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What is Built Endures

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From the moment Mako saw Stacker, she loved him. Standing atop his jaeger, sun blazing over his shoulders – but it wasn’t that he looked so strong and heroic. It was that he was up there, and she was down on the street in the rubble, and there was a behemoth lying behind them, but all his attention and concern was for her. His smile was for her. Though he was sent to kill the kaiju, in her heart he came for her.

*

He didn’t wait for a rescue helicopter. He got back in his jaeger and had it kneel on one knee and lowered its hand to her. She clambered up its pointer finger and she remembers the metal was warm under her hands and feet, warm from the sun or from the energy trapped inside of it or both perhaps. The jaeger groaned as it stood yet it was the gentlest ride she’d ever had, as smooth and slow as a good elevator. When she was on the jaeger’s palm, its fingers curled slightly, creating a bowl around her, and Stacker took her back to base that way, carried in his hand.

*

She didn’t fuss when the doctors took her in at the base. It hardly seemed worth the energy, after the terror she’d endured. What were some strangers, compared to being chased by a kaiju? What were some tests, compared to watching your parents die? And she was certain that Stacker would come to see her.

He did, about twenty minutes after they returned to base. He was still in his drivesuit, hard and shiny like an insect shell. He waited in the doorway of the exam room until she saw him, their dark eyes inevitably seeking each other out, and then he walked right to her and touched her face with his gloved hand. That, too, was warm. “The doctors said you’re being very good,” he said. “What is your name?”

“Mako Mori,” she answered, trying not to tremble. Trying to be brave. Trying not to remember that just last night, her father had swept the hair out of her eyes and kissed her forehead.

“My name is Stacker Pentecost,” he said to her, and it sounded like a promise.

*

She only learned later how hard Stacker had fought to keep her with him. He had asked her, of course, what she wanted to do and she had told him she wanted to stay. She wanted to stay on base and learn everything there was to know about jaegers and grow up and be strong and kill kaiju. That was her mission now.

So Stacker fought in his unyielding way, sweeping aside objections that a shatterdome was no place for a child, that she needed to go to school, to be with other children. When he held her in the middle of the night while she sobbed, he seemed to understand that going away wouldn’t make her feel better. It was only here that she could start learning to rebuild herself.

*

She had thought, when she was still a child and all she needed was Stacker’s steadying hand on her arm to make her feel safe, that some day she would be as big and strong as him. When she turned thirteen and was barely eye level with Stacker’s chest she accepted the truth and tailored her training to suit—speed, agility, and finesse were her friends, not brute strength. And besides a jaeger would be all the strength she needed.

Stacker told her all he had seen and done, but with the air of one relating a cautionary tale. She knew he privately hoped she would change her mind about becoming a pilot. He encouraged her to work on jaegers, to tinker with designs and examine drift technology and draw battle tactics all she wanted. But she knew in his heart he would never approve of her stepping into a cockpit. Like all fathers, he feared for her safety, and the love and resentment she felt because of this warred inside of her with increasing frequency.

Yet he still possessed the one thing she wanted to emulate most of all, and that was the calm he carried into the drift. She had tried meditation, yoga, even a few months of therapy—but the anger had been seared into her the day her family died, as indelibly as if it were carved into her very bones.

*

When she was fifteen Stacker asked her again. “You’re almost an adult now,” he said, and it was true. She had grown taller and felt changes in her body and one of the women on base had given her a biology book to read so she knew what to expect.

“I belong here,” she said, and Stacker put his hand on her shoulder. Later he brought her a manual on jaeger core replacement.

*

Stacker insisted she get a formal university education.

“You are sending me away,” she said.

“No. I’m asking you to advance your training,” he said.

“I could build a jaeger from scratch,” she said, and they both knew it was true.

Nevertheless she went, because Stacker asked it of her. She enrolled in a dual mechanical engineering and nuclear engineering program at MIT and tried not to think about how things felt different on the Atlantic coast. Not enough kaiju shelters, for one.

She worked ferociously, a dozen steps ahead of almost everyone after a steady childhood diet of jaeger construction and repair. At the end of three years she took her degrees early and returned to Alaska. Stacker was waiting for her, as immutable as ever.

“I learned,” she admitted.

“You were missed,” he said.

She could see he wanted to say more and remembered, unbidden, when she would clamber into his lap and read along with the mission reports on his desk. As he tried to climb the little wall of silence between them she swept it away. “I have an idea for reinforcing hull plating without significantly increasing mass,” she said.

*

She applied to the Jaeger Academy as soon as she left Cambridge. She was accepted right away and within a few months was the top of her class. She knew Stacker received reports on her progress and she knew he was proud of her because of the way his eyes shone as she stood at attention in his office. His mouth made dour, gruff sounds but his eyes said My Mako beat everyone’s test scores today.

She also knew how it hurt him not to be able to pilot anymore and so she promised herself that she would be good enough for the both of them. When she fought, it would be as though Stacker were out there fighting too, and if they were both fighting, how could they lose?

*

The years wore on and she never stepped inside a conn-pod except to work on it.

Gipsy Danger was a birthday gift of sorts, a torn hulk lurking in the back of a near-empty jaeger bay that Stacker had ordered moved over to the main bay for restoration. “Make her fight again,” he told Mako.

Gipsy Danger, her body still standing proudly, her arm lying nearby—it would take thousands of man hours and more resources than they could really afford but Mako could see the greatness that remained in those elegant lines.

She had in her hands a pile of dossiers for Gipsy Danger’s pilots. Her name was not among them, as per Stacker’s orders. But she would put herself into Gipsy Danger, everything Stacker taught her, everything she ever dreamed of using to kill a kaiju. That would have to be good enough.

*

After the Breach, she didn't have to drift to find Stacker. He was in the dome and the jaegers and the pride that straightened the spines of every man and woman who served in the PPDC. In the drift she was at peace. She was just Mako, who Stacker loved from the first moment he saw her.