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

December 29th, 2013 (02:27 pm)
stressed

feeling: stressed

Other parts in the MASTER POST



It’s tedious work, but that’s not Casey’s complaint. He can endure tedium better than anyone -- when it’s for a good reason.


And this is a good reason.


Because sure, they could dredge up bits of metal and throw them on a barge just as quick as can be and they’d be finished with the recovery process in a matter of days. But that’s no way to treat a Jaeger.


The public cheers for Jaegers. There are little action figures, and the PPDC even licensed a few of them in order to earn more revenue. The PPDC looks at Jaegers more pragmatically, being careful to assign value and worth, based on the cost and performance.


None of these things are wrong, necessarily. But Casey knows that’s not the whole story.


A Jaeger isn’t just a machine. It’s not just a revenue stream. It’s not just an icon, fighting monsters and winning wars. A Jaeger is more than the sum of its parts, more than the actions of its pilots. It’s not just circuits and hardware. After being inside of one, after being part of one, the Jaegers seem more human than most of the idiots Casey deals with on a day-to-day basis.


Which is why they’re going to do this right.


“I want to get two cables running,” Casey say. “And if we can maneuver a third to support the middle section, even better. We want her whole.”


There’s grumbling, but no one dares defy him. They’ve managed to clear away most of the loose debris. The two major parts of Hellion have already been stowed. He’s already taking the long way back on the barge. Avalon, though -- she’s got more to save. They’ll strap her in and fly her back down the coast.


“Be careful!” Casey orders sternly. “If we screw this up, we may be costing ourselves billions of dollars.”


“J-tech thinks she’s already totaled,” one of the crew says. “If her reactor’s been compromised--”


“Then we’ll deal with that,” Casey snaps. “Just because she’s bleeding her lifeblood doesn’t mean we rip her up to make it easier for us.”


“It’s a machine.”


“That saved this city and the people in it,” Casey growls. “She’s done her job, and she sure as hell didn’t take any shortcuts -- and it very well could have cost her everything. Now it’s your turn to do yours. No shortcuts allowed.”


The man scowls, muttering under his breath as he gets back to work. It’s tempting to teach him a lesson, but this isn’t the time or place, and Casey knows Michael’s on a short enough leash right now. Casey’s not one to toe the line, but he also knows that sometimes it’s best not to rock the boat when you’re already taking in water.


Besides, they need all hands on deck. They need to do this right. This isn’t about Casey.


This is about her.


He looks out across the water, watching as the teams set up in place with divers already in the water.


“Not much longer now,” he says softly. “We’ll get you back home.”


-o-


It’s been almost two weeks since the Kaiju was taken down, and Casey knows his time is up. Fay’s already managed to clear out the Kaiju and there’s an environmental cleanup team on site during the daylight hours. Hellion is almost to Oblivion Bay, and Michael’s been calling every hour to see how things are going.


Which means, it’s time.


Casey grimaces, looking out at the news helicopters just beyond their perimeter. They’ve been chomping at the bit for a glimpse of Avalon. Since apparently it’s okay to gawk at a fallen Jaeger. That’s so typically human, and Casey wishes he had a way to shield her from it. With Hellion, they’d covered him with a tarp. But dangling from a copter, Avalon will be exposed. Her damaged parts will be all over the news in every country on the planet while Monday morning quarterbacks talk about what might have gone wrong with her.


It’s a cruel fate. An unfair fate. She deserves better.


She can’t get it until she’s got a place to rest, though. And the barge is too slow and they’d have to segment her to get her secure. No, this is the best option in the long run.


“Okay,” Casey says, and the team preps. “On my count. One, two…”


The chopper above him roars and the cables go taut. Everyone tenses.


“Three!”


The chopper rises, and the cables groan. The water rustles as the chopper rises and rises…

“We’re looking good,” someone confirms from an underwater video feed. “Steady and secure, no signs of breakage.”


Casey says nothing, eyes trained on the water.


“Almost there. Just a little…”


And then the water breaks as Avalon surfaces. She’s stretched out, with cables holding her horizontally. As she’s lifted, water falls off her, revealing her scarred body to the bright sunlight. Her head is tipped back, even if her neck is supported, and though one of her arms was salvaged with the scrap, the other dangles down beneath her as the chopper rises higher.


