Stacker doesn’t find Raleigh Becket in Anchorage, Sheldon Point, Nome, or Sitka. Everywhere he goes, he hears, “Raleigh was here, but he just left. You missed him by a day or so.” It’s enough to make Stacker wonder if Raleigh’s been tipped off that the PPDC is looking for him, enough to make Stacker worry that Raleigh thinks the PPDC needs him for the wrong reasons.
Empty handed, Stacker heads back to Hong Kong. He gives Mako his apologies, and they proceed with Plan B - figure out whom of the fifty candidates can Drift with each other. It’s the day after he returns that the head of security announces, “Unauthorized helicopter requesting permission to land. Sir, it’s Lily Piper.”
He hadn’t expected the American heiress, one of his many backers to show up; it startles him - Stacker nonetheless authorizes the landing and hurries out to greet Lily. He’s even more shocked when, instead of her, Scott Hansen steps out of the helicopter. He’s dressed in a dark blue dress shirt, khaki pants, and worn work boots. Time has sharpened the angular planes of his face; he was always the darker-haired, leaner, more charming, more impulsive of the Hansen brothers, but all Stacker cares about is that Scott looks clean and sober.
A moment after Scott exits, a golden retriever leaps gracefully out of the helicopter, a turquoise double-sided pack attached to his back. The dog makes Stacker think of the pair who’d been a mainstay of the Anchorage Shatterdome, which doesn’t seem likely; they’d disappeared with Raleigh Becket, and they’d been middle-aged back then.
Finally, Lily appears, a slender, platinum-haired dowager with a forceful personality and an athletic build; she hauls three large duffel bags out of the back of the helicopter with ease. Scott leans in to kiss Lily on the cheek, as much of a rogue as he ever was, before picking up the bags and slinging them over his shoulders.
“Brought you two pilots,” Lily calls out to Stacker. “Figured you’d need them more than me.”
“I only see one,” Stacker calls back, and Lily laughs.
“You’ll see,” she promises, climbs back in, and the helicopter lifts off.
Scott steps forward as the retriever falls in step beside him, clearly mindful of the swinging bags. “Marshal. Heard you were looking for a pilot for an old jaeger,” Scott says.
“Herc tell you that?” Stacker doubts his 2IC would, but maybe now the world is ending, Herc has forgiven his brother.
Scott grins. “No. But you stirred up some people when you started looking for Raleigh Becket. You know you hired some of his old crew to be on Striker’s crew, and Alaska’s always been fond of their Beckets.”
“Thought you were in prison,” Stacker says evenly.
“Four years,” Scott replies with a nod. “Got out; decided to look a brother up, make sure he wasn’t getting fucked over. Imagine my surprise when I discovered you can’t look for someone who has an entire fucking city protecting him. Imagine my bigger surprise when we heard that the PPDC is looking for Raleigh Becket.”
Stacker narrows his eyes. “The grapevine in Alaska’s better than I thought.”
Scott nods. “Especially for a certain grapevine involving jaeger pilots, yes. People like to talk about the PPDC and its crews. Mind if we go inside? It’s getting pretty damn muggy out here, and Rals can’t stand the humidity.”
Stacker hesitates, but he knows – without Raleigh to pilot Gipsy, he’s stuck with a bunch of rookies who’ve never faced a live kaiju, and that’s not a gamble he’d like to take. If he can’t have Raleigh, he’s just desperate enough to gamble on Scott, as long as the disgraced pilot can manage to keep his hands to himself. Stacker just hopes it doesn’t come to blows; Herc might’ve forgiven Scott, but Stacker is certain Chuck won’t. The youngest Hansen held grudges like few Stacker had ever seen.
As if reading his thoughts, Scott says, “I didn’t come here to repeat my mistakes, Marshal. You’re gonna need someone who’s faced kaiju before; I’ve been paying attention and they’re getting meaner and harder to kill. My brother and my nephew are good and so are the Kaidanovskys and the Weis, but you wouldn’t have gone looking for Raleigh if you didn’t need more than the jaeger pilots you have.”
Stacker nods reluctantly, and motions Scott and his dog to follow him into the ‘dome. After a stop off at security to clear Scott to be, once again, a jaeger pilot with all the rights and accesses associated with it, Stacker sets them up in a room as far away from Mako as he can swing it. Court-mandated rehab notwithstanding, Stacker remembers that Scott had always been a playboy, even before fame had gone to his head.
It does mean putting Scott and his dog closer to Herc and Chuck, but it can’t be helped; the lack of funding meant that the jaeger pilot quarters had been condensed to save on lighting and air conditioning costs. Stacker’s not petty enough to stick Scott in the quarters farthest from everyone; aside from the insult, it would tell everyone that Stacker didn’t trust Scott, and that’s not information Stacker wants made public. Not when he needed people to trust that Scott could still pilot a jaeger.
“Thanks, Marshal,” Scott says, setting the duffel bags down on the floor of his new quarters. The dog sniffs at everything in typical dog fashion, clearly checking things out, before returning to sit beside Scott. “Everything good, Rals?”
He gets a bark of affirmation, and Stacker grins despite himself; he’d always appreciated smart dogs.
“Be ready at 0800 tomorrow morning; we’ll start testing Drift candidates then. I’ll send someone by shortly to give you a full tour. Please do not give your brother or your nephew any cause to start a fight.”
“My being here is reason enough,” Scott reminds him blandly as he crouches down to remove the backpack from the retriever’s back. “There is one more thing, though. Rals, you ready?”
The retriever tilts his head at Scott, grinning. Then he shakes his head, and faster than Stacker can track, suddenly becomes Raleigh Becket. The drivesuit scars are unmistakable, but much to Stacker’s relief, Raleigh’s wearing jeans, no shoes.
“How the hell?” Stacker starts to say, and then he remembers how there’d always been a golden retriever around the Alaskan Shatterdome, and how the crews and techs would always say, “Oh, it’s one of the Beckets.”...and how he’d just assumed they meant the dog belonged to Yancy or Raleigh. “Who was it that used to come to my office at the end of the day?”
“That was Yancy, sir,” Raleigh says. “He always thought you needed to pet a dog to feel better.”
“How?” Stacker demands.
“Family gift,” Raleigh says. “Most everyone from the area of town I’m from is a Shifter. We’re a little stronger and studier than humans, heal a bit faster, too, but we can still break and die like everybody else. It’s family custom to call someone by their nickname when they’re shifted; it helps keep people who don’t know about us in the dark.”
Stacker looks at Scott. “I take it you found out.”
“The hard way,” Scott agreed. “Idiot here thought it was hilarious to see how I’d react if he acted like he was some stray in need of a home.”
Raleigh grins, unrepentant, but he sobers quickly. “You were looking for me, sir,” he tells Stacker respectfully. “Had to make sure you weren’t making good on that promise to turn me into a lab rat.”
Suddenly, it’s painfully clear why Raleigh ran, why the Gages helped cover for him, why so many people thought Stacker had been unreasonable with his conditions.
