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Lonely Ghosts

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Like lonely ghosts

At a roadside cross

We stay because

We don’t know

Where else to go

 


 

“My father always said… He said, if you have the shot, you take it. So let’s do this.” A pause. A meeting of gazes. Solid, committed. “It was a pleasure, sir.”

Two hands find the switches together. An insistent beeping fills the smoky air.

A pause. A meeting of gazes.

Then it’s a blur, like a great weight slams into him, and there’s something tearing in the back of his mind, and something small closing around his body, and light and sound and fury, and the feeling of space moving at great speed, stomach dropping and head swimming.

Then there’s darkness. And cold. And a small, stifled quiet.

In the end, it’s almost like falling asleep.

 


 

And then he wakes up.

He’s standing in the middle of the Jaeger bay, staring up at the great empty racks where the world’s last Jaegers used to stand. He blinks, shocked, and sways slightly on his feet.

“What the hell?” he says, staring at the empty bay.

Closes his eyes. Opens them again.

Still standing in the Shatterdome.

What the hell?!

Maybe it was a dream, he thinks. Maybe the whole Operation Pitfall was a dream — a nightmare really — and it hasn’t happened and he’s just sleepwalked to the Jaeger bay.

But the racks are empty. No Gipsy Danger. No Striker Eureka.

“What the hell…” he murmurs, soft and confused.

Footsteps sound behind him, echoing loudly in the empty space. He turns and sees a tech with a clipboard crossing the floor. He doesn’t recognize the man, but the patch on the uniform is Chinese, so he guesses that the man is from Crimson Typhoon’s support team.

“Hey,” he calls, moving in the man’s direction. “What’s going on?”

The man ignores Chuck, still striding purposefully across the concrete floor. Chuck frowns.

“Hey!” he calls, louder. The two of them are only a few feet apart now, but the man gives no indication that he even hears Chuck.

They’re only an arm’s length apart.

“Hey!” Chuck says, getting annoyed now. He reaches out, intending to shake the tech’s shoulder and force the man to acknowledge Chuck…

… and the man walks straight through Chuck.

Chuck stands, shocked, his arm still outstretched, shivering like a gust of freezing air has just blown through him.

“Well, shit,” he says, dazed.

 


 

It only takes Chuck a few hours to confirm what he suspects. It would have taken less time, but it’s apparently the middle of the night and most of the Shatterdome is sleeping. (Which is weird in itself. Chuck, who mostly grew up in Shatterdomes around the world, has never seen them as anything but hives of activity, even in the middle of the night.)

So… six hours after “waking up” in an empty Jaeger bay, Chuck is curled up on the exposed observation deck at the top of the Shatterdome trying desperately not to freak out.

He’s a ghost.

No-one can see him. No-one can touch him. No-one can hear him.

He’s spent the last six hours trying. Trying to be seen. Trying to be heard. Trying to be felt.

Trying to exist.

He’d tracked down every person he could find that was awake in the middle of the night and shouted, waved his arms, tried to shake them. No-one had noticed him and most of them had walked through him.

It’s not hard to put the pieces together.

He’s dead and he’s a ghost.

“This sucks,” he mutters, face pressed into his knees.

A low bark, as if in answer to his comment, startles him from his morose thoughts. He looks down to his left and sees Max sitting at his side, staring up at him. The bulldog lets out another low woof and Chuck feels a surge of hope in his chest because Max is looking right at him.

“Max, can you hear me?” Chuck asks.

The bulldog cocks his head, but makes no other indication that he can hear Chuck.

“Can you roll over, Max?” he asks uncurling from his huddle. “C’mon Max,” he urges, “roll over.”

The bulldog continues to stare at Chuck, but doesn’t move.

“Shake a paw?” Chuck asks. “Lay down? Speak?”

Nothing.

Chuck sighs and flops backwards against the wall. “So much for that,” he mutters, feeling the brief flicker of hope fade.

Max makes a snuffling sound next to him and flops down at his side.

Chuck sighs and resists the urge to reach out and pet his bulldog. He doesn’t think he could bear to see his hands go through his best friend.

The pair sit together like that, staring out at the ocean as the sun begins to peak over the horizon. Chuck doesn’t know how long they sit like that, his mind drifting aimlessly, when he’s startled back into reality by a voice calling across the roof top.

“Max!? C’mon Max, where’d you run off too?”

Max and Chuck both bolt upright. Max lumbers to his feet before barking enthusiastically.

A man comes around the corner, silhouetted by the rising sun. With the sun at his back and his face and body cast in shadow, it’s impossible to see the man’s features. Chuck still recognizes him immediately.

“Dad,” he whispers as Herc steps out of the sunlight and into the shadow cast by the peak of the dome walls.

“There you are, boy,” Herc says, crouching to scratch Max’s ears as the bulldog waddles over to him. “Don’t you go hiding on me like that.”

“Dad,” Chuck says, louder, but like everyone else, Herc doesn’t seem to hear him. Chuck takes deep breaths and ignores the prickling in his eyes as he takes in his dad’s appearance. His old man looks, in a word, broken. His uniform is perfectly pressed, his appearance perfectly neat. But his eyes and tired, rimmed with red, and devastatingly empty.

The small part of him that’s still the lonely child whose father spent more time with machines than with him is pitifully glad at his father’s visible grief. The rest of his, the man who loves his father fiercely and unconditionally (even if he has trouble showing it), aches to reach out and sooth his father’s pain.

He wants to jump and shout I’m here I’m here I’m here until someone sees him.

But no-one does.

And when he gives in to urge to lay a hand on his father’s shoulder, to comfort his old man, his hands go right through.

 


 

The first two days are rough. Chuck wanders dazedly around the Shatterdome, unable to muster the energy or drive to do much of anything. In the beginning, to tries to stay with his father, thinking that he can give the old man some comfort, or at least be there for him as he grieves.

But it turns out that watching his father grieve for him — watching him break down in tears in private and pull on a stoic face in public — is just too much for Chuck to handle.

So he wanders, drifting from the Jaeger bays empty of 300 foot robots but full of techs organizing what was left, to the K-Science division to listen to Gottlieb and Geiszler argue about who was right in the end, to the bustling LOCCENT as its offers co-ordinated reconstruction and recovery efforts, to the quiet of the Shatterdome roof to watch the sun rise.

He can’t bear to stay in any one place for too long, to see life continuing around him, without him.

And in all his wanderings, he never sees Raleigh Becket or Mako Mori.

He tries desperately not to think of what that must mean… that none of them survived their desperate plunge to the Breach.

 


 

The dreams are the worst. Chuck is shocked to discover that even as a ghost he finds himself drifting to sleep. It’s not like he lays down with the intention of going to sleep, or even that he starts to feel tired and slips into dreaming.

It’s sudden and completely out of Chuck’s control.

One moment he’s awake. The next he’s sliding into the nightmare world of his dreams.

And they are a nightmare.

It’s always the same dream.

He’s trapped in a small, cold, dark space, unable to move, feeling like he draw breath. He’s trapped and he feels nothing but panic and pain and fear.

When he wakes up, he spends long minutes huddled in a ball, shaking like a leaf.

 


 

Never has Chuck more wished to be visible and alive than right now. It’s strange, he thinks, that he’s more desperate to be alive now, when his father needs him to stand by his side and fight with him, than when he found his father curled up on his bed, cheeks wet and eyes red, sleeping restlessly after crying himself to sleep in grief.  He doesn’t know how to deal with grief though — well, he knows how to deal with it, just not productively. And he definitely doesn’t know how to deal with that much emotion from his father. They’ve never had a touchy/feely relationship and Chuck is self-aware enough to know that he sucks at emotional maturity.

But a fight… that he can do. Standing up with his old man to bring down a giant arrayed against them… that’s something he can do.

And from what he’s seeing, the United Nations Pan-Pacific Breach Working Group is just as much of a monster as the Kaiju ever were.

Chuck had been seeing hints of it in the last several days, amidst the celebration and the grief, of the UN trying to step in and take back control over the PPDC. It’s only been three days since the Breach was closed, and already the heady glee of victory is being driven away by the cold claws of politics.

They abandoned us when we needed them, and now they’re trying to scramble back for control to cover up their cock-up, Chuck thinks.

He isn’t amused.

The UN, having abandoned the PPDC for the Wall of Life project eight months before the close of the Breach, was now scrambling to regain control of the ragtag group of heroes that had just saved the world.

Fortunately for the world, his old man was having none of that.

Days of terse back and forth messages and memos had led to this: the talking heads of the Working Group arrayed on a screen while Herc stared them down, backed by Gottlieb and Geiszler from K-Science, Tendo and his senior techs from LOCCENT, and a collection of the senior Jaeger techs.

The absence of any other living pilot cut like a knife, so Chuck tried his hardest not to notice it.

“I don’t understand your objections, Marshall Hansen,” one of the talking heads says. “It is in the best interests of everyone that the Jaegar program be folded back into the broader United Nations pan-Pacific defense program, and we’re already going ahead with the re-organization.”

Chuck snorts derisively. His father does the same. This is one of the few things they completely agree on.

“No,” Herc says, “We’re not ‘folding the Jaegar program back into the UN.’ You cut us out, told us to stand on our own. And we’re perfectly happy to continue doing that. Seems we get more done when we don’t have you.”

Several of the heads sputter and Chuck grins.

Go dad, he thinks, then says it. It’s not like anyone will hear him.

The talking heads sputter and make consternated faces at the front of the room.

“I’m afraid this is not a request,” the one in the middle says. “It is an order.”

Herc snorts. “Since you seem to have trouble recalling, let me remind you that you cut us loose. Technically, we don’t take orders from you anymore. You’ve got no way of enforcing your ridiculous demands.”

The middle head frowns “And how, exactly, do you plan on supporting yourselves? On hopes and dreams?”

Herc smiles his placid dangerous smile. “Well, the Victory Tour seems to be doing well so far,” he says. “And we’ve got a dome full of very bright people with patents on a lot of very profitable technology.

Chuck blinks in surprise because he had no idea that there was a victory tour. He wonders who the hell is on the tour; there are no pilots left, and the entire senior staff of the Jaegar program is here in this room –

His musings are interrupted by a low bang of the back doors of the room.

The talking heads break off their mutterings to look up. Herc doesn’t turn around, but others at the front of the room do.

Chuck turns and stares.

Striding through the open doors, shoulder to shoulder, are Raleigh Becket and Mako Mori. Chuck’s mouth drops open and something warm unfolds in his chest.

They’re alive.

The last time Chuck had been this relieved was when he and his dad had been standing on top of their fried Jaegar, facing down Leatherback with nothing more than a flare gun, and hearing the booming of Gipsy Danger’s horn as she came out of the rain.

Raleigh and Mako are alive.

But why hasn’t Chuck seen them? Where have they been—

Oh, Chuck thinks. The Victory Tour. Of course.

He grins and shakes his head. Of course Raleigh and Mako have been on a victory tour. And no wonder the tour was going well, if Raleigh and Mako were heading it. They were young, they were attractive, and they had just literally saved the world.

Chuck was suddenly a whole lot less worried about the future of the Jaegar program.

“Sorry we’re late,” Raleigh says, striding across the room. “The Q&A in Stockholm went long. We barely got to the airport on time. Just got off the plane.”

They don’t look it.

Both Raleigh and Mako look put together and ridiculously attractive. Chuck can’t help staring, just a little. They’re both wearing their formal uniforms, pressed suits and jackets, navy caps tucked under their arms, chests dotted with medals and marks of achievement. Chuck notices that Raleigh has many more chest decorations than Mako – which was only proper considering Raleigh had been a successful pilot long before Mako. He tries valiantly to ignore how much he’s noticing Raleigh overall.

At the front of the room, Herc inclines his head at the two pilots. “No problem,” he says. With his back to the talking heads, Chuck can see the mischievous grin in the quirk at the corner of Herc’s mouth. “We were just discussing the future funding of the program.”

“Well then,” Raleigh says with a self-deprecating grin, “I’ll have to leave that with Mako. I’m better at fighting Kaiju that dealing with the money needed to do it.”

Several of the talking heads smile or chuckle and Chuck is privately amazed at the ability of Raleigh’s warm smile and open, friendly face to convince people to do what he wants. Even Chuck had trouble resisting it, back when he was alive.

Those smiles are wiped from the face of the council when Mako steps forward with a steely expression and says, “I do not believe the Working Group has any real say in the future of the Jaeger program as you were very clear that we were a defunct program that would no longer receive UN support.”

