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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Chaos/Pacific Rim: The First Line of Defense (7a2/7)

December 29th, 2013 (02:55 pm)
angry

feeling: angry

MASTER POST



They stop by their quarters to collect their things. Michael has one neatly packed suitcase. Billy seems to have found a travel bag, which has been hastily packed with whatever he deemed fit to take. It’s bulky with part of a shirt hanging out. Rick’s bag is lighter than when he arrived, but it still feels heavy as he hoists it over his shoulder and they head out.

At the entrance, they hand over their credentials to security. Stepping outside, it seems different. The sky is overcast but the light is still bright, and Rick holds his hand up to look out across the parking lot.

Michael takes a breath and stops at the edge of the sidewalk. “You two know what you’re doing?”

Billy makes a dismissive face. “I’ve made it this far with nary a thought for the future,” he says. “And with that I’ve survived the likes of kaiju.”

“So, no,” Michael concludes.

Rick rolls his eyes. “There’s a bus station up the road,” he says. “I got one of the off-duty security officers to give us a ride.”

“See?” Billy says. “Perfectly planned.”

“Uh huh,” Michael says. “Do you have any cash?”

Billy looks to Rick.

Rick shakes his head. “Really? You didn’t bring any money?”

“I might have some somewhere!” Billy objects.

“I’ve got it covered,” Rick assures Michael.

Michael looks amused; for a moment, he almost seems fond. Then he flattens his lips. “I can give you guys a ride, if you want.”

“Don’t you have someplace to go?” Rick asks.

Michael shrugs, looking out across the parking lot toward the shoreline. “I have a few things in the works,” he says. He looks back to Rick. “I’ll follow my leads, see what pans out.”

It sounds like Michael. In fact, it sounds more like Michael than anything in the last few weeks since Orion Disruptor went down. This is how he’ll remember Michael: looking at the options and planning his contingencies. Certain of nothing; aware of everything.

He’s a leader – the best damn leader Rick’s ever known. And he’s Rick’s friend.

“Do you think you’ll stay in the area?” Rick asks.

Michael smirks. “You going to miss me, Martinez?”

“Rick here thinks of us all as family,” Billy says.

“I do not,” Rick objects.

Billy inclines his head. “I’ve been in your head, mate.”

“Well, fine,” Rick says. “But it’s not like that—“

“Then what is it like?” Michael asks.

“It’s just…family is about the people you’ll do anything for,” he says. “The way I used to feel about my family before the Kaiju War. It’s just this bond, inherent and strong, and it’s good. It’s not some touchy feely thing. It’s just what makes us strongest.”

“Well, I for one agree,” Billy says grandly. “This team is the closest thing I’ve had to family since my mum died back before the war.”

“And this is the longest any family has tolerated me,” Michael agrees.

It’s true, for all of them. The hard part is, however, is that it’s over. They’re going their separate ways. It’s over.

It can’t be over.

“If you’re going to stay in LA—“ Rick ventures.

Michael smiles. “We’ll be in touch,” he says. “I may need you later, and this isn’t over.”

Rick finds himself grinning. “You know my address?”

“I think I can figure it out,” Michael assures him. “Keep each other out of trouble.”

“I’ll do what I can,” Rick says, grinning at Billy.

“I make no such promises,” Billy says resolutely. “You know how difficult Martinez is.”

Rick just sighs.

Michael laughs.

Billy grins.

A moment lapses. This is it.

Rick nods. “Okay, then,” he says.

Michael nods back. “Okay.”

Billy finally says. “It’s been a pleasure, gentlemen.”

Michael extends his hand, shaking Billy’s firmly. “Agreed.”

When they release, Michael offers his hand. Rick hesitates, then leans forward, pushing past the hand and giving the man an awkward hug. Michael stands stock still for a moment before he finally taps Rick on the back, the closest sign of affection he’s seen from Michael outside a hospital bed.

“Thank you,” Rick says, pulling away. “For everything.”

Michael smiles. “You did the hard work.”

“Nah,” Rick says, looking from Michael to Billy and then out at the world beyond. The world he set out to save; the world he hasn’t been a part of in years; the world he has to learn to live in again, for better or worse. “It was a team effort.”

