It's evening when Chuck finally manages to find the time to go to the kwoon. He's still riled up about what he heard his dad say in Pentecost's office, as well as about the revelation that Raleigh is his perfect match. It's too much for one day, really, and he needs to get some of it off his chest - best way to do that is beating up the punchbag in the kwoon since there's nobody there to spar with.
Chuck quickly wraps his hands, the movements a deeply ingrained routine. He warms up, not as thoroughly as he probably should, but just enough to make sure that he doesn't pull anything. He doesn't have the patience to go through a complete warm-up now, he really, really has to hit something. Now.
He makes his way over to the back of the kwoon where several punchbags are suspended from the ceiling. He punches once, twice, thinking of Raleigh. It just can't be that they're compatible! He won't let it be true! He hits the punchbag harder, willing it to take the blame for his entire screwed up life. Why the hell does he have to be drift compatible with a washed up has-been who already has a co-pilot?
Why Raleigh, of all people? There are many other good Rangers, so why does Chuck have to be drift compatible with a coward who ran away from his duty?
Chuck closes his eyes and growls under his breath. He still remembers how much it hurt when he learned that Raleigh Becket, his childhood hero, had left the PPDC, had abandoned the people he was supposed to protect, had just disappeared. Why the hell had Chuck ever even thought he was a hero? And now he was supposed to get in a Conn-Pod with that coward just because they happen to be a perfect match? Hell no! He's been fighting and doing the job extremely well for years without being the perfect match to his co-pilot. Contrary to Raleigh, who'd run with the tail between his legs at the first sign of trouble.
Chuck Hansen, youngest Jaeger pilot in the history of the PPDC, has ten kills under his belt, after all. That should speak for itself. He doesn't need Raleigh fucking Becket.
One-two-one-two. Chuck keeps up a steady, punishing rhythm. The punchbag swings lightly under the onslaught, and he hits it harder. You know why you will never ever agree to a drift with him, a mean little voice nags him, somewhere in the back of his mind. He tries to ignore it, get it to shut up by going at the punchbag even harder. It doesn't work, though.
Of course he knows why he can't drift with Raleigh. All those stupid fantasies he had as a teenager, all that hero worship, his pain when Raleigh left. Raleigh will see it in the drift. Chuck can shield his thoughts well enough - he learned it from his dad, who seems to always keep up certain shields when drifting with Chuck - but he's reasonably sure that at least some of those things will bleed over the drift, and he can't face Raleigh knowing them. Chuck had been a stupid boy back then, but still, it's embarrassing.
That's not all, the voice quips, even meaner than before. Chuck growls and mistreats the punchbag some more.
Okay, so the fantasies are the real problem. Because they were explicit. Like, adult explicit, and Chuck and Raleigh played the main roles. It's what a fifteen year old teenager thinks when he has a crush and is horny as hell due to puberty! Chuck knows for sure that his dad saw some of those fantasies, and that's painful enough. He really doesn't need Raleigh of all people seeing them. 'Embarrassing' doesn't even begin to cover it.
Chuck hits the punchbag with all the strength he can find in his body, and it feels satisfying to have it recoil rather violently.
"Why don't you put that surplus energy to good use and spar with me?" Chuck turns at the voice of his dad behind him. He's just in time to catch the hanbō Herc throws at him.
"What do you want, old man?" Chuck snaps, holding the bō awkwardly with his wrapped fists.
He can see his father roll his eyes at the nickname. "You want to blow off steam. I'm offering you to spar. You know it's more satisfying than a punchbag that never hits back."
There's some logic in his argument, but Chuck just knows it's not all there is to it. He still begins to unwrap his fists and lets the bandage fall to the ground next to the mats when he's done. With a few steps he joins his dad on the sparring mats, testing the hanbō in his hand for the perfect position. They circle each other for a moment, then Chuck launches his first attack. His dad takes it, parries it, offers one of his own. It's an old game by now, they have sparred with each other so many times that Chuck has lost count years ago. Yet it really is more satisfying to have an opponent who actually hits back.
They fight in silence for a few minutes before his dad says casually, "So, tell me, what happened in the hallway today?"
Chuck almost falters, because really, how shitty can his dad's timing be? After all the back and forth with his own mind - and doesn't that sound sick - Chuck is most certainly not going to talk to his father about Raleigh fucking Becket.
"We fought. That's it." he replies in the most impassive way he can manage - meaning he isn't quite snapping at Herc, who is not impressed.
Herc snorts while he attacks Chuck's flank and scores. "Yeah, we could all see that. One-zero, by the way."
Chuck bares his teeth. He's distracted, that's why his dad got him. He loses no time to charge again. "I kicked his arse! That's what happened!"
"I don't think that's quite true." Herc remarks calmly. It makes Chuck even more angry how easily his dad avoids his hits, although he knows it's because he's angry and therefore easy to predict. They have discussed that problem more than once. Right now Chuck doesn't care, he just wants to exhaust himself to the point that his brain shuts up.
Herc continues when it's clear that Chuck won't say anything. "From what I saw, I'd say you two were pretty evenly matched." He pauses to emphasize his point. "One might even say drift compatible."
"You didn't see anything! You were in Pentecost's office!" Chuck shouts because he really really doesn't want to discuss that with his dad.
"I saw the end, and that was enough. Especially considering that we both know that you're not very compatible with anybody else." Herc says with a good layer of irony to his voice. It makes Chuck seethe and his next hit goes so wild it's embarrassing.
"Thank you for pointing that out!" He snaps. It's still a sore point that he hasn't found a co-pilot in the entire academy. And the problem is him - he hasn't been drift compatible with any other pilot but his dad so far.
