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Chaos/Pacific Rim: The First Line of Defense (5b/7)

December 29th, 2013 (02:33 pm)
distressed

feeling: distressed

Other parts in the MASTER POST



It’s not the same the second time around. There’s no Olivia, after all, and a lot of the polish is gone. Rangers are no longer the golden boys, and the press doesn’t come calling for happy staged photographs or uplifting one-liners for Jaeger fluff pieces.


There are no more fluff pieces. There are far fewer Jaegers, and pilots are in want. Talk is that it’s a dying program. And that Ranger -- they are a dying breed.


Literally.


Billy misses the glory. He misses Olivia and their connection. At this point, he knows he may not save the world anymore.


But damn it all, he’s probably going to die trying.


At this point, there’s only one other person on earth who understands that, which is why Billy drifts so well with Rick Martinez.


-o-


“I still have my doubts,” Casey says.


“I’m with Malick,” Michael says. “The kid is green.”


“If you can find an experienced pilot, be my guest,” Billy says. “Last I checked, they’re all forcibly grounded or dead.”


“Or working in J-tech in Tokyo,” Casey mutters.


“Her choice,” Billy says stiffly. “Not mine.”


Michael collects a breath. “It’s just a lot to put on a kid who’s been playing both sides since the start.”


“He’s got a good heart,” Billy says. “He has a good mind. In the drift, we want the same things.”


“It’s not just you and him,” Casey says. “This is literally our last chance. We’ll probably never be able to pull this off again.”


“We’re pretty damn lucky Higgins has looked away this long,” Michael says. “There’s no way we’d ever get the parts or funds to make another Jaeger.”


“Well, I reckon if you need another Jaeger, I won’t be around to worry about it,” Billy quips grimly.


Michael is not amused. “I’m serious, Collins.”


“And so am I!” Billy protests. “This is why we’ve gone through this whole thing, isn’t it? Why we’ve stolen parts and sought donations? To build a Jaeger to give the Western Seaboard one last line of defense before Higgins buggers us all but good?”


Casey’s mouth is thin. Michael nods.


Billy softens his stance. “Your concern is noted,” he says. “And appreciated.”


Casey’s expression turns perturbed. “Don’t flatter yourself,” he says. “I hate that I have to trust you as it is. Trusting a kid with all the work we’ve done…”


“Just make sure he’s ready,” Michael says.


“Aye,” Billy agrees. “The same goes for you lot. I assume our Jaeger is going to be ship-shape and ready to go?”


“Yeah, yeah,” Michael says. “Funny how you get to go spend your time bonding while Casey and I do the real work.”


Billy can’t help but grin. “I never said my desire to be a Ranger was entirely altruistic.”


-o-


After their first drift, Rick follows him around. He looks a little like a lost puppy, nipping at Billy’s heels. It’s sort of cute.


And a bit wearying.


He stops and turns when he reaches his quarters. “Contrary to your belief, sharing the drift does not mean we have to share everything together.”


Rick looks at him. “You did with Olivia.”


“Yes, and she was a beautiful woman who I was deeply attracted to on an emotional, mental and physical level,” Billy says. “Nothing personal, lad, but you really aren’t my type.”


Rick’s mouth opens. “But…”


“But your quarters are down the hall, yeah?” Billy asks with a nod. “I’ll see you in the morning.”


He goes inside and closes the door, listening. Rick lingers for a moment before his footfalls slowly dissipate down the hall.


“Kids,” Billy says with a tired grin as he sinks to his bed.


-o-


He has trouble sleeping that night, though. He dreams of the Kaiju in LA, of asopao and engagement rings in boxes that no one ever sees.


When he opens his door, he’s a bit relieved to see Martinez waiting for him down the hall.


-o-

They train, but it’s different with just the two of them. Casey takes them through synchronized exercises, and has them parry until they’re perfectly in tandem. Billy knows Rick; Rick knows Billy.


When they collapse back to the mat in exhaustion, Billy closes his eyes.


He can hear Rick, breathing heavy next to him.


“Come on,” Casey says, poking them with the bō. “There’s more to do.”


“Is he always--?” Rick starts.


“Yes,” Billy cuts him off with a growl. “He’s always this bloody miserable.”


