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Chaos/Pacific Rim: The First Line of Defense (4a/7)

December 29th, 2013 (02:23 pm)
pessimistic

feeling: pessimistic

Notes and other parts in the MASTER POST




“So how’s it feel?” she murmurs into his ear, curling up closer to him in the bed.


Rick smiles, turning toward her contentedly. “It’s not like anything is actually different.”


She makes a sound of disagreement, running her hands over his chest. “I don’t know. It seems different to me.”


“It’s just a graduate degree,” he says.


“And you were top of your class,” she says. “You’re going to have every opportunity in the world after this.”


“I haven’t gotten all the letters back,” he reminds her.


She rolls her eyes. “As if there’s any doubt,” she says, looking at him with twinkling eyes while they’re still pressed together beneath the sheets. “The whole world is yours, Rick. I can’t imagine anything better than that.”


Rick looks at her for a moment, holding her close. “Hmm,” he says turning his head to nuzzle her ear. “I think maybe I can think of something…”


He nips her, and reaches down.


She giggles. “Rick Martinez!”


He kisses her, pulling her close, until there is absolutely no question that all is right with the world.


-o-


The first interview, Rick’s nervous. After a half dozen, it’s getting to be old hat. He keeps his suit dry cleaned, and has his portfolio ready to go. He can predict all the questions. He knows all the answers.


“I see here you took some time off,” one interviewer asks. “Any reason?”


Rick nods seriously, giving a significant pause. “As a matter of fact, yes,” he says. “I was at UCLA for K-day. I lost friends and family in San Francisco. I had hoped to join the PPDC, but it didn’t work out. I spent some time volunteering at shelters until most of the funding dried up.”


“That’s very noble of you,” the interviewer says. “Would you consider it a positive experience?”


“It’s hard to call anything associated with the Kaiju positive,” Rick says. “They changed the world, and probably not for the better. But until K-day, I didn’t know just what mattered to me. I didn’t realize how valuable life was.”


“And now?”


Rick looks the interviewer in the eyes. “Now I know my life matters,” he says. “And I’m dedicated to working my hardest to live up to that. Which is the attitude I’ll take to any company that gives me a chance.”


The interviewer smiles. “Very noble, indeed, Mr. Martinez,” he says, jotting something down. “Now let’s talk about your language skills…”


-o-


The first calls come back. A few are letters.


Mr. Martinez, we are pleased to inform you…


Mr. Martinez, we are excited to offer you a position…


Mr. Martinez, we would like to welcome you to our team…


Signing bonuses. Comprehensive health care. An office with a view.


Dreams come true.


At least that’s what Rick tells himself.


-o-


“You have to answer them,” she tells him. “You can’t leave them all waiting.”


“They said to take my time,” Rick says.


“Sure, but don’t you want to figure it out?” she asks. “Make it final?”


“Nah,” Rick says, reaching out to hug her. “I’ve spent a lot of years looking ahead. Right now I just want to enjoy the moment.”


-o-


He still thinks, though. Sometimes when he can’t sleep, he slips out of bed and sits at his laptop. All the sites are still bookmarked, and he looks through them, wondering if he’s still missing something.


When he goes back to bed, she snuffles closer to him in her sleep, settling back down and Rick watches her until the morning.


-o-


“When are you going to make an honest woman out of her?” his mother pesters over the phone.


Rick rolls his eyes. “Mom….”


“What?” she asks. “I do want grandchildren, you know.”


“I’m just waiting for everything to be right,” he says.


She tuts. “Wait too long and the world will end.”


“Nah,” Rick says. “I think the Jaegers got that under control.”


“That’s not what I’m talking about!” she exclaims. “You and those machines! They are not your life! She is!”


His mother is right, of course.


Rick just wishes he believed it.


-o-


More acceptances come.


Mr. Martinez, we would be thrilled to have you as a member of our company.


Mr. Martinez, given your credentials and aptitude, we are pleased to offer you a position with the FBI.


It’s the State Department, research universities. The CIA.


The entire world is his.


He just has to take it.


-o-


He goes out sometimes, hitting up the local bar before his girlfriend gets off from work. He orders a beer, sitting at the bar and glancing at the TV.


When the screen flashes to the latest Kaiju attack, someone says, “Hey, turn it up!”


The barkeeper obliges, and Rick watches benignly as the footage rolls.


“Damn, did you see the way the Mark 3 moves?” one of the guys asks.


“Can’t be the Mark 2,” another says.


“Hell, I still think we had the right idea with the Mark 1,” says another. “Just nuke the bastards. Have you seen Cherno Alpha or Coyote Tango? They don’t build ‘em like that anymore.”


