When Hanji Zoe first enrolls into the Jaeger Academy in 2015, she's one of the few to show up without a potential drift partner already in hand. She's also just about one of the only ones who finds the kaiju more fascinating than grotesque. In the midst of physical training and grueling exercises, her mind simultaneously conjures various hypotheses about where the kaiju come from in addition to the moves required to achieve victory against her sparring opponent. Her classmates can't keep up with her, not in kaiju interest, not in physical prowess.
She's talented. But she's not drift compatible.
Rejected and eliminated from the roster of potential Jaeger pilots by her instructors, she is branded a "Kaiju groupie" by her classmates. She is given two options by the academy: Go back home, or agree to serve the Pan Pacific Defense Corps in whatever capacity they deem her fit.
She's sitting at a bar with the letter in hand, mulling over her options with the help of a Bloody Mary. Whatever capacity they deem her fit? What did that mean? Doing standard maintenance on Jaegers, cleaning up after the hothead pilots, and not being allowed anywhere near a kaiju? But if she went back, then she'd be the furthest she could be from the giant monsters. And she wasn't content to sit on a couch and watch them from behind a screen. That was the whole reason she came out here, wasn't it?
A man slides onto the stool next to her, holding up the exact same letter. The difference between them is that he's grinning as if he's just won the lottery.
"Not drift compatible, right?" He offers, as if this is a proper way to start a conversation.
Hanji rolls her eyes. She has long ago lost her patience for the throng of macho ranger trainees who thought that "drift compatibility" made for the best pick-up line. She's about to open her mouth to thwart whatever suggestions he might propose about their discovering about their aforementioned compatibility together, but he turns away from her, ordering a beer for himself.
"Me neither. But you know what, that's great!"
Maybe he was already drunk, or maybe he spoke some strange language in which "great" and "horrible" were synonymous. Either way, it triggered at least a small modicum of curiosity in Hanji's expression, which gave the bespectacled man the only impetus he needed to keep going.
"I'm Newton Geiszler. My friends call me Newt." He held out a hand for her to shake. Tentatively, she took it, still eyeing him carefully. "I hear they call you a Kaiju groupie."
Well, this was new. Was he going to try a pick-up line that was Kaiju-centric? She'd have to give him points for being avant-garde about his approach. Though that still didn't change the fact that she wasn't interested.
"I have this idea for a milking machine."
…maybe too avant-garde.
"See, I was thinking, that we could essentially milk the chemicals from the glands of the Kaiju to learn more about them. Not every Kaiju that's appeared has been the same, and I thought this way, we could, you know! Categorize them."
"…can you do that?" She wasn't sure where the conversation was going, but it was certainly loads more interesting than what she had originally assumed.
"I mean, our blood contains our DNA, which is essentially all the information you could know about us to categorize us in different ways. Male, female, gay… Kaiju blue is just Kaiju blood. There's got to be some information in there that we could use."
"Highly toxic, I know, but it's not acidic, which means we can at least examine it in laboratory conditions given enough precautions."
"Does the Defense Corps even bother with Kaiju research?"
"Not to any serious degree yet."
"…But they're gonna." Newt's eyes were shining. By now, so were Hanji's.
When the two of them graduate from the Jaeger Academy in 2016, they don badges marking them as Kaiju science officers for the PPDC, and they feel every bit as proud as the newly christened Jaeger pilots taking to the Shatterdomes. It wasn't what Hanji had planned originally, but this way she still had a chance to get up close and personal with the kaiju.
In early 2018, she's assigned to return to the Academy to assist with Drift Sync Testing. The Kaiju research department was losing funding every year due to the lack of progress, and many of the researchers were either being let go or reassigned. Newt's "milking machine" was an initial stroke of brilliance. Being able to categorize the Kaiju was an added advantage that benefited the Jaegers. Everything they had learned from that point onward, however, had not been. It was lucky for Zoe that she had been a talented student back in her training years such that she wouldn't be let go completely. She could trust that Newt could continue the research on his own, and she made him promise to text her details whenever he could spare them.
As far as training new recruits went, Zoe would have much preferred to be assigned combat training. But it had been a couple of years since she had been on the mat, and her skills were going to be more rusty than the other seasoned instructors. Combined with the fact that her mental control had always been top notch, it was only natural that she would be assigned to Drift Sync Testing.
As a commanding officer, she brought nothing into the drift. Only thoughts of the academy, her knowledge of Kaiju, and the duties of a ranger. Occasionally, there would maybe be one too many thoughts about Kaiju, but it usually went unnoticed by the student, who was being tested on how well they could master their own minds. The drifts were rather one-sided, as a result. She got almost everything about them, while they got very little about her. The faster they got their minds under control, the less she would have to deal with flashing images and thoughts of their entire life story. Most of them were uninteresting anyway.
One particular evening, she felt a pang of nostalgia for the first research room she and Newt had set up at the Academy to hypothesize and debunk their theories. After lights out, she wandered over to the room on the third floor to see it again. It was in disuse, an impromptu classroom now, all of their former equipment gone. But she could still see where they used to keep the microscopes, the familiar smell of dry-erase markers filling the air as she scribbled down theories.