“All indications are a go. Repeat, all indications are a go.”


“Okay, then,” Casey says. “Let’s take her home.”


-o-


The cameras are rolling, and Casey knows he’s on the clock now. He doesn’t waste any more time -- one advantage to his meticulous prep work is that when they get Avalon out of the water, it’s just go time. He radios ahead to keep the path clear along the coastline, and then boards a second copter to follow her down.


In the chopper, he perches by the window, eyes trained outside even as the radio chatter goes on all around him. He’ll let other people handle this for now. He just wants to keep his eyes on the Jaeger.


It’s a steady flight, not exactly slow but not fast. Casey requests they maintain a pace off to the side, giving him a better look at the damage Avalon sustained.


There are wide gashes across her torso, and it’s easy to see the one that cut into her nuclear reactor. The failsafes seem to have worked fairly well, which will help contain the environmental fallout and should protect her other systems.


What’s left of them, anyway. The most glaring injury is a pull away section of the conn-pod. The destroyed outer shell is still attached, but flayed open on the left side. Billy’s side. In the right light, Casey can even see direct damage to the harness, and he’s struck that Collins is damn lucky to have survived.


More than that, it’s nothing short of spectacular that Drummond was able to pilot the thing. Caesy never saw Sierra Paladin after sustaining near-fatal damage, but she’d been responsive to his commands until the very end. Avalon Challenger, on the other hand, was crippled by the end of the fight. How Olivia Drummond managed to kill a Kaiju with her Jaeger literally failing around her...well, it warrants respect for her piloting skills and mental fortitude.


But, then again, Casey also has to give credit where credit is due. Olivia pushed her mind, but Avalon is still the one who did the fighting. By right, she should have been a pile of scrap, but her she is. Damaged and broken, but still the victor. She saved her pilots.


Casey just wishes there were a way to save her in return.


-o-


As they approach what’s left of San Francisco, Casey feels his spirits rise. Sure, the place is toxic and contaminated and likely will never be inhabitable again, but at least this means that the damn TV crews can’t follow any longer.


Plus, it means they’re almost there.


It’s not really the best place Casey can think of as a final resting place. But it’s quiet and undisturbed, and Casey can appreciate the realities of the situation. The only objection he has, in fact, is the name.


Oblivion Bay


As if they’re all just supposed to forget. To never look back.


Avalon is lowered, her large body splayed out in a cleared-out patch Casey himself designated a week ago. On the ground, she goes limp and there is a series of radio calls before the cables are detached and the chopper rises once again.


The rest of the world wants to turn away, but Casey keeps his eyes fixed. Because he will always remember.


-o-


Much of the crew thinks things are over, and Casey doesn’t object to letting them go. The ground crew at Oblivion Bay is small and rotates frequently to limit any exposure to the toxic elements. Casey’s not even allowed into the restricted area unless he consent to wearing full protective gear. He finds this rule stupid and cumbersome, but his task in the next few days is important enough to endure the inconvenience.


Because people think Oblivion Bay is a graveyard.


Casey prefers to think of it as a holding ground. It’s own laboratory, if there were any scientists left who were brave enough to go there. Because the things there…


The parts of the Kaiju. The scraps of Jaegers. The technology is worth countless billions, and the possible technological innovations that could be gleaned from studying what still works and still doesn’t is almost impossible to measure. A lot of Marshals don’t follow up with their fallen Jaegers, and Casey believes that’s to their detriment. Yes, they have the output data and certain black boxes, but that doesn’t do it justice.


That’s why Casey asked for this job.


Because he’s going to do it right.


-o-


He starts his rounds by checking on Hellion Foxtrot. The Mark 3 Jaeger is closer to the water’s edge, but it has not been as carefully managed. Casey is less than pleased to see that the crews basically dumped his parts in a pile with no thought or reason to it. If Casey had his way, he would rearrange the parts in order, but he concedes that the damage may make the effort untenable.


Still, he gathers a few parts, and spends an hour or two in the wreckage. He photographs what he can, making explicit notes as to what’s there and what’s not.


