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Mako didn’t expect Raleigh to return when he did. He swaggered into the command center on an idle Tuesday, not a word of warning. Mako was looking over Tendo’s shoulder at a panel he had taken apart to adjust, heard footsteps, and turned around, and he was there, all blonde hair and broad shoulders and drawled vowels. Then she was in his arms, and he was present and warm, and kissing her as if he hadn’t been gone for four years, just off for a weekend. She squealed, and half-screamed, and her heart howled with a fierce joy.

Tendo walked up beside them, shook hands with Raleigh. Somehow Tendo’s presence made it all real, less like a dream she’d had over and over. Reality was messy. He deserved an explanation, before reality came walking in on scuffed sneakers.

“Raleigh,” she said, “you were gone for so long in radio silence. We … we said before you left … that we would both need to go on, not put our lives on hold, waiting to be together again.”

A touch of fear came into Raleigh’s eyes. “Yes. We said that. Is … is there someone else?”

She made a gesture that was neither a shrug nor or shake of the head. “There was. And things are different now because of it.” She put a hand on his quickly. “I am for you,” she said, passion filling back into her eyes. “I would choose to be with you, if you will still have me. But you must accept my whole world, if we are to be together.”

His eyes softened as the fear left them. “Whatever you’ve been up to, whatever happened or changed, I can handle it. As long as we’re together.”

She squeezed his hand. “Don’t say that until you’ve met her.”

He stilled. “Her?”

At that moment, “her” came bouncing into the room. A little bitty girl in denim overalls and a bright pink shirt, her black hair done up in pigtails that were starting to lose their structural integrity. She saw Mako and ran up with the open-faced, unrestrained joy that only a child can have. “Mama!” she cried, and Mako caught her and swung her up into a hug.

“GAWD she’s fast!” Newton Geiszler half-trotted into the room, carrying a backpack with a pink cthulu Hello Kitty on it. He didn’t notice Raleigh on the other side of Tendo, but came up beside Mako, reaching for the child. “C’mere, babycakes, Mama pulled her back yesterday, remember?” He took the child, who wrapped around Newt like a spider monkey. Over the girl’s shoulder he said to Mako, “Doc said you shouldn’t be lifting heavy things.”

Mako made a derisive face. “I am fine to lift my own daughter.”

“Daddy dave me tate!” the girl cackled.

“Snitch!” Newt said.

“Newt, cake for breakfast?” Mako said, looking more tired than mad.

“Just a tiny piece. After yogurt and fruit. And no coffee.”

Mako rolled her eyes and looked past them to Raleigh. “Michiko, I want to introduce you to someone. This is Raleigh Beckett.”

Newt turned and his eyes went wide. “Hey there Raleigh,” he said, his voice pitched a little too high to be as casual as he clearly wanted it to be. He put Michiko down, and she scooted behind him, peering out at Raleigh from the shelter of her father’s legs.

Raleigh stood up and walked over to them. He towered above Newt, and didn’t smile. But he stooped and his face softened to a smile for the little girl. “Hey there,” Raleigh said. “Your name’s Michiko, huh? Pretty name. You look just like your mother.”

“Thank goodness,” Newt muttered.

“How old are you?” Raleigh asked.

The girl held up three fingers.

“Three! Practically all grown up, then.”

Michiko smiled.

“I like your backpack,” he continued. “Do you have cool stuff in there?”

“Yeah,” Michiko said, tugging the backpack out of Newt’s hand. “I dot my bwantet, an’ my tup, an’ my bat.” She pulled out a plush bat that looked like a life sized flying fox and hugged it to her chin.

“She’s adorable,” Raleigh said to Mako.

“And she’s coming back home with me, apparently,” Newt said. To Mako he hissed, “You could’ve warned me.”

“I didn’t know he was coming home!”

Tendo reappeared at their sides. “I got an idea,” he said. “How about Michiko come with Newt and me, and we can ride the freight elevator?”

“Yeeeeaaah, Mistah Tendo!” Michiko said, dropping backpack and bat to bounce over, grab his hand and try to swing on it.

