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And We Are Giants

Chapter Text

"Kaiju on your three."

"Roger that."

They didn't have to share a look, but it was almost impossible for Steve Rogers to avoid the casual smirk he sent Bucky Barnes, his long time companion and drift partner. They were currently locked into their Jaeger, the Howling Commando, somewhere out in the Pacific beyond any place Steve might recognize. The latest in Kaiju attacks - this one had been affectionately named 'Baby' after it's official name and categorization had shown up (Saisho, and a Cat-2 if nothing else came up in their analysis) - even had Steve feeling comfortable. All of the latest Kaiju had easily been Category 3, moving up in size and strength and starting to push towards Category 4, not that the Jaeger teams weren't ready for them. Baby, it seemed, was half the size of its most recent predecessors and lacking any identifiable strength or skill. It had originally made the entire team uneasy but by this point enough distance analysis had been run that it was beginning to seem like nothing more than an escaped Cat-2, maybe taking advantage of all of the fallen Kaiju before it.

Predictably, the comparably tiny Kaiju lept from the water almost as soon as both Bucky and Steve were able to catch sight of its motion. Baby was almost half the size of the Kaiju the Howling Commando had last fought - a beast of a monster satirically named Hammerhead with an inclination towards headbutting - and the Howling Commando was barely pushed back as it caught the smaller Kaiju within its grasp.

"It's been a while since the last Cat-2," Bucky commented absently as the Howling Commando sent Baby sprawling into the water in front of them.

"I would rather it have been longer," Steve replied easily, barely a grunt from him as they both moved to start walking. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate what seemed to be a break in their usual baddies, it was just that any Kaiju still represented a threat to the Pacific coastal towns no matter the category. As easy a job as it seemed, it was still up to Steve and Bucky to take down Baby before it could do any real harm.

"Still," Bucky countered easily, and the two took a small break in order to properly swing the Kaiju by its tail, "You gotta admit this is kind of what we signed up for. Protecting the world and having a good time doing it."

"Chatter, boys." Agent Peggy Carter's voice broke in through the headsets and even Bucky had the decency to look admonished. Agent Carter was one of the most well-respected agents within the San Francisco Shatterdome, and had been a lot of the reason Steve and Bucky had been given the chance to actually pilot a Jaeger. She was chief of operations for the Howling Commando and its team, an almost ragtag group of men gathered from across the Shatterdomes in order to form the most efficient Jaeger team in existence. Agent Carter's extensive team of pilots and engineers boasted a 100% success rate in simulations even before she'd invited Steve and Bucky to join them, and both boys knew the honor it had been to have been selected for the team. That had been eight battles (and eight successful Kaiju kills) ago for the Howling Commando, after which there was no denying the credibility or skill of any member of the team.

"Let's get this over with then, shall we?" Bucky asked, and he and Steve hitched their operations in preparation for real battle. It was followed by a round of cheers from LOCCENT behind Agent Carter's voice, because not even an easy battle could stop the Commando team from proper celebration. Steve allowed himself a heavy laugh that Bucky echoed easily, and they turned to the Kaiju that had been hissing at them from its safe distance.

The Howling Commando approached quickly, hardly giving Baby a chance to prepare before the Jaeger was on top of it, grasping at the Kaiju with one hand and bringing the other down to deliver a number of blows. Baby let out a round of cries as Bucky's fist connected with it, pausing only when interrupted by the robot's fist connecting with its jaw. Steve's fist continued to hold on tightly to the small but squirming Kaiju, resolutely ignoring the screeching of metal as small claws scratched desperately at the hull and chest and arms of the Jaeger.

It hardly felt like a minute before Baby stopped moving, and Bucky stilled his fist.

"Is it dead?" he asked, although they both knew the likelihood of that was slim. Even the earliest Kaiju had not been so easily defeated, and it never hurt to double check anyway.

"Pulse Cannon," both men said in unison after just a moment's hesitation, because it had become every Jaeger's fallback to ensuring the death of the Kaiju in question. Plus the heat from the blast tended to burn away much of the debris from the carasses, saving a bit of hassle in the clean up, especially involving Kaiju Blue.

The whir of the pulse cannon preparing itself was warm and familiar, and both Steve and Bucky allowed themselves to bask in the feeling as it heated and then fired a handful of shots at the downed Kaiju. Baby's unmoving body bounced with the impact of the shots, and began to glow red where the canon successfully broke its tough skin. Steve resisted holding up his hand for a high five with Bucky simply because it hardly seemed like a difficult effort on either of their parts, but he couldn't deny there was something definitely satisfying about the floating remnants of any sort of Kaiju corpse.

