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Chaos/Pacific Rim: The First Line of Defense (7b1/7)

December 29th, 2013 (02:58 pm)

MASTER POST



Billy’s nervous.

He fidgets in his seat, feeling the ache start in his legs. He rolls his shoulders, compulsively glancing down to make sure his carry on is stowed beneath his seat. Next to him, his seatmate yawns noisily, smacking his lips as he settles down to sleep. Billy has the aisle seat, which doesn’t afford him much of a view but given his still-healing injuries, he’d thought the extra space to be a prudent choice.

Now he’s not sure about any of this.

He’s on a flight to Tokyo with a one-way ticket and little more than the clothes on his back. He doesn’t have much money; he has no contacts except one.

One who may not even want to see him.

He chews his lip, jiggling his knee as the plane starts its take off. His seatmate mumbles something while the engines start to roar, and Billy finds himself gripping the armrest anxiously.

It’s not that he’s scared of flying. He’s fought in a Jaeger, of all things, and there’s very little that can physically intimidate him after staring down a Kaiju. And he’d been a spy in another life. He’d been ready to risk life and limb, to live a life of worldwide adventure. He can’t stand blood; he doesn’t like heights much; he tends to hyperventilate in small spaces.

But commercial airline travel has never been an issue.

No, this is something different. This is deeper than that. It’s not that he’s afraid of plunging into the ocean – at this point the drop might be more comforting than not – it’s that he’s here. Alone.

Orion Disruptor is gone. Casey is off gallivanting about the world. Michael is plotting in LA. Rick is reconnecting with his mother. Billy has spent years as part of a team, years sharing his mind and his soul and his life.

Now it’s just him.

He’s broken and he’s bowed and he’s all on his own.

The plane roars, speeding down the runway until the wheels lift off the ground and they’re airborne.

There’s no turning back. He’s not even sure what there is to go back to, any more than he knows what he’s actually going to.

And nothing has ever scared him more.

-o-

The flight settles down as they fly over the Pacific. The movie is showing, and people start to sleep. Billy is restless, though, and when his seatmate drops off, he finds himself craning his neck to look out across the ocean.

The water is still, dark and deep. There are flashes of islands, but mostly it’s a vast expanse of undisturbed water. It’s hard to imagine, still. That deep beneath the surface, at the very bottom of the earth, there is a jagged opening, a portal between worlds. The breach.

Billy’s seen pictures. He’s seen diagrams and recreations. He’s heard theories about how it works and why. There have been several unsuccessful missions to the breach, and they’ve sent bombs and probes and the like down and found nothing.

Even so, it’s hard to imagine. Harder still when he’s look out across the water. So peaceful. So perfect.

Michael would look at it and see the threat.

Casey would look at it and anticipate the fight.

Rick would look at it and believe.

Right now, though, Billy looks at it and wants to cry. For what it’s taken from him, for what it’s cost the world. For what it is supposed to be; for what it may be someday again. Things can be dangerous and beautiful all at once; life can be perfect and painful simultaneously. This ocean may end the world.

But sometimes Billy still believes it will save it, too.

Tomorrow may never come, but for today – today is still full of hope.

-o-

As the start to descend coming into Tokyo, it’s late. In truth, Billy has no idea what time it is, but he is vaguely aware of how long it’s been since he last slept. He stifles a yawn, shifting stiffly in his seat as the man next to him resituates himself noisily and squints out the window.

“Well, look at that,” he says.

Billy looks over politely. “Hm?”

The man nods toward the window. “They’re making good progress on the wall.”

“Oh?” Billy asks, a bit taken aback. Not that he isn’t aware of the wall – the damn wall is impossible to ignore – but he’s done his very best not to dwell on it much.

“Sure,” the man says, point now. “You can see it stretching along the seawall. They’re moving right along. Ahead of schedule I think.”

“I haven’t thought about it much,” Billy says.

The man grunts. “I don’t have much choice,” he says. “I work in downtown Tokyo. I’ve got an apartment a few miles from the ocean. Some people say they can’t imagine living in the line of danger, but I guess I don’t know what else we can do. That’s the whole point. Danger or not, we have to live.”

Billy shrugs. The man doesn’t know obviously, not that Billy actually expects him to. There’s no way of knowing that Billy has faced down the danger, that he’s fought it and won. Fought it and lost.

“Besides,” the man continues. “A wall like that, it has to work, right?”

He sounds so hopeful, so trusting. Like he believes the propaganda. His entire life is built on that promise.

This is what Billy fought so hard to protect. To protect people; to lay down his life so others could claim theirs. He forfeited all sense of normal so everyone else could retain theirs. The noble sacrifice. The ultimate heroism. The necessary danger. His highest calling.

