The Shatterdome Training Center is never empty. Jaeger pilots spar to deepen their connection with their partner, or work out for the sake of fitness. Even though the brunt of their effort is mental, should the tech fail the only way they're surviving a Kaiju is to run like hell to a shelter. Not that they'd get the chance.
Galo isn't a pilot, but he's on good terms with most of them. He's one of the people who makes sure their tech doesn't fail. Mostly, he's just a mechanic, but it feels good to know the people he depends on to fight off the monsters from the sea depend on him to make sure they can do it. Galo works out in the training room because Jaeger parts aren't light, and sometimes it's just not possible to get a crane lift in the right position.
Sometimes he spars. Mostly for fun, but he doesn't get to practice dodging with a punching bag and though the pilots he spars with always apologize for the bruises they leave behind, Galo doesn't mind them. It's a good kind of soreness that lingers in his limbs, and Aina tells him not to poke at them but he prods purple-black skin anyway and remembers-- Varys has a serious right hook; Remy may be skinny but he closes in faster than Galo can block. He leaves a couple bruises on his friends too, and they don't mind either.
It's early, and today the gym is as quiet as Galo had ever seen it. Half the pilots in the Shatterdome were passed out in their bunks after a late night Breach Activity scare. It spat out a Cat 1 Kaiju and it was over not long after that, but the adrenaline rush over any activity at all from the Breach was terrifying anyway. Probably more so in a Neural Handshake, where your anxiety was doubled by your partner's. Galo wouldn't know. He just waves to Aina, their infallible airborne scout, who jerks her chin up in greeting from the bench. She doesn't look like she slept at all after keeping the lights on Varys and Remy during the fight.
Galo wraps his knuckles and finds a bag to box with. He dodges imaginary fists, remembering Varys's eye-bruiser, until he's worked up a sweat. He's starting to think he could dodge Varys next time. Maybe he'll be up for a round after lunch.
"You look like an idiot, bobbing around like that," chides a new voice.
Galo wipes the sweat from his eyes to find its owner. He's short, with a bob of fair hair and a cross expression. Galo thinks that might just be neutral for him, because he can't think of anything he could have done yet to piss off this stranger. He smiles back despite the stormy face the stranger wears. "Only because there's no one to actually dodge. It wouldn't look as stupid with someone else throwing punches right back."
He doesn't look like he believes him. It's probably the black eye Galo's still sporting. (Varys even cooked for him in apology for it, but food doesn't make bruises fade any faster.) "Can you actually dodge?"
"Wanna find out?" A friendly challenge. Galo kind of hopes the stranger rises to it. He's small, slimmer than Remy, but Galo would put money on him being fast.
"I don't box," comes the cool response.
"Okay, you're what? An MMA guy?" Galo asks without hesitation. For a split second, the guy looks startled, but his expression quickly schools itself back to neutral. "Come on! I can take whatever you throw at me!"
Another second of that calculated look and then the stranger says, "Fine."
Galo beams like he's not certain he's going to come out of this with more bruises. The stranger sheds his leather jacket, pulls his arm across his chest in a stretch. He's not a man of much color: white cotton, black leather, fair hair. His eyes are the brightest spot about him. It takes him longer to ditch his shoes--too many buckles on the tall boots. It's long enough to garner Aina's attention. She drops onto a closer bench to watch and sips from a water bottle.
When the stranger steps on the mat, Galo holds out his hand and declares, "I'm Galo Thymos."
"Lio Fotia." His handshake is firm, and Galo gets a better look at him now that he's close. Lio is definitely skinny, but the wiry, muscular kind of skinny. Galo's smile doesn't falter but now he's sure he's leaving the gym with new bruises. "And you were right, Galo Thymos. I am an MMA guy."
Galo doesn't have time to brace for it because Lio pulls him in and levers Galo over his hip before the handshake is even done. He rolls and keeps his feet after, which he's proud of, but god Lio has some superhuman strength. Galo is at least 8 inches taller than him and probably twice his weight, and he pulled that off like it was nothing.
Definitely, definitely getting new bruises.
Lio watches him calmly. Galo grins at him. "I'm gonna be ready for you this time! You do any work with the sticks?"
"Sticks?" Lio has the grace to let his confusion show.
"Yeah!" Galo jerks his thumb toward the rack of staves against the wall behind him. "The other pilots spar with them all the time."
"Hey, new guy!" Aina calls from the bench. "Don't let his idiot exterior fool you, he's fucking ace with a staff."
Galo makes a noise of protest at her, but Lio's already striding past with determination. He lifts two staves off the rack and throws one to Galo with a feral grin. "This is way more my style, Galo Thymos," Lio says, and he takes up an expert stance. "Are you ready?"
Galo snatches the staff out of the air and takes up his stance with a flourish. "Oh, yeah! Show me what you got, kid!" He doesn't wait for Lio to strike.
The staves crash together audibly. Lio moves lightning fast to counter him. The clicks ring through the nearly empty gym two, three, four more times. They both freeze with concentrated effort, Galo's staff inches from Lio's head. Lio slips away, mouthing something to himself, and then engages again. It's over in seconds, Galo on the floor with Lio's staff at his throat. Lio pauses for a breath, two, and Galo thinks for a just a moment that he's going to call it there.
Then with sharp movements he backs off, takes up his stance again, and waits. There's something thrilling in the intensity of his eyes, watching Galo pick himself up off the ground. His expression has changed very little from the first Galo saw it. Lio doesn't smile, he just frowns less. But Galo thinks, from the watchful stare to the shallower frown, Lio might be having fun.
He resolves to wait for Lio to move first, but Lio moves closer and circles and his patience is infinite, smoldering like a banked fire. Galo is a firework by comparison, burning hot, fast. He doesn't wait for Lio to move first.
Lio ducks the swing, darts in under, but Galo knows his speed now. He dodges to the side, more nimbly than most people believe he could be. Lio blocks the strike Galo throws, leans his weight into it to push Galo back. Galo sidesteps back and lets Lio overbalance. He misjudges his next swing, because Lio isn't prepared to block. The wooden pole catches him square in the gut.
Lio tumbles across the mat like a rag doll, staff clattering away. Galo drops his and runs after him. "Oh shit, sorry. You alright there?" Lio is sprawled on his back, chest heaving as he tries to catch the breath Galo knocked out of him. He says something Galo doesn't catch. Worried, he leans in closer. "What?"
"Two-one," Lio repeats louder. Then he moves with more speed than anyone who was just winded and thrown across a room should have. He uses Galo's body to heave himself off the ground, flipping out and over him with a gymnast's grace. Galo twists, fumbles around for the staff he discarded but it's already in Lio's hands.
He drops flat with an audible, "Oof!" as the staff in Lio's hand cracks over his shoulders with just enough force to remind him to watch himself. A checked blow, a cheeky reply to his apology. Not hard enough to really hurt. Just hard enough to give him that expected bruise though.
"Two-two," Lio says, smug and clear, and backs off. Galo can see him leaning on the staff with cocky assurance.
He rolls onto his back with a groan. "Come on, man, I really thought I hurt you! Catching a guy with his guard down... What are you counting to anyway?"
The number clicks in place. Galo sits up fast, grinning like a fool. He's been around the dome long enough. He's seen cadets spar for drift compatibility, matches to four. When he meets Lio's gaze, his sparring partner has cracked a bare smile, hardly more than an upward tick of his lips but it makes him look feral. Maybe the sour expression is more for everyone else's ease; he looked scary when he came in but this is another category of scary. This is "I stared a Kaiju in the face and lived" scary. Category IV badass.
Galo knows he's going to get his ass handed to him in the next rounds, but he snatches up Lio's dropped staff and gets to his feet anyway. It's too much fun, even if he can feel the bruising starting in his shoulders. He's tied at two with this scrawny upstart of a Ranger and he started it. He always finishes what he starts.
Lio matches his energy, blocking, dodging, and striking in turn. They end up locked together for a second before Lio ducks away and Galo stops with a light tap against his ribs. The rap across his shoulders was definitely payback. "Two-three," Lio says.
Block. Strike. Strike. Dodge. Block. Strike. Stop. "Three-three." Lio doesn't even look unhappy about it.
Dodge, strike. Block. Block. Block. Lio is aggressive now, moving with purpose, driving Galo around the mat. Galo stops retreating, starts defending. He can be patient. Block. Block. Block. Dodge. Strike. Strike, strike. Block. Feint-strike.
Lio dodges it nimbly. Galo's too out of breath to keep a running commentary, but he manages the air for a goad. "Stop dancing around and come at me already!"
Lio strikes like a snake, like the dragons on half the signs here in Hong Kong. Galo snaps his staff up, barely managing a block, and they trade blows again for a few seconds but he knows it's over.
He is surprised that it ends with the tip of Lio's staff poised an inch from his gut, and his own hovering over Lio's head at the same distance. A breath. Two. Lio huffs a laugh and lowers his staff. "Four-four, huh? That's a first."
"I'll say! No one else here wants to go against me with the staff anymore! If you're around and looking for a fight, hit me up again!"