"Saisho is down," Steve announced over the communicators as both he and Bucky prepared their Jaeger for pickup. Their job with this particular battle was now finished and they could return to the basketball game that had been interrupted with the alarm. Steve did offer Bucky one more smirk as they were congratulated by Agent Carter and her surrounding team, and Bucky readily returned it.

"See, now that wasn't so bad," Bucky commented as the Jaeger slowly shut its offensive systems down, "There's even time to clean up when we get back before celebrating this evening."

Steve let out a chuckle, because Bucky always made sure there was time for celebration, and rarely let himself go without at least an hour of preparation in front of the mirror. Steve preferred to use the time to wind down, but there hadn't been a party yet that Bucky had let him skip. Something about how much of a looker Steve had become after their Ranger training and how it was wasted if they didn't take advantage of their celebrity status. Steve was personally just as happy not letting the fame get to his head, but he couldn't lie that he enjoyed the time spent with his team... and with Peggy.

Which was of course the wrong thing to think about, because suddenly Bucky was smirking at him knowingly. "Maybe tonight's the night," he suggested out loud, and Steve shook his head in response. Bucky pushed on. "But I'm serious. Wait out the party a little bit, let everybody get a little wasted - "

"You're the only one that ever gets wasted, Buck," Steve interrupted, "And besides, she's not like that. I wouldn't want to just - "

"Pick-up in ten minutes," Dum-Dum Dugan, one of Steve and Bucky's chief engineers and a close friend, interrupted over the communication systems, causing Bucky to outright laugh and Steve to flush heavily. Of course Bucky's intention was to make him accidentally reveal his long time crush on Peggy over the intercom where she was going to hear him. He glared as Bucky's laughter faded and the other man held up his hands in surrender.

"Roger that," Steve told Dugan, and Bucky erupted into another fit of laughter. Steve merely rolled his eyes at him, choosing instead to continue with the Howling Commando's shutdown sequence.

It was as he was switching the main visuals that something finally caught Steve's eye, and he immediately sobered. There was still movement within the Kaiju floating in front of them, and not in such a way that the water could be forcing it. Something was moving inside the beast's body, almost slithering just beneath the skin.

"Bucky," Steve said, but already their connection had caught the other man's attention and he was turning in disbelief to look at what Steve was watching.

"What the hell - " Bucky uttered just as those on the other side of the communications line did the same, but the question was answered in the same breath.

It happened quickly, almost instantaneously even as it played in slow motion before Steve's eyes. Saisho's body burst, spilling guts and Kaiju Blue into the surrounding water. But something else was emerging, nearly fifty tiny creatures that looked like the parasites in their movement but more closely resembled the Kaiju in their appearance. These were identical to each other, all covered in the slimy Kaiju Blue and slippery as though they were giant salamanders. Steve guessed that each one - because they were all the same size - might be the width of a large sedan but easily the length of a few city buses from their head to the tip of their tails. They slithered over the corpse of their fallen carrier, slipping effortlessly into the water and disappearing.

"Baby's got babies," Bucky commented, and Steve couldn't help but think that it should be funny, but wasn't. There was something wrong, something horrible about what was happening before them that Steve just couldn't shake. He wanted to find comfort in Bucky's words, in his uneasy attempts to humor them both, but a terrible feeling had overcome him so suddenly and so strongly that he found he very nearly couldn't move. Instinctually, Steve knew he should be thinking more positively, analyzing the situation and running over strategies with Bucky to take them down, but he couldn't seem to focus through the anxiety that gripped him and he remained silent, both in the drift and out.

"Where the hell are they going?" Bucky asked, because he had noticed the same thing as Steve almost immediately: the monsters became practically invisible as soon as they submerged themselves and it looked as though they all intended to disappear. Steve and Bucky took a step back to try to find their swimming patterns in the water, to try to see if they could find at least one of the monsters, but there was hardly a ripple beyond their own lurching movements.

"Are you getting this?" Steve called through the communicators, hoping that the creatures might be visible on one of the scanners back with the others. Slowly, he and Bucky began to put their own systems back online, reactivating the parts they had since shut down and once again preparing the Howling Commando for battle.

"Affirmative," Colonel Phillips's voice rang out, "Still working on figuring it out."

"The signature is all over the place," Peggy cut in, and Steve and Bucky shared a look. They could have guessed that based on the numbers still slowly slinking out of the floating corpse, what they needed was more information.

"Any idea what their doing?" Steve asked again, because they still had not seen any emerge from the water. The Howling Commando picked up another foot, and both Steve and Bucky peered carefully into the dark water below.

"They're just scattered," Peggy said, "And none of them seem to be following any sort of pattern or strategy. We're still looking but until then assume hostile and start - wait."

