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The Observer Effect

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Raleigh doesn’t like press conferences. He gets worked up, before, and he fidgets, during, and he’s uncharacteristically irascible, afterward.

“It’s part of the job,” he says into the mirror on the morning of the third such day, buttoning the top two buttons of his shirt and then unbuttoning them again. “I know it’s part of the job.”

Mako needs the mirror now; her hair iron is hot and Raleigh’s primped all he can. “We don’t need to love everything we do,” she tells him, nudging him gently aside.

“No,” he agrees, “but shouldn’t we at least do things we’re good at?” He buttons the second-to-top button again, shuffling aside so Mako can fix her hair. “I hated construction but I was good at it.”

“You’re good at this,” Mako says, gliding the straightener down her hair, making it bite the ends to curve them under ever so slightly. Her blue is greening, just a little; time for a touch-up.

“No,” says Raleigh, “you’re good at this. I’m — along for the ride.” He unbuttons the shirt’s collar again and huffs out a sigh. “I never say the right things.”

Mako tips her head and starts on the left side of her hair. “I think I heard a knock at the door,” she says. “Is it our breakfast?”

Raleigh goes off to see and Mako watches him go in the mirror, the breadth of his shoulders and the jagged line of his hair at the nape of his neck.

(It mortified her, once, realizing that after their first Drift he would always know how he looked through her eyes, the solid shape of him, his size and his sunniness and his overwhelming reality. It’s funny to know how far she’s come in the hours since their third and final Drift, how she wishes they could intertwine thoughts again so Raleigh could see again through her eyes, and know how he comes across in the junkets: how charming those modest smiles, how disarming the moments when he struggles for words.)

(But they don’t need the neural handshake, not anymore. Or, more properly: it’s not needed. The world doesn’t need it.)

“Coffee,” he says when he comes back into the bathroom with her mug in hand. “We’ve got twenty minutes, drink up.”

***

“Wait, wait, wait,” says the producer of the segment, and a PA darts in to readjust the big foil reflector disk that’s casting a flattering light up under Mako and Raleigh’s heroic jawlines.

Raleigh obediently stops, mid-sentence, and waits while the golden cast of sun shifts down over golden hair, golden eyebrows, and lands on golden faint stubble.

“Okay, keep rolling, sorry,” says the producer, and the reporter tilts her head at Raleigh and nods, signalling him to start over.

“I,” says Raleigh, “um, sorry, what was the question again?”

“The question was how did it impact your preparation for the final battle, knowing that you would be facing off against the biggest kaiju on record?” says the reporter. “With your years of experience, you still must have had qualms?”

“I had qua-,” says Raleigh, getting stuck again, “qualms, ha, yeah, I had ‘em, they — but you don’t have time to think, right.” He glances at Mako as if seeking confirmation. “We’re not thinking.” And then his mouth quirks fondly and he gives his head a bit of a shake. “She’s thinking, actually. But that’s not — the question you wanted me to, ah.”

The way it works is that they sit in this little corner in these rickety director’s chairs, Mako’s legs swinging too high above the ground and Raleigh’s feet planted, and the journalists circle through and ask the same seven questions over and over. Mako and Raleigh give the same seven answers, doing their utmost to tell the story they want told rather than the one the reporter would like to extract. Raleigh talks about Chuck, the Kaidanovskys, the Wei Tang boys, though no one ever asks him about them. Mako doesn’t talk about Stacker, though they do ask and ask. Everyone loves a good story of orphan-done-good; no one particularly likes the one about the lucky pair that tumbled into survival and how shitty it feels to have won that lottery.

Between journalists the sound guy adjusts their lap-pin mics and the hair lady uses the pointy end of a comb to readjust Mako’s bob and the producer reminds Raleigh not to look into the camera, just look at the interviewer, please. And now and then the filming crew get into some discussion over the boom placement or the positioning of the drop-sheet behind them, and then Mako reaches over and hooks her pinkie finger around Raleigh’s.

“Was that okay,” he’ll mutter, “was it really bad? I know they’ll use the bit where I said Sasha’s name wrong, I was nervous and I stumbled, it was”—

Mako crooks her finger, squeezes Raleigh’s pinkie. Chuck thought he was better than everyone in the Shatterdome, shoved this in Raleigh’s face, and that’s the sort of thing Raleigh could leverage if he really wanted to get the Hansens’ story out there. But Raleigh’s not wily like that, and he’d never cast aspersions when Herc might overhear them, and Mako has to pull her hand back when the make-up artist comes to try (yet again) to get Mako to apply just a touch of lip gloss, really subtle, I promise.

***

What about the connection between co-pilots? All it’s cracked up to be?

“Why do they always ask that,” says Raleigh embarrassedly, clicking the television off hastily as Mako comes out of the bathroom in her bathrobe.