-o-


When they’re not training, they’re in the Jaeger bay. Mammoth Apostle has a full support team. Orion Disruptor, on the other hand, has whoever they can scrape together to help. Blanke is nearly always on hand, though what good that does them, Billy’s not sure. Fay will show up from time to time, and Michael can usually blackmail a few techs while Casey scares others into lending a hand. Sometimes, Billy sweet talks a few, because they can use all the help they can get.


But it’s their project. Orion Disruptor is theirs.


Michael’s idea. Casey’s dedication. Billy’s soul.


And Rick’s heart.


As if it was always meant to be.


-o-


All things aside, Orion Disruptor is not without his kinks. Billy knows he’s right when he tells them to focus less on the drift and more on Disruptor’s ability to walk without falling over. Billy’s confident in the former but still has serious doubts about the latter.


He tries not to make a big deal about it, because he knows Michael and Casey are working hard. But it’s also hard not to since he’s the one who will have to pilot the thing. And having a keen sense of his likely demise someday doesn’t mean he has a death wish. He would much prefer not dying if he has the option.


And Orion Disruptor…


Well, it’s not like any Jaeger the world has seen before. Yes, it is a giant robot that is designed to fight beasts from the bottom of the ocean. In that, it is a Jaeger. It’s made of metal and advanced neural technology with some of the most sophisticated weaponry on the planet.


But most Jaegers are physical renderings of spectacular concept art. They are form and function, carefully detailed with every nuance in mind. There are no two alike, and each one is reflective of its designer, its pilots and its origin.


Orion Disruptor, on the other hand…


They started with the parts they could salvage from Oblivion Bay. Casey put in countless requests, and Michael piggy-backed orders as best he could through the normal supply lines. From there, they used what they could and improvised what they couldn’t. When all else failed, Billy spent days on the phone, trying to talk donors into special offering to buy the parts they needed.


The hull is scraped together. The parts are all different colors. The weapons are used and mismatched.


“He won’t be winning any beauty contests,” Billy comments affectionately, patting Orion on the leg while Michael instructs one of the techs about refining the knee joint.


“Aesthetics are for the public,” Casey says.


“Well, it helps build confidence,” Rick says. “People like the Jaegers.”


“People like seeing giant lizards die,” Casey replies tersely. “As far as the Kaiju, I’m pretty sure they’re not in it for looks. We’re trying to kill them, not woo them.”


“Although, if we were trying to woo them, I think Disruptor here might have a chance,” Billy says thoughtfully. “Did you see that one in Peru last year? Ugly bastard.”


Rick looks up at Disruptor. “I don’t think he’s so bad.”


“It’s on the inside that counts,” Billy says with a wink. “Besides! He’s digital!”


“Does it make a difference?” Rick asks.


“In terms of functionality, no,” Michael says.


“In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that Marks 1 through 3 had more reliable power output,” Casey says.


“But,” Billy says, his eyes twinkling, “it’s rather nice not to be sitting on top of a poorly constructed nuclear reactor.”


Rick looks distressed.


Billy chuckles. “Never thought about that, did you?”


“Well, sure,” Rick says. “I knew they were nuclear…”


Billy nudges him. “It’s all right,” he cajoles. “When you’re fighting a massive hell beast bent on worldwide destruction, radiation poisoning does become a mostly secondary concern.”


Casey grunts, moving to grab another tool. “Mostly.”


Rick still looks a little distressed.


“Never fear,” Billy assures him. “This bloke will still have plenty of ways for us to die.”


“I’m not sure that’s actually reassuring,” Rick tells him.


Billy winks. “I know you better than that.”


Rick, of course, cannot disagree.


-o-


There used to be six months between attacks.


Now, they come every three or four months.


Sometimes more.


No one is ready for the Kaiju that makes a beeline to Japan. They watch as it totals a Jaeger before Crimson Typhoon is finally pulled in as backup to take it down.


The Tokyo Shatterdome sends choppers to retrieve the broken Jaeger.


No escape pods have been ejected.


-o-


At dinner, they eat quietly. “Did you know them?” Rick asks.


“No better than you,” Billy says.


Rick thinks for a moment. “Do you ever think about walking away?”


Billy fixes him with a wry look. “You’ve seen my brain, lad,” he says. “What else would I do?”


“I know,” Rick says, looking down sheepishly. “It’s just…”


It’s just that most pilots joined waiting for their turn to fight.


Now, the pilots that are left, are just waiting for their turn to die.


-o-


“He’s not ready!” Michael says. “We need time.”


“We don’t have time,” Billy says. “That bastard in Japan was only two months after the last. They’ve hit up the far side of the Pacific the last two times. We’re due.”


