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The first time they Drift they fit together like tectonic plates that've reversed their flow and reunited a stretch of land that should never have been torn apart. It's effortless and perfect from the first join, not a moment of fear, no danger, no stumbling outside the white lines that delineate their joined memories. Raleigh feels like he's been washed clean through with how well they fit, hell it's like a dream, not natural, until they break apart and the clock says three seconds,  and the technician steps up and frowns and tells him ‘not deep enough. Looks like you can't maintain.’ It's bullshit, he knows that, like fuck can't they Drift deeply enough together, but when he turns to Yancy, he can tell, like they're still connected at brow and wrist that the technician was right, there was something held back and he knows without even thinking it that it was Yancy who had pulled back at that last crucial second. It's ridiculous. They're here. They're ready, they're going to give their all. There's not enough of this, not enough of anyone who clicks like they do and it's worth everything, to know that they'll be out there. They'll be helping, fucking up the kaiju, protecting the world for just a little bit longer from everything the universe is throwing at them, and he doesn't know what the fuck is going through Yancy's head that he can't follow through when this is all they've thought about for months if not years.

 

"I already know about that time with Suzy if that's what’s got you antsy," Raleigh says, grins at him and waits for the comeback, but Yancy is scrubbing off the gel and picking up his jacket, and Raleigh's left staring at him as he leaves, and then pounding after him, until he gets tired of trailing behind like the abandoned little brother, and grabs Yancy by the sleeve, swings him round with the full force of momentum, shocked like he always is, that they can see eye to eye now, even though they have for years. Maybe it's the Drift, yanked out of that moment of harmony back to somewhere where he has to ask what the hell Yancy is thinking, but he feels on edge, rattled and angry that this isn't going smoothly, isn't going as easily as he'd thought it would. They were perfect for this program, pre-test results that were off the charts, in-sync every time they fought, hand to hand, and down at the target range, switching off targets together, hip-close, like they breathed as one. First ones to undergo the Drift, the ones everyone thought would fit first time, no questions asked.

 

"We've got three minutes before they tell us to jack it in," Raleigh says evenly, because they're good, and they could be even better, but no-one is going to wait for them, not forever.

 

"Maybe we should," Yancy replies and runs hands through his hair like he doesn't know what else to do with them. "Raleigh, fuck, I've got a bad feeling about this," but even as he says it, he's turned and they're heading back to the test-room together, because bad feelings or no bad feelings, they've got a job to do, and Yancy can always be counted on to get shit done. They're at the door, when he stops, opens his mouth, and Raleigh knows what he's going to say, like he'd been going to say it himself, because Yancy is the older brother and he does shit like this, overthinks and double-thinks and twists himself up in knots that he calls 'being responsible' and Raleigh calls 'being really annoying', so he jumps in double-quick before Yancy can embarrass himself by asking.

 

"Answer is no," he says and he's steady, because he believes it implicitly, looking at the face he knows better than the one in the mirror. "I don't care what the fuck is in your head, and I don't care what you find in mine." He elbows Yancy in the ribs just because he can. "Come on."

 

This time when they Drift, it's like he's coming home for the first time in years, slotting right in, neat and quick and deft, Yancy curving around him, bending in and they're there in the stream together, stripped bare down to the bone, because there's nothing to cushion, nothing to hide, they know what they'll find and where but it's the least terrifying thing Raleigh has ever felt.

 

It’s way afterwards that he thinks they should have seen it there and then. Then he remembers that he did. It just didn't look like he thought it would.

 

Perhaps they should have seen it then and there but life doesn't work on what should happen, or the earth's biggest problem would still be worrying about global warming not the best methods to fight off an alien invader. So when they stumble out of the Drift, Raleigh doesn't feel any different, and the technician gives him a friendly clap on the shoulder and sends them both to debriefing. Walking down the hallway is weird, like everything is suddenly lighter. Raleigh'd glimpsed the scores, the depth of the mark gouged into the paper from the scans and there is no way anyone was beating that. He grins at Yancy, who grins right on back like he's been infected with Raleigh's optimism in this moment, which given that they'd been pressed up close mind against mind for the last thirty minutes wasn't all that unlikely.

 

If Raleigh were a different brother he'd have left the post first-trial freakout strictly alone, but that had never been their respective roles. Raleigh pushed and Yancy reminded him of how far he could go (until the next time), and this was just too damned juicy to pass up, especially since he hadn't seen anything fucked up in Yancy's mind, not like the horror stories that circulated of the people thrown together, right back at the start of the trials before they'd known what it took to get two minds to meld. As it was, he jumped straight in, discretion never really having been his hallmark. "You were kind of freaked," he remarks, and Yancy gives him a sideways look, not thrown off balance at all.