“You guys have a lot to catch up on,” he said as he and Newt pulled the girl out the door.

 

The day Raleigh left was one of the most painful in Mako’s memory. Most of the Shatterdome had left over the previous week, but there was still a lot to do in the wake of the defeat of the kaiju. There was an assignment for Raleigh, but it required radio silence. No outside contact.

The world carried on, but Mako just seemed to keep spinning in place. Raleigh was gone. Her father was gone. The kaiju and the Jaegers were gone. At least for now. No one was convinced the kaiju would stay gone. One breach was closed, but another could be opened. The last remaining Shatterdome began the long work of rebuilding the Jaegers.

And rebuilding each other. Many people tried to cheer Mako up, get through her walls, draw her out. But none of them understood the effect the drift had on her, or what Raleigh had been to her. How could she even explain it to them? She didn’t try.

One night it was Dr. Newton Geiszler who struck up a conversation with her by saying to her back, “Missing your drift partner?”

She looked at him in surprise and said, “Well … yes. How did you know?”

He sat down next to her. “I recognize myself in your posture. Slumped over, eyes far off like you’re someplace else entirely, looking … half present.”

She rubbed her eye. “That is a good description. Half present.” She cast pitying eyes at him. “I had not thought to consider what you went through, drifting with Dr. Gottlieb, and with two different kaiju, with no safety nets, no compatibility tests. It must have been very painful.”

Newt shrugged. “Eh. Worth it. Besides, I got the better end of the deal. Drifting with Hermann ended up centering me some, you know? Made me more careful. Poor Hermann, he was so mad at me – “ He laughed. “He did NOT appreciate some of the memories he ended up with.”

“Like what?” Mako said, starting to smile.

“Well, for starters, Hermann had only one, you know, partner. And I’ve had … ahhhhh, more than one. Let’s leave it at that. So he comes in a couple of days later, apparently having digested this enough to talk about it, and throws a package of condoms at me without a word of warning.” He cleared his throat and imitated Gottlieb’s clipped British English. “’If you’re going to be so blithe about who you sleep with, Geiszler, at least don’t be stupid about it!’ And storms out again.”

Mako laughed. She surprised herself; she hadn’t openly laughed in so long. It wasn’t even a terribly funny story, but it was a story about drifting, and it resonated with her. Newt was pleased with her unexpectedly positive reaction. He took a seat next to her at the bar and ordered a drink. “So where’s Raleigh now?”

“That,” Mako said, “is classified.”

“Ah,” Newt said. “Like, classified as in I don’t need to know, or classified as in you don’t know either?”

She smiled mischievously at him. “Classified,” she said. “But I do hope he comes back soon. Having him gone, it’s like not being able to go home.”

“Wow,” Newt said, a little breathless, “wow, that is exactly what it’s like.”

“What was it like,” she said, “drifting with Dr. Gottlieb?”

Newt looked thoughtful in a way Mako knew very well. “Kind of sad and lonely,” he said. “The guy has walls. He has reasons for keeping people at arm’s length. I guess I’m lucky, to be one of the ones he let inside.”

“You didn’t even know if you were drift compatible. It was courageous of you to attempt it, to save us all.”

Newt shook his head. “Naw, Hermann and I knew we would be. We bickered like mad, but we knew each other inside and out, and when it came to serious shit, we trusted each other.” He turned the drink in his hand, watching the amber liquid swirl.

“You miss him,” Mako said.

“Course I do.” He apparently felt the mood getting too heavy, because he grinned and said, “At least I can roll my sleeves up as I please, now that he’s back in Germany. He couldn’t even look at my tattoos anymore, he shuddered and kept saying ‘Put them away, put them away!’ Apparently dude has a thing about needles.”

“Do they go all the way up your arms?” She traced her hand over his forearm. She felt the goosebumps rise on his skin.

He hesitated a moment, surprised by the touch, before answering, “Yes. Further than that, actually.” He waved a hand over his chest.

“Really?” she said. She heard herself saying, “They’re beautiful. I’d like to see them.”

She’d surprised him again. “Yeah? Okay … um … you … want to … come back to my quarters?”