It’s not his anymore. He’s just like everyone else. He has to count on massive robots piloted by broken people. He has to look to giant walls built by hopeful engineers. He’ll crowd into shelters and watch the danger in TV clips and sound bytes. He’s small and vulnerable now.

Just like everyone else.

“I don't know,” he admits finally as they continue to descend.

“Well,” the man says with a chuckle, “I sure hope so.”

Billy nods, watching the ground approach beyond the wall to the damaged Tokyo skyline. “Me, too.”

-o-

When Billy steps off the plane, he starts to wonder if he’d acted impulsively. Making the decision to seek out Olivia had made perfect sense back in Los Angeles. It had made for a rather dramatic farewell, and in terms of a story, it certainly did fit. Besides that, Billy’s always fancied himself a free spirit. He’s experienced things; he’s lived grandly.

In theory, anyway.

Now, standing by himself with his meager luggage, it occurs to him that aside from a few stressful days out in the ocean fighting monsters, he’s actually spent the better part of the last few years living inside a compound, sharing quarters with the same man and talking to the same people. His life has been abundantly routine, couched in mandates and regimens.

He’s not the same ambitious lad who became a spy. He’s not even the same determined man who snagged a place in the PPDC. Nor is he the careless soul who slept his way into an accidental transfer.

It is quite possible that his time as a Jaeger pilot has made him old. His body aches, and his mind is weary.

For a moment, he considers getting a ticket back to Los Angeles. It’s tempting, because he’s nervous and feeling mad, and he misses Rick more than he cares to think about.

It’s not that he can’t go back. He can, and Rick won’t hardly say a word. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s always been the point. Billy has a choice. He can choose the familiar and the willful, and he can hold on to the things that are harder and more important. Being a Jaeger pilot has never been an easy out, but it’s been a convenient way to avoid faces the difficult questions.

He can still go back, not to be a pilot but to that life all the same. Olivia would never know.

But Billy would.

This time he makes the choice.

To hold on and not let go.

Resolved, he takes a breath and starts walking away from the terminal and toward the city beyond.

-o-

He’s rusty, but Billy remembers that he was, in fact, trained as a spy. Even so, he finds the crowds of people overwhelming, and he’s more than a little relieved when he checks into a hotel. He’s lost track of the time, but he doesn’t much care as he pulls the curtains, puts the Do Not Disturb sign on his door and falls onto the bed.

He’s exhausted in every possible way, and he wants nothing more than to sleep. He wants to sleep. Forever, for as long as possible, sleep. The bed is comfortable enough, and Billy’s certainly more than a little weary, but…

He can’t sleep.

After several minutes, he shifts his position, then again. There’s a nagging pain down his side, and he grimaces trying to scratch at something. He flops on his back. And then his side.

Then he sighs, opening his eyes and staring at the ceiling. He has no reason not to sleep.

Except…

Except he hasn’t been alone in months. Really, years. Without the Shatterdome, without his team, without Rick – things are quiet. Empty. He knows what he’s doing here, he knows it’s important.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Chewing his lip, he contemplates turning on the TV. He thinks about giving up and just drinking coffee. He even considers breaking open the mini bar and seeing if there is anything alcoholic to ease his weary mind.

None of it is appealing, though. None of it will work.

Sighing again, he digs out his phone. This is pathetic. It’s downright ridiculous. Him, a grown man. Wanting something to cling to like a security blanket. Someone.

Resigned, he dials the phone and listens to it ring. He closes his eyes and waits.

“Hello?”

Rick’s voice is groggy, but familiar. So beautifully familiar.

Billy’s throat tightens inexplicably and his eye burn. “I know I shouldn’t be calling you—“

“Billy,” Rick says. “Thank God. You made it?”

“Yes, of course,” Billy says, trying to sound smooth and collected. “No problems.”

“Good,” Rick says. He hesitates. “So, um…”

Billy laughs awkwardly, splaying a hand over his eyes. “I’m sorry—“

“No, I—“

“I just couldn’t—“

“I was thinking about you—“

“I couldn’t sleep,” Billy blurts finally.

“Really?” Rick asks, laughing a bit.

Billy’s face reddens and a tired tear slips from his squeezed eyes. “I know it’s ridiculous, and I’m sorry—“

“No—“

“I reckon I can just text just time—“

“Billy,” Rick says, interjecting forcefully now. “I couldn’t sleep either.”

Billy stops, opening his eyes. “What?”

“Last night, I couldn’t sleep at all,” Rick admits, sounding sheepish. “It was too quiet—“

“And too bloody still,” Billy rejoins, feeling genuinely relieved. “I don’t even know what I want to say. There just aren’t words—“

“We’ve never needed words,” Rick tells him, reassuringly.