 

"Someone had to be," he points out, making it sound eminently reasonable that he'd almost thrown away their one chance at being genuine article Jaeger pilots, as reasonable as why he should get the chocolate dessert after meals instead of Raleigh (in other words, not at all, except to impressionable canteen staff). "I just think it's a bad sign if you're overconfident, if you don't think about the risks at all."

 

"We can Drift," Raleigh points out. "We can give them what they want, I'm not sure what else they're going to be looking at apart from that. And despite you fussing like a hen, it went great," and yeah he might still be pretty pumped from that because he can't resist throwing an arm around Yancy's shoulders and dragging him in for a quick side-hug, which isn't their usual MO- Yancy's not a hugger and Raleigh respects that. Yancy doesn't pull away though, just slings his own arm around Raleigh companionably for a second, holds close for a heartbreat before pulling away and that's unusual for him. Raleigh reckons it's like a poor substitute for the closeness of Drift though, some faded sub-in for being close enough to feel everything, and he kind of wants to hang onto that himself.

 

"Now for the stupid bit," Yancy says under his breath, as they get to the doctor's door. They've had their physicals naturally, up, in and around it feels like, and now that they've finished their training, completed their Drift testing, and with any luck would be assigned the Jaeger of their dreams, they had to undergo the final bits and pieces. Doctor Ywan was clearly practiced with this particular speech though, because he rattled through it at the rate of knots- they might experience something called ghost-drifting apparently, where the Drift stuck around even after they'd disengaged from the machine that made it possible, and he got through the other possibilities as fast as he could, all of it shit they already knew, things they'd had drilled into their heads from the moment they'd entered the program, the dangers of being so close, how important it was to maintain a healthy balance between the time spent with your partner and whatever it was you did in your spare time (fucking ridiculous really given that they shared a bunkroom and had no choice whether to do shit together or not.)

 

Then he leans forward and looks squarely at them both. "Brothers, yes?" he says, though that's pretty stupid, because a) he knows they are and b) nearly every pilot couple is related. He starts off on some bullshit about emotional compromise, the possibility of bleedthrough from the Drift, the dangers of repression, and though Yancy is the picture of the eager listener, Raleigh knows him well enough to know he's zoned out.

 

None of this is anything he hasn't heard before though- from the fact that traces can be left behind to what it means when you experience a memory that isn't your own, until the doctor pauses for a moment. "If you experience side-affects, I want you to tell me," he says and holds up a hand to forestall what he clearly fondly imagines will be a flood of inquiries. "Even if it's embarrassing, even if it means revealing something private. It's essential that we know," and there's a half coy hesitance to what he's saying as though he could tell them stories of what he'd heard in the past, and nope no way is Raleigh telling anything to this man. If he and Yancy have a problem it's going to stay between them.

 

When they're out, with a fully crammed week of sims ahead of them, and the half promise that they're going to be in a real Jaeger of their own sooner than they'll think, if their test scores still hold up, and Raleigh is ready for a beer, some celebration with the rest of the crewmates who haven't yet made the cut, and Yancy is right there beside him, grin wide. "We've fucking done it," he says, and this time Raleigh doesn't bring up his hesitation, just flings an arm round his shoulders again and heads straight down to what passes for a bar in this place, a makeshift corner of the mess.

 

He doesn't drink heavily, no point on a base this size where everyone knows your face, and you'll be written up if you act the fool, but he has a couple of beers and a shot of the evil looking distilled shit that one of the other pilots had broken out in celebration that Yancy and Raleigh were finally ready to join the crew, and he's feeling loose-limbed and at peace with the world, aware every second where Yancy is, his brother being a smooth talker when he's got a couple of drinks down him, and hanging on the bar with Catha, flirting idly and without intent. Raleigh isn't looking himself, for all the same reasons he doesn't drink to excess, place this small, and with this much warrior spirit crammed into it, you have to watch your step and hope that you're not hitting on the wrong person at the wrong time.

