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Built, Broken, Rebuilt

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It starts with the swagger. That’s the first thing they notice. Raleigh’s not clueless – he knows he walks with a ridiculous, loping gait that belies some not-so-well hidden cockiness. He’s not sure why he does it. It’s just the way he walks. Or maybe it’s the way Yancy walked. He can’t remember anymore. But when Mako starts walking with just a bit of swagger instead of her typical balanced, carefully measured steps, it catches his attention.

“You’re walking like me,” he tells her one day in the Shatterdome, after the Breach and before the rest of it. The base is humming with activity, equipment being taken apart and bags being packed. She’s holding a clipboard in one hand, like she used to, and leading him from one meeting to another.

Surprised, she comes to a halt and stares at him. “What? Am I?” Glancing at her feet like they might be able to tell her something, she frowns. “That’s alarming.”

“It’s just a little bit of my walk,” he concedes, feeling strangely smug. “Just, you know, a little bounce in your step.”

There is a moment of bemused horror in her expression, but then her eyes narrow into familiar curiosity, a tiny wrinkle appearing between her eyebrows. “I wonder if it’s because of the Drift,” she muses, hugging the clipboard to her stomach. “Some scientists speculate that Drift partners experience some after-effects from the neural connection – little pieces of memories that aren’t theirs, traits and characteristics from their partner, shared dreams. It hasn’t been studied enough, though.” The frown of concentration eases, and her eyes meet his, soft with understanding. “And now we’re the last two.”

Wryly, he smiles as he says, “Not quite the last two.”

Though it’s not his first choice to go see Geizler and Gottlieb, he doesn’t see any other option. Herc has drifted – more than all of them combined – but the thought of asking him what Chuck left behind in his system makes Raleigh’s throat close up. He knows what it’s like to lose a Drift partner, a part of yourself.

The though makes him squeeze Mako’s hand tightly before they walk into the lab. She glances over her shoulder, and somehow he just knows that she knows what he’s feeling. She always does.

“Hey, guys!” Newt crows in his grating, enthusiastic voice. He and Hermann are sitting in the back of the lab, behind a table piled high with books and something that looks like a kaiju scale in a jar of yellowish liquid. Newt is leaning back on two of the legs of his chair, balancing himself with one foot on the edge of Hermann’s chair, which has earned him a steady stream of glares. “What’s up?”

Mako’s smiling – for some unknown reason, she loves these guys. Maybe it’s the same way she loves Herc’s bulldog Max? Raleigh wonders sometimes. – as she walks back toward them. “We have some questions about the Drift.

“Ah, so you’ve come to us. The Experts. Good choice, good choice.” Hermann shoots them a dryly apologetic look at Newt’s words but says nothing.

Raleigh rolls his eyes. “It’s not like we had a lot of options.”

“Fine, then you and your ridiculous muscles can go elsewhere.” At his elbow, he feels Mako's quiet amusement. “Real talk, though, what do you want to know?” Newt lets his chair fall back onto all four legs and Hermann breathes a sigh of relief.

Mako find a perch on one clear portion of the over-burdened desk and leans against it. “We are wondering what, exactly, the after-effects of Drifting are. Can you pick up traits from your partner?” Her consciousness brushes against him as she says this, like her warm skin against his. He swallows.

This piques Hermann’s interest. Leaning forward, he begins, “It’s fascinating, isn’t it? The Drift. Not exactly my, er, field of expertise,” he shoots Newt a look that’s half amusement, half resentment. “But since Newton and I Drifted with the kaiju, I have done extensive research on the subject. Many scientists do indeed think that Drift partners combine elements of themselves in the neural connection, just like basic chemistry. This can be anything from memories to physical senses such as smell and taste, to physical characteristics.”

Something pricks Raleigh’s memory. “I have started to suddenly crave niku-jaga,” he admits. Mako jerks her head up, blue tips of her hair swinging against her cheeks, surprise written all over her face. It’s one of her favorite dishes. “Sorry. I was going to tell you.”

