The Nature Of Foxes
Part One: kitsu-ne (comes and sleeps)
On the first day of the rest of their lives, Raleigh wakes with Mako's back pressed up against his front, his face in her hair, her legs long against him. He's doing the pressing, too – his hand over hers, into her stomach, keeping her flush against him.
She knows the moment he's awake. He doesn't have to open his eyes to know she's opened hers.
He feels her withdrawal – not in rejection, just the careful removal of Mako from Mako-and-Raleigh. And he lets her go even while it leaves him empty, his palms pressed flat into the warmth where she lay.
Raleigh's familiar with the close-quarters itch left by the Drift connection – the Drift hangover. He and Yancy would jostle and wrestle, go out and get laid, or practise their moves in the Kwoon Combat Room until the sharpest edge had blunted.
That first morning he woke up without Yancy—
"He would be proud." Mako tilts her head at him from the edge of the bed. "And glad."
He swallows and looks away. He hasn't spoken of Yancy to anyone since he walked away from Anchorage – not to the psychs, not to the reporters, not even to Jazmine the one time she asked.
Mako doesn't need him to speak of Yancy. He doesn't need her to speak of Pentecost.
They don't need to speak at all.
Instead, she slides one leg back in under the covers, and nudges his knee with her foot. And when he shifts over, she settles in beside him, on her back, shoulder to shoulder – like their minds connecting in the Drift.
Cameras flash with sharp light. Teeth flash with sharper questions.
"Are you aware of the lawsuit being brought up against the Jaeger program for the waste and misuse of valuable resources?"
Herc Hansen's expression is grim, his words terse. "The PPDC did what was necessary to close the Breach."
"Miss Mori, do you count yourself fortunate to have been singled out by Marshal Pentecost now that you've gotten to pilot a Jaeger?"
Mako's mouth is a tight line at the subtle insult to her. "I count myself fortunate to have known the Marshal, as does everyone in this Shatterdome."
"Mr. Becket, how did it feel to climb back into a Jaeger again after the tragic loss of your brother off the Alaskan coast five years ago? I can't imagine it was easy."
Raleigh stares at the fluffy-haired blonde long enough to have the crowd rustling, uneasy at the implied intrusion into something nobody else dared bring up. "It wasn't easy" he tells them at last. "But as co-pilot to Miss Mori, closing the Breach, it was worth it."
He hopes they take the hint; Mako is a pilot in her own right, not a hanger-on, and what the suits wouldn't try, Stacker Pentecost succeeded in doing.
"So are you and Miss Mori together, then?"
It comes from both of them. Same time. Same tone.
The crowd ripples. Surprise or amusement? Raleigh can't tell.
What nobody can see – and what Mako doesn't sense – is that Raleigh's mouth said No, but his heart said Yes.
"It's a fucking circus is what it is," Herc mutters as they step out of the car in and onto the carpet leading into the lobby of the New York hotel. The chill is like a slap, no less than crowds screaming at them from beyond the barriers, cameras flashing like a personal lightning storm. Cops and security strain to hold back the mad crush of people. "Max!"
Max plants his feet, observes the screaming, squealing crowds yelling at him, and whuffs once, before turning his back on them and hurrying after his master, dismissive.
Raleigh says nothing as he drops back a step to allow Mako to go before him. He remembers this from his first days piloting. Fame and attention beyond anything he and Yancy ever imagined or dreamed or wanted, back when the Jaeger program was still new – when the Jaegers were going to save the world.
Now they have.
If Raleigh looks back, will he see Yancy a step behind him, waiting for him to go in ahead?
He finds himself pausing, half-turning to look.
"Raleigh." Mako has paused at the entrance to the hotel, and the early morning sunlight gleams off the blue-dyed tips of her hair. He shouldn't be able to hear her through the screaming and the shouting, but she cuts through the noise.
And he goes to her, falling into step beside her.
He thinks he would hear her calling him from anywhere in the world.
The day is full of people from the PPDC – Shatterdome commanders, Rangers, former Jaeger pilots, and many support staff who kept the program going through the years of loss and loss and loss.
Raleigh meets people he'd only dreamed of meeting, even back when he and Yancy were the golden boys of the Jaeger program. They were superstars back in their day, but these men and women are legends – Sergio D'onofrio, Yun Wai-Tse, Jelita and Amir Sudyono, Jasper Schoenfeld, Helen Jiang…
Now he and Mako have joined their number, their names down in history as the Jaeger pilots who closed the Breach.
It's dizzying and difficult after so many years spent outside the Jaeger program. Even the Shatterdome in Hong Kong wasn't exactly welcoming when he arrived.
The inclusion is nice, but the attention is stifling. What Raleigh wants at this moment is space – peace and quiet and Mako sitting by him – but these aren't people he can just ask to go away. It's not until Mako excuses herself after yet another condolence and goes outside to the balcony that he feels he can break from the crowds around him and go after her.