-o-

They leave Michael at his car, a beat-up Taurus that was probably dated even before the war began. It looks like it’s been outside for a long time, which given Michael’s run at the Shatterdome, it probably has.

After one last wave goodbye, Rick and Billy head toward the final checkpoint at the parking lot entrance. Billy is limping badly, face tight even as he says nothing, and Rick is glad that he took the time to set up their transportation in advance. It’s funny to Rick, for all that they have in common, there is so much that they’re not alike. They’re complementary parts; two halves to a whole.

They need each other. They are family.

When the security member brings a car around, Billy manages to step in front of Rick. “Shot gun!”

Rick glares.

Just like family.

-o-

The trip to the bus station is uneventful, and when they arrive, Rick notices the shift. Billy stays behind him; Billy lets him take the lead. They’ve always trusted each other implicitly, but there’s never been any question who the dominant pilot was.

The thing is, Rick’s partially blind and Billy’s still a little broken. Rick let go, and Billy’s still hanging on by a thread. They may never drift again, but the newfound balance between them is stronger – and more important – than ever.

As Rick gets the situated, they don’t say much. It’s a far cry from how it used to be, back when Billy rattled on about everything. They say the drift is silence, though. Drifting takes your words and turns them into feelings and thoughts.

There’s never anything to say, because you already know it.

Rick settles next to Billy with a smile, because they already know it.

-o-

Rick has worked out the timing, so they don’t have long to wait. They board the bus, and it feels awkward and rickety – Rick’s been in a Jaeger so long that he’s almost forgotten there are other ways to travel. Billy’s face is pinched as they get situated in their seats, looking out toward the water.

They can see the waves breaking against the shore; in the distance, the wall construction has started to impede the view.

Billy winces. “All my time here, I never even went to the beach.”

“Well, they’re not as popular as they used to be,” Rick says.

Billy gives him a look. “You never did care for the beach.”

“Too noisy,” Rick says. “I had better things to do.”

“Aye,” Billy says, looking out again. “I reckon that’s what we’ve all been telling ourselves.”

“It’s true, isn’t it?” Rick asks. “The world is ending?”

Billy sighs, letting his head lean back against the seat. “And maybe that’s the problem.”

Rick knows nothing of regret. In his own life, he’s never looked back with anything but certainty, but he can hear it in Billy’s voice. More so, he knows it in his memories. “You made the right choice,” he says.

Billy doesn’t look at him. “Did I?”

“You couldn’t walk away,” Rick tells him. “You’re too good of a pilot.”

“Yet, I’m doing that now,” Billy comments ruefully.

“That’s different,” Rick protests. “There was a need—“

“For the world, I know, I know,” Billy says. “I just…wonder if we’ve lost the point. We’re fighting and we’re building walls – we’re fighting for our lives, but look at what we sacrifice for that. Ocean views we’ll never see again; coastline we can never inhabit. People dying, trillions of dollars – and we’re no further to our end than when we started.”

“That’s not true,” Rick says.

Billy looks at him.

Rick clenches his teeth. “Not necessarily,” he amends. “And even if it is, shouldn’t we go down fighting? Isn’t that the point?”

Billy turns his head listlessly away again. “Spoken like a true hero.”

“Hey,” Rick says, nudging Billy’s shoulder. “I learned it from the best.”

Billy gives him a smile. “It’s not going to be the same,” he says. “I wish there was something we could do for Orion Disruptor.”

Rick looks somberly out the window. “He was good.”

“The best,” Billy agrees. “Not much to look at, mind you.”

“But he got the job done,” Rick says with a solemn nod. It was appropriate, they knew. It was everything about who they were. The fact that they’d left Disruptor in the water and saved themselves – well it carried implications Rick isn’t ready to face.

“Oblivion Bay is no place for him,” Billy says, bitterness tainting his voice.

“It’s not about the machine,” Rick says. “At least not exclusively. It’s about what he represents. It’s what he was to us; it’s about how he fought with us.” Rick sighs. “Besides, he’s always with us in the Drift.”

“Aye,” Billy says softly as the bus starts up and begins to pull away. “Even until the very last.”

