The kaiju crashes into them, its giant mouth, with sharp, glistening rows of teeth, rips into their shoulder, dragging some of the jaeger back with it as it pulls away. They can feel it almost like it was their flesh instead, and pain reverberates in their mind.
They stagger back, and the kaiju is on them again, again, and they’re trying to get the plasma canon up, but the connection has been damaged, and it's not working. A claw busts through into the cockpit, and they scream as the metal is torn away, exposing them completely to the freezing air, and to the kaiju. It comes again, and tears them apart, tears his mind apart, and he looks to the side, and it’s Eggsy there, not Lee, staring at him in fear as he’s torn away. “Help me!” His voice screams through Harry’s mind.
Harry Hart wakes up with a jerk, sweat soaked and gasping for air. He sits up in bed, and puts his head in his hands, trying to calm his breathing. After a moment, he wipes the sweat off his forehead and gets up and turns the light on. He looks around the small room; he remembers what it was like to share a room, a life with someone, and his room always feels small and cold after one of those nightmares. He walks around, restless. He doesn't want to be here.
He knows from experience that trying to sleep again will just lead to very little sleep and more of the same nightmares, and so he changes out of his sweaty clothes, and chooses one of his most comfortable cardigans and tan slacks. He puts the slacks on, but lingers before he puts his shirt on, looking in the mirror. He slowly runs a hand over his drivesuit scars. Lee's face that night is clear in his mind, even this many years later.
With a grimace, he turns away and finishes dressing. He grabs two binders off his desk and leaves the room.
It's quiet when Merlin walks into LOCCENT. The lights are turned low, and there are only a handful of people present, a contrast to the bustling room during the day. Past the computers, through the window he can see the vast space down below, Jaegers standing silent and dark in their bays.
He approaches Elise, one of the officers who is usually in charge when Merlin isn’t on shift. She looks up as he gets closer. “Not a peep, sir,” She says, looking exasperated. “Which you already knew, since a loud, blaring alarm would have alerted you if there had been a breach.”
She just shakes her head, “And it’ll be better if you’re well rested when that happens. You and the Marshal both.”
He tenses. “Harry is also awake?”
She grimaces. “Yeah, he came wandering out an hour or two ago. Last I heard he was brooding in the lookout room.” She nods her head in the direction of aforementioned room. “See if you can convince him to go back to bed.” She wiggles her eyebrows suggestively.
“That’s not funny,” He says, his voice tight, but he does turn around and leave LOCCENT, heading to find Harry.
Sure enough, Harry is still there. He’s dressed casually for him, a warm burgundy cardigan on with tan slacks. He is standing with his back to the door, gazing out the large windows. Merlin wants to touch him, run his hands down the cardigan, run his hand through his hair. He doesn't.
The far wall is mostly large paneled windows, and there are tables and couches arranged throughout the room. The view through the window shows the ocean stretching out into the distance, waves lapping softly against the outside deck. The room is a relic from the days they were more confident about how the war would end, and weren’t as concerned about the danger of a kaiju reaching the Shatterdome.
“When was the last time you got a full night’s sleep?” Merlin asks, closing the door behind him.
Harry turns at his words, and he smiles briefly as he meets his eyes. “Before K-Day.”
“That sounds about right,” He says, navigating through the tables to stand next to him. Harry is standing in front of a table with papers on it. A glass of whisky is set off to the side, half full. He places a finger on the top paper, looking at what it is. “Nightmares?”
“Mmm.” Harry hums an agreement. He looks tired, and he looks sad. Merlin wishes there was something he could do to help.
“Do you want to talk about it?” He asks that every time, but Harry always demurs.
This time, though, he says, “I wouldn’t even know where to start.” He reaches out and takes a swallow of the whisky.
This is more than he’s gotten before. “Eggsy?” He ventures.
Harry’s mouth twists. “Eggsy dying the same way his father did often features prominently, yes.” With me watching and unable to do anything, feeling his death in my mind goes unspoken, but they both know what he means.
“He’s strong. And clever. I’ll do everything I can to prepare them.” Merlin says, unfortunately without much else to offer. It is quite likely that they’ll both see Eggsy die before the war ends, whether they win or lose.
“I know you will.” Harry sighs.
Merlin closes the binder Harry had been looking through and moves it to the side. It’s the recent reports from K-Sci, detailing exactly how fucked they probably will be in the near future. It’s not something Harry needs to be looking at right now. He pulls over one of the other binders.