“We can’t force the machine to be ready when he’s not,” Casey objects.


“Of course we can,” Billy says. “He’s more than some damn machine. He’s going to be a fighter in this, too, and we can tinker with him forever or we can see what he’s made of.”


“We need the first run to be flawless,” Michael says. “Higgins could pull the plug at any time.”


“And then all this would be for nothing,” Casey warns.


“And what exactly is it for if we never bring him online?” Billy asks gruffly. “With respect mates, it’s time.”


Michael looks like he wants to argue. Casey looks at Michael. Billy doesn’t waver.


Michael finally lets out a harsh breath. “Fine,” he says. “Go grab Rick and suit up. But if this goes wrong--”


“Then I reckon we’ll have bigger problems than anything you can threaten,” Billy says with a smile as he ducks out toward his quarters.


-o-


He all but runs, and he’s breathless when he gets to Rick’s quarters. He’s got his hand in a fist and he’s about to knock when the door opens.


Billy looks surprised. “Rick! How did you know I was here?”


Rick shrugs. “We’re drift compatible, remember?”


Billy frowns. “It doesn’t usually work like that.”


“You also made a lot of noise in the hall,” Rick says. “What’s up?”


“Oh,” Billy says. “That’s sort of a disappointment.”


Rick rolls his eyes. “Billy--”


“I always thought drifting should lead to supernatural powers of some sort,” he continues. “At least some form of low level telepathy--”


“Billy!”


Billy stops, and looks at Rick. “Oh!” he remembers. “Suit up!”


Rick shakes his head, mouth open to ask the question--


Billy grins. “We’re going to take Orion Disruptor for a joy ride.”


-o-


On the way back, it’s Rick who runs. Rick is shaking so bad he can hardly get his gear on. Billy finds his old suit fits fairly well. They had to update the interface a bit, but J-science thinks it’ll still work.


If not, it’ll probably fry his brain, but that’s neither here nor there.


Rick’s suit is salvaged, and badly mended to fit his smaller stature. He looks a bit silly in it honestly, and Billy does his best not to laugh.


Rick looks at him. “Really? You’re going to laugh?”


“Well, you do look a mite ridiculous,” Billy points out.


“It’s the suit,” he says. “You’re being stupid.”


“No, really,” Billy says. “Just wait until we drift. You’ll see what I mean.”


Rick glares. “I hate you.”


“Hate is not a good emotion to take into the drift,” Billy advises.


Rick sighs, almost sulking. “I really hate you.”


Billy tuts. “We’ll see about that.”


-o-


It’s been a while, but the second Billy steps into the cockpit, it feels like yesterday. Of all the things in his life, none of them have mattered like this. None of them have felt like this. Strapping in, he tightens the harness and takes a deep breath.


For a second, he swears he can still hear Olivia.


I don't really like the term copilot,
she says haughtily. And he can feel her -- her thoughts, her movements, her body, her. The depth of the sensation is overwhelming, and he’s missed this so damn much.


When he opens his eye, though, Rick is there, strapped in and wide-eyed, blinking at Billy through his helmet. “Are you sure about this?” he asks.


Billy chortles. “No,” he says, attaching his own helmet. “But that’s why we’re doing it.”


Without giving Rick a chance to object, he presses the button and Michael’s voice comes through the speakers. “Initiating neural connection…”


There’s no turning back.


-o-


In the drift, it’s tempting to look back. Billy’s had a tendency to wander -- it had been Olivia’s biggest complaint and Michael’s biggest concern -- but that was before. That was when every moment and every breath was Olivia.


It’s not that he doesn’t like Rick, but he doesn’t feel the need to show him some of those memories. That’s the biggest difference, he thinks. With Olivia, he gave her everything and trusted her to do what she would. With Rick, it’s apparent that Billy’s in charge.


Which is a somewhat frightening thought.


Hey,
Rick protests. I know what I’m doing.


On cue, Billy looks toward Rick and sees one of the wayward memories. He eyes it, then toys with it, before the memory expands and he sees it in its entirety.


Rick is in his quarters, looking at himself in the mirror. “I can do this,” he says. “Just my first day in college. No big deal. No big deal.”


Standing behind Rick, Billy raises his eyebrows.


Rick makes eye contact and frowns. “That’s not fair.”


“No,” Billy agrees. “But that’s the drift.”


-o-


The connection stabilizes. The memories fade.