As the council members splutter and open their mouths to object, Mako barrels on, “Nevertheless, I would be happy to demonstrate to you that we are well-equipped to continue operating the program without your support, if necessary. Now, shall we begin?”

Mako stalks gracefully to the front of the room, and Raleigh drifts over to lean against one of the abandoned consoles near the back of the room, unknowingly settling just a few feet from Chuck. Chuck shifts closer to the other pilot, enjoying the comfort of being close, even if Raleigh has no idea he’s there.

As they watch Mako verbally tear down the council, Chuck absently notes the familiar-looking man that settles in at Raleigh’s other side and wonders who he is.

 


 

It’s dark.

It’s dark and cold and small and he can’t get out.

He can barely breathe, short stuttered gasps of air drawn into trembling, crushed lungs, pain stabbing through him with every breath.

There is nothing else but the pain and the dark and cold. (Are his eyes open? He can’t tell.)

Panic claws at his chest, clenching around his throat. He wants to scream, to thrash, to get out.

It’s dark and cold and small and pain and—

Chuck wakes up with a gasp, coming back to himself with the suddenness of a drowning man breaking the surface and finally drawing in air.

 


 

Chuck feels… restless.

He spends his days flitting from place to place, person to person, never really staying for any significant length of time.

There’s a lot to see.

Mako and Herc spend their days (and nights) reorganizing the PPDC and the Jaeger program for peacetime and fighting with the UN for the program’s freedom. Chuck has never really liked politics and the kind of work that Mako and his dad are doing is something he doesn’t want any part of. But he wants to support them. Even if all he can give is silent support that they’re probably completely unaware of.

When he can’t stand any more politics (or can’t bear to watch his father grieve), he goes to find Raleigh, who’s coordinating the reorganization of the Jaeger tech and K-science divisions into something focused on developing the knowledge for something other than fighting the Kaiju. Chuck is surprised to find that Raleigh is good at dealing with both the Jaeger engineers and techs and the brainiacs from K-science. Which has now expanded by several personnel. Geiszler and Gottlieb appear to be enjoying their new minions, Chuck notes with amusement.

But Chuck doesn’t like spending too much time with Raleigh. The other pilot makes him think about… things. All of which, being a dead man, he can’t have.

And probably couldn’t have even hoped to have if he were still alive.

Plus, Raleigh’s ever-present shadow weirds Chuck out. The dark-haired man follows Raleigh everywhere. Chuck figures he’s some kind of bodyguard, but there’s something about him that’s familiar and unsettling at the same time.

So while Chuck likes to check in on Raleigh, he never spends too much time there.

When he’s not with Mako or his dad or Raleigh, he tends to flit between people, visiting K-science and LOCCENT and Striker Eureka’s old techs and whichever random people in the Dome catch his eye.

The Hong Kong Shatterdome is coming back to life and looks to be the new home of the PPDC and the Jaeger program. There’s lots to see and something new is always going on.

And yet, Chuck is restless. He’d say bored, but it doesn’t feel like that.

It feels like there’s something he needs to be doing or that he forgot to do, and that that something isn’t getting done.

He guesses that’s what happens when you die and end up sticking around.

You feel like there’s things you left undone.

 

The dreams don’t help. Always the same.

Dark and cold and small and trapped and no air

He doesn’t know what they mean, but they keep happening.

And (he tries not to think about it) they’re happening more frequently.

 


 

When Chuck can’t stand the feeling of loneliness, of wandering the Shatterdome without actually being seen, he goes back to his bunk to hide. It hasn’t changed at all since the last restless night he spent there. The night before Operation Pitfall. The night before he died.

The same photos are sitting on his desk. The same tangle of clothes is dumped in a heap on the floor. The bed is still unmade and a battered copy of Good Omens is still cracked open, face-down,on the bedside table.

That last night morning, Chuck hadn’t bothered to tidy up as he left the room. He’d abandoned by the neatness drilled into him by growing up in the military and left his bunk a mess of belongings.

Left it looked live in.

In case he didn’t make it back and it was the only mark he’d left in the world.

Now that he’s stuck here, like this, Chuck wishes that he’d tidied up, because then it would look normal. It wouldn’t be a constant reminder that Chuck had left expecting to die and had fulfilled every expectation.

He wishes he could pretend that this is a normal day, a normal occurrence of him retreating to his room to avoid uncomfortable human interaction. But the mess is a stark reminder that nothing is ever going to be normal for Chuck again.

Still, being alone in his space with his things is a comfortable familiarity when the strain of being invisible in a crowded room gets to be too much. Chuck is used to being seen. Had, in fact, developed a public persona designed to make people (his father) see him. It’s come at the price of no-one really knowing him, but he’ll take what he can get.

And now he has nothing.

So he retreats to his space and tries not to think of spending an eternity like this.

Four days into his “afterlife,” he’s jostled from his depressed thoughts when the heavy door of the room of his bunk swings open, spilling the bright light of the hallway into the dimly lit room. Chuck doesn’t feel the abrupt change in brightness the way he used to (when he was alive), but still blinks his eyes habitually.

Raleigh Becket is standing framed in the doorway, looking hesitant.

Chuck blinks at him, unable to comprehend what Raleigh could possibly be doing in his room. And trying not to think about how much his teenage self (and his adult self, let’s not kid ourselves) fantasized about this.

Raleigh doesn’t enter the room, looking nervous. He stands framed in the doorway and Chuck stares at him, unable to tear his eyes away.

The moment is broken by a disgruntled bark and Chuck sees Raleigh being jerked forward. His gaze darts downwards and he sees Max pulling at the end of a leash, straining to get into the room. He smiles unconsciously as Max drags Raleigh into the room.

“Alright. Alright, already!” Raleigh exclaims as Max drags him through the door.

He’s smiling as he crouches next to the bulldog and unhooks the leash from the harness around Max’s chest. Max lets out a low woof and trots off towards his bed, tucked in the corner of the room, as Raleigh climbs back to his feet. The older pilot sighs and tucks his hands into his pockets, glancing around the room. He glances over at Max, who seems to have settled in for a good chew of one of his bones, and starts wandering the room aimlessly. After a couple circuits of staring at things, hands clenched at his sides, he finally reaches out, fingers brushing against picture frames, books, the edges of Chuck’s desk.

Chuck, curled in the corner where his bed meets the wall, watches avidly. He isn’t sure what he feels about Raleigh Becket being in his room, touching his things.

He’s even less sure what to feel when Raleigh sighs and plops down on the edge of the bed.

“Wow. This is kind of pathetic, even for you.”

Chuck’s gaze snaps up. There’s a dark-haired man leaning against the door frame. It’s the same maddeningly familiar man Chuck has been seeing following Raleigh around the Shatterdome these past few days. The bodyguard (or so he assumes).

Raleigh lets out a loud breath and a bit of a moan before bracing his elbows on his knees and covering his face.

“C’mon Rals,” the man says. “This is really pathetic. If you’re going to do whatever the hell weird thing you’re doing, at least do it somewhere that isn’t such a mess. The kid’s not worth this.”

Chuck bristles. “I’m right here, you asshole,” he snaps.

The man jerks in surprise, slipping sideways off the door frame and struggling to catch himself as he stares, astounded, at Chuck.

“You can hear me?!” they say, incredulous and nearly in sync.

The guy looks shocked and honestly Chuck’s not feeling all that much better, but he recovers his composure first.

“Of course I can hear you,” he says with a dismissive snort. “I might be dead, but that doesn’t make me deaf. Or blind.” He pauses and studies the other man with narrowed eyes. “That doesn’t explain how you can hear me, though. Or see me. How the hell are you doing it?”

The other man’s face has slid into startled confusion during Chuck’s tirade.

“Same as you, I guess,” he says, still looking confused. “I’m dead.”

Chuck blinks. “Huh,” he says. He hadn’t expected that.

The man gives Chuck a wry grin.

“I was wondering what you were doing here,” he says, gesturing to Chuck’s room. “Guess it makes sense, this being your place. You must be Chuck Hansen then.”

Chuck nods. “Yeah,” he says. “Who are you? And why the hell have you spent the last few days following Becket around?”

The man snorts and smiles. “Don’t know what it says about me that my face got forgotten that fast,” he says and laughs a little when Chuck just looks confused. “I’m Raleigh’s brother, Yancy.”

Art by scarimonious

 


 

This has been an intensely surreal day, Chuck thinks hours later as he sits next to Yancy Becket on a catwalk overlooking the empty Jaeger bay.

“So… you couldn’t tell I was dead?” he asks the other man.

They’ve gone through this conversation once already, but Chuck’s only been dead a few days and the afterlife — or, not-really-afterlife — is a lot more familiar to Yancy.

“No,” Yancy says, “and that’s a little weird. I’ve gotten pretty good at telling when someone is hanging around like I am. You get a sort of sense, you know?”

Chuck shakes his head. “Not really,” he says. “You don’t feel any different than anyone else around here, which is why I didn’t know you were dead.”

Yancy shakes his head. “That’s strange too,” he tells Chuck. “You should have some kind of sense of it. At least that there was something off about me. You really didn’t feel anything?”

“No,” Chuck says. “I really thought I was the only one around.”

“You haven’t sensed any of the others either?”

Chuck blinks and shakes his head. “What others?” he asks. “There are more not-dead people around?”

Yancy turns to face him and gives him a narrow-eyed look.

“You’re not joking,” he says.

Chuck wordlessly shakes his head.

Yancy sighs. “Yes,” he says. “There are more people like us around. There’s half a dozen of them in the Shatterdome alone. As well as quite a few echoes.”

Chuck doesn’t know what part of that statement to jump on first but—

“Echoes?” he asks.

Yancy nods. “Sort of like loops. They’re not real people, fully formed like we are. They’re just… well… echoes. A piece of a person reliving part of their life over and over. There’s an echo of a former tech that does nothing but drink coffee in the mess.”

“They guy in the leather jacket?” Chuck asks, surprised. “With the handlebar mustache?”

Yancy nods. “That’s the one,” he says, smiling a bit.

“Huh,” Chuck says, leaning back on his hands and considering.

“And the others? The ones like us?” he asks after moment of thinking.

Yancy shrugs. “Yeah, there’s a few around,” he says. “We don’t really interact much.”

Chuck raises his eyebrows, surprised. “You don’t?” he asks. “I’d think you would stick together. Since you’re kind of in the same boat and all.”

Yancy looks uncomfortable. “Not really,” he says, shifting restlessly. “We’ve all got something that’s keeping us here. We’re tied to something. That doesn’t really leave a lot of room for anything else.”

“Tied to something…” Chuck says slowly. “So… you follow Raleigh around because you have to, not just because you want to?”

“Well yeah, he’s what’s keeping me here,” Yancy says, sounding confused.

Chuck bites his lip and says, “I don’t feel tied to anything.”

Yancy twists to look at him in surprise. “Nothing?” he asks.

Chuck shakes his head. “Maybe I just haven’t figured it out yet?” he says tentatively.

Yancy shakes his head. “No,” he says. “You should know. I knew. Everyone else I’ve met who’s like us also knew.”

Chuck sighs “I guess I’m just… different,” he says.

“Maybe,” Yancy says, face creased in thought. “I don’t know why though.” He shrugs and says self-deprecatingly, “Not that I can claim to be an expert on this afterlife thing.”

“Could it… have been because I died on the Breach?” Chuck asks hesitantly. He’s been thinking it for a while, that dying on the Breach was what had allowed him to come back at all. Now that he knows that you can come back without dying on the Breach, he wonders if a hole to another dimension explains the apparent-weirdness of his afterlife.

Yancy shrugs. “Maybe,” he says. He looks like he’s not quite sure he believes it though and that makes Chuck nervous.

Yancy glances over and must see Chuck’s anxiety (and why is it that the Beckets are so damn good at reading him, Chuck would just like to know). His expression smoothes out and he places a comforting hand on Chuck’s shoulder.

“We’ll figure this out,” he says. “If there is actually anything to figure out. It’s not like we don’t have all the time in the world.”

“Yeah,” Chuck says, trying to sound more positive.

Yancy draws back his hand, but the weight and warmth of it lingers on Chuck’s shoulder. It’s the first things in days that he’s actually felt when he came in contact with it.

He wasn’t expecting a dead person to feel so real.

They sit in silence for a moment, then Yancy casts a sly sideways glance at Chuck. “Of course,” he says, “all this speculation is based on your observations about your new circumstances. And I’m not sure I trust those.”

Chuck blinks in confusion, feeling a little stung.

“What?” he says.

