeps her hand on Yancy’s hip, the other still clasped.

“I got Mom. Told her that there was something wrong with you.”

He huffs out his nose, a smile tugging at his lips at the memory.

“She came running so fast like you wouldn’t believe. She wasn’t angry, though,” he huffs again, the smile tugging harder, “she actually laughed. Thought it was hilarious. Meanwhile I was just a freaked out little kid. She did tell me, though, that I’d done a good job being a big brother, watching out for my little sister and all.”

He pauses for a moment, before adding, “And, then, of course, she gave me the lecture about what makes boys and girls different.”

Jazmine’s laughter probably recklessly confuses everyone nearby, but that’s okay. It’s worth it to see her light up like that. Yancy can’t help it. The words just spill out of him.

“I love you, Jaz. Thank you. For everything.” Feels his mouth twist. “I’m sorry we weren’t there when...when.”

But she just shakes her head.

“It’s alright, Yance. I forgave you both a long time ago.” The and she has on his hip moves up to his cheek, and she leans in, placing a soft kiss on the other side. She smells like lavender.

“Now go be with your men. They look like they miss you. Especially Raleigh.” She giggles. “He never did like being alone, did he?”

Yancy turns his head, following the trail of Jazmine’s gaze. Raleigh is leaning against the twins, Herc hovering just behind them. Chuck, who has apparently found himself sandwiched by the twins as well, sticks his tongue out when he catches Yancy looking.

“Nah, he never did, did he?” Turns back to his sister, catches the small but bright smile there. “But, I guess, at least now he doesn’t have to be.”

Chapter Text

Raleigh’s muted cursing from over by the sink draws a laugh out of Yancy, his brother’s frustration leaking over their link clashing with the amusement swirling in his chest.

“Those potatoes giving you trouble, kid?”

He can feel Raleigh’s glare without looking.

“Shut up.”

“Leave your brother alone,” Herc chides him, bumping Yancy’s side with his elbow. Yancy sticks his tongue out at him and goes back to mixing his dough.

“You worry about your meat, I’ll handle my part.”

The snort that Raleigh makes is broken by another slew of low swear words and the sounds of something solid-but-not-quite jostling into the sink. He glances over his shoulder to find Raleigh glaring at the half-peeled potato in his hand.

“Rals? You alright?”

His brother makes a disgruntled sound before looking over at him.

“They’re slippery. And I keep missing spots.”

Yancy turns back to his biscuit dough. Sighs when he realizes the fingers of the hand he’s been using to mix are shaking imperceptibly. Switches his spoon to his other hand.

“Just make sure you don’t cut yourself.”

"Yes, Dad," Raleigh retorts, his eyeroll almost audible.

Yancy,” Herc cuts him a sharp look, “I mean it. Be nice to your brother. He's not stupid."

"I never said he was stupid," Yancy retorts, words perhaps more defensive than he'd intended, "he's just got horrible luck in a kitchen."

"I don't think—"

"He broke a bowl in tenth grade by pouring cereal into it."

"Alright, but that doesn't—"

"He caught a microwave on fire."

"Okay, but that can sometimes just happen—"

“Dad,” Yancy turns, gives Herc a flat look, “this is Rals we’re talking about, here.”

Herc huffs and gestures towards Yancy’s brother.

"That peeler's literally designed s’that it’s impossible to hurt yourself. Stop fretting, alright?”

“Have you met Raleigh?”

“Hey! Fuck you both, I’m right here—shit, fuck!”

It’s not even a conscious decision. One moment Yancy is stirring dough, just about ready to spoon it out to bake, and the next he’s crossed the kitchen. Is at Raleigh’s side before he can even think about it, wobbly knee be damned, one hand on his brother’s wrist so that he can see.

A line of skin has been scraped off the back of Raleigh’s thumb like...well, like he’d peeled it off. Blood is leaking out, not terribly fast, but fast enough that it pat pats into the sink in fat drops.

“Oh, kiddo,” he shakes his head and pushes the pot of potatoes aside to give them more room to work, turning the water on and shoving Raleigh’s hand under the stream. He tries to ignore the way his gut twists at the harsh breath Raleigh hisses in through his teeth. “What am I gonna do with you?”

“Yeah yeah, shut up,” Yancy’s glace up treats him to the sight of his brother turning bright red. Herc is nowhere to be seen, which Yancy hopes—is pretty sure, at least—means he’s gone to get the first aid kit. He leans over, bumping skulls with Raleigh. Focuses on the fond affection that’s pulsing through his veins instead of the quiet panic that always tries to take over whenever one of them—especially Raleigh—gets hurt. They’ve found that tends to make the feeling travel across the ghost drift that much clearer.

“You don’t have to say ‘I told you so’.” Raleigh gripes at him, temple warm against Yancy’s forehead.

“I didn’t.”

Raleigh turns his snort into a cough.

“Right.”

Yancy doesn’t say anything. Just sighs. Leans over to grab a clean washcloth and turn the water off, wrapping Raleigh’s thumb in it. Puts just enough pressure, watching his brother’s face to see when it hurts. Uses the hand not holding the cloth to run soothing fingers up and down Raleigh’s tensed shoulders.

The smell of burning fills the kitchen, and Yancy doesn’t even pay the meat on the stove any real mind.  Just maneuvers himself until he can turn the heat on the stove off and move the pan to a different burner, then resumes soothing his brother. Raleigh doesn’t look at him, keeps his eyes on where Yancy’s still applying pressure to his wound.

“I’m sorry. I ruined dinner.”

Yancy shakes his head, focused on the spot on the washcloth above where he remembers the kid bleeding the worst, watching for signs of it soaking through.

“Don’t worry about it. You’re more important. We can get more food,” he leans over to press his lips to the base of Raleigh’s skull, just behind his ear, “but we can’t get another you.”

His brother’s shoulders finally lose some of their tension at that. He knocks his head back into Yancy’s just as Yancy hears Herc coming back down the steps, kit likely in hand.

“Love you too, Yance.”

Chapter Text

This was supposed to be another routine mission, Herc finds himself musing as bullets whiz over his head. A simple mission. Just a land and grab: avoid contact with any enemy troops, land under the radar in their dropship, uplink some Alliance research data that’d gotten this planet glassed from orbit by who the hell even knew these days, and get out. And drop off a little thermonuclear package as a parting gift, to be fully enjoyed once they were in orbit.

Not the kind of thing they usually send an entire N7 team for, but then again, their N7 team is a bit different from others. Most N7s work alone, with an elite team of commandos to accompany them on day-to-day missions—usually N5s or N6s. Most also have a complement of marines to act as a panic button. On rare occasions, for those higher risk missions or those of greater importance, up to three N7s have been known to work the same field, either sharing responsibilities or deferring to either the senior-most N7 or the N7 most familiar with the mission and the terrain.

Having the six of them in one place isn’t exactly routine. At least, not for typical Alliance missions. Probably explains why they always seem to get the missions that go tits up.

“Bruce,” he keys his comm, “how many?”

“They’re jamming me,” comes the distracted answer, “working to bypass.”