When he’s done, he crosses over the grounds to Avalon. The crew has undone her harness, and Casey can see damage even more clearly. The gouges in the metal are terrifyingly precise, and when he climbs in the mangled conn-pod, it’s clear that Collins would have been out the second the hull was breached. How Drummond got him into an escape pod is a bit beyond him.


Still, there’s a lot to salvage from Avalon. Not just the technology, but the basic parts people take for granted. Casey documents her to the fullest, taking meticulous shots of her legs and joints, before calling it a day.


-o-


He calls Michael after going through an extensive detox process. He’s positively squeaking as he wraps himself in a robe at the guest quarters at the checkpoint base.


“The good news is that I think Avalon can be salvaged,” he says. “I mean, she’ll take some work--”


“Higgins already vetoed any plans to rehab her,” Michael reports.


Casey frowns. “But he hasn’t even read the full report yet.”


“No new funds are being directed toward a Jaeger at LA,” Michael says, as if reciting a direct quote.


Casey scoffs. “So we’re trusting Mammoth Apostle for the rest of the war?”


“Until other options become available,” Michael confirms.


“Like what?” Casey asks. “Extinction?”


Michael sighs. “It’s not my call. You should head back to LA tomorrow.”


“But I’m not done,” Casey protests.


“You shouldn’t even be there at all, Malick,” Michael says. “The medical team strongly objects to you being exposed to more radiation.”


“I’m wearing the damn suit,” Casey seethes.


“Doesn’t matter,” Michael says. “You’re going to come home.”


“Michael--”


“Just do this one for me, Casey,” Michael says, sounding exhausted. Clearly, things have not been going well for the other man. Not that they were last time they talked, but Casey had hoped things could only get better.


Apparently not, and no doubt Higgins and his bright ideas were helping that right along. Higgins is a pain in the ass under the best of circumstances, and when he knows he’s got the upper hand, he’s almost impossibly self-righteous. It’s not that Casey necessarily doubts the man’s intentions, but he certainly objects to his middle of the road approach to everything.


As it is, Michael sounds so weary that Casey almost feels guilty.


It’s not a good feeling.


He scowls. “Fine,” he says. “I think I got enough pictures anyway to make a case.”


“It won’t matter.”


Casey rolls his eyes. “It might matter,” he says. “Don’t get too defeatist on me. Not now.”


“I’ve lost two Jaegers. Two pilots are dead. One quit the program and another is in a damn coma,” Michael says. “When did you think it might be time to get defeatist?”


“Maybe when you’re dead,” Casey says.


That elicits a chuckle. “I’ll see you soon, Malick.”


The line goes dead. Casey looks at it for a moment, wondering how it’s possible that he’s actually looking forward to that.


-o-


Casey goes to bed, for the lack of something better to do. In the morning, he’s up at first light and ready to go in less than thirty minutes. But he doesn’t go to the chopper pad. Instead he heads back to the interior checkpoint.


“I thought you were done?” the guard asks.


“I’d recommend you stop thinking, then,” Casey says. “You’re not very good at it.”


The man is too stupid to be offended. “You’ll need your suit.”


Casey sighs. “Oh, all right.”


-o-


He gears up quickly if only because the idea of spending more time on a triviality makes him want to start hurting people in a way he hasn’t felt since his time with the CIA. He doesn’t often miss his time as a spook, but sometimes he craves the ability to lie and maim while receiving a paycheck. The PPDC is far too by the books in this regard. He has no violent outlet.


Which means he has to play by the rules and not hurt people. It doesn’t seem fair.


Still. Casey is a pragmatic man. He’ll do what he has to do. Desperate times call for desperate measures.


Even following the rules.


-o-


Inside, he foregoes all offers for transportation or assistance. The guard seems to think it’s impossible to navigate the depths of Oblivion Bay, but Casey chooses to overlook the man’s obvious incompetence. Casey doesn’t want help.

Not for this.


He traverses the area by foot, climbing over the remnants of a city that once was and the pieces of robots that offered so much hope. It’s painfully symbolic to him, seeing them like this. The discarded pieces of Jaegers, left to rust and corrode, like all the hope they represented. Their glory days are past, and Casey does not want to think about what that exactly means.


Because if these massive machines cannot stand, then how does mere man have a chance? When all the Jaegers fall, who will protect the flesh and blood of this earth? What will be left when Oblivion Bay can’t hold the pieces? When they can’t put all their losses into one, easy to forget location?