Rick’s still a little shaky, but he follows Billy’s lead. Their test drift had confirmed them to be compatible in thought. It’s still a far cry from actually operating a massive robot without destroying everything in sight.


Billy clenches his fist, and waits for Rick to follow suit. He brings his hand toward him, palm up and though they’re touching nothing, they both feel Orion Disruptor move, his hands connecting in perfect unison.


Michael’s voice comes: “Neural handshake complete.”


-o-


“Okay,” Michael coaches. “We’ve got the hangar door open, so whenever you’re ready, you’re cleared for a walk out in the water.”


Billy raises an eyebrow. “Cleared with Higgins?”


“Sort of,” Michael says. “All you need to know is that you’re not going to get blown out of the water by friendly fire.”


“Wait,” Rick says. “That’s a thing?”


“We’ll be finding out, I reckon” Billy says, turning and taking a step.


Rick fumbles, but follows suit, giving Disruptor an awkward gait. Billy reaches out, touching the bay wall to steady them. Things feel shaky, but Billy draws a breath.


“Easy,” Michael says. “Just like riding a bike.”


Billy huffs a small laugh.


It’s Rick who protests. “But Billy was horrible on a bike!”


“Aye,” Billy agrees, starting to move again, taking a steady step forward while Rick moves to match it. “But I always was damn good in a Jaeger.”


-o-


The next few steps are tentative, and Billy has to veer them hard to the right to avoid clipping the bay doors on their way out.


Outside, the sun reflects off the water, almost blinding them for a moment in the conn pod. Billy squints and waits for his visor to adjusts.


“Okay, lad,” he says. “One big step--”


Rick is already moving, though, and Billy’s in synch without even trying. They make the downward step into the water. One foot and then the other.


They’re moving.


They’re walking.


They’re drifting.


Rick’s no Olivia but it still feels so very good.


-o-


Not that it’s not without its problems. Orion Disruptor is functional, but he’s still a work in progress. When they walk, Billy quickly discovers one leg is calibrated differently than another, giving them an uneven gait. Rick doesn’t understand at first, but as Billy works to compensate, Rick follows him. Still, it’s awkward and they tip precariously for a moment before regaining control.


They quickly find that one of the arms catches, limiting its full rotation. It’s not a big deal during a morning stroll, but Billy knows too well what kind of liability it might be in a fight. Even basic functions in the cockpit leave something to be desired. A few of the buttons stick and the sound on the comm link back to the Shatterdome is so loud it crackles.


“Is it supposed to be like this?” Rick asks dubiously as they work together to see if they can get their sword to deploy without cutting Disruptor’s leg off.


“Don’t look at me, mate,” Billy says, suppressing a curse that he knows Rick hears anyway.


“Hey, we’re doing the best we can,” Michael objects over the communication link. “We’ve got a budget smaller than a government agency.”


“This is more important than delivering letters!” Rick protests.


“We’ll get there,” Billy soothes as they try the sword again, with better luck this time. “Just give us time.”


-o-


Their first run is no more than an hour before Michael insists they come back in. When they disconnected, Billy breathes for a moment before turning toward Rick.


The kid is grinning at him.


It’s only an hour.


They both know it feels like more.


-o-


Nothing is really that different, but it feels different. Casey is more zealous than ever, working Billy and Rick relentlessly in training before spending his nights tweaking every system in Orion Disruptor he can think of. Michael is even worse, to the point where Billy’s fairly certain the man never sleeps. He checks and double checks, determined that Orion Disruptor will be perfect.


Not perfect, maybe. But perfect for them.


Billy lets go of his other distractions. He stops flirting with the cut techs at lunch. He doesn’t read his books at night. He hasn’t touched his guitar in months.


Instead, he leaves his door unlocked and when Rick comes in, they set up shop together. They study Disruptor’s specs. They read reports on the latest Kaiju theories. They exist together, interacting in harmony.


Rick lengthens his stride to keep pace with Billy. Billy slouches his shoulders to match Rick as best he can when they’re seated across from each other in the mess. When Billy thinks of Olivia, Rick nudges him. When Rick thinks of his mother, Billy flicks rice in his hair.


Nothing is different, maybe, except in all the quiet ways, the simple ways, the desperate ways.


The ways that matter.


-o-


They work out Disruptor’s kinks. Michael gets the tech team to fix his legs, and Casey welds the arms himself for smoother motion. Billy and Rick go over the weapons system, and make suggestions.


