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This Is a Beautiful Start

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It’s raining in Hong Kong when Raleigh gets there. It’s been a long, lonely flight, and his Mandarin is rudimentary and Cantonese nearly non-existent, so when he gets to the arrivals gate of the airport he’s already confused and overwhelmed and feeling every bit like the stupid American tourist he must look.

Principal Pentecost is waiting, though, hands clasped behind his back, and he gives Raleigh a nod when he sees him. “Do you need help with your bags?”

Raleigh hitches his a little higher on his shoulder. “No, sir. I didn’t bring much.”

“Then let’s go. We have a drive ahead of us.”

*

Pan-Pacific Academy is a big, industrial building near Hong Kong’s docks, and even if Principal Pentecost is the same, Raleigh is glad there’s nothing about the rest of the building that reminds him of his last boarding school, an isolated campus in Alaska where he chopped wood more than he attended class.

“I’ve asked Tendo Choi to keep an eye on you while you transition into the school,” Principal Pentecost says. “He told me he’d be glad to help you.”

Raleigh doesn’t know how much time he wants to spend with the best friend his brother ever had, but he likes Tendo. He can’t exactly say no. “Sounds good.”

Principal Pentecost eyes him as they get to the door and he keys them through, into a hallway that looks much more welcoming than the outside of the building. “It’s good to have you in my school again, Mr. Becket. I’m sorry for your loss.”

Raleigh bites his tongue on the urge to yell, because if Yancy’s death was anyone’s fault it was probably his, and getting in trouble is no way of starting time at a new school. “Thank you,” he says instead.

“Now, come into my office, I’ll get you your class schedule and dorm assignment and have Mr. Choi paged so I can leave you in his capable hands.”

*

The cafeteria is full of more people than Raleigh is expecting, even though he knows just how many students are in the school and shouldn’t be surprised. Tendo, after touring him around the school, helps him fill his plate with plenty of tips about what’s good and what he should steer away from and then steers him over to a table.

It’s full of students; the first two Tendo introduces are a pair towards one end, both dark-haired boys, one with glasses and messy hair and the end of a tattoo peeking out from under a sleeve that Pentecost probably almost expelled him for and the other with a long-suffering expressing and a cane propped next to him on the bench. “Newt, Hermann, this is Raleigh Becket. Raleigh, Newt and Hermann are juniors and the pride of the science and math departments respectively and also your roommates, though probably one of them is going to kill the other within the month, so you’ll be down to one of them.” He lowers his voice. “Money is on Hermann.”

“Hey,” they both say at once, and then Newt shakes Raleigh’s hand and pulls him down to sit. “Good to have you around, man, maybe you can convince Hermann here to have some fun once in a while, I haven’t managed it yet.”

“I have plenty of fun, Newton, just because I don’t—”

“And this is everyone else,” Tendo cuts in, sitting down next to Raleigh and gesturing down the table. “Aleksis and Sasha, don’t ask which is which because they won’t tell you, the Wei triplets, who you need to make sacrifices to the Elder Gods to tell apart, and Chuck, whose dad is the head of the history department here, which means he gets his own room and a dog. Max is the only reason we talk to him.” Chuck gives them a baleful look, but Tendo just grins. “And everyone, this is Raleigh, I knew him from the school in Alaska, he’s here, be nice.”

“We’re always nice,” says Sasha-or-Aleksis (the boy).

Everyone falls into easy conversation after that, the kind that makes it clear how well they all know each other. Newt and Hermann, a little separate from everyone else, spend the whole dinner arguing in a way that would worry Raleigh if anyone else was blinking an eye, and Sasha-or-Aleksis (the girl) is in deep discussion with two of the Wei triplets about one of their classes, and Raleigh keeps to himself. They’re all friendly, and he’s happy to have a table full of people to sit with, but sometimes Tendo looks at him and frowns a little and that’s plenty to remind him of his year homeschooling back in Oregon, and of Alaska, and he’s glad when Newt offers to walk him back to their room at the end of dinner.