He worries about this. Casey doesn’t claim to have much by the way of a conscience, but he fears the PPDC is doing the public a disservice. They commemorate the Rangers, bury them with honors -- and Casey doesn’t begrudge them that -- but the Jaegers are left here. As if their lives are less important, as if sentience is so easily defined by a beating heart.


Casey’s been in a Jaeger. He knows how they move and live. He knows the soul of a Jaeger, and he knows the depth of its purpose. Jaegers aren’t machines. Jaegers aren’t weapons.


Jaegers are more.


The best of mankind.


That last defense of mankind.


The only hope of mankind.


-o-


It takes him the better part of an hour, but Casey finds the remains he’s looking for. It’s deep in the wreckage, far from the shore. The metal is tarnished from the elements, but the body is surprisingly intact after all these years.


Sierra Paladin.


She’s not as beautiful as she once was, but Casey still recognizes her. He runs his gloved hand along her exterior, climbing up on her chest and resting on her reactor, long since gone cold. There, he drops his head down, touching it to her chest and closing his eyes.


It’s been years. She’s long since gone. But Casey can still feel her. His heart throbs, his mind aches.


Sierra Paladin.


He misses her. Not just the thrill or the adventure. Not just the power or the skill. He misses her. He misses the feeling of limbs moving in tandem with his own; he misses the small of her conn-pod and the warm glow of the lights on the consoles. He misses the softness of her connection, the clarity of her mind.


Casey cared deeply for Linda. He liked his copilots. He’s invested in Michael Dorset now.

But Sierra Paladin may very well be his soulmate.


“I’m sorry,” he murmurs as he sits up again. “I never should have let them take you.”


She can’t reply, but Casey knows her answer.


“I have to go again,” he says, after he climbs down from her. He sighs, looking her over one more time. “But you and I both know we’re not done yet.”


-o-


He’s back at the Shatterdome by dinner. Casey’s only been gone for about a month, but the entire atmosphere has shifted. There’s a quiet rush; a restrained desperation. No one speaks ill of the dead or the fallen, but everyone seems set on moving past what happened.


The bays where Avalon Challenger and Hellion Foxtrot used to be are shuttered. Their staff is reassigned. No one wants to talk about where, and there’s a hush about upcoming projects. No one predicts another Mark 4 at LA, and no one dares think about a Mark 5. Crews are on double time to get Mammoth Apostle in shipshape, and she’s being slapped with new improvements that really don’t amount to much.


Everyone has plenty to do, so no one has time to talk about what’s changed.


But one evening back, and Casey can see that everything is different.


-o-


It says something about the climate of the Shatterdome that Michael forgets to check in with him until Casey shows up the next morning.


Michael curses. “You got back yesterday, didn’t you?”


“You did order me home,” he says.

Michael winces. “Yeah, things have been a little busy,” he says. “I managed to tak Higgins into as many upgrades as I can without bumping up the budget.”


“Well, that can’t be much,” Casey mutters.


“You’d be surprised,” he says. “We’ve repurposed what we can from Hellion and Avalon, and with the extra staff…”


“Yeah, but you’re still rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic,” Casey says. “What’s really going on?”


Michael looks grim. “Higgins isn’t telling me much, and he’s got people working on a need-to-know,” he says. “But staff is already being moved out. I’ve lost five people in J-tech and another three in J-science.”


Casey makes a face. “To what?”


Michael shrugs. “That’s what Higgins won’t tell me,” he says. “And after all the secrets I’ve been keeping, I can’t very well demand it.”


“But surely you can find out,” Casey says.


“Yeah, if I had the time,” Michael says. “Mammoth Apostle is going to need every upgrade he can get. He’s my last Jaeger. He can’t fall.”


“That’s a stupid thing to say,” Casey says. “Of course he’s going to fall.”


“He’s our Mark 4,” Michael says. “And I’ve got some good ways to upgrade his weapons and armor--”


“No, you’re missing the point,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong necessarily with Mammoth Apostle. I mean, he hasn’t got the heart of some Jaegers I’ve seen, but he’s got the grit to do his job, but he will fall. You can’t win a war with one Jaeger.”