“We should have more blades,” Billy says, shaking his head.


“Cannons are more powerful,” Rick says.


Billy makes a face. “I’m more of a stabber myself,” he says.


“Well,” Rick says thoughtfully. “What’s wrong with both?”


Billy grins. “I like the way you think.”


Rick rolls his eyes. “That’s because you think the same way!”


-o-


He doesn’t find much time without Rick, but Michael catches him for a moment down the hall. “You feel good about this?” he asks. “You and the kid?”


Billy shrugs. “Seems a bit late to be thinking about that now.”


Michael takes a breath, chewing his lip. “Higgins is all over me,” he says. “We’re only going to get one chance to prove ourselves. If Disruptor fails…”


“Then I reckon Rick and I will have bigger things to worry about,” Billy muses.


Michael stops him, looking him plainly in the eyes. They don’t do this often, and not for a long, long time it seems. But Michael wants him to understand, wants him to remember why they started this in the first place and how far they’ve come. “I didn’t recruit you back into a conn pod just so you could throw your life away,” he says. “Some people believe that Rangers are expendable, but that’s not how I work. It never has been. I can control most of the elements, but I can’t control it all. I can’t control the drift.”


Billy’s chest twinges, and he smiles gratefully. “This is the part I was born to play,” he says. “You can’t control the drift, but I can. I know trust isn’t your forte, but you have to trust me in this.”


Michael draws his lips together, letting out a measured breath. “I trust you with everything,” he says. “But Olivia wasn’t wrong about everything. In the end, you did let go.”


Billy’s face turns red, and his heart skips a beat.

“I’m not blaming you,” Michael says. “I saw the pictures. I still don’t know how you survived. I don’t want a hero, Collins. I want a Ranger.”


“And if they’re the same thing?” Billy asks, his throat feeling tight.


“The rest of the program thinks that,” Michael says gruffly. “I don’t. Never will. After all, you’re living proof that the pilot is more important than the machine. Without you…”


“You would have found someone else for your misfit band of officers,” Billy says.


“Not like this,” Michael says. “So you make sure you come home -- and bring the kid with you.”


Billy knows it’s a stupid promise. More than that, he knows it’s a promise he probably won’t be able to keep. But it’s one he gives anyway.


“All right,” Billy promises. “I will do my very best.”


-o-


Rick falls asleep on his couch again, curled up small and awkward midway through a conversation about Disruptor’s speed capabilities. Normally Billy finds that rather comforting -- the soft snores almost like a necessary ambient noise anymore, as natural as the snuffling Olivia used to make in her sleep.


That thought is painful, though, and the longer the night lingers, the more Billy can’t take it. He’s been here before, after all. He knows how this goes. Rick isn’t Olivia, and Billy isn’t madly trailing after the lad, but they’re connected all the same. Rick is part of him -- probably the best part of him -- and there’s something in him he recognizes in himself. Something of his optimism, of his headstrong recklessness. He’s meant to be a hero.


It’s all he wants, really. Billy’s seen as much in the drift.


And every time he does, he can’t help but see himself. Young and idealistic, so damn proud to be of use to someone.


It’s funny, because Billy had no qualms with dying. Even now, his near-death experience doesn’t haunt him the way he reckons it should. There had been a simple inevitability about it all.


No, his nightmares aren’t about dying in a Jaeger. It’s not about being ripped to shreds by a Kaiju.


Rather, the only thing that haunts him in the stillness of the night is the sound of Olivia’s voice in the drift, begging him not to let go. He can feel her anguish; taste her wrenching loss. She’d been stoic in everything else, but he’d hurt her then. In a way he can only just begin to understand.


Sometimes he thinks he should have died then. Maybe his time was with Avalon Challenger in the depth of the Pacific. Maybe all this -- maybe it’s just borrowed time.


But he looks at Rick. He thinks of Michael and Casey. His responsibility is not just to the world anymore, it’s to them, too.


It’s still to Olivia.


He let go once.


For all of them, he can’t afford to do it again.


-o-


“You’re distracted,” Casey tells him while Rick is in the showers.


Billy wearily runs a towel through his damp hair. “Aye, we live in distracting times,” he says coyly.


Casey is not amused. The man has never been in his head, but at this point in their relationship, he doesn’t need to. “Distraction will get you killed.”


“I think a Kaiju could get me killed,” Billy points out. “Distraction just keeps me sane.”