“Let’s go over the candidates for tomorrow, then,” He suggests.
“You need to sleep.”
“So do you,” Merlin challenges. Harry meets his eyes, and then looks down at the papers.
“Thanks,” He says quietly, and Merlin just nods as they both sit down at the table.
“You look like shit, old man.”
Harry looks up from his desk and smiles warmly at him. “Good morning, Eggsy.”
He saunters in and perches himself on Harry’s desk like he owns it, his normal behavior when invading Harry’s space. “What’re you working on now? Have you eaten breakfast?” He asks, poking at a stack of papers.
“Yes, I’ve eaten,” He answers patiently, knowing from past experience that Eggsy would hound him if he avoided the question. Besides, it was true. This time. “I am just going over some of their information before the potential new recruits show up.”
“Oh, yeah, that's today, innit? Anyone interesting?”
“They’re all well qualified. Decent combat skills, simulator scores, did well on preliminary drift testing.” He shrugs slightly, a lift of one shoulder, “There’s a variety of professions, ages, and personalities, from what we’ve been able to tell, so hopefully at least one pair will work out. There’s one pair in particular I think you might like.”
“Yeah? You mean someone more like me?” He grins.
“That appears to be the case, at least on paper.” Harry agrees.
“Wicked. Any posh blokes from England?”
“There always are,” Harry responds, his voice dry. “They keep sending them over, despite my requests.” He glances at his watch. Almost time to meet the candidates. He stands up, and Eggsy slides off his desk.
“Eh, I suppose it’s worked out for them once or twice. You’re mostly wankers, though.”
“I have noticed that as well, Eggsy.” He says, and Eggsy snorts, following him out the door and loitering as Harry locks it. “Are you coming to hear the speech, then?”
“ ‘course I am. Last time you gave it I was in the group. Gotta be smug that I made it, don’t I?”
Harry chuckles. “Come along then.”
Eggsy trots alongside him, hands shoved into the pockets of his garish jacket, as they walk through the Shatterdome toward the main bay.
When they are getting closer to the bay, for no reason Harry can tell, Eggsy grins, and slows and turns his head to look down the hallway. Sure enough, a moment after Roxy appears around the corner. As always, there’s a sharp pain in his chest when he sees drift partners like that, and reminds him of when he had someone like that, someone who knew him more than he knew himself, who always knew where he was. But it had been six years now, and it didn’t hurt as much these days.
“Miss Morton.” He nods and her, and she smiles politely back.
“If they decide to spy on the new recruits, drift partners normal lurk on the upper railings,” He informs them.
“Sounds like a plan.” Eggsy enthuses, and grabs Roxy to drag her away.
Once upon a time, Harry had been the type of person that, when he was home, mostly drank tea, prepared nicely in a kettle on the stove. He’d even had an electric kettle in the quarters he’d shared with Lee when he’d been an active Jaeger pilot. Since he’d become the head of an entire Shatterdome, however, he’d discovered the joys of the coffee always found in the break room. The necessity of it, at least, if he wanted to remain on his feet and coherent for the entire day. Many a meal had also been scrounged from the donuts and pastries found there.
Favorite mug in hand- a gift from Eggsy with cartoon picture of his Jaeger on it- he heads toward the break room, going over in his head some of his first impressions of the candidates.
The door to the break room is swung open, towards the direction Harry is coming from, luckily, or unluckily, for Harry and the people having a conversation in the break room that don’t see him coming, because just as he’s within earshot, he hears, “The Marshal still looks too tired today. I told you to make sure he slept. Were you two doing other things instead? He probably does need to get laid.”
Harry jerks to a stop.
“For fuck’s sake, Elise.” Merlin says, sounding angry. Merlin rarely gets angry like that, when he’s irritated he gets detached and disdainful. Not like this. “I told you to drop it.”
“You’ve been with the Jaeger program from the beginning, Elise, you’ve known quite a lot of Jaeger pilots. You’ve seen what drift partners are like. He was a Jaeger pilot and lost his lover and drift partner. You don’t get over that. Have some respect. “
There’s a long silence, and Harry is rooted to the floor.
“I just want you to be happy,” Elise says quietly. “Both of you.”
“Well I would like our planet to not be overrun by giant lizards from another dimension, but I don’t think either one of us will be getting our wishes.”