“Well, I had four, and now I’m down to one,” Michael snaps. “So I don’t know what you want me to do.”


“I want you to stop thinking inside of Higgins’ little box,” Casey replies. “Or the next thing we know, we’re going to be supervising the construction of a wall.”


Michael makes a face. “You really think that’s Higgins’ play?”


“Please,” Casey says. “What else could it be?”


“I keep telling myself he’s not that stupid,” Michael says.


“Stupid, no,” Casey says. “But he wants to steal second while keeping his foot on first. He’s still trying to run this Shatterdome like a government agency.”


“Well, it sort of is--”


“In structure only,” Casey hisses. “Come on, Michael. This is a war. We are the first line of defense. And we need to be the last line of defense.”


“That sounds good,” Michael says. “But I’ve got nothing.”


“What did I tell you about the defeatism?” Casey says. “You’ve got a lot of things. You’ve got the best minds and the best technology. You’ve the tools. You’ve got the manpower. This entire facility is geared toward making and supporting Jaegers. You have everything you need.”


“But not the resources,” Michael says.


“Really?” Casey asks. “Because last I knew, we had an entire graveyard of parts to choose from.”


Michael chews his lip, studying Casey carefully. “Okay,” he says. “I’m listening.”


-o-


Michael needs a push, but not much more than that. Once Casey gives him the notion of working against the system by using the system, Michael takes the rest into consideration. For Casey, all he knows is that they need Jaegers.


Michael fills in the gaps.


“The advantage of a Jaeger is that they are replaceable,” Michael says, tapping his pen on the table. “The PPDC is so set on making better Jaegers--”


“Well, we do want to learn from our mistakes,” Casey says.


“No, I know,” Michael says. “But it doesn’t have to be new. Hell, at the CIA, I got used to making due with whatever we had lying around. We can save the world on a budget.”


“Exactly,” Casey says. “It’s a numbers game -- but not in dollars and cents. It’s about having enough Jaegers to hold back the affront. And, really, eventually we’ll need enough Jaegers to mount an offensive. We can’t win by defense alone.”


“We have a lot of spare parts for fixes,” Michael says. “But we’re still going to be missing a lot of the essential components.”


“Are we?” Casey asks. “Because I just spent a week surrounding by enough Jaeger parts to start a small fleet.”


Michael eyes light up. “You think we can salvage parts from Oblivion Bay?”


“Why not?”


“Protocol--”


“Is stupid,” Casey says.

“But we need a way around it,” Michael says.


“Well, how have you gotten around Higgins so far?”


Michael is thoughtful. “The hardest part would be decontamination and transportation.”


“Decontamination is standard procedure when anything is brought into the Shatterdome,” Casey points out.


“But how can we justify the expense?” Michael says. “San Francisco isn’t far, but carting pieces of metal that large…”


“Surely there are funds to draw from,” Casey says.


“Not that won’t be missed.”


“What if we take up special donations?” Casey suggests. “If donations come in earmarked for Jaeger reconstructions…”


“That could work,” Michael says, nodding slowly.


“We’ll need to find someone to elicit those donations,” Casey says.


Michael raises his eyebrows.


“Not me,” Casey protests. “I’ll pull as many late shifts as you want helping put a Jaeger together, but I’m not people friendly.”


Michael chews his lip. “No,” he says. His eyes brighten. “But Collins is…”


Casey frowns. “Isn’t he in a coma?”


“Came out of it while you were in Oblivion Bay,” Michael says. “I mean, he’s still pretty out of it but he’s started to show signs of awareness. He’s going to need some support, but I’m pretty sure he’d be up to helping us once he’s on his feet again.”


Casey is skeptical. “I’m not really one for lost causes.”


Michael chuckles. “You’re the one talking about rehabbing totaled Jaegers under Higgins’ nose,” he says. “I think that’s about the biggest lost cause there is.”


“Robots I can do. Subterfuge I can handle,” Casey says. “But emotional long term recovery? No thank you.”


“Hey, if you want money for this little project,” Michael says, “we need Collins.”


“So you help him,” Casey snaps.


“I’ve got to procure everything else,” Michael objects. “You have nothing to do until we manage to get the funding. Which we won’t get until we can get Billy back in the game.”