 

They're up at five the next morning, ready for that first round, that first test of what drifting together properly will do to their scores, so he regretfully calls it a night earlier than he'd like, goes for the final round of cheers and slips on out, knowing that Yancy will follow sooner rather than later. The bunkroom is quieter than usual, compared with the noisy mess, and he toes off his boots and lets himself flop down, and let the adrenaline run its course. They've done it, no more chance they won't make the grade, and he doesn't mind admitting, deep inside where only he and Yancy can see, that this makes it all worth while. Raleigh's practically asleep when Yancy comes in, wiped out and always ready to grab a few z's when he gets a chance, though Yancy's the one that likes to sleep in, but the wash of light from the door mostly wakes him up.

 

He's actually only been drowsing for about ten minutes a quick glance at the clock tells him but he doesn't bother shifting over and he feels rather than sees Yancy stop and look at him, before he gets into bed, and Raleigh lets the silence and the dark enfold him, almost drifts off to sleep before he hears the tell-tale shuffle of Yancy's hand going down his sweats, and he almost complains, tells him to keep it for the bathroom like any normal dude, not to jerk it three feet away, but he's just on that edge of sleep and it's not like Raleigh hasn't done the same thing before, desperate enough that he keeps his fingers crossed that anyone close is asleep.

 

Yancy's faster than him, quicker strokes, maybe a little rougher, Raleigh can hear it in the way his flesh is slapping his palm, the rasp of his hand against his dick, like he wants it over and done with in the shortest amount of time, breath caught and hitching in the darkness, no finesse or doubt in his strokes, and Raleigh can feel his own breath start to synch up in time with the way Yancy's drawing in deeper breaths, matching each inhale and exhale with near perfect precision, and he's fully awake now, eyes staring unseeing into the darkness, listening to Yancy get himself off with military effort.

 

It's like they're back in the drift again, only instead of a mutual recognaisance, it's just Raleigh eavesdropping on Yancy, floating on a cushion of this is fucked up but unable to turn over and shove a pillow over his head, because- and blood has flooded to his cheeks, hot and burning despite no-one to see his shame- he's hard himself, dick aching against his sweats, hard and heavy, from just the sound of Yancy getting himself off, just the knowledge that his brother is fucking his hand, quickly and smoothly, and when he closes his eyes again, he can piece together what it must feel like, from the traces Yancy's left in his mind, tiny useless pieces gleaned and Jesus the doctor had been right when he'd told them that what stayed, meant something, and he's torn between giving in and jerking himself off or throwing up in the toilet, because this is fucked up and he can't believe he's even considering what Yancy's dick feels like in his hands. There's lines you don't cross and that right there is one of them.

 

The thought isn't packing up and leaving though, and the sounds that had sounded so clinical just seconds before, seem to have sped up, like Yancy's grown impatient, wants to finish- the noises softer now, deeper, ragged gasps for air, like Yancy feels so good, he doesn't even care if he wakes Raleigh, and Raleigh doesn't want to touch his own dick because he thinks that this is saveable. If he doesn't jerk off to the sound of Yancy getting off (and he doesn't know how the situation has escalated enough, that that's something he's even thinking) then they're good. It's the weirdness of it all, first time they've done this, there's an explanation, sure to be, something simple and clean. He wonders if this is ghost-drifting, whether they're connected enough that he's getting feedback from Yancy, whether this arousal is second hand, mirrored through his brother, grabs onto the thought with pitiful, palpable relief. If he keeps his hands off, he's done nothing wrong.

 

Then Yancy is coming, groan bitten off neat and sharp, stifled back like he has his hand over his mouth, and Raleigh thinks he can almost smell it, bitter and abrupt in the air, and he's still hard, still desperate to get off. Yancy's breath slows, steadies and deepens, and his body settles back down into the mattress- it squeaks loud enough for Raleigh to hear, and Raleigh allows himself one deep shuddering breath, thinks the worst is over, keeps his hands out of his pants and clenched by his side, until so soft he thinks it almost didn't happen, he hears Yancy murmur, " 'night Raleigh."

 

He doesn't sleep for a long time, stays hard longer than he'd have thought possible without anything to sustain it, until finally he drifts into an uneasy, nightmare filled doze, and wakes up the next morning, feeling like he hasn't slept at all. Yancy doesn't look like there's anything wrong with him, and Raleigh thinks he might have imagined the whole thing, listening to Yancy jerk off, getting hard at the sound, some weird drift-induced fuckery, distorting his mind, and he's just beginning to relax when they step into the simulation, and the drift encompasses them both all over again, the same ease, the same swiftness, so weirdly impossible, and amongst the flood of their shared memories, the flickering seconds of soccer games, running through deserted buildings, splitting a beer under a table at some celebration he doesn't even remember, there's Yancy jerking off in his bunk, knowing Raleigh's awake but unable to stop, like something's been unleashed, something dark in the places that their minds touch and Raleigh doesn't think anything will ever be the same because it's not even enough to break the handshake.