Yancy grins and says, “After all, you never noticed Raleigh’s dead brother following him around. For days. I’m not sure you’re observational skill s are up to snuff kid.”

Chuck makes an outraged noise and feels heat stealing across his cheeks. “Can we not talk about my massive embarrassment?” he asks, putting his face in his hands.

He hears Yancy snort beside him.

“No seriously,” Yancy says. “How is it that you didn’t recognize me?”

Chuck shakes his head because it’s intensely embarrassing. He knows that he didn’t recognize Yancy because, despite a childhood worshipping Gipsy Danger, he’d always been more… interested… in the younger of the Becket brothers. By the time he’d gotten in to his teenage years, that interest had turned into a mild obsession (though his father would have called it intense and a number of other ridiculous things that were definitely not true). He hadn’t been able to take his eyes off the younger Becket brother whenever the man had shown up in the media. Everything else had just become background noise.

But he doesn’t want to explain to Yancy Becket that he didn’t recognize him because he’d spent so much time macking on Yancy’s brother that he had no idea what the elder Becket looked like.

“Guess you just weren’t that memorable, old man,” Chuck says, gathering his dignity around him.

Yancy snorts. “Uh huh,” he says, not sounding like he believes Chuck. There’s a sly look in his eyes when he glances at Chuck.

Chuck tries not to think about it/ He wonders suddenly if Yancy has been around for Chuck’s entire (awkward) relationship with Raleigh and what he must think. He’s a little afraid to ask.

But – “Hang on,” Chuck says, “if we’re talking about observational skills. How did you not know I was dead? If you’ve been around this whole time, then you must have known who I was and that I’d died.”

Unless Chuck hadn’t been important enough for Yancy to even register, but that’s the small insecure part of him that was raised by a man whose attention was perpetually elsewhere so Chuck quashes it down.

Yancy sighs.

“I wasn’t here for most of this mess,” he says, sounding frustrated.

Chuck raises and questioning eyebrow and makes a ‘keep-talking’ gesture when Yancy meets his eyes.

“When we got here and I found out what Pentecost wanted Raleigh to do… I kind of had a bit of a fit. Lots of shouting. Not that anyone could hear me. I… went away for a bit after that,” he says.

Chuck wants to ask how and why, but one glance at Yancy’s closed-off face and Chuck bites down on his questions

The silence between them becomes uncomfortable and Chuck shifts where he’s sitting.

Finally he says, “So what does a dead guy do around here anyway?”

Yancy lets out a short bark of laughter and out of the corner of his eye, Chuck can see that the older pilot’s face has eased.

He feels a little better about this whole afterlife thing.

 


 

Chuck starts spending all of his time with Yancy. Having someone to talk to, someone who can see and hear and touch him is a relief, and Chuck feels a weight he didn’t know he was carrying lift away.

It feels easier, like he might actually be able to handle this afterlife thing.

He doesn’t really want to admit it, but the relief makes him cling to Yancy. He tends to follow the older man around everywhere.

Yancy takes it with good grace.

Chuck tries not to read too much into it, but Yancy seems almost happier to have someone else around.

Chuck knows that he and Raleigh used to be inseparable. (He won’t admit that he has this knowledge because he’d obsessively consumed everything ever written about the Becket brothers, seen every photo taken, and watched every video clip. It’s embarrassing.)

He guesses that maybe having someone else following him around is… familiar… for Yancy.

He doesn’t know for sure though and doesn’t want to aggravate Yancy into telling him to get lost, so he doesn’t ask.

 


 

The nightmares don’t go away even though he’s no longer alone. It’s nice though, to have someone who’s there when he comes back from one.

The first time he ends up in the nightmare place after meeting Yancy, he comes back to himself sprawled on the floor of the mess hall. Dinner is still bustling around him, so he knows he’s only been gone a few seconds.

He’s blinking up at the ceiling, trying to slow his racing heart, when Yancy’s concerned face pops into view.

“What the hell was that?” he asks. Chuck can swear he he’s a note of genuine concern in Yancy’s voice.

It’s a nice thought.

“Nothing,” Chuck says shortly, trying to lever himself into a sitting position. His arms won’t hold his weight though, and he ends up sprawled back on the floor.

Yancy reaches out a hand and hauls Chuck upright.

“You disappeared,” he says.

Chuck shrugs. “Yeah, it happens,” he says.

Yancy looks concerned. “What—“

“Just leave it,” Chuck says harshly, feeling his shoulders stiffen. He doesn’t want to talk about it.

Yancy doesn’t press, but his expression is determined and Chuck doesn’t think he’s avoided the conversation completely.

 


 

Spending time with Yancy means, of course, spending a lot more time with Raleigh. Chuck isn’t sure how he feels about that. The teenager that still has a giant crush on the youngest Becket brother quite enjoys spending extra time with him. The Ranger that still blames him for running away (and is kind of embarrassed about Raleigh kicking his ass) isn’t so sure.

But, Chuck has discovered that he desperately doesn’t want to be alone.

And Yancy spends all his time with Raleigh.

So Chuck does too.

And the more time he spends with Raleigh, the more he starts to genuinely see Raleigh the person, not Raleigh the hero or Raleigh the coward.

(He asks Yancy, in one brave moment during that first day, what the older pilot thinks of Raleigh walking away from the PPDC. Yancy tells him it was the best thing for Raleigh. When Chuck uses the words “running away” and “coward”, Yancy gives him a look cold enough to freeze the air and says he doesn’t care what was best for the PPDC. He cares what was best for Raleigh.

Later, Chuck remembers how Yancy had talked about being angry when he learned that Raleigh had come back to the PPDC. How worried he was about what Raleigh was going to do. How he’d gotten so angry that he’d walked away and hadn’t come back for days.

He doesn’t bring up Raleigh leaving again.)

He’s spent a long time seeing Raleigh as an idea of a person, and not really as that person he is underneath.

But two days of seeing Raleigh habits and quirks — the way he’s instantly awake in the morning, no coffee required, but can’t get through the evening without a cup of tea; the way he clearly understands the science coming out of the mouths of the geeks, but pretends not to; the way he stands in silent support of Herc and Mako; the way that he knows just what to do and say to comfort those still reeling from the damage the Kaiju inflicted — Chuck realizes he’s seeing the things most people don’t see.

Things maybe only Yancy knows about his brother.

Well, Yancy and now Mako.

At dinner the day after he meets Yancy, the pair of the them watch Mako and Raleigh laughing and teasing each other as they pick their way through the mess hall offering. There’s an ease on both their faces that Chuck has never seen before. Something in him lurches at the easy friendship between the two.

“They look awfully cozy,” he says.

Yancy snorts and smiles.

“Yeah,” he says. “Raleigh always did have an easy time making friends.”

“Or something more than friends,” Chuck suggests, glancing at Yancy out of the corner of his eye.

There’s a strange, almost sad, smile on Yancy’s face.

“No,” he says. “Raleigh was the one who made friends. The booty calls… that was me.”

“Raleigh and Mako look like a little more than just friends,” Chuck says. “They look good together. Happy.” He tries to ignore how much that stings. He’s dead. Even if he was willing to admit that he wanted what they had, it’s not like he’s in a position to get it.

Yancy laughs. “Happy, yes,” he says. “But definitely not together.”

Chuck twists to look at Yancy, wondering how the older pilot is just not seeing what’s right in front of him.

Yancy meets his gaze and reads the confusion in his expression. He studies Chuck, as if he’s judging the younger pilot and debating something in his head.

“Raleigh and Mako aren’t together,” he says, “and they’re never going to be together. Raleigh not… into women.”

Chuck blinks and his mouth falls open in shock.

“Raleigh’s… with guys?”

“Yes,” Yancy says.

Chuck turns back to look at Raleigh. “Holy crap,” he says.

Yancy chuckles beside him.

“Yeah,” he says. “Rals doesn’t advertise it much. Or, at all. But yeah.”

“Why tell me?” Chuck asks.

“Because… I think it’s a piece of information you won’t abuse. And that you’ll value having.” He glances sidelong at Chuck and his knowing gaze raises a blush on Chuck’s cheeks. “Call it a hunch,” he says.

Chuck ducks his head to hide the blush and watches Raleigh from under his lashes.

He kind of hates the fact that he’s not alive to do anything with his new knowledge.

 


 

Chuck comes back to the world with a gasp and flails upright. A pair of warm hands catches him and helps him sit upright as his chest heaves and he struggles to catch his breath. Gradually, the spots fade from his eyes and his breathing comes back under his control, but he can’t make the shaking stop. He curls his hands into fists and shoves them under his thighs to keep them still.

“Hey. You okay?”

Chuck opens his eyes and meets Yancy’s concerned gaze.

He nods and says, “I’m fine,” automatically, then hesitates and shakes his head.

“I’m not… I don’t know what I am,” he says.

Yancy’s expression is sympathetic and concerned.

“Is this… one of the dreams you were talking about?” he asks.

Chuck nods.

“You’re really dreaming,” Yancy says, sounding a little shocked. “I wasn’t... sure… that you really knew what you were talking about, when you asked before, but you really do dream.”

Chuck nods, feeling exhausted.

“What do you dream about?”

Chuck sighs. “Nothing that makes sense,” he says. “Just dark, and cold, and small.” He hesitates, then adds, “And panicked.”

Yancy blinks at him, looking contemplative. “Always the same,” he asks.

Chuck nods.

“And… it’s not… a memory?”

Chuck shakes his head and gives Yancy a sideways look. “Why would I have a memory of—“ he starts to ask, then stops when he gets a look at the closed expression on Yancy’s face. “Never mind,” he says. “It’s not a memory.”

“What’s it feel like?” Yancy asks.

Chuck lets out a frustrated breath. “Like a nightmare, okay,” he says, annoyed. “I know you know what those are.”

Yancy is silent for a moment, then says, “Not anymore.”

Chuck looks up, startled, and meets Yancy’s gaze. The older pilot’s expression is somber and he looks suddenly much older.

“What—“ Chuck starts.

“I don’t get nightmares,” Yancy says. “I don’t… relive memories or have dreams or… anything. If I’m not here, then I’m nowhere. There’s a… nothing place. You can end up there if you push too hard or you force yourself there. But it’s nothing. It’s not a nightmare.”

Yancy’s face is closed off and his eyes are old. Chuck is reminded suddenly of Raleigh and the feeling on ancient that he saw in Raleigh’s eyes.

“You… sound like you’ve been there,” Chuck says.

Yancy studies him for a moment, then nods.

“I have,” he says. “More than once. The last time…” He pauses, sighs, and runs a hand across his face. “I told you that I wasn’t here for most of this last battle with the Kaiju?” he asks.

Chuck nods, remembering their conversation on the day they met.

“When I found out what the Marshall had brought Raleigh here to do, what Raleigh was planning on doing, I lost it. And I walked away. Didn’t want to be here to see everything go down in flames. Didn’t want to be here to see my brother die.” Chuck flinches and Yancy’s lips twist to the side in an uncomfortable expression. “But I’m not like you Chuck,” he says. “I’m bound to Raleigh. I can’t just walk away. But I can push hard enough to, I guess, discorporate myself and end up in the nothing place.”

Yancy’s stare is intense as he meets Chuck’s gaze.

“It’s quiet there. There’s no noise, no colour, no feeling. It’s nothing. Is that where you go in your nightmares?” he asks.

Chuck shakes his head. “No,” he says.

Yancy doesn’t look surprised.

“Tell me,” he commands.

Chuck tells him. He tells him about the dark and the cold. About the feeling of being trapped in a small space. About the cold and the pain. About the sound that he can only sort of hear, but that he thinks is important.

And Yancy asks questions. Lots of questions. He asks until he’s wrung every single detail about Chuck’s nightmares (and, weirdly, his last moments aboard Striker Eureka) out of the younger pilot.

Chuck has never really believed in the whole psychologist “talking makes you feel better” thing, but when he’s done talking, he feels weirdly clean. Like his insides have been scoured out and all the crap is gone.

Yancy and Chuck sit quietly for a few moments. Chuck drifts in a sort of peaceful empty feeling, but Yancy looks deep in thought.

Finally, the older pilot looks up to meet Chuck’s gaze. He looks determined but also hesitant, like he’s about to tell Chuck something he doesn’t think the younger pilot will like.

“What?” Chuck says, feeling suddenly defensive.

“Chuck,” Yancy starts, then hesitates, “I… I don’t think you’re actually dead.”

Chuck stares at him, then snorts in disbelief. “That’s what you got from this conversation? That you think I’m not actually dead? I think you need your head examined, mate. This,” he says, gesturing to himself, “this whole ghost thing seems to point pretty definitely to dead.”

