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He Who Fights Monsters

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Chuck is five years old, and there’s a monster under his bed.

Usually his dad chases the monsters out of his room at night, but he’s stuck at the base this week. His mum doesn’t seem to mind, but Chuck misses him. He misses how his dad makes a scary face under the bed, and growls “Get out of here, you no-good monsters!” Chuck doesn’t think any monster would dare stick around knowing his dad was there.

His mum does her best to placate him, checks under the bed and in the closet, digs an old nightlight out of the hall closet for him to use. She makes him some “anti-monster spray” and gives him the bottle. None of it makes him feel any better.

“Please, mum,” he begs, “can’t I sleep in your room tonight?”

She sighs and ruffles his hair. “No, Chuckie. You’ve got to stay in your own room, because you’re a big boy now, right?” His eyes fill with tears, but his mum pulls the covers up and hands him his favorite stuffed dog. “You’re big and brave, and those monsters aren’t going to mess with you and Max. Now, you take this-” she hands him the spray bottle - “and if any monster tries to get you, you spray him right in the face with it and he’ll leave you alone.”

It takes an hour and a half for him to fall asleep, flinching at every sound, but his mother must have been right because nothing tries to get him that night. Nothing tries to get him the night after that, either, and when his dad offers to scare the monsters away the first night he’s back home, Chuck proudly tells him he can scare the monsters away himself.

“Good for you, son,” his father says, and gives him a fist-bump before turning off the light.

 

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Chuck is nine years old, and there’s a monster on TV.

It’s a big monster, and the city around it looks like a miniature playset, like the train set his friend Tommy has at his house. He asks his mum if he can go to Tommy’s instead of watching the news, but she just shakes her head, eyes full of tears and fixed on the screen. Chuck yells at her, something he knows he shouldn’t do but her tears are scaring him, and when his dad yells back at him his mum scoops him up like she used to when he was little and starts yelling too. “Don’t you do that, Herc,” she cries, and Chuck wraps his arms around her neck. “He’s just scared, we’re all scared!”

His dad stops yelling, and comes to them, wrapping his arms around them both. “I know,” he says, burying his face in his wife’s hair. “I know. I’m scared too.” His words are startling - Chuck didn’t think his dad was scared of anything.

They stand there for several long moments until his dad’s cell phone rings. “It’s the base.” He doesn’t move until Chuck starts to squirm, uncomfortable from being squished between his parents.

His mum sniffles. “You should go. I’ll take him over to Tommy’s.”

“You’ll call if anything happens.” It’s an order, not a question. She nods, and then his dad is gone.

Chuck spends the rest of the day playing with Tommy and his train set and a few other kids, while his mum watches the news in the next room with all of the parents. Every so often she comes over to give him a hug, but he shrugs her off, because it makes him feel like crying and he doesn’t want to look like a baby in front of his friends. He’s going to be ten in three days, and ten year olds are definitely not babies.

 

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Chuck is eleven years old, and there is a monster headed for his city.

They’ve all been herded into the gym, and the teachers are trying to keep everyone calm by singing songs and telling stories, but it isn’t working. The gym is filled with sounds of terror and panic, and it’s not just the younger children, it’s everyone. Half of Chuck’s class is in tears, but not him. He’s determined to be strong, just like his dad.

Sirens start going off outside the school, and the adults all leap into action, organizing their charges into lines and ushering them outside where the buses are waiting to take them away from the city. As he walks through the doors, he hears the principal telling a teacher that the kaiju is downtown, and the evacuation order was given. For the first time since leaving the classroom, Chuck is scared; Mum works downtown.

He gets on the bus, and sits down next to someone he doesn’t know, his stomach twisting into knots. Will mum and dad be able to find me? They don’t even know where I’m going! The thoughts whirl around in his head until his cheeks feel wet and he realizes he’s crying, and he doesn’t care because everyone else is too.

Then someone is pounding on the outside of the bus, and yelling at the driver, and there’s his dad standing up front with a terrifying look on his face. Chuck stands up and yells for him, and when his dad sees him his expression evaporates into pure relief. He comes down the aisle and grabs Chuck out of his seat, lifting him over the other kids like he weighs nothing, and pulls him off the bus.

“Where’s mum? Where are we going?” Chuck yells, as his dad hauls him towards a helicopter in the middle of the soccer field. “Dad, we have to go get mum!” He starts to struggle - he doesn’t need to be carried like a baby.

His dad doesn’t reply, just throws Chuck into a seat in the helicopter and buckles him in, pulling the straps as tight as they’ll go around his small body. “Don’t touch anything,” he says in a dangerous voice, and Chuck shoves his hands under his lap because his father has never spoken to him like that before.

They take off and it’s fascinating watching his dad at the controls, flipping switches and checking dials like it’s nothing, and Chuck watches him for a while before looking outside to see the city fly by underneath them. His dad eases the chopper into a turn, and something feels wrong - Chuck can’t see the tall buildings he knows his mother works in. He turns his head around as far as it will go without leaning out of his seat, and out of the corner of his eye he can see the city moving away from them.

“Dad...dad? What are you doing? Is mum at the base?” His father won’t look at him, and as explosions rumble behind them, Chuck realizes he’s not going to see his mum again.

 

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Chuck is fourteen years old, and there’s a monster of a kid standing in front of him.

His dad had tried to make him go back to school, but after getting thrown out of three schools in three months he finally gave up and put him to work. It gave the kids on base another reason to hate him - they didn’t see why they should have to go to school to succeed in a world that might not even be there when they grew up.

“Hey, you. Ranger’s kid,” the boy addressed him. “Didn’t you get kicked out of my school? You too stupid for them?” The two kids standing behind him, another boy and a girl, snicker derisively.