Lio shakes his head, but the slight smile hasn't quite faded. "Don't get too cocky, I'm sure they have their reasons."
"They just can't handle the Great Galo Thymos!" Aina groans audibly, amid a chorus of others. Neither Galo nor Lio had noticed they gained an audience.
Remy just sighs and rubs his temples behind his glasses. Varys shakes his head. "Only when you've got a staff. I see you're still sporting that shiner." Varys taps just below his own eye, mirroring where Galo's face is still bruised. Galo pouts. Varys laughs. "Well I hate to boost your ego, but you're better than most of the Jaeger pilots with those, and we went through some rigorous fucking training. We gotta take you down in other ways, man."
Galo laughs along, but Lio goes cold beside him. "You're not a pilot?"
"Eh? No. Jaeger mechanic, but I've worked with these guys for years!"
"And you've done well here, really made yourself part of the team."
"Sir!" Lio snaps to attention when the Shatterdome's Marshal enters the gym. Kray Foresight used to be the best of their pilots, its said, until he retired from piloting twenty years ago. His dedication to the Jaeger program was unparalleled, and he contributed no small amount of his own personal funds to ensuring its continued existence. It's a bit of a mystery where it comes from; rumors in the Shatterdome run the gamut from privately wealthy, to Jaeger tech investor, to illegal activities. Even Galo, practically raised by him in Shatterdomes the world over, has no idea. Foresight is as he always was: aloof and private.
"Lio Fotia. I've heard a lot about you. Meis and Gueira said you might be here instead of resting. You've had a long trip, why the gym?"
"Inactivity makes me restless. I slept on the plane." Galo feels bad for him, put on the spot.
"Well, I want you to check in with Medical and get a good rest in. We'll talk about finding you a copilot when you wake up. Your Jaeger will arrive this afternoon. I hear she's in rough shape."
"Yes, sir. We didn't have the funding after Vancouver to have her fixed," Lio says quietly.
"We have the funding," Kray assures him. "Galo, I'm putting you in charge of repairs. She's a Mark III, take good care of her."
"I'll have her better than new!" Galo promises. None of the facility's staff roll their eyes at this exclamation; they know from experience this isn't mere boasting.
Kray gives him a short nod. "Lio, I'll take you to Medical first and then let you rest," he offers, and gestures to the door. Lio moves quickly to obey, but hesitates with the staff in his hand. He looks uncomfortably like he'll dart across the room in an undignified scramble to put it away before Galo taps him on the shoulder and takes it.
"Hey, thanks for the match!" Galo says.
Lio's frown is back, and cold as ice. "Yeah," he replies in a clipped tone. He shoves his feet back into his boots, doing up only enough of the bits and bobs on them to keep from stepping out of them when he walks. Silently he gathers up his jacket and follows Kray out of the gym.
The small crowd watches the door shut behind the two. Aina waits just until she's sure they're out of earshot before she says what's on everyone's minds: "What's his problem?"
Galo finds himself seated between Meis and Gueira at lunch. They're drift partners but everyone's sure they're also dating, though they haven't confirmed nor denied it. Galo thinks, in another life, they were twins or something because they have the creepy habit of finishing each other's sentences, or maybe that's a consequence of a long drifting career.
"Heard you beat Lio sparring this morning," Meis says.
"Yeah! Well, we tied, really. And he knocked me down more often," Galo says honestly."He's really good." Gueira snorts derisively.
"Of course he is," Gueira says, curt, snide. "If he wasn't hurt, you wouldn't've stood a chance!"
"He was hurt?"
"Yeah, idiot, didn't you see his Jaeger?"
"No, it just got here. They're installing her in the Shatterdome now."
"Hmph." Gueira opens his mouth to continue his diatribe, but is smoothly cut off by Meis shouting "Lio!" across the mess hall. Galo looks up, following Meis's line of sight.
When Galo met Lio in the gym, he hadn't looked at all like he'd just had a flight across oceans and time zones. After the Marshal-enforced rest, now he does. Lio joins them almost in a daze, bags under his eyes and hair just a little mussed, like he combed his fingers through it when he woke up and didn't bother with a mirror. His clothes look softer, comfortable. He's ditched the leather jacket and complicated boots for his t-shirt and, if Galo isn't mistaken, Medical-issue slippers. Galo thinks, if Meis hadn't called out to him, Lio would have simply stared blankly at the crowded room until someone else forced him into a seat. As it is, he drops into the one across from Galo and looks cross at the tray Meis heaps more food on.
"Gotta keep up your strength," the slim pilot says. Lio looks like he very much wants to tell Meis where he can shove his advice, but instead he just prods the food with a fork and eats small bites.
"If you don't like the menu," Galo says helpfully, "the cooks can try to whip up something you like better, if you give them some time and don't ask for anything crazy or like, expensive." Meis stares at him. Gueira gapes.
"They never let me ask for something else," Gueira complains. "And I go out there and kick Kaiju ass."
"That's because you are an ass," Lio quips tonelessly.
"What does that make him?" Gueira asks.
"More charming than you." Gueira looks across Galo to Meis, the very picture of despondency. Meis reaches behind to pat his partner on the shoulder. Galo lets him reach, and knows he's grinning because Lio thinks he's charming . "The food's fine," Lio continues. "I'm just not that hungry, but they want me to eat more."
Galo eats a second helping in anticipation of missing dinner to diagnose the repairs on Lio's Jaeger, but mostly for an excuse to stay while Lio finishes his first. He learns Lio met Gueira and Meis as a Ranger cadet in the Mark III era. He learns Lio was injured when the damage was done to his Jaeger.
("I still can't believe you knew there was Jaeger damage and didn't think he got hurt too," Gueira gripes.
"Hey, the Jaegers always take damage. The pilots walk out of them just fine three out of four times," Galo whines.
"Oh, shut up. I'm fine ," says Lio.
Meis levels him with a disbelieving stare, but says nothing.)
When the conversation turns to Jaegers, Lio asks, "Did mine arrive yet?"
"Huh? Oh yeah! Just before lunch. They're getting her installed in the Shatterdome so I can get her looked after. The way you guys are talking though, it sounds like it's gonna take some hefty repairs." Galo pretends to wilt in dismay, but his facade doesn't last long. "Don't worry! I told you this morning, I'll get her better than new for you, and that's a promise! Just might take me a little longer than I thought."
Lio nods solemnly and pushes the remains of his lunch around the tray with his fork. Meis and Gueira freeze when he asks, "Can I go see her?"
"Oh, uh..." Galo can't make sense of their reactions, but Lio is fixing him with a piercing stare. He feels like Meis and Gueira want him to say 'no' and Lio wants very desperately for him to say 'yes', and unfortunately for the pair, Galo doesn't have any excuse to turn him away. "Yeah, I don't see why not. We can head over when you're done eating."
Lio stands almost before the words are out of Galo's mouth. "I'm done now," he says smoothly.
"Oh!" Galo scrambles to stand. "Yeah, alright, I'll lead the way."
The Shatterdome is abuzz with activity when they reach it. Galo chatters away happily, pointing out the sights, the Jaeger teams loitering or exercising in the large space, the mechanics and technicians crawling over catwalks and beams. Lio doesn't mention the Marshal already gave him the tour. It doesn't take Galo long to find which bay the new Jaeger was installed in.
The sight of it finally makes a dent in his impenetrable good mood. Galo frowns and whistles low at the sight of her. This machine has seen hell. Fully missing both arms, half the faceplate gone, and the legs look like they're holding together on willpower alone. He can see the mechanisms inside her body from the ground. They look intact; Galo can't tell if the armor plates were removed by humans or a particularly delicate Kaiju.
Lio walks past him and puts both palms against the cold metal leg. There's something tragically beautiful about the sight of Lio craning to look up at the damage and still touch. The noisy crowd behind them tunes out while Galo watches. Lio's expression barely changes, but he just looks sad instead of cross. His lips move, and it takes Galo a full thirty seconds to realize the words were directed at him.
"Take care of her."
"Yeah. Yeah, I will." Galo comes close and claps a hand gently on Lio's shoulder. He watches for any sign of the injury Gueira and Meis spoke of, but Lio is either very good at hiding it, or is, as he said, fine. Galo thinks, somehow, it isn't the latter. "I promised, didn't I? Better than new."
"You did." Lio withdraws his palms from the Jaeger, but makes no move to shrug Galo off or move away from the machine.
"Hey, what's her name?"
"Nice." Galo grins up at the machine. "Detroit Flare. Very cool. She's got a pilot that's extra attached to her, and a mechanic that's gonna take extra special care."
His words draw a startled chuckle out of Lio. "I guess, yeah. I've never piloted anything else, she's special. But she's got eight confirmed kills, including the thing that did this, so don't go treating her like a baby," he warns.
"Oh, she's a badass!" He beams at Lio. "I'll treat her right!"
Lio flushes. "It's a Jaeger, not your girlfriend. Christ." He puts one hand back against the cold metal, pats it gently a couple times. "But I know you will, Galo Thymos."