"We've been waiting, Pegs," Bucky replied, but Peggy hushed him quickly.

"They're moving now, forming together. Check your perimeter, Steve, they seem to be converging around you."

Bucky huffed as Steve confirmed. He looked to Steve to speak, but never managed to do so, and Steve looked to the movement that had startled his copilot. Peggy had been correct, there was now a swirling mass gathering and rippling around their feet. Almost instinctually, Steve and Bucky lifted their arms as one and aimed their fists at the swirling mass, at any random point that was the growing whirlpool beneath them. Both men braced themselves, waiting for the moment when the creatures would finally reveal what they were doing.

When they did emerge, it was as if the ocean was rising to greet them. Despite bracing themselves, Steve and Bucky were both caught unprepared for the assault they were unexpectedly faced with, and nearly toppled the Jaeger as they sought to right it after the blunt force of the Kaiju. It was more difficult than usual, and both Steve and Bucky grunted hard with the effort of pulling their bodies back upright under the weight of however many tiny Kaiju had successfully scaled the Jaeger.

"Get them off of here!" Steve shouted over his and Bucky's efforts, though his copilot needed no coaxing for the task. Already they were seeing the tiny lizard-like creatures reaching the arms of the Howling Commando, and they ripped one off as it crawled dangerously close to the Jaeger's core.

It felt oddly human, like something out of a horror movie, to be suddenly scraping Kaiju off of the Howling Commando as though they were bugs on a child's shorts. Steve distantly wished it could be so innocent, but didn't have time to truly mourn the thought before the Kaiju attack transformed into something more serious.

While they had been climbing, the monsters had done little in the way of damage to the Jaeger's body or systems. Almost as one, the Kaiju changed their movements and began to claw at the Howling Commando's exoskeleton as though they intended to rip it apart. It became clear to Steve that this was likely their intended goal, and the look he shared with Bucky implied that the other man had reached the same conclusion, even without their neural link.

Bucky let out a curse as the cockpit erupted into a shower of sparks, only narrowly missing their Conn Pod and platforms. "We've gotta shut them down fast," he said, even though neither of them had ceased tearing at the creatures while they tried to figure out what to do. It seemed little was helping, since for every one they successfully removed, it seemed two more took its place. But Steve knew that wasn't the case; they had seen all of the smaller Kaiju emerge from Saisho, so there had to be an end.

"Don't stop," Steve added unnecessarily, but it felt good to be talking and he didn't know what he might do if they both stopped fighting. The communications tower had long since stopped relaying information to the Jaeger, and if it weren't for the chatter and the commanding tones of Peggy in the background, Steve would have thought one of the Kaiju had taken out their link. It wasn't so unlikely a chance at this point, as systems were beginning to flash that they were going offline and all of Steve's sensors were beginning to burn with the pain of an abrupt disconnect.

"My leg's gone," Bucky said hastily, but Steve had already felt the disconnect from Bucky’s side of the Howling Commando. The circuitry had either been cut or fried, and Bucky was struggling to hold on to his precarious balance. More alarmingly, their systems scans were no longer reading any signals from anything below the hip on Bucky's side of the machine, and were fast losing details on the others as well. Steve was just thankful they were still standing despite the disconnect. It meant that they'd only destroyed the circuitry and perhaps minor structural pieces, but that didn't mean it would stay that way.

"They're going to rip us completely to shreds if we don't stop them now," Steve replied. He racked his mind for a plan to eliminate monsters faster, better, more effectively, but nothing would come to mind. Their plasma cannons had been mostly used (wasted) on Saisho's body and took time to prepare, anyway. And it wasn't like they would do much good when the creatures were attached to the Jaeger. Steve considered the possibility of finding a weapon with which to beat them away, but again the issues of removing the creatures from the Jaeger without harming it seemed to be the problem.

“We need a way to get them all off at once, or close to it,” Bucky interrupted, because that was the issue Steve was struggling with the most. Steve agreed through their link, but neither pilot could make any decent suggestion to do so. They gave it the briefest thought before Steve was struck with the warmth of an idea. Thoughts coursed through the drift, a plan from Bucky that Steve found himself both liking and hating.

"If we can use ol' HC's power source, we could probably fry them all," Bucky said aloud, and Steve thought about how they could go about doing that. It was a solid idea if they could make it work, but the Howling Commando wasn't equipped with an outer source of electricity. If they were going to access that kind of power, they would have to do so from the inside, and Steve wasn't sure how to go about transferring that.

Bucky gave him a look and tugged on one of their cabled extensors and everything connected beyond with a disappointed scowl. Steve stared for a moment before shaking his head, because Bucky's full plan was suddenly clear.