Billy swallows hard and closes his eyes again.

“And we’re not alone,” Rick continues. “No matter what happens, okay?”

Billy nods, trying his best to breathe. “Okay,” he says, almost whispering it into the night. “Okay.”

Billy falls asleep, his phone still in his hand. Rick has nothing more to say; Billy has nothing more to ask. Instead, Billy listens to the even keel of Rick’s breathing, feeling it all these miles away, across the ocean, beyond the breach, and finally sleeps.

-o-

When Billy wakes up, it’s light outside. The clock says 1:33, but Billy has no idea what day it is. Homeless and jobless at the end of the world, the calendar somehow has much less meaning.

No, the days don't matter. The only thing that matters is what you do with the day.

This time, Billy’s ready to face it.

-o-

He showers and scrounges up some breakfast from a nearby market. He loads up his pack and checks out. It’s not certain how today will go, but if he needs a room, he can always come back. Millions of people still live in the city, but it’s much less attractive as a tourist destination these days. And Billy’s not picky where he stays.

In fact, he doesn’t actually care about much of anything. He’s here for one reason, and one reason only. And he’s going to stay here until he’s seen it through.

He’s going to see Olivia.

And nothing – no city, no person or giant monster from the sea – is going to stop him.

-o-

He’s spent so much time inside a Shatterdome that he actually has very little familiarity with the outside. Of course, a Shatterdome is easy to find, but getting inside.

Well, that’s a trial Billy has not properly prepared for.

At the entrance, he smiles. “Well, this is a bit awkward.”

The guards in the checkpoint do not look amused.

“See, I’m employed at the LA Shatterdome,” he continues as affably as possible.

“Do you have your credentials?”

Billy opens his mouth to comply but then realizes one salient point. “Yes, you would think that,” he says slowly, trying to find a good reason that didn’t involve explaining that he had technically quit his post. “I’m afraid I traveled a bit in a hurry—“

“Is this an official trip?” the other asks dubiously.

Billy purses his lips, wondering if he can spin this as such. “In a way,” he says slowly.

“We can call it in—“

“Oh, see, that’s just not necessary,” Billy says.

“Sir, we can’t just let anyone in,” one says. “This is a secure facility.”

“I am aware,” Billy says. “And you two blokes are doing a find job, well and truly. I respect everyone at the PPDC, top to bottom.”

Their suspicion mounts.

“I see you don’t recognize me,” Billy says with a goofy grin. “Billy Collins? Orion Disruptor?”

“Jaeger pilots don’t travel by foot,” one says.

“Besides, didn’t Orion Disruptor go down?” the other asks.

“Sadly, yes,” Billy says. “And I could show you the scars—“

The two exchange a look.

Billy swallows, growing nervous. “Please,” he says. “I have unfinished business here.”

They whisper, and Billy glances nervously about, wondering if he should consider a prompt exit. He’s not trespassing and he hasn't technically lied, but he’d rather not test the PPDC’s policies on such infractions unless absolutely necessary.

One eyes him and slinks back.

“Just a moment, please,” the other says.

Billy smiles hopefully in a desperate attempt to be disarming. Funny, he’s taken it all for granted so long. He’s forgotten how much work it is to be entirely likeable to all people. “I’d be happy to wait,” he says with as much enthusiasm as he can muster.

He’s waited this long, after all.

For Olivia, he’ll hold out as long as it takes.

-o-

It’s not the waiting that bothers him. It’s the awkward chitchat and wayward looks in the interim. The guard seems less impressed with his presence as the seconds tick by, and the second guard seems to have disappeared.

This probably does not bode well. Still, with no other recourse, Billy does what comes natural.

He talks.

And talks and talks and keeps talking.

“It’s not so much a mind meld, like you see in science fiction,” Billy explains. “The Drift is…fluid. You’re not sharing all your thoughts; it’s not a dialogue. It’s just an existence, like suddenly there’s just a whole new depth that’s been there all along.”

“So can you control what you share?” the guard asks. “Can you pick and choose emotions?”

“To some degree, though that’s not really the point,” Billy continues. “If you focus on the memories, you get lost in them.”

“RABITs, right?” the guard asks. “Have you chased any?”

There’s a definite interest in that, and Billy latches onto it. He can work with that.

He grins. “Oh, let me tell you…”

-o-

He’s halfway through explaining Rick’s first time with a girl, when the other guard comes back. The man looks frustrated and confused, so Billy’s worried at first, but then he shrugs. “You’re cleared to go in,” he says.

Billy straightens brightly, realizing belatedly that he should not look so surprised.

“Apparently you’ve got some friends,” he says.

