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Back at the academy, they called it the three and free.

Once you got hooked into the Jaeger, once you started to do trial runs to try and figure out your fighting compatibility, to test your neural handshake, you either ended up fighting in three runs, or fucking. Depending on how connected you were, how attracted you found each other. And after three, either the relationship stood on its own or it fell apart. Three and free. Raleigh's as familiar with the concept as you can be without having actually gone through it yourself.

So after the first time - that disastrous drift - part of him is relieved. She's an incredible pilot, an incredible fighter and after flying for his whole life with Yancy, he's never really had to deal with the challenges of the three and free at all. (In the mess, there are a few jibes that float down from a few tables over, a few smirks. Raleigh knows that Mako must know what they're talking about - she's been living too long on a base to avoid finding out - and he's also sure that Stacker knows, too. And, all in all, his general goal is to try to avoid pissing the Marshal off and stay alive, and these things all seem to be related.)

But there's only so much you can do when you connect to someone like that, when you're in their head and living their memories and feeling them all around you. And even more when you actually like them after seeing all the shit in their head. And what else can he say? She's gorgeous.

So he does the best he can without completely avoiding her. Tries to concentrate on how incredible a pilot she is, on how much baggage he has, on how badly she would kick his ass if he even pulled anything, thinks of the Marshal walking in on them in the middle, thinks of the Marshal kicking his ass and throwing him in the harbor, thinks of Chuck's smarmy look at hearing the rumors.

None of that, of course, seems to matter much when it comes to being asleep. In his dreams, she's everywhere - her hair dragging across his bare skin; the soft heat of her mouth pressing kisses to his chest, to lower reaches of his hips; the noise she makes in the back of her throat when he presses his mouth to that spot on her collarbone.

So on the third consecutive night he jerks awake hard and aching, he figures he'd like to tell the people who came up with the idea of three and free to go fuck themselves as he drags himself out of bed for another cold shower.

-

Mako's never been one to lose focus when it comes to something she really wants. And there's nothing she wants more than this, than the feeling of piloting a Jaeger, than avenging her family and showing what she's capable of. Everything else is secondary. Every other concern is something to be filed away and dealt with later.

So the first time she dreams of him, it's more than a surprise. It's counter to everything she knows - or thought she knew - of herself. Doesn't stop it from having its effect.

Of course, she's read all the background. The consequences of the neural handshake (something the pilots have termed the "post-drift hangover"), the aftereffects of the drift, the way it wreaks emotional havoc on its pilots. And now that she's paired with Raleigh, there's more on the line than ever. They both have something to prove, and to allow themselves to be derailed by something as simple as mutual attraction would only prove their inaptitude for piloting. Their lack of professionalism. Their lack of preparation.

So the first dream? She shakes off. The second? The third? It becomes so commonplace she has to work to fight the blush that creeps up on her face when she sees him. Not that he ever lets it affect him, because that's the other part of this riddle - he already knows what she's dreamt, has seen it all and felt it from her perspective.

(Same as the ones she's borne witness to; same as the ones where he imagines pressing her back against walls and kissing her until neither of them can breathe.)

It's another obstacle to overcome. Nothing more, nothing less. After all, they are hardly the first pilots to feel attracted to each other. Others have overcome it. Others have learned to set it aside and let it strengthen their bond without rendering them vulnerable (she has the case studies).

She plans on being one of the success stories.

-

They lose the Jaeger, but not the connection.

-

Their three and free comes weeks after. When the base is beginning to wind down with talk about what the future holds, when he's just starting to come out of the infirmary (with the doctors' begrudging consent), when they start to integrate back into the thrum and energy of base life.

It happens in the mess. (Of all the places.)

It happens in public. (Well, almost.)

He's chewing on a piece of char siu and she's just started into the corn and the gai lan when he jabs at the top piece with his own fork. She stabs back with her knife, and there they are, their own little drama in the middle of the cafeteria. She's trying not to laugh - he can hear the effort she's making - and mostly succeeds in keeping a straight face, but by their fourth parry, he's laughing and one of the crew down the table just rolls their eyes and mumbles something.

He raises his hands then, pulling his fork free from the piece of greenery and she grins at him as she shifts it into her tray.