Outside, the mouth of the Hudson River ripples with the morning wind, and Raleigh takes a deep breath as he moves to stand beside her.
"Are you okay?"
"There is no fear in this ocean." She looks south, towards the pale, weak sunlight. "No kaiju blue, no monsters from the deep. There never will be, because of us."
"Do you believe that?"
"I must, or else sensei died for nothing." Mako turns, her gaze steady on his, her expression almost serene – but for the glimmer of a smile on her lips. "You needed space to breathe. We both did."
Peace and quiet and Mako standing beside him.
He doesn't wonder how she knew.
It's past midnight when the knock comes softly at the connecting door. He crawls out of bed to let her in.
Mako shivers a little at first, but curls up against Raleigh without a word, and although she shifts when his hand curves over her hip, she doesn't protest the touch.
She sleeps, and so does he.
He smiles at her and the air is suddenly like a Hong Kong monsoon – so hard to breathe. She bites back a laugh when he lands on his back in the Kwoon, but he takes his defeat well – he knows his limits. A knock on her door and a pile of notes has been left tied with a scarlet strip of nubbled silk, like a gift. Deft hands on the greasy pieces of a reconstituted muscle-strand engine. Deft hands on her flesh, the touch tender even if the skin is rough. His mouth is ripe with sake, his body fits to hers so eagerly – not a Ranger's muscled mass, suitable for piloting a Jaeger, but beautiful – and his laughter feels like the sunrise and the hope of morning after the dark kaiju night…
They wake up locked together, clothes on and breathing hard. A tangle of limbs and bodies, pressed as close as they can be without actually having sex.
He's rock-hard in his pyjama bottoms. Every panting breath Mako takes presses her breasts against him through the thin cotton of her top. But she's utterly still beneath him, and when he lifts his head, her eyes are shuttered and shadowed.
The question he was going to ask dies on his lips, unspoken.
"Sorry." He eases himself off her, but doesn't climb out of the bed. He's not ashamed of wanting her; he just wishes she wanted him back.
"It was my dream." Mako hesitates a moment before she turns her head towards him. "His name was Vijay."
Raleigh knows. The memories gather like the bruises and aches after a fight – a friendship with laughter, his admiration, her invitation, and, in the end, love.
This thing they have – the connection after the Drift, the intimacy of mind and body – it's the start of something more, but it's not love, not yet.
Not for her anyway.
"You look like a man with a lot on his mind, Mr. Becket."
Raleigh glances up from the bench where he's waiting for Mako to get out of the meeting with the UN Subcommittee, and promptly stands. It makes him tower over the man seated in the wheelchair, but not to stand would be unthinkable.
"Lieutenant D'onofrio. It's an honour, sir."
"The honour is all mine." The once-handsome face is now thin and skeletal, but life still burns in the dark eyes of the first Jaeger pilot. "Thanks to you and Miss Mori, Earth has a future."
He fumbles for words and comes up with a quote. "If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants."
"Or in their Conn-Pods." His voice is reedy, in the last stages of the cancer that's already claimed all his colleagues, but his smile is warm. "Please, sit. You've been through the lion's den already?"
"Yeah. Mako's still in there, though."
"She reminds me a little of Caitlin," D'onofrio murmurs. "Focused."
"Honed." Like the swords her father made.
"She reminds me of Cait in other ways, too." The older man looks directly at Raleigh, no sideways glances or dissembling. "Caitlin was still with Dr. Schoenfeld when I met her. Did you know that?"
"We…weren't supposed to."
"But gossip travels." D'onofrio sits back in his wheelchair, resigned. "The attraction was instant on my side, but took more time on hers. Even after she initiated the first Drift, she held a part of herself back."
"The Drift doesn't allow—"
"No. But a wise Ranger respects his partner's headspace when she wants room."
"I wasn't—" Raleigh stops and looks down at his hands, at the white cuffs of the shirt beneath the dress
blues jacket they laid out for him this morning. "It was her dream."
"You're sharing a bed." It's not a question. Raleigh opens his mouth to protest, but is stalled when D'onofrio lifts an unsteady hand to halt him. "I'm not the neuropsychs or the media. I'm just a guy who's been where you're standing, looking at a woman who isn't ready for him – not that way."
He catches his breath at the dream-memory of passion and tenderness and laughter and love – but not with him.
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because you and Miss Mori are the last link in the chain of the Jaeger pilots that began with Cait and I. Because you looked like a man with things on his heart, and a willingness to listen." The gaunt face takes on a faintly embarrassed expression. "And because Cait always said I was a romantic at heart."
"Do you miss her?"