Billy grins, shrugging one shoulder. He’s not sure if it’s Michael’s doing or Rick’s, or even Casey. For all he knows, it’s Adele Ferrar or one last tidbit of thanks from Higgins himself. Billy never joined for the clout. But now that it’s over, he finds himself oddly grateful for it anyway.

Moving past the checkpoint, he winks. “You have no idea.”

-o-

He’s led to the next checkpoint at the doorway to the building. Here, he’s surprised to a man he recognizes at the marshal from his uniform alone.

“Billy Collins,” he says rather grandly, giving Billy a keen look.

Billy smiles, trying to act like this is all entirely normal.

The man steps forward, extending his hand. “My name is Hide Shikata,” he says. “I worked closely with Casey Malick back in the Mark 1 days.”

“Ah,” Billy says, reaching out to take the hand, shaking it warmly. “Casey is…”

“A son of a bitch,” Shikata provides. “But the best damn pilot I knew. He tells me you’re good. And when I read Michael Dorset’s report on your skills, I had to say, I was intrigued.”

Billy finds himself blushing. “Not all of it is true.”

“Not all of it has to be for it to be impressive,” Shikata tells him. “I tell you, if I had the money and resources, I’d offer you a spot as a pilot right now. The world is short on good pilots.”

“I’m afraid the world is short on a lot of things,” Billy says.

Shikata’s face darkens. “You speak the truth,” he says. “Which does not explain why you are here. Despite your glowing recommendations, I have no notice of any official reason for your visit. In fact, your PPDC profile suggests you are inactive.”

Billy hems a little. “Yes, well, without a Jaeger, I’m afraid I’m not much good.”

“Many of us have found a second life without a Jaeger,” Shikata says.

“Yes, sir,” Billy replies. “I think that’s why I’m here.”

-o-

Shikata is nothing like Higgins, which only means that Billy instantly likes the man. He is personable and active. Higgins preferred to stay aloof and detached; Shikata runs his Shatterdome from the ground up. He doesn’t just know all the people on paper or the parts on a schematic. He is intimate and personal with them, and his fondness for it all is plainly visible.

Which makes the decline even sadder to see.

Shikata takes him on a personal tour, and while the facility is impressive, it has fallen into disrepair. It is too large to house the diminished work force, and the toll of the war is evident everywhere. There are empty stations and weary workers.

“We are not what we once used to be,” Shikata says, almost apologetically. “With budget cuts, I simply do not have the resources—“

“Been there and done that, mate,” Billy tells him reassuringly. “You’re telling me a story I already know the end of.”

Shikata is quiet for a moment, looking at Billy as they walk. “Then, if I may ask, why are you here?

Billy sighs. “When my Jaeger went down, I lost nearly everything that mattered to me in this world,” he says. “I escaped with my life, but found myself with no job, no purpose.”

Shikata shakes his head gravely. “As I told you, there are no new Jaegers in Tokyo.”

“No,” Billy says, pulling to a stop in the corridor. “But you do have something here that matters. Someone.”

Shikata tilts his head.

Billy wets his lips. “Olivia Drummond.”

Understanding dawns on Shikata’s face. “You shared a cockpit with her in Avalon Challenger,” he says. “A Mark 2.”

“That,” Billy says with a nod. “And more. I can’t bring back my Jaegers. I can’t save the PPDC. I am probably useless to the world now. But there is one thing I can still fix.”

Shikata’s brow furrows. “This is highly irregular—“

“I know it’s not official, and you’d be within your rights to throw me out right now,” Billy says. His shoulders slump. He looks around, gesturing helpless. “But there’s nothing left.”

Shikata pauses, takes a breath. “I am often afraid to admit that we are losing this war,” he says. “I try, but there is little I can do to stop it. I fear it is only a matter of time before my last Jaeger falls and I become obsolete and useless.”

Billy grits his teeth, his chest clenching.

“In these days, we take victories wherever and however we can,” Shikata continues resolutely. “I may not be able to win the war, but there are battles yet we can claim.”

Billy feels his heart skip a beat.

“This is a battle you may still be able to win,” Shikata says. “I will not stand in your way.”

Billy’s face breaks into a smile, and the pressure in his chest unfurls with relief. “Thank you,” he says, feeling shaky suddenly. “Thank you so much.”

Shikata bows his head slightly. “Best of luck,” he says. “I think you will need it.”

-o-

Jaeger pilot or not, Olivia Drummond has never been one to trend toward the middle. It is no surprise, then, to learn that she is not just part of J-tech. She is, in fact, in charge of it, overseeing all Jaeger operations in Tokyo. A few years ago, this impressive job entailed the oversight of several Jaegers from various eras, including the production, maintenance and upgrades of each.