“Oh, please,” says the first. “The firepower on the Mark-3 is so much better. And have you seen Gipsy Danger? Man, I’m not an engineer, but she’s a thing of beauty.”


“It’s not about beauty, though,” replies another. “It’s brute strength. Cherno Alpha ain’t much to look at, but I’d take it every day of the week.”


“You’re all missing the point,” Rick says.


They look at him.


He nods at the screen. “It’s not just the design. It’s not even just the Jaeger. It’s the blend of machine and man. It’s the pilots. We build machines to fight, but they’ve got human hearts. It’s that combination that matters.”


“You work with the PPDC, buddy?” one asks.


Rick swallows, looking down. “No,” he says. “No, I don’t.”


-o-


It’s stupid, and he knows it. He’s not a kid anymore. He’s not some undergrad, watching his friends and family die on TV. He can still save the world.

Because there is a world.


He can plan on the future.


He can count on it.


The Jaegers, the Kaiju -- they’re someone else’s problem.


He’s moved on.


It’s time to start acting that way.


-o-


Rick makes dinner. He lights candles. He turns on some music.


When she comes up, she giggles. “What’s this all about?”


“Can’t I do something for the woman I love?”


“Sure,” she says skeptically. “I just wonder if you’re trying to apologize or butter me up.”


“Who says it has to be either?”


She kisses him. “Fair enough,” she says. “But first, we should watch the news.”


“The news?” Rick asks. “Why?”


“You didn’t hear?” she asks. “Another Kaiju, headed toward Alaska. I expect we’ll be able to see footage of it going down by now.”


“We don’t have to,” Rick says.


“Oh, come on,” she says, sitting on the couch. “You love this stuff!”


He’s trying to object, but she’s already got the TV on. Reluctantly, Rick sits next to her. He expects the usual story of heroics. The usual fanfare.


But this time is different.


“This late breaking news report, it has been confirmed,” the anchor says. “The Kaiju has been contained, but at the expense of Gipsy Danger. Yes, you heard that correctly, Gipsy Danger has been destroyed. The fate of its pilots are currently unknown.”


Next to him, she inhales sharply.


Rick goes stiff.


“Now, this is rare,” the anchor says, looking to her guests. “Any speculation on what happened?”


“Well, it is too early to tell,” one of the expert says. “At this point, we could be looking at pilot error or a mechanical malfunction.”


“No,” another disagrees. “I think we have to consider the possibility that the Kaiju are simply getting better.”


The anchor nods. “Explain more about that.”


“If we look at the attacks,” the man continues, “they’re getting more frequent. More intense.”


“It’s well within the Jaeger program’s capabilities,” the other counters.


“Well, apparently not.”


“If you had to predict,” the anchor interjects. “What do you think this means for the viability of the Jaeger program.”


The second expert looks grim. “It looks like the tide of this war may be changing,” he says. “And not for the better.”


-o-


Dinner goes uneaten. The candles burn to stubs. When she goes to bed, Rick is still in front of the TV. He sees the footage. He knows the details. He goes online, and reads the rest.


None of it is good.


In fact, all of it is bad.


Something is changing.


Everything is changing.


-o-


In the morning, Rick looks at the stack of acceptance letters. He feels the ring in his pocket. Yesterday, those things mattered.


Today, however, Rick has a new plan.


Or an old plan.


Or an only plan.


When the mailman comes, Rick hands him the letter personally, checking the address one last time.


Pan Pacific Defense Corps.
Jaeger Training Program
Los Angeles, California


-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-


Billy had been happy at university, flitting from one major to the next. Billy had been happy with MI6, preparing for intrigue and danger. And Billy had been happy at Sydney, sweet-talking money and supplies from reticent governments and investors around the world.


None of them compared to this.


Because here he is. A Ranger. With the most magnificent machine to call his own. Avalon Challenger is nothing short of spectacular, and Billy knows her movements as well as his own. It is the perfect marriage of strength and grace, technology and instinct.


And Billy has the most important job in the world. He fights monsters. Veritable hell-beasts from the depths of the ocean. He’s seen the footage, but now that he’s seen them up close and personal, now that he’s crushed their skulls beneath a fist of metal, they’re all the more daunting.


He saves lives. Countless lives. He keeps the world safe.


It’s more than Billy could ever have hoped for.


The thing is, that’s not the best part.


No, the part that makes him truly happy -- incandescently, perfectly, wonderfully happy -- is Olivia.


The woman who shares his mind, his body, his heart, his very soul.


The woman he gets to save the world with.


Olivia Drummond.


Life, despite the trials and the dangers and the hours, is absolutely perfect.


-o-


“This is ridiculous.”


