Almost anyone, technically, can Drift. It’s finding someone you can Drift with that’s the problem, and it’s virtually impossible to learn if you don’t know how to connect to another person’s mind. All pilots have the ability, it’s just learning to do it consciously that’s the crux of the problem. That’s why the trick to recruiting Jaeger potentials is to do it in pairs, it’s why there’s so many relatives in the program - they’re already Drift compatible. Effectively everyone alive has some level of psychic ability (“There’s so much shit in the rain, in the ground, we’re all science projects now,” Yancy says to him in the lobby of the testing facility, filling out their medical history and checking out nurses), most people are just never aware of it because they never have reason to be. And even if you can find someone whose mind matches yours, unless someone actually tells you what you’re doing, you’re still none the wiser.
The vast majority of Jaeger pilots can drift with each other, it’s just a matter of fit. If someone gave you a pair of running shoes that were three sizes too big, technically you could still use them - stuff the toes, tighten the laces, adjust your gait - but a co-pilot, a partner, is custom-made for you, molded to the shape of you. Try running with the real thing after a lifetime of knock-offs. You might as well have wings.
The five years he spends on the Wall are one long, repeating day in his memory. There is something that he genuinely finds soothing about repetitive menial labor, always has, he thinks there might be something slightly OCD about the way washing dishes and doing sit ups always calmed him down as a kid (this is setting aside the picture thing entirely). He finds ways to pass the time, learns that for inexplicable reasons he like welding curves better than straight lines and putting in screws to caulking. He reads the same book, like, four times before finding a new one.
One day he looks up from the scaffolding and realizes that he’s almost exactly at Jaeger height and has to wrap his hand tight against the metal to keep from stepping out into the air. Not because he wants to kill himself or anything, just because for a split second his mind felt that old equilibrium and he just knew he should be able to, should be able to walk straight across the valley in front of him and out into the sea and on forever until he finds whatever’s next.
The hardest thing he does in five years is give Mako Mori back that fucking umbrella. He wants to keep it forever - sleep with it by his bed, always live in damp rainy places so he’ll have an excuse to use it - because it was something she’d touched.
The Kaidonovskys come back from a test run when he’s in the cafeteria with Herc, shoveling bread and potatoes and spring rolls into his mouth like someone’s about to try and take them away from him. They’re both very...noticeable, as blond as they are tall and as commanding as they are blond. They walk with a gait that’s somewhere between a military march and a strut. He can tell it’s all confidence, too. He walks like a cocksure asshole because he’s actually a little bowlegged. They’ve just got balls.
They swagger over to the food line, arms wrapped tight around each other and get so distracted kissing and touching each other’s faces and hair that they hold up the line for spaghetti. Their hands are creeping into places that are maybe not strictly appropriate for all ages present. Raleigh catches himself smiling. Almost everyone in the room just ignores it - people in the line just skirting around them and carrying on - because they’ve seen it before and they know, more or less, but a few faces go slaw-jacked and scandalized.
A cadet or a tech or someone (looks about fifteen, toothpicks for arms, freckles everywhere) on his other side says, “What the actual fuck am I witnessing right now?” loud enough that Herc hears and laughs around the glass of water he’s got to his mouth.
“Don’t worry, kid, it’ll be over soon. It’s a pilot thing.”
“I’m not judging,” the kid goes on, staring shamelessly, “I just wanna know.”
Herc’s shoulders go as square as his jaw for a second and Raleigh hunches over his food a little more to get clear of the blowback. Herc rounds on the techie.
“A: that is none of your goddamn business. B: it’s called velcroing and it is a recommended medical technique for pilots after a drift. C: that is none of your goddamn business.”
At the base in Sitka they’d called it cling-wrapping, but velcroing is what most bases use to refer to the way pilots deal with the after-effects of Drifting. The separation from each other is so jarring that the simplest way to ease themselves back into normal interactions is to stay as physically close as possible. He and Yancy used to do it all the time, hugging each other tightly for no reason, stumbling back to their shared quarters after a successful run and passing out squeezed into the same bunk, sleeping back to back with their legs falling off the narrow mattress like they were kids again and not scared of zombie movies at all, Mom.
Pilots don’t talk about velcroing much, or at least not with non-pilots. The bond between Jaeger pilots is more than personal, it’s a person, someone else’s whole self, their deepest fears and shames and desires. Drifting is trust, total and complete, letting someone else rifle through all the guts of you and not doubting that they’ll leave things the way they found them. Of course they don’t talk about it. Of course no one asks. The fate of mankind literally does depend on the ability of two people to trust each other absolutely. There’s a lot that pilots don’t talk about with non-pilots, which is a shame in a way, because it means there’s so little information to prepare the rookies for what they’re getting into. It’s why Mako has no context for the flashing neon smoke signals she sends careening through his brain whenever she’s even vaguely nearby. Speaking of.