Chuck is just trying to get to his house around the corner, to eat some dinner and get some sleep before another day of working with his dad, and he can tell the kid is looking for a fight. He puts his head down and tries to walk around them, but the boy puts his hand in the middle of Chuck’s chest and shoves him backward. “I’m talking to you, Ranger’s kid.” He’s at least a full head taller than Chuck, and a lot heavier.

“My name is Chuck,” he says quietly. His dad had told him if he got into any more fights, he might have to go live with relatives. He’s determined not to get into any more fights.

“Chuck? The hell kind of name is that?” All three of them are laughing now. “I asked you a question, Chuckie. Did you get kicked out for being too stupid?” He pushes Chuck again, but this time Chuck pushes him back. The kid stops laughing.

“Nothing wrong with my name. My mum called me Chuck.” He stares all three of them down. Do something. I dare you.

“Yeah, well, I heard your mum’s dead. Did she kill herself?” The kid gets in his face, and his muscles tense. “Probably couldn’t stand having such a stupid kid like you.”

For being skinny and wiry, working with heavy machinery and parts has made Chuck deceptively strong, and he puts all of that strength into tackling the kid to the ground. He straddles him as he lies on the ground, clutching a handful of the kid’s collar in one hand and punching the tar out of him with the other. The second boy tries to pull Chuck off from behind, and gets rewarded with an elbow to the nose that connects with a sickening crack. He stumbles backward, blood pouring down his face.

The monstrous kid manages to flip them both over, pinning Chuck’s arms, but Chuck kicks him in the stomach and with the kid doubled over in pain he pulls himself to a half sitting position to rain blows on the side of his head until someone much stronger than both of them is dragging Chuck away. His father.

Later, after Chuck gets himself cleaned up and fed, his father sits him down. “Their parents aren’t going to press charges, thank god. I’ll have to pay for the Campbell kid’s medical bills, you broke his nose. Want to tell me what that was all about?”

“He asked if mum killed herself because I was stupid,” Chuck says.

His father nods. “I would’ve wanted to deck the little shithead myself. But we talked about this, Chuck, you can’t go around-”

Something in his tone pushes Chuck over the edge, and he explodes. “Go to hell!”

Herc goes still, his only movement the blinking of his eyes. “What did you just say to me?”

“I said you can go to hell!” He stands up so fast his chair tips over behind him, and he doesn’t bother to pick it up. “Nobody’s gonna tell me that mum dying is my fault when we both know it was yours. It’s your fault she’s dead, and I wouldn’t even have to be on this shithole base if you’d saved her instead!” He storms off to his room then, slamming the door behind him. Herc doesn’t come after him.

The next morning they have breakfast like nothing happened, and Herc doesn’t say another word about sending Chuck away. The kids on the base don’t talk to him anymore after that. He likes it better that way.

 

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Chuck is sixteen, and he’s fighting his first monster.

Everything goes just the way it was supposed to, and Chuck thought he’d be afraid but he’s not, Striker Eureka’s massive bulk around him makes him feel invincible. The kaiju bellows in their faces, and out of the dark recesses of his brain a memory of his mother springs forth, of her handing him his stuffed dog and a spray bottle and telling him the monsters will leave him alone.

He doesn’t chase the rabbit, he’s better than that, but he can feel Herc’s concern spilling into his head so he stuffs the memory back down and refocuses. They take the kaiju down with minimal damage to their Jaeger. It’s Chuck’s first victory.

The next day he’s laying in his bunk with taped ribs and a splitting headache, drugged up and trying to block his father out of his head entirely, but he can feel him coming so he’s not surprised when the door opens and Herc walks in carrying a bulldog puppy.

“Parker’s dog had a litter, she was trying to get rid of them. Thought he’d be nice to have around,” Herc says gruffly, and plops the dog on Chuck’s chest. “What do you want to call him?”

He winces from the pain, but brings a hand up to try and restrain the wiggling pile of fur and wrinkles. “Max,” he says. “His name is Max.”

 

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Chuck is twenty-one, and he can feel his demons coiled in him like rattlesnakes.

Operation Pitfall is it, it’s his last chance to vanquish the monsters that have been following him around his whole life, it’s everybody’s last chance to take their world back from the chaos that had consumed it. He’s been training for this for almost half his short life. And he’ll be damned if he’s going to let some washout fuck this up for everyone.

So he confronts Raleigh and Mako, and of course he shoots his mouth off, because no one fucking listens to him unless he’s shooting his mouth off, and suddenly they’re brawling right there in the hallway with everyone watching. He only manages to get a few good hits in before Raleigh’s got him in an arm bar, and all he can think is this must be what that kid back in Sydney felt like and then Herc and Stacker are pulling them away from each other like they’re a couple of children in a schoolyard fight.

Herc asks him, “Why couldn’t I make you a better person?”

Chuck thinks Because you needed me to be a better pilot, instead.

 

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Chuck is only twenty-one, and the monsters are going to win.

Stacker is more than competent, but there were first two and then three kaiju, the last being the biggest one Chuck had ever seen. Stacker’s stoicism helped keep his bone-deep fear at bay, but Chuck kept running through every possible scenario in his - in their - head and every one ended in failure.

- no not every scenario you’re only thinking about yourself -

And Chuck realized Stacker was right, or maybe it was his thought, god knows he’d been plenty selfish, but now was not the time to be selfish, it was time to give everything he had. The only thing he had.

“My father always said...if you have the shot, you take it,” he said out loud, hoping his father would understand. This is it, dad, I can scare the monsters away all by myself this time.

They flipped the switches.

For you, mum.