Herc risks peeking over the waist-high piece of rubble that’s serving as his cover. Tries to scan the area, but three rounds slam into his kinetic barriers in rapid succession, the third one making the energy fields flare and crackle with blue light.

Shit ,” he ducks back down as the crackling turns into a muted pop that seems to press in on him from all directions at once, his barriers dying.

“Dad?” his son’s voice crackles over the comm “You alright?”

“‘M fine,” he grits out, omnitool already lit up as he tries to restart his barriers. “You focus on your part.”

A red symbol flashes in his helmet, and he curses again, fingers running through the familiar sequence to boot up his backups.

“They’ve got a sniper using disruptor rounds, though. Fried my shields.”

“Jamming bypassed,” Bruce chimes in over the comm. Herc’s HUD brings up a tactical layout as Bruce syncs his omnitool to their suits’ small array of scanners. “Looks like about fifteen men. No dark energy fields, so no biotics to speak of. Must be a small scouting party.”

“Do you have a bead on their sniper?” Yancy’s voice is cool, detatched in Herc’s ear, and a shiver runs down his spine. There’s something about when his boy gets like this that rubs him the wrong way. His boy, who is probably one of the most optimistic and cheerful of them all in spite of all the shit he’s been through.

“Not yet.”

“So there’re more than fifteen. Rals?”

There’s a rush of static that Herc recognizes as Raleigh’s sigh followed by a snort.

“Fine, fine, make me do all the dangerous work. Ass.”

“No,” Herc cuts in, “Raleigh, don’t you even think about—”

But it’s too late. Raleigh whoops in his ear, and a blur of blue flings itself past Herc’s head. There’s a flash of light and a dull crunch of impact. The bullets stop. Or, at least, they stop aiming at where Herc is hiding.

Which means they’re aiming at Raleigh.

At his boy.

His.

“Goddamnit,” he growls into his comm, “hit ‘em with everything.”

He stands fully, a stray round bouncing off his shields, shoulders his rifle, flicks the switch ahead of the trigger to dual-shot, and fires in one smooth motion. The bucking of the weapon against his shoulder is familiar, the two rounds it fired near-simultaneously striking one of their opponents—one of them men who’s turned to aim at Raleigh—in the back. The gun works as intended, the first round overloading the man’s shields, the second piercing whatever defenses his armor might’ve had and detonating a split-second later in his innards. Herc’s not sure how it works exactly—which exact alloy the thing shaves for the top shot to increase force transfer and therefore shield stress, or how the bottom shot can be minifactured so quickly—almost instantaneously—and yet always detonate at exactly the right moment.

All he really knows is that, when he shoots the bastard who dared try to hurt Raleigh, said bastard’s spine literally explodes.

“Huh,” Yancy’s voice drifts over the comm, “did you mean for that to be so dramatic, Bruce?”

“Dramatic, no. Effective, yes.”

Herc grunts, sights down another of them. This one—a woman, he thinks, judging by the armor proportions, but he’s been wrong before—takes both shots at the base of their skull. The wrecked helmet remnants haven’t even made it to the ground before an orb of blue energy flings itself over Herc’s shoulder. The unlucky soul it splashes over starts screaming, their body melting before their eyes, his very molecules being ripped apart by Trevin’s warp field.

“Down!” Bruce yells out, voice frantic. “Sniper decloaking at—”

There’s a crack—almost a roar—that rends the air, then a spray of blood from a window some hundred fifty meters ahead of them. A figure plummets to the ground, landing with a distant sound of impact behind where Raleigh is keeping the attention of most of the mercs with his biotics.

“Got him,” Yancy doesn’t even sound smug. Another crack, and a merc Trevin had been midway through tossing across the field of rubble lands without anything above his neck. “Save your biotics, Trev’. There’re probably more coming.”

“It’s not like that was a complicated—”

“Enough,” Herc cuts in, swapping out the thermal in his rifle with mechanical efficiency. Comes back up firing. “Chuck? How’s that download looking?”

“Asking me about it twenty bloody times won’t make it go any faster.” Chuck sounds annoyed, which is good in Herc’s mind. Means the kid hasn't come under fire yet. There'd be more anger in that case. “Twenty six zettabytes doesn't just move on its fuckin’ own, y’know.”

“Did you try boosting—”

“—the bandwidth of the uplink and co-opted our comm channels, yes Bruce, I wasn’t born fucking yesterday. Sod off and watch our backs.”

“Chuck,” Herc growls into his comm, “behave.”

Chuck’s answer, whatever it might be, is low enough that Herc can't hear it over the sound of Raleigh lifting the last of their merc friends and tossing the bastard his way. He sighs, sights down the man shouting and flailing through the air, switches his rifle back to standard ammunition, and leaves a bullet in the merc’s skull.

“What was that, love?” Herc sighs, propping himself for a moment against the crumbled structure, his rifle resting butt-first at his side. “Couldn't hear you over the sound of your brother being a goddamn show off for Daddy.”

Raleigh’s bark of laughter is punctuated by the merc’s body hitting the ground with a thud not five feet to Herc’s left.

“I said, you can take—shit fucking goddamn cuntbags—

Chuck! ” Herc can hear the gunfire even from down here, and he whips towards Raleigh, grabbing his rifle. “Rals, go, now.”

Raleigh doesn’t answer with words, just nods, though Herc can hear him panting lowly over the comm. His body vanishes in a streak of blue light that arcs towards the building they’d been defending, disappearing through a shattered window about three floor down from where Herc knows Chuck is.

“Trev’—”

He doesn’t even get to finish his order, Trevin rising to his feet, with a low, “Gotcha,” gesturing while his whole body glows bright blue. A tingling sensation crawls over Herc’s skin, and then he’s sailing through the air, wind rushing even in his enviro-filtered speakers. Trevin’s aim is, of course, true, and Herc tucks himself into a crouch as his armor widens the already broken window. Comes up from the roll with his finger on the trigger, searching for enemies, just in time to see Chuck pulling his omniblade from a merc’s skull. It crackles with miniature arcs of lightning before winking out of existence, the silica carbide shell dissipating to dust. Three other bodies lay strewn about his kid’s feet, all of them with cauterized blade wounds gaping blackened through their armor.

“I can handle myself, old man,” the sneer is practically audible.

A gunshot rings out from the blown-open door behind Chuck, and a merc falls through it, bleeding all over the floor from a sizeable wound in his side that Herc recognizes as one from Raleigh’s shotgun. Raleigh himself steps over the dying man, not even looking as he swaps his shotgun for his pistol. Two shots ring out in the confined space, and the merc stops struggling.

There’s a small beep from the corner. Herc glances over, the small transmitter hooked up to the computer interface that dominates the wall blinking green.

“Fuckin’ finally,” Chuck grumbles, making to move over towards it. Herc stops him with an arm across his chest. Meets their helmets with a soft thunk, the closest he can get to doing what he wants to do in the irradiated air. Unlike his own armor, Chuck’s faceplate doesn’t use a full-HUD display, and Herc warms at the way the kid’s cheeks glow pink through his visor.

