He actually meets Chuck Hansen for the first time in the showers.
There’s no reason for him to realize that this is going to change his life. Instead, he’s tired and his muscles ache and the last thing he needs to deal with just then is the Hansen kid.
It’s not like he has much choice, though.
Raleigh Becket doesn’t have much choice about anything at all these days.
Two months ago, he didn’t mind it so much, when he was half of the hottest jaeger team out of the Academy, just waiting for their turn, for their jaeger to come off the line. The Becket brothers’ neural handshake scores had been through the roof. They were on the edge of being rock stars.
Then it was all over.
After everything they’d been through, after all their struggles to get to the Academy and all the hard work they’d done so far, Yancy had had a heart attack during a drift in the new Mark 3 trainer. It hadn’t been catastrophic, but the stress his body had been under had made everything worse. The brief interruption of blood flow to his brain had caused a watershed stroke, and he’d gone from rigid with pain to hanging loosely from the rigging, all his strings cut. Raleigh had only had a flash of the pain of the pain in his chest; it was the sudden screaming static across their drift that had left him bleeding from the eyes and vomiting, unable to get free or break Yancy out of it.
Maybe one out of 20 pilots suffered some kind of neurocerebral incident in training, the doctors had told them. Somehow that wasn’t much comfort. Yancy had been left with aphasia and limited control of one arm and hand, and even though his prognosis was excellent, his career as a jaeger pilot was over. He can’t risk that kind of neural load again, or that particular brand of stress. There’s no telling what might happen, or when. He’d be a liability in combat now, a danger to himself and to Raleigh.
Yancy’s been out of the hospital for two weeks now, but he has nothing to do except spend his days in physical therapy and wait to find out what the hell he’s supposed to do with his life now. Yancy hasn’t felt so helpless and lost since the morning their father abandoned them. Even then, though, he’d had Raleigh to look after, to center himself on, to live for. Not this time, not exactly.
Raleigh was out of the hospital in three days, and most of that was spent confirming he hadn’t taken any permanent damage himself. He’s still got a future as a jaeger pilot, and even though he doesn’t really want it without Yancy, he can’t escape it now. He’s too valuable a commodity now.
Raleigh’s been given a new date to begin compatibility testing, and Yancy cannot quite hide his bitterness.
Raleigh has started fleeing his brother’s shitty temper by working himself to exhaustion in the Kwoon every evening. He understands, really, he does, but Yancy’s dealing with migraines and nausea on top of crushing disappointment, and he takes it out on Raleigh without ever realizing it.
Raleigh knows his brother, and knows that Yancy will adapt once he’s off the medications and has had a chance to deal with things. The PPDC has made it clear that they still want Yancy; turning him into a Ranger was a huge investment, and he’s recovering so well that they don’t see any reason to discharge him. There’s even precedent for keeping disqualified Rangers on as LOCCENT crew or Academy staff. Yancy just needs to figure it out.
Raleigh hasn’t allowed himself for a second to think that Yancy might leave him. It’ll be okay again. After all, they’ve been through worse than this. Even though this is pretty fucking bad.
Yancy will find a new direction. It just won’t be quite the same as Raleigh’s. Still, they’ve never really been apart, and the fear of it is looming over them.
Last night, like every night now, he woke up in the darkness and was unable to fall asleep again until he heard the sound of Yancy still breathing. Like every night, he swore to himself that wasn’t what he was doing.
Raleigh’s completely worn out now as he stands under the hot water, his eyes shut. He’s never really been comfortable with the open-bay showers here, but at the moment he’s too damned tired to do his usual speed shower: soap up, rinse off, and spend 30 seconds dreaming of getting out of cadet berthing so he can get a room with a goddamn private bathroom attached to it. Right now he’s too tired to give a shit, and if there was a way to fall asleep like this, under an endless stream of warm water, he’d be all over that.
He doesn’t have any duties at the moment except getting ready for compatibility testing (again), spending time going over the Mark III baseline specs, and taking care of Yancy, yet his days still manage to be grueling. It’ll be a blessing when he hits his bed tonight, but right now it just sucks.
Anxiety is eating at him. In three days he’s gonna be back in the Kwoon with the rest of the candidates, looking for a new partner he doesn’t really want, and his head still echoes with static sometimes from the violent disconnection with Yancy. The docs say otherwise, but Raleigh kinda doubts he’s drift compatible with anyone at all now. He’s too torn to even decide if he wants to be; he still dreams of being a pilot, but he feels like shit for wanting it now that he can’t do it with Yancy.
“Oi, you gonna be in there all day?”
The voice is young, utterly self-assured, and full of irritation, and when he blinks the water out of his eyes, he’s really not surprised to find Chuck Hansen there outside the shower stall, waiting with a towel over his shoulder and his shower kit in one hand.
He may not have met him before, but he’s certainly heard of the kid, and seen him around. He’s Herc Hansen’s son and Scott Hansen’s nephew, and cockiness seems to run in that family. Damned good pilots, though. Chuck’s younger then Raleigh, but he was only one class behind the Beckets. He’s only 16 or 17, but he’s got one hell of a reputation already, even if he’s only going into compatibility trials in the next round.
Same time as Raleigh, actually. Huh.