Galo really has to know. "Hey, can I ask you something?"
"I don't promise to answer," Lio replies carefully.
"Are you hurt as bad as Gueira thinks you are?" Galo asks. When Lio just stares at him, he adds in haste, "I feel really bad for knocking you across the gym this morning, y'know? And if you were hurt... I dunno. I guess I'd feel worse? Maybe I should just apologize anyway again? I should have been more careful--"
Lio grips his wrist too tight and Galo finds his world is suddenly very hard, very cold, and very upside-down. He shouldn't be surprised after his handshake with Lio that morning, but he wasn't expecting to get dropped on his head for an apology. The Shatterdome doesn't miss a step, making them background noise to the wider range of activity. No one notices Galo on the ground.
"I got up just fine this morning, didn't I? What the fuck does it matter?" Lio hisses.
"Matters to me," Galo says, rubbing his head. "You know there aren't any mats here, right? Jesus..."
"Because it's the Shatterdome. We don't need mats in he--"
Lio cuts him off. "Why does it matter to you?"
Galo shrugs. "My job is fixing things, not breaking them," he says, like that's any answer at all.
"Fixing machines," Lio says, perplexity bordering on distress. "I'm not a Jaeger."
Galo shrugs again. "Machines don't ignore their mechanics when they say something needs to be fixed. People do all the time."
Lio frowns down at him. Galo thinks Lio isn't going to answer at all until he says, "I was hurt. Three months ago, when that happened." He gestures to Detroit Flare and her damage. "That was about when Meis and Gueira left for Hong Kong. I was still in the hospital." He pauses again, frown intensifying. "I've done my PT and I'm clear for duty as soon as she's up and running. I don't want anyone acting like I'll break if I get hit."
"Alright," Galo repeats. He looks up at Lio with a serious expression. "Thanks for telling me."
"Yeah. You don't want me to make a big deal out of it? I won't." Galo leans back against the foot of the Jaeger and crosses his arms. "I'll still kick your ass if you wanna meet me in the gym, Mr. Cleared-For-Duty."
"I seem to remember wiping the floor with you, Mr. Jaeger-Mechanic."
"Guess we'll need a rematch."
Lio frowns less. Galo would almost call it a smile. "Guess we will."
Galo misses dinner, as he anticipated. Diagnostics alone take him from when Lio left the Shatterdome to find Meis and Gueira to well past midnight. Somewhere around 9pm he remembers what Lio told Ignis in the gym--they didn't have the funding for repairs. He knows support for the Jaeger program is down, especially on the other side of the Pacific. They've seen fewer Kaiju attacks recently, and their efforts seem to be concentrated on the Wall.
He thinks about the missing armor plating and wonders if it was damaged, or if the North American coastline is selling off Jaeger parts as scrap.
Galo climbs around the interior of Detroit Flare like a beetle in a bush, surefooted and quick and chattering softly to the surface he crawls over. His stream of murmurs amount to little more than talking to the machine in an effort to convince himself he can fix her. Besides the exterior damage, every coolant tank but one is cracked and leaking, the pneumatics have been pushed so far past their limits Galo is astonished they aren't bent to hell, and he's climbed accidentally into no less than twelve pockets of dried Kaiju blood, which has eaten away at every unprotected surface it came in contact with before it dried up. Her insides are pockmarked w here the stuff practically dissolved muscle cords, gears, gyroscopes... He's starting to wonder if it's too excessive to get Aina's sister to make Kaiju-blue resistant coating for every part of the Jaeger, internal and external.
The good news is, her core is in good shape. Which, Galo realizes, is the only reason she's made it this far. A Mark III core on the brink of meltdown is little better than a nuclear bomb; they would never have brought her to the Shatterdome if she was gonna blow. More likely, they would have decommissioned her, sold what parts they could, and tried to bomb the Breach with her core, knowing it would fail like all other attempts to stop the Kaiju plague from crossing through.
Lio would have been heartbroken.
Galo isn't entirely sure that isn't going to happen anyway--the damage is intense. Detroit Flare seems to be holding herself together on sheer willpower, and Galo knows, after seeing Lio standing next to her, her pilot is just the same. If he declares her scrap, he has the feeling they'll lose Lio, too.
Galo won't let it happen. He draws up a list of what he needs, wants, to fix her up. He even digs up news feeds and schematics for her original build so he can see exactly what's missing. He spends an extra hour watching video streams of Detroit Flare in action, gauging the fighting style Lio and his copilot favored. Dawn is breaking over Hong Kong when he's satisfied with his plans and he passes out in his little room, ignoring the sounds of the Shatterdome coming to life. He's going to fix her, and he's got three things on his side: the funding promised by Kray Foresight, a team of Russians who can get him anything he needs, and Lucia Fex.
Lucia wolfwhistles at the plans Galo spreads on the lunch table between them. "Big plans, Galo," she says.
Galo swallows. His plate is way overloaded, but it's his first proper meal since yesterday's lunch. "Five months in the doing, if we can get all the bits without trouble."
" If ." Lucia snorts and grabs his supply list from the haphazard pile. "We'll get them, but Galo... I've seen this Jaeger. They should've left her in Oblivion Bay. Why did Ignis bring it in?"
"Ignis did?" Ignis Ex is their Chief LOCCENT Officer. He has a decent amount of sway in the politics of the Shatterdome that came with being in charge of Ranger Ops, but as Marshal decisions like that fall to Kray Foresigjt.
"Yeah. I guess he knew her pilots back in Vancouver? He was stationed there a couple years ago, before Kray brought him to Hong Kong. Doesn't change that for a J-Tech Officer his opinion of 'fixable' is shit."
"Hey, she's not that bad," Galo protests. "She just needs a little TLC. And you know we need as many active Jaegers as the program can get its hands on."
"But this one?"
"Cheaper than building from scratch?" He tries.
"Barely." Lucia eyes him.
"I was watching news footage of her fights," Galo admits around a mouthful of lunch (he thinks he'll ask the kitchen if they can whip him up a pizza or two for dinner, something he can take to the Shatterdome and eat cold on the job). "They were crazy good until the Breach spat out Scourge." There was no footage of that fight, out in the ocean a couple miles out from Vancouver Island; only the report of a Cat 3 Kaiju called Scourge, a four armed monstrosity that spat acid and had wicked claws. The damage to Detroit Flare tells him all he really needs to know about what it was capable of.
He takes another bite and talks around it. "All I'm saying is we need more good pilots with good Jaegers."
"Well you need to start with a good Jaeger…" Lucia pores over Galo's carefully made blueprints. With sharp, practiced movement, she rolls them into a tube and announces, "I'm fixing these." Galo sputters his protests, but Lucia holds up one finger to stop him. "Look, there is way more going on in these plans than any self respecting Jaeger needs. You know I love gadgets, Galo. You know it." She turns big blue eyes on him in a pout.
"And coming from someone who loves gadgets, these are really cool. Really cool," Lucia emphasizes. "But she doesn't need all that. You're a great mechanic, but you're not a Jaeger designer. She needs to move, and she needs a couple weapons. Too many abilities adds to the neural strain on her pilots," she explains. "So… I dunno, tell me which ones you think work best for her fighting style. I'll review some of that footage, too. We'll make something that works for her and her pilots."
"You're the best, Lucia," Galo says. He pulls her into a one-armed hug.
Lucia smacks him with his rolled up plans. "Of course I am. And I just know you've doomed me to a sleepless night over this, so you better appreciate me."
"My hero," he says promptly. "Queen of Jaeger Tech."
Lucia winks. "Damn right. I'll have your new plans in the morning. You work on cleaning her up today. Get rid of that rust and Kaiju crap."
Galo beams. "Yes, ma'am!"
There is absolutely nothing glamorous about scrubbing rust and dried Kaiju biological material out of a Jaeger. The blood is the difficult part. Rust is a nasty piece of work if you breathe it in, but Kaiju blood does not become completely inert upon drying. It hibernates. And when it rehydrates, it reactivates.
Galo and his crew scrub and vacuum the detritus out of the working parts of Detroit Flare in suits that would not look out of place in space exploration or a deep sea dive. They work in their own individually moderated environments, completely sealed off from the Shatterdome and airborne particles. Markers and plastic sheets set up a safe perimeter around the Jaeger bay, and wisely the other crews avoid it. No sense risking inhaling Kaiju blood, despite the excellent vacuums, and having a perfectly good set of lungs be eaten away by alien acid.
Galo catches Lio watching from the border of the markers, just barely on the safe side. Galo wishes he wouldn't, not because the feeling of being watched unsettled him, but because if Lio is recently healed from a major fight, he shouldn't be risking his health. Especially if he's an experienced Mark III pilot; there aren't many left since the Tech moved to Mark IV and V. Detroit Flare is getting a few upgrades, but not an overhaul. Her systems are still good, except for what was ripped out with the missing half of the faceplate. She'll be an extra badass Mark III when he's done with her, but still a Mark III.
