The Nature Of Foxes
Part Two: ki-tsune (always comes)
The first week is the hardest.
Mako sleeps in fragments, little shards of rest that cannot be pieced together into a whole. She wakes often and cold and early, and lies in her covers, wishing only to knock on the door and climb into Raleigh's bed again.
But she does not want him as a lover, so sleeping in his bed is neither right for her nor fair to him.
Herc lays it all out in his simple, straightforward style.
"The PPDC want to reinstate the Jaeger program. Scaled down, of course. Keep the Hong Kong Shatterdome as a watchpost with a couple of active Jaegers, a kaiju research division and Breach monitoring."
"And the UN?"
"They're not happy," Helen Jiang speaks up from the dining table, combing one hand through her long black hair. "But right now the Jaeger program is in good graces and the UN is not thanks to the Wall."
The former commander of the Hong Kong Shatterdome, Marshal Yun, smirks faintly. "They cannot even fault Stacker on his association with Hannibal Chau. His actions have saved us all, however questionable the UN may find it."
Mako feels the lump rise up in her throat, unexpected emotion to swamp her.
He anchored her life for so long, her fixed point of reference. He guided her studies in Jaeger technology, instructed her in the fighting discipline for Rangers, taught her how to pilot a Jaeger. With him, she learned how to confront her elders, how to stand firm in the face of opposition, and how to see trouble when it was coming from afar.
She misses him.
Raleigh stirs, down by Mako's feet, pressed up against her legs and the upholstered front of the armchair. "What do you want from us?"
Herc meets their gazes, direct. "If they reinstate the official program, are you two in?"
"Yes." There is no hesitation in either of their answers.
His certainty burns within her, as hers burns within him.
Raleigh is already in the hotel gym, slick with sweat as he works his way towards exhaustion. Mako waves a hanbõ beneath his nose, and his eyes brighten.
Thirty minutes later, they have an audience and a YouTube channel.
America loves Raleigh.
The clips of his first stint with the Jaeger program are shown everywhere – the Becket boys, smiling for the cameras, waving to the crowds, signing pictures and shirts and toys and body parts...
Mako is not forgotten in the publicity tour mandated by the UN and the PPDC, but the attention on Raleigh is disproportionate. She would not mind this but for the stress it places on him – to have his loss cast up to him again and again and again.
It weighs upon them both, waking and sleeping, the lingering echoes of the Drift leaving her in no doubt of his mindset.
"It feels like another life," he says one day as they ride back to the hotel in the limousine. "We were so young. I was eighteen, Yancy was twenty-one. And we were going to save the world."
Grief clogs her throat and she's not sure if it's her own memories of eighteen or his – on top of the world, filled with love and triumph and belief that they could shake the world with their loved one beside them...
She reaches for his hand.
He uncurls his fingers, and lays his palm against hers, seeking the touch they do not often allow themselves.
"You did save the world."
Raleigh stills at her words.
"You saved the world with me and Gipsy Danger. And Yancy is a part of us, too, in the Drift."
"You can always find me in the Drift."
It aches in her throat. "Yes."
His smile is slow, with a depth and tenderness lacking in the cocky grin of his younger self. Raleigh Becket of The Becket Boys was a national hero, but Mako does not think she would have liked him so much. The man he grew into after Anchorage? That is a different matter.
"How do you do that?"
"Never mind." His hand squeezes hers. "Just don't ever stop."
Her hands are cold in the early morning and every clash stings her fingers.
But Mako focuses and a slow flush of heat warms her fingers, until Raleigh yelps when she raps his hanbõ and his now-cold hands protest. He tilts his head. "Projective transference is cheating."
"It's a dialogue," she reminds him sweetly, "not a fight."
Vanessa Gottlieb is not what anyone would expect after meeting her husband.
Except for being pregnant, was Helen's droll comment as Mako watched what sensei used to call 'the three-ring circus' of the Gottliebs and Dr. Geiszler.
"Vanessa, perhaps it would be best—Don't you think you should—"
"What Hermann is trying to say—I mean, not that you're not perfectly capable—I don't think—"
"That," says Mrs. Gottlieb sharply to Dr. Geizler, "is exactly your problem, Newt! You don't think! Hermann, I'm pregnant, not about to die, and the condition is going to continue for two more months! Mr. Becket!"