“‘M fine, old man. I can handle myself.”

“Doesn’t mean we don’t worry,” Raleigh chimes in, bumping Chuck’s shoulder while he keeps his pistol trained on the door.

Though Chuck snorts, Herc moves his hand until his gauntlet rests just over the plating that guards his son’s heart. Presses gently before taking a step back.

“Grab your gear and let’s go.”

He turns back towards the window his entrance widened, leans against the wall beside it to radio down.

“Everything all quiet down there?”

A shot cracks the silence.

“They’re sending more scouts our way,” Yancy reports. Another shot. “No more than—” another shot “—three or so at a time, but eventually they’ll figure out why they keep losing contact.”

Herc swears under his breath.

“Language, love,” Trevin chides him with a laugh. “Don’t want to scar the children, after all.”

“Fuck you too, Trev,” Raleigh laughs back. Herc rolls his eyes, tapping at his omnitool until a blue triangle winks into existence on his HUD.

“Meet back at the NavPoint. The shuttle should already be on its way down. Avoid—”

Fuck,” Yancy cuts in on the connection, “two airships inbound. I don’t have the ammo to—”

“Do not engage,” Herc barks, ignoring the quiet panic that floods his veins. “Get to the NavPoint. Stealth protocols.”

There’s silence for a half-beat before a sullen, “Yes, sir,” filters over his comm. He shoves the spike of guilt right next to the panic.

“Biotics, amp checks.”

“We’re good,” Bruce doesn’t sound nearly confident enough for Herc’s liking. “Just give the word and we’ll take ‘em down.”

“I can—” Raleigh starts, but stops when Herc levels him with a look the kid can’t actually see. Raleigh’s slung around enough power in the past hour to knock most other human biotics on their face for several days at least.

“Don’t you dare. Chuck,” Herc tilts his head in his son’s direction, “get him out of here. Haul him if you have to.”

He taps the side of his helmet, zooming on his HUD until he can make out the two Mantises jetting their way. Another tap, and his helmet highlights and partitions them, cheerfully informing him that they have warp torpedoes strapped to their stubby wings. Another tap, and his suit forwards the information to Bruce and Trevin on the ground.

Sweet.”

“Trev’,” Bruce’s rebuke sounds like he’s rolling his eyes almost as hard as Herc is, “it’s not sweet, they’re trying to take down our shuttle.”

“I’ve never exploded a warp torpedo before,” Trevin keeps going as if they hadn’t spoken. “D’you think the explosion’ll be bigger than a normal warp field explosion?”

“Bet you five creds it isn’t.”

“Shut up, Ray, move your lazy ass,” Chuck’s huffing would be adorable if Herc allowed himself such thoughts at times like these.

“Bet you five creds and a blowjob it is,” Trevin shoots back.

“Deal.”

Focus,” Herc tries not to yell over the comm, but fails miserably. “Trevin, Bruce, warp fields ready. I’ll disable their shields, and you two detonate the torpedoes.”

Down in the ruins beneath him, he sees both twins’ bodies glowing blue. He flicks his rifle back to the dual shot mode. Sights down the path the gunships are taking. Breathes deep through his nose, finger hovering over the trigger. Squeezes twice the second the craft come into view again, shouting, “Now!” over the comm.

As it turns out, Trevin wins that particular bet.

Chapter Text

Raleigh’s first hint that anything is wrong is when he’s changing out of his scrubs to go home, the back of his mind prickling his skull with quiet distress. So he, of course, fishes out his phone, dialing Yancy’s number. Gets no answer. Tries again. Voicemail again. Treis Herc, then the house. No one picks up.

Hint number two.

He maybe drives slightly faster than he should, maybe gives some asshole the finger when said asshole honks at him. His only consolation, the only thing keeping him from going fast enough to lose his license, is that things don’t feel...it doesn’t feel like he’s facing down Knifehead again—not that anything’s likely to ever feel that way. That is, if anything were catastrophically wrong, then he’s fairly certain either one of them would call him or the upset, worried feelings ghosting to him would be much more intense. And probably overshadowed by some kind of repressed panic.

Sure enough, he can hear raised voices coming from the house as soon as he opens the door. Steps out onto the driveway with a bone-weary sigh. Rubs at his eyes with both hands, his keys cold against the side of his face, before leaning back in and over the central console to grab his bag. The door swings shut with a gentle push and muted slam.

He tries to ignore the voices that grow progressively louder and clearer as he gets close. Manages to drop his keys in front of the door when he tries to juggle them to get at the house key. Also manages to crack his head on the knob when he’s standing back up, stars crossing his vision.

“Son of a bitch,” he swears loudly, gritting his teeth. Flips to the right key and shoves it in the lock with perhaps more force than necessary, unlocking the door and pushing his way inside.

The shouting is expected, the way it rolls over him and leaves a cold feeling in its wake. Something just beyond nervous but not quite yet fear, a healthy dose of discomfort thrown in for good measure. It’s not a foreign feeling by any means. Hell, they probably spend just as many—if not more—days fighting amongst themselves as they do in quiet, calm bliss. Or maybe just bliss; some of them don’t exactly know the meaning of the words ‘quiet’ of ‘calm.’ Regardless, arguments aren’t exactly uncommon in their house. They aren’t perfect, of course, nor are any of them without their own freaking laundry list of baggage. With so many ghost drifts and scars and memories floating through the air at all hours, it’s a miracle they somehow work together at all. There are sometimes days Raleigh holds that thought tight inside of himself, trying to pretend it doesn’t exist. Because they do work. They have to.

The thing that’s unexpected about what he walks into is who is doing the arguing.

“All I’m saying is that you don’t have to be so cruel to him all the time. He’s your father, Chuck. You don’t know what he’s given up—”

“Trev’,” Herc’s voice sounds tired, “it’s okay, you don’t have to—”

“Don’t you fuckin’ tell me I do or don’t know, y’fuckin’ seppo. I know exactly—”

“Then why’re you still so cruel to him? He did the best he could—”

“Bullshit.”

“—given everything that’d happened and you know it. What would you have done?”

“Well I don’t fuckin’ know ‘cause I don’t have a fuckin’ kid, right? Can’t exactly ever find out, either, can I? No, ‘cause we’re all a bunch of goddamn f—”

Chuck.”

Raleigh feels his gut churn. Kicks off his shoes by the door and heads up the stairs in the brief silence that follows Herc’s low, threatening growl. Lets the tugging at the back of his mind guide him to the spare bedroom. Opens the door to find the lights off, the blinds drawn. Yancy is on the bed, a shaking Bruce in his arms. Even after Raleigh closes the door, even after he’s taken up the space on Bruce’s other side and nuzzled into the other man’s shoulder, he can still hear the raised voices around the cracks in the door.

“I told him,” Bruce mutters, his voice shaking as much as he is, not looking at either of them, “I told him not to get in the middle of them. Wouldn’t listen—god, he never listens.”

“I know, Bru’,” Raleigh presses his nose just below Bruce’s ear, where jaw and skull meet, “I know.”