Yancy shakes his head. “I know, it sounds crazy,” he says.

“No shit,” Chuck says.

Yancy blows out a frustrated breath and gets to his feet, pacing across the room.

“It sounds crazy,” he says, “but I think it might be true.”

Chuck opens his mouth to protest, but Yancy cuts him off with a sharp gesture.

“Just, hear me out,” he says.

Chuck sets his face in a mutinous expression, but nods.

“You have nightmares,” Yancy starts. “You have nightmares and that’s not something we — ghosts — do. But you do. And they’re nightmares, not the nothing place we sometimes end up. You aren’t bound to any person, place or thing. Not like any other ghost. You don’t feel like a ghost. You don’t think like someone who’s dead.”

He stops and turns to face Chuck. “And what you were saying, about the dark place. I think I know what that is.”

Chuck raises his eyebrows and makes a “go on” motion with one hand.

“It’s the escape pod. Your Jaeger’s escape pod,” Yancy says.

Chuck shakes head, skeptical despite the tiny flicker of hope that’s sprung to life in his chest.

“Yancy, I can’t be—“

“You’re not right,” Yancy says vehemently. “Nothing about you is right, and this is the only thing I can think of to explain it.”

“What about instead, I’m dead but just weird?” Chuck snarks.

Yancy sighs and sits on the bed next to Chuck. “I’m not saying you’re not weird,” he says. “Just, you don’t feel right. I can’t adequately express how not right you are. But you being alive, stuck somewhere between life and death, that feels right.”

Chuck sighs. “I like the idea,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong, mate, I love the idea that I might not be dead. But I just don’t think it’s possible. I mean, how would it even be possible.”

Yancy gives him a look, raised eyebrow and I thought you were smarter than that.

Chuck’s an only child, but it’s how he always imagined an older sibling would look.

“You could have ejected before the blast,” he says. “Damage to the pod keeps it from sending a signal back to base. Stasis protocols are trying to keep you under, but if the pod took damage, maybe they’re failing and that’s why you keep waking up.”

Chuck’s mouth twists to one side and he winds the hem of his henley through his fingers. It sounds… plausible… and he really wants to believe it’s a possibility, but—

“Why would you even think that was possible?” he asks.

For the first time, he sees Yancy looking truly uncomfortable. He ducks his head and mumbles something.

“What?” Chuck says.

Yancy looks at him, annoyed. “I said, I saw it in a movie.”

Chuck gapes at him. “You… saw it in a movie.”

Yancy sighs. “Yeah,” he says. “When we were kids. Raleigh liked it.”

 Chuck winces and shifts uncomfortably.

“So, you’re basing your theory of me being ‘alive’ on a movie you saw as a kid?” he asks.

Yancy sighs again. “I said it reminds me of a movie,” he says. “But even if it hadn’t, there’s something very different about you, and this… this idea fits.

Chuck wants to keep arguing, to point out how ridiculous and naïve the idea is, but then he sees Yancy’s expression. The older pilot is staring out, lost in thought, and he looks so fiercely… hopeful. Like he desperately wants to believe and thinks that if he wishes hard enough, it’ll come true.

Chuck blows out a breath of air and decides not to argue.

“Okay,” he says, “say I believe this theory of yours. How do we test?”

Yancy glances sidelong at him, then lets out a small smile.

“Easy,” he says. “Next time you end up in your nightmare, instead of trying to leave, try to stay. See if you can figure out where you are.”

Chuck stares at him. “Right,” he says weakly. “Easy.”

 


 

It’s only twelve hours before Chuck finds himself in the nightmare place (escape pod?) again. These… events, he’ll call them… are coming closer and closer together. He’s going to worry about that later.

For the moment, all he can do is experience.

Dark. Cold. Small.

Panicked. Trapped.

Every instinct is screaming get out get out getout.

He forces himself to concentrate.

He promised himself he’d try, and if there’s even a shred of a chance that he’s alive, he’s going to take it.

And he thinks, grudgingly and a little wonderingly, that Yancy may have been right.

The space is small and he can hear his panicked breathing. He’s laying down, but the sharp, uncomfortable ridges of something are digging into his back. It feels like a drivesuit.

His surroundings seem to… flicker and he forces himself to concentrate.

He blinks and realizes that it’s dark, but not pitch black. He can see a dim light, red and flickering. A panel of lights. The small monitor in Striker Eureka’s escape pods. Chuck recognizes it from the drills all pilots are forced to run.

The whine in his ears resolves into a staticky, computerized voice.

“—asis unit offline. Power at 50%. Hull structure compromised. Attempting to reinitialize pilot stasis.”

He blinks up and, in the dim glow of the pod’s emergency power lights, he thinks he sees something with fins dart only a few feet in front of his face.

 


 

Chuck snaps back awake tucked in the corner of his father’s empty office. The sky outside the window is darkening into night. It was barely dusk when Chuck came here to spend some time with his dad and think about what Yancy has said. He’s been gone for hours.

He stares blankly out the window, breathing hard.

“Oh God,” he whispers. “Yancy was right.”

Yancy was right.

“I’m alive.”

Yancy was right. He’s alive, trapped in his damaged escape pod and flashing between there is this half-life as a ghost in the Shatterdome.

“I’m alive!” he says wonderingly, laughing a little in joy.

I’m alive, he thinks, and I’m sitting here while my body is dying in a broken escape pod at the bottom of the ocean.

“Oh shit,” he says, scrambling to his feet. He has to find Yancy.

Chapter Text

“What the hell am I going to do?” Chuck demands, frustrated, pacing across the room.

Yancy, sitting on a pile of crates on the other side of the room, doesn’t respond. Chuck’s been saying the same thing for hours and they still don’t have any ideas.

The initial exhilaration of discovering that he’s alive has gone. Racing through the Shatterdome looking for Yancy, Chuck had happily stopped by every person he’d seen, shouting that he was here, he was alive.

No-one had noticed him, but that wasn’t unusual these days and wasn’t enough to dent his good mood.

Yancy had been thrilled for him, which made up for everyone else’s complete lack.

And then, they’d both realized the huge problem of their situation.

No-one could see Chuck or hear him or feel him.

Everyone thought he was dead, and there was no way for him to tell anyone that he was still alive.

“What the hell are we going to do?” Chuck asks despairingly, flopping on the boxes at Yancy’s feet.

Yancy sighs. “I don’t know,” he says, and Chuck is startled to hear frustration and sadness in his voice. “Ghosts can’t communicate with the living. I don’t know how we can let anyone know that you’re alive.”

Chuck hates the expression on Yancy’s face. The expression that says he’s failing someone, again.

“We have to think of something,” Chuck says.

Yancy nods in silent agreement, but he doesn’t look hopeful.

 


 

Two days later, they haven’t made any progress, except to completely freak out Raleigh. They’ve discovered that Raleigh is sensitive to Chuck’s presence. That he seems to feel when Chuck is around, shiver when Chuck touches him, almost hear something when Chuck shouts.

Yancy thinks this is progress.

Chuck thinks he’s screwed, because despite every effort he makes, Raleigh is the only one (outside of Max, who’s not really in a position to help) who has even the slightest inkling that Chuck is there. And Raleigh’s at the point of thinking he’s going crazy.

“I’m telling you,” Raleigh says earnestly to Mako, Gottlieb, and Geiszler, “there’s something going on.”

Gipsy Danger’s pilots are in Gottlieb and Geiszler lab in the bowels of the Shatterdome. Despite the renewed funding for the PPDC, the two heads of the K-science division have insisted on remaining in the same lab, so the space is a cluttered mess of computers and Kaiju parts. Yancy and Chuck have settled themselves along the far wall of the room.

“Raleigh,” Mako says soothingly, “perhaps you are just stressed.”

Raleigh gives her a side-eyed look and a raised eyebrow.

“I know what stress feels like,” he says. “I even know what post-traumatic stress feels like. This is something else.” He hesitates, then goes on. “This feels like… after Knifehead. When I was in the hospital and kept thinking I was seeing Yancy everywhere.”

Mako makes a pained noise and reaches for her co-pilot’s arm. “Raleigh…” she says, trailing off.

Raleigh shrugs away from her touch and looks uncomfortable. Mako withdraws her hand.

“Are you… seeing Yancy again?” she asks tentatively.

Raleigh shakes his head, crossing his arms protectively.

“No,” he says. “I’m not… seeing anything. Just… feelings. Like someone’s watching me. Sometimes I feel like someone has just grabbed my shoulder, but there’s no-one there and I didn’t really feel anything. Sometimes I think I hear someone shouting at me, but I can never actually make anything out. I know,” he goes on, reading the apprehensive expression on Mako’s face. “I know it sounds crazy but, it’s real. There’s something going on.”

He turns to Gottlieb and Geiszler, casting them a desperate look. “Could this be the Drift?” he asks. “A remnant of Yancy? Or… a side effect of being in the Anteverse? Something?”

Gottlieb and Geiszler share speaking looks and seem to have an entire conversation without actually speaking. Chuck has noticed that they do this a lot since their Drift with the baby Kaiju.

They turn back to Raleigh in unison, and Geiszler takes the lead.

“There’s a lot we just don’t know about the Drift,” he says. “Especially with what you experienced when… you know.”

“When Yancy died?” Raleigh says.

Geiszler nods. “Yeah,” he says awkwardly. “It hadn’t happened before, and it hasn’t happened since. I mean, lots of pilots have lost co-pilots, but you’re the only one whose had a co-pilot die while you were still drifting. Well, the only one that survived. Between that and the Ghost Drift… it’s definitely possible that this is some remnant of Yancy.”

“Of course,” Gottlieb interjects, “we know even less about the Anteverse than we do about the Ghost Drift, so it’s equally possible these phenomena you are experiencing are being caused by that. Have you spoken with Medical?”

Raleigh shakes his head. “No,” he says, “but I got cleared a week ago when we got back from the Breach run.”

“It could have developed since then,” Gottlieb says speculatively. “Dr. Geiszler, do you think—“

“Yes, yes,” Geiszler says. “Maybe the—“

And they’re off, trading complex scientific terms and ignoring everyone else in the room.

“Raleigh, why didn’t you say anything?” Mako asks softly, stepping closer to Raleigh a putting a hand on his arm.

Raleigh allows the contact, but shrugs. “I didn’t want to worry you,” he says, then flinches when she punches him in the arm.

“You are my co-pilot and my friend,” she says. “It is my right to worry about you.”

Raleigh sighs and rubs his arm. “I know,” he says. “Honestly, I was trying not to think about it.”

Mako puts a hand on his shoulder. “This does not seem like something that will go away if you ignore it,” she says.

“Kind of figured that,” Raleigh says.

They smile at each other.

“We have an idea,” Geiszler says, interrupting the moment.

Both Raleigh and Mako smooth out their expressions and turn back to the doctors.

“We can’t be sure what you’re experiencing Ranger Becket,” Gottlieb says, “but we can take an image of your brain activity and compare it to the records we have of Drift activity and...” he makes a nervous expression and glances at Raleigh. “And… to your records from after Knifehead.”

“Right,” Geiszler says, rushing in to fill the awkward silence, “because you said this was like what you experienced after Knifehead, so we can compare and see if you’re right.”

He pauses and shares a look with Gottlieb.

“Look,” he says, turning back to Raleigh, “we can do this test for you, but we really think this is something Medical, and maybe the Marshall needs to be told about.”

Raleigh sighs. “I know,” he says. “Can we do the test first and see if there’s anything there before we get everyone else involved?”

The doctors nod and turn together to the piles of equipment on Geiszler’s side of the lab, moving to unearth Geiszler’s homemade Drift device. After a final long look at Raleigh, Mako heads across the lab to help them, joining their conversation easily.

Alone, Raleigh sighs and seems to slump, looking tired and small. Chuck feels a little bad about apparently pushing Raleigh into this position.

He’ll feel less bad, though, if they’re able to find a way to communicate with Raleigh and rescue Chuck.

If that happens, Chuck makes a silent promise to himself to apologize to Raleigh for driving him to a nervous breakdown.

Raleigh shifts on his side of the lab, casting glances at the three across the room. Even Chuck can see that they’re going to be a while, so he’s not surprised when Raleigh sighs and begin to wander. The back corner of the lab has been filled with crates and piles of dusty and half-assembled equipment. Chuck knows that most of this equipment was shipped in over the years as the other Shatterdomes closed, and that it’s just never been processed.