That sounds like a final statement, and Harry is able to gather enough presence of mind to scramble backward and walk very quickly in the other direction, his still empty coffee mug clutched in his hand. He brushes past several techs in the hallways without a word, and he doesn’t know what kind of expression is on his face. He gets to his office, and he fumbles while trying to unlock the door. When he gets it open, he closes it quickly behind him, and then leans against the door, sliding down to the floor. He puts the mug on the floor and presses his palms over his eyes.
He doesn’t know what he’s thinking. He didn’t miss the implications of that conversation, that some people think he and Merlin are together, but more importantly he hadn’t missed the implication of what Merlin had said, or rather hadn’t said. The problem with Elise’s suggestion had been Harry’s feelings, not Merlin’s.
That possibility had never crossed his mind, not with Merlin or with anyone else since Lee died. He'd been a mess, both physically and emotionally, for a long time afterwards. Of course he’d moved on in some ways, the pain had gotten duller, but he still knows part of him had died that day as well, and he feels it.
He doesn’t know what he is feeling now. He needs Merlin. He doesn’t want anything to change. But he also… remembers the strange tone in Merlin’s voice.
The phone on his desk rings loudly in his room, and he jerked his head against the door. He’d been getting coffee in preparation for an important telephone call, and that didn’t change even though he didn’t get his coffee. He’s just lucky it’s not with visual. He pulls himself up and walks over to his desk, and sits down, his back straight in the chair. He picks up the phone. “Marshal Hart.”
It was interesting to watch the tests from the perspective of a pilot, experienced and battle tested, knowing the kinds of things that would be useful in the field. There’s no kaiju attack yet, and as Roxy and Eggsy had taken down the last kaiju to appear in their area, it is not their turn to be deployed if a kaiju does appear- that particular privilege goes to James and Percival- so he and Roxy have been observing the tests and evaluations for the last couple of days. Today they’re watching the Kwoon sparring matches.
“Kenneth and Randolf, eh?” Eggsy says. He’s sitting on one row of the bleachers, leaned back, relaxed, against the next row, shoulders touching Roxy’s legs. Roxy is sitting on the higher row, her feet braced on the lower seat. JB is sitting on a lower row, panting and staring at the people sparing.
“They certainly seem to understand each other, and they have excellent simulator scores, but it looks like they’re another version of Charlie.”
“Yeah, it seems they’re that brand. Eh, Harry won’t let them make it to the end if that’s right.”
“It’s not just about teamwork in the Jaeger, it’s within the whole Shatterdome,” She observes.
“And some of the others are just as good, so it should be alright.”
Roxy laughs, “You like Anyu and Irniq, don’t you?”
Eggsy snorts. “Of course. Their scores are just as good, anyway. They know what they’re doing.” The other candidates are watching the match as well, clustered on the other side of the room. All of the partners are watching the match, talking quietly with their partners. Anyu and Irniq are off to the side, and based on what Eggsy has seen previously, their tight expressions indicate it has been made clear that they are not welcomed with the others, and that they are annoyed by this fact.
“I think Marshal Hart likes them too. He has a soft spot for people who remind him of you,” Roxy says.
“And my dad,” Eggsy smirks. “It’s not just that, though. He likes people who are kind. And have, you know, manners and stuff.”
The spar ends, the last one of the day, and Merlin eyes them over his clipboard as they gather in. Merlin doesn't give anything way, only informing them about where they are expected to show up the following day.
When he’s done, and many of the candidates have scattered, Eggsy heaves himself off the bench and wanders over to Anyu and Irniq, who haven't left yet, and are talking to each other. They stop talking and stare at him as he and Roxy approach.
“Don’t worry about those assholes,” He says, “Believe me, you look better than they do with that sort of behavior. I mean, I got in.”
“That’s easy for you to say, sir.” Eggsy hates being called sir. Shatterdome workers know better than to call him that. “You’re the son of Marshal Hart’s former partner.” Anyu says, frowning.
“Well, if you won't trust me about Harry's opinions, believe me, Merlin wouldn’t have let me that far if I hadn’t earned it,” Eggsy says wryly.
Anyu and Irniq both glance over at Merlin, who is frowning at his clipboard and typing something on to in. As if sensing their gaze, he looks up and stares at them before returning to the clipboard. “Now that I can believe,” Irniq says, looking intimidated.
“You’ve very done well so far,” Roxy says, “Just keep doing what you’ve been doing, and it will work out for you. Even if it’s not as a Jaeger pilot.”