Hansen’s staring right at him, the way naked strangers don’t usually do, in Raleigh’s limited experience, and he wonders for a second if the kid is checking him out. Then he gets what’s really going on. Raleigh’s got one of the few actual shower stalls, and he’s not really sure how long he’s been in there. Definitely long enough to piss off the junior Hansen, though. Even if the stalls don’t actually have anything like doors, they’re still everybody’s first choice.
“Yeah, gimme a second,” he mumbles, and makes sure he’s rinsed off completely.
Hansen’s still there waiting when he’s done, arms crossed, staking out the stall like it’s his territory. If the kid has an ounce of modesty or any ability to be embarrassed, there’s no telling it from the way he’s watching Raleigh, all impatience.
And he’s not really a kid, is he? He’s almost as tall as Raleigh, and he’s putting on muscle.
Before Raleigh can chase that particular thought an inch further, he steps out of the stall, grabbing his own towel and kit off the shelf. Hansen doesn’t say a thing, just takes his place, turning his back on him.
Raleigh thinks it’ll take about ten seconds to prove the two of them incompatible.
They stop the fight after twenty minutes. It took about 30 seconds before they were completely in sync, and after that, it was like watching a training video of what a compatibility match should look like. By the time they shake it off, the ruling has already been made.
Raleigh Becket and Chuck Hansen are drift compatible. It’s one of the strongest scores anyone’s seen in a long time.
Raleigh feels like a goddamned traitor.
He’s not allowed to focus on that for long, though. The Hansen brothers are there to watch, and when Raleigh and Chuck walk off the mat, both of them more than a little stunned, Herc and Scott gather them right up. It’s a time to celebrate, yeah? Tomorrow the two of them will drift together for the first time in the sims, and completing your first drift with your new co-pilot completely hung over is practically an Australian tradition, Scott tells Raleigh.
Raleigh looks around for Yancy, hoping, but he’s not there. He couldn’t come to see Raleigh matched up with somebody else, Raleigh knows, but it still bites deep. He wants to go find him, to promise he’ll never leave him behind, but he doesn’t know if Yancy will believe him.
And that thought hurts even more.
After all the misery of the last few months, he wishes they could be happy again, even for a moment, even over something like this.
Chuck interrupts his thoughts by complaining loudly about being the only Hansen who has to be paired up with a seppo, although he’s grinning all the time. When Herc explains what the hell that means, Raleigh feels obligated to knock the little shit on his ass, which he promptly does, sweeping his feet out from under him. Laughing, Chuck retaliates, and soon they’re both down, wrestling for… domination? Raleigh doesn’t know, and after a few moments he doesn’t care much either, because for better or worse, Chuck’s moods will prove to always be infectious. It’s hard not laugh with him now, which brings its own guilt.
As it turns out, though, the elder Hansens have an agenda for this evening, and Raleigh finds that he’s definitely lost control of his own fate for the next few hours. It’s horribly easy to let go, just for once.
When he makes it back to their room that night, Yancy is asleep, bundled up on the bottom bunk. He sleeps there now because sometimes the meds make him puke, and Raleigh was afraid he’d fall trying to scramble out of bed in the middle of the night. His balance had been affected along with the rest, and between that and the drugs, Yancy’s still a little wobbly right now.
The younger brother stops, listening as always for the sound of Yancy’s breathing. It seems to take forever as he hovers there in silence, holding his own breath. When he finally hears the sound he’s been waiting for, he starts to climb up top, back into the bunk that still doesn’t seem like it should be his. He only gets one foot off the floor before freezing in place, struck by the realization of what he’s done.
He left Yancy here alone, after he was paired up with another fucking co-pilot, and then went out and celebrated. Yancy knew what today was, and Raleigh didn’t even have the guts to tell him face to face. After a few drinks, he hadn’t even thought about it, if he’s honest. He was so desperate to find a little joy in his life that he’d left Yancy here alone.
Panic hits him. He can’t lose Yancy. No matter what else happens, no matter if the world actually does fucking end. He can’t. He doesn’t even think he’d survive it.
It may be the buzz he’s got going from trying to keep up with the Hansens, but Raleigh doesn’t hesitate. He pulls an extra blanket down and drapes it over his brother, and then he strips down to his shirt and briefs before slipping under the covers with him. They lay back to back, and it’s awkward in the cramped bunk, but Raleigh’s determined, contorting himself so that they both fit. Even without touching, it’s so much better than being alone.
Even though he wants to cry, like he hasn’t done since he was a kid. Since before he and Yancy were left with nothing but each other. He can’t do that, though. He has to be stronger than that, for both of them. Has to.
When, a few minutes later, Yancy rolls over and spoons himself up against Raleigh’s back, throwing his arm across his little brother’s chest and pulling them close, Raleigh pretends to be asleep. He thinks that maybe Yancy’s pretending now too, and in the warming darkness, it feels like a gift, or maybe a benediction. They are quiet together for a long time.
When he does finally begin to drift off, comforted more than he could ever say by his brother’s closeness and the trusting silence between them, Raleigh feels something he hasn’t since their final drift ended in disaster.
He thinks that, maybe, it might be hope.
He falls asleep hazily wondering if it’s his or Yancy’s, and knowing that it doesn’t really matter where it comes from, as long as they have it together.