Meanwhile, Newt is nodding thoughtfully. “It makes sense. You two shared an extremely intense Drift. Like, should have killed you intense. It’s understandable that you would rub off on each other.”

“Oh, we have,” Raleigh states with a smirk, arms crossed over his chest. Mako whacks his shoulder, but she’s smiling.

“Ugh, gross,” Newton groans. “Fuck you both. You and your abs get out of here.”

Late at night, they lie in her bed, legs woven together and faces inches apart. Mako leans forward and touches the tip of her nose to his, making him smile. “What else have you noticed?” she murmurs, breath warm on his lips.

His hand is warm on the skin of her back underneath the tank top she is wearing, running from the base of her shoulder blades to the dip at the bottom of her spine. There is a light sheen of sweat across her skin from their exertions earlier, but he likes it. He is full of slow, contented longing for her and feels no need to hurry anything.

“You mean beyond the swagger?” She looks at him flatly. “What? It’s kind of hot. You look like you’re gonna take over the fucking world.”

There’s a pleased sort of blush on her cheeks, and then she says, “Ah, that is one thing that’s different. I swear more now.”

He makes a face. “You swore before?”

“Shut up.”

He laughs, the sound big and pure and happy. Sometimes he feels like such an idiot around her, like he’s just too damn pleased with life now that she is there. He can’t help it, though. She is just so extraordinary that it’s impossible for it not to show on his face, in every inch of his body. In the dark, he tugs her even closer. “My favorite color is blue,” he tells her softly, “but that’s not because of the Drift.”

A happy little hum works its way out of her, but she flicks her finger against the bottom of his chin. “I’m serious. I want to know.”

He’s silent for some time, having caught the hand under his chin and holding it lightly. Finally, he murmurs, “I catch myself drawing a lot. Blueprints, sketches of buildings I’ve never seen…lots of things. You used to draw.” The last part isn’t a question. He saw it in the Drift, her childhood scribblings handed to parents she no longer remembers clearly, and the set of colorful pencils Pentecost gives her on her birthday because he wants her to have color in her life. She chooses to draw only with the blue one. Later, the carefully executed blueprints and plans for whatever project she was working on, all drawn with the same easy precision.

Mako sucks in a breath, but when he meets her eyes he sees only surprise and a little awe. The urge to keep that look in place makes him keep whispering.

“And I…you do this little chin tuck thing when you’re trying to hide how you’re feeling, and I’ve started doing that.”

A little noise of protest bursts from her mouth. “No! You shouldn’t hide how you’re feeling. I love how I can see everything in your face.” She slips her hand from his and touches her thumb to his mouth, his cheek, the corner of his eye, which falls shut for a moment as he breathes. “Not that I need to see you to know what you’re feeling,” she whispers. “I can always tell.”

“I know,” he answers. Instinctively, her fingers slip back through his and they lie there, breathing each other in and out. It’s some time before they speak again, and Raleigh almost falls asleep, so comfortable he thinks he could sink straight through the mattress. But she shifts a little and his eyes slide open and find hers in the dark.

Somewhat shyly, she looks down at their joined hands and says, “I keep those absurd neon hard candies you like in my pocket.” Suddenly wide awake, the grin on his face makes his cheeks hurt.


“Really,” she echoes, tapping her thumb gently on his wrist. They smile at each other, big dopey smiles that make Raleigh chuckle a little bit, and then Mako moves up and half on top of him, pressing a warm, open-mouthed kiss to his lips. He reaches up, cups the back of her head and lets her silky hair slide through his fingers.

“I want to travel,” she breathes, and the back of his neck tingles. “I feel restless. I want…” Gently, a little hesitantly, she touches her finger to his mouth. “I want to see the things you’ve seen. I want to see new things with you.”

For a moment he can’t speak, and has to clear his throat before he can. “Yeah,” he whispers, voice rough. “Yeah. That sounds good.”

The first place they go is Vietnam. It’s close by, and Mako has always wanted to see Ha Long Bay. There are these huge boats that take you around – big, square wooden things with bedrooms and dining rooms and multiple floors.