“Thanks for the reassurance, ma’am.” Anyu smiles.
“I’m sorry, gentlemen.” Chester King said, looking serious. Harry wants to reach through the screen and strangle him. “But we cannot afford to give you any additional funding. Your Jaegers have been less effective against the more recent kaiju, and it was decided that the Anti-Kaiju Wall presents a much more reasonable solution. We will continue to fund the current Jaegers, while the wall is being built, but no more.”
“We need to stop them from coming once and for all. Which we might be able to do if we got the funding to build better Jaegers that could stand up to the new categories,“ Harry argues.
“I’m sorry, but the vote has been decided,” King says, looking sympathetic. Harry doesn’t believe it for a moment, and, with effort, he does not audibly grind his teeth.
“Thank you for your time,” He says, inclining his head, and cuts off the connection.
Merlin and Harry sit there for a moment. “We knew that was coming,” Merlin says, leaning against the desk.
Harry takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. “That doesn’t make it easier to hear.”
“No, no it doesn’t,” Merlin sighs, “We can still get another Jaeger or two's worth of money out of Valentine.”
“I don’t particularly like being indebted to him, but it looks like we’ll have little choice.” Harry looks down at his hands.
There’s a moment of silence as they are both lost in thought, and then Merlin says abruptly, “Well, there’s nothing we can do at the moment. Let’s get some dinner.”
Harry’s fingers twitch. Avoiding Merlin outside of work hours had mostly just shown how much time they spent together, and he didn’t have the energy to continue doing that, not when Merlin was his closest friend.
“Okay,” He agrees, looking up, and Merlin relaxes.
“You need to eat more,” He says, and guides him out of the conference room.
Harry stares at his back as they walk through the hallways of the Shatterdome. The idea of being in a relationship again seems foreign to him, and maybe like a betrayal to Lee, though he knows better than that.
But if he would want to try to open up like that to someone again, it would be Merlin. He had been Harry’s best friend since Lee died, and a close friend long before that. Harry had often wondering why he was single, and he still doesn’t know exactly how to feel about the revelation that appears to be the answer. Confused, afraid, but also… flattered, and a bit pleased.
They enter the mess hall, and are immediately flagged down by Eggsy. He’s sitting with James and Percival, some of the other teams, and the several candidate pairs that are still left. After Harry and Merlin both acknowledge him with a wave, he sits back down at the table, and breaks out into a wide grin at something Roxy says.
You might not be happy that he’s a Ranger too, Lee. Harry thinks as he gets his food. But you’d be glad to see him happy, like he wasn’t before you died. And I know... I know you’d want to see me happy.
The field has been narrowed down to two pairs, Irniq and Anyu, Kenneth and Randolf, and Eggsy is lounging in the Jaeger bay when one of the J-Tech officer slides up next to him. “Ah, uh, Ranger Unwin.”
Eggsy squints at him.
“Uh, Eggsy,” He corrects, “Can you find the candidates for me? I had a question I wanted to ask them about modifications we’re making. They all had… opinions.”
Eggsy snorted, “That’s fair, I guess, if might be your Jaeger. Yeah, I’ll find them.” He whistles for JB, who reluctantly stops harassing another J-Tech sucker for food and trots over. “Let’s go, boy.”
He heads down towards the barracks the recruits are housed in, JB trotting obediently at his heels. They’re all housed in the same room at this point, and as he opens the door he can almost hear Harry admonishing him for opening the door without knocking. But his thoughts are abruptly cut off by the fact that Kenneth and Randalf are in the room, and they are on the wrong side, with one of Irniq’s duffle bags open beneath them. Kenneth is holding a baggie with white powder in it.
Eggsy stares at them. They stare back, like deer in headlights.
“What the fuck,” Eggsy says blankly.
Then he’s across the room in an instant, grabbing Kenneth’s shirt with two hands. Kenneth flails and tries to grab Eggsy’s arms, dropping the baggie. “What the fuck are you doing. Are you planting that shit in their stuff?” JB starts barking in the background.
“It’s not like they wouldn’t have gone back to it eventually.” Randalf scoffs, coming at him. Eggsy releases Kenneth and turns and punches Randolf in the face. He staggers back with a shout, and Kenneth jumps on him. He grapples with Kenneth for a few second and manages to get him off, but then Kenneth manages to clip him in the jaw.
