She dyes her hair every six weeks like clockwork. It's therapeutic—it always has been—because there's a method to it; an unchanging set of procedures that remain a constant even when everything else is always, always, always changing. She waits until it's dark out, until it's late at night and there are no more obligations—before it was training or Sensei or watching news feeds and thinking I could do that, I could do better. Now it's press junkets and interviews and men and women in suits looking at her from the other side of a cold metal table asking her if she thinks Marshall Pendecost's decision to sacrifice his own life and the life of his co-pilot was the most efficient use of government resources.
She has to say that it wasn't. She has to say that at the time, there was no other way. She has to bury the grief down where she can't get at it until she's alone, sitting on her cot in the confines of her bunk, staring at the metal walls around her and remembering a blue coat, a red shoe, and a knight in shining armor that saved her from a monster.
"Mako-chan," he used to ask in stilted Japanese, "Daijoubu?"
"I'm fine." Her English was as equally stilted—still is, when she's angry, when she's sad, when she can't think of the words because English just doesn't work like Japanese. He asked her that—daijoubu?—the first time she did it.
She walked into martial arts training the morning after, and he was there, hands clasped behind his back, eyebrows furrowed, posture regulation straight. He turned, saw her, saw her hair, cocked his head and smiled a little, dismissed himself from whatever conversation he was having with two women in naval uniforms and walked over.
"Kirei," he had said, pointing at one of the twin blue streaks. She remembers his expression twisting into something like frustration, then a kind of… satisfied resignation. "Daijoubu?"
"Daijoubu," she had said, and since she was fourteen, unsure of herself and still full of anger and sadness, hesitated over the English. "I am… fine. Thank you."
He had never asked why she chose blue—she never thought she needed to explain. It was just—it was. Blue was… it was her. It was everything; still is everything.
Mako shrugs off her uniform shirt and hangs it up in her closet, unbuckles her belt and takes off her pants, changes into a pair of sweats and gets a bottle of water from her fridge. She hasn't turned on her computer in three days, and the keyboard is dusty when she walks past to turn on the lights in her bathroom and open the medicine cabinet.
There's a bottle of unopened hair dye on the top shelf. The plastic around the cap takes longer to tear off because her hands have been trembling for days now, with unresolved adrenaline or fear or something else, but she does eventually manage to open it even though somehow the tips of her fingers come away stained blue. She looks at them for a second—maybe longer—watches as a drop of dye falls to the tiles below and the rest dries on her skin, then shakes herself, grabs a bottle of conditioner from the shower, the measuring cup from under the sink, a pair of the latex gloves she had… misappropriated from the med bay for this, and starts mixing.
She could do more, this time, even though she didn't bleach it before hand. It would work, maybe. Probably not, but she could try—she feels like she should add more. Maybe in another six weeks she'll dye all of it blue—her whole head—treat it with a bioluminescent finish so it glows like her nightmares—
Someone bangs on the metal door of her room, and she almost drops the comb she's using to stir the dye mix. "Mako," someone—Raleigh—yells, "You in there? Mako!" He draws out the syllables of her name, pronounces it with an American accent that is somehow pleasant, although if anyone else did it—and they do—it would be annoying.
She's out of the bathroom before she really thinks about it, laying a hand on the cold metal of her door and looking through the peep hole because it's habit.
Raleigh is still wearing his dress uniform and he looks tired—looks sad—even though he's smiling. "Mako," he says, and his head cocks to the side, his smile turning into a grin. "I can hear you. Open up."
Mako hesitates, sighs, then turns the lock on the door with a grunt, trying her best to look nonchalant when Raleigh waves. He almost seems awkward.
"Hey," he says. She sees him glance at her hands—her fingers that are dark blue—then her hair, and swallows. She doesn't know why. "Tendo says a couple more days of this and then we're clear."
"I know," she says. Raleigh looks at her—he does that, just looks sometimes. She doesn't know what it means; she doesn't know what to do about it. Mako alternates between meeting his eyes and sliding her gaze to look at the wall behind him. "I, uh—" she says. "I'm—"
"Bad time?" he asks, and Mako blinks. He gestures at her hands with his chin. "Your hair."
"It's a—" It's not a routine; not just a routine. It's who she is.
"I get it," Raleigh says before she can even begin to explain that, and Mako looks at him, remembers him with her all those years ago, remembers his voice yelling at her that it's all just a memory, remembers being connected with him for hours—ages—and feeling, for the first time, like she was complete, remembers saving the world with him. He does get it, she realizes. Or at least, he gets it better than anyone who's alive.
"Do you—!" Mako bursts out because Raleigh is already turning to leave. She clears her throat when he looks at her. "Do you want to come in? I have… drinks."