It’s the first time he’s shared a room with anyone besides Yancy, and he thought it would be terrible, but it’s better than the too-silent year back with his parents, nobody else’s breathing waking him in the dark. Newt snores and Hermann talks in his sleep, scattered phrases of German that seem to mostly be about equations, and Raleigh sleeps well.

*

The next day, he meets Mako Mori.

Pan-Pacific Academy has an auto shop, a huge cement garage with a few cars out in various stages of progress. Raleigh doesn’t have the class—Pentecost probably thought he was doing him a favor—but he goes in during his free period anyway. It seems to be a quiet period in the shop, only one freshman tinkering with a transmission on a convertible with the head of the shop leaning over his shoulder, and Raleigh looks around a little at the models of car being taken apart and reconstructed.

In one corner, there’s a familiar silhouette, one that makes his heart jump into his throat. It’s not the same car, of course it’s not (that’s in a junkyard in Alaska, crumpled up, beyond totaled), but it’s still an ’85 Jaeger Danger, banged-up but salvageable, with a dark red finish and most of its engine dissected on a table next to it. Raleigh goes over without quite thinking about it, looking at the work—whoever’s working on it is converting it to some kind of clean fuel, it looks like, maybe to be supplemented by electricity or solar, and he remembers himself enough to keep his hands off it, but he looks at everything, the neat and obviously exactly-planned nature of it.

“Who are you?” someone asks behind him, and Raleigh tries not to feel guilty because he didn’t touch anything, just turns around with the friendliest smile he can muster. There’s a girl standing there, a little younger than him if he’s guessing right, short hair with the tips dyed blue (he’s fairly certain that isn’t in the dress code, but then again, Newt has more than one tattoo, so maybe Pentecost is lax with that here), wearing coveralls and looking at him mistrustfully.

She’s pretty, but Raleigh finds himself more fascinated by the way she gives him a quick appraisal and doesn’t give anything away about her findings. “I’m Raleigh,” he offers, because she did ask. “Are you the one fixing up the Danger?”

“I am.” She walks past him to the table with the engine parts on it, giving him a sidelong look on the way. “I’m told you fixed up a Danger yourself, once. Are you taking auto shop?”

“Yeah, an ’82, with my brother. But that was just restoring, we didn’t modify it at all. What you’re doing looks really interesting.” He pauses. “I’m not taking it. I just came in here on my free period.”

“I could use someone with more experience with cars helping me, if you think you’ll continue to be free during your free periods,” she says, already sorting through a pile of nuts to find what she needs.

It doesn’t sound like pity, and that’s enough for him. “I’ll stop by whenever I can.”

She smiles briefly and goes back to looking down at her work. “I’ll look forward to working with you, Raleigh.”

“Me too, definitely—um. I don’t know your name, sorry.”

That makes her look startled. “Of course, I’m sorry. Mako Mori.”

“It’s great to meet you, Mako,” he says, and leaves so he doesn’t just spend the rest of his free period staring at her as she goes to work.

*

“What do you know about Mako Mori?” he asks Newt that night. He would have asked Tendo at dinner, but less than forty-eight hours at Pan-Pacific Academy has taught him that if he asks a question in the cafeteria the whole school will know about it in minutes.

Newt immediately spins around in his chair with his eyes wide, like Raleigh just asked after the campus ghost or something. “When did you meet Mako?”

“In auto shop today. I thought I would see her at dinner, maybe.”

Newt makes a pitying face. “Dude, she doesn’t eat with us most of the time. I mean, lunches a lot, I guess, but maybe you have different lunchtimes. But she’s the principal’s daughter, she doesn’t live in dorms. She was going to a different boarding school before, but when he came to take over PPA she transferred here.”

“She’s nice. She’s fixing up this beautiful old Danger, making it run more sustainably, she said I could help if I want.”

Newt stares at him. “I think an actual cartoon bird just came and landed on your shoulder.”

Raleigh stares back. “What?”

“Man, if you aren’t afraid of Pentecost, then try all you want. Mako can kick your ass if she doesn’t like you anyway.”