They float. For over a week they meander between towering rock formations that erupt straight out of the water, covered in vines and tangled greenery. Lying on the top deck one day, shoulders touching and legs tangled together, Mako explains to him that they are limestone karst formations. He nods like he understands what that means and runs his fingers gently down her arm.

A floating fishing village provides their ship – which they pretty much have to themselves because not a lot of people are traveling after the kaiju war – with freshly caught fish and herbs that neither of them know the name of but that become integral parts of dishes that make them both fall silent over dinner except to moan happily about how good everything is.

The water of the bay is warm, and they spend long hours swimming – though swimming pretty much becomes just barely paddling to stay afloat as they twine together and make out a lot. Their crew just laughs and that night they find some sort of brightly-colored flower in the middle of their bed.

One night they sleep on the top deck under the stars, her head on his chest tucked beneath his chin, his mouth pressing against the hair on her forehead.

After that, they wind up in a small city called Kota Kinabalu on the northern coast of Borneo, underneath a vast and strangely shaped mountain made of black rock. It’s humid as hell, and both of them get a little giddy at how little clothing they’re wearing as they walk towards the water. Raleigh keeps running his fingertips down her bare shoulder blade and it is ridiculously distracting.

It’s sunset, and they look out over the water and feel the wind on their cheeks, brushing across all their bared skin. Mako leans her shoulder against his and just breathes, says she feels weightless.

As light fades from the sky, they find a fish market on the edge of water. All the fisherman have just made land and they have set up all along the wharf. Mako and Raleigh duck under rows of awnings with tables underneath and Mako gets far too excited about being able to just point to a fish in a cooler full of ice and have a stranger cook it for her. They sit at a table, surrounded by people speaking in Chinese and Malay and chow down on their fish and grilled corn on the cob. Grinning stupidly at her across the table, their ankles twined together, Raleigh dumps a luxurious amount of salt on his corn. They don’t speak much, but they don’t have to.

The hotel they’re staying in is dirt cheap and not particularly nice, but as they make love that night with the window open and a breeze brushing their skin, they don’t mind.

In the airport on their way west, Mako buys a book about WWII that stops Raleigh dead in his tracks when he sees her reading it. “What?” she asks.

“That’s my favorite book.” The grin is already starting on his face.

Looking at the cover and then at him, understanding dawns in her eyes. “Ah,” she says, returning his smile.

It is a horrendously long ride up a bumpy dirt road in a jeep that gets them deep into the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca mountains. Raleigh is nearly sick, the heat and the jostling almost proving too much for his stomach. Mako talks him through it, keeping up a steady stream of meaningless chatter to distract him while pressing her cool water bottle to the back of his neck. He closes his eyes and dreams of high, wide-open spaces.

He still feels off as they start to hike, packs heavy on their backs. Without needing to be asked, she takes the lead up the trail and he concentrates on putting one foot in front of the other.

The trees around them are an odd mix of pine and palm, scattered with moss and succulent plants. It is a little muddy from the last rain, but the sun shines through the branches as they wind their way up and up and up. When they reach the top, the air leaves Raleigh’s lungs in a rush and he feels like himself again with shocking suddenness.

Below them, the mountains spill down as far as they can see, until they meet the ocean. Strangely, the sheer vastness of the space in front of them makes him feel whole again. The air up here is clear, surprisingly cool, and he takes deep breaths of it until his lungs are full again. Maybe, after standing Jaeger-high for so long, nothing else will do.

Mako just joins her fingers with his and smiles.

They stay in a tiny village built on the narrow ridge of a mountain and are woken up the next morning by roosters crowning and sheep bleating. Smiling, Mako turns her face into his neck and slips her cold feet between his.

After a breakfast of black beans, some sort of crumbly white cheese and freshly made tortillas, they decide to do some exploring.

It’s early still, and fog hangs low among the trees even though the sun shines above it. On a small rise, they find a graveyard. Fenced in by large boulders, enormous and spiky-looking plants and a carefully constructed wood fence, it winds in and out of the pine trees. Some of the wooden crosses are laden with thick strings of Mexican marigold and painted with colorful skulls.