Roxy better show up soon he thinks, a moment before he becomes aware that she’s nearby. He slams an elbow into Randolf’s chest as he tries to rejoin the fight.
“What the hell,” He hears, and then his partner is across the room, helping him against the two other boys, and with the ease of two jaeger pilots already used to working with each other, they manage to get both boys pinned down.
Eggsy looks over at Roxy, and she nods. Keeping Randolf in the chokehold with one arm, she pulls out a cellphone and quickly hits a contact. “We need security officers down in the recruits’ dorm.”
He can almost hear Merlin’s exasperated sigh from across the room.
There’s a knock on his door and Harry doesn’t look up. “Come in,” He calls, continuing to write. The door swings open.
“Harry.” He looks up. Merlin looks deeply annoyed, and Eggsy is holding a bag of ice against his jaw.
“What happened?” He asks quickly, jerking to his feet.
“Eggsy caught Randolf and Kenneth planting cocaine in the possessions of the other candidates.” Merlin informs him. To most people his expression would be bland, but Harry can tell that he can’t quite believe this is a situation that he has to deal with in the midst of everything else.
Harry stares at him, feeling about the same. ”You’re serious?”
“Yes, and they confessed quickly enough. I believe they think we will understand.”
Harry rubs his head with the palm of his hand, rounding the desk and moving toward them. “I grew up in a similar environment that they did, and I still fail to understand what they’re thinking most of the time.”
Merlin shrugs. “Some of it is simple jealousy.”
“Some of it,” Harry says grimly. “Quite a lot of it is simply classism and racism. There’s a reason aristocrats developed weak chins.”
Merlin smirks slightly, and Eggsy grins. Harry taps the bag of ice pressing against Eggsy's jaw and raises a questioning eyebrow.
“I might’ve gotten into a fight when I found them,” He admits cheerfully. “I hit Randolf pretty good.”
“You punched some of our recruits.” Harry clarifies, “You probably shouldn’t have done that.” There’s no real censure there, and Eggsy knows it.
“Like you wouldn’t have done it yourself. I saved you the trouble, old man. You’re the one with the good reputation.“
“Only because they’ve forgotten his younger years,” Merlin contributes.
Harry eyes him, “No one asked you.”
Merlin full on smirks at him now. And Harry lets himself think about it, what it would be like to step closer and wipe that smirk away, and his chest tightens and he feels hot. He can definitely imagine that, and abruptly he wants that, he wants to press him up against the door frame of his office and kiss him until they both forget, for a little while, about British aristocracy and funding cuts, and see if he could make Merlin smile like he used to, back in the beginning. He might not have wanted him then, but he definitely remembers that Merlin had been happier then. They all had.
Something must show in his face, because Merlin’s smirk fades and he frowns slightly at him in concern. Harry shakes his head and looks to the side. Or maybe it would just make things worse. Merlin’s right enough, he does have a lot of baggage left from Lee’s death and the ragged tear in his mind. “Send them in to me, I suppose.”
He moves back toward his desk and gathers his thoughts in the time it takes for the two to leave and for Merlin to shuffle the young men into his room. They look angry, indignant, but just a bit nervous. These young men grew under the shadow of the kaiju and the legend of the Jaegers, and there's something to be said for being the Marshal of a Shatterdome. Merlin settles in the back of the office, his arms crossed across his chest, his electric clipboard in his hands.
“Gentlemen,” He starts, “Except I can’t call you that anymore, now can I?”
Kenneth opens his mouth, but Harry cuts him off. “Being a gentleman has nothing to do with your birth. It has to do with how you conduct yourself. You proved yourselves today to be both unworthy of the title of gentlemen, and definitely unworthy of the title of Ranger. Your job in both is to help and protect, not lie, and not to try to make things worse for other people. We’re here to save lives and to the world, and we don’t have time to waste on you and your immaturity. You’re dismissed from this program.”
“My father will hear about this!” Kenneth bursts out.
“That’s nice,” Harry says, as Merlin grabs them by the shoulders and drags them out of the room.
However, they’re probably only a couple feet away from Harry’s office when piercing alarms split the air. Harry jumps up and bolts out of the room, and Merlin has already abandoned the boys to also rush toward LOCCENT.
Merlin is reading his clipboard as they jog, and it's giving him details. “Category four,” He reports grimly.