Lio's friends usually shuffle him off before he can linger too long. Galo turns his focus back to the clean up. It takes them fully a day and a half to bring Detroit Flare back to shiny status. Galo skips kitchen takeaway to sit in the mess hall and breathe air that hasn't been recycled for the past few hours and eat food that doesn't risk being contaminated by floating bits of rust, metal, and Kaiju biology. Lucia is late with her updated plans, but Galo isn't really surprised. She doesn't answer her door when he knocks, and Galo doesn't press her. There's other repairs to do in the meantime.
They wait overnight for the last of the particles to settle before giving their area a good sweep and tearing down their perimeter. Then the real work starts. Galo requisitions two new gyroscopes so he can calibrate them together, along with several miles of muscle cord. He salvages what he can, but Lucia was right. The three months in Oblivion Bay didn't do Detroit Flare any favors.
Lio finds him at dinner, forsakes the gaggle of pilots and technicians he's been sitting with the last few days to join Galo, Lucia, and the handful of off-duty mechanics from their crew. Galo is admiring Lucia's updates to his design.
"Admit it," she says as Lio sits down. "You should leave Jaeger design to the professionals."
"You used a lot of my plans!" Galo insists. "But you made it look way cooler. Queen of Jaeger Tech. Savior of my good ideas."
"Flattery will get you everywhere." Lucia beams, delighted too much to hide it. Her excitement is palpable, but before she can launch into an explanation of her updates, Lio speaks.
"Is that the new plans for Detroit?" He asks.
Galo quickly covers the blueprints with his arm, nearly upsetting several dishes in his haste. "Don't look! That ruins the surprise!"
Lio startles half out of his seat, but uses the height to lean over to try to sneak a look anyway. "Come on!"
"No! Lucia, help!"
"She's a 250 foot machine, Galo! You can't hide her! Just let me have a look!"
But Lucia and the rest of the repair crew have Galo's side. Lucia rolls her schematics with the same swiftness she used to steal Galo's. The rest of them help hide the plans from Lio's sight. Lio collapses back onto the bench. "I'm gonna kick your ass, Thymos."
"Then who's gonna fix your Jaeger?"
"I'll fix her my damn self if I have to!"
"But you don't," one of the mechanics points out reasonably.
"You worry about running her, let us worry about fixing her," says another.
"Gonna kick all your asses," Lio growls in reply, but his mechanic crew just laughs. Galo laughs the loudest because he thinks, for the first time since he met Lio, Lio is actually really smiling.
Lio makes good on his promise to kick Galo's ass five hours later before dinner. No staffs, just wrestling. Galo approaches the match lightly, a good way to work up an appetite before dinner. Lio approaches it like he is a one-man Jaeger, and Galo, the Kaiju. Needless to say, Galo ends up working hard enough to earn three appetites.
Galo strips his shirt off when they finally call it quits. Lio is small and twisty and fucking impossible to pin down for more than a second. Twice, Galo almost had him, but never for long. Only once at the very end did he manage to hold him down. He wipes the sweat from his face and shoulders with the shirt. "We really need to work out a signal for when you're seriously gonna wipe the floor with me," he complains. "I thought this was just gonna be friendly."
"Always assume I'm going to, and you won't have this problem," Lio says. The words don't come out harsh; Galo doesn't think they were meant to, but Lio is breathing hard. It was a hard workout, but Galo's already caught his breath.
He watches, sipping from a cup of water until Lio glares at him. "You're doing it again," he snaps, breath just fine now.
"Stop worrying about me. I'm just out of shape. Three months of inactivity is a long time, alright?"
It's a good excuse, a reasonable one. Galo wants to believe it. He isn't sure why he doesn't. Instinct, maybe. "First step to getting back in shape is eating right," Galo says. It's not, but it's the next step for them. "Let's get dinner."
He slings his shirt over his shoulder, not bothering to put it back on, and strides past Lio toward the door. Galo stops when Lio touches his shoulder. His fingertips are hot, pinpoints of fire over where Galo knows the skin is discolored. "Is that from me?" Lio asks.
"Uh… yeah," Galo says dumbly. "But it's fine. Doesn't hurt. Pretty much healed already, just funky colors still."
"I'm sorry," Lio says. When Galo twists to look at him, Lio's wearing the most intense frown Galo's seen on him yet, lips pressed in a thin line, brow furrowed. Lio glances up when Galo turns and his expression tries and fails to smooth itself over.
"You don't need to be. Varys punched me square in the face. I hit you way harder. I like being a little bit of a rainbow." Galo gestures to his hair. "I've got blue. Lucia says its purple and black on my shoulder. My eye was green and yellow until yesterday."
It gets Lio to smile. "All you need is red and orange?"
Galo flexes his left arm, covered still by a separate sleeve from armpit to wrist. "Got it."
Lio regards the white sleeve curiously; white, not a hint of red and orange. "What's underneath?"
Galo winks. "Can't give all my secrets away on the first date."
Lio raises one eyebrow skeptically. "Not on the first date huh? What do you do on the first date, then?"
"Um, not that."
Lio snorts, laughs, shoves him toward the door. "Try dinner , you idiot. Oh my god, go ." Galo resists, stubbornly grinning. Lio doesn't stumble when Galo moves, expecting it and continuing to push him through the gym. Every reasonable soul in the Shatterdome is in the commissary, and the two most unreasonable ones fill the gym with laughter until their bellies get the better of their heads.
Galo gets everything he requisitions with surprisingly little trouble, and the moment it arrives in the bay and the workshop, he throws himself into repairing the Jaeger with a passion. It helps that the Shatterdome holds its breath two weeks into the project when a category 4 squirms out of the Breach. Meis, Gueira, Remy, and Varys make sure it doesn't reach shore, but just barely. Passion quickly becomes obsession.
He spends days at a time putting Lio's Jaeger back together, and he's lucky for the friends that look out for him and bring him meals and shove him out of the Shatterdome and into his quarters. He has high hopes for the final Lucia/Galo design. Lucia had ideas for protecting the vulnerable joints, and he follows her schematics with tenacious precision. Detroit Flare's movements when controlled by a computer program are jerky, unsteady, but unhindered by the extra armor. Galo knows, when her pilots are drifting in the comm pod, her movement will be smooth and fluid.
Lio watches sometimes, from the floor or a catwalk. Galo can't read his expression from the distance, but when he remembers to eat at regular mealtimes, Lio seats himself with the mechanics and expounds his excitement at their progress. Galo glows with the praise. So does his team. Lio proves to be an excellent and genuine motivator, and Galo thinks he understands why Ignis wanted him back so badly, why the Marshal would approve any requisition for the Jaeger repair. Someone that inspiring is someone they can rally around as the Kaiju get increasingly dangerous.
As the weeks fly by, Galo sees what Gueira and Meis saw when Lio first arrived. Lio was strong, but skinny, still out of shape from an extended hospital stay. Now, skinny turned to stocky, and whipcord strength to filled-out muscle. He looks properly healthy now. And he smiles more. Galo had first thought Lio was too serious and somber, someone whose smiles were a rarity, but maybe that was just a side effect of his injury, too. Every now and then, Galo watches Lio sink back into that darkness and the frown returns, but those moments are rarer than the bright, burning smiles he shows to Galo and the crew. He sees what Lio's friends saw in the blinding aftermath of those smiles and he kicks himself for not seeing it sooner.
Galo doesn't see Lio in the gym as often, mostly because the repairs are a workout all on their own. But he hears, though. He hears the younger Rangers call Lio a beast and a madman, and he hears Lio's name spoke with a bit of unreasonable fear and awe. Maybe reasonable. He can't bring himself to ask for that staff rematch and find out.
Galo avoids Lio, when he can. He doesn't turn toward that prickling sense of being watched in the Jaeger bay, and he seats himself at crowded tables in the commissary where Lio has no room. Today, he squeezes himself between Aina and Varys at a table already overfull with Remy and a handful of Jaeger technicians. There is really not enough room for him, but Aina sighs and scoots down the bench so Galo can fit. Remy levels a skeptical stare across the table at him. He can feel the looks Varys and Aina shoot him just as clearly.
"Puppy love not work out?" Varys asks, blunt and direct.
"I don't know what you mean." It's not a lie, though Galo can guess. He hasn't had puppy love since he was a kid.
"You are not pining for a certain shorty Jaeger pilot?" Remy clarifies.
"It's definitely not pining," Galo says around a mouthful of food.
"Avoidance?" Galo doesn't answer so Aina leans into his space to get a look at his face. She makes that expression--little frown, raised eyebrow--that means whatever she sees in his face tells her she's got it. "Why?" She asks. "He obviously likes spending time with you."
"So busy you can't eat a meal with him?"
"I'm trying to fix this Jaeger up, Remy. She needs a lot of work."
"You've got a whole crew!" Remy scolds. "You can take a full mealtime hour to have some friendly conversation. The Jaeger isn't going to get worse ."
The worst part is his friends are right and Galo knows it. "So I'm avoiding him, so what?" Galo takes a too-big bite of pizza so he stops condemning himself via conversation.
Aina gasps. "Oh. Is it that you don't like him? I thought you did! You thought he was so cool."