She was standing by the whiteboard holding a marker when he entered: a young trainee with half-shaved black hair, a short stature, and a bleeding cut on his lip.
For several moments, they stared at each other, blinking and not speaking. She was surprised to see a student wandering about after hours, and he was slowly registering that this wasn't the Sick Bay.
They started to speak at the same time, then both clammed up after their first word.
Hanji could have kicked herself in the head. She was the authority figure here!
"Lights out was half an hour ago, soldier." The words sound strange as they escape her lips. She hates the conversation she has to use as a commanding officer. Ranks meant nothing to her, but she still had to adhere by them.
"Sorry, I was looking for the bathroom."
It was such a sad attempt at a lie that she wasn't sure what to make of it at first. They were in the classroom building, away from the barracks, which of course, came equipped with toilet facilities. She looks again at the cut on his lip, now noting that there are a few other bruises on his face in addition.
"You're looking for the Sick Bay."
"…" He gives no answer, just a sullen stare.
Sighing through her nose, Hanji lets out a defeated whine before putting a hand to her head. She was horrible at maintaining these hierarchical boundaries.
"What's your name?"
"Well, I'm going to call you Levi."
A brow twitched in annoyance. Hanji ignored it, approaching him and reaching out with her hand to examine his face. These were some nasty marks, but looking down, she could see by the injuries on his hands that he had done just about as much damage, if not more, in return.
"Get into a fight with your co-pilot?"
"I don't have a co-pilot," came the quiet reply, as he turned his face away from hers.
Putting her hands on her hips, Hanji gave what she hoped was a reassuring smile. Not many who came without potential co-pilots already made it through into a Jaeger. She had been one such example.
"Well the Med Bay is unstaffed right now, but I can take care of you well enough, I think."
She led him down the hall and up another flight of stairs to get to the Med Bay, sitting him down on a stool before digging through the drawers and pantries to find disinfectant and some swabs. He was looking at her curiously. She didn't seem at all like a student, but that was nothing compared to how unlike a commanding officer she was.
"Who are you?" He finally broke the silence as she returned to him, her hands holding a few cotton swabs, a bottle of disinfectant, and a few band-aids.
"Zoe Hanji, former Kaiju science officer, currently assigned here to help potential pilots with drift sync testing."
"…you're an instructor." His tone was even but his eyes were slightly wider, giving away the faintest hint of surprise at the revelation.
"More or less. And you're a potential ranger."
He turned his face away from that comment. It was clear he didn't think much of his own chances.
"Don't be discouraged. The very first successful Jaeger pilots were friends turned lovers, not siblings. You don't have to worry that you're not here with a relative to train with you."
"What exactly does science officer mean?" He opted to change the subject, even if he was mildly grateful for her support.
"I used to do Kaiju research. Pick apart their remains, examine their DNA, tissue, that sort of thing."
She dabbed an alcohol-soaked cotton swab at his lip, making him hiss at the sting, but he didn't pull away.
"They started downsizing our research. Turns out they care less about learning more about our visitors than punching them in the face with various Jaegers. But that doesn't come as a surprise to anyone, I guess."
"I didn't think we did Kaiju research at all." Came the overly blunt reply.
She let her hand slip, pressing the alcohol a little bit more forcefully into the open wound than was absolutely necessary. That made him pull away some. She then dabbed a fresh swab into some more alcohol and took one of his hands, resuming the gentle administrations at the open skin on his knuckles.
"So what made you want to be a Jaeger pilot, little Levi?" His perpetual frown grew deeper at the chosen adjective. "Fame? Revenge?"
He turned his face away, frowning and not wanting to answer. But she'd seen that look before too.
"Better than a life on the streets waiting for the Kaiju to come at you first?"
A faint blush crept to his ears, his hand twitching in hers as she finished cleaning them. To the poor and disenfranchised peoples anywhere, not just in the Pacific, the Jaeger program was a godsend. Richer families could afford to move further inland, giving them the illusion of safety from the Kaiju, but that was a luxury most people couldn't afford. The Jaegers kept humanity safe, rich and poor alike, and you didn't have to be educated in expensive schools to learn how to pilot one and return the favor.
She finished wrapping up his hands in a light gauze tape before moving to put back the supplies she had found. Levi watched her with mild fascination, still finding it incredible that she could be an instructor. She didn't seem all that much older than he was, either.
"Miss Hanji," he started.
She watched him leave and wondered to herself when she would see him in Drift Sync Testing. He hadn't said much, but almost everything about him screamed that he wanted to be a Jaeger Pilot more than he had ever wanted anything in his life. There was a sort of quiet desperation, an urge to prove something to himself. She could feel it because she had been the same. She thought it would be interesting to drift with him, see what made him tick.
A/N: a crossover I've been wanting to write for a while now, even drew a fanart to go with it. Reviews are always appreciated~