"No, Buck," Steve insisted, "That's too dangerous, there are too many things that could go wrong with that idea." Namely, Steve wasn't sure how to even get those cables outside the Jaeger without one of them taking them out themselves, and that meant shutting down the neural link in the middle of the fight. Bucky nodded, because that was exactly what he intended to do, and he didn't wait for a response from Steve before he began the manual overrides to do so. "There has to be another way," Steve continued, desperate to change his friend and teammate's mind. "It's way too dangerous to risk even opening the pod, much less hooking up live electrical wires."

"It's the only plan we got, Steve," Bucky replied, just as they were jolted forward. The structural integrity of the Howling Commando had been compromised, it seemed, and the Jaeger lurched dangerously again before Steve heard the communications shut off in his ear as well. "If we don't move fast, we aren't even going to have the power to do this," Bucky added, and Steve couldn't help but reluctantly agree with him. All of their systems were beginning to go dark, and despite his hesitance Steve knew they wouldn't have access to the power grid of the Jaeger for long.

"Let me help, then," Steve finally conceded, removing his helmet as their neural link interface finally shut down and they were both free from the drift and from control of the Jaeger. Both Steve and Bucky stepped off their command platforms, struggling to balance as the hull shook and tilted dangerously. Bucky was the first to reach the access ladder that would allow them outside, and he climbed it halfway before turning back to Steve.

"Get those extensors disconnected," Bucky shouted over the noise of the Kaiju ripping through the metal of the Jaeger. Steve nodded and began disconnected the extensors from the nearest platform, letting loose the cables he didn't need and carefully gathering them as they sparked with the Jaeger's electricity. He handed the gathered ends to Bucky, who accepted them into a loose grip and pulled as he climbed the rest of the way up the ladder. The emergency hatch squealed and clanged as it was thrown open, and Bucky disappeared quickly through the opening. Steve moved to follow, but there were cables in the way and his progress was slowed. He halted as Bucky's face appeared in the hatch once more, looking down at Steve with a face he recognized all too well.

"Don't move off the command platform," Bucky demanded, and Steve shook his head to protest but Bucky cut him off again. "It's the only place we know is protected from the charge. I'll be back down there as soon as I can get these secure. You gotta trust me, Steve."

"Bucky!" Steve shouted, though he knew it wouldn't do any good. The other man hadn't left any room for argument as he disappeared beyond the hatch again,  and Steve was hesitant to go against Bucky's wishes. He'd had a point, after all. The interior of the Jaeger had been designed to withstand outside forces, including water and electricity, but with the hatch open there was no telling how protected the Conn Pod would be. The command platform was the only space that had been sealed a second time, surrounded with a rubber that not only allowed for the necessary movement but also protected the pilots from extenuating circumstances within the hull itself. If there were any Kaiju surviving after the initial shock, they needed to ensure that somebody was available to handle that. Steve trusted Bucky, but there was no quelling the fear that was growing inside of him. He listened silently for anything that might give away Bucky's status, but the screeching of metal being torn was the only thing he could hear from within the hull.

Steve took a deep breath as he realized he had been holding it, and looked up to the hatch where Bucky had disappeared. There were still no other sounds, but the cables were flexing and stretching, so Steve knew Bucky was still working.

"Activate it!" Steve heard suddenly, even before he heard the hard clunking of Bucky along the edge of the hatch. The cables were swinging violently now, and just beyond them Bucky appeared, having been thrown into the edge of the hatch and just barely catching it. He was almost suspended from the entrance, having landed within the tangle of cables he had just pulled through, and was trying to quickly disentangle himself and catch the rungs of the ladder. The nearby ear-splitting shriek of one of the smaller Kaiju told Steve why Bucky was moving so quickly and had landed so terribly in the doorway. It took him only a moment's hesitation to fling himself back onto his own command platform and into the boot holsters, and to begin flipping the switches that normally activated the neural link. Steve didn't bother putting his own helmet back on, watching as Bucky struggled to get himself untangled from the cables leading outside.

"Faster, Steve!" Bucky shouted, cancelling Steve's own debate on whether he should be continuing the charge or reaching out to help his friend. He reluctantly looked away so that he could rapidly complete the startup process, but hesitated again when he heard Bucky curse.

"Dammit, Steve, we've got to get it up now!" Bucky shouted, even though he was still dangling by his own suit, wrapped in wires. Steve spared him one last hesitant glance as he reached for the last of the controls, but that was when the door to the hatch darkened and both Bucky and Steve let out a gasp of surprise.

