The dream always started the same. His mother would call out for him and he would run towards her voice. Towards her open arms and smile as he buried his face into her warm body. She would chuckle, run her hand through his hair, and call him her darling. Then he'd look up at her as she smiled, her face kind and radiant, and he wouldn't be able to think of anywhere else he wanted to be. I love you, mommy.
"I love you," he manages to say out loud, but in a voice that is much older and deeper than his own.
Then he rises – no longer a boy, but a man – cups her face gently in both his hands and kisses her. Softly at first, as her hands wrap around his waist and pull his body flush against hers. She's smiling between kisses and playfully nips at his bottom lip. He pulls away long enough to catch his breath and glimpse a familiar, fiery look in her eyes that leaves no doubt as to what she wants next. "Take me home, fly boy..."
They tumble in the sheets, all desire and need and sweaty flesh in the middle of an Australian heat wave. The bristles of his day beard tickle her smooth, bare skin as he moves against her in a strong but hungry pace. Her laughter against his ear is rich, sweet and as intoxicating as honey-whiskey. Then she gasps, her legs tightening around him, pulling him in deep, her muscles clenching as her moan hits that perfect pitch that pushes him over the edge sooner than he'd been willing to release.
This is when Chuck would usually wake up, embarrassed and in a cold sweat. But this time it's different.
This time she pulls herself away from him and sits up at the edge of the bed, purposely facing away. Some time had passed because her hair is shorter and redder now. She's also wearing a standard-issue grey tee that looks a few sizes too large for her. Yet he knows it's hers and that the reason it doesn't fit is because of the disease that's slowly draining her. Concerned, he tries to reach out to her, but she's too far away. He calls her name instead, "Tasmin."
His co-pilot turns and gives him a small, tired smile. "It's okay," she assures him as a trickle of blood escapes from the corner of her lips. Then her eyes roll up and her body goes limp. She slips off the edge of the bed and when he lunges forward to try to catch her, the sonic roar of a Kaiju blasts and reverberates through the room, causing the walls to collapse around him and everything to finally go dark.
White-hot pain surges up his arm and yanks Chuck awake with a yelp. He instinctively tries to pull away from the pain, but the source of it holds him firmly in place. Warily, he looks up at his father, whose hand is clenched tight on his bandaged hand.
The Marshal was generally known as a patient and even-tempered man, but there were two things that never failed to get him riled up. One was reckless soldiers. The other was his son.
"Why?" he demands quietly.
Why have I flown 4 hours from Tokyo to Hong Kong to see a broken mirror in the bathroom and gashes on your hand?
Chuck grunts and attempts to pull away again, but Herc's hold is firm and he squeezes harder. A patch of red appears on the bandage under Herc's grip. The attending doctor tries to address the re-opened wound, but the Marshal shakes his head and waves him away. Pain and anger is a language both Hansens understand. It's not Herc's preferred method of communication with his son, but it's been the most effective outside the Drift. Chuck's lips tighten into a grim line as his bleary eyes focus on a point furthest away from his father.
When Herc speaks again, his voice is hoarse but controlled. "Talk to me, son."
Chuck laughs bitterly in response. Even in another life, where he might have been capable of fully articulating his feelings, he still wouldn't know what to say. "I can't," he replies honestly. You know I can't.
Herc releases his grip on his son's hand and moves closer to the bedside. "Hey," he calls sternly and waits for his son to reluctantly meet his gaze. "Try."
Nearby, the beeping on the monitors quicken by a fraction of a second. Chuck's brow furrows in frustration and he takes in a ragged breath. "I'm not…" he bites his lip to keep the anger from flaring up. Herc was not just his father now but also his Marshal, and despite what most people thought of Chuck, he always followed orders. Besides, his father always knew what the right thing to do was. It was one of the reasons why Chuck both admired and despised him. "I don't know who I am."
Ah. Herc's shoulders visibly sag as he lets out a sigh and places a hand on his son's shoulder. "You are my boy," he says, anger draining from his voice. "And you are alive. What you make of it, I promise, is going to be up to you now."