“Stay and we can help you. We just need to run some tests, make sure your brain isn’t irrevocably damaged,” Stacker told Raleigh as he’d laid in the hospital bed of the Shatterdome’s medical clinic.
“I’m fine,” Raleigh said dully.
“We can get you back in a jaeger. We need the data for future pilots. Just cooperate, Mr. Becket; we’ll take care of you.”
Two days later, the Gage twins – who’d been reassigned to Anchorage to help cover the area while they were down a pilot crew – were logged in as visiting Raleigh; they stayed for hours, taking advantage of the relative lull that usually followed a kaiju attack. By morning, Raleigh Becket was gone; a resignation letter in his bed and two decorated American military officers who claimed complete amnesia as to where he’d disappeared.
“Depends on whether you think Drifting with someone new counts as a bad experiment or not, Mr. Becket,” Stacker says now, carefully. He’s heard rumors about Shifters for years, but the few who’d gone public had tended to do so either under extreme pressure or with a flamboyant flair. To Stacker’s knowledge, none of the Shifters had ever been military or paramilitary.
Raleigh shrugs. “Depends on whether they’re willing to Drift with someone who was connected to his brother when he died.”
“You’re not worried about keeping your ability to shift a secret?”
“All they’ll see in the Drift is me and Yancy as golden retrievers; it’s likely they’ll just think we had pets. Scott’s willing, if no one else is.”
Stacker nods and mentally reshuffles his plans. Scott had been half of a successful jaeger team; the only thing that had taken him out of the game was his own lack of self-control. Looking at Scott now, Stacker suspects that he’s learned that lesson the hard way. Raleigh had been impulsive as well, but he came from a core of solid morality. Stacker hadn’t been present for the Manila drop, but he’d heard the gossip about how the Beckets had steered clear of Scott Hansen and only made a brief appearance at the celebratory party. Raleigh wouldn’t waste time on Scott the party boy, even if he kept a secret well – and neither would Lily Piper. That settles it for Stacker; he’ll take the chance. Two experienced pilots are better than none.
Still, Stacker doesn’t like to bank on his cards just yet. “We’ll see how you two fight; then we’ll see. We’re going for the Breach, gentlemen. We’ll put a thermonuclear bomb on Striker’s back and send the kaiju back to where they came from.”
“Figured it was something like that,” Scott says. “You wouldn’t want a guy capable of piloting a jaeger solo if it wasn’t a suicide run.”
“You questioning my plans, Mr. Hansen?” Stacker demands. “Because I wasn’t looking for you.”
Scott laughs. “You may not have been, but you need me as a spare, if nothing else. If my brother or nephew get hurt, you’re gonna need someone who can pilot Striker - and those harnesses are fitted for a Hansen or someone of similar height and build.”
“Fair enough.” Stacker nods, and exits the room.
Raleigh looks over at Scott, who pulls him into a hug. “He didn’t shoot either of us,” Scott points out, and Raleigh laughs dryly.
“Not yet anyway.”
They take a moment to survey the room. The door is centered on the wall. Immediately to the right of the door is a single desk; a flat screen computer is hung above it. Between it and the other wall is the closet. Continuing around is the kitchenette, which Raleigh finds to be stocked with silverware, dishes, microwavable snacks, and small variety of juices. The bathroom sits to the left of the kitchenette, on same wall as one of the beds. The two beds form an L-shape in the other corner, with a combination nightstand/bookcase in the junction. Scott peers into the bathroom, noting there’s an actual door instead of a sliding metal pocket one.
“Look any different to you than what you had in Anchorage?” Scott asks. “This is what we had in Sydney.”
“We had bunk beds in Anchorage; Yancy hated it because I’d always manage to wake him up unintentionally.” Raleigh steps over to the bathroom. “Damn, this is nice. Wish we had this.”
The bathroom, they note, is unusual; it’s a complete toilet, shower stall, and sink setup in duplicate, built so that each pilot could use the facilities without seeing the other. Scott whistles softly. “I remember these. Herc and I were stationed here for a training run; made me wish all of the ‘domes were built like this. They went a little nuts building this place, but they wanted to be able to launch the most jaegers the most efficient way possible.”
“Well, if you had to share a bathroom but didn’t want people to see you using the toilet or showering, this is the way I’d want it. Yancy and I always had to take turns.”
“Sydney had the dual toilets but not the shower stalls,” Scott says. “Guess they figured people could take turns on showers.” The bathroom is set up with towels, soap, shampoo, shaving cream, and disposable razors; there’s even a hair dryer. Scott’s impressed. Either the ‘dome has efficient runners to have set this up in the time it took for him to clear Security, or, more likely, it was set up for whoever would pilot Gipsy Danger – an upgrade, Scott suspects, from the four-to-a-room crew quarters where they’d put the candidates, if they are following PPDC tradition.
A laundry hamper sits at the edge of the three-quarter wall dividing the two bathroom areas, with a note reminding pilots that they were responsible for doing their own laundry regularly in their designated laundry room (usually located, Scott remembers, at the farthest end of the jaeger pilot residence wing) and that linen and towels were to be dropped off weekly at the quartermaster’s. There’s a multi-language warning that drivesuit-related materials were not to be laundered, but returned to the pilot prep area; the familiar warning makes Scott smile briefly at the thought that some things haven’t changed.
Scott moves out of the bathroom; Raleigh follows. Raleigh immediately starts unpacking his backpack, tacking up the photos he carried with him on the wall above the bed he’d claimed. Scott takes a moment to look at the closet, which is the standard built-in configuration – two six-drawer chests, one on each side, and a shared clothes rod. The closet’s sized for two weeks’ worth of clothes for each pilot plus their dress and work uniforms. For two ex-jaeger pilots whose worldly possessions all fit into three duffels and one dog-sized backpack, there’s more than enough space for both of them.
Scott’s already figured out that he’s much more of a fashion plate than Raleigh is. Even so, he’s learned to travel light; traveling with someone who’s sometimes more comfortable in dog form meant they couldn’t acquire everything Scott might’ve otherwise tried to get. The bags they brought are his and Raleigh’s clothes, mostly winter gear and clothes better suited for construction work. Scott takes the time to put away what they’d brought; he’s been sharing rooms with Raleigh long enough to know how the younger man wanted things arranged. He knows, too, that putting up the family album is a ritual he shouldn’t interrupt. Physical photos are something Scott’s glad he doesn’t have; he suspects any of him from his pilot days would invariably be of the reckless, self-centered party boy he’d been. Fifteen minutes later, Scott finishes the task of unpacking.
“There, we’ll all moved in,” he announces. “What next?”
Raleigh takes a deep breath; he’s nervous but trying to be calm. “Want to go see how people react to you?”
Scott narrows his eyes as he considers. “Might be better if people didn’t know you were here yet. I know it tires you out, but –”
Raleigh shakes his head. “No, you have a point. But I’m doing away with the jeans and boots. I hate shifting with clothes on. Please don’t make me regret this like you did with Ms. Lily.”