"Ma'am?" Raleigh blinks, confused at his sudden inclusion into the melee.
"Take these two somewhere and throw them off a balcony, please. For the sake of my sanity, and Miss Mori's outfit for the celebration and presentation ball on Saturday."
Raleigh glances at her, and Mako shrugs, ruefully. Dr. Gottlieb's wife is a law unto herself – exquisite enough to front the cover of any magazine, intelligent enough to keep up with her husband and Dr. Geiszler, and with presence enough to command a Shatterdome.
"Mr. Becket. The balcony. Or else find Marshal Hansen and drag yourselves out to be measured for tuxedos. Seeing as the four of you are among the guests of honour tomorrow night."
Once they're gone, the dark beauty rolls her eyes. "I expected Newt Geiszler. I didn't expect part of a kaiju brain fragment. That man is going to be the death of me!"
Mako isn't entirely certain how to respond. Thankfully, Mrs Gottlieb doesn't seem to expect anything from her on that point, as she's chewing a nail while studying Mako thoughtfully with bright blue eyes. "Black with gold and blue," she says at last. "High neck, close fitting – something conservatively cut, but with a thigh slit. Yes. Your Mr. Becket will definitely swallow his tongue."
"He's not mine," Mako feels compelled to correct her.
Vanessa Gottlieb snorts. "And I'm only a little bit pregnant, my dear."
Her world is her body, the mat beneath her feet, the hanbõ in her hand, and Raleigh. He presses her hard, but she holds him at bay.
"In the moment, it is all about breath and balance," said sensei. "The rest is instinct. Your body must remember the moves."
Attack and counter, defence and distract; Mako's bones will remember this long after the rest of her body is dust.
There is music. Somewhere. Perhaps.
In Mako's memory, sensei is humming in his deep voice as he shows her how to waltz, a song of his childhood – something from a movie about a lost princess. But it's Raleigh in her arms, holding her in his, and both of them are dancing to the murmur of that memory, slow and pounding as their hearts...
Hand to shoulder, hand to waist, hands warm and firm in each other. So close she can feel the heat of him through his shirt and jacket, through thin air and black velvet. The chandeliers cast halos across his hair, and the hint of a smile tilts his lips. They hold each other lightly and tightly in a room of hundreds, so many eyes upon them, speculation as thick as the breaths she can't seem to take.
Or maybe it's just the two of them, dancing out of the warmth of the ballroom and into biting wind and gusting snow by the sea. But even as their heads turn to regard the great metal fingers half-buried in the sand and the man who grins at his brother, rubble crunches beneath their feet and the air is thick with brick dust and the oily scent of dead kaiju.
You can always find me in the Drift...
She turns towards the sunlight, and the brightness brings sudden tears to her eyes. Or maybe it's the pride and pleasure on sensei's usually stern face, and the grins of the women who watch with him, one head of scarlet flame, one head of glittering coal.
A sob rises in her throat, in the crowded ballroom that spins around them like a dream.
"I'm here," Raleigh murmurs.
Her eyes sting. "I know."
"We're in this together, okay?" He leans his forehead leans against hers – an anchor in the here and now, not the there and then of the Drift. "Together."
"Yes," she says, affirmation and answer.
She doesn't dream of Vijay often. It's better that way, not to miss what never had the chance to be.
His stubble scrapes an itchy tickle across her belly., making her laugh as she runs her hand along his upturned cheek.
"Shave me later" His smile is a burning sweetness as he kisses his way down her body, but his eyes are blue, not brown and the dark curls have turned to blond when he looks up at her gasp.
Mako wakes aroused and confused.
Anchorage is difficult for both of them, but more so for Raleigh.
Her memories of sensei are strong and painful in this city – the years he spent as Shatterdome Commander while she was studying at the Academy, the places he took her, the things he taught her. Still, that pales beside Raleigh and the attention focused upon him. The prodigal son for whom the fatted calf has been well and truly slaughtered, says Helen.