Raleigh ducks his head. “I’m not—she seems great, but I just want to help her fix up the Danger.”

Newt snorts. “Sure, you just keep saying that, we’ll see how long that lasts.”

Hermann, like that’s the last straw, looks up from where he’s been writing (probably scathing) notes in his math textbook. “Newton, if you are quite finished making assumptions about other people’s personal lives, perhaps you might do some of your homework?”

“Sorry,” says Raleigh, because Newt is unrepentant and Raleigh was the one to start the conversation anyway.

Hermann gives him a brief look. “You’re fine.” He goes back to his textbook, and Raleigh follows his example. He only lost the first week of term to his mother’s worry, but it’s still a lot of work to catch up on. PPA expects the best of its students, and while Raleigh can do the work, academics are something his parents worry about more than he does. He would be perfectly happy building machines his whole life, but at least he knows what he’s learning here will help with that, and some of it is just interesting.

By lights out, he’s droops, the jet-lag still wiping him out, and Raleigh climbs into bed while the other two are still scrambling to finish up the last of their work. Newt still takes the time to wink in Raleigh’s direction before he turns his light out. “Sweet dreams of Mako,” he says, and laughs when Hermann throws a pencil at him.

*

The next day, Raleigh goes back to the auto shop during his free period.

This time, Mako is already standing over a table with technical blueprints spread out all over it, concentrating hard on whatever she wants to tweak. Raleigh tells the auto shop teacher that she invited him to sit in on her project and goes over before he can be told that’s not allowed.

Mako, to his surprise, looks up with a small smile when he’s a few feet away. “Raleigh, you came. Did you want to see what we’re working on? I’m figuring out some bugs.”

He knows this kind of work, remembers it from arguing with Yancy over the manual for their Danger, so he goes over to the table. “What kind of bugs?”

“My father says I’m perhaps being too ambitious, since this is my first project.” She darts a quick glance up at him, like she’s checking to see if someone told him whose daughter she is. Raleigh does his best to just look curious. If Pentecost’s her father, then Pentecost’s her father. He cares more about what she has to think about it. “It isn’t, I’ve double-checked my math with Hermann and the science for the biodiesel and solar with Newt, but it isn’t coalescing the way I want it to.”

Raleigh pulls the plans across the table towards himself, looking over the engine schematics, the way the changes go all the way through the car. He looks at the Danger, over to his side, and the parts spread out, and the schematics, and thinks. Mako doesn’t rush him, just waits with her hands folded like she could do it all day. “It’s just the way things are fitting together,” he finally says, and her eyebrows go up. “Jaeger tech is different from most other cars, it’s why working on a Danger or a Cherno or any of their other models is so different from anything else.”

“What needs to change, then?”

Raleigh finds a blank sheet of paper and starts a rough sketch. It isn’t scientifically neat like hers, but she’s nodding along as he changes angles, moves the distributor cap away from where she had it, makes sure the battery has access to what it needs.

“That won’t work,” she says abruptly when he moves to the exhaust system, and takes the pencil out of his hand, showing him her math, exactly what she needs to make sure the biodiesel works properly.

Raleigh counters her, and she counters him, passing the sketch back and forth on the table, rebuilding the schematics until it looks not like Jaeger tech and not like a regular car, but like something new all on its own. The auto shop teacher finally has to throw them out, twenty minutes late for their next classes, and Raleigh and Mako grin and hurry down the halls together until they have to split off, her to English class and he to physics.

Two of the Wei triplets are in his class, and they give him identical raised eyebrows when he sheepishly presents his late pass and submits to the scolding he gets. One of them points at his own cheek once Raleigh finds a seat and Raleigh wipes his face off and gets engine grease on his hand.

He doesn’t care in the least.

*

Pentecost stops him in the hallway after class the next day. Raleigh hasn’t ever been really afraid of him, the way so many of the other students in Alaska and in Hong Kong say they are, but his expression is forbidding enough to make him nervous. “Mr. Becket. You’re settling in well, I hear.”