"Just saying. You only ever piloted with me, and that does hardly count, since I'm your father and on top of that I'm almost universally compatible." Herc blocks his blow and scores one of his own. "Two-zero. You, on the other hand, don't drift well with others."
"I don't need you giving me a lecture on drift compatibility, old man!" Chuck uses the derogatory nickname on purpose, trying to rile Herc up to distract him from the current topic. But his words pearl off Herc as if he hasn't heard them.
"And now in comes Raleigh, the one guy you can't stand on sight - never mind that you adored him pre-Knifehead - and you happen to be compatible with him." Herc chuckles. "I can certainly appreciate the irony of that."
"Well, I can't!" Chuck growls. He aims for Herc's midriff, wanting to hurt him.
"So tell me, how high do you think is your compatibility?" Herc effortlessly blocks Chuck's attack, mostly because it's imprecise due to his emotional turmoil and his anger. Chuck doesn't answer, so Herc digs some more. "Eighty percent? Ninety?"
Chuck lurches forward again. He's not going to answer that question, that much is certain. Herc avoids a slash of the bō and parries another one, then he lets out a startled laugh as if he just had a sudden epiphany. "Oh my god, I can't believe it! You two are a perfect match, aren't you?"
"And what would you know about a perfect match? You never had it, neither with uncle Scott nor with me!" Chuck lashes out, because his dad is making him crazy with all his questions. Chuck came to the kwoon to let off some steam, not to be interrogated about Raleigh fucking Becket.
He expects his dad to be angry, or at least offended by his low blow. Instead Herc breaks the fighting stance, the hanbō held loosely in his right hand, his gaze focussed on Chuck, serious and firm. "It's like you know his thoughts, even without the neural handshake engaged. You feel his every move, can anticipate it and react accordingly. You're in sync with him, no matter if you want to be or not, and you feel like you're tied to him by an invisible band that determines your entire fight, every attack, every parry. You always know that there can never truly be a winner."
Chuck stands facing his father, and he can't help feeling mesmerised by his words. They describe everything he felt when he was fighting with Raleigh in that hallway - the draw towards him, the connection, the knowledge that neither of them would win. Somehow all his anger is suddenly gone and it leaves him feeling lost and confused. It takes Chuck a moment to find his voice, and he would have been embarrassed by its hoarse sound if he didn't feel that this moment was somehow special, important. A turning point. "How do you know?"
Herc holds his gaze, as if he's testing him. It suddenly makes Chuck think of the conversation he overheard, of how his dad had said that he feared that it was too late to mend their relationship. Chuck holds his father's gaze, hoping that he can see that Chuck is willing to make an effort. It takes a moment before Herc decides to answer his question, and when he does, his voice is warm. "I have it with Stacker."
Chuck can't help choking out a laugh, real and heartfelt. God, that explains so much! "That's why you always just look at each other when normal people would have to talk."
"Yeah, that would be the reason." Herc smirks and gives a shrug that actually seems a bit embarrassed. "Is it that obvious?"
"Hell yeah." Chuck grins, and for once there's no mean edge to it. "But I think everybody is so used to it that they don't even notice anymore."
Herc snorts, but it seems to be good-natured. "We've been doing it for long enough."
Chuck watches his dad for a moment, caught in the sudden ease of the moment. He can't remember the last time he felt this comfortable around his father, and he decides here and now that he will make an effort. A first step is asking a question without malicious intend. "So you jockeyed together?"
There's a fond smile on Herc's face, it's clear he remembers days long past. "Yeah, we did. Back in the Mark 1 Glory days. Never in combat, though, but we were Caitlin Lightcap's test pilots after her first success. You remember, back after I graduated from the academy and we were still on Kodiak Island."
Chuck indeed remembers seeing Pentecost around when Scott, dad and Chuck were stationed in Alaska, back when he was a teenager. He'd never paid much attention to how his dad spent his days, though, Chuck had been too busy sneaking into the Jaeger bays. Right now Chuck is honestly surprised at his father's openness, at his sincerity. They usually don't talk like that. They never share secrets or memories or thoughts that aren't related to the job. Or, god forbid, feelings. It's strange, but not necessarily bad. Like maybe they can talk to each other without it ending in a fight.
"Do you miss it?" Chuck hears himself ask before he can think better of it.
He doesn't expect an answer to such a personal question, but Herc just nods slowly, a wistful smile on his lips that makes a shiver run down Chuck's spine. "Nothing feels like being in the Drift with your perfect match."
"So you're here to try to get me to jockey with Raleigh?" Chuck knows the moment the words have left his mouth that it's the wrong thing to say.
Herc's face hardens for second, and Chuck feels like he just undid all the progress they've made. When his dad replies, he doesn't sound angry, though, more tired. "No. Raleigh has a co-pilot, so do you. No use in breaking up a good team. I'm just saying that you should consider it as a possibility you didn't have before."
Chuck doesn't quite know what to say to that without ruining his efforts to not let this conversation turn into a confrontation. Suddenly it's important to prove that he can get along with his dad, that their relationship it not broken beyond repair.
Chuck clears his throat, then he looks his dad in the eye. "I'll consider it."
A small, lopsided smile appears on Herc's face and he gives a little nod. It's as if he accepts the apology Chuck didn't actually say. Then he bows and ends their training fight. "Thank you for the sparring."
Chuck understands that it's not the sparring he's really talking about, but he nods anyway and returns the smile. "No worries."
"I'm going to bed." Herc tells him before he turns to leave. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yeah, see you tomorrow." Chuck replies and stares after the disappearing figure of his dad. Wow, that was weird. Weird but good. It has been years since he's last had a conversation with his dad that didn't escalate somehow. He wants to do it again sometime.
Maybe Pentecost is right - it's never too late to try mending their relationship.
As long as they're both still alive.