“She likes you,” Scott protests. “She’s the one who picked you up in that coffee shop we treated ourselves to that day – who knew a billionaire heiress like her always wanted a golden retriever? If it weren’t for her, we wouldn’t have gotten a head’s up that Stacker was looking for you. And you did give her quite a thrill, shifting naked.”
“Woman’s old enough to be my grandmother,” Raleigh complains, shucking off his clothing, and not bothering to put any of it neatly away. As soon as his boots are off, he shimmies back to being a golden retriever.
“I swear, Rals, you adore being a dog too much.” Raleigh gives him a doggie grin, and Scott just shakes his head. Scott turns his focus to the computer on the wall and pulls up a Shatterdome map. He discovers it’s essentially the same as Sydney, just larger, and starts trying to commit it to memory, when a knock resounds on the door.
He opens it to find his brother, looking equal parts pissed off and wary, and – surprise, surprise – Mako Mori, looking far more grown up and serious than Scott remembered from the brief introduction he’d been given so many years ago. The blue highlights in her hair were definitely new. Raleigh nudges him as if to say, “You’re staring.”
“Didn’t know you’d gotten out,” Herc says flatly.
“Didn’t think you wanted to know, as long as I was nowhere near the PPDC, you, or Chuck,” Scott replies evenly. He knows he fucked up; knows that he nearly killed his own brother because he’d been stupid, reckless, arrogant, and blind. If he hadn’t been drunk and stoned, he’d have known the girl was in no shape to consent to anything, but he’d been too certain of his appeal as a jaeger pilot, too sure she was just star struck. Sobering up the hard way by panicking afterwards hadn’t helped, either, nor had the fight in the conn-pod. He takes a deep breath to shove the memory of his mistakes away. “Besides, the terms of my parole were that I was not to contact anyone in the PPDC unless the world was ending. Figured you’d appreciate it if I froze my ass off in Alaska.”
Herc scowls. “Would’ve appreciated it more if you’d stayed gone. What have you been doing?”
Scott lifts his head; he refuses to be ashamed of what he’s done to survive, though he knows Raleigh is more cautious about what he said to whom. Scott knows Herc won’t settle for less than the truth – not from him, not since he fucked up – and Scott doesn’t want his brother to doubt his word. “Working on the damned Wall for lack of anything better to do because I found out the world doesn’t want a jaeger pilot who isn’t piloting a jaeger. Living on rations and trying to keep up with this overgrown puppy here.” Scott gestures to Raleigh, who is doing his best ‘obedient dog’ impression.
Herc doesn’t look happy at the answer, but Scott knows there’d been only five things that had ever made his older brother happy: flying helicopters, Angela, Chuck, and later, killing kaiju and following Stacker’s lead. From the looks of things, that hadn’t changed.
“Stacker said you brought Raleigh Becket with you. Where is he?”
Scott is a little shocked to realize that Stacker didn’t provide the little tidbit of info that Raleigh is a Shifter. Then again, the marshal always had his reasons to keep his ace card in the hole. Scott finds this little tidbit amusing, and mentally debates whether to keep his brother in the dark. Just when he’s half-tempted to ask Raleigh to shift, Raleigh knocks Scott’s legs, and Scott shoots him a look. As much as Raleigh might complain about how much extra energy it took to shift with clothes on, Scott knows the younger man respects Herc a lot; he’d said as much in past conversations. That, and the fact that Raleigh hates revealing his secret to strangers – and right now, Mako counts as one; Scott’s pretty sure Stacker rarely let her travel when he visited other Shatterdomes – makes Scott decide to keep the secret. “He’s not far.”
Then Raleigh does something completely unexpected: he maneuvers past the two Hansens to where Mako is standing, and sniffs at her, nudging her into petting him.
Mako laughs, delighted, and pets Raleigh. “Oh, you’re a handsome fellow, aren’t you? You look a lot like the ones that used to be at the Shatterdome in Anchorage,” Mako says.
Raleigh stares up at her adoringly and Scott mentally sighs. “Rals, heel.”
Raleigh gives him a dirty look, as if he’d rather keep getting petted, but Scott’s seen him act like this before; it usually means Raleigh wants that person. Scott doesn’t think it would be a good idea for Raleigh to choose now to indulge that want. Mako’s comment makes Scott wonder if Raleigh’s met her before in dog form. Still, it’s worrisome, and Scott doesn’t want to give Stacker any reason to reconsider letting them back in the ‘dome. “Now,” Scott says in his firmest voice.
Raleigh makes a growl of protest, but he goes back to Scott’s side as Herc notes with a laugh, “Acts like he understands you.”
“Imagine that,” Scott says dryly as Raleigh pretends to be a well-behaved dog, no doubt showing off for Mako. “Well. You’re obviously here to show us around, so… shall we?”
Chuck barely manages to grab Max’s leash in time, but the bulldog is straining, barking furiously, almost as if he’s upset. It’s not until he sees his uncle with an unleashed golden retriever that Chuck understands why Max is so agitated. The Icebox had a pair of retrievers, Chuck remembers, but they’d been gone for years. Probably dead, Chuck thinks; dogs didn’t live forever (as much as he wished Max could, even he was getting to be middle-aged.)
From the way Herc is motioning, Chuck realizes that his father is giving Scott the grand tour. Then Scott comes closer, and the retriever with him growls at Max. Max looks confused, and the two dogs proceed to have a conversation that’s a lot of sniffing followed by what sounds like Max saying, “Oh, all right, I know you.”
“What the hell, Max?” Chuck says, grabbing a hold of Max’s leash and reining him back in. Max plants his feet and refuses to budge, clearly wanting to play with the other dog. “Max, come here, now.” Max whines.
Scott just laughs. “Think he remembers Rals here, don’t you, boy?” Rals barks, a clearly delighted sound.
“That’s impossible,” Chuck shoots back.
Scott arches an eyebrow. “You’d be surprised.”
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Chuck demands.
“Heard there was a Mark III in need of a pilot,” Scott says evenly. “And I know where to find Raleigh Becket.”
“You’re a goddamned disgrace and so is he,” Chuck shoots back. “We don’t need your kind in a jaeger.”
Scott just looks at him. “You will, if you want to have an eleventh kill on that jacket of yours, Charlie.”
“The name’s –”
“Chuck,” Scott finishes, and there’s a bit of sadness in his voice. Chuck only ever allowed his uncle to keep calling him Charlie after he’d decided he liked the more American-sounding ‘Chuck’ better; it had been how they connected. “Yeah. I know. But here’s two things you don’t know – Raleigh Becket is one of only two people to ever pilot a jaeger solo. And I’ve paid for my sins in ways I hope to God you never will. See you at dinner, Ranger Hansen.”
Never content to let someone else have the last word, Chuck shoots back, “Yeah, because I want to have dinner with my disgraced uncle. Come on, Max,” and walks away.