“Yes, sir. I like it here.”

“I’m glad. Mako tells me you’re helping with her current project.”

Raleigh tries not to fidget. “It won’t impact her grade or anything, will it?”

“No, she’s doing this as an independent project, an extracurricular. If she wants your help, she’s welcome to it.” He pauses. “I didn’t sign you up for auto shop because I didn’t think you would want it.”

He shrugs. “It was always my thing more than Yancy’s. He just liked making them go fast. If you don’t mind, I’ll keep helping Mako.”

Pentecost gives him a look that makes it clear he does mind, but he doesn’t say it out loud. Instead, he says “That’s up to her, Mr. Becket. Now, don’t you have a class to be going to?”

Raleigh knows a dismissal when he hears one. “Yes, sir.”

Sasha-or-Aleksis is in his history class when he slips in two minutes late, and she gives him a bracing pat on the shoulder. “In trouble with the commander?”

“I don’t think so.” He hopes not.

“So he was just vetting his daughter’s … project partner?” It’s impressive just how many implications she manages to fit in that pause. “I don’t envy you that either.”

Hercules Hansen, up at the front of the room, clears his throat, and Raleigh is grateful for the reprieve. Mako is his project partner, and he isn’t going to disrespect her by trying for anything else, and he really needs to stop thinking about it.

*

The next time he comes to the auto shop, Mako is under the Danger. She doesn’t talk through her process or just swear like Raleigh and Yancy did with theirs, and when he clears his throat she rolls out from underneath, grease on her face and arms and a little scowl on her face that melts into a smile when she sees him. “I’ve been trying to figure out how to apply your schematics, and you’re right, I need to adjust something in the exhaust system or it won’t fit, but it means I need to recalibrate the math.”

Raleigh takes off his sweater and gets on the ground next to her. “Let me see. I can’t do what you do with math, but I know cars.”

Mako smiles. “So we’ll do it together,” she says, and pulls him in under the car to show him what she’s thinking, their shoulders resting together while they talk in the dark under the car.

*

A week passes, and then two, and Raleigh falls into the routine of PPA, classes and auto shop, study group with Tendo and Aleksis-and-Sasha and the Wei triplets (Newt and Hermann would be invited except nobody likes to study with them because they always end up both arguing with each other and obliquely or explicitly calling anyone who doesn’t follow their genius logic idiots), evenings in the dorm listening to Newt and Hermann bicker and swap academic journals in four languages across the room, awkward lunches with Chuck, who’s the only one of Tendo’s friends to share his lunch period but who seems to have taken an intense dislike to him.

There isn’t much time to miss Yancy, but when he does, and whenever his schedule allows, he goes to the auto shop. Sometimes Mako is there and sometimes she isn’t. More often she is, and the two of them work on the Danger together, fine-tuning it, building and rebuilding pieces until Raleigh is sure they’re doing everything except redesigning the chassis. When she isn’t, Raleigh pokes at the plans and wonders how they would apply to other Jaeger models. The equations Mako is using the redesigns they’re doing, most car manufacturers couldn’t use, but he thinks other Jaeger models could do it, with some redesign.

He tells Mako so one afternoon when they both show up after classes. “I know,” she says, ducking her head to look at the plans from a different angle. “I’d like to work for Jaeger one day. That’s why I chose the Danger.”

“Yancy and I chose ours because Dangers are known to go fast.” Raleigh keeps his eyes on the plans. “Didn’t really think to update the safety features past the ‘80s.”

“We will, then. Jaeger is first in safety these days, we might as well try to update their older model.” Mako takes it like she takes all of Raleigh’s suggestions, three steps ahead of him the second he begins to make a suggestion, and then there’s a paper in front of them and she’s sketching, schematics for safety twining in with their systems.