Raleigh smiles. "Yeah," he says, and steps inside. Mako closes the door behind him, wincing at the blue streaks she leaves behind on the corroded steel, and turns.
"Water?" Mako asks. Hers is still on the table where she forgot about it. "I think I have coke or…" she opens the fridge and squints, glances back at Raleigh to see him looking at the mess on her shelves. He used to drink beer with his brother, but she doesn't have any.
"Coke?" Raleigh turns to her. "You have coke?"
Mako hands him a coke and he looks at it like it's gold.
It's strange how much she knows about him—how much more she knows about him—after the Drift. She knows his fighting specs, his flaws, his strengths. She knows his history and how it felt when his brother died, what he did the day he got accepted to Jaeger Academy. She knows him in theory but the man standing in her room, opening a can of coke—she gets distracted by the play of his muscles under his T-shirt because she's human—is different than what she expected. He's not a stranger, because you can't be strangers with someone you saved the world with, but she doesn't think she has him figured out yet.
Mako needs to find out what makes him tick; she needs to solve the puzzle.
"You can do your hair," Raleigh says, and Mako realizes she's staring. She straightens and closes the fridge, walks over to grab the water that's on the table behind him. "I'll just poke around,"—he gestures at her shelves with the hand that's holding the coke—"mess up all your stuff. More. Mess it up more. I thought you'd be… neater."
Mako raises an eyebrow. "I'm very neat," she says. She turns and walks towards the bathroom and he lets out a bark of laughter behind her.
"If this is neat," he yells out—she keeps the bathroom door open, because what's the use of locking it?—a minute later, "then what's messy?"
She doesn't need to look in the mirror while she dyes her hair—it's muscle memory by now—but she does anyway. There's something about the way it looks while she uses gloved hands to comb the dye in that's calming. Soothing. More like meditation than any form of yoga she's ever mastered.
"Why there?" Raleigh asks, and Mako blinks. He's leaning against the bathroom doorway, can of coke still in hand, head cocked to the side. There's a tendon in his neck that's distracting, sinewy and hard and—Mako clears her throat and looks at her hands.
"What do you mean?" she asks.
Raleigh points at the side of his head, and when she gets it, Mako shrugs. "It's very… me," she says in the end, because she doesn't know how else to explain it. She meets her eyes in the mirror, watches as her fingers comb through the black.
"Can I try?"
Mako looks over, raises an eyebrow when Raleigh just smiles at her. "Try what?" she asks.
"I don't think I'll mess it up," Raleigh says, then winces and adds, "too much."
She wonders why she's letting him do this; wonders why it's okay that he's taking all of the routine out of it. She almost says no, just on principle, but she stops when she realizes she doesn't mind. She doesn't care—no, she wants him to do it. Wants to make it into something different. Maybe if she does—maybe it'll make it easier.
She grins and moves to the side, gestures at the cup of dye on the counter, pushes the thought that maybe he's flirting to the back of her head—she's seen him flirt, in her head; it's not like this—and watches him smile. "I have extra gloves," she says, "under the sink."
She likes this in a strange way—likes the familiarity of it, likes the slight awkwardness that comes with not knowing exactly what's happening, but letting it happen anyway. Maybe it's good for her. Maybe it's—Raleigh is stepping towards her and he's tall (6'1" is what it says on his profile) and Mako is affected, of course she is. She knows how to take him down—knows the pressure points to attack on his body that will have him kneeling, curling in on himself, blacking out in a matter of minutes, seconds—but there's still a part of her that's intimidated.
"This is better than finger painting," Raleigh says. He didn't put the gloves on, but he's using the comb, holding her hair with one hand and combing the dye through with the other. His fingers are going to get stained blue. Mako bites the inside of her cheek and looks at the wall over his shoulder, wondering why that thought makes her want to laugh and run away at the same time.
"I've never finger painted," Mako says, and Raleigh snorts.
"I know," he says, glances up at her from where he's staring at his work. "You showed me."
"Right. Of course," Mako says. Raleigh puts down the comb and gets a glob of dye on his fingers, runs them through her hair and Mako can't stop the shivers from running down her spine. Raleigh's features are furrowed—his lips pursed and mouth tight—in concentration, but his hands are soft and light.
"Your fingers are going to stay blue for a while," she says. Raleigh blinks, glances down at his hands, then up at her, and smiles.
"You knew that," he says, and Mako shrugs.
"Maybe," she says, but she can't stop herself from grinning.
He laughs, gets more dye and combs it through her hair with his fingers. Most of the color isn't going to show up, but it feels good, so Mako doesn't mind. He's silent for a bit, and Mako alternates between watching his features and watching his hands in the mirror.