He feels her somewhere at the back of the room and he tries to look for her without looking like he’s looking for her and gets so distracted by trying to seem nonchalant that he tries to eat with the wrong hand twice. He just wants to be able to touch her, just once - not even in a weird way, just shake her hand, brush her shoulder in the hallway, anything.
He is a fucking wreck, basically, and if Herc notices he’s kind enough not to mention it.
The candidate try-outs are a pointless waste of his time, because his co-pilot is standing ten feet behind him, making pursed little grumpy faces every time he does something right and scowling at him whenever he does something wrong. If he’s distracted, he wants to snap, it’s because she’s screaming at him, her mind sending off pissy little signal flares every time he so much as looks at a candidate.
He looks around the room after throwing the latest disaster across the training floor, throwing out a help me here, guys expression to a wall of blank faces. Pentecost doesn’t even blink at him as Mako sends another dart of possessive irritation at him for no visible reason at all except that he’s breathing.
He doesn’t feel it, he thinks with a start. None of them do. No one’s ever told her what she’s doing because no one’s ever felt it the way he’s feeling it right now. It’s unacceptable.
“Can we change this up?” He asks petulantly, trying to keep his heart from bursting out of his chest and throwing itself at her.
Five minutes later she’s got her shoes off and he starts experimentally feeling out the edges of her mind with his. She lets his first strike land harmlessly an inch away from her face. Then she lashes out, quick as a snake, and then the whole thing is kind of a haze of grunting and clacking noises from their sticks hitting each other and then she flips him over her shoulder onto the ground. It’s the first time she’s ever touched him and it knocks the air right out of his lungs.
He’s so giddy with the thrill of it that he sends her flying over his hip ten seconds later just to have an excuse to touch her again. He feels her gearing up for what’s next and it’s hard to dodge her flying arms and legs when all he wants to do is spin her around the room in his arms and scream a lot because he’s found her, he is seeing her for the first time right this very second and he’s not ever letting her go.
Her mind slams into him like a freight train. So does her foot. He lets it. (Her mind, not her foot. He couldn’t have blocked her last hit if he’d had an extra stick and all his blood in his head where it belonged.)
He sees her feel it, sees her eyes go wide in complete confusion, the adrenaline and the kick from connecting with him hitting her all at once, hair in her eyes and panting. He lays flat on his back for a long extra second, lets himself savor it for just a moment and then his entire body is screaming at him to get on his feet and he can’t claim her fast enough, can’t stop himself from putting his hands all over her in congratulations, the whole time his mind singing mine mine mine mine mine.
When Pentecost changes his mind he can feel her clear across the base. He has to stop in the middle of a hallway and blink the fireworks of her joy out of his eyes, grinning vacantly like he’s punch-drunk or stoned. He doesn’t look at her right away in the test run because she wants to surprise him, and he wants to feel her happiness at doing it.
He’s so giddy with her nearness and how close the Drift is, it’s hard to keep his voice serious to brace her for it.
Turns out he can’t even do that. He watches her scream wordlessly at the sky and can’t do a single thing to help her. This is her memory, and she doesn’t remember him here.
How does he describe coming back to the base after Leatherback? The morning after great, amazing, earth-shattering, life-ruining sex? Waking up the next morning and the other person is still there, still as naked as you are and smiling like they can’t remember how to be shy? Getting baptized? A bone realigned? A hundred bones? It’s like that, but it’s better, how he and Mako look at each other and just know. Know everything. Waves of pain and fear keep hitting them from all side and Pentecost is bleeding all over his collar, but underneath all that is a peace he’s never known before in his life, not for one second.
She’s his home now, from this moment until he dies.
However soon that is. It’s enough.
Don’t go, he hears from very far away.
It’s Mako. So he doesn’t. He’s not very good at saying no to her, he’s realizing.
“Doc, it’s tradition,” Choi half-screams with indignation. “We always do it after a win!”
“You, are welcome to participate it whatever arcane ritual sacrifices the crew deems fit. These pilots are going to sick bay where they are going to stay as long as I feel like it.”
Choi loses the battle and stalks off, promising them both that he’s gonna save them from this hellhole if he has to rewire the security cameras, and the doctor all but pelts him with tongue depressors on his way out the door.
They’re both hooked up to what feel like about a million tiny machines, but they’re squeezed together onto one bed, his head tucked under Mako’s chin so he can hear her heartbeat echoing in time with the monitor. Their arms and legs are tangled so tightly together it actually kind of hurts, but he thinks that he’d really, truly rather die right this second than loosen his grip on her.