"I'm going to file a recommendation against your application."
"I know. You have to."
"It's not wise, Hansen."
"I know that too."
"Logically, because he needs a co-pilot that can keep him in line. Personally, because I need to be a part of my boy's life."
"Ha! Is that what you told them? No wonder they accepted. I bet the fact that you're practically a legend now didn't hurt. Commander Hercules Hansen of the Royal Australian Air Force, last of the first generation jaegar pilots still in active duty! Yes, of course they'd indulge you this one time. He's your son, afterall, and blood will always be drift compatible. But I'm concerned that you're downplaying the fact that you're going to be sharing EVERYTHING with him."
"Better Chuck than a complete stranger."
"I'm not talking a few years difference in experience and memories, Hansen! I'm talking what's pretty much a whole lifetime from his point of view! Two, if you believe some of the theory on second-hand drift memories – which, by the way, you'll also be subjecting him to. The potential psychological burden of it all on one so young and inexperienced, not even including the issues you both have over Ange-"
"I said I KNOW. I'm ready."
"But is he?"
"Chuck is a strong kid."
"That's not what I asked."
"I honestly don't know. He'll have to be."
The dreams were changing. Evolving. New memories and long-repressed memories were seeping in and altering his horizon. He stumbles forward now, through the rubble of what was once downtown Sydney, the dust and smoke in the air bringing tears to his eyes.
I forgot to congratulate you, dear brother. Bravo! Well played! Now the whole world knows who the better Hansen is.
You brought it on yourself, Scott.
And didn't I deserve it? Didn't I YIELD to your better judgement? At least Chuck will finally become what you always wanted him to be.
YOU, but hardier. Without the distractions of love and family.
I never said—
Please. I was in your head, big brother. What do you suppose Chuck will find in there?
He shakes his head to clear his mind and tries to call out to her. Even though he knows in his heart she couldn't have survived, he hopes desperately that she did. I can't face him alone, Angela. I just can't. He trips on some broken asphalt and falls hard on his hands and knees. He howls and curses a slew of obscenities as a piece of metal debris lodges itself deep into the palm of his hand. He grunts and hisses as he slowly, painfully pulls the metal from his palm. Blood trickles from the wound immediately and drips to the ground as Kaiju blue. It's then that he hears the crying.
Blood isn't always the strongest bond.
But sensei, they said—
No, listen to me. It's family. I know it means the same thing to you now, but it's not. You'll see.
He gets up, painfully, and half-limps around a corner. A little girl crouched behind a garbage bin yelps in surprise and puts her arms defensively over her head; a bright red shoe clenched tightly in one of her hands.
A woman suddenly runs past him and crouches down to the girl. "I'm so glad you found her," she says and smiles back at him under a mop of short, red hair. Then she places a hand on the little girl's back and gently pulls her arms down from her head. "Will you take care of him for me, Mako?" she asks as she wipes the tears from under the little girl's big, dark eyes. A sniffle is her only response.
You shouldn't walk behind your father so much, Charles. He can't see you there and he worries himself silly because of it.
You shouldn't run ahead, either. He can't always catch up with you!
Walk beside him, like you do with me. He'll never admit it, but your father can't stand being alone.
Beneath their feet, the ground begins to rumble. Soft at first, but with each passing second, the vibrating pulses grow stronger and heavier. "We need to move," he hisses. "Now!" Chuck's heart skips a beat when he hears the low growl and a giant shadow sweeps across the street, enveloping them in its darkness.
No, darling, you don't have to hold his hand.
But I think he'd like that.
Raleigh was waiting for them in the makeshift gym. He nodded at Chuck when he arrived and made his way over to Mako when she appeared at the door. Chuck was not a man for small talk, so he took the opportunity to take a cursory look around the gym that had once been a modest storage hall in another part of Section 24. It was no Kwoon, but it would do for one who was still under so-called 'quarantine' and another two who couldn't train anywhere without attracting a large crowd of onlookers. He picked up the nearest hanbo staff and gave it a few careful swings with both arms. Much to his relief, the movements felt familiar and his execution of them balanced and steady. There was only minimal restraint in his chest, so he began some actual warm-up moves.