There is only one Jaeger left in Tokyo, but there is no sign of easing in the Jaeger Bay. While the rest of the Shatterdome has suffered for the loss of funding, Olivia’s domain is efficient and flawless. Really, it’s downright beautiful.

Just like her.

Billy walks his way in slowly, taking in the familiar bustle and hum. It’s remarkable, really. He’s never been to Tokyo, but the Jaeger Bay already seems like home. He’s spent so much time in one, and Olivia’s organizational prowess is everywhere. It’s impossible not to feel awed and at ease all at once.

Because this is Olivia. This Jaeger Bay, this order. Billy knows it like he knows himself. He understands it, and he’s missed it.

Moving slowly, he stays out of the way while the crew works. No one thinks to stop him; no one ever seems to notice him. He sees the Jaeger – a Mark 4, and an attractive one at that – it’s battle weary but gleaming. It has sleek lines, but the glint on its hull reminds him of Avalon Challenger. No doubt, it’s Olivia’s doing.

No doubt.

He watches as the crews work to repair one of the secondary circuit relays in its hand. There’s a flash of sparks and a groan of metal. Someone stops, calling out in Japanese. The crew titters, and then Billy hears the voice.

Calm and confident. The words are in Japanese, but Billy still knows.

He’d always know.

It’s the voice he can still hear in his head, resonating in his heart and mind. Down to his very soul.

He turns in time to see her, stepping out from a work station. Her hair is swept back, thrown up in a messy ponytail with a sweep of bangs tucked behind her ear. Her face is smudged with grease, but her lips are still red with lipstick as she puts her clipboard down and approaches the workers. Her authoritative tone is well received, and as she motions to the Jaeger, the workers nod. She says a few more things before she turns away, moving back to her work station.

She’s changed, Billy thinks. Her hair is longer; her figure just slightly rounder. Her work uniform is drabber than he remembers, and her nails are painted.

The look on her face, though. So focused, the small line between her eyebrows as she chews the inside of her lip. She picks up the clipboard, scribbling something quickly before she looks up.

Billy is so awestruck that he forgets to look away. He forgets that he’s there at all. He forgets everything but her.

But then her eyes lift, meeting his. There’s a moment of confusion. Then, she blinks; she knows.

And time stops.

-o-

Before it starts again.

In her eyes, nothing has changed. In her eyes, they are who they always were. They are here, they are before, they are at the beginning.

Olivia tells him she doesn't want a copilot. They’re fighting monsters together. She’s kissing him, she’s taking off his clothes. She’s telling him it doesn’t mean anything, and he’s making promises he can’t keep.

They’re in his quarters; they’re sparring with Casey; Michael is giving them orders; they taken Avalon Challenger out into the water.

The Kaiju rises, and they fight.

Billy lets go.

Olivia is still holding on. Her grip is so tight, it hurts.

It hurts.

Olivia blinks, breaking the connection. She ducks her head, hastily tucking her hair behind her ear as she mutters and excuse and heads toward the door without looking back.

-o-

She’s out the door in a flash, but Billy’s right behind her. He knows how she moves; he knows the length of her stride. After all this time, they’re still perfectly in synch. He catches up with her in the hallway, reaching out to take her by the arm.

At the contact, she stops, inhaling sharply. She curls in on herself briefly, before turning to look at him, eyes bright.

With anger.

“What the hell are you doing here?” she demands, almost seething.

Billy’s mouth dropped open. It’s not the response he’s been expecting. It’s certainly not the one he’s been hoping for.

She steps closer, her face contorting in nothing short of rage. “You cannot be here.”

Billy’s good with words. He’s brilliant under pressure. He’s never speechless.

Except this time.

This time.

His shoulders fall, helpless. “Olivia—“

She throws her hands up. “How are you even here?!” She turns away, running a hand over her face. She looks back at him, the anger turning slightly toward desolation. “How are you even here?”

“I came to talk to you,” he says, innocently enough.

“If I had wanted to talk to you, don’t you think I would have stayed?” she asks pointedly.

That one hurts – it hurts a lot – and he can’t quite stop the hurt from showing.

She sees it – of course she sees it, she knows him better than he knows himself – and her face tightens with a twinge of guilt. “You can’t be here,” she says, softer now, less venomous, more desperate.

He works his jaw, lifting his chin. “I am here, though,” he says. “And I’m not leaving until we talk.”

It’s the truth, but it’s not what she wants to hear. Her mouth sets defiantly, and something dark flashes in her eyes. “Don’t you have a Jaeger to pilot somewhere?”

He refuses to blanch, but she has to know she’s hit a nerve. He won’t let her off the hook, though. “Surely you know.”

She’s stubborn, to the point of cruelty. “I saw you had another go down, but you survived,” she says. Her lips twist into a bitter smile. “You always were too lucky for your own good.”