He sends a tentative tendril of worry across the ghost drift to Yancy, inquisitive. Sets a soft, affirmative warmth in answer. At least there’s that. He reaches across Bruce’s chest, links his fingers with his brother’s, letting their joined hands rest over Bruce’s thudding heart. Downstairs, the yelling reaches a near-roar. The front door slams. A car starts up outside—Herc’s truck, he can tell from the low grumble it makes the first few seconds it’s running—and drives off.

Raleigh sighs to himself. Whoever it was, they’ll be back. It might take a few hours—hell, it might take the whole night—but they’ll be back. They always come back to one another.  

Chapter Text

“Bruce. Yance.”

Raleigh blinks his eyes open, squinting against the sliver of light coming from around the door. He can see Chuck’s outline there, uses his free hand to wipe sleep from his eyes, fighting off a yawn.

“They’re sleeping. Passed out a few hours ago.”

He doesn’t have to be connected to Chuck to know what that slump of shoulders means.

“Oh.”

They’re both silent, Raleigh blinking at Chuck’s dark shape, Chuck not moving. Raleigh rolls himself slightly, getting his other arm free from where Bruce is apparently using it as a pillow. The other man stirs, but doesn’t wake. Not really surprising.

“I wanted to...to—”

“I know,” Raleigh cuts him off. He hears Chuck heave a sigh.

“I, I uh, I guess I’ll go then.”

And it’s that, the uncertainty and fear Raleigh can hear in Chuck’s voice, that he hates more than anything else. After all, Herc and Trev’ are probably in the bedroom—probably asleep, or at least Trev’ is, since Bruce is too—and here the three of them are, in the spare. That just leaves Chuck. Chuck who’s pissed off or at least upset an occupant of each room. Chuck who, if Raleigh knows him the way he’s sure he does, was probably hoping he could avoid having to talk to Herc or Trev’ until tomorrow.

Chuck who, for all of his bluster and threats and brash behaviour, has the largest gap in his soul where his self-confidence should be. Chuck who takes every time he does anything wrong as an example of why he’s not worthy of the love they give him so freely.

And there is no doubt in Raleigh’s mind that this whole argument was Chuck’s fault. But, really, at this point? It doesn’t matter.

He extricates himself from Bruce’s back, leaves a dry press of lips at the other man’s nape just in case he can feel it—and because he wants to, damn it. Chuck still hasn’t moved, and once he’s out of the direct light, Raleigh can see that he’s looking down at his hands, wringing them together. Probably tearing at his nails again, too. Kid’s made himself bleed that way more than once. He tries to ignore the pulse of sadness that shoots through him he takes Chuck’s hands in his own and the kid jumps as if Raleigh’d shouted at him.

“Want some company on the couch?”

Though he doesn’t look him in the eye, the tilt of Chuck’s head when he looks away at least has some of his usual swagger.

“Only if you promise not to crush me or kick me off, fuckin’ giant.”

Raleigh lets himself huff out a small laugh.

“Speak for yourself, Charlie.”

Chuck might jab him in the side with a finger for that, but it’s totally worth it.

And, sure, things are shit right now, sure, but they’ll be alright. Maybe not tonight, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually. They’ll talk it out—especially this shit about kids Raleigh overheard, because fuck where did that come from?—and figure it out. Compromise. Come to an understanding. Try to do better next time. Probably fail, but what relationship doesn’t have a few bumps in the road every now and then? They’ll keep trying, like they always do, until they get it right. Or, at least, as right as they can.

After all, they love each other. For whatever reason, by whatever fucking leap of logic—or lack thereof—they do. It’ll take more than this to destroy that.

Chapter Text

“Will you two cut that out? ‘M tryna watch the fuckin’ movie, not a goddamn porno—”

Herc kicks Chuck where the brat is sitting between his legs. Maybe uses the fingers already tangled in the kid’s hair to tug a bit harder than he likes. Chuck twists, grunts, grumbles a low, “Fuck you,” without turning around, and settles back against the edge of the couch. Can obviously read the recrimination for what it is. Never mind that he has a point.

“Raleigh, Yancy,” Herc pauses the movie projected above the wall. Has to clear his throat to get the thickness out of his voice, especially when two sets of blue eyes practically blaze at him. “Your brother has a fair point.”

“We weren’t doing anything,” Raleigh grumbles from Yancy’s lap, one leg draping over the arm of the single-seater, turning to hide his face in his brother’s neck. “S’not like I was sucking his dick or something.”

“No,” Bruce’s chest rumbles under Herc’s arm, his spine pressed alone Herc’s side, “you were just being loud.”

“We were kissing.”

“Loudly.”

“No we—”

“Boys,” Herc decides to ignore Chuck’s huff of satisfaction at the way Raleigh snaps his mouth shut, “enough. It’s your brother’s Friday. If you really can’t wait, go upstairs.”

He starts the movie back up without waiting for an answer. Can see out of the corner of his eye how Yancy nudges his brother, not saying anything. How Raleigh tilts his head, brows furrowed. Neither of them speak, but he distinctly sees Yancy shake his head. Also definitely hears Raleigh mutter a low, “Fine,” that almost gets swept away in the soundtrack.

The movie’s not bad. Not really. Something Chuck’d dug up out of the twins’ DVD collection once upon a time. And, since there are six of them, the poor kid’d had to wait about a month before he could show it to them all. It’s something to do with dragons and knights and, unless Herc’s totally missing the point, something about a dragon egg. Either that or some kind of overly-jeweled ball that everyone is losing their shit over.

He wouldn’t put it past them, some of the shit Chuck seems to enjoy watching. Like that one about the monster destroying New York. That one had been too much for the twins—almost too much for him too, if he was being honest—and after that Herc’d put his foot down. Still, the kid loves his movies a little weird. And it’s not like Herc can really fault him for it either, since, well, it’s not like he’d given his son a normal childhood or anything.

“Oh, c’mon, that’s almost worse.”

“For fuck’s sake,” Herc grumbles to himself, waving his hand to pause the movie again, “what now—”

He stops, his breath caught in his throat. Raleigh and Yancy are still curled up together on the chair, still practically wrapped up in one another, except now they aren’t, as they’d argued before, doing anything, per se. Instead, they’re just...looking at one another. It’s the kind of look that blasts Herc all the way on this side of the room, even though he’s only catching the edges of it. The kind of look he’s seen the twins share when they think no one is looking. Even though he can only see Yancy, Herc can feel the affection pouring out of the kid’s eyes. Can feel the weight of love and desire and something pretty damn close to devotion.

It’s the kind of look that makes Herc question how anybody could ever doubt the two of them are, almost maddeningly, in love. The kind of look that, had he never before been on the receiving end of its full force, would make him bow his head in deference and look away.

Chuck’s right. It’s bloody distracting. But not a bad kind of distracting.

It’s just how they are. On the good days, at least. And why they can make it through the bad days, probably.

“Hey,” Herc jumps—and so does everyone else, he tells himself—at Trevin’s voice, “moon eyes later, Becket boys. Movie now.”

