Hong Kong Shatterdome, January 7th 2025
Raleigh paces up and down in the hallway in front of Marshall Pentecost's office, tense and restless. Mako stands at attention right opposite of the door, her posture unbelievably stiff. It isn't the first time in his career as a Jaeger pilot that Raleigh finds himself here (or the equivalent spot in other shatterdomes), but it's the first time he really screwed up this badly. He was the one to trigger Mako's R.A.B.I.T., and it might just as well cost her the one thing she wants most - piloting a Jaeger.
The door to the office is closed, but it doesn't keep the voices from filtering through. Especially Chuck Hansen's voice, which is angry and loud enough to carry even further down the hallway. "She can't control her drift, and he went out of phase first!"
"We all know what happened." Pentecost's calm but slightly annoyed voice cuts through Chuck Hansen's rant but can't stop it. He goes on as if Pentecost hasn't said a thing.
"We can't afford mistakes! The Kaiju keep evolving, they keep kicking our arses! He's a has-been, she's a rookie! I don't want them protecting my bomb run!" The words penetrate the heavy metal door as clearly as if it wasn't there at all. They grate on Raleigh's nerves and make him grind his teeth - especially because he knows that there's a quantum of truth to them. Mako and he screwed up, but that doesn't mean they can't hack it. It was their first drift, after all, under not the best conditions.
The door to the Marshal's office is thrown open and Chuck Hansen storms out. Pentecost's admonishing words follow him outside. "You need to watch your tone, Mister Hansen."
It pearls off Chuck as if he hasn't heard Pentecost. He stalks out of the office, the tension obvious in his every move. Just seeing him is enough to make Raleigh's blood boil - and not in a good way. His arrogance has annoyed Raleigh from the very first moment he's set eyes on Chuck Hansen, but right now it makes him really angry. It takes a real effort to reign in the knee-jerk reaction of snapping at Chuck.
Herc Hansen appears in the door an gives his son a warning gaze. "Hey! Stay there and give me a moment."
The door closes again, and Chuck walks towards Raleigh and Mako, a snarl on his face. Raleigh just knows trouble is coming his way.
"You two are a goddamn disgrace! You're going to get us all killed, and here's the thing, Rahleigh," - Chuck draws out his name in a way that makes Raleigh's fist twitch to punch that arrogant asshole - "I want to come back from this mission 'cause I quite like my life. So why don't you" - he snips his finger against Raleigh's chest in a dismissive gesture that has Raleigh tempted to break that finger - "do us all a favour and disappear. It's the only thing you're good at."
"Stop! Now!" Mako's voice is angry and threatening in a way Raleigh hasn't heard before. He knows it's because she's protective of him, especially now that she saw, no, lived through his experience of losing Yancy. She understands how much Chuck's words hit a sore spot, and the tone of her voice tells Raleigh she is about to punch Chuck. Problem is that they're already in deep shit, they don't need to add to it by getting into a brawl with another pilot. So Raleigh reaches out with his hand to keep Mako from going for Chuck's throat. It's not because he thinks she can't win - he actually thinks she can - but because Pentecost will definitely not let it slide.
"Yeah, that's right. You just hold back your little girlfriend." If possible, Chuck's voice sounds even more disdainful than it did before. "One of you bitches needs a leash."
Raleigh punches Chuck before the intention has even formed in his mind. He hears the words, and it's like a reflex. It happens so fast that he has to admit that Chuck's never had a chance to block it.
Doesn't mean that he won't retaliate tough.
"Apologize to her." Raleigh growls, entirely willing to engage in a fight with Chuck no matter the consequences.
Chuck just wipes the blood off his lip. "Screw you."
At first Raleigh thinks that his experience should give him an advantage - all those bar fights had to be good for something - but he quickly realizes that assumption is wrong. Chuck moves with him, like him; it's almost freaky. It's how he can anticipate each of Chuck's movements, how they seem to be in sync that catches his attention first. They're fighting, and yet it's more like dancing. He can feel Chuck, can read him; and the way Chuck counters his every attack tells him that it's mutual.
And while Raleigh's connection with Mako during the trial in the Kwoon had been strong, the connection he has with Chuck right now is incredibly much stronger. They're not just drift compatible, he suddenly realises, they're a perfect match. He feels it deep down, a certainty so absolute that he can't even pretend to be in denial about it. One gaze in Chuck's eyes and he knows he's not alone in that realisation.
He's distracted by the unwelcome epiphany just long enough for Chuck to land a punch on his right cheek. He's thrown back but catches himself quickly.
Well, being a perfect match doesn't mean they have to actually do something about it. Right now Raleigh is sure he's not willing to exchange Mako for Chuck in the Conn-Pod, no matter how perfectly compatible they are.
Chuck keeps coming and so does Raleigh, yet it's like they're cursed - none of them manages to get the upper hand. Each attack is parried, as if they know how the other will move before they do. Raleigh is certain that they can keep at it for hours without one of them ever winning.
'A dialog, not a fight', the instructors at the academy had always said. Raleigh can't hold back a snort. He's pretty sure that he and Chuck are in a fight and not in a dialogue right now, yet their drift compatibility is out of the question.
Shit, shit, shit.
Raleigh has Chuck in a headlock on the ground that he already feels Chuck wiggle out of when Herc Hansen's booming voice echoes through the hallway. "All right, that's enough! What's going on! On your feet, both of you!"
Herc sounds angry, and a tad exasperated, as if he isn't entirely surprised by what is happening. Well, he probably isn't. It's been coming for a while now.
Obedience to the order as well as to that particular shade of commanding voice is so deeply ingrained into Raleigh that he feels himself respond to it without thinking, letting go of Chuck and standing at attention - halfway, at least. It feels gratifying to see Chuck react exactly the same as him. There are just some things that the academy instils in you that you can't just leave at the doorstep - even after five years of being out of PPDC, the reflexes are still there.
Pentecost shows up right behind Herc, and the way he bends his head at the sight of them - probably to hide his highly annoyed expression, Raleigh muses - tells Raleigh that he isn't entirely surprised either. "Becket. Mori. Into my office."
Chuck isn't ready to call it quits yet, though, and starts to move towards Raleigh again. As if by an invisible thread, Raleigh feels himself pulled towards Chuck as well, already moving into position to counter his attack. They would have come to blows again if Herc hadn't stepped in between them, pressing his arm against Chuck's throat to hold him back bodily. "This is over!"
Chuck bares his teeth, eyes fixed on Raleigh, but he stops approaching.
No, Raleigh thinks with a sinking feeling in his gut, Herc is wrong. This has just begun.
It's only with an effort that Raleigh turns and heads to the office. Behind him, he hears Herc growl at his son. "You're a Ranger, for Christ's sake, why don't you start acting like one?"
It makes Raleigh turn to throw a gaze over his shoulder. Chuck is glaring at his father, then at Raleigh, before he turns on his heels and storms off. Herc sighs, then he catches sight of Raleigh and watches him for a moment. Just before he follows Mako into the Marshal's office, Raleigh catches the gaze that Herc exchanges with Pentecost. They seem to communicate without words, and it's then that Raleigh understands.
Shit. He's so screwed.