Mako kidnaps him one afternoon when they should be having their pictures taken at the Shatterdome – now the property of an Alaskan oil magnate and in the middle of a 'redesign and redevelopment'. She understands the desire to rebuild, to make new, but her soul rebels against it all the same. Some things should be sacred.
"Where are we going?"
"You'll see," she tells him as she clunks gears in the truck she borrowed from a former Shatterdome J-tech who also assisted in their escape.
Raleigh snorts softly as he fiddles with the radio stations. "I'm driving home."
Mako relaxes into the driving once they're out on the highway, free of the pressure and the obligations and the stares. She had no particular plan for this afternoon, other than to find somewhere his memories would not be shoved into his face.
And in that she, too, fails.
"Wait." His hand touches her knee as they're about to pass a side road. "Down here."
She turns north, onto the side road, and a minute later realises where they are going and stops the truck in the middle of the road. "Raleigh, you do not need—"
"Mako," is all he says.
They climb out of the truck at the beach and he moves like a man in a dream until they reach the place where Gipsy Danger fell, where the young man he was came to land and died. He gropes for her hand, and she slips her fingers into his and they stand there in the wind and his memories.
Mako wakes to the pat of a little boy's hand and a man's murmur to be gentle. Beyond the small, dark-eyed face, Raleigh smirks, already fully awake.
"I'm giving Tendo and Alison a sleep-in. Wanna help?"
They watch cartoons on the couch while Caleb tries to decide whose lap he prefers.
LA is people and noise and fuss and memories of Vijay. Interviewers that want to know about her relationship with Raleigh after the ball in New York, after they vanished in Anchorage. Publicists and film-makers and script-writers and fame.
Mako doesn't want any of it. She never did.
She excuses herself from a meeting one afternoon to go to the restroom, texts an apology to Herc, and escapes into the streets of the city, with her hoodie pulled up and her blue tips tucked behind her ears.
On the rooftop of the LA Shatterdome, the wind makes a mess of her hair, but blows her soul clean in a silent purge of cold grief and hot tears.
Apart from those six short months with Vijay, all she ever wanted was to fight kaiju, to become the monster they feared. To be what sensei taught her to be with every breath he drew – a woman who would not lay down to die, who would keep fighting to the last, who would be a part of ending the war, whatever form that took.
She has done that – killed a kaiju, piloted a Jaeger, closed the Breach.
Vijay could envision a world without kaiju, his eyes bright as he stared out at the horizon with her and they spoke of the things they would do when the war was over. When he died, he took her dreams with him, leaving behind only the things she'd yearned for as a child: vengeance for her family and the life she'd lost to the kaiju, and an end to the war.
Never really thought about the future until now.
Mako supposes that makes two of them.
Raleigh arrives with food after the sun has extinguished itself in the sea. He brings tacos árabes and asks nothing of why she ran, or how he knew to find her here. He says nothing of Vijay.
Instead, he sits with her in the evening wind and leaves her to her own thoughts, even as he shares in her memories.
Some things are sacred.
She's been drunk before, although never on a kwoon mat with Raleigh, using his stomach as a pillow on a warm summer evening in Lima.
Raleigh props himself up on one elbow and strokes a finger along her cheek, grinning. "You go pink when you're drunk."
As a matter of fact, she doesn't.
"How's the hangover?"
Mako looks up from her tablet and the document she hasn't been reading – too busy watching the twins and Raleigh play what Helen's ten year-old daughter Naomi calls 'dunk-and-dunker' in the swimming pool down in the garden area. "I'm sorry?"
Helen sits down, smiling beneath her hat. "The Drift hangover? How are you dealing?"
"It is not so strong as it was." Mako watches as Raleigh bends to say something to Naomi who giggles and nods before darting away through the water. The sunlight gilds him, muscle and mischievous grin. She does not think they dream together so much anymore. Given her dreams, perhaps that is no bad thing.
"Regretting you didn't sleep with him before?" Mako flushes and tries to glare, but Helen only snorts. "Mako, I gave you the sex-and-relationships talk when you were fourteen because Stacker was too chicken and Tam was too sick."
She's not sure how to take the older woman's tone. "You don't like him?"
"I like him very much. He's got a good heart, a sensible head, and he's a fine piece of real estate as well. But I'm more interested in whether you like him."