They stay like that for what feels like hours but is probably less, their only motion to occasionally resettle themselves or change the grip of their hands, when he hears the door creak open. For a brief moment he can hear the sounds of the celebration in the mess (the rhythmic chanting of Jae-ger-BOMBS! Jae-ger-BOMBS! Jae-ger-BOMBS! making him smile, which makes his whole face hurt). Then comes the gravel-rough brogue that means Herc speaking in hushed tones on the other side of their curtain.
“They’re both stable,” Doc Fraser says somewhere off to their left, “But I think you know that they mostly have their own medicine for this kind of thing.”
For a split second he feels the scrape of her teeth against his scalp and he shivers all the way down his spine, like he’s convulsing.
Not yet, he feels her think. Later.
There’s always a low-grade connection there, but if Drifting is like having a direct line to someone else brain, the everyday connection is like hearing your phone blip to let you know you have a text message and not being able to read it, or even to find your phone in your bag. For all that he knows her inside and out now, it’s still a constant ache that he can’t know exactly what she’s thinking and feeling every second of every day after the last Jaeger dies.
He remembers the constant tug of his brother’s mind on his, a taut kite line stretching away from him. He remembers, too, the sensation of it being cut, flying away from him too fast to even see, how he dragged around the absence behind him like a dead weight for five years until running face-first into the edge of her mind on the helipad. He tries to be grateful, but it’s easy to forget.
Other things he knows: that she can’t remember her parents’ faces anymore. Stacker fills up her memories of family, tall as a building, until all that's left of her life before is a crushing sensation of fear and rage, pressing in on all sides.
The more emotion tied to a memory the clearer it is, so memories trigger emotions, sure, but the weird science is that emotions trigger memories way more often than the other way around. So feeling happy makes you remember times you were happy and feeling sad makes you remember terrible things, which makes you feel worse. Three days after they’ve been released from sick bay, he’s standing on outer wall of the Shatterdome, just looking out at the sea, an oily layer of Kaiju Blue still visible on top of the water. Mako comes up behind him and catches one of his fingers through two of hers, and he feels so safe and so cared-for that suddenly all he can see are the bear sheets.
Stacker bought her sheets with cartoon bears on them, kawaii, with big eyes and ears and round paws. It was so important to him, she can realize now, for her to have pretty things. He wanted her to have joy and beauty in her life. Stacker praised her only when she deserved it, free with his affection but frugal with compliments, but he bought flowers for their house every week and let her paint her room yellow and never said a word about the blue hair.
The disastrous test run was the first time she’d seen their faces clearly in years.
She still has the sheets, they still fit the same standard-issue sized mattress. She sleeps on them that whole first week and Raleigh runs his hands over the bears and smiles each time he sees them, like he’s recognizing an old friend.
They come back to her room after a debrief with several presidents and a prime minister, wrung out and hollow-feeling from retelling the same story all over again about how everyone they loved died and then they saved the world. They sit next to each other on the bed, leaning against the wall. He hooks his ankle around hers and she closes her eyes and dozes off against his shoulder.
Soon, he feels right before her eyes close all the way, and he stays up for another hour listening to her breathe.
It takes three times as long to recover from the Breach mission as any he’s ever been on - the Drift involved was frankly insane. Everything is amplified, including the normal velcro time, so a week later, she’s sitting on her bed with her legs stretched out in front of her, and Raleigh’s sprawled on his stomach, with his body in between her legs and his head resting on her lap, arms loosely circling her waist. He can hear her pulse faintly with his ear pressed to her leg, her mind a low-grade hum along his neck. It’s not the most comfortable he’s ever been, but it’s maybe the most content. She’s got her files spread out across his back like a desktop and he can feel her pen scratching notes on a piece of paper in between his shoulder blades.
He wriggles around a little bit to get a crick out of his neck and gets a (none too gentle) pen tap against the top of his head for his trouble.
His mumbles noncommittally, half his face pressed into the top of her thigh.
“Then get off and let me use my real desk.”
“Nope.” His feet stick off the bed far enough that he’s lazily pushing the swivel chair at her desk back and forth with his toes.
She doesn’t say anything, but he can feel her roll her eyes (no, really, he can feel it) and he grins so the blunt edge of his teeth brushes her leg for a second. He stretches and settles again, something in his back popping loudly and then he’s still for a long time so she can work, half-dozing and humming on and off. He’s almost asleep when she starts running her fingers through his hair absently, smoothing the spot where her pen hit, over and over. She’s stopped writing but he can feel her tapping her pen rhythmically against the wing of his shoulder blade, so he knows she’s just stuck on something, not ready to stop.