The Kaiju that Bucky had been running from had finally found its way to the nook that hid the hatch, and was looking in at Bucky with glowing eyes easily the size of Bucky's head. The mouth, however, was the most alarming part, and Bucky gave one last attempt to free himself before the Kaiju was surging forward, seizing him by whatever it could get its jaws on and pulling.

"Bucky!" Steve shouted again, this time with a crack in his voice as Bucky cried out and was torn from the cable in one easy pull. The Kaiju had taken him by the arm, and was ripping him back through the hatch while Bucky's blood splattered the hatch door. Bucky cried out as his drive suit was breached by teeth as large as fists and everything in the Kaiju's maw was ripped to shreds. Steve lurched to help but he was still connected to the command platform, and the high whine of the Howling Commando's systems coming online was the only warning before the crack of electricity sparked outside.

It was only a moment, barely even seconds as Steve watched Bucky disappear out the hatch as the sky outside lit up with the sudden burst of electricity, but it felt like years, like ages. Steve was vaguely aware of the prick of electricity that shot through the control panels of the Jaeger, and only vaguely aware of the lingering, almost ghost-like pain that shot down his arm and through his body as he watched Bucky disappear for good. It was too dangerous to try to rescue him now, if Bucky survived the shock at all.

Steve became acutely aware of the moment his entire body went numb, the tingle of a distant force fading almost instantaneously and leaving him feeling empty. Bucky was gone, he realized somewhere in the back of his mind, but he could not bring himself to consciously think it or say it aloud. He had a job to do, one that he would now have to do alone, and he let out a sob if only to ground himself back into reality.

The Jaeger gave one last lurch as its systems came online as best as they could, and Steve let his body sink into the slouch as he replaced his helmet. Systems slowly came back online and began checking for overall damage, for lingering Kaiju, for anything out of the ordinary and Steve crumpled as the alarms for a missing pilot began to beep - to blare in Steve's ears. He ignored the alarms, because he still had a job to do and the numbness of his own limbs was more pain to him that the screeching warning of the computers.

"Conn pod connect," Steve almost whispered, barely strong enough to force any noise out of himself. There was a moment of silence where Steve thought the communications might be permanently out, where he thought he might be stuck in this dead Jaeger surrounded by dead Kaiju and his lost partner before they came to collect his own body, but then there was a burst of static and a sudden pouring of noise.

"Steve?" Peggy's voice called, fear and concern causing her normally calm tones to quiver even through the comms. "Steve, what happened? We lost communications and then we lost visual and we're only now getting everything back online."

"Saisho was harboring smaller Kaiju," Steve forced out, "And they ambushed the Commando. We were outnumbered - " A burst of pain not unlike a migraine unleashed in Steve's head and he winced, but did his best to ignore it. The outside readings from the sensors that still worked were beginning to come through, and Steve checked the scanners for signs of surviving Kaiju According to the computers, there were no remaining living organisms outside.

Steve had to suppress another wince at that. "Had to shut down systems to redirect power. Managed to successfully destroy them," he finished, and a small whoop sounded behind Peggy.

"Steve," Peggy said, and her voice had grown warmer with relief. But they weren't finished yet, there was still information to gather and pass along.

"Need to collect the data," Steve forced out, because the pain was getting stronger, "Bucky - "

"Bucky's lifesigns aren't showing on the control panel," Dum Dum cut in. "Was that one of the lost systems, or - "

"Bucky's gone," Steve interrupted, because of course there were no lifesigns. There wouldn't be any, only this numbness and growing emptiness. Steve let out a choked sob that he just couldn't swallow and forced himself to continue, "We had to get them all together, and he... he couldn't get back in time."

"How are you piloting the Commando?" Dum Dum asked this time, after a long moment of silence in which Steve tried to control his heaving. Everything around him was getting darker, heavier, but there were things he still needed to do. With a grunt of effort, Steve twisted the last of the controls back into place and the conn pod lit up.

"Be careful of the rogue wires outside the conn pod, they're live," Steve offered, ignoring the increasing shouts of concern through his helmet's headset. With a grunting effort, he pulled his body back into its upright position, and felt the hull balance out as the Howling Commando also stood straight. He then made an extra effort to save and transfer the data the Commando was finally able to gather - video, audio, all the sensory readings - for collection and tried to ignore the drops of blood that were starting to spatter on the front of his helmet. "Otherwise Howling Commando is ready for evac," he gritted, even though there hardly seemed anything worth picking up at this point. Steve's body was beginning to feel heavier itself, and the numbness had begun to settle on his mind. At least, he thought as he drifted out of consciousness to the concerned cries of Peggy and his team, he wouldn't have to think about Bucky and emptiness he felt.