Behind him, he could feel Mako's silent but critical gaze. This was the first time Chuck had been disconnected and allowed out of his room since he'd been found almost a month ago. After a few minutes of training alone, Chuck became aware of the co-pilots having a heated verbal exchange. He must've wavered in his movements then, because the couple paused and glanced at him briefly. Mako hissed something inaudible to Raleigh, who responded with a smile and a kiss to her furrowed brow before making his way over to Chuck. On the way, he pulled off his sweater and picked up a hanbo staff. "Mako doesn't agree, but I think you're ready for a dance partner." Raleigh grinned cockily.
Chuck laughed as he pivoted and swung the staff confidently in one broad stroke. "Are you asking? Because I think I am, too."
Both men then looked at Mako, who rolled her eyes and gave a half-hearted wave of her hand to proceed.
Their staffs connected with a sharp crack.
Despite being known to be more of a brawler, Chuck surprised both Raleigh and Mako in the first minute of sparring by effectively parrying most of the attacks. His countermoves were also quite crisp and decisive. Raleigh was clearly holding back though, delivering quick and painless strikes aimed more at testing his agility rather than strength. After nearly a month of being confined to a hospital bed though, Chuck was too busy basking in the freedom of his limbs and the physical activity to be bothered by the differences in their skillset. For now.
They paused for a break after a few minutes and Chuck let his legs buckle under him as he collapsed into a sitting position on the floor. "You're not half bad, old man." he said with a wry smile.
"You're not all bad," Raleigh grinned. He leaned casually on his stick, looking only a little flushed with exercise, and stared dreamily in Mako's direction. She walked over to Chuck and handed him a water bottle. Her eyes narrowed briefly at Raleigh saying, I hope you had your fun. Then she turned back to Chuck and asked, "how are you feeling?"
"Great," he replied and genuinely meant it. "Never better. In fact…" Chuck forced himself back up to a standing position and tried not to wince as his leg muscles screamed in protest. "Dance with me, next?"
Mako stared at him for a moment as if he'd suddenly grown two heads. Then she smiled and let out a laugh that made Chuck feel both a little confused and a lot uncomfortable. She glanced at her co-pilot and raised her brow in question.
Raleigh shrugged in response. "I had a nice warm-up," he said and winked at Chuck.
Mako tilted her head back in Chuck's direction and pursed her lips as she considered him.
"My father said I ought to get a good ass-kicking today," Chuck said encouragingly as he wiped the sweat from his brow.
"Did he?" She shook her head and tsked as Raleigh passed his hanbo staff into her hands. Already, a smile was forming on her lips. "I suppose," she sighed with false resignation, "we should not disappoint the Marshal."
She stepped back two paces, staff held loosely in her lowered hand, fixing Chuck with an increasingly predatory gaze.
He tried not to let his grin waver as he also took a step back and raised his own staff in a ready stance. "Are you— "
Mako's attack was swift. Chuck blinked at the staff that had suddenly appeared a few centimetres from his ear. Raleigh was chuckling in the background.
"You're right," Mako grinned as she pulled away. "This IS going to be fun."
Advance, feint, strike.
Parry, side-step, parry.
Deflect and counter-strike.
Parry, feint, strike and thrust.
Chuck raised his staff defensively and grunted as her attack forced him back. Like Raleigh, there was no real force or menace in her moves. But Chuck had failed to completely parry her earlier strikes and they had connected, bruising his ego more than his arms. Their sticks connected a few more times before he thought he saw an opening and attacked, trying to knock her weapon aside.
It was a mistake.
Mako easily deflected and countered with a pivot and a strong, low swing at his exposed ankle. Chuck lost his balance and fell backwards.