She smiles. He looks at her. He smiles. And then.

god, he thinks, and the images flood in soon after. bending her over the table, shoving her pants down to her knees, pressing kisses to her shoulder and just rubbing against her, feeling her out with his fingers and making her his there, in front of everyone;

her hair'd stick to her forehead with the sweat, with the movement, and her dogtags'd click, and he'd sink his teeth into her shoulder just as he sank into her warmth and felt her heat around him, and she'd try so hard to be quiet, to keep the noise of her pleasure low and he'd root those noises out, make her cry out with every motion of his hips, with every thrust until she'd completely abandon the mission, curl her hands around the edge of the table, and whimper

The gai lan tip falls to the tray with a wet squish, and he shakes his head.

Shit, he thinks. Shit fuck fuck fuck shit.

Mako is a soldier. Mako is a capable soldier who killed a kaiju with a sword as close to singlehandedly as she could get. Mako could very much kill him. And the drift, what does this do to their drift?

He looks up, all ready to apologize - all ready with a half-apology that starts out with oh god, i didn't mean it i'm an asshole i'm a dick that kind of stuff just and ends somewhere more eloquent - and catches the flush on her cheeks.

no, she thinks, or she says, and he looks back down at his food and shoves a forkful of rice into his mouth, chewing and focusing on the stickiness to keep from looking as embarrassed as he feels. she'd push him into the floor of the sparring room, strip her tank away and lean down over his body, over his mouth, force him to move wherever she wanted him to; she'd ride him with slow, concentrated movements, her thighs gripping his tightly and her hips grinding over his with every motion, and she'd listen to him cry for it, listen to him want her to go faster, want her to let him finish;

or, she'd take him in her mouth and taste every edge of him, press her tongue against his skin, drag her mouth over him in a slow rhythm until his hands were in her hair, trying desperately not to push and aching for her, until his nails were scratching lightly against her scalp and his head lolling back making nothing but incoherent noise and words that were barely sounds, until he started whispering her name like she was a god and he was just starting to believe

This time, he looks up, and he's more than just flushed. He's half-hard in his pants, and he's suddenly not feeling very hungry, and her hands are just resting there, flat on the table on either side of her tray so he sets his own on top of hers and, god, they're searing.

Fuck the three and free. Fuck the three and free so very much.

or in his bed, her wrists bound to the headboard with one of her scarves, dragging his mouth down to the wetness between her thighs, licking and kissing slowly, avoiding the spots he knows she's partial to; and he'd love the noise of her when she's impatient and frustrated, when she's just rattled enough to grind her hips at his mouth, when she's just nearly frustrated enough to beg (but doesn't); he'd love to fight for it with her, to let his stubble scratch along her legs, to press open mouthed kisses and open her up, to taste her on his lips and his tongue and pull away until she was desperate enough to give him what he wanted

"Are you feeling all right, Mako?" he asks, and his voice drops low, deep with arousal and intent.

She grits her jaw and looks up at him, her fingers twitching against the table. "Fine," she says. "What about you?" At this, her foot slips loose and nudges along his calf.

cheap shot, he thinks, and he can feel her grin, large and self-satisfied.

He slides his thumb along the bone of her wrist, and she takes a shuddering exhale.

"Are you not feeling hungry?" he asks, peering down at her tray.

She bites her lip and takes another piece of cabbage, of rice, and drags the chopsticks to her mouth. at dinner with newt and hermann, and she takes his hand, traces the skin of her knee, leads his hand further up her inner thigh until he can figure out just how little she's wearing, just how ready she is for him. until he drags the callouses over her to sink his fingers deep, so deep she nearly sighs out loud (not that they would notice), and flutters them, pumps them in and out of her with deliberate control; she'd shift forward in her seat, drag her hips a little off the seat so she could try to force his hand and hope they weren't caught; she'd look at him over the second course and his eyes would be so dark and she'd think of other stories of girls and wolves and feel the calloused butt of his palm drag across her clit and bite on the inside of her cheek hard enough to hurt

"No," she answers. "Are you?" He shakes his head. Sees a flash of her pushing him down on the bed, sinking down on top of him.

"I think I'm going to head back and try to - " his voice tremors here, "get some rest."