-o-

When they get into the city, Rick starts to recognize the area. He sees how the neighborhoods have changed; he sees the signs of poverty and war everywhere he turns. The central bus station is crowded, but the lines for the outgoing buses are twice as long as the city circuits.

“Looks like people don’t trust the wall any more than we do,” Rick muses.

“They’re not stupid,” Billy returns. “Their last great hope for protection went down with Mammoth and Disruptor.”

Rick has no reply for that, though it still makes him feel unsettled. Even so, he starts them through the terminal before stopping in front of the ticket window. “My mom lives not far off the blue line. In fact, there’s a stop not two blocks away.”

Billy raises his eyebrows. “Normally I have a bit more notice before my partner invites me home to meet the parents.”

Rick’s mouth opens, then closes as he blushes. “I just thought—“

“No, no, I’m flattered,” Billy quips. “I have been quite curious to see if she lives up to your memories. And that asopao…”

“It’s even better when you taste it,” Rick says with a grin. He feels his hope buoy. “So you’ll come?”

Billy, however, falters. It’s a small shift in his face, but Rick sees it immediately.

He knows.

His smile falls, and his shoulders stoop. “You’re not staying in Los Angeles.”

Billy looks profoundly apologetic. “It’s not that I wouldn’t love to,” he explains quickly. “And someday, I definitely intend to visit for a full tour, and I want to hear all your memories from a much less biased source, but—“

Rick nods. “But you have something you need to do first.”

“I stayed once,” Billy explains. “I stayed and did my duty. I fought; I was willing to risk it all, time and again. I gave up rights to my life, my sanity, my privacy and my happiness. And I never wanted pretty beaches or a comfortable home. I never wanted anything—“

“But her,” Rick says.

Billy almost deflates. “She may not even want to see me—“

“She will,” Rick tells him.

“She refused to see me before—“

“She will,” Rick says, more adamant this time.

“I don’t even know what she’s doing,” Billy says. “She could be married, have kids—“

“She will,” Rick says again. “When you drift with someone, that’s a bond that never goes away. It never lessens. It changes everything.”

Billy swallows, and his eyes are suspiciously wet. “Are you talking about Olivia? Or—“

“Both,” Rick says, his own throat tight.

“So you understand?” Billy asks, sounding downright needy.

“I shared your brain,” Rick says. “I know what she means to you.”

“You know, then, that I don’t want to leave—“

“I know that this is something you have to do,” Rick says. “I knew it all along, but maybe I just didn’t want to think about it.”

“If you ask me to, I’ll stay,” Billy tells him earnestly.

“You held on long enough this time, Billy,” Rick says. “It’s time to let go. I’ll still be here when you’ve got the rest figured out.”

Billy’s face brightens. “Thank you,” he says.

“No,” Rick returns. “Thank you.”

“It was a two-way street,” Billy concludes. “And when I come back to LA, I expect that dinner invitation to still be standing.”

“And I expect you to bring Olivia with you,” Rick says.

Billy grins now. “That sounds like a plan.”

They hesitate, a strange silence lapsing. Billy fumbles for a moment before Rick reaches up and pulls him into a hug. He’d done the same with Michael, but he’d kept that hug short and professional.

With Billy, he holds tight, wrapping his arms tight around the other man and burying his face against him. He squeezes his eyes shut, trying not to cry, even as he feels Billy’s heart, still beating in tandem with his own.

There’s so much there, so much between them. So much they still need to say.

So much they will say.

So much they already know.

When Rick pulls away, he nods rapidly. “See you in the drift,” he says.

Billy swallows hard, and nods back. “See you in the drift.”

-o-

The rest of the journey home is quiet. It feels weird, existing by himself. Sometimes he finds himself waiting for Billy to talk, or turning to see Michael plotting behind him. There are even times he half-expects to see Casey sulking in the opposite.

But they’re not there.

It’s just Rick.

Not that he’s alone, of course. He’s already gotten a few random texts from Billy, who apparently will be on a flight to Tokyo within a few hours. Michael texts him an address where they will meet for coffee next week. And when Rick finally breaks down and texts Casey, he receives a prompt, short reply: Your sentimentality is ridiculous.

A few seconds later, he gets a second text: I’m fine.

Rick smiles, putting his phone away for the rest of the way home.