Fuck you.”

They say it in sync, and it’s so adorable that, were he a stronger man, Herc would admit to tearing up a bit. Between his legs, he hears Chuck scoff.  

“Later,” he doesn’t have to see Trevin’s face to know the bastard is grinning like the ass he is, “movie.”

It doesn’t really matter. Not ten minutes later, Bruce and Trevin are doing the same damn thing.  

Chapter Text

Chuck’s fairly certain he’s going to vomit any second now.

Dinner had been horrible. The dinner Yance and his dad’d slaved over for their five year anniversary of living together (five years jesus ass-fucking christ) had tasted like ash on his tongue, had felt like sandpaper against his teeth. While everyone else had been making appreciative hums and smiling and talking and being nice, normal fucking people, he’d barely been able to focus enough to get the food into his mouth. Had made only the smallest of noncommittal noises when asked what he thought. Had cringed at the way Yancy’s face had fallen, even if only a little bit.

And, of course, that’d led to everyone—every single fucking one of them—asking what was wrong. The way they always fucking do.

He remembers saying nothing, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. Remembers the feel of grains of dirt between his toes from the patio more clearly than anything else, the gritty roughness as he rubbed his ankle with the bottom of his foot under the table. Remembers thinking vaguely that he wished the vast, puffy clouds overhead would turn to rain so they’d all be forced to move their meal inside. Remembers someone asking him if he was alright,  though not who.

Doesn’t remember ending up beside the twins. Doesn’t remember giving his mouth permission to move, to say the things spewing from it like fluid from a broken hydraulics line. It feels like a million wasps are racing under every inch of his skin, stinging and burning and biting until he can no longer feel his knee where he’s dirtying his jeans on the dusty ground. Until his arms feel swollen and numb where they’re outstretched. Until the small box in his hand no longer feels soft but instead feels like it’s trying to tear him apart.

“Look, I know I’m shit at this-this stuff, and I know I’m just a shit at all of this, but I don’t. I don’t want you to even think that I don’t—”

“Chuck,” Bruce interrupts him, eyes wide, a warm hand circling Chuck’s forearm, “are you—”

“Will you shut up,” he almost feels bad at how he snaps, but god fucking damn it he needs to get this out right fucking now or the danger of him vomiting all over the remnants of dinner still on the table is very real, “I need—I don’t want any of you to ever think I don’t care, alright? Because I do. I fucking do, and-and I know that I can be a shit. I know I fuck up a lot—”

“Well, you can’t be perfect at everything,” Raleigh’s smirk twists into a grimace when Yancy punches him in the arm, “ow, jesus Yance—”

“Raleigh, stop,” Yancy’s voice is low, but Chuck still hears it in the relative silence that has fallen between them all. “Let him talk. Chuck, babe,” the change of tone is almost jarring, the words like a gentle caress against his skin even though Yancy’s on the other side of the table, “breathe. It’s just us, okay?”

Almost against his will, Chuck’s body draws in a huge lungful of air, holds it, then lets it out in a rush. The buzzing under his skin gets better, if only a little. Bruce’s hand on his arm still burns like one of Striker’s stingblades, though.

“I know I’m not the best at,” he makes a gesture with his eyes more than anything, looking at each of them, “this—at shit like this. Feelings. But I—”

The memory of an argument from forever—years—ago, rings through the back of his mind, the words still on a loop in his mind the way they always are whenever he lets his thoughts get too quiet for too long.

(It’s almost like you don’t care.)

And they hadn’t been meant like this. Had nothing to do with this, with what they had back then and what they have now. Not really.

“I lo—”

He chokes. The words stick in his throat like syrup. Tries again.

“I lo—”

He nearly gags this time, looks down at his own hands as his face flames.

“I fuckin’ lo—”

“Chuck,” it’s his dad’s hand on him this time, that familiar, calloused grip on his shoulder, “you don’t have to—”

Yes,” he can hear the frustration in his own voice, swallows back the pressure building in his chest, “I fuckin’ do. I have to, I—you two,” he turns his gaze sharply to Raleigh and Yancy, then to the twins, “and you, you’ve-you’ve always had someone. You’ve always known what it was like, you—” he swallows again, “you never even had a doubt. You always knew. Always. How it felt. What it meant. How to say the right thing. I—” his jaw moves on its own as he searches for words, “I never—I don’t—I...”

He picks his arm up from where it’d apparently slumped in Bruce’s grip. Reaches up with his other hand to tilt the box open. He can tell he doesn’t exactly surprise any of them with the contents, the six silver bands winking in the fading sunlight. The buzzing is stronger than ever, but he pushes it back. Grits his teeth and forces his mouth to shape the words he knows are right, unable to look any of them in the eye.

“I l-love you. All of you. And I’ve never been good at-at saying shit like this. So. I want you to know. To always know. I know it’s not,” he shrugs, sucking in a breath, “legal or. Or anything like that. But, I thought that—”

“Chuck, you’re...” Trevin sounds...quiet. It makes him blink. The other man looks almost, god, Chuck would say shocked, but he’s pretty sure they all saw this coming once he got down on one knee. “You’re proposing?”

He doesn’t say anything, just nods. Doesn’t trust his mouth any further than he’s already had to. The hand Bruce has on his arm migrates down until it’s cupping his palm, then twists around and plucks one of the rings from the box. From here, Chuck can see the small B inscribed on it. It’d been a sentimental, stupid touch that he’d had done on an impulse at the very end, but—

If the way Bruce is practically blinking back tears as he slips the ring on his own left hand is anything to go by, it’d been worth it.

 

Chapter Text

It’s not even that hard to get them all out of the house.

“I know you haven’t bought us presents yet,” Trevin teases them over breakfast, fishing another marshmallow out of his Lucky Charms—and, hey, it’s his birthday: he’s allowed. He’s rewarded with the sight of Chuck flushing into his eggs and Raleigh flushing even darker, trying and failing to cover it up by wiping at the sweat still dotting his forehead. Herc snorts into the drink he’d been in the middle of taking, but recovers valiantly, his laughter low and turning into a cough that could easily be either real or faked.

“So,” Bruce picks up, his leg bouncing under Trevin’s hand, skin almost as warm as his brother’s smile, “if you all want to go out, y’know, do some last minute shopping or something, then we promise we won’t be upset.”

They all, of course, take the bait. Especially when Bruce points out that Yancy and Herc should go with Raleigh and Chuck, to act as escorts if nothing else. Once the car pulls out of the driveway, they get to work.

“How long do you think we have?” Trevin calls, grabbing supplies from cupboards and cabinets as quickly as he can, switching on the oven as he goes. He can hear Bruce rummaging through the front closet for the boxes they’d hidden back there a few days ago, safely tucked behind the shoe rack.

“Eh, knowing Rals, probably a few hours at the very least.”

There’s a fondness to the words that Trevin doesn’t miss, that’s echoed across their link in a quiet, steady pulse underneath the thrum of anticipation singing in both their blood. Trevin finds his face pulling into a smile all on its own. He can still hardly believe Bruce went along with this crazy idea of his.