He’s not even sure Gottlieb and Geiszler know what’s in all these boxes.

One of the crates seems to catch Raleigh’s attention. A piece of machinery is sticking half out of the box. Most of it still hidden by packing material and the wooden sides of the shipping crate, but Chuck can see a pyramid shape sticking out of the top. Chuck has no idea what it is, but he doesn’t like it.

As Raleigh approaches, the shape begins to glow softly and the top begins to spin lazily. Raleigh cocks his head and blinks in surprise.

“What the…” he says softly and takes a step closer.

The glow intensifies and the top spins a little faster. The bad feeling in Chuck’s gut intensifies into almost physical pain. A surprised glance at Yancy tells him that the older pilot is getting the same terrible feeling.

“I don’t like this,” Yancy says, hopping down off the crates. Chuck is only a few seconds behind him.

“Hey guys,” Raleigh calls softly, but Mako, Gottlieb, and Geiszler are absorbed in an argument over the make-shift Drift device and don’t respond.

Yancy and Chuck start across the room just as Raleigh comes within arms’ reach of the device. The glow has intensified into a white light and the top is spinning so fast it’s impossible to see the individual revolutions. Raleigh reaches for the device seemingly mesmerized.

“Raleigh, don’t!” Yancy calls, just as Chuck yells, “Becket, stop!”

Raleigh’s hand comes down on the device.

There’s a crack and sizzle like a bolt of lightning striking and a bright flash of light. Chuck feels like something has slammed into his gut and he has to catch himself on one of the lab tables to keep from falling to his knees. Dimly, he hears confused noises and shouts from Mako, Gottlieb, and Geiszler.

He and Yancy are both levering themselves back to their feet when Mako shouts “Raleigh!” and darts past them. They lunge after her without hesitating and come around the corner of the lab table to find Raleigh seizing on the floor.

“Oh Jesus Christ,” Yancy says, stumbling forwards to drop to his knees next to Raleigh.

“Call for medical!” Mako shouts, bracing Raleigh’s head on her thighs to keep him from smashing it on the floor.

Chuck stumbles forwards and drops down on Raleigh’s other side.

“Raleigh,” Yancy says. “Raleigh, Raleigh, Raleigh.” He reaches out to touch Raleigh and his hand goes right through his brother. Yancy makes a low keening sound as Raleigh limbs continue to jerk.

“You idiot,” Chuck says numbly. “You moron! Why would you touch it?” He realizes distantly that he’s shouting.

There’s noise at the door and Chuck glances up to see a doctor and a pair of medic rushing into the lab.

Raleigh’s eyes are open when he looks down and the pilot seems to have stopped seizing.

“You stupid idiot,” Chuck says. “What the hell were you thinking?”

Raleigh’s brow furrows and he mouths something. Chuck thinks it might be his name.

“Raleigh,” Yancy whispers.

Raleigh’s head rolls in Yancy’s direction.

This time, Chuck hears him murmur “Yancy?” in a confused whisper.

Then Raleigh is seizing again, the medics are shoving their way in, and Raleigh is being lifted onto a stretcher and rushed away.

 


 

Hours later, Chuck and Yancy are standing around in medical as Raleigh prepares to be discharged. The doctors have given him a clean bill of health, which Chuck feels is ridiculous. Raleigh was seizing only a few hours ago. But the doctors have found no injuries and no damage from whatever it was that Raleigh touched. (Which Gottlieb and Geiszler are still arguing about.)

“Seriously? They’re just going to let him go,” Chuck says incredulously.

Yancy makes a frustrated noise. “There’s nothing wrong with him. Except that he’s an idiot,” he says, raising his voice at the last bit.

Across the room, Raleigh makes a strange face and cocks his head.

Chuck sighs. “Now what?” he asks.

Raleigh is his best hope for getting back alive, and now that medical and Herc know about his experiences in sensing Chuck (though they have no idea that that’s what’s going on) they’re talking about sending him to the best hospital in Hong Kong to get a full work-up done. There’s no reason Chuck and Yancy can’t follow, but Chuck know that his best chance is if Raleigh is here with people who will think the phenomena are Ghost Drift or Jaeger related, not Raleigh having a nervous breakdown.

“I don’t know,” Yancy says, answering Chuck’s question. “Raleigh is… your best hope. If we can’t get him to realize that you’re here…”

Chuck blows out a frustrated breath. “I’m right here, you morons,” he yells towards Raleigh and he group gathered around Raleigh’s bed. And Raleigh narrows his eyes, cocks his head as if he’s heard something, and looks right at Chuck and Yancy.

 


 

By the time dinner time arrives, Chuck is feeling wrung out. He’s dropped back into the escape pod twice in the last few hours. Each time, he seems to stay a little longer. Which is depressing because he can tell that the power is failing. Also, he thinks that the pod has sprung a leak, which he’s trying desperately not to think about.

He’s going to die in that pod, he thinks, and no-one is ever going to know.

Chuck is tired and feeling defeated. He doesn’t even feel like making an effort, so he just slumps face first onto the table across from Yancy. A few seats down, Raleigh and Mako are picking their way through dinner, Mako keeping a concerned and scrutinizing eye on Raleigh.

Across from him, Yancy is equally distracted by keeping an eye on Raleigh.

Chuck doesn’t mind. He’s perfectly happy to put his head down on his crossed arms and brood.

“Are you alright?” he hears Mako ask Raleigh.

Raleigh sighs. “Yes Mako,” he says, “I’m alright. Just tired.”

Mako makes a dissatisfied sound. “I still do not understand what you were thinking,” she says severely. “Surely you know better than to touch equipment you know nothing about.”

Raleigh snorts and laughs a little hysterically. “You sound just like Yancy,” he says.

“Raleigh,” Mako says severely.

“Sorry,” Raleigh says, sobering. “Just… I don’t know what happened. It was just there and it was like I couldn’t help myself. Anyway, that’s not important.”

“Not important—“ Mako starts, sounding on the edge of genuine fury.

“I saw Yancy,” Raleigh says, effectively derailing Mako’s remonstrations.

“You… saw Yancy?” she asks tentatively.

Raleigh nods silently.

“It’s not… unusual to see visions of loved ones when you yourself are close to death,” Mako says tentatively.

“Yeah,” Raleigh says. “I know.” He pauses and rubs a hand uncomfortably across the back of his neck. “The thing is,” he continues, “I thought I saw Chuck as well.”

Both of Mako’s eyebrows go up in surprise and Chuck’s head comes off the table. His focus abruptly narrows in on Raleigh and across the table he can see Yancy come back to full awareness of the conversation in an instant.

“You think you saw Chuck?” Mako asks, something knowing in her voice.

“Shut up,” Raleigh says ducking his head and (what the hell, Chuck thinks) a blush stealing across his cheeks. Check has no idea what to think about this.

“And what was Chuck doing in your vision?” Mako asks, sounding amused.

Raleigh sighs. “Shouting at me. For being stupid and touching the device.”

Mako’s mouth twitches upwards in a smile. “That does sound like him,” she says.

“Yeah I got that impression.”

“Was Yancy also shouting at you?” Mako asks, still amused.

Raleigh nods. “Yeah,” he says. “Same song, different verse.”

“You are very strange,” Mako says, shaking her head fondly. “One would think that, if you were dying, you would prefer to see comforting loved ones. But you, Raleigh, you conjure people who shout at you.”

Raleigh sighs and his expression turns somber.

“That’s the thing,” he says. “I don’t think I conjured them.”

“Then how…?” Mako says in confusion.

“I think they were already there,” Raleigh says.

“Like… the Ghost Drift?” Mako asks tentatively.

Raleigh shakes his head. “Like ghosts,” he says.

Mako blinks and looks surprised, but doesn’t reject the idea out of hand.

“You believe Yancy and Chuck are still here? As ghosts?” she asks.

Raleigh nods. Chuck’s mouth drops open in surprise and when he shifts to meet Yancy’s gaze, he sees the same surprise reflected in the older pilot’s face.

“How long?” Mako asks.

“How long have I thought they were here? Or how long have I believed in ghosts?” Raleigh asks.

Mako shrugs. “Both. Either,” she says.

Raleigh sighs and looks away, staring into the distance. “I guess I’ve believed in ghosts since… well, since Knifehead,” he says. “I used to see Yancy in the halls in the hospital in Anchorage. All the time. I think I told you that.”

He looks at Mako and she nods.

“You did,” she says softly.

“At the beginning,” Raleigh says, “I was so damaged and drugged that I barely knew what way was up. I thought they were hallucinations. And then the doctors thought it was the Ghost Drift. And I guess I accepted it; I stopped seeing Yancy after I recovered. Though I think a part of me never really believed that they were hallucinations. I always kind of thought he’d stick around to look after me.”

He pauses and sighs, his eyes distant, looking back into memories.

“Then we drifted for the first time,” he says, meeting Mako’s gaze. “You remember?”

Mako nods and grimaces.

“Yeah,” Raleigh says. “Not our best moment.”

They share a look that speaks of shared experience and pain.

“Anyway,” Raleigh continues, “as we were falling out of sync and you started rabbiting, I… I thought I saw Yancy in the Conn Pod.”

Chuck turns to look at Yancy. “Were you… Were you there for that?” he asks.

Yancy nods, not tearing his eyes away from Raleigh.

“Yes,” he says, sounding dazed. “Yes, I was there for that.”

Chuck turns back to Raleigh and Mako just as Mako says, “I think… I saw him too.”

Raleigh’s gaze sharpens. “You do?” he asks incredulously.

“I thought… that it was a side effect of the drift. Or of us being out of sync. I tried to ignore it,” Mako says.

Raleigh blinks. “Huh,” he says, the smiles. “Maybe not such a crazy idea after all.”

Mako smiles and nods back.

“If they are truly here,” she asks, “how can we be sure? How can we see them?”

Raleigh shakes his head. “I don’t know,” he says. “Whenever it’s happened before, I can’t think of anything I’ve done to make it happen.”

The pair falls into silence. Chuck shares a frustrated glance with Yancy. They’re so close and yet at the same time so unspeakably far away.

“You have seen Yancy three times and Chuck once,” Mako says finally, after a long moment of silence. “Both during your stupidity in Dr. Geiszler and Dr. Gottlieb’s lab.” She glares at Raleigh when he opens his mouth to protest and he subsides. “You saw Yancy during our difficulties with Gipsy’s first test. And earlier, in the hospital after Knifehead.”

“And on the beach,” Raleigh says. “I thought… I thought I saw Yancy on the beach, after I piloted Gipsy back to shore. But… most of those hours after Yancy died are kind of a blur in my memory, so I’ve never been really sure.”

Mako nods. “Four times, then,” she says. Her faces crunches up in contemplation. “I wonder…” she says.

“Mako?” Raleigh asks after a moment of silence.

Mako blinks back into awareness.

“Wha—My apologies,” she says. “I was thinking about our problem.”

“Any solutions?” Raleigh asks.

“Perhaps,” Mako says. “In all four times that you have seen the ghosts, you have been near the brink of death, and each of those situations has involved Jaeger technology. Perhaps that is the combination that allows you to pull back the veil.”

“So… what you’re saying is that I need to nearly kill myself in a Jaeger to have any chance of proving this theory?”

Mako shakes her head. “Yes and no,” she says. “We could… simulate those conditions without putting you in undue danger.”

Raleigh raises his eyebrows. “And how exactly would we manage that?” he asks.

“A solo Drift,” Mako says.

“A solo— Mako, that’s one of those things that fries your brain. That doesn’t sound at all controlled to me. And it’s certainly dangerous.”

“But it can be controlled,” Mako insists, leaning forwards. “In a simulator. By carefully control the amount of neural load a pilot is under we can simulate the neural stress of a solo Drift without the danger. If there are any problems, we simply reduce the load.”

“You’ve done this before?” Raleigh asks.

Mako nods, then shrugs. “The technology was developed in the later days of the program. I believe they were trying to find a way to try pilots for solo Drifting. It was shelved, along with many other projects, when the rest of the program was shut down. There is a simulator in the storage rooms on level 6.”

Raleigh sighs and nods. “So, we could actually do this,” he says.

Mako nods. “We could try,” she says.

The two sit in silence for a moment.

“Well,” Raleigh says finally, “there’s only one thing to do now.”

“We must speak with the Marshall,” Mako says.

 


 

 “Absolutely not,” Herc says, his voice implacable.

Sitting in chairs across from his desk, Mako and Raleigh glance at each other with startled expressions. At the back of the room, Chuck winces.

It had been going well, too, he thinks.