“We don’t have that luxury,” Casey reminds him, sounding annoyed. “We put too much work. Orion Disruptor is our last stand. Higgins will decommission us after that.”


Billy sighs. “Decommissioning is somewhat low on my list of concerns,” he admits.


“You know what I mean,” Casey tells him, all but glaring at him now.


Billy stops, his posture softening. It’s not easy for Casey, he knows. He’s heard the tales; he’s seen the footage. Casey Malick is a man of action. Now he’s been relegated to a teacher and a technician. In another universe, he’d be the hero, but in this, the timing’s all wrong. Billy wonders idly if they could have drifted together -- and how that would have been. People think they’re polar opposites, but there’s a determination in them both that Billy knows counts for something.


That’s why Casey’s having this conversation, after all. Telling Billy not to fail because he wants Billy to come home. Some people fancy the PPDC as a militarized unit. Billy likens it to a family, at least in its better days.


That makes this all easier in some ways, all the work and all the risk and all the training.


It also makes it so, so much harder.


-o-


Billy tries to believe this time it will be different. He is an optimist, after all. He smiles and laughs and makes everyone’s day that much brighter.


The more he talks, the less he has to think about what they’re actually doing. The more he jokes, the less he has to think about the way they’re training a kid for a job that will likely get him killed. The more he tells story, the less he has to think about Michael getting fired, about Casey getting cancer, about Rick’s mother learning about her son’s death.


He claps Rick on the shoulder, and buys the lot another round. This is what they want, each and every one of them.


They don’t have a choice.


Except in all the ways they do.


-o-


Rick holds nothing back in the drift. Billy sees his failed romances, his over-eager childhood. He sees his over-zealous mother and the last memories of his father’s casket before it was lowered into the ground.


Billy lets Rick in on most of it. He has no qualms about his dalliances at university or the trouble he got in as a child. He doesn’t hold back on his own father’s drinking, about the long hours he spent in a cupboard from his father’s wrath. He lets him see Olivia, all the times, everything until that last moment…


“It’s okay, you know,” Rick tells him afterward.


Billy raises his eyebrows. “Oh?”


“You want to protect me,” Rick continues.


“Well, you are the rookie here,” Billy says lightly.


“I’m not scared of dying,” Rick says, bolstering himself a little.


Billy smiles, a little sad. “Aye,” he says. “And that’s what scares me the most.”


Rick shakes his head. “There are worse fates,” he says.


“This is true,” Billy agrees, and he looks at Rick and sees himself. He sees what Olivia surely saw, back when this began. He shrugs. “But I reckon there are better ones, too.”


“We probably don’t get to choose,” Rick insists.


“I still need you to fight,” Billy says, quite seriously now. “Until the very end. You don’t let go.”


Rick almost flinches, because he recognizes the memory. “You lied to her,” he says, not unkind, but honest. “I won’t do the same to you.”


Billy sighs. “And I reckon that’s what makes you the better man, Rick Martinez.”


-o-


The hardest part is, Billy’s happy again. In the carefree moments, when he’s not thinking about the Kaiju or the likely destruction of mankind or horrible and painful deaths, he’s happier than he has been in a long, long time. He’s found something here. He’s found something special. He didn’t know if he’d learn to care again, after Olivia. But with Rick and Michael and Casey. With Orion Disruptor.


Billy has a family


Billy has a purpose.


And for the first time in his life, he’s scared of what he has to lose.


-o-


At night, he still dreams of Olivia.


He can’t see her, but he can hear her. Her voice is in his head, reverberating as though it is the only sound left in the world.


Hold on, Billy,
she demands. Hold on.


He’s thought for so long that she walked away from him, but here, he knows the truth, that he let go first, and he has no right to call her on the same.


Because he promised to love her, to take care of her, to protect her, to stay with her, and he violated that at its very core. Billy is a liar and a cheat, and the fact is, he’s just not a very good man. Maybe he’s not strong enough, maybe he’s just too selfish, maybe the worst thing he ever did to Olivia Drummond was fall in love with her in the first place.


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.


-o-


To wake with a gasp.


Rick is there, hand on his shoulder. His eyes are wide, a little scared. Ready.


“Just got the call,” he says. “Category 3 Kaiju, coming in toward the Oregon coast.”


Billy blinks. “That’s us,” he realizes.


Rick can’t help himself; he grins. “Yeah,” he says. “That’s us.”