It feels quiet here, in the mist on a cool morning, like the ground here is more hallowed than any church Raleigh has ever been in. It’s the soft air, the sound of a horse neighing back down the path, the reverence he can feel bleeding out of Mako next to him.

Her breath forms a cloud when she exhales, and she finds a bright red flower somewhere and goes to place it carefully on one of the boulders. With infinite care, she bows to it and whispers a few words that he can’t hear.

Silently, Raleigh goes to stand beside her with his hand resting gently at her back.

Again, it starts with a bumpy ride in a jeep, but this time Raleigh doesn’t mind. He’s driving, the windows are down, and in the passenger seat Mako is rocking out to some J-pop song she loves. He finds he knows some of the words. The sun beats down on them, hot and bright, and Raleigh is super pleased with himself for having found some exceedingly cool knock-off aviator glasses in Mexico. They barrel down the wide open highway, surrounded by red rock mesas and buttes that stand like cathedrals in the vast open space of the desert.

Damn it if Raleigh doesn’t feel like a cowboy when he’s in the American Southwest.

Of all the things they’ve seen and done, the desert baffles Mako. She’s a city girl born and raised, and the utter emptiness of this place rocks her back on her heels.

Except, it’s not empty. They park their car and camp beside a wide river lined with brilliantly green trees that seem to house about a thousand singing birds. There are butterflies that drink from flowers and bats that swoop over their campfire at night, a small copper and blue falcon that hovers above them curiously for a moment when they do a short hike one afternoon. Lizards sun themselves on the red rocks, slipping nimbly out of reach when he tries to catch one for her.

It’s cold at night – shockingly cold – and they zip their sleeping bags together in their tent so that they can sleep as they always do, woven together with easy familiarity.
“I love this,” Mako whispers to him one night, resting her chin on his sternum and looking at him with soft eyes.

“I love you,” he answers quietly, sweeping her hair back from her face. It isn’t the first time they’ve said it, but it still makes a slow, heart-rending smile spread across her face. In a flash, she has pushed herself up to kiss him, hard and joyful.

In the middle of the night they go outside to lie in the dark under an impossibly huge sky and swap stories about constellations.

Along the spine of the Rocky Mountains, they scale rock walls and breathe the same air as eagles. Mako is fearless, though Raleigh already knew that. No, not fearless. She just doesn’t allow her fear to be the thing that stops her.

He used to think he knew what courage was – racing into the hurricane with all the bravado he could muster – but he hadn’t really known until, broken, he had be forced to pilot a Jaeger alone. Until he had stepped on the helicopter to Hong Kong. Until he met her.

A climbing accident leaves her with a severely sprained knee, and they are forced to stay still for some time. Camped out in a mediocre motel, they watch movies and he keeps track of her pain medication. At first she’s too out of her mind on medication to mind much, but as she comes back to herself and starts to be aware of the stale air in the room they’re breathing…something changes.

She draws into herself – moody, distant, sad. Shadows in her eyes. When he tries to draw her out of it with smiles and affection, she pulls away. When he gives her space, she attacks him for withdrawing. He had thought that they were working towards something, but now he realizes that there is some part of her that is running away, too.

For once, he’s at a loss. He honestly doesn’t know what to do. It feels like the connection between them is stretched so thin, that it is so fragile that any stray breath could break it. He misses her. He aches. They sleep curled away from each other, backs just inches apart, and he’s pretty sure it’s killing him.

He can feel her, rigid with swallowed sobs, and knows it’s killing her too.

They sit on a bench in the crappy park outside the motel after he had threatened to throw her bodily over his shoulder to make her leave the hotel room. (“I’d like to see you try,” she had hissed, but her knee is still sore and they don’t test the theory. Instead, she limps on her own, refusing to take his arm, until they are next to each other on the uncomfortable bench.)

Raleigh doesn’t know what to say to her. Every inch of him strains to cross the few inches between them and touch her, but he doesn’t. They sit for a long time in silence, staring at the side of a mountain. After some time, he senses something is off and glances over to find her stiff-backed and crying silently. His heart gives a sharp twist. “Mako, what’s wrong?” he asks, sure she’ll reel back.