 

The next week is a blur, sim after sim as the final arrangements are made for their Jaeger and the tension is ratcheted up almost to breaking point, because yes they've Drifted together, but adding in a third component of the magnitude of a Jaeger to the mix is still an unknown quantity. None of it is helped by the fact that Raleigh has to spend the two hours before he sleeps working out in the gym - Yancy two machines away doing the same thing - letting sweat and muscle burn drive his thoughts from his head, because that night has fucked with his head more than he could imagine. He's replayed it in his mind over and over again, hating the thoughts but unable to get rid of them except when he's buried his mind down deep and focused only on his body. Over and over he feels it, Yancy's hand in perfect rhythm, and his own body thrilling bone-deep, an unarticulated urge, a desire that should never have found expression or reciprocation. Now he's let the monster out of the box, he can't cram it back in, can't force the lid back on the knowledge, and he thinks it might kill him.

 

They neither of them ever mention it, but it's between them every second, a half-formed frisson, no denying what they both know, and sometimes Raleigh feels Yancy's glance burning between his shoulder blades, though when he turns Yancy will be head-down in a manual or chatting with the crew, and Raleigh can't resist looking himself, turning his head away at the perfect second of Yancy glancing up, an unacknowledged dance that can't go on much longer. In his more sane moments he tries to talk himself out of building a mountain from a molehill. What the fuck had happened after all? Two beers and a shot might not be enough to get him drunk but they'd made him tired and woozy after too long of not drinking at all. Yancy had jerked off, Raleigh had heard it, what was the huge deal? But it's like a veil has been drawn back on something he'd never thought of, and now he can't ignore it again. Can't take back what's been felt.

 

He becomes hyper aware in the next couple of days, of where and how they stand, never touching but never far, calculates every move in his head, thinks constantly on whether other people can see what's between them, and then panics that he's being too noticeable, avoiding Yancy too much when most of the other pilots are joined at the hip. Can't help looking at them and wondering if any of them are as messed up in the head as he and Yancy are, whether any of them have ever considered taking it one step further. He doesn't think so, but the thought lingers, and he remembers the way the doctor looked at them, the half-surprise when he said brothers, the peculiar emphasis on the side-effects they might experience, and he remembers as well that even after these hurdles, even days away from a Jaeger of their own, that Rangers wash out for unknown reasons.       

 

Then Gipsy arrives, and she's goddamn perfect in every way, and everything gets forgotten in the excitement of getting so close to getting out there and fucking some shit up, forgotten that is until he's in the Conn-Pod getting acquainted with the controls before they take her for a test-drive, and Yancy is right there beside him for every step, and if they don't get their heads in the game properly, sort this out, then it's going to be a clusterfuck out there and they both know that.

 

The pilot team that make the distilled alcohol hand over a bottle when Raleigh asks, in exchange for a spare couple of razors which for some reason are like gold dust around here, never enough of them (most of the small trades of the base don't use money). Gipsy is silent in the bay ready for the test tomorrow and Raleigh gets back to the room first, showers and drags on his sweats and t-shirt, sits crosslegged on his bed and waits for Yancy to get back from the gym, tries not to think where this will end, a sick swooping sensation deep in his gut like something lurking inside him, reaching up his throat to choke him at the thought of where this might go, and the shameful strand of hope that weaves its way through him.

 

Yancy smells clean and damp when he walks in the room, hair still wet as though he'd spent as long in the shower as Raleigh had, letting the water beat down on his face, blur out his thoughts as he leant into the wall, and he still has a towel draped over his shoulders. He flops onto the same bed, and Raleigh can feel him, the subtle heat of his body, the harsh scent of regulation soap, and he suddenly, badly, wants to punch him. Wants to submerge this shame in an orgy of violence, wants to punch Yancy until his fists hurt, wants Yancy to hit him back, wrestle him down, throw him against a wall, anything to wipe out what exists between them, and to stop himself he steadies the two little glasses he'd got from the mess, sloppily pours the alcohol into them, splashes a little on the bed but doesn't care. When he knocks it back, it's like the punch to the gut that he wants, a cool slide and then a quick burn, tendrils of warmth spreading out, and he pours another one again, tops Yancy up, because whatever comes next, they're going to need at least a little bit of plausible deniability.