Casey glares. “I can see what you’re doing.”


Michael grins. “Then you’ll also see that I’m right.”


Collecting a breath, Casey lets it out laboriously. “Fine,” he concedes. “I suppose it can’t hurt to talk to him.”


“Great,” Michael says, beaming a little. “They should be getting him up for physical therapy right now, if you want to go see him.”


Casey’s brow darkened. “If that’s an actual question--”


“It’s not,” Michael says, getting up and clapping Casey on the shoulder. “Good luck!”


Watching him go, Casey frowns, thinking Michael somehow got off with the better end of this deal.


-o-


Casey doesn’t like it, but finding Billy in the medical bay is easy. He gets there in time to see the kid being transferred back into bed. He looks shrunken somehow, his limbs too gangly and his body almost frail. It’s been almost a month since Avalon Challenger went down, and the time has not been kind to Collins. The aide practically carries him to the bed, putting him down gently before nodding to Casey on his way out.


In the doorway, Casey is tempted to leave. Billy looks mostly asleep already, and Casey is struck by how completely awkward this is.


“You can come in,” Billy says.


Casey startles. The kid hasn’t even opened his eyes or turned his head toward Casey.


“Loitering...it’s rude,” Billy continues, rolling his head toward Casey this time and opening his heavy eyes. A small smile ghosts over his lips.


Casey presses his lips together. “It’s nothing we need to talk about now.”


Billy makes a face. “Not you too,” he says, sounding genuinely distressed. “Everyone has avoided saying anything to me at all. I’ve been awake for almost a week now, and you all act like I’m still in that bloody coma.”


Casey feels a pang of sympathy. He doesn’t like Collins, but he can respect how annoying that would be. He edges into the room. “You were hurt badly--”


“But I’m not dead,” Billy says. “For the love of all that is good, no one will even look me in the eye and tell me what happened.”


Casey raises his brows. “You don’t know?”


“I know Avalon went down,” Billy says. “And I know Olivia saved my life. And they tell me she’s okay, but she hasn’t been here at all. She’d be here, wouldn’t she?” His look turns earnest and a little desperate. “She’d be here.”


Awkward is no longer the word. The feeling of pity is painful, and Casey refuses to acknowledge it. He saw Avalon Challenger. By rights, Billy should be dead. But he’s alive, and he’s confused, and the only things that would even make sense are the things he can’t have. Because Avalon is gone -- and so is Drummond.


“She is fine,” Casey offers.


Billy’s face contorts. “You too?” he moans, head lolling back on the pillow. “I just want some answers.”


“And you’ll get them,” Casey promises. “But right now, you need to rest.”


“That’s all I’ve been doing…,” Billy protests, even as his eyelids start to droop.


“Trust me,” Casey says with sudden and unexpected certainty. He’s not one for promises, and the ones he makes -- he keeps. “You will have answers.”


Billy has no reason to trust him, but that doesn’t mean that the kid has the sense to question it. Exhaustion takes him, and he slips back to sleep, and Casey stands there, watching him stupidly as he realizes what he’s done.


He told Michael he’d talk to Billy


He told Billy he’d give him answers.


Casey had always intended this to be all business.


Now, apparently, it’s so much more.


-o-


Casey talks to Billy’s physical therapist, and makes a few suggestions. He starts showing up for the sessions and makes his own demands. After a week, he’s the one giving the sessions, while the therapy staff watches uncertainly.


Billy flourishes. He makes huge strides in his recovery, and he’s starting to make snide remarks back when Casey instructs him. Billy’s still there. The Kaiju took a lot from Billy -- more than the kid probably realizes at this point -- but it says something about the kid’s fortitude that he’s still pushing on.


Which does, of course, raise one important problem.


“You have to tell him Olivia isn’t coming back,” Casey tells Michael one night at dinner.


Michael takes a drink. “He hasn’t figured it out yet?”


“The idea doesn’t even compute for him,” Casey says. “He knows Avalon is gone -- I think I finally got him to wrap his mind around that. And he knows Olivia saved his life, but he doesn’t understand the idea that she’s not going to help him through this.”


“Then what does he think?”