Billy rolls his eyes, keeping his hands pressed over her eyes. “No, it’s romantic.”


Olivia huffs, reaching up and poking at his hands. “Which is ridiculous,” she says. “We’re Rangers--”


“And best friends and partners and lovers,” Billy reminds her.


She groans. “You are so sentimental.”


“Have you looked in the mirror?” he says, guiding over to the small desk in his quarters. “You make it hard not to be.”


“I would love to look in the mirror if you’d kindly give me back my eyes,” she says. Even though Billy is covering her eyes and despite her verbose protestations, she trusts him explicitly.


“Well, since you asked so nicely,” he says, and he pulls his hands away. “Surprise!”


Olivia looks down at the small cake on the desk. There’s also a bottle of champagne and two fluted glasses.


“Happy anniversary,” he says.


“We don’t have an anniversary,” she says. “Because we’re not a couple.”


Billy rolls his eyes again, reaching over to open the champagne. “Of course we aren’t,” he says. “We just spend every waking moment together and have lots of sex.”


“We’re copilots,” Olivia says. Then she shrugs. “With benefits.”


Billy grunts, pouring a glass. “If that’s what you have to tell yourself.”


“It’s true,” Olivia says, even as she takes a glass of champagne. “And it doesn’t matter. It’s still not our anniversary.”


“Ah,” Billy says, pouring himself a glass. “As a matter of fact, it is.”


Olivia’s brow furrowed. “Of our first Kaiju?” she asks. “That was last month--”


“See, you do remember,” he says.


“No, you remembered,” she says pointedly. “We share thoughts, remember?”


“Indeed we do, which is what made this so hard,” he says. “I don’t think you appreciate the nuance it took for me to plan a surprise for you that you didn’t see coming a mile away.”


She looks vaguely impressed. “Well, I do have to credit your ingenuity,” she says. She runs her finger through a bit of frosting and tastes it. “Is this actual cake? Not from the mess?”


Billy beams. “Don’t ask me how I got it,” he says. “It wasn’t easy.”


She picks up a bit more icing and lifts her finger to Billy for him to taste. “Well, I reckon I’ll find out the next time we drift.”


Billy puts his lips around her finger and takes his time cleaning off the frosting. “I reckon you will,” he murmurs.


She smiles, a little in spite of herself. “So you still haven’t told me the anniversary. It’s not our first Kaiju. It’s not even our first neural handshake. Or the day I finally agreed to let you be my copilot.”


Billy nods solemnly. “Indeed.”


“So tell!” she says.


He moves closer, looking deeply into her eyes. Even without the drift, sometimes he can almost hear her. Her thoughts call to him, and he knows every part of her, inside and out. “Today is the anniversary of the first day I saw you.”


“What?” she asks. “But you didn’t even know me!”


“Doesn’t matter,” he says. “Because I knew, from the first moment I saw you. I knew I loved you then.”


“That’s rubbish!”


Billy shrugs. “Here we are, aren’t we?”


She pauses, chewing her lip. “We are,” she concedes.


And that’s what matters.


More than anything else.


-o-


It’s not all fun, though. Billy concedes that life as a Ranger is work, sometimes tedious work. And tiresome. He would have thought the training would get easier once he’d proven himself in a Jaeger.


Instead, the opposite proved to be true.


So much training.


“Come on, Collins,” Malick growls. “You’re getting sloppy.”


Billy groans. “It’s barely 7 AM, Casey. Have pity.”


“You think the Kaiju cares what time of the day it is?”


Billy raised an eyebrow. “That worked more effectively when I hadn’t faced three of them. And won.”


Casey can’t dispute that, but then, Casey doesn’t need to. Because Casey Malick is a scary son of a bitch. “This is the new technique they’ve been trying out in Hong Kong,” he says instead. “It’s been very successful.”


“How does it work with Avalon, though?” Olivia asks, entirely on point because she’s actually dedicated and committed and other such rubbish. “She’s only a Mark 2.”


“True,” Casey says. “But she’s got some of the flexibility of a Mark 3. I think we can modify some of the movement to work within Avalon’s range of motion.”


“Worth a try,” Olivia says good naturedly.


Billy groans. “I hate you both.”


-o-


And if not the training, the briefings. The ones monitored by Higgins were the worst for their banality, but Michael’s the one who always comes up with new and obscure reasons to meet together.


They’re not pointless -- at least, not exactly. But Michael has an attention to detail that borders on obsessive-compulsive, and there are only so many times Billy can refine his operating procedures before he wants to stomp all over the paperwork with Avalon’s massive feet for just for good measure.


“Look,” Michael says, pointing to a fresh set of schematics. “I think if we tweak the interior just a little, we can dramatically improve the time it takes to load an escape pod.”