Shaking his head slightly at his nephew’s behavior, Scott turns to his brother and Mako. “So, now that we’ve seen the gang’s all here, you were going to show us a Mark III?”
“I’ll see you in a bit, Scott,” Herc says apologetically. “I promised I’d meet Stacker at the kaiju lab.” He pauses before adding, “I’ve been wondering where the Anchorage Shatterdome retrievers wound up.”
“One of them is dead; died five years ago,” Scott replies, and Raleigh whines because he doesn’t like being reminded. “Rals is the only one left.” Automatically, Scott pets him reassuringly. “Surprised you didn’t know that already.”
Herc eyes him warily, and it takes him a moment to connect the dots. Scott has always admired his brother’s intelligence, and he’s counting on it now. He’s not disappointed.
Herc’s eyes widen almost comically as he realizes Rals equals Raleigh. To his credit, he recovers quickly. “We’ll have to discuss that later, mate.”
Mako glances at Herc, and then visibly decides it’s none of her business. “This way, Mr. Hansen,” she says, and leads them to the Mark III.
“Fuck me dead,” Scott says, stunned. Beside him, Raleigh bangs into his legs; clearly, he wasn’t expecting Gipsy Danger. “She looks new.”
“Better than new,” Mako says, pride in her voice. “She has a double core nuclear reactor, a new fluid synapse system, a new conn-pod, 40 engine blocks per muscle strand, better radiation shielding, and a faster processor. We’ve upgraded the plasma cannons and added a chain sword.” She glances at Scott. “Tendo Choi was hoping Mr. Becket would be here.”
It’s a completely unsubtle way of telling Scott Mako hoped for the same thing, and his eyes narrow. He remembers Stacker Pentecost had adopted Tokyo’s Daughter; remembers, too, that she’d been the closest thing Chuck had to a friend his age. It had put her automatically on his ‘do not touch’ list. It also means that it was likely she’d gone to the Jaeger Academy as well; Chuck had had little patience for anyone who didn’t want to be a jaeger pilot.
“You might be surprised,” Scott tells her now. “You a pilot?”
Mako shakes her head. “I want to be, more than anything, but I’ve been overseeing the restoration project instead.”
“What’s your simulator score?”
“51 drops, 51 kills.”
Scott whistles, impressed. “You’re not one of the candidates tomorrow?”
“No. The marshal has his reasons.” Mako smiles tightly, and Scott – who’s gotten an education on nonverbal communication thanks to two years being with a man who’s sometimes a dog – guesses she doesn’t agree.
“Probably a dad thing,” Scott surmises; he can’t think of any other reason why not. “In case it’s not obvious, Herc gave up trying to pull that card on Chuck a while back.”
Mako smiles more genuinely at that. “We are still putting the finishing touches on your jaeger. I will let you know when you can tour the conn-pod and become more familiar with it. Unfortunately, you will not be allowed to bring your dog with you.”
Scott grins. “I don’t think that will be problem then.”
“Can you find your way back?” Mako asks as a tech approaches her, looking as though something needs to be addressed. “I would walk you back, but the marshal wants your jaeger to be ready as soon as possible.”
“Not a problem. Thank you, Miss Mori. Come on, Rals.”
Raleigh looks like he doesn’t want to leave and whines a protest, but Scott shoots him a warning look. Part of their agreement is Scott doesn’t collar Raleigh when he was shifted, unless it’s necessary, as long as Raleigh obeys verbal commands. Scott silently hopes he never has to; the idea alone feels a little too much like treating Raleigh like an animal instead of a man who could shift into one.
Scott had gone looking for Raleigh, figuring the other pilot needed a friend, and hoping that, if nothing else, Raleigh would be willing to accompany him on his attempt to travel anywhere other than Australia. His inquiries – starting at the closest bar to the Anchorage Shatterdome – had led him nowhere initially. Then he’d stumbled across a golden retriever, looking like someone’s lost pet. Raleigh had let him think he’d rescued a dog – until Scott had driven to the next hotel, paying extra for the pet deposit. Raleigh had waited until they were in the room before he shifted, in part to see what Scott’s reaction would be (he’d nearly jumped out of his skin) and more so to see if Scott was looking for him for any specific reason, i.e. to hunt him down for the PPDC. When Scott had vehemently denied it and explained the terms of his parole, Raleigh had eased up on his paranoia and agreed to be his traveling companion.
So far, they hadn’t gone very far; Scott had gotten out of jail, looked at his bank balance and the terms of his parole, and taken the first non-stop flight that wasn’t anywhere in Australia. They’d been spending the last several months working shifts on the Anti-Kaiju Wall. Despite the fact that they’d both earned decent wages as jaeger pilots, they’d discovered, much to their shock, that money didn’t go as far as it once did and food was tightly rationed, even at the grocery stores. Their lack of a permanent home address meant they were ineligible for the ration cards issued to homesteads, and their status as ex-jaeger pilots meant people often discriminated against them. It didn’t help that Raleigh burned through food at a faster rate, thanks to his Shifter genes.
Raleigh makes one more attempt to follow Mako, but Scott cuts him off. “Quit it, Rals. You know I don’t want to put a leash on you, but I will.”
With a whine of protest, Raleigh reluctantly follows Scott back to their quarters.
“That was…not fun,” Scott says. His tour through the ‘dome, meeting the Weis and the Kaidanovskys, had cemented a sense that maybe everyone had been simply too busy to do much more than focus on their assigned territory. Scott remembers when it had been routine to get the jaeger pilots together for training sessions, lavish parties, and group interviews. He’s watched enough TV to know that his brother and his nephew were setting records for killing kaiju, in a way that made it clear that there were simply not enough jaegers anymore to cover the entire Pacific Rim. “I don’t think they’re doing joint training exercises anymore. The Weis acted like we were invisible and the Kaidanovskys were focused on their little parade, as if nobody else existed but them and their crew.”
Raleigh barks in agreement.
“Chuck’s a bigger asshole than I thought he’d grow up to be,” Scott says, and gets a second bark of agreement, which makes Scott laugh. “You’re not supposed to agree with me, you idiot. All right, next stop, quartermaster’s office for clothing and gear, which is –” Scott checks the map on the computer for the location, not trusting his memory, just as a knock sounds on the door.
Scott opens it to find the LOCCENT chief, Tendo Choi, standing there. “Mr. Choi,” Scott greets respectfully, and opens the door farther. “Come on in.”
Tendo grins and steps inside as Scott shuts the door behind him. He’s greeted with an enthusiastic bark and manages, somehow, to brace himself for the leap Rals makes, catching him so that he’s standing on his hind legs. Tendo laughs, and Raleigh shifts, stark naked, in Tendo’s arms. The two men hug unabashedly, and Scott understands instantly that they’re old friends.
“Damn you,” Tendo says fondly. “I missed you, you brat. You were supposed to come back, or did the mad twins forget to tell you that part?”
Raleigh steps back and dons a pair of jeans. “No, they didn’t forget. I just couldn’t make myself go back, even if I was a dog. Wasn’t sure if they’d let me past the gates.”