“Maybe,” Billy concedes.

“Losing a Jaeger didn’t stop you before,” she continues primly with a shrug. “I thought—“

“There are no other Jaegers, Olivia,” he says. “You know that.”

The resentment settles coldly on her features. “Ah,” she says. “So nothing has changed. Still the ever happy-go-lucky Billy Collins. Maybe you thought I could help you get on a crew here? Or am I just the backup plan?”

Billy steps forward, his heart in his throat. “That’s not fair,” he says. “You’re the one who left.”

“Because you let go!” she yells back, her voice pitching with a desperate emotion. “I held on; I fought; and you let go.”

The words are sharp, laden with hurt, and Billy feels them hit deep at his heart. “Olivia—“

She holds up her hand, turning away sharply with a shake of her head. “You know what, don’t,” she says. “I don’t want to hear it. When I walked away, I meant it.”

“You didn’t even say goodbye,” Billy says desperately.

She turns back, almost tentative. “Would it have changed your mind?”

“Liv,” he says, voice lilting a little. “The world was ending…”

Her smile is sad. “And the only way to save it is to jump into a Jaeger,” she tells him. “Nothing has changed, Billy.”

“We had a duty to the program,” Billy tries to explain.

“We made promises to each other,” she shoots back. “What about that?”

“You didn’t even stay to talk about it—“

“Because I already knew your answer!” she explodes.

“No, you don’t,” he says. “I know I let go, but so did you. You just think you have the higher ground because I let go first.”

She steps closer, dark eyes bright. “You don’t know anything, Billy,” she says, almost dangerous now. “You don’t know what I went through. You don’t know what it’s like to feel part of yourself fade and die. You don’t know.”

Billy swallows, thinking of Rick slipping from his mind back outside Los Angeles. He feels the emptiness, and his chest clenches at the thought. “Maybe I didn’t then,” he admits. “But I do now.”

“It’s too late,” Olivia tells him. “Too much has changed.”

“Not the things that matter,” Billy says. He closes the distance between them, looking at her intently. “All these years, all this time, you can’t tell me you don’t still feel it. The connection between us, it’s still strong. It still matters. If you try to deny us – if you try to deny me – you’re just denying yourself.”

She wants to protest. The words are on her lips, poised on her tongue. But her eyes. There’s still something there. When they look at each other, the time erases. They’re still there, together in the Drift.

They always will be.

Her mouth opens, but she falters. Billy doesn’t look away; he doesn’t let go. He can fix this. He will fix this.

She exhales softly, something softening in her expression. She opens her mouth again—

And then the alarm sounds.

Olivia’s eyes widen, and she looks back at the blinking red light. “The breach,” she says, looking back at Billy with large eyes. “It’s open.”

-o-

For all that they need to talk – and they do, they really do -- there are some things they’ve always been in synch about.

Saving the world is one of them.

Olivia is moving first, but Billy is not a step behind. He doesn’t know where he’s going necessarily, but he knows Olivia and he will still follow her without question. The Tokyo Shatterdome is still new to him, but it doesn’t take much to recognize LOCCENT Command. It’s outfitted a little bit different than the one back in LA, but the panels and work stations are all familiar enough. Olivia pushes through to the front of the growing crowd, where a weary-looking woman looks up with a grim expression.

“Category Four,” she says. “We’re calling it Colossus. It’s faster and bigger—“ She pauses, a muscle working in her jaw. “And it’s headed right toward us.”

There’s a tense silence before Shikata steps forward. His amiable air is gone now, replaced by a matter of fact focus. “We are in contact with Hong Kong,” he says. “And given the size of the Kaiju, we are working on a two Jaeger drop just outside the Miracle Mile. We will deploy Titan Crusader alongside Crimson Typhoon from Hong Kong. We are already in contact with Sydney, who have Striker Eureka ready as a last resort.”

The room is tense and silent. Billy steals a glance at Olivia, who merely nods soberly. It’s funny being here, he thinks. To be on the outside. He never realized how it looked to make one’s last stand – time and time and time again.

He can’t believe he’s done it so long.

He can’t believe he’s not doing it now.

This time, he’s just here for Olivia.

The irony is, of course, she’s here to save the world.

He’s followed her this far; he’ll keep following her still.

“Okay, people,” Shikata says. “Let’s do this!”

-o-

Olivia doesn’t look for him to follow, but she doesn’t seem surprised when he falls into step next to her in the hallway.

“This isn’t playtime, Billy,” she says curtly, making a sharp turn toward the Jaeger Bay.

“You think I don’t know that,” Billy says, still in step.

“I’m not going to let you distract me,” she warns.

“You know me better than that—“

She casts him a sideways look.

