[1906h, 28 October 2019. Jaeger Bay, Sydney Shatterdome.]
Striker Eureka is a beauty.
Chuck Hansen has never doubted this, not since her blueprints were finalized and her construction was started. He's seen her with only the bare bones of her framework to imagine the final product, with the imposing skeleton figure and the scattered plating. He was there for the debate over the installation of the missile launcher, the echos of shouts ringing in his ears. He was there for the dropped bolts and screws, clanging all the way down and the headache it was to transport them back up again. He was there for every step of the way, and he doesn't think he's felt this way since Max was a puppy.
Seeing her almost finished, with only a few adjustments to the technology in her Conn-Pod to go and plastering the final version of the decal he designed, makes him smile into the privacy of the nearly empty hangar. Most of the techs are in the mess or too busy to bother paying attention to him; so he cranes his neck to stare up at the jaeger with childish awe that he can't find it in himself to shove down because he's above such things, except for this 76-meter titan in all her nearly complete glory.
Right now, Chuck can't even bring himself to be too mad about the fact that it's not going to be him piloting, that it's probably going to be Herc and Uncle Scott, but fuck, if he's still not pissed at them. They got Lucky wrecked in their last Drift, sitting in Hong Kong for repairs when his goal was so bloody close. Seems like his dad is always ruining something for him, intentionally or not.
He remembers yelling at them, his heart beating so fucking fast in his ears he thought he was going to die. Uncle Scott hadn't said anything, just pulled him close and let him feel the steady rhythm of Scott's breathing. Herc had joined them after a moment, his presence at Chuck's back like he was a kid again. They were soaked in ocean water and he grimaced at the smell that clung to them.
He had to pull away to hide the wetness in his eyes by looking away and blinking rapidly. Muttering about helping with the design specs of Striker before moving away, wiping his face in a secluded hall. He remembers thinking, what the fuck, how dare they almost die, it's his birthday, god damn it, please don't leave me alone again—
"Oof—" Chuck grunts at the sudden weight at the back of his legs, the panting of Max familiar to his ears. He can hear footsteps behind him, but he ignores them in favour of scratching his best bud behind the ears, the bulldog wagging his tail wildly if his shaking ass was anything to go by. Chuck rubs him down, seeing Max's eyes close with a toothy grin. He returns it before it fades with the sound of someone clearing their throat.
The waiting game is a familiar one to him, so he doesn't look up. Instead, he focuses on Max, on the decal he designed after his dog because you're such a sap, Hansen, Mako's words. Chuck had emailed the sketches that he and Tina from the tech team had been pouring over to her at two in the morning, not caring what timezone his penpal was in. He remembers blacking out after making his way to the family suite that Herc had made them share. Uncle Scott was snoring in his room because Herc would have kicked his ass if he wasn't, while good ol' daddo had been waiting on the couch, arms crossed and eyes closed. Probably had his whole speech prepared and everything.
Chuck rolls his eyes now because this is the first time he has seen the old man today. Herc was probably too busy running the 'Dome and Uncle Scott is never a help, preferring to get high off his rocks until he can't tell left from right anymore. He can see Herc shuffling in the corner of his vision, but he doesn't let up the façade, pressing a kiss to his dog's wrinkles. He lets the old man wait it out, for him to speak up because Chuck sure as hell isn't.
Eventually, after what must have been an eternity —he can see the j-techs giving them weird looks— Herc clears his throat again. "Have you been to the mess yet, kid?"
Chuck knows his part so he shrugs, giving Max a particularly fierce, if not fond rub and then stands up. He inwardly preens at the height difference between them or the lack of it, probably about a few cm, give or take. He can almost look his old man in the eye now, and he can see the way Herc blinks before reorientating himself.
"Me and Scott are gonna be in the Kwoon at 2000h," Herc says, and Chuck internally rolls his eyes because that's always their time. "You've decided on the decal yet?"
Chuck shrugs again, "Aren't you the one who's supposed to approve it first."