“Let? Like you and Yancy didn’t sneak in all the freaking time?”
Raleigh laughs a bit at that. “Yeah, well. We were reckless idiots.”
Raleigh’s not looking at his old friend, too busy pulling on a sweater, so he doesn’t see Tendo’s expression tighten at that statement. Tendo shoots Scott a look, as if to ask, “Is this normal?”
Scott nods; Raleigh hasn’t dealt well with his grief over the years. It’s one of the reasons, Scott knows, that Raleigh has spent more time as a dog instead of human.
“So that means you couldn’t see your jaeger like a normal person?” Tendo asks, and Raleigh laughs reluctantly. “Had it all planned out, how I was going to ask you if you liked your new ride.”
Raleigh shakes his head. “Sorry, Tendo, but we figured one has-been walking through the ‘dome was going to be bad enough.”
“Well, you’re the best shot we’ve got,” Tendo says easily. “Otherwise, we’ll be throwing cannon fodder at the kaiju, and after all the work Mako’s done on Gipsy, I’d hate to see that happen.”
Raleigh looks like he wants to protest that assessment, but Tendo cuts him off. “No arguing with me; I don’t have the time to debate. I brought you two ID badges,” Tendo says, pulling them out of his pocket and handing them over. “Scott, this replaces the temporary one Stacker gave you a few hours ago. You’re going to need these IDs to get items from the quartermaster and meals. Raleigh, you’ve met Max?”
“Broke his brain a bit, but yeah. I remember when he was a puppy and Chuck was so proud to show him off. “
“That’s right, the brass allowed us to bring Chuck along to Manila,” Scott remembers. “We were stationed there for the month.”
Raleigh nods as Tendo grins. “So Chuck has no idea you can Shift, does he?”
“Do not go making bets, Tendo,” Raleigh warns. “Didn’t Stacker ban you from doing that?”
Tendo’s face falls.
“So why does my meeting Max matter?” Raleigh refocuses their conversation.
“If you’re going to wander around in dog form, you’re going to need a collar. Sorry. It’s not like Anchorage, where everyone knew we had two golden retrievers running around all the time. I dug out your old one and upgraded the chip. It’s coded to this ‘dome now so security knows you belong here.”
“Did Stacker tell you?” Scott asks.
Tendo shakes his head and grins. “I was watching when you got off the helicopter. Only golden retriever I know who’d get out a helicopter like that would be a Becket.” He hands Raleigh a deceptively simple looking, worn leather collar; the flash of silver in the middle is the only indication it’s not as simple as it seems. “Marshal’s a bit annoyed, by the way, that I knew Raleigh could shift and he didn’t.”
Raleigh grimaces as he takes the collar. “Hate this thing. The ID square almost chokes me if it’s not seated properly.” Still, he sets on the nightstand near the bed he’d picked out.
“Better that than to be mistaken for a stray and euthanized,” Tendo warns. “Government here does not feed strays to be adopted. Also, be careful if you go into the city; there is a kaiju cult in the Bone Slums.”
“Got it. Anything else we should know?” Raleigh asks.
“The UN quit funding us two months ago. Officially, they’ve washed their hands of us. Unofficially, we have some support – not everyone on the Council was a self-important asshole, especially after what happened two days ago in Sydney. You two heard about that?”
Raleigh nods and jerks a thumb at Scott. “He’s a news junkie when it comes to his brother and nephew.”
Tendo grins slightly at that. “You couldn’t call them, could you?”
Scott shakes his head. “Not unless I wanted to be arrested and put back in jail. I can’t rewind what I did and make it go away. I raped a girl. I was an arrogant, pot-smoking, hard-drinking shithead who tried to pretend it wasn’t rape. I was still hung over when I got into Lucky Seven’s conn-pod that day, and I didn’t think Herc would see in the Drift what I’d done. As a result, I almost killed my brother and a major world city.”
The LOCCENT chief studies the ex-jaeger pilot a moment. “How long have you been sober?”
“Since we killed that kaiju,” Scott admits. “Also went through mandatory counseling and rehab. I know you thought I was a headstrong idiot even before the fame went to my head.”
Tendo chuckles dryly. “You’re a Hansen. Being a headstrong idiot runs in the family.”
Scott nods, taking the cautious acceptance for face value. “So this whole thing about not being funded… I know you’re being funded; we met one of the moneybags who thought the end of the world shouldn’t be left to a bunch of people who aren’t living in the danger zones. What’s the real story?”
“Means we’re the Resistance now. Means we don’t have to answer to the UN to justify plans like making a run on the Breach.”
Scott nods; he’d heard Herc explain Stacker’s plan and how Gipsy Danger and the other jaegers would run defense. “Yeah, because it’s never worked before.”
“Trust the marshal,” Tendo says. “He hasn’t failed us yet. I need to get back to LOCCENT; kaiju are coming faster these days. I’ll see you two later, all right?”
The two men nod agreement, then, when the door shuts behind Tendo, they look at each other.
“What now?” Raleigh asks.
“Get dressed,” Scott suggests. “I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry, and I know you hate dog food.”
Raleigh makes a face, but he puts on socks, and stuffs his feet into the worn work boots Scott brought for him.
Chuck doesn’t like surprises. Seeing his uncle stride into the mess hall, Raleigh Becket beside him like they’ve known each other for years, is not something he appreciates. Most of the crews have staked out separate tables, one for each jaeger team, and it’s not long before the jaeger crew chief assigned to Gipsy Danger flags the pair down.
Across the table, Herc looks at Chuck. “Problem?” his father asks quietly.
“Neither of them have jockeyed for at least five years,” Chuck shoots back. “They’re supposed to run defense for us in that old rust bucket?”
Herc hands over the potatoes. “Just because they’re here doesn’t mean they’re both going to be in that jaeger,” he warns his son. “And I think you’re underestimating what they’re capable of doing.”
“Scott nearly killed you and made you both almost fail to kill a kaiju,” Chuck says, dropping the plate of potatoes onto the table with a bang. “So, no, I don’t think I am, Dad. And where’s Becket been all this time? Hiding out with his tail between his legs?”
Herc swallows hard, almost as if he knows something Chuck doesn’t, which would be typical. For all the emotion that bleeds through their Drift, Herc’s ability to hide things he thinks Chuck didn’t need to know is unparalleled, and the reason why Stacker had chosen him for his second-in-command. “Construction, from what I heard.”
“Great, if we get in trouble, he can build our way out of it. I’m telling you, if he turns out to be useless, I’ll drop him like a sack of kaiju shit.”
“Just eat your lunch, Chuck. You don’t have to like him to work with him,” Herc reminds his son.
Still, Chuck can’t resist the temptation, and waits for Scott and Raleigh to exit the mess hall.
“What makes you think you can still fight kaiju?”
Scott looks at him. “Because if I could do it so hung over it hurt, I’m pretty sure I can do it again, Chuck.”