She stood up and grabbed his drink and the bottle of rum she’d been drinking from. “Sure.”

He was surprised for the third time in a handful of seconds, but stood up and led her back to his quarters, occasionally looking at her out of the corner of his eye, as if checking to figure out if she meant what he thought she meant. She thought about reassuring him – ‘yes, I mean to bed you,’ she could say. But she was nervous about it, too, and couldn’t bring herself to say it.

Newt’s quarters were small and cluttered. He stopped at the door and muttered something about “give me a minute;” she could imagine him hurriedly stuffing laundry, magazines, maybe a plush kaiju doll out of sight. He came back to the door a moment later and let her in.

“So, um, this is my place, but I guess everyone’s quarters are about the same,” he said. He looked uncertain, shifting his weight from one foot to another.

Mako sat on his unmade bed and crossed her legs. She lifted her eyebrows and gestured towards him, clearly indicating to him to take off his shirt.

He pulled off his already-loosened tie and unbuttoned his shirt, shrugged out of it. The vulnerability and uncertainty radiated off of him with each button. He was wearing a white undershirt beneath it, but he didn’t move to take it off yet. She stood up and stepped into his personal space. He didn’t look at her as she ran her hands up his arms, to his shoulders, over his chest. His eyes fluttered closed and he shuddered. He was trying not to show that he was aroused, though anyone who looked down would be able to tell that. She pulled at his tee shirt, tugged it loose from where it was tucked into his pants, and without a word, pulled the shirt off of him. His torso was all colors and shapes and swirls and monsters. He wasn’t anything like Raleigh; he was soft, and a little pudgy, slight love handles and a soft stomach, and an inch or two shorter than she was. He didn’t have much in the way of chest hair, and thank goodness, no back hair. She found this out as she walked around him, tracing the tattoo lines with her fingers, up his spine, over his sides. He was trembling visibly now, his breath stuttered and uneven. It was the first time she could remember him speechless. He still kept his eyes off her face. She drew the pads of her fingers over his bare skin, tracing the lines of his tattoos. She touched his throat, put fingers to his chin, and raised his face to look at her.

He met her eyes finally, his own full of nerves and uncertainty. “We both know you’re out of my league,” he said quietly. “By like, five leagues.”

“I’m here,” she said, “because you know what it is like to be apart from your other half. To be alone with someone else’s voice in your head. You know that I am not here because I want to be with you. I want to be with someone else, and so do you. So maybe with each other, we will not have to be so lonely.”

He kissed her. His mouth was soft, and full, and he tasted like chocolate and brandy and something spicy. She pressed against him, listened to the soft noises he made in the back of his throat. She threaded her fingers through his short, ruffled hair, felt her way across his soft skin. He held her close, drew her to his bed. He was absolutely nothing at all like Raleigh, and that was enough to distract her.

 

“I still can’t believe,” he said one day as they lay in bed, “that you picked me. I mean, you could have any guy you wanted in the Shatterdome.”

“I don’t want any guy,” she said. She was laying on her stomach, propped on up her elbows. “I wanted someone who understood my loss, who knew … what I could not give them.”

He nodded, biting his lip, a little sobered. “I get that. But there are a lot of people here who suffered similar losses, in one way or another.”

She got it; he was looking for reassurance. She gave a small smile. “You came well recommended.”

He blinked and sat up a bit. “I did? By who?”

“Sasha Kaidenovsky.”

“Oh,” he said, smiling. “Oh. I see. Ah … What’d she say?”

“Well, I was there when she asked for volunteers.”

Newt laughed and dropped his head onto the pillow. “Oh Christ.”

Mako laughed too. The Russian team had come storming into the cafeteria and she’d declared loudly that she and her husband needed a volunteer. They wanted, she explained, a threesome with a small man who did not mind being pushed around. Mako had jumped when Newt shot his hand into the air and called, “Me! I’m your guy!” She had snorted milk out her nose when he’d added to a scandalized Dr. Gottlieb beside him, “My time has come!” and practically scampered across the room. The story had since passed into legend.