"I know what design you've drawn up, Tina showed me." Herc looks at Max, who's staring back, head tilted to the side not from curiosity but for stupidity's sake. Herc smiles at him fondly, "Quite the mascot you got there."
"Mako said the third one looked the best," Chuck says, bored of the conversation already. He got her opinion this morning, at a more appropriate human time of 1300h on the dot, saying she was in Hong Kong so their zones had vaguely matched. Pentecost's promotion to Deputy Marshal came with its perks and downsides. The email was accompanied by a long, lengthy update on what she was up to, a comment on his last email, a photo of a stray she'd found. "Just need to clean up the lines."
Herc nods in agreement, "Good eye she got there. Taste in boys, not so much."
Chuck glares at him, feeling his metaphorical feathers ruffle, "Piss off. I've told you, we're not dating."
There's only a laugh before Herc walks away, throwing over his shoulder, "At least Stacker and I won't have to worry about grandchildren with the two of you."
"We're not fucking dating!" Chuck hollers back. Then follows Herc because damn it, he hasn't eaten since three in the afternoon. Herc smiles as they fall into step, making their way to the cafeteria. It's almost empty, with the techs trickling out for their night shifts and others going to relax.
He wonders but doesn't ask why Uncle Scott isn't here, why haven't the two of them been as close this past month, but he doesn't. He's heard the shouting matches. He keeps it to himself, though, and snags a chocolate pudding at the end of the line from right under Herc's hand. The old man cuffs his ear but doesn't make a big deal out of it. Herc can live. Besides, it's his sweet tooth that Chuck inherited.
They sit down, Herc patting Chuck's shoulder with his free hand before sitting across from him. He shrugs it off, handing a decently fresh cabbage leaf to Max. They eat in silence, Chuck refusing to let Herc's presence remind him of piloting and his shoddy chances at it now. He didn't come out of the Academy with a partner, people finding him too abrasive, too honest and rough to Drift with. Not to mention he's kicked all their asses in the Kwoon. The ones who could have been good matches for him had paired up with others. He doesn't care, because guess who graduated at the top of the class?
He holds the record for the best simulator score too, with 50 drops and 50 kills when he was still fifteen. Mako told him that she's going to beat it, but he had shot back that he's the youngest, so suck it, Mori, which had led to them wrestling like kids, where Mako had ended up pinning him down. Their fathers had walked in the scene, Uncle Scott trailing after them, sober for once and guffawing in the background. It was when the idea that they were an Item had been planted into the men's heads. The two of them were unamused by the endless teasing about it. While Chuck lost his temper two days in, Mako was ever unflappable.
What had tested Mako's patience was Chuck and his endless complaining. Good thing Stacker stopped before Mako could kill Chuck when he said, "Isn't it too early for you two to ask for grandkids?". The look on Herc's face was priceless, shock and a flash of pride that Chuck isn't sure he imagined.
He eyes the old man in front of him who's eating his food quickly, efficiently. Shovelling the rest of the food into his mouth, Chuck stands, ignoring Herc's empty tray and walks to the counter for it to be cleaned. He turns around to be met with Herc's raised eyebrow and an expecting glance at his tray. Chuck rolls his eyes, making sure that his dad can see before stacking it. They head out of the mess, towards the suite for a change of clothes and probably to drag Scott along.
Max is contently trotting next to him, tongue lolling out of his mouth in a happy grin. Chuck's mouth twitches upwards at the sight, propping the metal door open for the two following him. As he scans the area, he can't see Uncle Scott anywhere. He goes to his room, letting his dad deal with his own brother. Max is on his heels as he closes the door, cringing at the mess on his desk that the sergeant in charge of his Academy dorm would have had his head for. He shuffles his papers, the sketches of Max and the physics worksheets he had printed off because he was bored, placing the sheets into a neat pile.
Chuck sorts the books on his shelves, running a hand across their spines before remembering that he needs to change. He shucks off his cargo pants for sweats, a sweat-stained shirt for cotton. Checking the time, 19:31, he decides to take a quick nap, slipping his boots off as sleep comes when his head hits the pillows.