“Should I text them to take their time? That we’re,” he lets his voice drop off suggestively before finishing, “busy?”

Bruce’s laugh is sharp and short. He reappears in the doorway, his hands occupied, and makes a beeline for the back of the house.

“Nah. They’d probably want to join in. Might even turn around and come back early.”

Trevin hums, knows Bruce can feel the smile splitting his face more than see it as he imagines that. Gets back to work, mixing, pouring, more mixing: getting his part of their plan ready. Greases up three pans while he’s at it, and gets out a few more bowls. At some point, the over beeps to tell him it’s reached temperature. The whole time, he keeps the image of the others interrupting them in the middle of being busy firmly in his mind, biting his tongue to keep from giggling. Actually does giggle when he feels the pulse of arousal finally—finally—cross over their link from Bruce. Took him long enough. Hears the back door open.

“If I fall and break my head because you’re,” he can hear his brother struggling to find the right words, “because you’re distracting me, it’ll be your fault. Ass.”

The laughter that escapes him is punctuated by the back door slamming. Spoil sport.

As it turns out, it takes them almost two hours to get everything ready. Trevin’s just stepping inside from the back yard, maneuvering his way towards where Bruce has collapsed on the couch, when he hears the front door open.

“You two had better not look at—” comes Chuck’s voice before it’s abruptly cut off.

“Welcome home!” Trevin calls to them, letting himself fall backwards over the back of the couch, his shoulder colliding with Bruce’s thigh. Turns his head so that his cheek rests against his brother’s knee.

“Why does it smell like you spent the entire time we were gone baking?”

“Because, obviously, Yance, they did.”

There are footsteps coming towards them, and when Trevin opens his eyes and glances over, all four of them are standing in a cluster at the end of the couch. Chuck’s brows are scrunched, as are Yancy’s, while Raleigh is positively beaming. Herc just looks...quiet. He nudges Bruce in the side with his elbow.

“Hey, wanna show them now?”

Bruce lets out a long sigh.

“We could just let them wait. I’m tired. You made me do all the heavy lifting.”

“Because you burn everything you touch, dumbass.”

“I’m the one who taught you to cook—”

“Bruce, Trevin,” Herc interrupts them, an eyebrow raised at them both when Trevin looks back, “mind cluing us in?”

Bruce lets out an explosive sigh that Trevin can feel masks a surge of anticipation.

“Fine,” Trevin rolls his eyes as Bruce grunts to his feet, arching his back and popping his spine, “let’s all. Go out back. Trev? Wanna lead the way?”

Trevin lets his legs fall to the now vacant couch, standing. Reaches his hands out, unable to keep back a grin.

“Alright. Although I insist that you let me escort you.”

Though he rolls his eyes, Chuck reaches out with the hand not holding a shopping bag and loops his arm through Trevin’s. Herc does the same, lips twitching in a barely-concealed grin. Good. Looks like he’s caught on, then. Or at least pieced it together. Either that or he knew all along. Probably that.

“Sirs,” he hears Bruce murmur to Raleigh and Yancy, Raleigh snorting out a laugh, and then the three of their footfalls are following them through the house.

Chuck’s reaction is simultaneously everything and nothing like Trevin had imagined.

“Wh—how—what the fuck did you two do?”

And Trevin can admit to himself that, yeah, he is pretty impressed with what they managed to pull off. The back yard had been a mess of fallen leaves and twigs, the glass on the patio table caked with sun-dried dust. Bruce had cleaned it all, the leaves raked into presentable—and inviting, if Trevin’s honest with himself—piles. There are still plenty on the trees though: fiery oranges and reds and yellows that Trevin doubts he’ll ever really get tired of.

In the center of the table is Trevin’s contribution: a two-tiered cake, the top one with frosting colored to match Gipsy with chocolate underneath, the bottom matching Striker and hiding plain yellow cake. Thankfully, neither the Hansens nor the Beckets seem to have developed an overly complicated tastes in terms of sweets—hell, Raleigh really only seemed to require sweet—because this is about all Trevin can manage to make himself. Hell, getting the food coloring to match Striker and not look disgusting had been a trick in and of itself.  

“We wanted to show you how special you are to us,” Trevin whispers to Chuck, leaning over and planting a kiss on the kid’s temple.

“But it’s your birthday.”

“It’s just our birthday,” Bruce answers this time, leading Raleigh and Yancy over to their spots where a small box waits for each of them in their seats. “We didn’t really do anything to deserve it, our mom did all the work.”

“All we did was parasitically feed off of her for nine months,” Trevin adds, grinning at his brother. Bruce rolls his eyes but keeps talking as Trevin leads Chuck and Herc to their seats—both pick up their presents and sit without a word.

“We figured we’d use it as an excuse to show you all how much you mean to us. To, uh, thank you for sticking by us for as long as you have.”

He comes around the table and joins Trevin, wrapping an arm about his waist. Trevin leans into the gesture, leans his head on his brother’s shoulder before picking it back up to speak.

“These last few years have been,” he takes a breath, tries to mean it, tries to put as much of what feels like truth in his voice as he can; can only hope it’s enough, “to be honest, they’ve been the best of our lives. They haven’t always been easy, but. You four are the best gifts we could ever hope to have, and we just wanted to...to show you.”

He gestures at the boxes each of them are holding. They all seem to understand at the same time, ripping the paper away to reveal the identical slim black boxes underneath. Chuck manages to get his open first. Gasps. Trevin can see his eyes start to shine as he reaches in and draws out the silver chain with two dog tags jangling merrily on its end.

“Are you—how?” He blinks at them as Raleigh, Yancy, and Herc all have similar reactions. “I thought you two only had yours left.”

Bruce shrugs against Trevin’s shoulder.

“We called in a favor with Tendo. Turns out there were a few spares in storage somewhere in an old Kodiak locker or something. Technically under lockdown, but...”

He trails off, and Trevin can see understanding in the eyes of everyone. Tendo’s resourceful, after all. And a good friend.

“Thank you,” Herc’s voice is almost hoarse as he cradles the tags in his hand, examining them. Trevin nods at him, his smile feeling like it’s going to tear his face in half, before turning to the Beckets.

“Raleigh? Yancy? D’you like them?”

He doesn’t get a chance to hear their answer, because as soon as the words are out of his mouth a Chuck-shaped object collides hard with his middle, and only Bruce getting his feet under them saves the three of them from going down.

“Chuck?” he coughs. “Jesus, Chuck, you okay?”

No, fuck you,” comes the muffled answer. Trevin swears he hears a sniffle in there, feels it against is shirt, but elects to ignore it. “How the fuck’re we supposed to top this, huh?”

He straightens, his arms still around both of them as best as he can manage Trevin is sure. The kid’s glare would likely be so much more effective without the tears that are definitely not there, no sir, clearly it’s just been raining on Chuck’s face. And, through all that, the kid’s mouth keeps threatening a small smile, though Trevin’s not sure whether or not Chuck even knows that’s there.  