Chuck looks at Raleigh. “You gonna let him talk for you or did you lose that along with your balls?”
Raleigh looks at him. “No.” He glances over Chuck’s shoulder, and Chuck half-turns and sees his father, a stern warning look on his face. The moment to start a fight’s lost, and Chuck suspects Raleigh won’t give him another one.
The next morning, the trials start. Stacker tells them that if they don’t match, Mako has drawn up a list of fifty possible candidates, all of whom she has selected personally as being possible copilots for Raleigh. Scott swallows the exclusion with as much grace as he can muster. He knows he’s been written off for years at this point, and nobody expected him to show up, let alone be out of prison or even risk showing up, given the terms of his parole.
Scott knows he and Raleigh have a decent amount of compatibility. They’ve grown to like each other, and they’ve had two years of practice fighting. In the kwoon, however, he quickly discovers that Raleigh’s been holding back. Raleigh’s faster, more precise, and just scarily efficient. Before Scott’s even quite aware of what happened, Raleigh’s won the match, 5-1.
Raleigh looks at him with a rueful smile. “Sorry.”
Scott shakes his head, and laughs. “No, you’re not.” He suspects Raleigh would rather not Drift with him, because they know what each other’s been through, and would rather risk a stranger. Scott can’t blame him; given the choice, he’s not sure he wouldn’t have done the same.
“Gentlemen,” Stacker calls. “In light of that match, we are proceeding with the list of candidates.”
Scott joins the small crowd on the other side of the mat from Stacker, careful to be as far away from Chuck as he can get. He doesn’t trust his nephew not to start a fight, and given the feeling of rejection he’s trying to sort through, Scott might want to indulge him to prove who was better, which would not be good to say the least.
From his new vantage point, Scott watches as Raleigh proceeds to decimate the first ten candidates. To be just, he gives them a fairer chance than he gave Scott – but he knows how Scott fights, and ruthlessly used his insight, the way Scott should have but didn’t. After a while, Scott starts to notice the same thing Raleigh does – the way Mako Mori reacts when Raleigh doesn’t take the second point when he should have. She looks annoyed; as if she expected him to take them out the way he did Scott. Finally, Raleigh looks at her.
“What? Something wrong with them? I thought you said you selected the candidates personally.”
“It’s not their performance,” Mako says, leaning forward intently as she clutches her clipboard. “It’s yours. You could’ve taken them all out two moves earlier.”
Scott groans as he watches his friend run on impulse and dare Stacker to let Mako have a chance. Then, as he watches them fight, he realizes just how brilliant a matchup Mako and Raleigh would be; they’re already sparking a connection, already moving fluidly, and Raleigh looks like the goddamned puppy he is at heart. By the time Stacker announces he’s made a decision, Scott knows that Raleigh won’t like settling for anyone other than Mako.
Scott isn’t surprised when Stacker denies Raleigh’s request to make Mako his copilot and tells him to report to his jaeger in two hours for testing with his copilot. As the crowd disperses, Scott catches sight of his nephew, smirking as if he could’ve predicted Stacker’s refusal.
“Something you want to say?” Scott challenges Chuck. “Because I remember a sprog who kept telling me Raleigh Becket was his hero.”
Chuck looks at him, looks at Mako, who has her head down and is trying her best to disappear as quickly as she can, and at Raleigh, who is resignedly heading towards the locker room.
“No,” Chuck says finally, but his hesitation allows both Mako and Raleigh to leave without having to deal with him.
“Good,” Scott says, and quickly tries to catch up with Raleigh. He finds Raleigh trying to convince Mako to stand up for herself, but winds up with only a door shutting in his face. Scott isn’t too surprised by that, but the disappointment on Raleigh’s face is heart wrenching. Scott steels himself against that look; nobody did woeful disappointment better than a dog shifter.
“Come on, mate. Or did you forget she’s Stacker’s adopted daughter and a survivor of a kaiju attack on Tokyo?”
Raleigh’s mouth twists in a grimace as he lets Scott lead him away to their quarters. “Honestly wasn’t connecting the two,” he admits. “Just – saw her and felt a connection instantly.”
Scott’s sympathetic, but he remembers how coldly practical the marshal can be. Stacker had been the one to tell him that he was under arrest as soon as he stepped out of Lucky Seven’s conn-pod. Sentimentality was a second priority as far as Marshal Pentecost was concerned when the safety of humanity was at stake, and Scott’s attempts to appeal to Stacker’s sense of family had fallen on deaf ears.
“Yeah, well, I don’t think Stacker’s going to change his mind, so you’d better be prepared. If I remember correctly, Miss Mori got to see a kaiju up close and personal when she was a kid. You got two hours; if I was you, I’d spend it looking at what you can find out about her and the last guy you beat.”
Raleigh winces. “Would love to, but I’m supposed to report to the pilot prep area,” he says. “They want to be sure they’ve created a circuitry suit and armor that fits me, which means I have to change again.” The suits were based on each individual’s neural pathways, and while they could be made quickly, they had to be verified for fit since they needed to be skintight and wired correctly. As Raleigh had been exercising, he needed to be as clean as he could be so that the high-tech circuitry suit fabric fit properly.
Scott nods. “Well, if they’ll let me in there, I’ll see what I can find out for you,” he says. “And I’ll make sure they’ve disabled the weapons, too.”
Raleigh cocks his head as Scott opens the door to their quarters. “Why do I get the feeling there’s a story there?”
“Wasn’t my fault,” Scott says quickly as Raleigh dumps the clothing he’d worn in the kwoon out of the small duffle bag he’d been issued into the laundry hamper. “They wanted us to test a Mark IV jaeger. Except I was higher than a kite that morning – too much partying the night before – and Herc took one of the other jaeger pilots in with him instead. The techs figured they were experienced and that my brother could control the Drift, so they didn’t disable the weapons. Only reason they didn’t blast a hole in the ‘dome is because Herc managed to take control in time. I saw it the next time he and I Drifted.”
Raleigh shudders. “I’m not that good.”
Scott clasps his shoulder reassuringly. “You’ll do fine. I just don’t want my nephew to have any more reason to question why you’re here.”
“Oh, is that all?” Raleigh grins.
Scott shrugs. “Yeah. Haven’t you learned Hansens are assholes, especially to each other?”
Raleigh laughs. He then steps into the shower, emerging fifteen minutes later to change into a gray t-shirt, running shorts, and sneakers, and heads back out. Some pilots didn’t care to be that fastidious, but Scott remembers that he’d always bitched about feeling like his suit didn’t fit right until he sweated, just because he’d been sloppy about the initial fitting.
Scott spends some time gathering intel; the computer is surprisingly forthcoming about both Mako and who she considered to be the top contenders, and Scott thinks someone’s betting on who finishes first. Scott’s not surprised; jaeger crews tended to be a competitive, fiercely loyal lot. An hour after Raleigh’s departure, Scott swings by the jaeger pilot prep area to find Raleigh still being fitted for his drive suit.
“What did you find out?”