He mmms and sighs against her leg and she taps him once, with the pad of one finger, on the top of the head to remind him not to get squirmy before continuing. He’s basically hypnotized for the next ten minutes. His eyelids get heavy and he lets them close and hopes he doesn’t drool on her when he falls asleep. He’s sort of vacantly aware of her writing one-handed on the side of his back, her hand in his hair less and less consistently as her focus shifts back to her work until finally it drops off altogether. He’s seriously zonked by now, but the loss of contact still makes him give a sad little mental sigh that he tries to keep to himself. He has no idea if she felt him or not, but she seems to realize she’s forgotten him and overcompensates just a little, dragging her fingers through his hair hard enough that her nails scrape along his scalp.
He doesn’t mean to, but he groans and pushes up into her touch, startling her into stillness for a second. Then he hears her give a soft huff of a laugh and her nails are dragging hard from his forehead down to the very base of his skull where he can always feel the prickle of her mind against his.
Her posture’s gotten progressively worse over the last two hours, her body slowly sliding down the pillows from straight-backed attention to where she is now, barely more upright than he is, her chin almost touching her collarbone where she’s glaring at a blueprint like it’s misbehaving. So it’s easy, the easiest thing in the world, to arch his neck a few inches and settle his shoulders just a little and press his cheek against flat plane of her stomach. Her shirt’s ridden up just a little and his mind lights up like a Christmas tree everywhere his face touches the scant inch of skin, so without really thinking about it he pushes up the hem of her shirt a little more and presses himself flush against her like he’s sunning himself.
Everywhere her skin touches his feels like sunshine at midday, so warm and washing out his vision with light. Her fingers are still tangled in his hair, like she forgot what to do with them, and when he turns his face to trace illegible kanji against her ribs with the tip of his nose her fingers fist tight enough to make him hiss against her skin. He feels rather than hears her sudden intake of breath at that, her stomach jumping under his hands at the same time he feels a tiny solar flare go out from her mind.
He looks up from the red-gold haze that’s taken over his vision (the same color as staring at the sun through his eyelids) to meet her eyes. She’s staring at him, eyes huge and unfocused, frowning a little like he’s a problem she can’t quite wrap her head around.
He holds her gaze and very slowly leans down and presses a wet kiss against the sharp dip of her waist. Her hip presses up against his mouth and her mind goes completely blank. It’s the oddest sensation, he’s so used to her mind constantly nudging at his, and it suddenly recedes back into her like it’s at low tide.
He wants to plaster his body to hers until there’s no space left for anything to get between them again. He wants to kiss her until her lips are swollen and raw with it, wants to kiss down her stomach until she comes with his name on her lips, wants to make them into one entity again, inseparable and forever, he wants -
Her feelings hit him like a wave.
He gives a pathetic little moan at that and then he kisses up the line of her stomach, between her breasts, over her shirt, then the scoop of her collarbone, the hollow just below her throat, crawling up the length of her body until their faces are almost even and he’s got his knees underneath him. He scrapes his teeth just under her jaw and its like he’s flipped a switch because her prone legs are suddenly up on either side of him, her knees pressing tight against his ribs. She’s got her hands back in his hair until they’re sliding under his shirt, blood singing for skin, skin, skin the same as his.
(A million miles away he hears papers crinkling underneath him.)
She rolls her hips against his insistently and he feels her impatience with him pushing at him and he groans low in his throat against her shoulder. He rocks his hips against her once, hard, when the knock comes at the door. They’re not even kissing, their open mouths are just pressed against each other and he has a split second to decide. Because if he kisses her now he is never, ever going to stop and whoever is at the door will know and then the whole base will know in a hour.
He kisses her forehead - clumsy, too hard - and pushes himself up off of her, and Mako says something untranslatable in Japanese to the ceiling.
When she answers the door a moment later, he’s sprawled innocently on her bed, flipping through a bent manilla folder with bilingual scribbles on both sides.
“We’ve all got a conference with some generals or whoever in half an hour,” Herc says without preamble. “They wanna hear about Leatherback this time. Don’t be late. And Becker, pull a comb through your bloody hair, you’ll not disgrace me in front of the Prime Minister,” he tosses over his shoulder, the harassed-looking young woman trailing after him shedding papers and memos shoots them a please do this or please kill me, either look before running to catch up. Max trots along beside her, happy as a clam.
“‘Kay,” he drawls without looking up.
The teleconference is the longest three hours of his entire life. He keeps his arms locked in front of his chest and his ankles locked over one another in his chair because if he touches her even accidentally he is going to get himself permanently and irrevocably banned from Australia. Which after three hours doesn’t seem like such a high price to pay, what’s so fucking great about Australia, Chuck was from Australia, Australia is full of assholes.