“Romance sells,” Mako tells him.

“Romance,” repeats Raleigh, ears going pink. “It’s not any of their”—

Mako unbelts the robe and looks over at her gown, the one she’s supposed to wear tonight at the gala fundraiser. It’s foamy and grey and has slate-blue cornflowers embroidered on the bodice. It’s really lovely; Mako only wishes she didn’t feel like an impostor in it. “Hmm,” she says, realizing Raleigh’s gone silent mid-sentence. “No, it’s not any of their”— and when she looks over it’s to find Raleigh looking her over. He knows how she sees him — more to the point, how she perceives him, like a force of physics, like he’s got white space all around him that’s keening for Mako to lean into it — but Mako knows how he sees her, too, and for a confused instant she’s on both sides of his gaze. She’s here, shower-damp and a little cold, wondering where she left her underwear, shoulders shrugging under the silken robe; and in the same moment she’s there, behind Raleigh’s eyes, looking at the cut of her rose satin lapels against warm golden skin, the line picked up by her collarbone and the little pouting lip of her navel and the pointed pebbled tips of her bare breasts. Raleigh’s a force acting on her, but it’s something else to know it goes both ways. Mako’s breath catches and she blinks until she’s safely back inside her own head, but it’s too late. There’s a hungry sweet ache between her legs, a new slickness that wasn’t there when she stepped out of the shower a moment earlier.

“We don’t have time,” she says.

“They’ll wait for us all night if they have to,” says Raleigh, not touching her but fairly radiating lines of need in her direction.

“And then rumours become a bit more,” Mako says, “than adjoining hotel rooms and the co-pilot bond.”

Raleigh exhales a very soft groan. His erection is ruining the line of his trousers. He’s a wreck from the junket, still, or he’d never utter such a sound. It’s not Raleigh’s way, not usually.

“Later,” says Mako, not daring to reassure him with hand to chest, “hmm?” She turns away and belts her robe again, searching for her underwear, giving Raleigh the space he needs to regroup.

“It’s part of the job,” Raleigh says, sure enough, after a minute has gone by, “and this time at least it’s helping people, right?”

“Right,” says Mako. “Can you zip me?”

(It’s supposed to be a letdown, physical touch a mere faint echo after the intimacy of the neural handshake. Mako was ready for it, she’d thought, for the disappointment of it, the single-dimensionedness where there was ecstatic texture and depth in the Jaeger. And then she’d stripped Raleigh out of his undershirt, pulled off her own, and they’d pressed their bodies together, shivering with grief and joy and shock and relief, and Mako could only think finally, yes, this like it was all merely foreplay, having Raleigh’s mind and memories woven into her own.)

(So they have this, anyway. And it’s not a small thing that they have, but it’s a private matter, and it — it’s not part of this world where Mako has to strap her feet into silver sandals and Raleigh has to push cufflinks through starched buttonholes, where they smile and stand on a red carpet and sign posters held out to them by eager wealthy Atlantic Coasters.)

(It’s a private matter.)

***

“Did you ever think about what we’ll do, after,” asks Raleigh later, spread out underneath Mako’s thighs. He’s naked and sunny and he’s got his thumb between Mako’s legs as she rides against it slowly. “After the craziness?”

“You could teach me how to weld,” Mako suggests, teasing him, “we could do more construction. Reconstruction.” The truth is they’ve barely had time to think about it; they’ve only just buried the others. They’ve only just started to emerge out of the Shatterdome.

“Cause I was thinking,” says Raleigh, “I’ve got a place right on the coast. Up north.”

Mako slips her ass back a little, seeking and finding the hard curve of Raleigh’s cock. His hand falters and slips, distracted by her wetness against him. They’ve got to be up early for a morning show appearance tomorrow, Mako thinks, they really shouldn’t stay up all night fucking, not again, not — and she reaches behind and takes his cock by the base, holds it steady so she can sink down onto him, god, Raleigh. Shivery double-vision for another instant and Mako sees herself over him, sees their intersection and the good-slick kiss of all those pleasure-nerve endings, feels how it is for Raleigh to be tight-wet-in, how his balls draw up high and eager, how his hips want to drive up. How he’s patient, how he’s good, because he knows how it is for Mako, too: the deep-in-full and the hard-slippery-flex and oh, yes, he had a thumb, what was he doing with the —

Mako sits up and rocks Raleigh inside her, leans back down and kisses him, holds his hand steady and grinds against it until she comes, and then he does, and then she rests over him while their hearts settle down into more languid thumping.

“Yes,” she says, “of course I’ll go north with you.”

“They’ll probably talk about that, too,” he says.

“Yes,” says Mako, “probably they will.” She hooks her pinkie around his, and they go to sleep.