She hums, and it comes out a nearly strangled groan.

He pushes his tray away from him, rises from the bench with as quick a shift of the pants as he can manage and as much dignity as he can muster, and nearly sprints back to his room.

-

His combat boots beat a loud cadence against the grating, and he can't think of anything but the images that have been coming nonstop in his head. He practically pushes people out of the way on his way back to his room and when he finally gets there, he can't find his damn keys.

They're in his pockets somewhere, and he's really starting to hate the fact that he got talked into locking his room door, like someone was going to come and steal his stupid shit anyway. But she'd insisted, because it was the practical thing, it was the smart thing, and better to do the smart thing now than to wait for something to happen and curse yourself for not doing it then. He thought she'd made sense at the time, and it was after he'd done about twelve reckless things without thinking and gotten shit for it, so, of course --

His hands fumble in the front, clap against the back pockets, and he can't remember where the fuck…

"You left them on the table," she says, and he turns around, backing against his door like a scared animal.

"Oh," he answers. "Right."

She takes two steps towards him, the keys dropping into his palm like a weight and she's suddenly so close to him. Closer than would be necessary for the simple act of giving keys. I mean, she could have thrown them at his face, right? Or had Chuck bring them over? Or thrown them? At his face?

His breathing is loud and the metal is warming in his palm.

"I'm going to open the door now," he says, for some fucking reason that he can't figure out.

She hums, that noise of assent that he's come to recognize for a yes when she doesn't feel like saying yes.

It takes him a few seconds to find the right key and when he slides it into the lock, it's so quiet in the hallway he can hear the pins click. That's the thing about bases - when the food arrives after about a week's delay, nobody's hanging around doing nothing and nobody's loitering to have their share of the good food taken. Except for him because, well, right now, more than part of him's being stupid.

The metal door heaves with a loud scraping squeal, and he pulls the keys free. "Thanks," he says, turning to look at her, and then looking back down, "for bringing 'em."

"Of course," she says.

She takes the three steps up towards him and presses a kiss to his mouth. Oh. Okay.

-

He hooks his arm around her waist, drags her in with him and kicks the door shut to back her up against it. It must be uncomfortable - how comfortable can a metal door be to be held up against? - but she isn't complaining, just slips her fingers against the base of his neck to play with the edge of his hair, and he nearly groans in her mouth.

Everything is sloppy. Wet, sloppy kisses and impatience, and he backs her up against the door, drags his hard length against her in frustrated need.

"Is this," he pants, "too fast? Am I - "

And she just laughs. Grabs the fabric of his thin tank and pulls him forward until their noses bump and her mouth is opening under his again, pulling at his bottom lip with her two. Scratching at the base of his neck with her short nails.

"God," he pants, and she shoves him forward towards the direction of the bed. There's no preamble - he's pretty sure they just went through a ton of foreplay at the mess table, god help them - when she reaches and pulls her tank off and unhooks her bra and throws it on top of the shirt.

He sucks in a breath of air, his knees hitting the edge of the mattress and forcing him down. He is so hard, beyond any capacity for thought right now except for the fact that she's fucking gorgeous, that the tops of her breasts are flushed pink the same as her cheeks, that they keep moving with her frenzied breathing. He needs to touch them. He needs to touch her.

"Come here," he says, "or so help me god…"

She grins. "You keep saying that," she says, as she unbuttons her slacks and pushes them down off her legs.

"Come here, or I'll bring you here."

She takes a step towards him, in nothing but plain black panties - and he's going to die, this is probably what a good death feels like - and kicks him on the shin. "Bring me here," she tuts. "You?"

"I remember being able to take you in a fight," he says.

"You could barely keep up."

She's close enough that he can hook his ankle around her thigh, pushing her off-balance to trip onto the mattress. "Graceful," he comments, and she smacks her hand against his face, laughing as she rights herself, as she plants her mouth over his again with the commanding thought to shut up, and yeah, sure, he'll do it, he'll do anything as long as she just stays where she is.

"I can hear you," she whispers, pushing them over so she's on top, dragging her hips over him and - he's still wearing clothes, why is he still wearing clothes? - grinding down against him. He can see her wetness through the fabric of her underwear, and he bites down hard against his lip to stop thinking about how she feels. This is a battle as much as anything else, and he's losing, always knew he would, but what a way to lose.