“She said,” Mako said, putting on her best Russian accent, “Newt is like Shetland pony. He is short, and round, and scruffy. But he is clever, and hung like big stallion, and strong. Even though you know you are too big for him, still you want to ride him.”

Newt covered his head with his hands. “SHETLAND. PONY.” He didn’t ask her again to justify her choice.

 

But Raleigh did. As soon as they were alone again, Raleigh furrowed his brow and said, “Him?”

Mako gave him a warning look. “I had my reasons.”

“Yeah, but … he’s so … annoying.”

She smiled. “He is a good man. He is kind, and cheerful. And he knew we were not serious. Knew it in a way many would not have understood.”

Raleigh nodded. “Well. He’s attached to us forever now.”

Mako sighed. “Yes he is. But if I could pick someone, other than you, to be a father to my child? I would pick him, all over again. He loves her with no reserve. He has been there for us. I would not be rid of him.”

Raleigh put his arms around her. It was the first time he’d touched her since he’d heard about the child. “I’m glad someone was here with you,” he said.

She relaxed into his embrace, leaning against his chest. It felt so strange to be able to do that – he was taller than she was, whereas Newt was shorter. “He was good to me,” she said. “I do not remember him ever being unkind. He understood me as well as he was able.” She looked up at him and smiled. “But I am so glad, so enormously relieved, to be back where I belong.”

He kissed her, and she fell into it, mind and heart and body.

 

She told Raleigh later about finding out she was pregnant. She and Newt had been seeing each other almost a year, and he’d been true to his word, obeyed her commands. He kept his distance until she invited him in, then he was all enthusiasm and affection and cheer. He was just what she needed, even if he wasn’t the visual feast that Raleigh was. She grew very fond of him, physically and emotionally. As much as she could, with anyone who was not Raleigh. Their relationship didn’t stay as discreet as she would have liked; no one else claimed to understand why they were involved. That was ok; it wasn’t their business.

Then the visit to the doctor. She’d been so tired, bone-deep weary, and queasy. The doctor did some tests. He came back in and explained to her in gentle tones that antibiotics, which she had taken some time ago for strep throat, could render birth control ineffective. Even though she’d been on pills, even though they’d used condoms, their luck had run out. She was three months pregnant.

She’d cried, a bitter, ugly cry full of grief and impotent rage. She didn’t want to have a child with Newt; she wanted a family with Raleigh, the other half of her mind. Newt was just a place-holder, a comfort, an indulgence. He wasn’t supposed to be the father of her child.

Newt hadn’t taken it much better. He scared her; he wasn’t angry, didn’t babble, wouldn’t even look her in the eye. He simply said softly, “I need to think about this,” and walked away.

To his credit, he walked back within the day. He took her hand and said he was terrified, but whatever she needed from him, she would get; he wasn’t going anywhere. He was so relieved when she said she wasn’t getting an abortion. Relieved! Her heart had swelled with affection for him at that. He was a good man, and she knew then, he’d be a good father.

He was true to his word, too. He stayed with her, checked on her, reminded her and comforted her. He was there when the baby was born, and he cared for her most of the time while Mako recovered from what ended up being a problematic pregnancy and birth. He was still there, playing with the tiny little girl, talking nonstop about her, geeking out about child development and milestones and early education and how excited he was to show her all the cool stuff in the whole awesome world around them. And that baby girl loved her goofy, happy daddy.

They hadn’t had sex nearly so often after the baby was born. Part of it was the changed nature of their relationship, part of it time alone. But when they did get a night alone together, Newt seemed to have changed. He was passionate, needful, not as bouncy or playful. He brought a somberness with him that hadn’t been there pre-Michiko. He was just as creative – he could geek out about anything that caught his interest, and in a way, sex was just one more interest. One night he went down on her, periodically taking mouthfuls of near-scalding hot peppermint tea. His mouth was so hot, and the mint tingled delightfully. There were massages, and different kinds of oils, and role-playing. He painted on her; she tied him up. He was still great fun. He still wasn’t Raleigh.