[2011h, 28 October 2019. Kwoon Combat Room, Sydney Shatterdome.]
Chuck blinks blearily at his uncle and father circling around each other. The Kwoon's lights are too bright for his eyes. He'd been rudely woken up by Uncle Scott slamming a pillow on his face, geeted by Chuck swearing. He lunged but got caught in the sheets, face-planting into the floor. It had sent the two of them, because of course, Herc was there, into a laughing fit. He glared at them, kicking them out of the room, trying to regain what was left of his dignity. Only Herc knows where he shoved it into. Probably Pentecost's ass, along with the stick that's already up there. Not that he'll ever say that to the man. Pentecost is fucking terrifying.
Seeing Scott and Herc spar isn't as much of a dance that people think it is. Herc had grown up with barroom fights, of aggression and instinctual brashness that the military wasn't able to refine. Scott wasn't one for technique either: a street fighter and a dirty boxer with only a hint of martial restraint. Chuck still isn't sure where he picked up the style from, but it may have been from the time his uncle had gotten himself to the Philippines because he made the decision while high, but was sober when he chose to stay for a few months. Only when his mom's nagging worry and Herc's exasperation had gotten too much for Uncle Scott to bear, had he returned.
He winces as Scott receives a particularly brutal takedown from his dad, 2-1. And this is where the spar dissolves into a wrestling match as his uncle flips them over using Herc's weight against him. It hadn't even been ten minutes. He rolls his eyes at the grunts and sounds of punches. They know not to overexert themselves so he turns his attention to his tablet, drawing the final design of Max onto the screen, smoothing out his layer of rough sketching. He thickens the outlines, making the lines around Max's mouth more pronounced, then chooses to add some colour to it.
There's a victorious yell, Uncle Scott pumping his fist up, making the score 2-2 now. Max barks. The cadets that had trickled in or those who had stayed were watching the two men with wide eyes because Herc is being pinned as they shoved at each other's faces. Chuck snorts at the sight, and they call him a kid?
"Oi! Knock it off, old men. It's still 2 to 1 'cause Uncle Scott's a cheater."
There's an indignant noise from the tangle of limbs, curious and confused looks directed at him because he knows he's probably the youngest in the 'Dome right now, other than the baby that's on one of the doctor's back. He glares at them, not hiding his Jaeger Academy 2019 shirt because they can all shut their jaws and piss off. Chuck judges the match from the corner of his eye, making sure that those he, unfortunately, calls family are playing nice in the sandbox. He rubs Max absentmindedly with his left hand.
"Dad! That's illegal!" Chuck grins at the grumble, not missing the muttered, "you sound like Stacker". He magnanimous so decides to take it as a compliment because, as he's stated before, the man's fucking scary. He spends the rest of the evening like that, yelling at them because they're like hounds in the rain, an aggressively playful mess.
He thinks he feels almost happy if you can even call it that. But something feels missing and his chest hurts, thinking of sunshine hair and warm cosy hugs and the love only a mother can provide. He bites the inside of his mouth, shoving it down because you can't bring her back, she's gone, she's gone she's gone—
He sucks in a breath, slowly, because he doesn't want him to see and it's his fault anyways, so why. Why is he the one who's supposed to comfort him? Why isn't her perfume surrounding him, her laughter tinkling in his ears and making him feel safe?
He gets up, nearly forgets his tablet and stylus before almost bolting towards his room. He doesn't check to see if his uncle or dad notices, wanting to get away as fast as possible to hide these fucking stupid dumbass tears. Max is running to keep up with his jog, and slows for a bit, figuring that they've gotten away far enough. He ducks through the suite's door, locks his room and collapses on the bed after his tablet. Max hops up and Chuck tears off his boots along with his socks. He grabs a pillow and screams into it, stopping when something wet and cold nudges him.
Chuck looks up, seeing two sad eyes staring at him. He takes a few breaths, reaching out to pull his dog closer and curl around him. It's not the first night he's spent like this.