She was going to finish him now. He instinctively bent his knee and angled his torso as he fell with the slim hope of rolling to safety. But he was slow in his reaction, Mako's arm and staff already catching his leg. His odd angle, however, prevented her from locking a submission hold, and the momentum of his partial roll dragged her with him as they tumbled into an ungraceful heap on the mat.
Raleigh rushed over to detangle the hanbo staffs from the mess of limbs on the ground. "Well," he said as he helped Mako to her feet. "That was interesting."
She ran a hand through her hair and stared down at Chuck in surprise. "What was that?"
He grimaced as he propped himself up to a sitting position. "That wasn't anything, sorry. I messed it up."
"You were trying to roll before I could get the leglock," Mako explained and her eyes narrowed on him suspiciously. "You knew what I was going for and you knew how to get out of it."
Chuck shrugged nonchalantly. "It was the move you finished Raleigh with in the co-pilot trials, right?" He scratched the back of his head and realised he felt more than a little winded afterall. "I was paying attention, Miss Mori."
A moment passed before her eyes widened in realization and she shot a look at Raleigh. His face clearly expressed he didn't quite understand. Mako turned back to Chuck and gave him a curt bow.
"I have something to do," she announced. "You boys continue without me."
She found him alone on the observation deck, overlooking the empty hangar bay.
"I think I understand now," she began. "What happens after he drifts."
"I figured you might," Marshal Herc Hansen said as he turned just enough to nod at her and gesture for her to join him on the balcony. "The shrinks believed it was because he started too young. At least, mentally. Which is funny considering Chuck couldn't grow up and get into a flight suit fast enough. You were the same."
Herc raised a brow in her direction and half smiled. "Maybe Pentecost was right to hold you back as long as he did. He always knew you were an excellent pilot, Mako. Maybe even more so with Raleigh." Beyond the hangar doors, the ocean winds howled and blasted against the steel and iron frames. The Marshal continued, "It's different with you two, of course. You wouldn't have noticed the changes at first because you lacked the shared past." Back then, Chuck's still-maturing brain absorbed more than just memories. Personality traits, experiences, and feelings of his co-pilots became indistinguishable from his own. He became an extension of myself – and not in a flattering way.
"Has there been an EEG on Chuck in the last month?"
"Yes." Herc grimaced, turned away from the hangar and began to make his way out of the observation deck. Mako followed. "Both psych analysts confirmed there was nothing unexpected in their report."
"But there was… something … wasn't there?"
"Yes," he repeated. In war, everyone has their ghosts. Pentecost and I had more than most. Now Chuck has them all.
They walked silently through the Shatterdome corridors passing various personnel who all looked back at them curiously. After a few minutes, when Mako felt bold enough and confident enough that they were alone, she grabbed his arm and stood directly in front of him. "What can I do, Marshal?"
Herc pulled his hand away and scratched the back of his head. "I honestly don't know. I was hoping you would tell me."
Mako tilted her head and raised a brow with genuine surprise. "Why?"
"Because you are the only other person who's experienced second-hand Drift memories. Because you two were the same as children. And because, I'm sure, you were the closest he ever had to a childhood friend."
"Well, what?" He smiled boyishly.
Her face crinkled impatiently and she punched his arm. "You know what!"
"You hit like a girl," he laughed and put a hand defensively over his arm when she made to punch him again. "Alright, alright! Hang on." He reached under his bed and pulled out an opened box. From it he pulled out a brand new, junior-size flight jacket.
She beamed. "It's just like your Dad's!"
"Yeah, well, Uncle Scott's was always a little flashy for me," he turned the jacket over and held it out to her. "Wanna try it?"
Her eyes widened in surprise, "But it's bad luck to wear another pilot's jacket!"
"I'm not a pilot," he shrugged. "I'm not even in the Academy yet."
Mako pursed her lips and shook her head. "I still don't want to jinx it."
"Well," he grinned coyly. "Maybe I do."