"He is my Drift partner—"
"That's not an answer." Helen's interruption is gentle beneath the shrieks and squeals rising beneath the blue of a Sydney summer. "You don't have to like someone to be Drift-compatible – you've seen Herc and Chuck. For most pilots who are family or already in a relationship, the Drift connection is the endpoint – the psychological embodiment of an emotional openness that already exists in the relationship."
"Yes." Helen exhales. "Even before the Drift, they would finish each other's sentences and cue each other's jokes – it drove me nuts. For unrelated pilots, it's just the beginning. And it's not easy to work out which part is the Drift connection and which part is actually liking each other. For some couples, it's easier to fall into bed and let the sex work it out than it is to consider how much of it is Drift and how much is them."
Down in the pool, Raleigh grabs Mikey and wrestles him down into the water, only to be leapt upon by Naomi who shoves Raleigh and her twin under with a scream of triumph.
When he surfaces, he's laughing, one hand slicking through sodden hair. His head turns unerringly towards Mako, as though he can feel her gaze upon him.
His grin jolts through her like the force of a plasma cannon.
No, this is not the Drift.
This is more.
Mako's fingers trace the words of the poem on the memorial plaque by the Sydney Shatterdome – they shall not grow old as we grow old – Raleigh beside her as the rest of the dignitaries keep a respectful distance.
Herc crouches at the edge of the launch deck, his hands scrubbing Max's fur as he stares blindly into the sun rising over the glittering blue ocean.
If Mako thought America was wild for Raleigh, Asia is wild for her.
Shoving, jostling, screaming crowds who want to see her, touch her, hug her. There are talk shows and dinners and presentations and memorials…
In Jakarta, their motorcade is hemmed in by people in the street until the PPDC can get the military in to push the crowds back. Manila is just as bad, and Shanghai is worse.
Raleigh and Herc try to take some of the burden from her. Drs. Geiszler and Gottlieb pick fights on the talk shows, trying to give her a chance to draw breath, but to no avail. The audiences want to hear about her and her colleagues are inadequate substitutes.
"It won't work," Vanessa Gottlieb says, exasperated when the men argue about how they can protect Mako from the worst of the publicity. "There's never been someone like her before. Tokyo's Daughter, saviour of the planet, intelligent and independent. Mako's all the people who've never been seen to be heroes before – and you wonder they're going mad for her?"
Mako does not need the protection, although she appreciates their concern.
"Will you manage?" Helen asks gently one evening after a dinner where the speeches and toasts went on forever – each of the Wei triplets, Mako, Stacker, the Kaidonovskies, Herc, Raleigh, Chuck... By the end of it, Mako was exhausted – she'd already done two interviews and a photoshoot and interview for a women's magazine that day. "If you want a break, I'll speak with Vanessa and we'll take on the PPDC if we have to."
Mako thinks of something Tamsin once said of her cancer – well out of sensei's hearing: This, too, will pass. She thinks, too, of the little girl today who shyly asked for a picture – no more than nine, wearing shiny black shoes and a duffle coat in the Beijing cold.
"I can do it."
Raleigh waits until Helen has left. "There's still Japan to go. And Russia."
Mako sits down beside him on the sofa, slipping off her shoes and folding her legs beneath her as she looks from the bright lights of Beijing to him. "And then?"
"Anywhere you want to go."
Anywhere you are.
Her dreams are not confusing anymore.
When she finally stumbles out of her room, tea and Chinese rice porridge are set in front of her as she sits down. And Raleigh's grin is far too smug for a man who slept alone last night and took a cold shower this morning.
Mako catches his t-shirt before he steps away. He hardly needs the tug to pull him down.
His mouth tastes better than it did in their dream.
Mako doesn't need the crunch of gravel to know Raleigh's paused at the edge of the memorial garden.
"He was my home." She doesn't look away from the stone monument – a sculpture of Coyote Tango in memory of all those who died in the PPDC, fighting the kaiju. "For so many years, he was home."
"A fixed point."