Raleigh and Mako had presented their case clearly and concisely. His dad had been tough to convince, clearly believing that Raleigh was still suffering from his earlier accident and that Mako was either humouring her co-pilot or caught in a very nasty Ghost Drift.

But the more they talked, the more Chuck could see that his dad wanted to believe.

Chuck couldn’t blame him. If the situation had been reversed, if it had been his dad who died and him who’d been left behind, and someone had told him there was a chance the spirit of his dad had lived on and he could communicate with him… Chuck would have been willing to believe anything for that little bit of hope.

Herc had been willing to believe, if not fully, Raleigh and Mako. He had been willing to entertain their desire to attempt to prove their theory.

Right until the moment that they had mentioned the solo Drift.

“Marshall,” Mako begins, “we believe this could enable us to communicate with—“

“I understand what you believe,” Herc interjects. “The answer is no.”

“Even if it’s true?” Raleigh asks, leaning forwards. “Even if this is the only way to communicate with Chuck ever again?”

“Even then,” Herc says, then sighs. “Look, I know what you believe. I want to believe it too. And I want there to be a way to talk to Chuck and Yancy and… anyone else who’s died but might still be with us.” He swallows hard. Chuck doesn’t need the Drift to know that Herc is thinking about Chuck’s mom.

“But they’re dead,” Herc continues. “They’re dead and I’m not going to risk the lives of my only surviving pilots on a technology we know almost nothing about, that’s never been properly tested, in the hope that maybe we can communicate with someone who’s already dead.”

“Marshall—“ Raleigh says.

“No Raleigh,” Herc says, gently this time. “I can’t… I can’t lose any more people. The answer is no.”

“But what if we are right—“ Mako says urgently.

“Then we have time,” Herc says. “They’re already dead. We have time to find another way. A safer way.”

Raleigh and Mako both look mutinous and Herc must recognize their expressions because his face hardens and he glares at them. The Marshall again, not the fellow pilot and friend.

“The answer is no,” he repeats. “Dismissed.”

Raleigh’s face twists and Mako’s mouth firms, but neither of them makes any further arguments. They stand together and walk silently from the room. The door slams behind them, making Yancy and Chuck jump. Herc just slumps behind his desk, suddenly looking a whole lot older and smaller.

Yancy turns to head after Raleigh. “You coming?” he asks when Chuck doesn’t move.

Chuck shakes his head. “I think I’m going to spend a little time with my old man,” he says.

Yancy shrugs. “You know where to find me later,” he says.

Chuck nods but Yancy is already sauntering through the closed door. Chuck turns back towards his father to see that the old man is slumped forwards at his desk, head resting in his hands. His father looks small and defeated, and it breaks Chuck’s heart to see him this way.

He finds he can’t be angry at his old man for denying him the chance to tell someone that he’s still alive, to maybe save himself before it was too late.

Herc is dealing with his own grief and it’s tearing him apart.

Chuck doesn’t want to be the cause of more grief.

He crosses the room in long strides and lays one ghostly hand on his father’s shoulder. Herc shivers at the contact and his head comes up from his hands.

“Chuck?” he says.

Chuck stifles a small noise of pain at the sight of his father’s tear-stained face. “Yeah dad,” he says, voice choked, “I’m here.”

Herc wipes away the tears with one hand. It’s a heart-wrenchingly childish gesture, and Chuck wants to wrap his arms around his dad and hang on, the way he hasn’t done since those grief-stricken days after his mother died.

Herc looks around and almost seems to settle his gaze on Chuck.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” he says in an undertone, then draws a deep breath.

“Chuck,” he says, “if you’re here, if you can hear me, I just want you to know that…” He stops, choked up, and can’t seem to figure out what to say. “Aw hell,” he goes on finally, “you know I’m terrible at this.”

Chuck laughs wetly. “Me too dad,” he says.

“I just… It’s not that I don’t want to see you again,” his dad says earnestly. “God, I’d like nothing more than to see you again. But… you’re gone. And as much as I want to say a proper goodbye… I can’t… I can’t risk Raleigh’s life or Mako’s. I can’t be that selfish. I hope you don’t think that I… that you… mean less to me, because of that.”

Chuck’s mouth twists into a wry smile. “I know dad,” he says. “I don’t… I know that you… Aw hell, I know that you love me, okay.”

“I wish… we could have said goodbye,” Herc says. “Properly, and not whatever the hell that was.”

Chuck laughs and shakes his head. “That was us being us dad,” he says. “I knew what you were trying to say.”

“I should have just said it,” Herc whispers. “Why didn’t I just say it?”

“I knew dad,” Chuck says. “I knew.”

“I love you,” Herc whispers, fresh tears rolling down his cheeks.

Chuck sniffs and blinks his wet eyes. “I love you too,” he says.

Herc puts his head back in his hands and Chuck withdraws, fleeing through the steel bulkhead.

It’s ironic, he thinks as he wipes the tears from his own eyes, that the best conversation my dad and I have had in years happens when one of us was almost-dead and the other couldn’t hear half the conversation.

The thought makes him laugh and cry at the same time.

 


 

By the time Chuck goes to find Yancy a few hours later, he’s feeling thoroughly wrung out. He’d like to sleep for a week, but he’s afraid that if he puts his head down for even a second, he’ll wake up in his escape pod. Or worse, not wake up at all.

Chuck sighs as he slips through Raleigh’s door, wondering if he should be worried that he’s stopped finding this ghost thing weird.

“You’re just in time,” Yancy says, glancing up as Chuck emerges into the room.

“In time? For what?” Chuck asks, blinking in surprise.

Then he has to take a hasty step backwards as Raleigh almost walks right through him.

He sidles around the room and over to Yancy, who’s perched out of the way on Raleigh’s bed.

He grins up at Chuck. “I’d tell you to sit,” he says, “but I don’t think we’ll be here much longer.”

“What’s going on?” Chuck asks.

Yancy sighs and his expression when he looks over at Raleigh is both fond and annoyed.

“My brother is about to do something stupid. Brave and totally necessary, but stupid.”

“Wha—“ Chuck starts, then sees Raleigh slide out of the small washroom attached to his bunk.

Raleigh has exchanged his typical fuzzy knit sweater for an old Gipsy Danger bomber jacket. His expression is grim and determined. There’s something… harder… about him. Less former-retired-soldier and more heroic-saviour-of-the-world.

Chuck blinks, open-mouthed and stunned. This is the first time he’s seen Raleigh looking like the hero pilot and soldier he was before Knifehead and is again. Even dressed in his drive suit coming home in victory from defeating Otachi and Leatherback or preparing to leave on Operation Pitfall, there had been a sadness about Raleigh, a stillness and hesitance that made him seem smaller and lesser to Chuck. There’s nothing small about him now.

Chuck has never been more turned on in his entire life.

Yancy makes a choked sound next to thim, and Chuck thinks for a panicked second that he might have said that last bit out loud. But when he glances at Yancy’s face, the older pilot’s expressed is both stunned and pained. Yancy glances over and seess Chuck’s questionning expression, and says, “The jacket. We used to wear them. Before Knifehead. Raleigh hasn’t worn his since.”

“And he’s wearing it now,” Chuck says, something tight in his chest.

“No,” Yancy says. “He’s wearing mine.”

Raleigh pauses in the middle of the room, takes a deep breath, and squares his shoulders. He lets the breath out, then pulls open the door and steps quietly into the hallway. Yancy and Chuck don’t even glance at each other before stepping out after him.

They follow Raleigh through the Shatterdome’s corridors, down into the lower levels, towards the labs and the storage rooms.

“Where is he going?” Chuck demands.

“If I’m right,” Yancy says, “we should be there soon.”

Chuck glances at the older pilot in surprise.

“Where do you think he’s going?” he asks.

Yancy just shakes his head.

Raleigh rounds the corridor in front of them corner in front of them, with Chuck and Yancy only a few steps behind him. When they come around the corner, they see that Raleigh has disappeared into a storage room off the right side of the corridor.

Yancy goes in after him without pause, but Chuck hesitates for a second. The room is dark and Chuck has a feeling of pressure, that something pivotal is about to happen, something there’s no coming back from.

Then he shakes himself and goes through the door.

The room is dimly lit, but there’s a soft light coming from somewhere near the back. Chuck follows the light through the maze of storage crates until he comes out into an open area in the back of the room. Yancy is standing off to one side, but Chuck barely notices, his attention taken entirely by the giant shape in front of him.

It looks like the giant head of a Jaeger, but not one that Chuck has ever seen before. Raleigh is standing in front of it, feet braced and arms crossed in front of his chest.

“How did you know?” he asks, and for a moment Chuck thinks Raleigh’s talking to him and Yancy.

Then Mako slips into the dim light, stepping out from inside the Conn Pod.

“I know you,” she says. “And… it is what I would do.”

Raleigh chuckles and his shoulders loosen.

“You going to stop me?” he asks.

Mako shakes her head. “Even if I wanted to,” she says, “which I don’t, I know you would find some other way. Perhaps a more dangerous way. Better that I am here to help.” She pauses and smiles mischievously. “And supervise.”

Raleigh makes a noise of protest, but the tension has fled from his shoulders and his posture is relaxed and open. When he sidles to one side, Chuck sees that Raleigh is smiling.

“Shall we begin?” Mako asks.

Raleigh nods and Check asks in confusion, “What are—“

Then stops.

Because Raleigh has stripped off his jacket and his shirt and is pulling off his pants. And underneath his clothes is the light fabric, mesh, and delicate computer network of the drive suit’s under-layer.

Mako is dragging the rest of the drive suit from a duffle on the floor by the Conn Pod

Chuck stares blankly at them for a moment before he figures out what’s going on. “That’s the simulator,” he says. “They’re going to try a solo Drift.”

When he looks over, Yancy is nodding at him.

“Yeah,” he says, “they are.”

“But why?” Chuck asks.

He’s resigned himself to being trapped like this, to dying in his escape pod at the bottom of the ocean and being trapped as a ghost forever.

He’s not sure how to handle Raleigh and Mako being willing to defy his father, the Marshall, and risk their lives for him.

He glances over at Yancy in helpless confusion.

Yancy’s expression softens to gentle understanding. “That’s who he is,” he says gently.

Chuck blinks and turns back to watch Raleigh and Mako. Mako has managed to help Raleigh into the rest of the drive suit. She steps back to stare at Raleigh critically, her expression firm.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” she asks.

Raleigh gives her a raised eyebrow and an incredulous look.

Mako ducks her head, smiling. “It seemed like the right thing to do,” she says, “to confirm.”

Raleigh gives her a wry grin and a nod.

“Let’s do this,” he says.

Together they step into the simulator, Chuck and Yancy only a few steps behind them.

“Do you want to try a regular Drift first?” Raleigh asks, as they step into the open space that simulates the Jaeger hook-ups inside the Conn Pod.

Mako hesitates, then shakes her head.

“Once we turn on the simulator and begin accessing power, I do not know how long we will have before we are discovered. At which point…”

“The Marshall will come down here to shout at us and make us stop,” Raleigh finishes.

Mako nods.

“Alright then,” Raleigh says. “First shot, full burn.”

“I believe we will have time to begin at slightly less than a full connection,” Masko says reprovingly.

“Mako—“ Raleigh starts.

“I do not wish to fry your brain on the first test,” Mako says. “Then I will have to train a new co-pilot and I am already busy enough.”

Raleigh laughs, but goes where Mako directs him.

Chuck and Yancy settle themselves near the front of the simulator, out of the way, but in a perfect position to see Raleigh (and be seen by him, if this happens to work).

Mako hooks Raleigh up to the simulator, then goes to control panel built into the wall. She begins to the procedure to start up the simulator, then hesitates and turns back to Raleigh.

“How do we know our ghosts are here?” she says anxiously.

“We don’t. Not for sure,” Raleigh says, shaking his head. “But… I think they might be.” Then he grins at Mako, that wry, lop-sided grin that makes Chuck’s heart beat faster. “Besides, where else would they go? This is where all the action is. We’re clearly the most interesting thing in the entire Dome.”

Mako smiles and laughs.

“Brat,” Yancy says fondly, shaking his head.

The control panel beeps, indicating that the simulator is online and ready to be engaged

“Are you ready?” Mako asks. Raleigh nods and turns to the control panel.

“We will begin at 50 per cent neural load,” she says. She sets the simulator’s controls.