“You two’ve officially ruined every other birthday, I hope you know.”

“Yup.”

Trevin leans in, smiles against Chuck’s lips.

“I’m glad you liked your present, Charlie.”

“Mmf—fuck you.”

“Maybe after cake.”

“And the leaf pile!” Raleigh pipes up. Trevin doesn't have to look to know how widely he's smiling. Can hear Bruce groaning behind him. Poor thing. All that hard work.

“And after we jump in the leaf pile, Rals, yes.”

Chapter Text

It’s when the sign declaring ‘Pennsylvania welcomes you!’ flies past the window that Yancy lifts his head from Trevin’s chest and cranes his neck towards the driver’s seat.

“Rals? Where exactly are we going? You said, and I quote, ‘A quick trip for something fun.’ Pennsylvania doesn’t exactly qualify as a quick trip.”

He catches the edge of one of his brother’s trademarked smiles, the kid not taking his eyes from the road. Like Yancy taught him all those years ago.

“But it’ll be fun , Yance! I promise! When we get there, it’ll so totally be worth it.”

From the passenger’s seat, Bruce makes a harumphing sound.

“I’m with your brother, Rals. At least tell me you’re not gonna drive us all the way down to Maryland or Ohio or something.”

Raleigh heaves a sigh. Yancy can’t see him rolling his eyes, but he can feel it at the back of his mind. For a moment he’s not sure if the fond exasperation floating between them is his or Raleigh’s. It makes something warm flutter in his chest, one of his hands massaging at the feeling almost instinctively. Above him, Trevin makes a soft humming sound, the arm he has draped over Yancy’s middle squeezing lightly as his teeth show. Almost like he knows exactly what Yancy’s feeling. Hell, exactly like he knows exactly what Yancy’s feeling. The fluttering gets warmer.

“Yes, Bru ’, I promise I’m not driving all the way to Maryland.”

“‘Cause I know Dad and Chuck asked for some time alone,” Yancy pipes up, “but I don’t think they meant that much time.”

He can see Raleigh sticking his tongue out as the kid leans forward a bit. Can hear him tapping at his phone where it's mounted on the dash, out of Yancy’s sight.

“We have about another hour to go,” his brother reports, “now shut up and let me drive. I thought I was the annoying younger brother, sheesh.”

“I resent the implication,” Trevin’s chest rumbles under Yancy’s ear, his smile audible.

“Resent it all you want,” Yancy can see the way Raleigh's body twists slightly in his seat, not really turning around but coming awful damn close, “but you know you’re the annoying younger brother, Trev.”

“By, like, three minutes! You’re the younger brother by, what, three years and a month?”

“And four days,” Yancy adds, readjusting his shoulders when they go over a bump in the road so they don't poke into Trevin’s side quite as much. From the front, Raleigh huffs, body turning completely back towards the road.

“So what? You’re still the younger one.”

“And I’m still older than you.”

Yancy smacks Trevin’s thigh with the back of his hand for that. He can see Trev looking down at him out of the corner of his eye.

“What?”

“Be nice.”

It’s Trevin’s turn to huff.

“You’re no fun.”

The last hour continues much like that, the four of them bantering and badgering Raleigh for their final destination. It’s only after they’ve pulled off the interstate, when they’re stopped at a light and Yancy hears the turn signal clicking, that he actually sits up and looks around. He doesn’t recognize the small grouping of stores they’re apparently turning into.

“Wait, so, where exactly are we?”

“Scranton,” Raleigh grins at him in the rearview. “This is the closest Waffle House to home, and we’ve never been, so I figured—”

“Wait wait wait, hold on,” Yancy’s eyes swivel until they come to rest on the brick building and its yellow sign at the edge of the road, “you mean that you drove us three and a half hours to go to a place called Waffle House ?”

Raleigh’s grin falters. He shrugs and pulls the car into one of the few available spots.

“I dunno. Jeff told me about it. He used to live out here. Said he and his friends would drive here in the middle of the night once his boyf—his, er, friend got his license.”

“Oh-ho ho!” Yancy can see Bruce poking Raleigh’s shoulder in the front. “Jeff has a boyfriend ? I thought Jeff was straight .”

“Yeah, well, so did everyone else.” Raleigh’s words might be muttered under his breath, but it’s not like it makes any difference. And it does little to disguise the warm feeling that ghosts between them and through Yancy’s guts.

“Oh man, Rals, is someone a little jealous ?”

Even as he turns to muffles the sound of his snort in Trevin’s shoulder, Yancy can feel the warmth transforming into a fire that crawls high up Raleigh’s neck and into his ears. Judging from the way Trevin’s shoulder is shaking, he hadn’t missed it either, even without the backstage pass Yancy has to his brother’s emotions.

No!

Raleigh might’ve almost been convincing, if not for the way the car jerked to a stop in the spot he’d chosen.

“Okay, we believe you,” Bruce’s voice sounds like he means nothing of the sort, like he’s about to bust his gut containing his laughter.

But, hey, Yancy’s not going to be the one to call him out on it.

Instead, he unbuckles his seatbelt and practically kicks the door open, his knees popping deliciously as he stands. Stretches his hands skyward and arches his back, his spine and shoulders following the example of his knees. From within the car, he hears Bruce apparently lose his internal battle and bust out laughing, followed by a soft sound of impact and a mock cry of pain.

“—gets to smack Bruce but me,” Yancy hears Trevin finish as he steps out of the car opposite him, sticking his tongue out—and, jesus, sometimes he forgets what children the twins can be. And this coming from him . Who is related to Raleigh . “None of you have had to deal with him as much as I have. Brother privilege.”

Raleigh’s door opens just in time for him to say, “Whatever, Trev,” before he wraps his arms around Yancy and kicks the door closed. “At least Yancy loves me.”

“Uh huh,” Yancy snorts, “we’ll see. Where the hell have you dragged us?”

“Waffle House, duh.”

Raleigh gestures at the yellow and black sign stuck in the lawn in front of the squat brick building. Yancy just arches an eyebrow at his brother, which gets his message across clearly enough.

“They’re supposed to be like an old-timey diner sort of thing.”

“I’m assuming they make waffles,” Bruce smirks as he comes around the car, heading for the door, Trevin following him. Yancy can feel Raleigh’s huff warm the side of his face.

“Duh. And eggs. And they do hash browns any way you want them.”

“So long as they have bacon,” Yancy acquiesces, pulling out of his brother’s arms to wrap an arm around Raleigh’s shoulders, steering him after Bruce and Trev. Makes sure to smile at his brother and place a quick, dry kiss to the kid’s cheek.

“Let’s go see what you dragged us across an entire state for.”

Chapter Text

Driving through the city had been hell, Chuck snapping at him more than once from the passenger’s seat that he’d missed his turn or “That’s a bloody one-way, y’can’t go that way! Jesus fuck, are you trying to kill us all?” At least Herc flicking the kid on the ear each time had made it somewhat more bearable. And his leg hadn’t seized once the entire trip. Big plus.