He even suggested once that, if she wanted, she could call him Raleigh. She had seen the vulnerability in his eyes, and knew what it cost him to even make the offer. She’d said no, that she didn’t imagine being with Raleigh when she was with Newt. “If I can’t have who I want,” she’d said, cupping his cheek, “I’ll want who I have.” And he’d relaxed underneath her like a weight was taken off his soul.

 

But now Raleigh was here, and she could see Newt’s heart crumpling. She kicked herself; it hadn’t been fair to him at all. Her other half had come back, as soon as he could, snapped back to her like a rubber band. But Hermann Gottlieb had been absent, and would remain so, as far as anyone knew. Newt had told her, one night after sex, in the warm darkness, about how he’d come into the lab once day soon after their victory and found Hermann’s half of the lab empty. No warning, no good-bye, no explanation at all. He was just gone.

“Do you love him?” Mako asked.

Newt was silent a moment before he answered. “I never got to find out if I did.”

So she was careful to keep Newt involved. Discuss plans with him, never make a decision about Michiko without him. They had long ago moved their quarters adjacent to each other, so it’s not like it was hard. They ate meals together, the four of them, and gradually Raleigh even came around to Newt. It was hard not to, when he and Michiko were so close.

Which was why Mako hoped Raleigh would understand what she meant when she said, “Raleigh, we have to do something. He is important to me, and he is not happy. Please, help me think of a way we can all be happy.”

Raleigh nodded, to her relief. It took a lot of thought and adjustment, especially on Raleigh’s part, but they came up with a plan.

 

It was a typical evening. Mako and Raleigh sat on their bunk; Newt sat on the floor with Michiko, building something out of big, chunky Legos. Mako thought Newt was probably more invested in the structure than Michiko was; the girl wanted to stack, and Newt was talking about alternating block seams for wall integrity. There was a knock at the door, and Tendo came in with, of all things, a bunny. Michiko shrieked with joy and ran over, knocking over the Legos, paying no heed to Newt’s “Awww.”

“I have a visitor,” Tendo said, “and I thought the young princess might like to sleep over and help me take care of her.”

“Yes!” Michiko shrieked, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” She couldn’t pack fast enough.

Tendo gave them a wink and mouthed “Good luck” to them as he left with the girl and the bunny.

Newt’s brow furrowed. “What was THAT about?”

Mako offered her hand to Newt to help him up. “You have a visitor.”

She walked Newt to the hangar deck, and explained on the way. It had taken a long time to find him. Longer still to convince him to come. His wife and child were coming with him. She didn’t know what it would be like. She stopped before the last set of door, and kissed Newt’s mouth. He kissed her back, and touched his forehead to hers.

“Old time’s sake?” he said.

“No,” she said, “for luck and love.”

He nodded. “Thank you, Mako.”

 

Newcomers to the Shatterdome often took some time, and perhaps a diagram drawn on a napkin in the mess hall, to understand the relationship among the Gottliebs and the Becketts, with a Geiszler hooking them all together. Mako and Raleigh were married, they’d say, and the littlest girl, Nancy, that’s theirs. But Mako had a child previously with Newt – the middle girl, Michiko. Newt lived with Hermann and Vanessa Gottlieb, who were married, and the oldest girl, the blonde one, Jocelyn, that was THEIR kid. And yet all the children said they had two mommies and three daddies. It was suspected that explaining it all to the children was confusing, and everyone was just happier with that version.

To the five of them, it worked. Mako and Raleigh were meant to be together, their fates intertwined. Hermann and Vanessa had a history as far back as playgrounds and bullies, would never be parted from each other again – and Newt had become as integral to them as their own breath. It had taken Vanessa some time to come around to accepting another man into their relationship, but Newt was, as she observed, a charmer once she got used to him. And once she watched her husband make out with the colorful, pudgy, very enthusiastic biologist. Sometimes, if Newt left the mess hall before the others, he'd go around the table, giving everyone a brief kiss before he went - on the cheek, on the mouth, on the forehead, on the top of the head, wherever appropriate. And he'd kiss Raleigh too - "Just so you won't feel left out," he'd say.

It wasn’t simple, but it was functional, and love abounded.