-o-

His mother’s neighborhood is quieter than it used to be. California hasn’t issued an official evacuation notice, but it seems like most people who have means or opportunity have already cleared out. The city itself is still bustling, operating as proud as it can in the shadow of the wall. Still, the upscale retail centers have doubly fortified shelters beneath the ground, and many of the high rise apartment complexes now advertise private bunkers for residents. Just another perk along with heated swimming pools and banquet halls.

Out of the heart of the city, the signs of weariness are easier to see. Shelters are more spread out and less protected, and it seems that residents there are less confident about the PPDC’s ability to keep them safe. On his mother’s street, half the homes are boarded up and vacant, with graffiti spelling out kaiju-related prophecies about the end of time.

A few of the inhabited houses have proud signs in the yard, proclaiming their commitment to the community or their faith in the wall. There are new signs, pointing people toward the nearest Kaiju Shelter in the closest urban area.

For a moment, Rick thinks about taking his mother out of here. About packing her up and settling her further inland, beyond the mountains, maybe out of California.

That’s not the point, though. The wall won’t save her; the mountains won’t either. That was why Rick joined the Ranger program; he was supposed to save her.

He can’t right in a Jaeger anymore, but he’s not going to give up on his duty. He’s not sure what that means, but he’s going to find out.

At the door, he knocks, adjusting his pack on his shoulder. He’s a little achy from the journey, body still feeling the after effects of his injuries. He’s not sure if he’s more tired than anxious at this point, and he’s about to just try opening the door when the knob finally turns and the door opens.

His mother stands in the door, face blank. Her eyes go wide, her mouth open. She breathes a prayer, and then cries out, clutching her hand to her chest as she flings herself forward. “Rick! My son!”

The force of her hug is hard to stand up under, and Rick falters, stepping back a pace to get his footing. “Hey,” he says. “Hey, hey.”

When she steps back, her eyes are wet. “I didn’t think I would see you again,” she said. “I saw the footage – that terrible footage – your robot fighting the monster. And they said the pilots survived, but I never heard from you. And I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know—“

Rick’s heart hurts. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I should have called. I should have—“

He should have done a lot of things. He can’t go back, though. He can only go forward.

He nods. “I’ll do better now,” he says.

“Oh, no,” she says. “You misunderstand. I was worried, yes, but you should not apologize. You are a hero! Such a strong, smart boy!”

“I was just one part of a team,” Rick tells her.

“One integral part,” she amends forcefully. “Take one piece away, the whole thing falls apart. I heard they are shutting down the program; they think some wall can do what your blood, sweat and tears has protected.”

“The wall might help,” Rick offers meagerly.

“They are idiots, all of them,” she says coarsely. “They let you go, yes?”

“I quit, Mama.”

“And they let you,” she returns. “The shame is theirs.”

Rick can only smile.

“It is no joke!” she croons. “This is serious! You protected this country and they let you walk out!”

“I just went where I was needed most,” he says. “For a while, that was the Jaeger program.” He shrugs. “Now…”

Her anger falters, and tears fill her eyes again. “You silly boy,” she chides. “You were born to be a hero.”

“Maybe,” Rick agrees. He thinks of Billy, back on the bus. He thinks of saying goodbye to Michael in the parking lot. He thinks of Casey, sneaking off while he was still under observation. “I just wonder if I lost the point. I was fighting for the best cause possible, but I had to sacrifice a lot. Sometimes I think I’m not any closer to the end than when I started.”

She tuts, reaching up to smooth his cheek. “You’re only mistake was thinking that you had to save the world to be a hero,” she says. “Real heroes, they are the ones who work where they are. Who do what they can. No matter how much or how little.”

Rick grins. “I think I’m starting to see that now.”

Her face brightens, and she bustles back toward the door. “Good,” she says. “Now, come in! Come in! Let’s make dinner! We need to celebrate! My boy is home!” She hustles him inside.

“Mom, really, it’s okay—“

“Hush,” she says. “My boy is finally home.”

“I know,” he says. “But this time I’m not going anywhere.”

She nods reassuringly, and Rick feels his spirit lighten, the pain ease. She guides him in, and this time, Rick doesn’t resist as she muses, “All the more reason to celebrate.”

This time, he thinks, she’s probably right.