Raleigh braces himself and closes his eyes. Chuck and Yancy can clearly see when the simulator engages. Raleigh’s whole body goes tense and he draws in a shaky breath. Monitors flicker to life at the front of the simulator, switching rapidly between scenery. The simulator, designed to train pilots to solo Drift against the Kaiju, is trying to select a scenario. Mako reaches over to kill the scenario but Raleigh waves her off with a sharp gesture.

“Leave it,” he says. “Got to have some sort of interaction.”

Mako nods

Raleigh manages to open his eyes, but his limbs are trembling and he’s squinting as if in pain. His gaze drifts around the room, but stops on the corner where Chuck and Yancy are standing. His face scrunches up and he blinks rapidly, as if trying to clear blurred vision.

Yancy straightens up beside Chuck and takes a step forwards.

“Raleigh?” he says, wary but hopeful.

Raleigh cocks his head, straining as if trying to hear something from a great distance.

“Raleigh?” Mako asks.

Raleigh grits his teeth and shakes his head. “There’s something there,” he says, strained, “but I can’t... it’s just… out of reach.” He pauses, then “Turn it up.”

“Raleigh,” Mako says hesitantly, “your readings are already showing considerable strain. It may be too dangerous—“

“I know,” Raleigh says gently. “Do it anyway.”

Their gazes meet and Mako studies Raleigh for a long moment before nodding.

“Alright,” she says. Raleigh grits his teeth and braces himself as Mako turns the simulator up to 100 per cent neural load. As the increased load hits him, he staggers and squeezes his eyes shut

“Raleigh!” Mako says, starting forwards and sounding alarmed.

“I’m fine, I’m okay,” Raleigh manages to get out.

He cracks his eyes open, looking like even that small action was painful. He blinks, gaze flitting around the simulator, before snapping back to Yancy and Chuck.

“Yancy,” he whispers.

Both Chuck and Yancy blink.

“I think… I think he sees us,” Chuck says tentatively.

Yancy nods, mute.

“Raleigh,” Chuck says, “can you hear us?”

Raleigh’s mouth opens and his face twists. “I can’t…” he says. “Mako, they’re right there, they’re there and I can’t. I can barely see them. I can’t hear them.” He sounds pleading.

Mako shakes her head silently, tears in her eyes, and glances helplessly at the control panel.

There’s nothing more she can do.

“Chuck,” Yancy says softly, “You have to join the Drift.”

Chuck glances at Yancy sharply, “Join the…? How exactly do you expect me to join the Drift? What could that do?”

Yancy shakes his head silently and nudges Chuck forwards. “You’ll know,” he says.

“But you… don’t you want to…?”

Yancy shakes his head, smiling ruefully. “Kid, I’ve got all the time in the world,” he says. “I’m dead. You’re not. And as much as I like you, I’d rather not have our acquaintance become permanent.”

Chuck ducks his head and nods, then squares his shoulders and steps hesitantly towards Raleigh. He doesn’t know how exactly Yancy expects him to join the Drift, but he finds that as he gets closer he can almost see… something… energy of some sort gathered around Raleigh. He’s not sure what prompts him to do it. It feels almost like his limbs aren’t his own. He puts his hands on either side of Raleigh’s face and presses their foreheads together.

The vibrating energy around Raleigh envelops Chuck too…

…and he’s falling, falling into the Drift.

It’s not like any Drift he’s ever had with his father.

Raleigh’s memories are indistinct, barely perceptible. It’s a roiling mass of confusion and tumbling emotions and flashes of imagery.

Chuck needs to find something to hang onto, something that will let him connect.

A memory goes by, and he’s looking out into a dark night and driving rain as a Kaiju bears down on him, nothing between him and the monster but open sky. He thinks he’s back in Hong Kong harbour with his dad, but the Kaiju isn’t Leatherback. It’s bulkier, with a sharp pointed head.

Knifehead, he realizes, at the same movement something (not him) reaches out his arm and moves his mouth, and he (Raleigh) is shouting “Yancy!”, shocked and grief-stricken into the rainy night.

The memory starts to slip away, but Chuck’s grabs at it with all his strength.

This is it, the connection.

He uses Raleigh’s pain to draw out his own, one pilot to another, both losing their co-pilots. He gives Raleigh his fear when his dad slams against the side of Striker Eureka’s Conn Pod; the awkward grief of their last goodbye; the desolation of knowing he and Pentecost couldn’t do it, couldn’t accomplish their mission; the determination not to fail; the pain of those last moments in Striker Eureka.

He feels the Drift solidify and some of the neural load Raleigh is bearing slams into Chuck. It’s enough to send Chuck to his metaphorical knees, but he hangs on. He can feel Raleigh’s confusion, his desire to know, why Chuck and not Yancy.

Chuck slams through that confusion, the bleary question to grab onto Raleigh’s core. He imagines reaching out and gripping the other pilot tight, shaking him, and making him pay attention.

Listen to me! I’m alive. I’m alive. I’m alive I’m alive I’malive! Please. Please, listen to me! I’m alive!

He feels Raleigh’s attention focus on him.

Chuck?

His own strength is failing. He shoves everything he has at Raleigh. Waking up alone in the Shatterdome. Being alone. No one seeing, hearing, feeling him. Yancy. The dark place, the nightmares. The escape pod, damaged and trapped at the bottom of the ocean.

Here. I’m here. I’m alive, I’m here. Please.

He stumbles backwards, dragged out of the Drift. Yancy catches his shoulders, but he can’t stay on his feet and he’s sinking to the ground. His vision is going blurry and he feels cold and pain. There’s a two-toned alarm blaring in his ears and over it he can hear shouting.

He blinks back to awareness, but can barely get his surroundings to come into focus.

Yancy’s holding him upright and watching Chuck’s face. “You okay?” he asks as he wavers back into focus. He looks concerned.

Chuck manages to nod, then realizes what a bad idea that was when his head explodes with pain.

“Raleigh?” he asks, voice hoarse and scratchy.

Yancy tips his head towards the other side of the room. Chuck follows his gaze and sees Raleigh braced on his hands and knees, kept upright by Mako’s supporting hold. He’s vomiting on the floor of the simulator, shaking like a leaf.

The shouting Chuck hears is Herc. His father is standing over Raleigh and Mako, yelling about irresponsibility, and dangerous stunts, and “ground you for life,” as a medic crouches down next to Raleigh.

The medic helps Raleigh sit propped against the wall of the simulator. Chuck realizes with an unpleasant jolt that the liquid dripping from Raleigh’s face is blood. It’s running freely from his nose and oozing out from one of his ears. There’s blood on his chin too, coating his lips red.

“He’s alive,” Raleigh says, his voice hoarse.

All sound in the room stops.

“What did you say?” Herc says. It’s his quiet, dangerous voice. Chuck hasn’t heard it since his Uncle Scott left.

“He’s alive,” Raleigh says, head tipped back against the wall. He opens his eyes and meets Herc’s gaze. “Chuck. He’s alive.”

His dad makes a sound that Chuck can’t interpret, and he doesn’t have time. The world is blacking out around him and Yancy’s hold starts to feel indistinct, like mist and water vapour.

Raleigh’s eyes meet his across the room.

“Hang on,” Raleigh says. “Chuck, hang on. We’re coming for you.”

And then the blackness and pressure closes in over Chuck’s head and he’s gone.

Chapter Text

The darkness is closing in on Chuck from all sides. There’s an alarm and a computerized voice in his ear, but he can’t make out the words. His head hurts too much and the world seems to spin around him. All he knows is dark and cold and trapped and hurt.

He wants to give up, to close his eyes and go to sleep.

He thinks he could just drift away to a quiet peaceful place.

But he doesn’t.

There’s a little voice in the back of his head. Hang on. We’re coming for you. Hang on.

He tries to remember who that voice belongs to, but the face slips away.

He just remembers strong arms holding him and voice telling him to hang on.

He does.

Then a bright light pierces his vision and the world around him starts shaking. Metal shrieks and he cries out, lashing out with fists and feet. His body screams at him in agony and tears stream down his cheeks as he collapses backwards and slips into blackness.

 

X

 

Chuck’s dreams are muddled and terrible. There are warm hands holding his and warm hands smoothing back his hair and warm voices telling him he’s okay and he’s safe. And there’s a cool hand on his shoulder saying “Good job, kid. You did it.”

 

X

Chuck swims back to semi-awareness, feeling like he’s crawling through clay. Everything hurts. He feels heavy and stiff. There’s noise all around him, medical equipment and conversations rolling over one another.

He blinks open his eyes and immediately moans and slams them shut to block out the light

“He’s awake!”

“Chuck? Chuck!”

“Can you open your eyes Ranger Hansen?”

The jumble of sound is painful. Chuck whimpers and tries to drag his hands over his ears, but even slight movement drives agony through his body.

One of the voices—Dr. Benson, Chuck thinks, good woman, followed them to Hong Kong from Sydney—admonishes the others to be quiet and orders the lights turned down. The other voices drop away to silence and from behind his closed eyelids, Chuck can tell that the lights have been dimmed significantly.

“Can you open your eyes Ranger Hansen?” Benson asks.

It takes a moment to get his body to co-operate, but Chuck manages to get his eyes open.

He blinks blurrily up at the ceiling, then Benson’s face swims into view.

“Hello Ranger,” she says. She sounds like she’s smiling, but Chuck can’t get his eyes to focus.

Something warm and solid squeezes his hand. His gaze wanders downwards until he can see that it’s his father. His dad is sitting at his bedside, holding his hand, looking rumpled and exhausted. Chuck thinks that he sees tears, but he can’t be sure whether they’re his father’s or his own.

A voice next to him says “Welcome back,” sounding warm and happy. Chuck rolls his head slowly in that direction. His head feels like a leaden weight and the dark is closing in on the edges of his vision.

He finds Raleigh Becket sitting on the empty bed next to him. And sitting beside Raleigh, smiling warmly at Chuck—

“Yancy?” Chuck mumbles, blinking slowly in confusion.

The darkness closes in over Chuck’s head before he gets an answer.

 

X

 

Chuck wakes up and for the first time since Operation Pitfall, he feels whole and complete, no longer insubstantial. Like he can interact with the world and expect his actions to have consequences.

It’s a nice feeling.

He’s lying on his back in Medical, he realizes, looking up at the cinderblock ceiling. He can smell antiseptic in the air and feel the worn sheets under his skin. The low whooshing of air recycling through the Shatterdome’s ventilation is comfortingly familiar

The crushing pain is gone, but Chuck still feels heavy and bone-tired. He blinks slowly up at the ceiling, sleep dragging at his eyelids.

A soft snore draws his attention to his left. His father is sprawled in the chair beside Chuck’s bed, tilted backwards in an uncomfortable position. Chuck winces in sympathy at the ache he knows his father will be feeling in the morning.

He wants to wake his father and pack him off to a real bed.

At the same time, he wants to enjoy this opportunity to be with his dad, to absorb the older man’s presence.

He can’t decide which instinct to follow.

Herc takes the decision from him when he shifts, loosing a long yawn and blinking open his eyes.

Chuck watches, holding his breath, as his dad stretches, grimacing slowly back to wakefulness. Herc’s eyes flit around the room, then turn towards Chuck. His dad blinks, mouth falling open as he realizes Chuck is awake.

Chuck wants to say something, but doesn’t know what. He bites his lip as his dad leans forward, hesitant.

“Chuck…” Herc says, soft and reverent.

Chuck swallows, hard, and can’t think of a single thing to say.

“Chuck… are you…?”

Chuck licks his lips. “Hey old man,” he says.

Herc smiles and lets out a strangled laugh.

“Hey kid,” he says. “How are you feeling?”

Chuck shrugs and grimaces, taking stock. Everything hurts in the way that tells him he’s taking quite a beating. Miraculously, nothing feels broken. (And Chuck has had enough broken bones over the years to know what those feel like. Piloting a Jaeger and fighting the Kaiju is not easy work.) The pain is dull and distant in a way Chuck knows means he’s dosed with some quality pain killers.

“I feel… not bad. Considering,” he says.

His dad grimaces and looks pained. “Yeah,” he says.

Chuck begins to feel uncomfortable laying on his back, having to stare up at his father. He tries to prop himself up on his elbows and lets out a hard breath of air when his body protests the movement. Herc leaps forwards, catching Chuck’s shoulders and helping him upright. Chuck concentrates on breathing while Herc raises the head of bed and props extra pillows behind Chuck’s back.

“Maybe should’ve taken that a bit slower,” his dad says once Chuck is settled.

Chuck glares weakly at him, concentrating on settling his hurried breathing. He doesn’t want to admit that his father was probably right.