"That was weeks ago," Galo says, mulish and defiant. He doesn't deny it, because it's truth. Aina pouts. "Stop playing matchmaker. Please."
"Something happen?" Varys rumbles quietly beside him.
"Something you can talk over?"
"I dunno. I guess. You're the one with a therapy license, you tell me." Galo needed a break from work, but he's starting to think he should have just taken his pizza to the hangar for dinner.
"Talk it over," Varys says. And then he stands up and calls out, "Hey, Fotia! We're about to head out, sit here." Aina gulps the last of her water and stands, like a traitor. Remy quietly does the same, leaning to take Varys's plate from across the table. Galo tries to stand, but Varys clamps a hand on his shoulder and keeps him in his seat. "You need to eat more."
"Keep your strength up," Aina chirps, too smug to have been doing anything but parroting what Meis had said to Lio with intent.
"Oh, stop treating me like a child," Galo says and waves them off. Varys squeezes his shoulder firmly, saying silently and without subtlety then stop acting like one . Lio takes the seat Varys left, and Galo's friends casually abandon him to this fate. He still doesn't think the commissary is the place to have the conversation he wants, but he has the sneaking suspicion they'll be waiting for him to leave to make sure it happened.
"What was that?" Lio asks.
"They think I'm avoiding you."
"You have been," Lio points out. Ah, good, another person direct to the point. Maybe this will be easy. Lio doesn't sound hurt, but Galo can't help but notice he's very still and waiting for an answer.
"Yeah, well…" Galo huffs, and gets to it. "You lied to me. When you said you were cleared for duty, you let me believe it meant now and not in a few months when the Jaeger is done."
"How did you even find out?"
"I have friends here!" Galo says heatedly. "I have friends in Medical and J-tech who tell me things like 'Lio's making good progress with his PT' and 'Looks like he'll have a clean bill of health before his Jaeger' and 'we'll start compatibility testing after he's cleared for duty.' You let me train with you like you were at full health."
"I was," Lio hisses, bristling like he always did when someone brought up Medical. "Listen, you don't need my full fucking medical chart. My body was fine, just out of shape like I told you. Whatever the hell you heard, forget it."
"You need to listen to doctors to heal, Lio…"
"The only healing I have left is in my goddamn head," Lio snaps. "I spent that first month in the hospital trying to get my brain to understand my limbs were still there. I spent the next two in PT relearning how to walk and write. The rest of my clearances are all making sure I'm not going to go into a drift and lose my ability to function again." He crosses his arms, face cloudy and frowning again. "So, fine. I lied. I'm not clear for duty, but I'm fine. Sparring is fine . I'm not going to fucking break ."
"You still should have told me," Galo says. Too loud. He tries to keep his head, manage his volume. They don't need a shouting match.
"Oh, so you can keep secrets and I can't?" Lio demands. "Won't tell me what's under the sleeve, won't tell me what you're doing with Detroit."
Galo protests, "That's not the same."
Lio snarls. "No? It's not my business, right? What's going in my head isn't your business unless you're drifting with me. And you aren't, because you're not a fucking pilot."
Galo stands, sharp, fast, hands-slammed-on-the-table ascent. Lio doesn't flinch but their table neighbors do. "Fine. I'll keep my secrets, and I'll go back to being a damn mechanic. Ask Lucia for the schematics. She'll explain them to you if you tell her I sent you. That was just supposed to be a nice surprise, but I don't think you appreciate those." He leaves the commissary before Lio can reply, before the hurt can make itself known on his face. He leaves his full plate of pizza behind, mealtimes be damned. He has work to do.
A full margherita pizza, his favorite, is brought to the hangar three hours later, still hot in a cardboard box. One of the crew members tell him the blonde kid who dropped it off was in a hurry to go, and laughs that Galo has a secret admirer. Scrawled in sharpie on the inside of the box is a sloppy message, Heris is running the last of my tests tomorrow if you want to be there. After lunch in the med bay.
Lio is the only non-medical personnel in the med bay when Galo arrives after lunch. He doesn't keep eye contact when he notices Galo, but Galo can see the small smile. It's not the joy he used to have, but Galo thinks of it as a mended bridge. He takes the seat beside Lio. "Thanks for the pizza."
"Thanks for coming." Lio turns bright eyes on him, then away. "I wasn't sure you would."
"I'm not sure why you asked me," Galo says honestly. Curiosity got him here at least as much as the offer from Lio. At least as much as the desire to smooth things over. Anger didn't sit well with Galo, uncomfortable like an itchy blanket.
"Because I shouldn't have kept it from you," Lio sighs. "But there was nothing wrong with me going to the gym and sparring with you, and I don't know how to explain it, so I sort of hope Heris can do that for me."
Galo looks at the ceiling. He thinks he believes Lio. He wants to. He just can't shake the uneasy feeling of being lied to, even by omission. Not uneasy; hurt. Maybe Lio didn't owe him a full explanation, but he didn't deserve to hear a different truth from someone else. He didn't deserve a partial truth. When he looks over, Lio is frowning at the floor, cross as he looked the first day in the gym.
"Nervous? Or you just hate medical that much?" Galo jokes.
"Hungry." Comes the terse reply.
"It was just lunch?"
"I wasn't allowed to eat before the tests," Lio complains. "Something something, might throw up. I don't know. I haven't eaten since yesterday."
Galo has the fleeting absurd thought that Lio is grumpy and that it's adorable . He has the self preservation not to voice it; Lio drove him around the gym with some effort while he was still out of shape, and Galo doesn't quite know what to expect if he's full strength and hangry. Heris walks into the waiting area before he has a chance to answer.
"Lio, we're ready to run those--oh, Galo. Are you feeling unwell?" She's clearly surprised to see him.
Galo jerks his thumb at Lio. "Here for moral support," he says, beaming.
Lio stands up with a grimace. "He is not . He's here so you can explain that me kicking his ass in the gym the last three months wasn't against my doctor's orders."
"I see." Eris adjusts her glasses, laughs quietly through her nose. She gestures Lio through the doors behind her. "My assistant will get you started. Galo and I can chat out here."
Lio glances over his shoulder, looks like he wants to say something. All he says is, "Good," before he disappears through the doors. Heris takes his seat beside Galo.
"You want to know about his medical restrict--"
"I thought you were a Kaiju researcher?" Galo blurts. "You work with J-Tech. You're his doctor?"
Heris sighs. "I am a medical doctor, Galo, and I research Kaiju and the effects of Kaiju blue and other Kaiju biological material on the human body. I also work with Jaeger Tech to develop technology that can protect Rangers, technicians like yourself, and everyday folk from Kaiju contaminates. I assure you, I am perfectly qualified to assess Lio's health."
Galo nods. Heris waits, and met with, for once, his silence, she continues, "I was not his primary doctor before he came to Hong Kong, but I was briefed. He did well in his physical therapy. He was cleared for continued physical training. I prescribed him a regimen, actually, after he arrived.
"Your sparring wasn't part of it," she adds, looking at him over the rim of her glasses. Galo swallows the tightness in his throat, but Heris readjusts her glasses and smiles. "But, I think it helped. The training regimen brought him back up to physical strength. Your sparring matches with him appear to have helped strengthen the neural connections that were damaged during his last drift. Has he told you anything?"
"Not, not really. A little bit? Maybe?" Galo tries to remember what Lio said, angry over dinner. "Something about his first month in the hospital?"
Heris flips through the charts on her clipboard. "He experienced paralysis temporarily. Scourge apparently tore the right arm off the Jaeger, followed by severe damage to the legs. Lio and his partner were deep in the drift. That kind of damage, when you're drifting and connected to the Jaeger, your head thinks it's happening to you. The brain figures it out eventually, but it takes longer the worse the damage is."
"So, sparring helped?"
"Yes." Heris sounds pleased, and Galo takes a lot of solace from that. "The action in sparring is… unpredictable. It requires quick reactions, and reaction time requires strong connections between the nerves and the brain," she explains. Galo listens, nods, half understanding. Heris pats his shoulder. "You helped a lot, Galo. Pilots are busybodies and none of them wanted to break his regimen." She taps a pen against her lips. "I'm glad you did. He's progressed much more quickly. We should consider adding sparring to our training prescriptions."
"I didn't either," Galo says miserably. "I told him to just do what his doctors told him."
"I know." Heris tucks a fallen lock of hair behind her ear and laughs at his expression. "Galo, half the Shatterdome heard you two argue last night. Aina saw the whole thing. You think she wouldn't tell me?"
He has the decency to blush. "I'm… glad it helped." He doesn’t know whether to apologize so he says nothing. Heris stands.
"The tests will be a while, but I'm confident in his progress. We didn't expect him to be cleared for at least another month, you know. But if these scans don't read healthy and cleared for duty, I'll be very surprised."
"Hey, Heris, before you go--" She pauses at the door, turns back to him. "What kind of food does Lio like?"