[0956h, 2 November 2019. Striker Eureka's Bay, Sydney Shatterdome.]
Chuck can feel himself vibrating with energy, waiting for the Marshal to show up and declare Striker Eureka activated. He's in his most formal wear, a dress shirt Herc had dug out from somewhere and black pants. He was allowed to wear his boots, though. Chuck can see his dad glancing at him ever other second and he feels scrutinized and annoyed. He tries to make his displeasure shown by glaring at him but Uncle Scott's the one who cuffs his ear.
He levels a look at them both, so this is a tag-team effort? He opens his mouth to say something but then he's getting barreled over by weight at his back and "guh" is the only thing that comes out of his mouth.
Chuck's about the snap at them until he sees the blue highlights, those are new, he thinks.
"What the fuck Mori," and that's not what he meant to have come out of his mouth, shit.
Mako just raises an eyebrow, "Have you read my email?"
"No," Chuck hisses out, "I was too busy having a fucking crisis."
He's met with an unimpressed stare, and damn. That looks like Stacker's when Chuck is having a pissing contest with Herc. Herc who clears his throat, head motioning towards the foot of the jaeger. They both shut up and snap to attention, an ingrained instinct in Chuck and in Mako, practised respect.
The Marshal starts talking, with Pentecost at his shoulder and Chuck tunes it out because he knows the hardships and endless frustration it took for the j-tech crew to get here. He was a part of it. What professionals from Hong Kong that they could spare from the repairs for Puma Real then Lucky Seven, as well as the construction of Crimson Typhoon, were thrown flown to Sydney. While they had decent English, it wasn't enough for more complicated matters, but Pictionary helps. Charades just has everyone gesturing like headless chickens. Language barriers are such a pain. But at least he had picked up a few phrases in Mandarin, and Cantonese swears were thrown everywhere, ripe for the picking.
He remembers these past months weren't just of laughter and smiles, awkward accents (because geez, no one ever warned him his Australian one was gonna fuck pronunciation this bad) and using replacement words for missile launcher (his favourite to this day is "chest guns", bless Ming). He remembers the grease on his fingers, indents on his skin because he's spent too long gripping something. The slight uneasiness he'd get when the walkways extended, fear having him grip the railings tight. The dread of leaving his toolbox somewhere on the lower levels when he's already seventy meters above ground and the annoyance that came after. Smearing his hair and forehead with oil when he forgot what he was doing and wiping his hands on pants that weren't his work clothes. The merciless hours because he'll sometimes meet with a dead-end and none of Lucky's crew had taught him how to deal with his, damn.
Mako elbows him and he ignores the offence to listen to the Marshal declare, "—Striker Eureka is now fit for service."
Chuck whoops and hollers with the rest of the crowd, the roar of approval clear on everyone's faces. Mako places a hand on his shoulder, squeezes and lets go, a small smile on her face. He grins at her, dopamine coursing through his veins by the sheer amount of excitement around them. Even Pentecost seems pleased with the slight curve of his mouth. The Marshal raises a hand and the noises quiet down.
"Her chosen pilots are among us today in the crowd, with the experience and skills needed to defend our cities. Hercules Hansen and Scott Hansen are the active pilots for Striker Eureka while Lucky Seven is still in Hong Kong for repairs. After Lucky Seven is repaired, we are looking forward to meeting our next partner candidates for the Mark-V jaeger."
And Chuck can feel his world crash and burn, but he's not going to make a scene, not here, not now. Partner candidates, meaning he's not on the list, not considered because he's a failure who's thoughts run too fast, too confusing for anyone to keep up. He's lost Mako to the masses, so he grits his teeth, refusing to let it show on his face, knowing he's failed in something so simple because Herc's eyebrows are knit together where he's being crowded and congratulated by the people around him. Uncle Scott is living off the attention, of course, but Herc is staring at him from what feels like across the room now because he's now at the back, people squirming to get close to the stars of today.
So he nods his head to the silent question and turns away because his world isn't crashing down around him.
It really isn't.