After several minutes they reach LOCCENT, and several people glance at them as they enter. Merlin strides to the front of the room, Harry following close behind him. Elise moves out of the way and lets Merlin take her seat. Harry puts his hands on the back of his chair and they both watch as the blip on the screen moves toward the shore.
“Percival and James are in Green Knight,” Someone reports.
Merlin nods in acknowledgement. “Percival, James, can you hear me?” He touches a button on the screen.
“Yes, sir,” They chorus.
“Initiating the drift.” He says, and after a moment, the screen indicates a successful drift. Under Merlin and the other techs' direction, the Jaeger is moved and lowered down into the water, and they all watch as the Green Knight starts to move toward the approaching kaiju on the screen.
“Five miles out, southwest,” Merlin says, and they acknowledge the information. For now they have visuals from the Jaeger’s cock pit, but the cameras often get damaged in the fights. They can see the ocean spread out before them as the Green Knight trudges slowly through the cold water.
They get closer and closer to the location of the kaiju, but the creature isn't immediately obvious. The Green Knight slows down and proceeds more cautiously. Everyone watching is tense and on edge, and several jump when the kaiju emerges suddenly from the water, slamming into their Jaeger.
It is a purple-red color, and has two arms with long claws on the end, and they all hear a screeching sound through the microphone as the claws rake at the body of the Green Knight. Harry is abruptly reminded of his last experience in a Jaeger, and air leaves his lungs.
The Green Knight shoves the kaiju off and it crashes into the ocean again. The Green Knight moves into a more defensive posture before the kaiju quickly recovers and lunges back out of the water. The two trade blows, with the plasma cannon getting in several good shots, but it becomes clear that this category four kaiju is stronger and able to withstand more than most kaiju they’ve fought before.
The room is hushed, save for the sound of harsh breathing they can heard through the connection; everyone is standing in front of their stations watching the screen intently.
The kaiju gets in a good blow to the arm, ripping some of the electronics off, disabling the cannon on that side. The Green Knight staggers back. Merlin curses under his breath, and Harry’s hands tighten on the chair. The view tilts alarmingly, and the next thing they see is a claw on the screen, and the jaeger falls back again, and then there’s an awful cracking sound, and the screen goes black.
“The sword…“ James shouts, before there’s a similar sound again, and the feed cuts off. Some people gasp, and the rest are frozen in horror. Harry is ice cold, and Merlin slams his fists against the table.
“Eggsy. Roxy.” He looks behind him, knowing that they would have run to LOCCENT as well when the alarm went off.
They both look like they’ve been punched in the stomach, but they immediately say, “Yes, sir,” and turn to run to the Drivesuit room.
“Wait,” Merlin says, and Harry whirls around. Both dots on the screen blink once, then go out. “They took it down with them,” Merlin says, and lets out a shocked breath.
“Helicopters,” Harry says, “I want helicopters out there right now.”
They know better than to put drift partners in the separate rooms, so once they’re out of surgery, both James and Percival are put in the same room, and Harry immediately parks himself in a chair in the room. Harry has been sitting in a chair since then, listening to the slow beeping of the medical equipment. Percival woke up a couple times, but he'd been bleary and confused, and fallen asleep quickly again afterwards. Harry doubts he'll remember those instances.. Nurses have been in and out, and as word got around that the rangers were able to be seen, the few other other Jaeger teams visited, including Eggsy and Roxy, but also many people from J-Tech and K-Sci. To those staffing the Shatterdomes, Jaeger teams are friends and heroes all mixed into one, and James has always been friendly and outgoing, and Percival, while quiet, was always kind.
Merlin hasn’t been by even after several hours, but he's in charge of organizing and coordinating with the local teams in charge of removing the dead kaiju, the damaged Jaeger, and dealing with kaiju blue. When this kind of thing happens he watches his friends fight and bleed on the screens in front of him, and he doesn’t get to visit them afterwards to see that they’re okay, or that they’re not.
A couple hours in, though, Harry some new guests. There’s a shuffle at the door, and he looks up. It’s Irniq and Anyu, and they're nervous and uncertain, and he assumes they don’t know if they’re allowed in.
“You can come in,” He says quietly, “Just keep your voices down.”
They nod quickly and move slowly into the room, looking over at the unconscious Jaeger pilots. He’s not surprised to note that they’re holding hands; every time something like this happens, when the rangers visit, all of them, no matter their age, those who are together, those who are related, all of them are touching somewhere, like they don’t want there person torn away from them. And there’s a reason Irniq and Anyu made it to the final round.