Instead, she presses her lips together before saying, “I don’t know.” There’s a crack in her steely control, and her face crumbles. Tears have dripped down her neck and over her collarbones. She lets out a tiny, choked noise that makes the hair on the back of his neck rise, and stares straight forward as she says, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Uncertain, he puts his hand on the bench next to hers so that their little fingers touch. She lets out a ragged sob and slowly, slowly, lowers her head to his shoulder.

A week later, Raleigh calls in a favor to an old Jaeger crew buddy of his and they drive up to the Washington coast. There’s a cabin waiting for them there, tucked underneath thick evergreen trees.

Mako gets out of the car gingerly, her knee still a little off, and lets out a long breath. Out the front windows of the cabin is a wide, endless beach fading into mist. Haystack rock formations loom like giant beasts covered in moss and trees. The air is full of soft, misty rain that feels cleansing on his face.

He’s not quite sure how long they intend to be there, but it’ll be a while. Mako teaches her body (slowly) to run again on that beach. They spend mornings talking while they pick up grey-black rocks on the shore, letting the Pacific lap against the toes of their boots. It’s cold, and they’re both wearing heavy coats, but they don’t mind. The cold suits her, Raleigh finds himself thinking. He likes the pink in her cheeks.

They make love again in a wide bed that smells like pine and wood smoke, slow and soft and healing. (There is nothing to forgive.)

He runs his fingertips over every inch of her, featherlight, just ghosting. Her breath stutters, she shudders, lips bitten and then open on the exhale. The near-absence of touch is too much, and she wraps her arms around his shoulders and anchors herself.

There is a moment, his mouth open against hers, her hand on his cheek, when he suddenly feels so deeply inside her skin that it’s a breath away from drifting. She makes this noise, half gasp half sob, and he knows in his bones she can feel it too.

After, they lie in a contented heap, the comforter on the floor. They are tangled together so tightly it almost hurts, but neither of them can bear to move. It’s like he can breathe again when she’s touching him, when her head rests on his shoulder and her breath is tickling the soft, sensitive spots underneath her jaw.

She runs her fingertips over the scars on his ribs, making him shiver. They don’t need to speak, not yet. They still live in each other’s minds, so he can hear her when she thinks, not all scars are visible.

He knows.

They cook together, and it’s a disaster. Perched on the kitchen island, Mako points out that he should measure the ingredients more carefully. His mother taught him this recipe, he tells her, and he’ll feel it when it’s right. This earns him an eyeroll, but she hops off the counter and wraps her arms around his waist from behind. He smiles, heart doing a slow roll in his chest.

(“You know that’s not scientifically accurate, right?”

”You’re not scientifically accurate.”)

From there, things devolve until they give up and just make pesto pasta and eat it sitting next to each other on the counter, her leg hooked over his knee.

Sometimes he notices her jutting out her jaw like he does, and somehow she still has a stash of his favorite hard candies, which she now likes just as much as he does. It’s an odd sort of possessive pride that wells up in him – that she is carrying a part of him in her. Sometimes he sees it in her eyes too – a soft, satisfied look when he unconsciously starts sketching their mile of beach. It’s usually accompanied by a hand at the back of his neck, fingers burying themselves in his hair.

There are times it feels like they could stay there forever. There is something so soothing about the dark, rain-laden trees, the sound of waves that echoes in through their open window at night, the mist broken by streaks of sunlight. Every rainy morning spent in her arms feels blissful, ridiculously luxurious.

They make runs into a small town nearby to stock up on groceries and locally brewed beer that Raleigh likes, not to mention the freshly caught salmon and Dungeness crab she has started craving. Sometimes they spread a blanket on the floor and eat a whole crab in an indoor picnic. Raleigh finds a yarn store and lets Mako pick out a dark, slate-grey color that he starts knitting into a sweater. His mom taught him and Yancy, he tells her, though Yancy never took to it. She knows.