After a few minutes, the silence between the two men begins to feel uncomfortable. Chuck searches frantically for something to say while Herc curls and uncurls his right hand, a tell Chuck only knows means that his father is just as nervous as he is because of the drift between them.

He opens his mouth to speak just as Herc says “Chuck—“

When his dad cuts himself off to let Chuck speak, Chuck shakes his head and motions for his dad to continue.

“You first, old man,” he says.

His dad gives him a narrow glare for that, but then sighs and shifts in his seat.

“When you were… gone,” he starts slowly, “I was… it was… hard.”

Outwardly, Chuck blinks but doesn’t say anything. Inwardly, he winces. He knows exactly how hard his dad took his “death.” He was there for most of it.

“Dad,” Chuck starts.

His father reaches out to lay a hand on Chuck’s shoulder. “Let me say this, okay?” he says.

Chuck nods reluctantly. His dad squeezes his shoulder before letting go and leaning back in his chair. Herc takes a deep breath and Chuck can see him organizing his thoughts.

“We don’t… talk. You and I. And sometimes, I don’t say… well… I don’t tell you… that… uh,” he stops, looking frustrated, and blows out a hard breath.

“You’re my son,” he starts again, “and I…”

He stops again, shaking his head is frustration.

“What I’m trying to say is—“

“Dad,” Chuck interrupts, because listening to his father try to force his feelings into words is becoming painful, and lays a hand on his father’s arm. “It’s okay. I know.”

His old man blinks at him.

“You… know?”

Chuck grins. “Yeah,” he says. “I heard you. Earlier. In your office. We had a whole conversation, even though you couldn’t hear my half of it.”

For that, Chuck gets the rare pleasure of seeing his father look completely gob-smacked.

 

X

 

After that there’s a flurry of doctors and tests and difficult conversations where Chuck gets some very incredulous looks. And when Mako, Raleigh, Tendo, Geiszler and Gottlieb come chattering through the door at dinner time, Chuck has to have the conversations all over again.

He spends the next few days alternating between exhausted slumber and fielding his numerous visitors (and quietly marvelling at the number of people who care enough to come visit him).

And throughout it all, he studiously ignores a certain pilot’s dead older brother that continues to haunt his presence.

 

X

 

Being stuck in Medical is the most boring experience of Chuck’s life. He’s used to the go-go-go life of a Jaeger pilot, where there’s always something to do, even if you’re not out fighting Kaiju. He’s never done well with inactivity, but the medical staff are all a little freaked out over Chuck’s miraculous survival. And even though his injuries aren’t critical anymore and, on any other day, they would have let him recover in his own quarters, they still won’t let him out of their control.

It’s making him a little insane.

His father and the others do what they can to keep him from going crazy. Mako brings him books, Tendo comes by to catch him up on the gossip, Striker’s old crew comes by with updates on the new engineering projects and the talks of trying to recover more Jaeger from Oblivion Bay, and his dad comes by with paperwork. Herc won’t let Chuck do any of the paperwork, which is almost worse because Chuck is at the point where even doing paperwork starts to seem appealing. He hates being confined to a bed.

Chuck appreciates everyone’s consideration though.

The only person he doesn’t see very much of is Raleigh Becket. The older pilot isn’t avoiding him. He still comes to visit Chuck at the end of the day when everyone comes by to have dinner together. He just never comes by on his own.

Chuck can’t figure out why.

He wants to ask his dad if Raleigh’s been assigned some kind of time-sucking project that Chuck doesn’t know about. He wants to ask Mako if she’ll tell him (because she must know) why her co-pilot seems so skittish around Chuck.

But he doesn’t.

He doesn’t know what they’ll say, and he’s not sure he wants to know the answer.

So he’s surprised to wake up from an afternoon nap (he has to take those now, and he tries not to think that the doctors might be right about him needing to stay in Medical) to find Raleigh sitting next to his bed.

Well, alone except for Yancy who is, as always, leaning casually against the nearest vertical surface and smirking at Chuck. As he has been doing since he woke up still being able to see dead people, Chuck determinedly avoids Yancy's gaze. He’s not sure how he feels about the fact that he can still see Yancy, and until he figures that out he refuses to acknowledge Yancy’s existence.

The older pilot doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, if the increasing size of his smirk is any indication, he finds the whole situation hilarious.

At Chuck’s side, Raleigh shifts uncomfortably.

“Hey,” he says when he glances over and realizes that Chuck is awake. He glances away quickly, eyes moving restlessly over the rest of the room.

“Hey,” Chuck says. He wants to say more, to talk about Yancy, the pod, being a ghost, their kind-of Drift. To ask why the hell Raleigh’s been avoiding him. The words crowd on his tongue and he presses his lips together to keep them in. He’s going to wait for Raleigh to speak.

The silence that falls between them shifts rapidly from awkward to uncomfortable.

Chuck endures it for about half a minute before his resolution to out-stubborn the other pilot finally fails.

“So,” he starts, pauses, then barrels on, “any reason why you’re avoiding me?”

He’s never been very good at anything other than blunt.

Raleigh looks startled.

“Avoiding you?” he asks. He sounds genuinely surprised, but from the way his hands clench together and his eyes dart nervously around the room, Raleigh knows exactly what Chuck is talking about.

“Yeah,” Chuck says, watching the other pilot steadily.

Raleigh slides a glance at Chuck and looks away quickly when their eyes meet.

“I’m not avoiding you,” he says, staring steadily at the far corner of the room.

Chuck huffs a breath.

“Yeah, mate, you kinda are,” he says. “I mean, I get it, I suppose. We weren’t exactly friends, and you don’t like me all that much, but-“

Raleigh’s gaze snaps up to meet Chuck’s.

“What?” he exclaims. “That’s not… I like you fine.”

Chuck raises a surprised eyebrow and Raleigh ducks his head, a blush spreading across the back of his neck.

It’s… surprisingly adorable.

Chuck tells himself firmly not to think about it.

“Awww,” Yancy says sarcastically from his corner. “How precious.”

Chuck shoots him a dirty look before remembering that he’s pretending that Yancy doesn’t exist. Yancy laughs and gives him a look right back, but Chuck refuses to acknowledge it.

“Really?” he asks, refocusing on Raleigh. “Kinda hard to tell from my end. What with you only ever coming by when the others are here. And not actually talking to me. And not being able to look at me…”

Raleigh’s head comes up again and Chuck meets his gaze with raised eyebrows and an expectant look.

Raleigh sighs and rubs the back of his neck, but doesn’t look away.

“It’s not… that I don’t like you,” Raleigh says finally. “It’s just… weird. With the Drift.”

Chuck blinks.

“That was you, wasn’t it?” Raleigh asks, focusing intently on Chuck. “When you were… Before we… Down in the storage room, with the simulator. That was you.”

Chuck breathes, still a little thrown by the direction of this conversation.

“Um, yeah,” he says.

Raleigh blows out a breath and nods. “And you were really…?”

“Dead?” Chuck fills in when Raleigh trails off.

Raleigh winces. “A ghost,” he says.

Chuck shrugs. “I guess,” he says. “Is that really what’s been bothering you? That I was a ghost?”

He hadn’t even guessed that his… undeath… might have been the thing that was bothering Raleigh. It hadn’t exactly been a secret. He’d had a long conversation with his dad and Mako and Raleigh and Tendo and Geiszler and Gottlieb just after he’d woken up. It had been surprisingly easy to convince them, and though he’d left out a lot of detail (mostly the seeing dead people thing, because how did you talk about that?) everyone had eventually accepted his story as the truth. Raleigh hadn’t seemed weird about it then. The other pilot had actually been more vocal about Geiszler’s fascination with Chuck’s out-of-body experience than the experience itself.

But now Raleigh is shaking his head.

“No,” he says. “Well, not… really. I mean, it weird, but… Okay, so if I was avoiding you – which I wasn’t – it wouldn’t be because of the… ghost… thing.”

“Right,” chuck says, drawing out the word. “Well, leaving your self-delusions aside, why have you been not-avoiding me?”

Raleigh sighs. “It’s… the Drift. Our Drift.”

“What about it?”

Raleigh draws in a breath, holds it, then lets it out in a rush. “I saw you,” he says, meeting Chuck’s gaze firmly. “And, I don’t mean that I saw your ghost or whatever. That would have been less weird. I mean, I saw what you’d normally see in a Drift. You. Your memories. Everything.”

Chuck’s mouth drops open and he reels backwards. He hadn’t expected that. He knows that Raleigh must have seen something when they Drifted, otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to tell Herc that Chuck was alive. But the connection had been so weak and over so quickly…

He’d shoved the most important information down the link at Raleigh, but he’d never thought that Raleigh might get more than that.

Raleigh is still talking and Chuck yanks his thoughts back to the present.

“-all jumbled up, and I’m not even sure I could interpret what I saw,” Raleigh says. “It’s more… feelings and flashes than memories but still…”

Chuck realizes he’s gaping at the other pilot and snaps his mouth closed.

“So, it wasn’t that I didn’t like you and was avoiding you or anything,” Raleigh says, peering at Chuck intently. “I was just… trying to work through everything. There’s still a bit of Yancy in my head and adding you to the mix… well.” He grins, lopsided and self-deprecating. “It took a while to sort everything out.”

Chuck is gaping again and, out of the corner of his eye, sees Yancy straighten, a stricken expression on his face.

“Oh Rals,” he says.

“You get everything sorted out?” Chuck asks automatically, thoughts still churning.

Raleigh nods. “I think so. Maybe.” He sighs. “It’s a work in progress.”

“You’re a work in progress,” Chuck shoots back before he can stop himself.

Raleigh looks startled, but laughs. “Yeah, I guess so,” he says.

He leans back in his chair, smiling a little, and Chuck mirrors him, leaning back against his pillows.

There’s a comfortable silence between them for a few moments, then Raleigh leans forward. His licks his lips and seems to be gathering courage for something.

“Chuck,” he starts, “when we Drifted, I thought I saw… I mean, I might have been imagining, but when you were a ghost, did you…”

This is about Yancy, Chuck realizes. Raleigh saw Yancy in Chuck’s memories and he’s trying to ask about it.

“Oh boy,” Yancy says softly and Raleigh fights with the words.

But Raleigh can’t seem to make the question come out and Chuck… Chuck doesn’t know how to say the words either.

“Are you going to tell him?” Yancy asks.

It should be easy.

Yes, I saw your brother. He’s a ghost. He’s hanging around. He’s still hanging around. He says hi.

But he can’t do it.

He can’t answer the question any more than Raleigh can ask it.

Finally, Raleigh sighs and slumps backwards. “Never mind,” he says.

Chuck licks his lips and tries to make himself tell Raleigh, but the words feel caught in his throat. From the corner of his eye, he can see Yancy looking at him. He can’t make out the expression of the dead pilot’s face and he doesn’t want to turn and look. (It might be disappointment, and Chuck doesn’t know how he would take that.)

“I should leave you to rest,” Raleigh says reluctantly, pushing himself to his feet and heading for the door.

Chuck wants to say something, to call Raleigh back, to ask him to stay with Chuck, even if Chuck can’t talk about his brother.

Nothing comes out.

Raleigh hesitates at the door, looking conflicted, then sighs.

“Hope you feel better soon,” he says finally.

Chuck nods and Raleigh steps out the door.

He’s halfway down the hall when Chuck finds his voice.

“Becket,” he calls.

Both of the brothers turn back.

“Yeah?” Raleigh asks. Yancy raises an eyebrow.

Chuck opens his mouth to say “Your brother’s still here” but can’t make the words come out. He’s not sure how you tell someone that kind of thing.

He shakes his head. “Just… thanks,” he says, “for… you know. Saving my ass.”

Raleigh smiles. “You’re welcome,” he says.

He watches Chuck for a moment, as if he’s expecting the younger pilot to say something else. When Chuck remains quiet, Raleigh shrugs.

“Take care of yourself,” he says. “See you around.”

“Yeah,” Chuck says. “See you around.”

Raleigh turns and walks away. Yancy gives Chuck a raised eyebrow and an expectant look.

“You’re going to have to talk about it at some point,” he says, then turns and follows Raleigh.

Chuck blows out a breath and sinks back into his pillows.

Not dying is turning out to be more complicated than his undead afterlife. But despite all the awkward conversations and uncertain future, he can’t really find himself regretting his current circumstances.

He casts a long look at the empty hallway that Yancy’s disappeared down.

Well, he amends silently, he might end up regretting the whole seeing dead people thing. He has a bad feeling that Yancy is going to delight in making his life… interesting… for a very long time.