Jake is sixteen when his whole life gets fucked up. He’s three months from graduating from the Academy. He’s going to be a Ranger and he’s just drifted with Nate for the first time. Really drifted, in something with the same strain as a real jaeger. No more training camp for them. But then he fucks it up. He doesn’t mean to. He just can’t help it.
He and Nate are alone in the kitchen, the same way they are every night they sneak out of their rooms. Nate pretends to like the taste of the beer he sips as Jake eats his ice cream. When they first started sneaking in, he’d drink a beer too, but he really didn’t like it and he wasn’t willing to pretend just to look cool and adult.
They’re sitting on the counter, because neither of them have hit their growth spurt and they still feel a little short. Especially when they had seen Stacker that day, Jake hopes he’ll hit that growth spurt hard and be taller than his dad. From the look on Mako’s face every time he says that she doesn’t think it’s likely. She’s probably right. The lack of nutrition in the world with the rationing and the shortages makes it pretty unlikely, but he hopes.
Anyway, they’re sitting on the counter because it makes them feel tall and like adults and Jake is eating ice cream and Nate is sipping beer he doesn’t like, and Jake leans forward to kiss him. It only lasts a second before something sparks in the ghost drift, something that he doesn’t understand and then Nate is pulling away.
“Sure, you can. It’s 2024, no one cares if we make out in the kitchen.” That’s his first mistake, he never sounds serious. He’s almost always serious and Nate knows that, but when emotions are running high Nate sometimes misses the cues that tell him things are real. He misses it this time. His second mistake is leaning back in to keep kissing before he’s made sure that Nate understands.
“I mean it.” He looks sad when he pushes on Jake’s chest and slips off the counter. Jake doesn’t know what he has to be sad about. He’s not the one who just made an idiot of himself trying to make out with his best friend.
“Why not? I felt it in the drift. You want this.” Mistake number three. Never tell Nate what he wants, and never bring up what’s in the drift if Nate doesn’t first. Jake used to think it was because he didn’t want to acknowledge that Jake had been in his head and they were as close as anyone could be, but now he knows better. He doesn’t want anyone else to hear about their drift because, to Nate, it’s special.
Nate drains his beer and puts it in the garbage while shaking his head. Jake doesn’t get off the counter. “I get it. You’re just here to play and have fun and all this just slides right off your back, but just play with someone else, because for me, this is real.”
Mistake four. If he had listened. If he hadn’t been sixteen and always ready for a fight and tried listening more then he might have understood that this wasn’t about piloting. This wasn’t about Jaegers. This was about Nate being too far gone and Jake not being ready for that. But he won’t learn how to use his smooth-talking skills for another year, and he won’t remember to listen before he starts talking for another two after that. At sixteen, he doesn’t understand how young he is.
“After all of this you still think I’m not all the way in on this? That being a pilot is still all it was at the beginning?” Jake slips off the counter after that because now he has to be ready to fight. They haven’t truly tried to hurt each other in almost a year, intertwined all the way through, but now Jake thinks he might need to. All his defenses are up.
Now Nate’s yelling because he can’t back down from a fight any more than Jake can. “Are you seriously going to stand there and pretend you don’t think this is a game?”
Of course, it’s not a game. “What the fuck do you know?”
“That you’ve never taken anything seriously in your life and I’m done being on that list.” Nate walks out, leaving Jake seething because no he’s got all this anger and hurt pent up in him with nowhere to go.
That’s when he gets in the jaeger. Twelve hours after that is when he gets kicked out of the program. Three months later he gets into a screaming match with his dad on the phone because he was supposed to be in England but turns out Jake was in LA when a kaiju hit it. Three hours after that Mako calls and tries to smooth it all over, tries to explain that it’s just because dad is worried, and he sent him packing out of the program to keep him safe after the strain almost killed him. Like the strain that was killing dad, but Jake can’t hear her over the blood pounding in his ears because he hasn’t forgiven his dad for kicking him out. He won’t for another six years. It takes more time to forgive his dad for dying, when it could have been anyone to drift with Chuck.
When he steps back into the Jaeger with Nate, he realizes that he still hasn’t forgiven Nate for their fight because if he had stayed maybe they would have piloted Striker. Maybe they’d be dead but at least his dad would be alive. At least the actual leader, the real hero, would be alive.