“But won’t that impede our functionality?” Olivia asks, pointing to the paper. “These wires here -- they’re going to cross just in front of the conn-pod windows. When things get nasty out there, any distraction is bad.”


“We can find a way to circumvent that,” Michael says.


“Maybe if you run them along this panel here,” Olivia suggests.


“We’ll have to draw up some new samples and do a few simulations,” Michael says. “And we’ll need you two on call for personalized fittings--”

Billy moans. “That’s a full day sitting and doing nothing.


“Well, I’m sure I can find some renewed procedure manuals for you,” Michael offers, and it might be funny if he weren’t telling the truth.


“That’s okay, mate,” Billy says. “If I’m going to die, I’d rather it be from a Kaiju -- not boredom.”


Michael is not amused. “That’s the point,” he says. “There’s no official word from PPDC, but it’s pretty clear the Kaiju are changing tactics. Since Gipsy Danger went down, we’ve been losing Jaegers all over the world.”


Olivia sits back solemnly. “And last month it was Romeo.”


“Sure,” Billy says. “But it’s a dangerous job. If we go down, I reckon we’ll be down, escape pod or not.”


“It’s not a chance I’m willing to take,” Michael says. “And tech thinks it won’t be too hard.”


“Just costly, I’m sure,” Billy says. “Come on, we all know that Rangers are the expendable ones. The Jaegers -- that’s what we should be focused on. Those are the things we can’t afford to replace.”


“I don’t want to lose any of them,” Michael says. “Which is why we’re taking this precaution. It’s non-negotiable.”


Billy is a bit indignant, but when he looks at Olivia, her face is stony.


Shoulders slumped, Billy sighs. “All right,” he says. “Just tell me the day of my impending misery.”


-o-


On the way out, Olivia doesn’t wait for him.


“Hey,” Billy says, jogging to catch up with her. “What’s wrong with you?”


She turns, eyes bright. “What’s wrong with you?”


“Nothing,” he says. “I like Michael and I think he’s a bloody genius, but sometimes I think all those details in his head have made him forget the big picture.”


“This isn’t about a day of boredom,” she snaps. “It’s about saving our lives.”


Billy furrows his brow. “If we go down, you think that’s what we’re going to be thinking about?” he asks.


“I’ve been in combat for a long time, and the best way to survive is to not have a deathwish,” she says.


“I don’t fancy dying,” he says. “But I’ve resigned myself to it.”


“Oh, and what about me?”


Billy blanches. “Liv, I’d do anything to save you…”


“Then shut up about the escape pods,” she says. Her cheeks flush. “Just shut up.”


Then she turns abruptly, and marches down the hallway, leaving Billy staring after her.


-o-


Billy knows enough to give her space. But that night, when she lets herself into his quarters, he moves over to the far side of the bed so she can crawl into the warm spot next to him.


When she settles, he wraps himself around her, nuzzling her ear. “I’m sorry,” he murmurs.


She says nothing.


“For you, I’d fight forever,” he says. “I’d never let go.”


She turns, looking up at him hopefully. “You promise?”


He smiles, kissing her gently. “I promise.”


-o-


It’s tedious, sometimes. It’s scary others. Because Rangers stop coming home. New recruits stop coming in. There are fewer interviews with the press.


Almost all the Mark 1 models are not in operation. Over half of the Mark 2 models are gone. The Mark 3 line isn’t holding up as well as expected. Even the first of the Mark 4 line aren’t impressive.


People start to speculate that maybe this is a war the Jaegers can’t win.


Billy stays out of the theory, and does his job. He keeps Olivia close, and fights on.


And the attacks keep coming.


-o-


Despite it all, Billy wakes up with Olivia in his arms.


The meetings, the practice sessions, the confining hours on base.


He wants nothing more.


-o-


When the call comes, it’s something of a surprise. Billy wakes up, bleary-eyed. Olivia is already out of bed.

“It’s a test, right?” he asks.


“No, real thing,” Olivia says, putting on her shoes.


Billy furrows his brow. “But a Kaiju attacked Japan no more than two months ago.”


“Yeah, and now there’s one coming toward Seattle,” she says.


Billy curses. “So much for the projection model giving us another three months,” he says, getting himself in a seated position. “You think we’re going?”


Olivia shrugs, putting her other boot on. “Mammoth is still undergoing repairs,” she says. “Sending him in would be a last resort. And Hellion Foxtrot needed to be bailed out last time he took the lead.”


Billy scratches his hair, yawning. “Right,” he says. “So I guess it’s our turn to save the world.”


“You’re so juvenile,” she says, throwing a shirt at him.


He catches it, grinning. “You still love me.”