“I know the right time and place,” he amends, a little sheepish.

“You should go,” she says, shaking her head.

“No,” Billy says, resolute and defiant. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Her shoulders stiffen a little, and this time she refuses to look at him. “Fine,” she says. “But I’m here to work. If you stay—“

“Duty comes first,” he vows. “Of that, you have my word.”

She purses her lips and looks like she wants to argue. Instead, she tucks her hair behind her ear and opens the door to the Jaeger Bay and goes inside.

-o-

Inside, the bay is frantic. The pace of the work has shifted, and the last minute repairs are being forced through even as equipment is being dragged away so the Jaeger can be disengaged. Someone shouts a question about the secondary power couplings in the right leg, and Olivia shakes her head. “Bypass it,” she orders. “There’s no time—“

Sparks fly, and Olivia jogs forward, craning her head up.

“Careful!” she says. “We need to power up the lasers as much as possible, I want those detached last!”

Seeing her like this, it’s impressive. She’s impressive. She’s beautiful. Billy doesn’t know how he ever let her go.

But he knows he’s not letting go again.

Not even a little.

As she moves, he follow her, and he can still read her rhythms as well as he could all those years ago. So when she reaches to unlock a repair station from one of the legs, he sees it before she moved, easily stepping around her to unlock the first mechanism.

She stops, looking at him briefly. There’s a disparagement in her eyes; there’s a flicker of doubt.

But then he unlocks the second mechanism when her fingers close slowly around the third. When the last one disengages, he shifts to help her move it out of the way. Her eyes linger uncertainly for a moment before she accepts his presence and puts her full focus back on the task at hand.

Billy grins, bearing down as he helps shoulder the burden.

-o-

It’s fast and frantic. It’s something Billy hasn’t always appreciated. Being in the isolation of a Conn Pod has certain advantages; he’s never been stuck doing the busywork on the outside. Not that he doesn’t know how – any pilot worth muster knows how their Jaeger works – but piloting is exhausting. There’s never time to expend energy on such preparations.

Billy’s not a pilot anymore.

And as it turns out, there are many ways to help save the world.

He hopes there are just as many to save the things that matter most.

One preparation at a time.

-o-

It’s a frantic, foreign rush. It’s like dancing a familiar dance to different music. In many ways, Billy is lost here, out of place and ill prepared.

Except for Olivia.

She anchors him, because when she moves, he moves. He can see her line of vision, and he knows her thoughts as she thinks them. She braces to the left; he flanks to the right. She widens her stride, and he matches, reaching for the top of a panel before she can move to screw shut the bottom.

They don’t talk; they don’t look at each other; they don’t acknowledge the other’s existence.

They don’t have to.

This is what it’s like to drift. Two people, moving as one. Two souls; one spirit.

This is how it was.

This is how it is.

This is how it is meant to always be.

-o-

They’re still scrambling to disengage when the order comes. Olivia orders everyone else off the line, but she’s still trying to fuse a piece of machinery to the breastplate as the mechanism starts to rumble. She’s cutting it close – that’s just how Olivia is, she walks close to the edge of cliffs and never looks down – and Billy grabs a welder and finishes from the other side. They’re barely done when the drop occurs, and Billy feels the rumbling deep in his chest.

There’s a rush and a roar, and he reaches out instinctively to brace himself. Somehow, Olivia reaches back and their hands lock as the force of the drop shakes them.

In the aftermath, the jaeger is powering up. The warm hum is growing, vibrating from the machine.

She looks at him, almost for the first time. The force of her eyes is almost more than he can bear, and Billy feels himself ache.

“We shouldn’t be here!” she yells.

Billy squeezes her hand. “I’m right behind you!”

-o-

They make it back to the safety of the ground when the conveyer starts, and by the time Titan is rigged up into the helicopters, they’re up in LOCCENT Command. Olivia pulls her hand away, but Billy stays close as she settles into her work station.

This center is as well organized as Michael’s, but Billy knows enough to understand the basic processes as the neural handshake is initiated and Titan is deployed. He’s never craved these details – he finds the overwhelming information in the Conn Pod to be more than he wants most of the time – but as he sits with Olivia, he sees it through her eyes.

It’s a lot of data and a wealth of information, all displayed in diagrams and charts. In combat, he prefers to trust his senses, but here, so far removed, he understands the value of these things more than ever. The data provides structure where there is none. The charts give order where there is only confusion. When left to his own devices, it’s not as though he fared very well.

This information, this hub of intelligence as it were, is a safety net. It is control.

They would have you think it’s all scientific, but Billy knows better than that. He can see it in the way Olivia studies the numbers. It’s control, but more than that, it’s hope.