“Mako was top of her class, but she was up close and personal with a kaiju like I remembered,” Scott says, mindful of the crew swarming around Raleigh. “The consensus is that it’s either Frank Eichmann, who you beat 5-3, or Salazar Rodríguez, who you beat 5-2. They have similar backgrounds to you – siblings, moved around a lot as kids, strong family ties, graduated from the Academy with good scores but not good enough for a jaeger. Frank’s from Germany and Salazar’s from Peru.”
Raleigh nods carefully; a crewman is mapping the circuitry from his neck down to the spine insert, making sure it aligns properly. “Guess we’ll just have to see where it goes. Thanks, Scott.”
“Not a problem, mate.” Scott then heads to LOCCENT; it looks like the height of confusion. Still, he finds Tendo and makes his request.
“Look, not that I think this is going to go tits up, but let’s make sure, all right?”
“If they’re really compatible, they can overwhelm the controls,” Tendo warns. “Hasn’t happened often, but it’s a possibility.”
“Just – I’ve shared rooms with Raleigh for the last two years; I know what his nightmares are.”
The LOCCENT chief nods briefly and makes his adjustments. “You’re welcome to watch the test from here, by the way.”
“Thanks; I’ll take you up on that.”
Scott circles back around to the prep room to find that they’ve moved on from the circuitry suit to the armor itself. The armor Raleigh’s wearing is black, and Scott sighs mentally in relief; even if it’s recycled parts, it’s not the same damn white suit as what he knows the Beckets used to wear.
“What did Tendo say?” Raleigh asks.
“He’s disabled the weapons. If and your partner have a strong Drift, though, it might override it.”
“Got it. And hey, Scott, in case I didn’t say it earlier – thanks. I’m not sure I could’ve gotten this far without you.”
Scott grins. “Told you us has-beens had to stick together.”
Much to Scott’s relief, and he suspects, Raleigh’s, Mako joins Raleigh in the conn-pod. There’s a moment where it looks like they both are struggling not to chase a R.A.B.I.T., but they manage; the test is a success. In LOCCENT, Chuck turns to Scott as the test concludes.
“He deliberately knocked you out of the running,” Chuck accuses. “Why?”
Scott meets his nephew’s eyes. “Some things you do for friends when they don’t ask, especially when you already know what makes them wish they could forget.” He turns to leave, only to run into his brother – deliberately, from the look on Herc’s face.
“You fucking him?” Herc asks bluntly.
Scott laughs. “Is that the only reason you can come up with as to why he’d keep hanging around with me?”
“You were flirting with him in Manila.”
“And he turned me down then and he turned me down again when I tried. Boy’s a dog sometimes, but he’s got standards.” Scott chuckles dryly. “Right now, I’d say he’s sniffing at Miss Mori.”
Herc’s eyes narrow. “He’s not going to get far.”
“Probably not,” Scott agrees. “But that’ll be for him to find out from her, not from her friends.” Scott takes advantage of the moment to dodge his brother.
It’s few hours before Raleigh returns to their quarters, looking like he’d just won a million dollars.
“I’d ask, but I can tell how good it was. How’s your new copilot?”
“Thrilled. A little bloodthirsty, too, for good reason. Gonna have to make sure we channel that vengeance into kicking kaiju ass.”
“Aww, you have a crush,” Scott teases.
“Of course I do. She’s fucking awesome, and before you ask, the answer is no, I’m not going to try to get her in bed. I’d like to keep my new copilot.”
Scott studies Raleigh a moment. “You think of her as your new sister,” he surmises.
“Got it in one,” Raleigh says, dropping his hand as he points at Scott.
“I can see that,” Scott says.
Raleigh takes a deep breath before shedding the clothes he’d worn. “There’s something I need to check, though.”
“What?” Scott frowns at the look on his friend’s face.
“Our esteemed marshal’s sick. I caught a whiff of it earlier, but now I know why, I want to double check.”
“And you think being a dog is going to be easier than if you ask him directly?”
“He won’t say anything if I ask. He’s a fucking fixed point, Scott. He can’t show weakness – not to me, not to anyone in this ‘dome.”
“He jockeyed a Mark I, didn’t he?”
Raleigh nods, then shifts into his dog form. Scott sighs; he knows most of the Mark I pilots are dead. If they weren’t killed by kaiju, many had succumbed to cancer. The only reason he and Herc haven’t gotten cancer is because they weren’t in a Mark I for long – and they were in one of the last ones ever made, which had already been retrofitted with numerous upgrades, including improved shielding. Lucky Seven had been a proto-Mark IV, though it had never officially gotten a generational stamping, and had benefited from the lessons learned.
“Do you really need to go looking for answers you already know?” Scott asks, but he puts Raleigh’s collar on anyway, and lets him out.
Twenty minutes later, Raleigh returns. His fur’s ruffled, as if someone’s been petting him, and he looks sad. As soon as he shifts, he tells Scott, “Stacker can’t get into a jaeger unless he wants to die. The scientists are predicting a double event – two kaiju at once – followed almost immediately by a triple event. It’s the end of the world, Scott. And no, I didn’t get all of my info from Stacker – your brother wanted to yell at me for not telling him I can Shift. Then he demanded I shift so he we could have a conversation. Then he yelled at me for being naked and laughing that he asked for it.”
“Well. In that case, I’d better make sure my family gets out alive.”
Raleigh laughs grimly. “Good luck with that; Stacker’s not going to use you unless he has no other choice.”
Scott looks at the younger man. “If we’re making a run against the Breach, the only way my brother is going to live with himself is if he’s in Striker with his son. If he’s not –” Scott shook his head grimly “– I can’t guarantee he’ll want to stick around for much afterwards.”
Raleigh looks at the younger half of the Hansen brothers. “Because they’ve been copilots for six years?”
Scott nods. “And if Stacker’s plan fails, they’re gonna need not only a jaeger, but two pilots who don’t need training time.”
Raleigh winces. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”
After the Breach is sealed, a week and a half passes before Raleigh is released from Medical. Between a new set of drivesuit burns and concerns over his brief lack of breathing and radiation exposure, as well as his insomnia, Raleigh has had his fill of being fussed over by medical staff. It doesn’t help that the enforced stay has left him plenty of time to reflect on Scott’s and Stacker’s sacrifice. While he didn’t want Stacker to die of cancer, Raleigh knows that Mako had been more prepared to deal with that kind of death. As for Scott – Raleigh hadn’t wanted his friend to die, either, but he knows, too, that Scott regretted the choices he’d made. It made for a very heavy heart and a long ten days.
Raleigh looks at the pile of clothes Scott left behind, and sighs. Part of him doesn’t want to believe that the only thing Scott ever wanted if he came back was a chance to redeem himself. However, Scott volunteered to fight in Chuck’s place for that final run to the Breach, telling them that Herc needed his son beside him in case they failed. Part of Raleigh’s resigned to the fact that Stacker’s only protest to that statement was, “I see you have been paying more attention than I thought.”