She shakes her head dismissively. “Come on,” she says. “You know Michael won’t be happy if our response time is over five minutes.”


Billy groans, putting on his shirt. “I’m coming, I’m coming,” he says, reaching over to grab his shoes. “The stalwart hero doesn’t want to be late!”


His only reply is a pair of pants thrown into his face.


-o-


In the control room, Michael is already there, though Billy doubts the man ever leaves. Fay from J-science and the lead tech are there as well, with Casey not far behind.


“Okay,” Michael says. “We’ve got a Category 3 headed our way, best guess is still Seattle. The name is Vandal and he looks like a bastard.”


Fay brings up an image. “Best we can tell, he’s fast and we’re especially concerned with the multiple claws. They won’t have much agility, but we’re thinking he could cut things up pretty fast if he gets very far.”


“Mammoth is still out of commission,” Michael continues. He looks to Billy and Olivia. “We’re going with Avalon on point, but we’re going to deploy Hellion Foxtrot up the coast for backup and in case we got our trajectory wrong. We will have Mammoth operational and on standby as an absolute last resort.”


“Assuming we’ll need it,” Billy says.


Michael gives him a look. “Let’s not have any mistakes,” he says. “I want zero casualties on this one, understood?”


“How long?” Olivia asks.


“Four hours, tops,” Michael says. “So if there’s no other questions…”


Billy shrugs, clapping his hands together. “Let’s go!”


-o-


On the way to the bay, Olivia won’t look at him. They get suited up in silence, Casey helping them each secure their pads and sensors. “Remember what we talked about,” Casey warns them. “Given how this one moves, you’re going to need every second.”


Billy scoffs. “You, too, mate?”


Casey is nonplussed. “You’d have to be an idiot to not see that this job is getting more dangerous,” he says. “I always tell you to strive for perfect as a general principle, but I’m telling you this as a warning. Pretty soon anything less than perfection means you won’t be coming home. Do you understand?”


“Understood,” Billy says. “Though as far as pep talks go, I’ve had better.”


Casey glares at him. “Shut up,” he says. “And don’t die.”


Billy nods, giving him a mocking salute. “Aye-aye.”


-o-


Olivia is quiet as they finish, and her face looks ashen as they strap in. Before the neural handshake, she looks at him. “Remember your promise, Billy.”


He looks at her, smiling. “Always.”


Michael’s voice comes in over the comm. “Begin neural handshake…”


Billy closes his eyes, takes a deep breath and lets go.


-o-


In the drift, Billy still sees Olivia that first day in the bay. She’s all business, and when she looks at Billy, their eyes lock until she forces herself to look away.


-o-


Then, they’re in Higgins office, and Michael is showing Olivia the compatibility tests. She balks, asking for someone -- for anyone else. “He’s got the maturity of a teenager! If that!”


“By my calculations, you two are a 90 percent match. That’s pretty damn good.”


“Well, what’s my second option?”


“Second one clocked in at a 75.”


“I don’t like it,” Olivia says. “This is my Jaeger.”


Michael lifts his chin. “It’s our Jaeger,” he says. “And you’re our first choice, Drummond, but not our only choice. It’s Collins or you’re back to flying airplanes.”


-o-


Billy only goes to her quarters once, and it’s the time he makes his pitch. She’s angry and she’s indignant, but his plea is simple.


“Give me one chance,” he says. “One neural handshake. And if it doesn’t work, you can have your choice of pilots.”


She eyes him uncertainly. “One time?”


-o-


Billy just asks for one time.


It shouldn’t work, but it does.


One time is all it takes.


-o-


Afterward, she comes to his quarters. "I don't really like the term copilot," she announces.


Billy lifts his eyebrows. "Oh?"


Olivia squares her shoulders, resolutely refusing to come in. "I'm the pilot."


"And I'm...?"


"I don't know,” she says with a shrug. “The First Officer, if you like."


Billy furrows his brow. "I'm not sure that's the official term..."


"Well I can call you mental baggage, if you prefer."


Billy grins. "First Officer it is!"


“Oh, and one more thing, Collins,” she says. “You know those feelings you have?”


Billy frowns. “I reckon I have a lot of feelings…”


“Yes, well,” she says. “Regarding those feelings. They are never to be acted upon. And they will never be reciprocated. Our partnership is and will always be entirely professional. Is that understood?”


Billy nods earnestly. “Yes, ma’am.”


-o-


During their training, they spend their days together. They eat meals together; they learn each other’s habits and patterns. They fight in tandem. They breathe and think the same.


When they eat, they sit side by side, mirror images that cannot be disturbed.


-o-


Their first Kaiju is terrifying, but they don’t know how to be afraid. Everything works they way it should.