Instincts aren’t enough against a Kaiju. But neither are numbers and facts. When put together, when an entire team works together against a common enemy, it may be enough.

Either way, Billy’s staying, right next to Olivia, until he finds out.

-o-

Olivia organizes skillfully. She brings up screens on her display console, and relays information when it is requested. She jots a few notes on a pad of paper in front of her before entering a few numbers into the computer. She chews her lip, adjusting the presentation when the LOCCENT Commander Officer, presses her comm button.

“Okay, everyone, neural handshake has been established,” she reports. “I want support choppers in the air, patrolling the Miracle Mile. We’ve got Colossus on the radar, but I want visuals as soon as they happen. How are the evacuations?”

“Fully established, and good response,” comes a report. “All shelters are operational and there are no indications of any problems.”

She nods. “Where is Crimson Typhoon?”

“Already in the air,” is the reply. “He should be in the water not long after Crusader.”

She nods, tapping a few buttons and throwing up a fresh readout of specs. “And we have comms with Hong Kong?”

“Contiguous monitoring underway with two-way communications established.”

She steps back, sighing. “How far did we get with our repairs and updates?” Her gaze moves to Olivia.

Olivia straightens instinctively. “85 percent completion,” she reports. “All critical systems were repaired.”

“And the upgrades?”

“We didn’t have time to add the extra lubrication to the joints, so we did not established improve range of motion,” Olivia says. “And I’m not sure we got the backup energy reserves completely charged, but they are well within operational limits.”

The Command Officer gives Olivia a discerning look. “Is it enough?”

Olivia swallows, and Billy can see the reassurance die on her tongue. Her smile is meek. “It’ll have to be.”

The Officer nods, and then continues on her checklist.

Olivia ducks her head and starts making a few last calculations. She doesn’t seem to be willing to acknowledge Billy, but she hasn’t pushed him away. He takes that for what it is, and pushes his luck. Reaching out, he puts a hand on her shoulder.

She doesn’t flinch, but she is stiff beneath his touch.

“You’ve done everything you can.”

“You don't know that,” she says, scratching out another equation.

“Maybe,” he says. “But I know you.”

At that, she looks up. “How can you be so sure?”

Billy offers her a crooked smile. “How can you even doubt?”

She smiles sadly. “It gets easier the more you do it,” she says.

“That’s something we’ll have to rectify, then,” he says.

She shrugs, looking back at her work. “I’d like to see you try.”

-o-

For all of Billy’s talk, there’s nothing he can do. He sits and watches, sits and listens. He feels Olivia tense when contact is made; he feels her breathing increase when combat starts. She frantically checks her readouts, pulling up performance numbers and starting calculations.

She swears. “They’re losing too much too fast,” she hisses. “The right side is – damn it, we’ve lost another power coupling!”

LOCCENT is alive with chatter, relaying commands and reports. Billy glances around and watches as the team does what they can to support the pilots. There’s air support; there’s recovery teams; there’s talk of tactical maneuvers.

“Someone get Sydney on the line,” the Command Officer says. “I think we need—“

Olivia swears again. “We need to recommend an evasive plan of attack,” she calls. “Crusader is barely holding together—“

“Cannons fired,” someone reports.

“There’s no way he should be able to do that,” Olivia says.

“You know pilots find a way,” Billy tells her. “And you’ve got a damn fine machine there—“

Olivia shakes her head. “But there’s no way he can survive,” she says. “We need to tell them to abort, to pull out. Crusader is going down—“

“Just a little longer, though,” someone calls back. “With Crusader engaged, Crimson Typhoon has plenty of opportunity—“

“But at what cost!” Olivia almost yells. “If they don’t pull out, we’re going to lose more than the Jaeger.”

“We just need a little more time—“

Olivia gets to her feet, almost throwing her paper in the air. “There’s not time,” she says. “How are we supposed to save the whole damn coast when we can’t even save our own!”

“We just need—“

“Sydney is on the line—“

The room reaches a roar, and then there’s a small, almost innocuous beep.

Olivia goes stark white.

Silence falls.

The command officer swallows, looking at the screen where one of the flashing icons has gone noticeably red.

“We lost Crusader,” she says, the words heavy and final.

“Any sign of an escape pod?” someone asks.

Olivia looks at her console, pushing a few buttons. “No,” she reports so numbly that Billy feels his heart go cold. “There’s nothing.”

-o-

That’s not the end, of course. There’s still a Kaiju and a Jaeger, and Tokyo is still running point. It doesn’t take much for Crimson Typhoon to end it, after that. Crusader put up a hell of a fight, apparently. The sacrifice wasn’t in vain.

But as Billy stands in the quiet LOCCENT Command Center, as he stands next to Olivia, he has to question if it’s worth it after all.