It’s not Mako’s disappointment that lingers in his mind after that episode in the Kwoon. It’s not Becket’s hunger, ignited as he sparred against Mako on the mats and felt the pull of compatibility, and thwarted when Stacker shut him down. It’s not even Herc’s shake of the head as their eyes met – the rueful look: Mate, what the fuck do you think you’re doing?
It’s Tamsin who’s on Stacker’s mind as the lift takes him down to the helipad, as the bleeding starts again.
He blots his nose, takes his metharocin.
He walks out of the dark weight of the Shatterdome and out into the air that smells of city and ocean and Shatterdome, and follows the marked path through the landing pads and the truck corridors to the railings by the sea. He stands in the blowing wind and the sputtering spray of the waves. And he thinks - as he often does, standing by this ocean - of his co-pilot.
He thinks of Tam and her indomitable fighting spirit. He thinks of the strength in her that resisted the cancer every step of the way. He thinks of the gleam in her eyes when she watched Mako practising the moves every morning, without fail.
And he thinks of the warning in her eyes when she looked at him shortly after the full adoption papers came through – not a PPDC Marshal, not her co-pilot, just a man doing his best to guide a girl towards the woman she could be.
She wants to pilot.
If I have my way, she’ll never need to.
And if you don’t get your way? On the other side of the bed, Tam was already under her piles of blankets. They shared a bed. They didn't share bodily fluids. You know, she reminds me a bit of Luna.
He wasn’t expecting that. They didn’t talk much about Luna anymore. Mako reminds you of Luna?
Yeah. She’ll do what you set her to do, but something in her needs to fly. You try to keep her ground-bound, you’ll lose her.
Years later, thousands of miles away from where Tam is buried, Stacker looks out at the ocean’s churning dawn and hears his co-pilot’s voice again. Don’t fuck this up, Stacks.
He’d planned to be the one stepping into that Jaeger with Becket. The last fight, the last walk, to go out burning, having done what he went in to the PPDC to do. One last blow on behalf of Tam and Luna and all the people he’d known and worked beside, befriended and commanded and lost.
And if you don’t get your way?
He could Drift with Becket if he had to. He could keep Mako out of a Conn-Pod, safe on the ground.
You’ll lose her.
And this time, he knows Tam is right.
Oh, Mako will do the job – and she’ll do a good one. But this goes beyond merely wanting to be considered for a piloting partnership. This is denying her the opportunity even after she’s been found to be the best candidate.
Stacker doesn’t want to see Mako in a Conn-Pod. A part of him doesn’t want Mr. Becket anywhere near his daughter. And he doesn’t want to lose another person he loves to the kaiju.
But something in Mako needs to fly.
Tam was right about that.
And Stacker can give Mako the wings she needs to try for the skies, or he can clip her pinions and know he’s grounded her forever.
His watch beeps, a reminder that the test Drift for Mr Becket and his co-pilot is coming up. And he hasn't told anyone who it's going to be yet.
Will you teach me?
Maybe one day.
He turns his face from the ocean and the Breach, and strides for the Shatterdome, resolved.
He has a promise to keep.