The Kaiju goes down.


-o-


During the celebration, everyone is hugging and kissing. When Billy and Olivia find themselves together, they stop short eyes locked and hands grasped.


That night, she shows up to his quarters. She says nothing, and he asks no questions as she curls up on his bed and they fall asleep together.


-o-


After the second Kaiju, Olivia kisses him.


-o-


After the third, she takes off his clothes.


“This is hardly professional, Ms. Drummond,” he murmurs.


“Shut up,” she says, breathing heavy as she closes her eyes. “And don’t stop.”


-o-


And Billy doesn’t.


-o-


In the drift, Olivia sighs. “Must you always follow this RABIT?”


Billy grins. “It’s such a good RABIT.”


“But every time?” she asks. “We do have a Kaiju to kill.”


“Bother,” Billy says. “Then, by all means, after you…”


-o-


“Neural handshake complete.”


-o-


Most things get routine with the PPDC.


This never does.


“Okay,” Michael says, once they’ve been dropped off and they get their bearings in the ocean off Seattle’s coast. “We’ve got Hellion up the coast. He’s a bit far, but if you guys need the backup…”


“We’ll be good,” Billy says.


“There’s no shame in asking,” Michael says.


“Just watch the Kaiju, Michael,” Olivia interjects. “What’s the ETA?”


“Looks like...next half hours, tops,” Michael says.


“Well, then,” Billy says with a glance toward Olivia. “We wait.”


-o-


It’s an awkward sort of boredom.


He and Olivia follow routine, though. They make a sweep of the coast, and maintain constant contact with Michael about the course.


They don’t talk.


They don’t need to.


This will be four,
Billy thinks.


Olivia grimaces. Don’t get ahead of yourself.


-o-


At 30 minutes, the anticipation spikes.


At 35, Billy says, “Um, Michael? Did we somehow miss the gigantic beast coming out of the sea? Because we’ve got nothing but easy water.”


“Yeah,” is Michael’s reply. He sounds somewhat stressed, but this is Michael. During a Kaiju attack. It’s probably warranted. “Um, wait a second.”


Billy waits a second. He exchanges a look with Olivia.


Michael swears.


Billy’s heart flutters; Olivia’s tension skyrockets.


“Michael?” Olivia ventures.


“Damn it,” Michael curses again. “It’s changed course. No, scratch that, it’s still changing course. It’s all over the place. I’ve never seen one act like this -- it’s like it’s trying to confuse us.”


Billy presses his lips together, and he twitches, making Avalon’s left arm move restlessly while Olivia clenches her right into a fist.


“So is it incoming?” Billy asks.


“Not exactly,” Michael says. “I mean…” He swears again, more frantic this time. “It’s not going to Seattle.”


Billy frowns. “But--”


Michael’s not listening, though. “Get support in place, and get Hellion switched to the main feed.”


There’s the distant sound of chatter on the comm.


“Michael?” Olivia asks. “Orders?”


“Yeah, sorry,” Michael says, distractedly. “Vandal’s not headed your way. It’s moving toward Hellion.”


“You mean the coast up that way?” Billy asks.


“No,” Michael says. “Hellion. Contact in one, two, three--”


And then the feed goes wild.


-o-


Tactical support is frantic, and the comm-line is still open but it has nothing to do with Billy and Olivia. Separated from the fray, they can only hear bits and pieces. Cursing and orders; blunt advice and relayed concerns. It’s not an uncommon sort of thing -- this is how they experience most Kaiju incursions, through third-party comm-links and grainy real-time military video.


Except, this time, they’re not secure in the LA Shatterdome.


They’re guarding Seattle, primed and ready to face a Kaiju.


They’ve played backup before.


Not like this, though.


Not when they’ve lost so many.


Not when they could lose so much more.


Olivia looks at Billy.


Billy looks back.


And they start to run.


-o-


Casey mocked Avalon’s legs, but her stride is more than worth it now. Wading through the ocean is no easy task for a monolithic machine, but Avalon handles the journey with speed and agility. It’s tiring, though, and with every pressing movement, Billy can feel his anxiety skyrocket. It’s one thing to wait for the fight to come to you.


It’s another to charge into it.


They hear the ruckus on the comm.


“Did you see those claws?”


“Damn it, I’m losing navigation.”


“How the hell is it moving like that?”


“Give me a visual, give me a visual!”


They run faster still.


-o-


It’s not hard to find them. A giant monster battling a giant robot is always going to stand out, no matter how vast the coastline. They’ve been running for ten minutes -- it’s excellent time, really -- but when they get there, it’s too late.


Someone screams over the comm.


Michael demands an update.