“The point of a Danger is to go fast, and this adds a lot of weight,” he says, takes his own pencil, and starts working again. The moment passes, brings him away from memories he doesn’t want to pollute this with, and later on, when he thinks about it, he thinks that might have been Mako’s plan all along. It should make him embarrassed, but instead it’s just warming, knowing she’s looking out for him like that, and later on Newt asks why he’s grinning and Raleigh makes up a stupid excuse about an e-mail from his parents because he wants to keep this for himself.

*

Once, Raleigh looks up from their drafting table to find Pentecost watching from the doorway of the auto shop. Mako is sitting on the hood of the car, knees drawn up as she makes some recalculations just on pen and paper even when Raleigh offered to find a calculator or just use his phone, and Raleigh is still integrating their safety features into the plans and seeing just how much weight they’re going to have to compensate for.

For a second, he thinks Pentecost is going to come over, ask them questions or just say hello to his daughter, but instead after a few seconds he leaves the shop again without drawing anyone’s attention but Raleigh’s.

“What are you looking at?” Mako asks a minute later, when Raleigh is still puzzling over what Pentecost wanted.

“Nothing,” he says, and goes back to work. As long as Pentecost doesn’t ask him to stop working in the auto shop, he’ll keep going, and Mako will see him at the end of the day anyway.

*

“I’ve never seen you outside of the auto shop,” Raleigh says after a month. He tries to make it an observation and not a plea.

Mako blinks like she’s surprised, which at least assures him that she isn’t avoiding him. “We’re in different grade levels, with different lunch schedules, and I eat dinner with my father.”

“Yeah, I know, it’s just—sorry, yeah, it makes sense.”

She keeps watching him, head tilted, the same way she looks at the plans just before she comes up with one of her strokes of genius (and that’s what they are, he knows; she’s more quiet about it than Newt and Hermann but he doesn’t think he’s met anyone sharper in his life). “I could come to dinner some night,” she says after a while.

“You don’t have to,” he immediately says. “I know you eat with the principal, that’s great, I just thought—I don’t see you a lot.”

“You see me all the time,” she counters, smiling and leaning into his shoulder. And then, before he can apologize for pressuring her and confirm that he values the time she makes for him already, “Maybe I’ll come to dinner one night. Sometimes Pentecost has dinner with the faculty. I could eat in the cafeteria instead of in our apartment.”

Raleigh can’t help beaming at her. “I’d like that. And everyone would like you—I mean, they do like you, I know you already know Newt and Hermann and probably Tendo and—”

“I’ll come to dinner, Raleigh.” She goes back to work doing strength calculations on the updated bumper they’re using, and Raleigh grins over his own work.

Two nights after that, Mako shows up to dinner, ignores the way people whisper and stare at the principal’s daughter, and goes right over to the table with Raleigh and his friends, barely greeting everyone else before she sits down across from him. They don’t talk much, just sit and grin at each other while Newt and Hermann argue about movie physics and Sasha-and-Aleksis continue their habit of passing half the food on their trays to each other and the Wei triplets play keep-away with a crumpled ball of paper and Tendo and Chuck talk about classes. Their feet brush under the table for most of the night.

“I’ll come back soon,” she promises at the end of dinner, and sure enough, five days later, there she is again, and three days after that, until she’s easily adopted into the group just like Raleigh was, talking computers with Tendo and martial arts with Hu and music with Sasha-or-Aleksis.

Sometimes she appears in the halls between classes, too, just fast enough to tell him to meet her in the auto shop or that she can’t come to dinner or that the tag is sticking out of his sweater, and it makes PPA feel like home for the first time, makes it a little easier to get through every day knowing he won’t meet Yancy’s grin across a hallway or a table.

*

When they start actually piecing together the Danger, not just rebuilding parts and drawing schematics, it’s hard to stop. Newt takes to grinning at him in the mornings when he jumps out of bed early and already awake, loudly saying “Off to see Lady? Or just the girlfriend?” until Hermann throws his pillow at him. Raleigh doesn’t mind the teasing. He spends every waking hour he can in the auto shop, and Mako does too. They miss meals, they miss classes (though after the second missed class they both get stern reprimands from Mr. Hansen, who’s the deputy principal and apparently has to discipline the students Pentecost feels too close to, for fairness’s sake), they’re there before breakfast and until the last seconds before lights out.