The second - the second - Herc gives them leave to go they’re running through the halls and hoping everyone just thinks they’re late to call the President or something. He flings himself at one of their doors, who even knows whose, who cares, and claws at the door until he gets it open. He hears it slam shut and in a second she’s taken him out at the knees and he’s hit the bed hard, the breath knocked out of his lungs for a second, and he just stares at her, a dazed smile playing at his lips.
She slings a leg over either side of his and leans down to kiss him, but stops, mid-motion, and presses her forehead against his instead. Her mind presses up against his like a warm animal and when her lips finally find his they are slow and sweet and gentle as kindness.
His brain is so completely overloaded that he actually gets to have this, gets to have her, all of her, forever, that he sort of short-circuits and just sits there with his hands hovering a few inches above the bed. He touches her face first, cupping each side of her face and his hands have never felt bigger and clumsier. One hand slides down to cradle her neck and the other slips from her shoulder to her back to her breast to her waist before settling and pulling her hips tight against his. She peels off his clothes like she’s done drills, like she is a certified expert in Raleigh nakedness, and he just sort of paws at hers until they find their way onto the floor because he’s too happy to remember fine motor skills.
He’s glad Mako’s sort of taken charge of this whole thing because he seriously cannot keep a thought in his head from one moment to the next, there’s so much of her he hasn’t touched yet, hasn’t kissed, hasn’t memorized from the outside. She puts his hands where she wants them to be and puts them back when he gets distracted by her neck, her breasts, her legs, but somehow he knows exactly when she wants him to just wrap one arm around her and hold onto her hip with the other, because he’s slow, but he’s still teachable.
“Almost,” she breathes against his ear and he bites hard into her shoulder without meaning to, teeth gritting, grounding himself, and some part of his mind says, unbidden, mine.
Mako gasps hard, jerking against him, and he feels the emotion rebounding back at him, he can’t tell the individual thought but he feels the hot wave of possessiveness washing over him as her nails dig deep into his back, behind the dip of a shoulder blade and he thinks yours as loud as he can.
His vision goes white and for a suspended second he sees his face reflected back at him from her mind. It’s the closest thing he’s ever felt to Drifting. Maybe it’s just a new kind. Maybe they’re the first.
When he wakes up she’s wearing one of his sweaters (some people invested in real estate after the first kaiju attack; Raleigh invested in knitwear), an oatmeal number with a loose turtleneck and holes in the elbows, over his boxers. One leg is braced against the edge of her desk and she’s pushing herself back and forth, sketching something lazily on a piece of scratch paper.
There is a weird reassurance that it is evidently a universal constant that girls like to steal their boys’ clothes.
“Busy day today,” she says without looking up to where he’s smiling dopily at her. “For me, at least.”
“How busy?” he asks, already sneaking towards her with impure intentions.
“Too busy,” she says brightly, tossing his pants at him.
He pouts the whole time she’s getting dressed, glaring at each layer of clothing like it is a personal affront to his moral code. She’s just about to leave when he gets a spark of an idea and she turns around to look at him curiously just as he strikes.
He shoves her up against the door and dodges her kisses to plant his mouth against her throat and slides his hand under the waist band of her pants and makes her come with his face pressed against hers, and a slice of a grin arcing out behind her cheekbone is all that’s visible in the tiny wall mirror near them. She throws her head back against the door with a dull thump and her hair gets in his mouth and he thinks irrationally that the blue tips should taste different than the rest of it.
“You should go before you’re late,” he says casually (if breathlessly), pushing himself away, and the look she gives him is so satisfied and so frustrated all at once that he physically cannot help the shit-eating grin that plasters itself across his face as he flops down on the bed, grabs his book, and says, “I’ll just be here. When you’re done.”
She throws a balled-up sock at him as she darts out the door and he catches it in midair.
“Why the hair?”
He’s running his fingers through it and she’s propped up on one elbow watching him, amused, where they’re laying on their sides on the bed. They’re both flushed and lazy from kissing with no real endgame after having extremely thorough sex for about a million hours, and he keeps finding himself getting transfixed by tiny parts of her - the dip of her clavicle, a constellation of freckles on her right forearm he thinks maybe looks like Pegasus, the very tips of her hair.
Their schedule is a weird loop of hurry up and wait, very important meetings and debriefings one or both of them absolutely must be at that’s an order and then hours of nothing to do at odd points of the day. It’s lunch time, but she ate earlier at her meeting and his system is running on pure lust, so the halls around them have the strange soundless weight of emptiness.
“How do you know it doesn’t grow that way?”