There’s cursing, and more screaming.


Hellion is standing, smoke coming where one of his arms should be. He’s listing, making a feeble fist as he tries to mount a last defense.


And then the Kaiju lifts its claws and swipes them down, cutting the Jaeger clean in half from the top of its head down through the conn-pod.


The screaming mounts but then the Kaiju brings up its other hand and pulls, separating the two halves and ripping them clean off. It howls, crushing the metal in its hands before throwing each half into the ocean, leaving the Jaeger’s lifeless legs standing uselessly in the surf.


The comm has gone deadly silent.


And then the Kaiju turns toward them.


-o-


In a heartbeat, Billy still remembers their first time.


He’s a bit nervous. For all his talk, he’s never been in combat before. His time with MI6 had seen him in an office more often than not. He’s never even killed a man.


Olivia breathes, deep and easy. “Focus,” she says. “Remember, victory is being the last man standing.”


“Except we’re in a giant robot fighting a monster from the depth of the sea,” Billy reminds her.


“Once this starts,” she says with a wry smile, “you won’t be splitting hairs.”


-o-


They’ve faced Cat 3’s before, but Vandal is faster than anything they’ve seen. Its body is leaner, with arms that actually looked muscled. The two large claws on each hand are more than noticeable, glinting in the sunlight as it dives into the water and flies at them.


They barely have time to brace Avalon as it lunges out of the water, claws bared as it jumps at them with a growl.


Frantic, Billy and Olivia duck hard to the left, almost losing their balance to avoid a direct and possibly fatal blow. The Kaiju hits the water hard, and the waves rock them, but the Kaiju is more disoriented than they are. This gives them time to gain their footing and rear back a fist. Before it gets up, they punch it -- hard.


It’s not even dazed.


It’s just pissed off.


It rises, gnashing its teeth and Billy lets loose with one of their guns. The rounds seem useless, though, and they’ve forced to duck when it slashes at them again.


Dancing out of the way, Billy follows Olivia’s lead as she deploys her own cannons, letting loose a successive volley that sends the thing stumbling back a few paces.


For a second, things seem to be going their way.


And then it stands up and extends its claws further and leaps right back at them.


-o-


Billy’s never been one to think much about the Kaiju, and neither has Olivia. Billy doesn’t bother to assign them personalities or motivations. Truthfully, he prefers not to name them at all. They’re better as anonymous forces to him.


He’s never been a soldier, but he takes to Olivia’s mindset in that quite well.


That’s never been a problem.


As long as they were winning.


The thing is, though, they’re not winning. And the idea of dying out here...of succumbing to a nameless, pointless force of another world...seems unacceptable.


And that’s when Billy realizes the critical difference between Jaegers and Kaiju. Jaegers go into battle with everything to lose.


The Kaiju, on the other hand. They don’t care if they live or die. They fight like they have nothing to lose.


This is, of course, their greatest asset. Because Billy, strapped down to a nuclear reactor with the person he cares most by his side, has a lot to lose. His own life is just the tip of that iceberg, and Olivia, the billion-dollar machine that surrounds him and the whole of humanity make up the rest.


With these stakes, Billy’s always believed that failure is simply not an option. Even when other Jaegers have fallen, he believes his own success is nothing less than a given. It’s not that he doesn’t care, no matter how flippant he acts. It’s that he actually doesn’t believe that, after everything, it’s possible. Other Jaegers fall. Other pilots don’t come home. Casey warns him, Michael lectures him, Olivia begs him, but none of it seems real to Billy.


At least, until Vandal comes at them with his fists clenched. There’s no time to move now, and it connects. Its fist must be denser than other Kaiju they’ve encountered, because the chrome hull creaks dangerously. The blades Fay talked about must not only be good for cutting; they must be made of something harder. Like throwing a punch with bloody brass knuckles.


Avalon falters and Billy moves in tandem with Olivia to try to keep their footing. It’s a struggle, and they’ve put so much attention on not losing ground that they’re momentarily distracted.


Just for a moment, but a moment is enough.


The next blow hits them hard, rattling them so severely that Billy feels his teeth knock together. The lights in the cockpit splutter, blinking off and on before Vandal grabs Avalon’s side and rips.


The hull is thick, but the claws of the beast pulls the paneling away and Billy hears the wiring snap and flare. Half of the cockpit is shrouded in darkness, and they are immediately confronted with a list of failed systems. Their guns are gone; their speed bursts are offline. The comm-link is dead, echoing hollowly in Billy’s ear. They can’t even form a bloody fist with one hand.


Billy curses, his attention slipping, but Olivia is nothing but focused. In the drift, Billy finds her concentration and they work together to bring their sword to bear at Vandal. They don’t usually opt for the sword -- it’s rather archaic -- but it seems like bringing guns to a swordfight isn’t the way to go this time.