“Honestly?” Casey asks. “I’m not sure he is thinking. You’ve never been in the drift before. The bond you share with someone -- it’s like having an extension of yourself. You essentially are asking Billy to figure out that that part of him is never coming back.”


Michael chews for a moment. “I was waiting to tell him--”


“You’ve waited long enough,” Casey says. “He needs to know.”


“Okay,” Michael agrees. “But you’re coming, too.”


-o-


At first, Billy doesn’t believe them. It takes them the better part of an hour to explain the situation, to talk about what Olivia saw and experienced. Casey has to tell Billy what it’s like to lose someone in the drift -- the stunning numbness when they’re gone.


Even then, Billy doesn’t get it. “But she’ll come back,” he says, almost begging now. “She has to come back.”


The answer never changes.


Billy cries himself to sleep.


-o-


The next day, Billy doesn’t get out of his hospital bed. Casey doesn’t believe in coddling people, but he doesn’t have the heart to force Collins up. He knows the loss, and it’s unspeakable depth.


And he lets it go.


-o-


Casey’s compassion lasts a week.


When Billy still hasn’t gotten out of bed and his doctors are talking about the need to insert a feeding tube again, Casey decides enough is enough.


Because he knows the loss.


And he knows how to get over it.


-o-


He doesn’t knock, and he doesn’t ask when he throws back Billy’s covers. The Scotsman protests, but remains listless on his side until Casey physically drags him into a sitting position.


“What the hell are you doing?” Billy asks.


“I should be asking you that question,” Casey snaps.


“I have nothing to do,” Billy replies sullenly.


Casey rolls his eyes. “You’re supposed to get better.”


“For what?” Billy asks. “I don’t have a Jaeger. I don’t have a copilot. I have nothing.”


“Spare me the sob story,” Casey mutters. “So you lost a Jaeger. Most people who lose a Jaeger end up dead. And so you lost your copilot. You really think there’s only one person in the world you’re drift compatible with?”


“The only one like her,” he says, eyes flashing. “Olivia and I…”


“Yeah, you loved her,” Casey says. “I get it.”


“If you’re standing there, I don’t reckon you do,” Billy says.


“A broken heart is what it is,” he says. “I don’t care if you want to cry yourself to sleep or drown in a bottle of scotch in your free time. But it won’t change anything. And it won’t help anything.”


Billy slumps down miserably. “What do you know of it?”

“I know everything of it,” he says. “I didn’t love my copilots, but I loved my job. I loved my Jaeger. I loved everything about all of it. I have never felt more alive, more useful, more meaningful than when I was piloting Sierra. And then, just like that, it was all gone.”


Billy’s face softens. “I’m sorry…”


“I don’t want your pity,” Casey snaps. “It sucks. It wasn’t what I wanted. But I wasn’t going to let it beat me because I refuse to concede defeat to some overgrown lizard coming out of the bottom of the ocean.”


The agonized look returns to Billy’s face. “But how do you get over it?” he says. “How do you stop feeling like the most important things are missing?”


“You don’t,” Casey tells him, a little gentler now. “You’ll never find something that matters as much as being a Ranger. And you’ll probably never find someone you care for like you do Drummond.”


Billy’s countenance wavers. “But?” he asks, almost daring to sound hopeful.


“But you keep going. You keep fighting.”


“But how?” Billy asks.


Casey’s lips twitch slightly. “Well, Michael and I are working on that. But we need you. And we need you at 100 percent.”


Billy sighs. “I don’t know if it’s worth it,” he says. “Part of me thinks I should quit. Go back to England.”


“And do what?” Casey asks, duly incredulous now. “Twiddle your thumbs while the world ends?”


“I have nothing I can offer now,” Billy says.


“If you fully recover, there’s no reason you can’t get another Jaeger and copilot,” Casey says. “It won’t be the same, but if you’re still looking for glory, at least you can still get it.”


Billy furrows his brow. “And until then?”


“Well, Michael tells me you can get money out of the unlikeliest of places,” Casey continues. “Can you?”


Billy shrugs, starting to look a little less desolate, a little more like the pain-in-the-ass Casey expects. “I have my ways.”


“Good,” Casey says, feeling something like optimism starting to swell unexpectedly in his chest as he holds Billy’s gaze. “We start there. And let’s see where it takes us.”