It is four hours to dinner --two hours past lunch-- and Lio Fotia walks out of the Medical bay hungry, cranky, but cleared for duty and immeasurably pleased. He has Heris's word that Kray will start building a compatibility roster in the morning, and as soon as he has a partner, he'll be back in the Jaeger. He blames the growling in his stomach for the uneasy flip it makes. Galo isn't there when he leaves. He didn't expect him to be, not with how long the tests were scheduled to take, but he was hoping for some kind of confirmation that Heris told Galo whatever he needed to hear. She wouldn't tell him about their conversation.
Lio scowls at the floor, and turns toward the kitchens and wonders if he can pull off Galo Thymos charming while he's half starving. He doesn't have high hopes, but he's willing to beg or steal just to have something to tide him over. He's silently rehearsing his plea to the cooks when he bumps into Galo.
Galo looks startled for all of a fraction of a second before he beams at Lio, dazzling like the sun. "Good! You're done, come with me." He doesn't give Lio a breath to protest or ask what's going on. Galo grabs his wrist and drags him down the hall. Lio almost whines as they bypass the kitchens. He can hear the sounds of food preparation and the scent is ambrosia, and he resists a few steps along the way because nothing in that moment is more on his mind than food. Galo is determined.
They don't go far past the kitchen. The smell of dinner lingers in Lio's nose and he wants to be cross but Galo has the exuberance of a puppy and he isn't avoiding Lio again, so he tells himself dinner isn't that far off. His mouth is watering when Galo opens the door marked staff lounge --kitchen staff? Probably-- and the smell doesn't lessen when he steps inside. It gets stronger, actually. Lio stares dumbly at the table, set for four, and distantly hears Galo's proud, "Ta-daa!"
Lio feels like a beached whale as he swallows twice, trying to piece together what was going on, trying harder not to sit down and eat all four helpings of whatever smells spicy hot and delicious . "You… did this?"
"Well, the cooks actually made it. And Meis helped, because I don't know what food you like, and Heris didn't either. Oh, and I invited Meis and Gueira because Gueira found out I was asking, and really wanted some. It kinda makes it a party? A linner party!"
"What the fuck is linner ?"
"Lunch-dinner. It's not a dinner party because it's like, two in the afternoon."
"Linner , though?"
"It's better than dunch."
It is better than dunch. Galo knows he's right, and Lio can't argue except for, "Linner is still stupid."
Galo laughs, because Lio is right and he can't argue. "Alright, how about 'cleared for duty' party?"
Lio's stomach does that queasy flip again. He tells himself it's because he's so close to eating his stomach doesn't know what it wants. "Anything sounds good as long as I can eat it. Where are Meis and Gueira?"
"Right here!" Gueira strides through the doorway as he talks. "Man, that smells so good! Why don't we get this for regular meals?"
"Because if the cooks made everything as spicy as Lio likes it, two thirds of the Shatterdome wouldn't have tastebuds," Meis answers him.
"It's not that spicy!" Gueira insists, famous last words.
Lio practically inhales the curry, packed with vegetables and chicken and spice. He ends up eating half of Gueira's too. Gueira is red from his ears down his neck, and despite its continued use, he loudly laments the loss of his tongue to the spice. "You're not human," he accuses. "I mean, that was pulled from the depths of hell. How are you still eating it?" Lio swallows another mouthful and grins devilishly.
Meis, having the same taste as Lio, only laughs at his partner's plight. Galo looks a little red in the face, but shrugs off Gueira's astonishment. "Grew up with a lot of different food, spice doesn't bother me much," he says nonchalantly.
Gueira's eyes light up at this, burning tongue forgotten. "Army brat?" Meis frequently blames Gueira's idiocy and impulsiveness on being raised on Army bases when the Kaiju attacks first started. Gueira is clearly looking for a partner in crime.
Galo laughs. "Shatterdome brat, I guess? Grew up in a lot of different ones after Kray took me in."
"Kray as in Kray Foresight? The Marshal?"
"He used to be a pilot," Galo says, explaining common knowledge. "Lost my family to a Kaiju back in… Mark I phase, I don't think they were onto Mark II yet. I dunno, I was pretty young, I just thought Jaegers were real cool then. Anyway, Kray saved my life and took me in after that. When he was deployed to different Shatterdomes, I followed him. And bored kids find things to do and people to bother, and I only had J-tech to bother, so I became a mechanic." He goes back to eating, unbothered by the gapings stares of the group. Even Lio stops his ravenous devouring to stare at him.
"How," says Gueira, "did a hardass like Kray Foresight raise a decent person like you?"
Galo thinks it's supposed to be a compliment. It wants to sit on him like one, but like a sweater run through the dryer, it doesn't quite fit. He fidgets uncomfortably, pushing rice around in his bowl, and knows there's a hint of truth in Gueira's statement because Kray is just like that . Serious, strict, running a tight ship both for himself in his private life and publicly for everyone under his command and he has always been like that, ever since Galo knew him. He knew there was more to him than that. He knew Kray had a tendency to give him leniency with casual address, with uniform, with the dozen other minor rules he's bent all these years for the sake of a little fun, a smile around the Shatterdome.
But truth be told, Galo knows he turned out this way because it wasn't Kray Foresight who raised him. Kray Foresight was his guardian, who paid for his education and his clothes as a child, and made sure when he woke up with a nightmare looking for someone to cry to he didn't wake up alone. He was even genuinely caring when that happened. But Galo was raised by the village of Shatterdome technicians, and he knows this too acutely to make some excuse for Kray.
He has to answer, so he says stiffly, "He's not that bad, when you know him." Galo shrugs, more casual than he feels, and shovels the last of the rice into his mouth and hopes by the time he swallows Gueira will forget about it. Conversation moves on and he lets out a mental breath.
He washes their dishes later methodically and calmly, focused on the task at hand and the background chatter of the kitchen preparing for the dinner meal. (He sees a lot of vegetables, smells a lot of chopped herbs, and his mouth waters in anticipation of whatever it will be.) Galo almost drops the bowl he's moving from rinsing sink to the sanitizer when Lio appears at his elbow.
Lio rescues it calmly, places it in the sanitizer, and pulls a previously washed pot out of the sink to dry. "Do you always do your own dishes here?" He asks, snagging a towel from a rack to dry more dishes by hand. Lio waits for an answer with bright eyes and busy hands, and not a hint of judgment or superiority. Just genuine curiosity.
"It's my deal," Galo explains. "Cook doesn't mind making me special dishes if I take care of the clean up and don't ask for anything crazy."
"Ah." Lio goes quiet in the loud kitchen, and then he laughs. Galo stops entirely to stare because he cannot, for the life of him, figure out what he said that was so funny. The arrangement seems simple, unoriginal, and boring except for the fact that Galo sometimes gets very delicious food out of the bargain. Lio tries to speak but it takes a couple attempts to get the words out. "Sorry," he gasps finally, "sorry. It's just, I can't tell if you're like this because Kray raised you, or if Gueira is right and you're like this despite it!"
Too much to hope the conversation would be forgotten. "He's really not all that bad if --" Galo defends, but Lio interrupts.
"It's not an insult." He takes a deep breath and gets his giggles under control and says,"It’s not. There are definitely worse people to be raised by than Kray Foresight. He's just so cold to the rest of us, it's hard to imagine him with a kid around."
“Yeah…” Galo finds himself for once at a loss for words and the silence they stumble into is uncomfortable.
“You know, I was an arsonist as a kid?”
“Mostly trash fires,” Lio says. Galo stops washing dishes to watch and listen, but Lio dries the dishes in front of him with precise focus. “Apparently," Lio continues, in the tone of one who had been told this several times and was tired of hearing it, "I was lighting fires because my parents were more interested in the new Kaiju drug than their kid, and I was desperate for their attention. Got the cops attention instead. Turned out alright though. That was when they were really desperate for Ranger recruits so they made all the juvie kids take the aptitude test and a psych eval." He laughs humorlessly. "So they made me finish high school in prison and then let me enlist. Best decision I ever made, though it doesn't always feel like it, and it started because I was lighting trash fires."
He holds his hand out for the next dish and finally realizes Galo had stopped. Galo watches his ears turn red-- the blush only barely touches his cheeks but his ears are on fire. "Anyway," Lio says abruptly, clutching his dish towel like a lifeline, "there are worse people to be raised by than Kray fucking Foresight, okay?"
"He mostly just made sure I did okay," Galo supplies. Lio's brush with honesty makes him want to share the truth. "Like, that I had clothes and went to school and got to do the things I liked. I spent most of my time in the hangar, trying to find something to do. I'm kind of amazed at how boring I used to think the Shatterdome was."
Lio's embarrassed flush subsides a little. "No, now I'm keeping you busy with a disaster of a repair job."
"She's not a disaster ."
"She is," Lio says. "I'm well aware getting Detroit back at all is a longshot. I know they should have scrapped her."
"You should come see the progress we've made,” Galo offers. “She looks good."
Lio shakes his head and smiles. "No. I think I want it to be a surprise."