“I’d believe anything if you told me it was true,” he says simply, tracing his thumb along the edge of her jaw.
“Why the pictures?” she asks back, teasing but also intrigued. Maybe because they’re in his room instead of hers, and she’s trying to gather as much intel as possible. (They usually wind up in her room not because it’s microscopically closer when walking from the mess, but because he still gets a teenage thrill out of sneaking into a girl’s room.) The photos are tacked on in neat parallel lines along the wall opposite the bed and they’re easy to stare at.
He hasn’t added much to his collection since Yancy. There was only so much of Alaska you could see before all the overwhelming beauty of nature started to get redundant, and anyway he was born and raised there, what was the point. But there are a few new(ish) snapshots of harbors and running caribou, and they do seem like they take up a lot of space in the tiny room.
“I just wanted to have something concrete to remember before it was all gone.”
“Are you going to take a picture of me?” she asks, genuinely curious. The thought hits him like needle jab and he sees her blink at the force of it.
“I don’t need a picture to remember you,” he says forcefully. She stares at him for an extra second, looking strangely wary, before pushing herself up off the bed and crawling over him, somehow managing to avoid touching him the whole way. She goes off to do something alone, her mind deliberately blank and impenetrable all evening. Yancy’s careless smile stares at him from the wall the whole time, twenty-five forever, and slightly exasperated.
“I don’t wanna jinx it,” he whispers into her shoulder that night. She doesn’t say anything, just turns over in his arms and wraps herself around him and if he kisses too hard and squeezes too tight then so does she, and Mako does everything right, so he must be okay.
Mako is warm and steady as the earth in his arms.
So he’s okay.
After it all, he takes her to her South Dakota, somewhere landlocked and wide-open. Mako was born in a tightly-woven anthill of a city and was raised in myriad rabbit warren military bases. Open space has only ever meant terror to her, and he wants to show her how it can feel to be a small figure in a vast expanse. He wants to show her the way he feels when he looks at the sky, and when he looks at her - like everything is not only possible, but just beginning.
He teaches her to ride horses with her arms around his waist and her face turned up to the sky. They go camping, and they stargaze and he holds his hands over her eyes so she can’t see until it’s fully dark and when he takes his hands away that first time her quiet breath is every good thing he’s ever done packed into one tiny whisper of a sound.
They have long, lazy sex on the ground, which they will probably deeply regret in the morning, and zip their sleeping bags together so she can curl into his side and still stare up at the sky some more.
“I like it here,” she says. “I could stay right here for a very long time.”
“I’m gonna build you a house.” He has no idea he’s going to say it until he says it, and then he’s sure of it. “Right here,” and he jabs at the ground underneath him with a finger. She smiles at him, big as the sky, not like she thinks he’s joking and it’s funny, but like she knows he’s serious and believes him. It fills him up like a balloon.
“Do you know how to build a house?”
“Well, I know how to build walls. I am real good at building walls. Houses have lots of those. How hard can roofs be?”
It takes a year, and as it turns out roofs are fucking ridiculous, there’s algebra and codes involved and he drafts dozens and dozens of blueprint ideas and each time Mako gently has to explain why math dictates that this particular version is going to fall down and crush them into death. But he knows - he knows - the precise moment when he’s finally got the version that’s going to be able to stand on its own because he feels a peace settle over Mako like a blanket and a particular sensation he can’t even really describe except as home. She knows. She’s knows that’s what he’s going to give her, that that’s what she is to him.
He builds it in a farmhouse style, big and airy with blonde wood and knotty pine, lots of windows, and as many skylights as he can fit without actually compromising the integrity of the roof. Mako stays in Anchorage during most of the construction, and he sleeps in a trailer and grows a really ridiculous beard. It’s hard. The work, yeah, sure, but the distance mostly. They’ve never been more than a few dozen miles apart for any longer than a couple days since he first locked eyes on her and two weeks in he has what almost feels like a relapse into the cognitive withdrawl he’d had after Yancy, like his head is clawing itself apart trying to find her. He doesn’t call, because she’s doing something really, really important with the Reconstruction Jaeger development program negotiations in Alaska, but he dreams about her just like every night and in the dream she’s tied to an anchor and sinking away from his outstretched hands under black water while he screams and screams and screams.
A Blackhawk lands off to the side of his trailer the next morning, literally shaking him out of bed and he’s off and running towards it in his sweatpants and bedhead before he’s even fully registered what’s happening and then she’s in his arms and the world tilts back to the right angle under his feet.
She mostly commutes. He shaves off the beard. Things are better after that.