Vandal knows he’s got the advantage, which is about the only chance they have for any kind of turn of luck. Vandal circles them, eyes glowing, and Olivia is able to keep her side purposefully listless as they wait for the right moment.


They wait, and Billy barely breathes. They wait and wait and…


They both see it, and they move instantaneously, in perfect unity. The stroke is upward, which makes it awkward, but they catch Vandal under his arm, heaving their sword up and through the skin, cutting and cutting and cutting…


The resistance is almost too much. The sheer force…


But then, the cut breaks through and Vandal’s arm dangles uselessly by his side as he roars in pain.


This is their chance. They need to move for the killing blow. But Billy is exhausted, and when Olivia moves, he can barely keep up, and Avalon staggers just enough -- and Vandal recovers faster.


This time, Vandal uncurls his fist on his good hand, lashing out with unexpected force and accuracy. They barely manage to bring Avalon’s sword in front of them to defend themselves, and even then, it’s a beat too late.


Their blade lands a glancing blow to Vandal’s torso, but he easily moves past that, reaching right for the conn-pod. Billy sees a flash of light from the claws as the massive hand encircles their window and starts to constrict.


The sound is horrible, a deep screeching of metal that makes his ears ring. Parts start flying, and Billy is working on keeping himself steady when pain erupts in his side.


Something hard and sharp cuts into him, piercing through his suit and into the flesh beneath. And it doesn’t stop. It pushes and slices--


And goes straight through.


His world splits. He can still feel Olivia and their connection to Avalon, but it’s punctuated by the pain. It’s acute, searing pain, and it runs up his side and burns into every synapse of his body. A scream is wrenched from his throat, filling the cockpit with unexpected and unstoppable agony.


When his breath leaves him, his energy abates and he realizes the scream isn’t his anymore. It’s Olivia’s. She’s still screaming in the cockpit, and it’s hard to tell whose pain is worse -- hers or his own. Ultimately, the thought proves too much and he slumps in the control, his vision dimming even as Olivia continues to rage.


It’s harder to focus now. Vandal flails and Avalon moves, jerky halting movements that Billy has no control over. Olivia’s anger surges, and he can feel her fighting against it, harder and harder as he starts to slip away into the drift.


The drift is always there, and Billy’s always been especially adept at controlling it. He’s good at parsing his emotions, picking and choosing what matters and what doesn’t. He’s never followed the rabbit this far down the hole before…


But he’s never been here before. It’s a Kaiju outside of Seattle; it’s their first mission with a Cat 3 off San Diego. It’s the first time they slept together, hot bodies pressed together and every motion in perfect tandem, moving in perfection until the very end. It’s being curled up with Olivia in the morning, tracing the shape of her nose with his finger and kissing every freckle on her arm. It’s training; it’s simulator; it’s their first time in the drift when he saw her kiss Freddy Jacobs outside of church one Sunday morning and Billy’s been smitten ever since.


It’s Olivia. She’s his beginning here, and everything in between. She’s every moment, every breath, every beat of his heart. She’s everything.


She’s his ending.


And Billy doesn’t want to die, but he thinks he understands a kaiju for the first time. It’s not about what you lose, it’s about what’s worth fighting for. Even if you lose for the cause, it’s worth it.


“No!” Olivia screams, and her anguish echoes in his mind. “Billy, no!”


Outside, Vandal falls and Avalon isn’t far behind. Billy barely feels the change in altitude, but the roar of the water is distant in his ears. A beat later, when water starts to fill the cockpit, Olivia is panicking in earnest. She’s still fighting, not against the Kaiju, but against this. They both know he’s dying. They both know.


“Hold on, Billy,” she demands. Hold on.


But Billy’s not invincible. He’s not a superhero. And he’s never fancied dying, but invincibility doesn’t mean you can’t die.


It just means you’re okay with it.


That’s why the Kaiju win. They know they’re expendable and have made peace with that fact.


Now, win or lose, Billy does the same.


Olivia’s consciousness surrounds him, her demands filling his brain. She’s frantic now, desperate and terrified, but none of it seems to matter now. He can’t hear her, just her presence, full and encompassing as it lulls him to sleep. It’s okay this way. He wills Olivia to understand: it’s okay.


Olivia is crying, she’s begging, just hold on. You promised, Billy. You promised.


The hardest part is the easiest part, and the beginning is the end. Time has no meaning; life has no meaning. There’s just him and Olivia, forever in the drift. He meant the promise when he made it, but he hadn’t understood.


He couldn’t have understood.


And Billy lets go.