"Every day." His gaze grows distant beneath brows worn thin from the anti-cancer treatments. "The Drift is compatibility, Mr. Becket, not destiny. Cait had to make a choice and I was lucky that I was hers. But even if she hadn't…"
"You'd have loved her anyway." Raleigh is beginning to understand.
"We didn't have much time together, but we made a difference – to the world and to each other." D'onofrio regards him. "You and Miss Mori have already made a difference – you've saved the world. Now you have the time. The question is what will you do with it?"
Tonight, the dreams are his.
Brittle snow and emptiness, blood and breath pounding through his body. He knocks a bottle off the table while making an expansive gesture and broken glass shatters sharply. Yancy laughs. "First rule of drinking, Rals. Pace yourself." The girls are pretty and flirty and eager to get a real, live Jaeger pilot into bed. He can't remember her name anymore, but she danced like there was nobody watching and fucks like a goddess and her eyes are blue—no, the tips of her hair are blue—and Mako arches under him but her hands shove at his shoulders—and he rolls off her and falls out of bed and lands on the decking of the Conn-Pod. The circuitry suit still burns at his skin, but that's nothing to the hole in his soul–Yancy—Yancy—and the stranger's face spins past him like the ghostly shadows of another life before she emerges from the white in a black drivesuit splattered with kaiju blue...
Her voice cuts through the pain and the fog, like a Jaeger's horn cutting through the night.
He blinks into the shadows of her face, then buries his face in her neck and clings to her like a child, shivering. The room is warm, but he's still collapsed on the beach with the blowing wind stinging his skin. Mako's here in his arms, flesh and blood and a moment's hesitation before her arms come around him but when they do, they hold him tight. Her cheek rests against his head and Raleigh can smell the steel beneath her skin. She's warm and real and here, her fingers stroking through his hair.
There's a second or two where he'd swear she was breathing for him.
But even through the storm of memories, through the warmth that clings to him where they touch, Raleigh knows Sergio D'onofrio was right; Mako's not ready for him. And if Raleigh's honest with himself, he's not ready for her, either.
He wants Mako – wants the intimacy and intensity of the Drift connection between in the physical world. But he needs this more – her touch, her acceptance of him, of the scars Anchorage left in him, of the hole torn into his soul when Yancy died. The pain is a part of him – as much as vengeance is a part of her.
Raleigh can't change that, and she wouldn't, and he doesn't want to lose her, too – he can't lose her—
"But this is part of me. The fear." He doesn't lift his head from her throat. "The hole from Yancy will always be there."
"You would not be the man you are today without it." Her palm cups his cheek and she lifts his head, although they can't really see each other in the curtained room, mere outlines in the early dark. "But I cannot—I cannot fill that."
Raleigh takes a deep breath. "I know." He leans his cheek into her hand. "The need—It's the hangover. We're making it worse, sharing a bed."
A quiver runs through her, and the hand still on his neck clutches convulsively. "So we give this up?"
The break in her voice helps; she might not want him – not yet, anyway – but she doesn't want to lose what they have.
He doesn't want to lose her either.
Raleigh remembers the intense physicality of the Drift hangover with Yancy. Need, yes, but differently realised, differently dealt with. Kwoon combat training, wrestling, their arms hung around each other's shoulders as they swaggered through the halls, loud music like thunder in their ears, and poker games that turned into freaky displays of clairvoyance. Sharing their quarters, moving around each other like binary stars – too burning, too bright.
In hindsight, Raleigh can see how Yancy channelled them both – encouraging some aspects of the Drift, discouraging others. Even back when they started Drifting together, Yancy'd been mature enough to know that whatever connection was formed in the Drift, whatever connection remained from the Drift, they still had to live as individuals out of it.
We've been bingeing on the Drift hangover. The realisation is cold down his spine, down the arm that still sometimes aches. Just as sudden is the recognition that he's the older one now, the experienced one. He'll be the one to set the boundaries for this partnership.
The Drift is compatibility, Mr. Becket, not destiny.
"We step back." It's one of the most difficult things he's ever said, clawed terror clutching at his gut. But once the words are spoken, the rest of it seems easier. "We take this into other spaces."
"Among other things." Shared meals and shared music; jogging and weights, discussions and arguments, games of chance and choice, connection and competition, and sitting in silence listening to nothing more than the sound of the other one breathing. Every Drifting pair works out their connection differently, according to the personalities of the pilots, and the permanency of the partnership.
One way or the other, this partnership is staying, and Raleigh has two things Mako's lover never did – the Drift connection, and time.
He turns his face into Mako's touch and kisses her palm. "You're over the limit," he murmurs, "I'm keeping you."
Her breath hiccups – a small, startled gasp. "Okay."
Raleigh's mouth curves against her skin.
Mako doesn't know it yet, but it's a promise to them both.