“This is how it will end, you know. This or something worse. If you agree to go out there.”
They both turn their gazes to him. “We know, sir,” Irniq says seriously, and Anyu nods. “We’ve almost died before.”
“And seen people die,” Anyu adds, “We know what we’re getting into.”
“As much as anyone ever does, anyway,” There’s a wry twist to his mouth, and Harry inclines his head in acknowledgement.
“There’s worse ways to die. And worse reasons. We want to protect people. At least… buy them more time. Even people like Kenneth and Randolf. Everyone deserves time and a chance to change,” Anyu says, raising her chin.
His chest hurts. They're young, and hopeful, and they do remind him of people he has loved. “They will,” He says impulsively, “We’ll figure something out. We can win this war.”
Her face lights up, and Irniq grins. “We’d be honored to help, sir.”
“And we’re honored to have you,” He smiles at them. “We’ll start the paperwork tomorrow.”
“Thank you, sir.” Anyu darts forward and adds a card to the already large pile of get well cards that has been growing on the table. “When they wake up, tell them thank you from us. They were kind to us, the last couple of weeks,”
“I will,” He agrees gravely, “Thank you for visiting them,”
After they’ve left, he presses his hand against his lips and closes his eyes.
It’s almost 3 in the morning by the time Merlin shows up, and Harry isn’t surprised to be suddenly greeted with, “You need to go to sleep.”
“So do you,” Harry responds, not looking over, even though he'd spent the last several hours thinking about him- thinking about him, and Lee, and Percival and James, the two new pilots, and maybe most importantly of all, thinking about himself. He hears footsteps, and Merlin comes to a stop next to his chair, so close Harry can feel his body heat. Merlin lets out a long sigh, and rolls his shoulders, trying to relax them.
“I intend to,” He says, “I just wanted to check on them first. What’s the prognosis?”
“They’ll live,” Harry reports tiredly, “James has burns from an electrical fire that started in the cockpit. Percival has a broken arm and leg. We won’t know the consequences of their being ripped out of the drift equipment like that until they wake up.”
“We gain one new drift team just to possibly lose another. Not even taking into account the state of their Jaeger.” His head hurts. He takes in a breath, and then slowly leans his head sideways to rest against Merlin’s side. Merlin goes still. “I’m tired, Merlin,” He says. After a moment, Merlin hesitantly reaches out and gently, briefly, touches the back of his head.
“Go to sleep, Harry.” He says softly.
Harry doesn’t want to move. It feels good, being close to someone like this again. But after a moment, he pulls away and slowly gets to his feet. He looks at Merlin, who looks wary. “Come with me.” And Merlin follows as he leaves, with one last look behind at his pilots.
When they get to his quarters, Merlin is looking more apprehensive, though few besides Harry would be able to tell. He’s tense, but he still follows Harry into the room and closes the door behind them. It's not a large room, but it’s larger than many others in the Shatterdome. There’s a queen sized bed and a night table with odd collectibles on it, and a book shelf off to one side, filled with a surprising variety of books, from nonfiction to Hemingway to Terry Pratchett. On the walls are butterfly boards next to poster prints of all the Jaegers that served with or under Harry Hart.
Harry steps over to his desk. He mainly uses his office for work, but sometimes he works here too. On his desk are a handful of pictures, of course one of him and Lee in the drivesuits, one of Eggsy and Roxy beaming after their first drift in the jaeger, and one of he and Merlin, with a bunch of techs in the background, from a Shatterdome Christmas party several years ago.
“Was there something you wanted to talk about?” Merlin asks, and Harry turns to look at him. He doesn’t meet Harry’s eyes, awkwardly standing across the room, staring at the knick-knacks on Harry’s night table.
Harry knew this was a bad idea the moment he told Merlin to come back with him, but he couldn’t take it back. He doesn’t know what to say. He was never good at this kind of thing, and he’d rarely needed to say anything like this with Lee. The drift took care of that. But he knows he needs to do something. He’s tired, and he’s lonely, and he knows Merlin is tired and lonely as well. Funding is drying up and the kaiju are coming faster and stronger. The only way to win this war is together. So he thinks of Eggsy and Roxy, and Eggsy and his mum, and all the people he knows in his Shatterdome, and their families, and he thinks of Lee, and what Lee would want him to do.
“The drift is an amazing thing, yes. If you’ve never experienced it, you can’t even imagine it. But don’t give it too much credit, Merlin.” He moves closer.