He rolls them over, using his weight to pin her down, and hooks his fingers on the sides of her underwear, dragging them down her legs and off to join the rest of her clothes on the floor. Since he's down there anyway, he pushes her legs apart with his hand and buries his head between her legs. Listens to the frenzied noise of her laughter mixing with her harsh breathing, her pitchy gasps and the low moans she makes when he uses the flat of his tongue. He traces vague shapes against her skin before spreading her with his fingers and lapping at her with his tongue, brushing against her clit with his knuckle or his mouth or his nose.

She comes first, her hands fisting the thin sheet of his mattress, and swearing. In English, nonetheless. "Raleigh," she groans, she whimpers, and he pushes his fingers into her slick heat, feels her pulse around him, slowly tries to help her come down into the rhythm of things again.

"One, nothing," he says, and she chuckles.

"You're keeping score?" she asks. "There's so many other things you could be doing."

He pulls his fingers free and sucks them clean, and she blinks at him, licking her lips, transfixed by the sight.

"My turn," she says, as he crawls up to press a kiss against her mouth. She flips him like it's nothing, and now he's on his back, and she's crawling down his body, pushing his pants down off of his legs and wrapping her hand around him. She leans her head down, her hair falling on his thighs and just that is enough to get a noise out of him.

She licks at him in slow, short strokes, pumping the rest of his length as she does so, and he arcs his hips up towards her hand, tries to control his rhythm, tries to match her. When she sinks her mouth over him, his eyes fall closed with a quiet groan. "Mako," he sighs, he grunts, and she licks around him as she pulls her mouth up, sucking gently. "I want you," he says, and it starts a litany of other things that have apparently been lingering on his tongue. i want you so badly, i want to be inside you, i want to bury myself inside you, i want to spend days with you in bed and her laugh is breathless, her laugh is an answer, and now he knows why post-drift psychologists were such a necessity.

She pulls her mouth off his cock and he groans.

"Do you want me?" she begins, "On top?"

He imagines it, sees the picture in his head, and moans. "Anywhere," he answers, and she grins.

She crawls on top of him, her dogtags falling in front of her and he reaches for them, pulls her down towards him with them until he can kiss her. He never wants to stop kissing her.

Her hand slips down to mess up his hair just as she raises her hips and grips him with her free hand, guides him into her as she sinks down. All control and carefully coordinated movements, he thinks, as she braces herself and rides him. Her hips rolling over him, slow and fluid, throwing her head back, baring her breasts to his hands and his mouth.

His fingers tighten on her hips, on the muscle of her thighs, pushing just hard enough to get her to pay attention. "C'mon," he says, and her teeth click on a breath as she speeds up, as her hips rise and fall at a faster rhythm, as he starts to raise his own hips to meet her movements.

She leans down, digs her nails into his chest.

"Can you?" she asks, gasping, and she's close now, he can see it on her face. His hands tighten on her hips as she reaches down with one hand to brush against herself. His jaw tightens as she slams down against him and clenches with a cry, the muscles in her neck showing.

She rises off of him, and he pushes her down against the bed, drives into her quickly and steadily. Buries his head in the crook of her neck, breathes in the scent of her - warm and sweet - and presses a kiss to her shoulder, tastes the salt of her sweat. She presses her wrist against his shoulderblade, presses her lips to his chin, his shoulder.

When he comes, his teeth scrape her shoulder.

He settles like that, his body a heavy weight on top of her, for a few minutes; when he moves, she makes a noise of complaint.

"I like the weight," she says, and he stays for a moment.

"Don't want to crush you," he says.

"I'll be fine."

"You'll stay?"

She brushes her hand through his hair. "Of course."

He leans down, kisses her softly. A small, chaste thing, and she feels her chest grow warm. Somehow it's that kiss that means more than all the rest of it.

(In the mess, Newt wiggles his fingers and collects the spare ration cards Hermann had foolishly decided to bet against him.

the three and free never fails, my friend.

the three and free is not a scientific phenomenon and all your attempts to make it so are absurd.