He's a fascinating subject to observe, sometimes. Most of the time. All of the time. He's all American bravado and male masculinity, but then you talk to him, you drift with him, you see the cracks in the armor and the flaws underneath. You see the way he hurts and how he still blames himself, and you just want more. If nothing else, Mako thinks, at least she got to see inside his head.
It's a fascinating head.
"It's pretty," Raleigh says, and Mako blinks up at him. He's looking at her with an expression that is… hard to place. "Kirei," he says. His hands have stilled. "Honto ni. Kirei."
His eyes are light blue, speckled with grey and familiar, so familiar, like a warm blue coat dusted with ash.
"Thank you," she says past the lump in her throat. A little voice at the back of her head whispers that she's thanking him for more than the compliment; that she's thanking him for everything, for things she doesn't even know she's thanking him for. "Sorry about your fingers."
He shrugs, looks down. His hand comes up and before she can move away, he's swiping his fingers up her shoulder, leaving a trail of blue along the skin.
"Now we're even," he says. Mako looks down at it, then glares up at him, but he just grins. "It's not even that bad, Mako. It won't stain as much as—"
She dips her fingers in the cup to get a glob of dye, swipes her hand through his hair, and it's very… satisfying. "It's really light," she says, "your hair. So it'll probably show up unless you wash it off right now."
"That was low," he says eventually, and Mako grins, forms his hair into blue-tipped spikes.
"Now we're even," she says.
Raleigh laughs and leans forward, rests his forehead against Mako's—she gets flashes of jumping in the ocean, salt stinging her eyes and burning her throat, desperately searching for a pulse and finding none, not knowing whether to laugh or cry—and runs his hands through her hair.
"You okay?" he asks, and Mako narrows her eyes, rears back to look at him.
"You saw that," she says, "in the drift."
"Yeah," he says on a sigh, closes his eyes and clunks his forehead against hers again. "Are you, though?"
Mako isn't fine, but she's alive. She hopes she will be fine, eventually.
"Considering," she says, and there's a faint… something in the back of her head. A warm glow of comfort that wraps around the cold parts of her and squeezes. It travels like a faint buzz from where Mako's hand is still in Raleigh's hair, down her arm to settle in her chest. "You?"
Raleigh's hands rest on her shoulders, slide down, then up again. He's getting dye on her—he's probably doing it to get dye on her—but she doesn't care; it's comforting, intimate. Nice.
"Better than I was," he says, voice low. Mako has to laugh at that, get both her hands in Raleigh's hair and smooth it back. It should be weird, what they're doing—it's not.
"You were doing pretty bad," Mako says.
Raleigh laughs and moves to kiss her forehead, lips soft, lingering a little too long for it to be chaste, and Mako remembers blue-tinted make-out sessions full of warm skin and zings of pleasure and the careless passion between strangers. She moves to frame his jaw with her hands, grinning when her palms rasp over stubble, and brings herself up on her toes to kiss his lips. Just once, she thinks, just a light peck—
Except he makes a surprised noise in the back of his throat, cuts it off to tilt his head to the side and down, runs his hands up from where they're on Mako's shoulders to grasp at the back of her head, and she forgets what she was thinking. His lips are chapped against hers, just a little—enough to make her want more—and she presses forward until she can feel the buttons of his dress uniform pushing into the skin of her chest and stomach, feel his teeth and tongue behind his lips.
The warmth at the back of her mind—a glow of something that is distinctly Raleigh; Mako remembers learning about this, in Academy, the residual effects of high Drift compatibility—gets hotter, surrounds everything in an orange hue that reminds her of the nuclear turbine in the center of Gipsy Danger's chest. She opens her mouth to take in a deep breath, realizes that her nails are digging into the sides of Raleigh's neck and that his are sliding down her waist, holding onto her hips like he doesn't want to let her go, doesn't want her to step back—like he thinks she could even be capable of doing that.
"So there's no way,"—Raleigh kisses at the side of her mouth; she can feel him smiling—"that this is going to come off any time soon? Should I just dye my whole head blue? We could match."
Mako laughs and combs her hands through the hair at the nape of his neck, loving the way he leans into it. He reminds her of a—she snorts at the imagery—a dog. A large, golden-haired retriever. "I have no idea," she says, "I've never had this kind of problem before."
He's pressing small kisses to her lips, her cheeks, her jaw line, lingering just long enough for her to want more and then pulling way. His hands are splayed at the small of her back, large and hot and pressing her against him. In the scheme of things, she's not fine—she's mourning and lost, wondering what she's going to do now that her life isn't about getting vengeance for the death of her family, now that she can't even get revenge for Sensei, now that the role she's been training for most of her life has been proven obsolete—but right now, right here, this moment that is dipped in blue like all of her memories before, is kind of perfect.