“I’ve had a Becket beside me for the past two years,” Scott had said. “Hard not to get into the habit of paying attention.”
Raleigh closes his eyes at the memory, grief aching in his chest. Scott was the last friend he’d ever expected to make – a man who’d committed a heinous crime and had wanted nothing more than to make the world see he wasn’t the guy he’d been. In so doing, Scott had given Raleigh a reason to keep on living, keep on hoping that maybe one day, he could get into a jaeger again and find someone willing to take on his demons.
Raleigh doesn’t wear the same sizes Scott did, so none of the clothing’s worth much to him. He starts gathering things up into a pile, figuring someone at the ‘dome would know where to donate it all, when he hears a knock on his door.
Raleigh has the door cracked, so he calls, “Come in.”
Chuck pushes the door open, surveys the room, and looks over at Raleigh. He’s still sporting bruises and cuts from being knocked around in the conn-pod in Victoria Harbor, but otherwise, he’s fine. “I can take that stuff off your hands if you want; Uncle Scott and I used to trade gear back and forth. No rush - Dad said to tell you we aren’t getting kicked out of here anytime soon. Chinese government has said they’re so grateful, we can stay here indefinitely and they’ll keep the power going – which probably means another year, realistically.”
Raleigh nods carefully. “Thanks. Scott has some stuff in the laundry, so I’ll have to wash it before I give it to you.”
Chuck looks awkward for a moment before he asks, “Did he ever tell you what he did?”
“Yeah. I lived with him for two years, Chuck; we knew each other’s nightmares.”
“Did he... did he ever talk about me?”
Raleigh smiles briefly. “Like a proud uncle.”
“Why didn’t he ever call?”
“Because he wasn’t allowed. Part of his parole was he was barred from the PPDC for life. That included talking to anyone who was part of the program, or their families. He also wasn’t allowed to talk to the press, so even if he wanted to, he couldn’t go on air and say what he wanted to say.” Raleigh pauses. “Knowing him, though, he probably recorded something on his phone; he was always taking video and photos with that thing.” Raleigh takes the device off the nightstand and hands it over to Chuck, who takes it almost reluctantly. “There’s no passcode on it. His ability to remember passwords was blown. We, uh, we kept track of stuff for each other.”
Chuck eyes Raleigh a moment. “When were you going to tell me you literally are sometimes a dog?”
Raleigh laughs. “Thought you already knew, actually. Herc figured it out before the Double Event.”
Chuck shakes his head. “My old man can keep secrets in the Drift; it’s one of the reasons the marshal picked him to be his second-in-command.”
An awkward silence falls. “Anything else you wanted?” Raleigh finally prompts.
Chuck looks at the pile of clothes Raleigh’s dumped on the bed Scott used. “No,” he says finally. “When I was little, I used to think he was this really bonza guy. Then I Drifted with my old man after Scott fucked up, and…” Chuck breathes out carefully, as if he’s trying to rein in his temper. “How the hell did you become friends with him?”
“He wasn’t the self-serving asshole I met in Manila,” Raleigh says simply, and watches as the light of understanding dawns on Chuck’s face.
Chuck nods once, tightly, before heading for the door. “I’ll come back with a few boxes,” he promises.
“No rush,” Raleigh reminds him. “It’s not going anywhere.”
Raleigh isn’t surprised when Herc shows up twenty minutes later. “Didn’t think he could pilot a jaeger anymore,” he says by way of greeting.
Raleigh laughs shortly. “Some things get so etched in a brain. Your son was here earlier.”
“So he said. I, uh, appreciate you sticking by my brother.”
Raleigh looks at Herc. “I’m not going to sit here and pretend he wasn’t a shithead sometimes still. He’d forget how sick the taste of a beer would make him, or he’d leave the door unlocked because he couldn’t remember how to use a key. He drove me nuts wanting to get all the news about you and Chuck, especially when hearing about the PPDC was the last thing I wanted.”
“So why’d you stay?”
“Because he was loyal and a friend when I needed one. Scott wasn’t perfect, but he wanted to do one right thing if he could. It’s not going to make up for all the fuckups he did to you or anyone else, but he thought if he could just climb into a jaeger one more time, he could…”
“Fix what he broke?” Herc laughs humorlessly. “Too late for that, but I’ll be grateful for what he did do.” Herc pauses. “Came by to see if you knew if he’d changed his preferences on the memorial service.”
“Probably not,” Raleigh replies. “He was too busy trying to live like I was. Though – there was one thing he asked me to do.”
“What’s that?” Herc asks.
“Show up as a dog and howl at his funeral,” Raleigh replies, and sees Herc freeze.
“That little shit. He got you to agree to that?”
Raleigh nods and shrugs. “It’s a grand excuse not to wear a suit.”
Herc laughs briefly at that.
Scott Hansen’s memorial service is two days later. Raleigh automatically takes position on Herc’s left, leaving Chuck and then Max to his right. The dogs can shelter the remaining Hansens from unwanted contact in ways humans couldn’t. Mako stands in the back of the small group of mourners, mostly people who are there more for Herc and Chuck than Scott, but from the comments Raleigh’s heard, he knows a few of them are former Lucky Seven crewmembers.
Scott had wanted a waterside service – his body cremated, his ashes scattered into the ocean. The Shatterdome’s chaplain is as nondenominational as the words that have become the traditional jaeger pilot’s rite of passing, and he recites the farewell as the waves sweep Scott’s ashes away:
“This is a final tribute, a day to celebrate your life and say goodbyes; to honor the service you performed in defense of this planet. Go now in peace and know that your service was not in vain,” the chaplain intones solemnly. “Scott Hansen, you died a Ranger.”
Raleigh howls, as he’d promised he’d do, but he finds himself doing it because it felt right, because he couldn’t, in this form, cry. Raleigh hears Herc swallow hard, so Raleigh leans in close, because he can. Then Max joins Raleigh in that long, lonely call. In that moment, neither Hansen can hold their rigid, stiff-upper-lip stance anymore, and Raleigh hears Herc choke back a sob as Chuck takes a shuddering breath. Raleigh understands abruptly that this is why Scott asked him to specifically be in dog form at his funeral; neither Herc nor Chuck would’ve let the past go otherwise.
Raleigh looks over and sees tears in Chuck’s eyes, but Chuck straightens his shoulders at Raleigh’s look. “He was my uncle,” Chuck says.
“And my brother.” Herc clasps his son’s shoulder, tears in his eyes, nodding once sharply. Herc takes a moment to thank the chaplain before turning to his son and Raleigh.
“Come along now,” Herc says roughly, and Raleigh nudges Max into moving so Chuck would do so as well. The next few days, Raleigh knows, won’t be easy, but he’ll keep his promise to stand by the Hansens. Mako murmurs her condolences as they pass her by and Raleigh knows she’ll lend her support too. She’ll need company and kindness too, after Stacker’s death; being able to help her may be good for the Hansens, too.
It’s the least they can do for each other. They’re jaeger pilots.