At some point, they stop talking about where they should go next. They start to settle, lining up the stones and pieces of driftwood they collect along one windowsill, choosing favorite chairs to read in (though Raleigh’s favorite is actually hers, squeezed in next to her so they are practically on top of each other, no matter how many exasperated looks she gives him), favorite meals to cook.

“What if we stayed?” he asks her one day. They’re walking on the windswept beach, boots sinking into the wet sand and peering into tidal pools to see what they can find. She has a dark cap shoved down over her head, the blue tips of her hair now touching her collarbones. She stocks up on blue dye wherever she can, but as much as he asks she won’t let him help her dye it. It’s her own ritual.

He can see the idea turning over in her mind, feel the seductive quality of it in his bones. Finally, she smiles quietly and says, “I want to see Alaska.”

He never though he would come back here. The second he had stepped on that helicopter he had though, Well, that’s that. No goodbye. This was the place that had broken him, after all. The strange thing is, Mako insists on going because she wants to see the place that built him.

Built, broken, rebuilt. He guesses she’s not wrong.

They drive up the coast, long hours in the car alternating between talking, contemplative silence and – surprisingly – enthusiastic (if off-key) singing along with whatever is on the radio. She can also somehow curl herself into a tiny ball in the passenger seat, tucking her face into the utterly massive and lumpy scarf he knit her, and fall asleep within seconds. It would be annoying if it weren’t so fucking adorable.

They’ve started checking email again, and while wading through many months worth of spam and emails from Herc and Tendo and even the nerd twins (Where are you guys now, anyway? …guys?), Mako gets a few job offers.

She doesn’t respond (yet) or say anything at all, but he can feel her carefully controlled excitement. There are still shadows in her eyes, heavy silences and sleepless nights, but she is stitching herself together again.

It makes him smile. Good, he thinks. The world recognizes how extraordinary she is, the enormity of what she can accomplish. It’s about time.

They take a small ferry out to an island ringed in fog, set out in a bay surrounded by impossibly tall and snow-capped mountains. Everything is blue and grey and green and white, cold air and craggy peaks. It is wild here, wilder than any of the other places they’ve been. Silently, Raleigh stands on the deck and looks out at the water. For a he sees moment sees kaiju blue. Without having to be asked, Mako comes to stand beside him, her shoulder solid against his.

Even though she already knows, he tells her about when he and Yancy were kids and they decided their main goal in life was to be crab fishermen. They had borrowd (temporarily stolen) a neighbor’s dinghy, gone out into the middle of the way and, when trying to drag a crab pot into the boat, had capsized. It had been Yancy who had righted the boat, hauled Raleigh back in.

Their mother had been far less amused than they had been.

(And even though she already knows, Mako smiles.)

They leave their car in town and walk down the rocky beach together. A half-destroyed corner of a building rises from the shallow water, a trail of barnacles around the side. As they walk, the fog begins to burn off. Streaks of sunlight lance through the grey, bright in their eyes.

Raleigh should feel worse here, he thinks. But he doesn’t. Broken but rebuilt. It’s because of her he can stand at all.

Absently, he skips a stone out into the water. A wave eats it on the second skip. “So, what do you think?”

She comes up beside him, boots crunching on the stones, hums thoughtfully. “It’s beautiful. Stark. Wild.”

“I meant the job offers,” he supplements, not needing to look at her to feel her the stillness of her thoughts.

She’s quiet for a moment, then turns to slip between him and the dark water lapping against grey stones. Tilting her head, smile unconcerned, she tells him, “I can work anywhere I want. What matters is where you are.”

He can’t speak past the thickness in his throat. “With you,” he manages, voice gravelly.

How does he put this into words? How can he possibly? It turns out it doesn’t matter. She feels it rolling off of him and when he reaches for her, she’s already there. Taking a deep breath of cold, salty air and the smell of her hair against his mouth, his blood sings home.

A small smile tugging at his mouth, he asks the question he already knows the answer to. “Where do we go next?”

She shrugs, smiling into his neck. “Wherever.” A beat, a pulse of his heart of her heart, he can’t tell. “As long as you’re there.”