“I don’t even know where we can drive it,” Raleigh says one day, all the way under the car tinkering with the fuel pumps. “At least not as fast as it’s meant to go.”

“I know the area a little better, because of my father. There’s a place or two with a stretch of road that isn’t too busy at night.” She sighs, and he rolls out from under the Danger to meet her eyes. “The problem will be getting his permission. He’s been worried enough about this project without the thought of us actually driving. Well, you. I’m not old enough for a license.”

“You were just going to build this and never drive it?”

“I thought one of the teachers or older students would take me for a drive. Now it can be you.”

“We’re going to have trouble getting permission from your father.”

“We’ll figure that out when we need to.”

*

“No,” says Pentecost a week later, when he comes to check in on their progress and stay this time. “I can’t let students under my care take an untested car out into a city they aren’t even very familiar with, with or without adult supervision.”

Raleigh sets his jaw, because Mako dropped her eyes and he can’t blame her for not wanting to argue with her father. “With respect, sir, it isn’t fair to Mako that she’s being punished for my mistakes.”

“Nobody is punishing you for anything, Mr. Becket. When I allowed you and your brother to test-drive your car—multiple times, I might add—we were in rural Alaska, where there were unlikely to be other drivers. The situation is different.”

“She deserves to see the car go. She designed it.”

“Then once it’s been tested inside, at the end of term we’ll have it transported outside the city and she’ll try it then. This is not a debate, Mr. Becket.” Pentecost gives them both a nod, waiting for Mako to look up before he does. “You’re doing good work on this car,” he says, and then sweeps back out of the room.

“I’m sorry,” Raleigh says, when they’re alone again.

“Raleigh, it’s okay. I knew he was unlikely to agree. Even saying that we might get to go out of the city at the end of term to try is a victory.” She nods down at the plans. “And we won’t be able to do that if we don’t get to work.”

*

Raleigh steals enough for two from the cafeteria the evening they’re finally ready to turn the key in the ignition for the first time and see if the Danger starts. Hermann sees him and grins the tiny grin he does when he’s amused by something or got one over on Newt. “I’ll tell the others you’ll be absent this evening, shall I? And text if you don’t think you’ll make it back to the dorm tonight. Me, not Newton, if it’s him you’ll never hear the end of it.”

“Thanks,” says Raleigh, trying not to sound quite as awkward as he feels, and ducks out before the cafeteria monitor looks in his direction.

Mako is already there when he gets to the auto shop, and she smiles when she sees they brought dinner. “Thank you, I told him I was eating dinner in the cafeteria tonight so we could do this on our own.”

“I thought we could make a picnic of it.” He spreads it out on a clean table, and they both pick at it, eyes on the Danger in between bites. There’s still cosmetic work to be done, cleaning and paint and some reupholstering in the trunk, where they had to rip up the bottom to access a few things from the top, but it doesn’t need to gleam, it just needs to go. “Maybe we can finish afterwards,” he finally says, and she looks relieved and pulls the key out of her pocket to toss it to him. He tosses it right back. “We’re just turning it on to see if the engine turns over. You don’t need a license for that, and this is your project so you should do it.”

“It’s our project,” she corrects, but she still grins and rushes for the driver’s seat, adjusting it and the mirror and putting her seatbelt on even though won’t be moving. Raleigh follows a second later, sliding into the passenger side and buckling up himself.

She puts the key in, turns it. There’s a second where the engine turns over and he doesn’t think it will do anything else, but then the Danger jolts and starts purring underneath them, just waiting for someone to hit the gas. Raleigh lets out a disbelieving laugh, and then Mako is putting her arm around his neck and pulling him across the gearshift, smiling like he’s the best thing she’s ever seen, and she kisses him.