Faded papers flutter in the bare-branched cherry tree above her, tattered by the wind and weather. The newest ones still show the names stark against the yellowing parchment: Stacker Pentecost, Charles Hansen, Wei Cheung, Wei Jin, Wei Hu, Alexis Kaidonovsky, Aleksandra Kaidonovsky...
"It doesn't feel like the war is over."
"It doesn't feel real." Raleigh sits down beside her, and she leans into him, against his shoulder.
They sit there as the wind whistles through the crevices of the sculpture and rustles the paper overhead, until Mako breaks the silence. "I never thought beyond the war."
"You couldn't see that far. I couldn't either, until you." His mouth presses against her hair. "You want to stay with the Jaeger Program."
"Even if it's not funded again, there is work in the study of the Jaeger systems – the technology driven by the neural handshake has other uses – industry, mining, medical. We have experience with the Jaeger technology."
"You have experience with the Jaeger technology. I'd pretty much be a guinea pig."
Mako smiles and reaches up to rub his cheek, soft bristles beneath her fingers. "Yes. But you would be my guinea pig."
Raleigh laughs as he turns his head and kisses her palm.
When they return to the Osaka Shatterdome that afternoon, Marshal Keiko Uchibori is bright with news. "Mori-san, Becket-san, have you heard? We have Hong Kong!"
"And more," Herc says with satisfaction. "They're going to build a Mark V-E, possibly even repair Crimson Typhoon. And we got the research division, too."
Tension lifts from her shoulders. She looks to Raleigh and his smile matches her own.
Hong Kong, where the war ended, where they began.
On the first day of the rest of their lives, she wakes in Raleigh's bed, with his face pressed into her neck, her spine flush against his chest, his hand possessive on her hip.
He knows the moment she's awake. She doesn't have to look to be aware he's waiting for her move.
So she turns in his arms, sliding her hands under his t-shirt – lean muscle, hot flesh, sensitive skin. He tilts his head down to kiss her, a ferocious tenderness in his eyes as their mouths meet. He kisses her as though she's a wonder, as though she's something to be worshipped.
"This isn't the Drift," she says when air becomes a need.
"This is us," he murmurs, his chest heaving against hers, a fierce wonder etched in his face. "You and me." And it's more than enough.
Desire is like a wound, an ache that's more than mere physicality.
It stings Mako when she pulls off his tee and traces the keloid marks of loss the drivesuit etched in his skin with fingertip and tongue. It nips when his teeth close over her nipple and he sucks so powerfully that Mako sees stars. It bites deep when she closes her hand over his erection – hot and thick and hard – and he presses his fingers down between her thighs – soft and wet and swollen.
He knows how to make her come, knows how she likes to be stroked. She knows to let him drive this first time, knows that he needs to feel her acceptance of him – scars and all – before he'll trust she wants him.
And when Raleigh strokes her over, his lips are fierce on hers, urging her on, and his pleasure at her pleasure is like a flame in her mind, in his mind, in their minds...
"Now you," she says when she can form words again, before lassitude has ebbed.
He fits into her, heavy and thick, his chest heaving as he holds himself up off her, so careful, as though she's fragile. Her arms go around his neck, and her knee hooks over his hip as she thrusts up and he gives in with a groan and lets himself sink deep.
Then they move – not in unison, like in a Jaeger, but in harmony, as in the Kwoon.
Her nails bite into his buttocks as she yanks him closer. His cries grow rough as he arches in her flesh. Her orgasm sweeps them both out into a sea of pleasure, and his release rolls tides of sensation over them. The distinction between she and he is blurred, fogged, lost, until time and tenderness washes Mako up on a panting shore of consciousness, Raleigh warm and heavy in her arms.
For long moments, they can't move, can't speak, can't think.
Then Raleigh shifts. "I'm yours," he murmurs into her collarbone, gentle as a caress and fierce as a promise. "I always will be."
"You're over the limit." Mako smiles against his temple. "I think I'll keep you."
NOTES: There is a sequel in the works "Anchor and Anchorage" which was completed on the 25th May, 2014. It is not available on this archive due to limitations on sexual content, but can be found on my account at AO3 (archiveofourown org/works/986038). If you enjoyed it, please consider leaving a "kudos" (like a "favourite") - all it takes is a click of the button.