Galo doesn't see much of Lio over the next month. It's not for lack of trying. Lio’s mealtimes are swamped with hopeful recruits trying to get to know him, to see if they're drift compatible, and Galo spends more time with Lucia and his mechanics as they grow closer to the completion of the Jaeger. Galo doesn't even see him in the gym except once or twice, in passing only, and he looks frustrated every time. Kray had started him on compatibility trials, and from Lio’s sour look and the disappointed Ranger hopefuls, they weren’t going well.
He misses Lio in the hangar. Galo never thought he’d miss the spine-crawling feeling of knowing someone’s eyes were on him, but he finds himself turning, taking a breather to scan the people two hundred feet below him for a blonde head of hair. Galo can’t decide whether Detroit Flare being a surprise is worth not getting to see more of Lio. He guesses Lio is too busy to loiter in the hangar now anyway.
That hurts more than he thinks it should.
Aina catches him scanning the commissary for Lio a week later and teases him about puppy love again. His silence, his frustrated pout, tell her more than he knows how to say. She pats his arm comfortingly, understanding, and Galo drops his face into his hands. It isn't puppy love, but he's got it bad.
The Comm Pod in Detroit's wickedly pointed skull isn't complete when they're ready to start testing Lio's drift with the matched recruits. They use a training sim for the first week, and Galo has orders to finish the pod now. He bitches to Lucia and Ignis, because Kray knows the Comm Pod comes last, because all other systems need to be online to properly calibrate it. Galo fumes to Aina that it's a recipe for disaster, but he disconnects the systems from most of the parts they're still working on, installs the Neural Link, and tells Kray it's usable.
Heris seems like such a calm and collected individual, it's startling to find she has the same spitfire volatility as her younger sister. It's even more startling that her voice is raised publicly and to Kray Foresight of all people. It echoes too much in the Shatterdome, Galo too far away to make out most of what she's yelling clearly, but the whole dome freezes trying to listen. He hauls himself higher in the scaffolding in front of Detroit's chest and manages to hear, " You of all people know better than to try to drift pilots in a goddamn uncompleted Jaeger!" He gets only a glimpse of Heris--furiously unkempt, spectacles crooked, hair flying--before she shoves herself away from the Marshal with a scowl of disgust. The small crowd of J-techs parts for her. Meis and Gueira follow, supporting a young recruit Galo can't name and Lio out of the Comm Pod.
Galo grips the scaffold so hard the imprint is still on his palm an hour later, red and guilty, when he finds an excuse to visit the Medical bay. Lio is sitting up in bed, scowling at a book he isn't reading but is flipping the pages of at regular intervals. Galo stands at the window, watching until Lio looks up and meets his eyes, sharp and fast as a whip crack. Galo can't hear it through the plexiglass, but he imagines the soft snapping thump of the book Lio closes and tosses to the end of the bed without breaking eye contact. Lio stares expectantly, so Galo breaks first.
He sits in the chair beside Lio's bed and fidgets with his shirt. "Heris was pretty pissed, huh?" He says. Wrong thing, maybe. Lio grimaces.
"Yeah," Lio says quietly. "I was pretty far down the rabbit hole, and that kid is still shaken up. I threw us real damn far out of sync. I don't really blame her for being pissed."
"I'm sorry," Galo says.
Lio snorts. "Last I heard she was screaming the ears off Kray, not you. Trust me, I had front row seats."
"No, but I--"
"Ignis told me," Lio interrupts with gravity, "that you complained the entire time about having to set up an incomplete neural link, and he told me there were systems offline. I should have been prepared for it. Don't blame yourself for Kray being impatient." Lio reaches out, punches Galo's arm (gently, he knows, because by now he knows what Lio's punches feel like). Galo tries not to look electrified.
"What happens now?" He asks.
"Meis offered his Jaeger as a substitute until Detroit is ready, as long as there’s no Breach Activity. Heris is pretty determined to bring us back to the simulator." Lio shrugs, too tense to manage nonchalance. "Heris wants me to perform some exercise or something before she let's me go, but they're trying to make sure the kid is all there."
"Are you okay?" Galo asks. He knows what the answer will be, and he doesn't make a fuss this time when Lio lies.
Galo can't find Lio two weeks later, and no one can seem to tell him where to find him. Not the mess hall, not the hangar, not the gym, not even his room. It's two in the afternoon and he's been ghosted, and he tries very hard to stuff down his disappointment that Kray gets to be the first to hear the news.
Galo walks the familiar route to Kray's office. The halls empty the closer he gets to that door. The Marshal is well known for being aloof and cold. Galo, Ignis, and Kray's assistant are the only ones who ever travel this way with regularity, and Galo has been more of a ghost in these parts lately. He thinks he should feel bad about that, and some little part of him does. But the rest of him deflates the closer he comes to the iron office and says he'll be happier if he turns around.
He doesn't mean to eavesdrop. He sees the door ajar--a faulty latch, only people who pass through the door frequently know to slam it behind--and means to turn around. He'll come back later, spend an hour trying to find Lio again and then tell Kray his news. But Galo can hear raised voices in Kray's office and he freezes and he listens.
"This is not acceptable, Fotia."
"You think I don't know that? I'm trying my best!"
"Try harder! Three rounds of recruits. Three! If you won't drift with any of them, I'll find a pair who can to pilot Detroit."
"You can't do that!" There's nothing on the Marshal's desk to rattle when Lio strikes it, his sharp words punctuated only by the sharp impact of fist on steel.
"Can't I?" Galo knows the Marshal's voice, but not that tone. It sounds dangerous. It sends something in his gut reeling uncomfortably, a fish on the line that knows its caught but can't get away. Galo, caught just as fast, stays and listens. "You might have some stupid emotional claim to that Jaeger but it doesn't belong to you. The Pan Pacific Defense Corps can assign any drifting team to that command pod if your performance is not satisfactory."
There's a silence that stretches, bitter and icy. Galo holds his breath, and thinks he should move but Kray speaks again. Softer, but it makes the threat more obvious.
"If you do not have a drift partner by the time that Jaeger is completed, you will be reassigned. I do not have time to coddle useless pilots, do I make myself clear?"
"Yes." It sounds like it takes real effort for Lio to spit the word out.
That word finally thaws Galo's frozen legs. He scrambles back as many feet as he can, thanks whatever god is still watching out for him that this hallway is empty, and watches the door to Kray's office slam open and shut around Lio Fotia. He moves like a hurricane, a force of nature in a human skin that barely, barely contains its fury when he meets Galo's eyes.
Galo thinks he can keep guilt off his face well enough. He knows he can't pull off casual. Lio stops three feet from him, a moment of eye-of-the-storm calm and clarity. It can't last. Galo can see Lio's composure crumbling at the edges, flaking off like rusted iron. Before the calm is over, as Lio opens his mouth to speak, Galo knows the only way to weather this storm is to meet it head on.
He doesn't give Lio the chance to speak.
He turns up the Galo charm, beaming full intensity with the smile Remy hates, that makes Aina roll her eyes. Galo grabs Lio by the hand and pulls. "There's something I need to show you." Galo can be a force of nature too, as stubborn and undeniable as the tide. Caught in the riptide, Lio holds his breath and doesn't fight the current, and Galo races through the Shatterdome with him in tow.
There's still a hurricane waiting to break land. Galo can just try to make sure it hits as far from Kray's office as possible, where it can cause the least amount of damage. So of course, he leads Lio to the Jaeger hangar.
High on the catwalks, they pass by people small as ants below, by the heads of the massive Jaegers. Technicians pass by calling greetings to Galo that he only sort of hears and only sort of acknowledges. The view of the hangar is impressive from this height. It used to make Galo dizzy. Now he walks it with sure feet, and Lio follows, weaving past others easily. Galo bets the view from a Jaeger is even better.
They don't make mirrors big enough for Jaegers though. From this vantage, and a little bit of distance, Detroit Flare stands in her bay, dangerous and forbidding, her black coating fresh and glistening like an oil slick. Galo believes, with no small sense of pride, that she's the sexiest machine in the whole building. He watches the hurricane fade out of Lio while he stares, open mouthed, across the hangar at the Jaeger. At his Jaeger.
"She's all low-carbon steel, and her paint job reduces electrical conductivity from the outside, so you don't fry yourself if you hit a power line," Galo explains. Pause, speak. "That shine is an anti-Blue coating. Kinda acts like an oil coat, so the Kaiju blood rolls off instead of eating away at your hull." Pause, speak. "Outfitted her with most of the same stuff you're used to, but they'll walk you through the new stuff before you go into a Drift." Pause. "Lio? What do you think?"
Lio swallows, and says, hoarsely, the first thing that comes to mind. "What the fuck is that on her head?"
Galo nearly collapses with mirth.
"Seriously, Galo, she's not a fucking unicorn --"
"If--" Galo wheezes, trying very hard to be serious about his explanation. "If you--you're going to head butt Kaiju, you really can't expect us to not give you a weapon for it." Lio gapes at him, equal parts offended and aghast. "We watched tapes of you fighting," Galo finally manages with nearly a normal tone. "Lucia and I. To get an idea of what you needed."
Not the right thing to say. That whirlwind tension catches up in Lio again, and his voice is so bitter as he says, "It doesn't matter what I need. I won't be piloting her."
