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Clear a Path

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"we can clear a path for the lady."

Miles under the pacific, closer to the breach than anyone has a right to be, his Jaeger flooding with water and sparks, Chuck Hansen’s life finally makes sense. He isn’t a hero. He’s not some eleventh hour savior who comes in and rescues all of them like a robotic messiah. He is the best. He is the fixed point, the firm line. He is the one who will get the hero to her destination.

He nods at Stacker, who represents the best future he can hope for. And where is he? In the exact same position as himself. The thought almost makes Chuck smile. He grew up the day he watched his mother die and his father leave, hopped into a Jaeger before he finished growing. He’s been skipping steps since he was a kid. This is fitting. He looks at the read out and sees the Kaiju are focused on Striker. Which is good because he needs a minute.

"Hey, Mako?" He calls into the comm link, trying not to look at Stacker, "I don’t know if you can hear me or if this fucking thing’s broken. But I’m sorry," he says and closes his eyes.

He forces himself not to think of her now, but how she was before things got so fucked up. Back when they made all their plans together and they were going to be pilots. Back before Stacker deemed him ready but her not and she didn’t argue and he just let the hurt and anger overwhelm him. He feels something like a tug, like someone else is controlling his mind. Logically he knows but he doesn’t question it as he chases the rabbit for once and winds up in that hallway.

"I shouldn’t have left," he says to the younger version of her, who has her back turned so he doesn’t have to see the differences, "you shouldn’t have let me but if I was ready I should have taken charge. I should have decided to stay."

"No," Mako’s voice comes from somewhere far away, "you needed to go. Your father, the world, they needed you."

"Yeah that’s the bitch of it," he says, "they needed me, but the only person I ever really needed was you," he hears something but ignores it. He’s allowed a deathbed confession, "we said together and I walked away, I’m sorry for breaking it."

"I’m sorry for letting you," she says finally.

He laughs because she isn’t letting him off the hook. Not that he’d expect her to anyway. But death makes things crazy, makes people crazy. Not Mako, not yet Anyway. But he knows what’s coming. He lets go of the drift and forces his eyes onto the switch that will kill them, the switch that will give Gipsy a shot. His fingers brush the switch before he heasitates. But Stacker hasn’t flipped it either so he figures he has a moment.

"It’s okay to let yourself break," he tells her, "but promise me you’ll find a way back together."

"Chuck—"

"Promise me!" He demands.

"Yes," she says finally, her voice slipping into Japanese and he knows why it’s so tight.

"Goodbye, Mako," he says finally, using the only Japanese he remembers from the lessons she used to give him.

He looks over to see Stacker, but the other rig is empty and suddenly he’s lifting. Denial rips itself from his throat. He’s supposed to confess and die in a blaze of glory, a good death for a ranger. But the fucking escape pod is closing around him and Stacker is moving back to the switch. Their eyes lock and the drift claims him for a final moment.

It isn’t his memory but he feels the same pain as Mako buries her face in her hands. There’s broken glass everywhere and he realizes why he never got his stuff back from the academy. Betrayal is bright in Mako’s eyes as she stares him down and he returns the gaze through Stacker’s eyes.

"He’s my co-pilot," she sobs at him, "we’re supposed to be in this together."

"He is his father’s co-pilot," he says in Stacker’s voice, "you aren’t a match."

she flies at him and he catches her, turning her blind strength and raw momentum against her. He isn’t rough but he’s firm as he turns her and pins her to his chest. Her fingers grip his lapels as she sobs brokenly hating that she is confirming everything he’s said. He doesn’t move as he holds her and she sobs over and over.

We are. We are a match. We are.

The drift disconnects as his pod shoots upwards. He’s gasping and cursing for entirely different reasons as the explosion goes white hot. He shoots upwards and the pod breaks the surface. He blows the top and staggers to his feet, ripping his helmet off and throwing it to the side so no-one can hear the blind scream that rips from somewhere deep in his chest.

His knees buckle because he knows the regret Stacker felt. And the weight of the life they could have had collapses on him, a thousand times heavier than a neural bridge. Mako is somewhere beneath his feet and she’s dying and he can’t do a fucking thing about it. He’s gasping for air but it feels like there’s nothing in his lungs. Just the iron fist around his throat and the burning in his eyes.

He says her name through gritted teeth. He doesn’t want to think about finding her in the drift space, he wants her pod to bob up. He wants to start making up for all the stupid shit he’s done and the fucked up things he’s said.

"Please," he gasps out, "please don’t."

He isn’t a religious man, but he prays. Like his mother did when she held him before screaming at him to run. His fingers press into the metal before he draws his hand back and punches it. Again and again and again until the sound of something breaking the surface freezes him.

He turns and stares at the pod as the lid is blown off. He supposes he should feels better when he sees her petite form, but it feels like he really, really can’t breathe as she rips her own helmet off and staggers to her feet. Her eyes are frantically skimming the dark water and he knows she’s looking for her co-pilot and he tells himself that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Except then she turns and she sees him and it takes her two seconds to jump off her pod.

"Mako no!" He shouts and dives after her because she’s here and alive and if she gets eaten by a shark or something he’s really going to loose it.

they meet in the space between their two pods and though he opens his mouth to say something she’s already drawn back her and and punched him in the eye. He reels back, cursing as she glares at him. She’s furious and tearful and so naked with emotion he forgets how to breathe. This is the girl he’s been looking for, the one who folded herself away after he left.

the one he thought he broke.

Which immediately goes on his list of shit he has to make up for because Mako definitely isn’t weak enough to be broken by him. And she clearly isn’t because he may not know Japanese but he knows a curse when he hears it. But she’s moving closer to him and he can’t quite move away.

Instead he grabs the back of her neck and pulls her towards him, finally kissing her.

She tastes like the salt of the ocean and the staleness of canned air. But her mouth is just as fierce on his and he can’t breathe for a good reason for once. not as a lifetime of what ifs slowly begin to shift to whens. they’ll never be what they should have been, but they can be something else.

When they pull apart Becket is climbing on top of his pod and giving him a look that makes him think he’s gotten more orders from Stacker. Specifically regarding what to do if Chuck fucks this one up. But Mako’s pushing him back towards his pod so they dont drown after their first kiss and he’s got no intention of fucking anything up.

Not where she’s concerned anyway.