After all that, finding parking had been another nightmare in and of itself. The parking structure their hotel partnered with was full because of some concert or some shit, so they’d had to drive seven blocks away—which meant another hour in the goddamn car—and then walk the entire way back. Herc had offered to do the driving for him, but by that point Yancy’d consigned himself to being miserable that evening. He’d still brought Herc and the twins with him, though. Had totally left Raleigh back at the hotel with Chuck, though. He hadn’t been about to risk Raleigh’s knee having another flare-up like it had on the trip out.

(And, oh, hadn’t that been a new adventure, trying to keep his panic from escaping across the ghost between them as he’d helped Raleigh walk it off on the side of the goddamn highways. Cars honking at them, never mind that their flashers had been on and they were literally parked next to a sign that read “Emergency Stopping Only” and goddamnit clearly it’d been an emergency.)

He’d fallen asleep as soon as the four of them had stumbled back to their room, Herc hammering on the door until an adorably-red Chuck’d finally opened it. He doesn’t remember much between the door and the bed, just struggling to kick his shoes off before collapsing face first on the mattress, every inch of his body aching from stress and being cramped inside the car.

He wakes to find himself on his back, his clothes gone, the room empty except for Raleigh still curled around him. One of Raleigh’s arms is wrapped protectively over Yancy’s chest, and he’s still breathing softly. The kid’s hair is falling into his eyes a bit, and his features are placid and smooth. He looks, in a word, fucking adorable .

The hum at the back of Yancy’s mind tells him his brother isn’t asleep, though, just...lying there with him, cuddling. No sooner has he had the thought than Raleigh’s eyes blink open as he sighs a deep breath, smiling.

“Morning, sleepyhead.”

“Morning,” Yancy shifts a bit, a yawn creeping up his throat. “What time is it?”

“Dunno,” Raleigh closes his eyes again, leaning closer until his face is tucked into the crook of Yancy’s neck. “Everyone else went out for breakfast a little bit ago. Said they’d bring us back something.”

Yancy can feel Raleigh’s mouth twist itself into a small grin against his neck.

“T was using some app or something to find someplace cool.”

“Well, Yancy shuffles a bit, adjusts his brother’s elbow so it’s poking him in the side less, “it’s New York. How hard can it be?”

“It’s Trev,” Raleigh’s soft laugh is musical, “and Bruce. And Chuck . B.T. plus Chuck equals hours of indecision.”

Raleigh squawks at the elbow Yancy gentle digs into his sternum.

“You know if they catch you calling them that they’ll ream your ass.”

“Mm, you say that like it’s a bad thing.”

Another elbow, another squawk.

“Wanna go to Times Square later?” The question is out of Yancy’s mouth before he can really think it through.

“Sure,” Raleigh’s hair rustles against the pillow as he nods, ticking Yancy’s cheek. “I know Chuck wants to—”

“No, I mean,” Yancy turns his head, being careful that he doesn’t smack their faces together—and not in the fun way, “just us? I wanna treat you. Thank you. For staying with me. And putting up with me on the trip. I was kinda, well. Short.”

Raleigh lifts his head a half inch, cracking one eye.

“Yance, I’ve been putting up with you my entire life. Besides,” his other eye shimmers as it opens, mischief dancing in their depths, in the way Raleigh’s mouth is curved into that little grin of his, “you’ve been ‘short’ to me ever since I was fifteen.”

“Oh my god ,” Yancy doesn’t even both with the elbow this time, because jesus , what’s even the point? “See if I treat you to the M&Ms store now.”

What ?”

And the Hershey’s store.”

Raleigh’s eyes are completely open now. He looks positively scandalized . Yancy chuckles, a warmth in his chest and burbling over.

Yance , no . C’mon! You can’t take something like that back—”

“Oh come on Rals,” Yancy rolls his eyes, still laughing, “you don’t really think I would—”

Yes!

“Have I ever before?”

“I,” the kid pauses, his brow creasing before, “no?”

“Right,” Yancy swoops forward and kisses that crease away. “I promise. All the chocolate you can carry.”

Raleigh’s happy smile still takes Yancy’s breath away, even after all these years.

“Deal.”

Chapter Text

“Y’know, you could at least fucking help.”

Yancy lets himself laugh a little, waving at Chuck before he takes a sip of his water. The sun beats down on his legs, but the heat is oppressive on his entire body, even where the patio umbrella covers him.

“It’s your week, though.”

“Yeah, and it’s fuckin’ hot .”

Yancy can only make out about every other word over the drone of the mower, but it’s Chuck, so it’s not too hard to piece together. He pats the seat beside him, paired with a sweating glass of icewater that’s mostly water at this point.

“So take a break.”

And, in true Chuck fashion, Chuck ignores him and continues wrangling the mower around the yard. It’s an old fashioned one they’d found at a yard sale a year or two back—a push mower, bright red, runs on gasoline, almost exactly like the one he and Raleigh grew up using. They’d originally gotten it—for five fucking dollars —out of a sense of nostalgia. But then the several hundred-dollar automatic mower they’d purchased had shredded Herc’s attempts at a vegetable garden. Twice. So they’d gone, well, old fashioned . The damn thing takes about ten tries to start, and the handle switch has a short in it somewhere so half the time the reason the thing won’t start is that it thinks no one is holding on, but once it gets going, it works.

“At least drink some water,” Yancy sighs. “Dad’d kill me if you got dehydrated or heat stroke or something.”

“Yance, I’m from Australia . I’m not gonna get fuckin’ heat stroke .”

Snorting, Yancy gets to his feet, both waters in hand. Squints through the glare of the sun as he crosses over to where Chuck is meandering back and forth. Thrusts the extra glass at Chuck pointedly. It gets him an eyeroll, but Chuck takes the drink in one hand and gulps over half of it down, then pours the rest over his head. Shakes his head, making water droplets fly everywhere, then gestures with his glass to the mower handle.

“Hold this for a sec, yeah?”

Yancy has to blink, because a wet Chuck is not something to miss, before he swallows and nods.

“Uh, yeah, sure.”

Uses his free hand to keep the engine running while Chuck, using one hand, strips off his shirt. Or, at least, tries to. His head gets stuck in the wet fabric for a glorious eight seconds—Yancy counts, or at least he’s pretty sure he does—before he finally tosses at Yancy’s chest. Yancy manages to catch it out of reflex, probably, and then Chuck is handing back his glass with a shit-eating grin.

“Thanks. Now go perv on me from the table.”

“I’m not—” Yancy starts, but shakes his head when he realizes his eyes are tracing the outlines of muscles, scars, following the swirling path of the dark red hair dusting Chuck’s front. He gets a snort of his own, the kid’s cheeks tingeing pink even as his eyes smoulder .

“Sure you’re not. Go get Rals if it makes you feel better.”

“Chuck,” Yancy blinks, a slow smirk pressing at the corners of his mouth as he backs up towards the patio, “are you getting off on the idea of us perving on you while you sweat your ass off doing yardwork?”

“Shut up.”

Yancy laughs. He can’t help it. Even after all this time— years —together, they can still surprise one another.

“I’ll go get the others.”