Since it’s a farm house, he figures they should have a farm. That’s really his entire thought process behind it. Mako likes animals (she had been so endlessly delighted by Max because she had barely seen a live animal since her parents’ fat white cat disappeared into the bushes one night and never came back, and Pentecost hadn’t seen the point of pets in a world where people could barely feed their children in between kaiju attacks) and farms have animals, so he gets some animals. A partially lame draft horse named Echo Foxtrot and two potbellied pigs named Indigo Quebec and Berserker Zulu and a bunch of sheep he mostly calls “sheep” and some ducks.
One morning he wakes up cold and can’t find Mako anywhere until he goes outside and sees her wrapped in their quilt and stroking Echo Foxtrot’s long nose and murmuring to him in Japanese.
She either hears or feels him come up behind her and wrap his arms around her, desperate for warmth and for her.
“Sometimes I don’t know what to do with it all,” she says without turning around. “This happiness.”
They make out in some hay bales until noon, which he thinks he as good a place to start as any.
Mako teleconferences in with planning committees and engineers most days when she’s home. The times zones get so ridiculous that sometimes she’s politely nodding her head to the telescreen at four in the morning and is still deep in conversation, throwing neon blueprint schematics up across the kitchen wall for them to see when he shuffles out of their bedroom. She even puts on real shoes to wear under the table. Raleigh wakes up without any preamble, his brain flipping from off to on the second his eyes open (falling asleep and waking up are a whole elaborate process for Mako, involving lots of tea and inventive stretching, and makes him think of how it takes a million times longer to shut down a super computer - her - than a light switch - him), but he still can’t be bothered to deal with human concepts of decency before nine, and he knows for a fact that the head of the Tokyo Restoration Committee hates him for routinely crashing their meetings by wandering around the very back of the screen in his boxers.
Very occasionally it’s someone she actually knows and likes and she’ll let him make her breakfast to eat while she talks and he waves at the screen, Herc or Newt-and-Herman asking him about the horses while she catches her breath.
Today it’s the terror twins and Newt’s high-pitched nerd-screeching and Herman’s deeply offended huffing sounding like two cats violently murdering each other. He slides a cup of coffee into her hand and kisses the top of her head good morning.
“Aw, hey, dude!” Newt yells, breaking off in the middle of what from this angle looks like attempting to strangle Herman with his skinny tie.
“You still coming next month?” Raleigh asks, resting his chin on top of Mako for a moment while she leaps on the chance to shovel the eggs he’s been perfecting for the last twenty minutes into her mouth.
“Of course, my good man,” Herman reassures him over Newt’s skipping-record “for sure, for sure, for sure!” mantra. They look like they’re having a slap fight, trying to get into the exact center of the screen, even though it’s big enough for at least three people.
He leaves them to get back to it, letting his hand slide off Mako’s shoulder so he maintains contact for the longest possible second, and hears Newt shout, “And put your abs away, you insensitive motherfucker!”
He makes sure to accidentally wander across the kitchen striking calendar poses behind Mako’s shoulder for the next hour and half.
They come up for the anniversary of the Breach mission. It was Mako’s idea and they all had seemed secretly relieved to have somewhere else to be when the news stations called to request a sound bite. Newt tries to teach them all how to play Ultimate Frisbee (“A man’s sport”), but winds up walking off the field in protest when Herman does nothing but hiss in distaste every time the disc comes within three feet of him, Herc and Tendo keep throwing it to Max (“I can’t just tease him like that, mate, it’s cruel”), and he and Mako apparently use “freaky Jaeger-brain cheating tactics.”
An hour later Herman has somehow got them playing croquet on the front lawn (he brought his own set with him because of course he did), he and Tendo versus Mako and Newt, whom they had only convinced to join after Herman had snapped, “You can name the bloody things after kaiju if it will silence your infernal dithering.” Which is why he and Herc can hear things like “Did you see Leatherback just decimate Onibaba right there?!” echoing back to them as his croquet ball lightly taps Tendo’s.
“This is a good place,” Herc says taking a sip from his beer and scratching Max between the ears. “You two did good.”
With anyone else he’d say that Mako did most of the real work, fixing and re-fixing his blue prints so that the house wouldn’t come crashing down around their ears, that the fields only grow because she gave him the name of a biochemist in St. Petersburg, that all the animals love her best. But it’s Herc, and Herc knows. Other Drifters are the only ones who can really look at the two of them and know.
So he just smiles, wide and easy, and just says, “Thank you.”
“Reminds me of my folks’ place out near Wirawee way. Less sheep, though.” He chuckles at his own Australian wit. “Chuck always hated it out there. Not enough noise and mess, I reckon.” Raleigh lets him set those memories out to breathe, because he may have hated Chuck but he knows the dragging weight Herc’s going to be hauling around for the rest of his life.