"You will." Galo says it with honest conviction. Lio snorts in disbelief.
"You heard Kray. I have until she's done, and there she is. Ready to go, and I'm still miles behind." His voice shatters like glass, like holding onto the jagged fragments of what he wants so badly and can't have.
"Kray doesn't know, and she doesn't have to be ready until you are."
"How?" Lio fumes, exasperated.
"I'm a mechanic," Galo says, like that's all there is to it. "Knowing how to put things together means knowing how to make faked problems look convincing."
"I thought you didn't break things?"
"I can make an exception," Galo says glibly.
"Why?" Lio returns. He sounds almost disgusted. "You'd lie to the Marshal? Get your whole crew to lie? Why would they?"
"They'd do it," he answers easily, truthfully. "They like you." And when Lio looks like he's going to deny it, Galo reaches out and covers one of the hands gripping the railing in white-knuckle despair and says softly, " I like you, Lio."
Lio can't turn his head away fast enough to hide the color that rises. Galo can see it on his ears even as he looks out to the busy hangar. "I haven't given you any reason to."
"You're a good sparring partner," Galo begins listing. "You listen to me talk about mechanical jargon. You brought me my favorite pizza after we had a fight. You let me ask Heris a bunch of really personal questions about you so that I'd understand you. I like your company and I missed you when you stopped coming to the hangar."
"You like my company?" Lio says flatly.
"Yes?" Galo is trying to find the error in the statement, where he spoke wrong. He can't fathom the tone, the look on Lio's face, like he can decipher a problem with a Jaeger.
He doesn't expect to be asked, " Why? "
He doesn't have a satisfactory answer. "I don't know. It just feels right."
He doesn't expect Lio to laugh, either. But he does, and not bitterly but with the same helpless mirth Galo found in his reaction to Detroit's new look. He thinks about backing away, about finding Heris and telling her he's done it, he's finally made Lio have that mental break. Lio leans on the rail heavily enough Galo actually worries he'll tumble over it. Halfway to the floor of the catwalk, Lio gets his laughter under control.
He grabs Galo's hand with both of his and says, in a voice breathless and still tinged with laughter, "You like me?"
Galo nods, afraid to speak.
And then Lio beams, a heartbreaking grin and Galo melts for it. Lio, grinning, still pink around the ears, somehow looking like the fiercest thing on Earth, squeezes his hand and says, "Then drift with me."
On the basis that it sounds like an adventure, and that he really really wants to, Galo doesn't refuse. It is, possibly, the first time he asks for backup on what is probably a fool decision. Aina rolls her eyes when he tells her about the conversation on the catwalk. "Galo, I've known you were drift compatible since that first fight," she says.
Varys tells him the same thing. Remy surprises him by saying, "You could probably drift with half the pilots here, with the training." And he just shrugs in response to Galo's shock. "You're kind of an idiot, but you're earnest about it and you get on easily with just about everyone. If your head's as empty as it seems, you probably don't take a whole lot into the drift. Anyone could match up with that."
Lucia, who avoids the gym and has never seen him fight, tells him, "You know that Jaeger better than anyone. There's no one better for her copilot than you."
Even Meis and Gueira agree, reluctantly, that he's probably the only one here Lio would drift with who isn't partnered up. "We're both compatible with him," Gueira tells him. "But Southern Comfort's not outfitted for three, and Lio won't leave Detroit anyway."
"And Kray won't break up a working partnership, even if we offered," Meis adds. He smiles. "You'll do great."
Galo realizes, abruptly, uncomfortably, all at once, that he's actually very concerned that he won't do great. He stands in front of Ignis, and asks him to run a drift between Lio and himself under Kray's nose, and he's paralyzed by the thought that, if this fails, there won't be any hiding it from Kray. Lio gets reassigned, Detroit goes into the hands of strangers, and he will be able to do nothing to prevent it.
Ignis claps him on the shoulder. "Galo you should know," he says solemnly, "the only reservation I have about this is that we should really have you in a drift simulator before the Jaeger, before you drift with someone else. I've been telling Kray for years you'd make an excellent pilot. You'll do just fine."
An hour later he walks back through LOCCENT in the slick black drivesuit Ignis provided, hair damp from a quick shower and for once not spiked. Galo pulls it back into a ponytail, tucks his helmet under his arm and crosses into the comm pod. Lio's already there, adjusting his own body armor, flipping communication switches to talk to Ignis and the other officers. He turns when he hears Galo's footsteps ring on the metal floor.
Galo grins around a phantom punch to his gut at how good Lio looks in the drivesuit. It's unfair, really. "How do I look?" He asks, doing a little spin. He catches the last seconds of Lio's sweeping glance, the tiny quirk of his lips, before Lio slides on the helmet and his face disappears beneath shaded glass.
"You'll know as soon as you're in my head," he says, muffled through the helm, and steps onto the leftmost platform.
Galo steps onto the right platform, puts on his own helmet, and hears Ignis speak. "Preparing for the drift. Vitals looking good."
All the little nodes in the drivesuit latch with the framework in the comm pod. Galo shivers with the electric tingle. He glances over to Lio, who turns to look back. Through the tinted shield he nods, small and sharp, as Ignis begins the countdown. "Neural handshaking initiating in five, four, three…"
All in a moment, Galo is swept up in a hundred sensations.
The heat of the match against LioGalo's fingertips. Tossed into the trash can, it blazes heat against his face and something in him soars upwards with the rush of flame.
GaloLio sits on a bed, eight years old and playing Jaeger versus Kaiju with figurines. The Jaeger, Prometheus Unbound, always wins, always saves the people. Just like real life. Kray comes into the room, and kneels down, and speaks gently. "Would you like to go on a trip with me? They want me to go to Anchorage." GaloLio nods. He'll go anywhere Kray goes.
LioGalo wades though the ocean off the coast of Vancouver, deep in a drift with a girl ("Thyma, her name is Thyma," Lio supplies, a silent narrator.) and far from the icy spray in Detroit's hull. LioThymaGalo have the same elated thought: they're going to beat back another alien emissary tonight.
The memory fast forwards, LioThymaGalo seize in pain both real and utterly fabricated. Their brain can't tell whether the impulses it sends to their arms actually reach their destination, or if the pain reaction is truth and the arms are gone in the clutches of Scourge. In their paralysis, ThymaLio screams as she's pulled, framework and all, from the hull. LioGalo feel her hit the water below, the tightness in her chest as, winded from the impact, she sucks in water tainted with Blue instead of air. Drowning feels an awful lot like burning alive.
Burning, his arm is burning, shoulder to fingertip. Careless, stupid. First day on the job, and GaloLio punctures a fucking acid pod stuck to Prometheus's hull. What the fuck will Kaiju evolve with next? Hands shove him into the safety shower, rinsing the biomatter off his skin. Getting to medical is a blur of steel hallways and bright screens. A doctor says things like 'skin graft' and 'nerve damage' and 'therapy.' GaloLio nods, absently, miles away on whatever they gave him to dull the pain.
It takes two years for the bullheaded teenager to regain full use of his left arm and hand.
Galo doesn't know who this memory belongs to: the wrestling match on the mats in the Hong Kong training room. It's empty, the focus of the memory on the two people on the mat. Galo pins Lio; Lio squirms out of his hold, gets Galo on his back. Galo will always break that hold, because he is larger, and Lio doesn't have the weight to back up the pressure on his chest. Galo flips them, pins Lio down to the mat with his whole body, and Lio, a phantom voice in his head says quickly, "This memory is mine."
Galo reels with the feeling of being more than himself. Memories fade out to the sensation of steel limbs matching the movements he and Lio make in tandem. It's strange, the thoughts that are his and aren't, but he moves on the same brain impulse as Lio and Detroit moves too. His head floods, panicked suddenly, with the sense that he's bigger than his own skin, breaking out of it, burning like the acid. He hears Lucia's distant call of, "Neural Handshake holding, but Galo's out of alignment."
He can sense Lio in the framework beside him, and knows his body hasn't moved, but there's still the sensation of hands against his face. Lio's voice is real, distant through the mask, calm and low. "Focus on me, Galo. You aren't breaking. You're feeling Detroit. Make her limbs your own. Can you feel her heart?"
He can. In the thrum of the platform under his boots, he can feel the nuclear reactor that powers Detroit Flare. His will gets mixed up somewhere with Lio's, and his --their-- heartbeat calms to the rhythmic rumble of the reactor twenty feet of shielding below their feet. He isn't breaking. He is two people, and a machine the size of a skyscraper, and he knows her every quirk, knows the route the saltwater coolant takes through her body, knows every programmed motion to put her weapons online, and these pass between Galo and Lio in a blink, a breath. Phantom hands disappear. Galo looks over to Lio.
"Neural Handshake strong, and holding." Distantly, a cheer comes through the comm pod speaker from the control deck. Tinny, thin, but joyous. He feels it better in the thought he knows is Lio's, accompanied by a wavery memory of Galo stepping into the room in the drivesuit.
You look like you belong here with me, Galo.