“Mako,” he says into her mouth, and he likes saying it like that, so he does it again, and then she’s pulling away long enough to turn off the ignition and undo her seatbelt and then she’s climbing across the gearshift and kissing him again, one hand on his cheek and one on the dashboard to steady them, and they kiss until they have to stop because they’re both smiling too much.

It’s almost lights out before they get out of the car and eat the rest of the dinner he stole (now stone cold), shoving it in their mouths and giggling and brushing fingers, handing each other morsels of what they’re eating and kissing in between. The lights out bell rings and both of them run, even though they’ll get in trouble anyway, and Raleigh gets through the door to his room eight minutes after lights out to find Hermann and Newt grinning and a slip summoning him to Mr. Hansen’s office from the dorm supervisor.

He spends the rest of the night grinning anyway, and he doesn’t mind missing part of his first period class to get assigned extra chores around the school because he meets Mako on her way out of Mr. Hansen’s office too and she grins at him and says “See you during your free period, we’re supposed to test the car out to see if it starts today.”

*

Everyone knows within twenty-four hours. Raleigh and Mako don’t tell anyone (well, he doesn’t, at least), don’t kiss in public, but maybe he can’t stop grinning, and maybe they kept exchanging looks during auto shop while the auto shop teacher and Principal Pentecost and every student with a free period who could get away came to see them start the car, which still starts beautifully, and maybe people drew conclusions.

At dinner (which Mako has to eat at home for the next two weeks for being out after lights out), Tendo greets him as “Mr. Raleigh Mori” and everyone else picks it up with varying levels of glee (with the exception of Hermann). Raleigh just grins at his dinner because he doesn’t really mind, and he knows just how dreamy he gets about her.

Sasha-and-Aleksis offer a double date at a restaurant they go to when they both earn evenings out, Newt offers to sneak him out of the dorm so he can play Romeo to Mako’s Juliet, and everyone else ribs him about it all through dinner. Raleigh texts Mako in between letting it happen, passing on the best and worst of the congratulations and teasing.

My father wants you to come for dinner on Saturday, she texts when he’s on his way back to the dorm, trailing Newt and Hermann, who have stopped teasing him and gone back to arguing with each other (Raleigh is fairly certain that if there’s a betting pool for the next couple to get together he should place his bets now).

I’ll be there, he sends back, just in time for Newt to turn around and ask whether he’s thinking about his car or his girlfriend.

*

Pentecost stares at him for a full minute when Raleigh turns up at his apartment door on Saturday. “This is Mako’s choice, but you should know that if you hurt or pressure her I will be very angry.”

“Yes, sir,” he says, and then Mako is at the door behind her father, hair freshly dyed and wearing a dress he’s pretty sure she borrowed from Sasha-or-Aleksis, and he can’t help beaming at her.

When he looks up again, Pentecost has something closer to a smile than Raleigh has ever seen on his face, and when he notices Raleigh looking he clears his throat and tells them it’s time for dinner.

*

At the end of the term (after the head of engineering at Jaeger has been in touch with Mako and Raleigh about their design, after Newt and Hermann kiss at the winter holiday party and pretty much don’t stop afterwards, after dinners and lunches and Mako asking what kind of car they should rebuild next), Pentecost and the head of auto shop take Raleigh and Mako out of the city, the Danger following in a trailer behind them out of the city limits and still further, until they reach a few longer stretches of road.

When the Danger is unloaded, gleaming dark red, no scratches anywhere on it, tested under every condition they could manage, Raleigh clears his throat. “Could we maybe take her out for a spin on our own first? We won’t go out of sight.”

Pentecost eyes them both and finally tosses them the keys. “Mr. Becket, if I see you going above a reasonable speed, I will expel you.”

Raleigh grins at Mako, meets her returning grin, and then they’re scrambling for the car, he for the driver’s side and she for the passenger’s. “We’ll have other days to go fast,” he promises, buckling up, and the second she follows suit, he turns the ignition, listens to the Danger start up as sure as ever.

“He won’t actually expel you,” she says, dimples coming out in her face, and Raleigh looks at the road, turns on his signal, and steps on the gas.