“You two ever think about kids?” Herc asks after a few minutes of companionable silence.
“We’ve never really talked about it,” he says, which isn’t exactly what Herc asked, but the brain thing makes for longer answers than most people have time for. “I think it’d be nice,” he adds after a moment. “I think we’d be good at it.”
He’s never felt an all-consuming urge to continue the species, it’s just that kids always seemed like an inevitable phase of growing up. And it’s not like if she told him flat-out that she didn’t want kids that he’d pitch a fit and sink into a depression. But there’s something he finds distinctly upsetting to think about Mako’s perfect genes not getting passed on the next generation - like, what is even the point of continuing to live in a society if it’s without the best part? (Maybe he can freeze her some her hair follicles for scientists to study. Newt could probably talk him through it.) (“Go, Raiju! Fight! Kill!” his cloning mentor howls from across the yard.)
He tries to picture what their kids would look like, little biracial supergeniuses, with Mako’s eyes and his - hair, maybe? He’s having trouble thinking of anything he has to contribute to their gene pool that’s in any way better than hers, so instead he just imagines a herd of identical tiny Makos running around the house and thinks, yes, good, perfect.
He looks up from this daydream to find Herc smiling a little sadly at him.
“You’ll be a better dad than I was, Becker, if you go down that road.”
They’re silent for a long time after that, just listening to the others laugh.
They all get shitfaced drunk that night because tradition is tradition and because Tendo insists that Chinese customs are way stricter than the US and he’s never going get the three bottles of Jaegemeister in his suitcase past security again.
An hour after they start drinking Newt has his tie around his forehead, and Herc is doing shots while Tendo times him and screams, “Jae-ger-BOMBS! Jae-ger-BOMBS!”
Mako weighs about half as much as anyone else in the room, but she grew up on military bases and could probably drink men twice her size under the table before she was old enough to drive, so he doesn’t feel at all shamed that she’s still coordinated enough to be teaching Herman the words to the J-Pop she’s got blasted through the house, whereas Raleigh has bruises on both elbows because he keeps miscalculating where the kitchen island is.
The song changes to one he loves (this one’s in Korean and neither of them have any idea what the words are aside from the few random one in English, including “perfume” and “super-playboy”), and he goes to grab Mako away mid-dialect lesson. But their brains are basically see-through right now and she feels him before he’s even all the way on his feet, running to meet him in the living room.
She half-falls into his arms and he spins her around, putting her hand on his shoulder and twining his fingers up with her other one.
“I don’t know how to waltz,” says, laughing.
“I know how to waltz. And if I know how to waltz, you know how to waltz.” He starts moving around in the one-two-three-four movement. Her feet move with his without so much as stumbling.
“You definitely cannot waltz to this song,” she insists.
“You can waltz to anything if you want to bad enough.” She grins up into his face as they move in a looping circle around the room.
“Wow, they are just gonna have sex right in front of us, aren’t they?” Newt muses from the floor, clinically fascinated. The rest of the night passes in a blur of blue and amber light, and they’re all happy more often than they’re sad, which is all anyone can really ask for in this life.
Mako has a teleconference the next afternoon and doesn’t even bother trying to hide the horde of moaning bodies flung across the living room behind her, too hungover to move. When they take off the next day, the farm feels oddly empty with just the two of them. His footsteps seem to echo twice as loudly in the hall.
“If we have a kid, let’s call it Easter,” he says over cereal one morning.
Mako looks up from her computer and tilts her head at him so her hair falls across her cheekbone in a way that he finds really distracting.
“It comes after Pentecost.” His mother tried really hard to convince them to be Catholic before giving up them as a lost cause when he and Yancy were teenagers, so he knows stuff.
She goes so still for a moment he thinks that he must have done something horribly, horribly wrong, and it’s physically upsetting to him because he can’t feel her thinking anything at him at all and he’s already trying to think of some way to backtrack and make it better, he thought she’d like it, maybe the kid thing never came up for a reason, maybe she doesn’t -
She’s around the table and pulling him out of his chair so fast it feels like she’s about to knock him flat on his back in the ring again, but he knows this dance better than he knows anything, better than he knows how to breathe, and a second later she’s got him shoved up against the kitchen counter like she’s giving serious consideration to making a baby right fucking now.
“I love you,” she breaths into his mouth in Japanese, “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you.” He turns them around and lifts her up onto the countertop and her legs wrap around his waist like they were made specifically for it, and they don’t get a single thing done for two days.
Easter’s first word is “mommydaddy,” one word with no breath or space in between. That’s right, he thinks, swinging her around in the air and whooping when she giggles because of course his kid loves to fly, That’s exactly right.