“What do you mean?” Merlin asks slowly, looking confused.
“When Lee died it felt like half of me got torn away. And that’s never going to quite go away. But it’s been six years, Merlin. I've moved on, to a certain degree. If a kaiju got past the Jaegers and stomped on the Shatterdome and killed you, I would feel much the same way I did six years ago.”
Merlin stares at him, and there’s a cautious hope dawning in his eyes. “Don’t say something you don’t mean, Harry.”
“I do mean it. I’ve thought about it quite thoroughly, the last two weeks, and especially today. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it. I wouldn’t do that to either one of us.” He touches Merlin’s cheek with his knuckles, and then slides his hand down to rest on his shoulder. He slowly leans in, giving Merlin time to stop him, just in case he’s read everything wrong. But Merlin moves in, meeting him in the middle. They kiss slowly for a moment, learning each other’s mouths, and then Merlin grabs his tie and his shirt front and hauls him in closer, kiss turning more desperate. When they’re forced to separate, both breathing heavily, Merlin searches his face again, looking for something. That Harry still means it, perhaps. His eyes are wide and his cheeks are flushed, and he must see what he’s looking for, because he starts smiling. And it’s a heady feeling, that Harry can make someone look like that, even now, and that it’s Merlin.
He leans forward and rests his head on Merlin’s shoulder, and closes his eyes, breathing in his scent. Merlin’s arms wrap around him, pulling him closer.
"All the Rangers that have died or been injured... they're buying us time. I think that you deserve better than someone with a history like mine, but I need to... we need to take advantage of the time that we have."
Harry feels him slowly nod in agreement. "Can I stay?" Merlin asks quietly.
"Please." That sounds nice, not to wake up alone.
Merlin releases him, clearly reluctant. "Get ready, then." But Harry leans in and kisses him again, quickly, leaving Merlin smiling again as he went into the small bathroom. He stared at his reflection in the mirror a moment, his heard hammering in you just. "You can do this, he silently tells his reflection. He splashes some water on his face before quickly brushing his teeth and getting out a second toothbrush for Merlin. They swap places, Harry giving Merlin his turn in the bathroom, and he's in the middle of changing his clothes when Merlin comes back out, and stops with a sharp, indrawn breath. Abruptly, Harry is aware that he's shirtless. He flushes, but still grins at him.
"See something you like?" He asks, raising an eyebrow. In two quick strides, Merlin is across the room. He reaches up and slowly traces his fingers across some of the drivesuit scars on his chest, and his expression is hard to read. "Merlin," He says, and Merlin looks up and meets his eyes. Heat flares in his eyes, and he drops his hands down to Harry's hips, kissing him again, and backing him up against the dresser. Harry puts one hand on his jaw and the other hand clenches the at the shirt on Merlin's back. They break apart for breath, and Merlin starts kissing his jaw, Harry's hand moving to the back of his neck, where he tightens his grip and sucks in a sharp breath when Merlin starts kissing his neck. "What happened to sleep?"
Merlin makes a frustrated sound against his neck, and Harry grins. "When we haven't been up all night dealing with the effects of a kaiju attack..." Merlin says as he draws back.
Harry reaches up and brushes a thumb across his lips. "I look forward to it."
It’s only a couple hours after they'd fallen asleep together when Harry awakes with a gasp, breaking out of another nightmare. He sits up. Merlin mumbles something, then rolls over and slowly blinks his eyes open, the sheet slipping down his bare chest. That’s enough to bring Harry mostly back to the present. He wants to touch.
“Nightmare?” Merlin asks sleepily. Harry nods. “Do you need to get out?” He asks, looking more awake and hiking himself up on his elbows.
And Harry finds, surprisingly, that he does not. He doesn’t want to go back to sleep, but staying here, with Merlin, is a much different prospect then staying awake and alone in his room. “No,” He decides, and lowers himself back down onto his side and he allows himself to hesitantly reaches out to touch Merlin's shoulder, leaning into him. Merlin instantly shifts so that he can wrap an arm around him. “I’d rather stay here.”
“Try to at least rest your eyes,” Merlin says, and he can hear the smile in his voice. He runs one hand through Harry’s hair, and Harry relaxes against him. After a moment, Merlin adds, slowly, “I can help, then?”
“You’ve always helped, Merlin,” Harry says, and smiles against his skin.