He was drifting.

Darkness wrapped around him like a comforting blanket, and faint wisps the colour of Kaiju Blue danced from the edges of his vision. It wasn't like any Drift he'd experienced before, and he wasn't entirely sure he was lucid. Where he was, actually, was a lot like what he figured the Drift would be if there were no feelings, no memories and – most importantly – no connection. For the first time in Chuck Hansen's life, he felt absolutely nothing.

And it was alright.

Despite the slight chill and the white noise ringing his ears, Chuck thought that if this is what death was like, then it was surprisingly peaceful. He could feel the end drawing near and it didn't scare him. Not anymore.

One of the first things they taught at the Academy is that being brave didn't mean not being afraid, but standing your ground long enough to do what needed to be done. Chuck piloted the greatest Jaegar to ever walk the earth, stood at the edge of the world, and in his final moments, brought down two of the most powerful Kaijus in history. He was a hero. And at the end of the day, that was all Chuck had ever wanted.

Should have wanted.

Nobody gets everything in this life. You decide your priorities and you make your choices.

Max was going to be lonely for a while.

The new Marshal stood grimly at the window of his office and looked down at the celebrations below. He'd been promoted less than 12 hours ago and already there was paperwork to be done.

Check here. Schedule in there. Sign here, here, and on the dotted line there.

Herc sighed and returned to his desk where an open bottle of rum and an empty glass waited for him. He filled the glass to the brim and sat back down in front of the computer. A blank document with the Pan Pacific Defence Corps insignia stared at him with the only words he could bring himself to type in the last hour.

PPDC Ranger Charles Hansen

J. . Striker Eureka


He raised his glass and downed all the liquid inside. What was he expected to write? What could he bring himself to write, beyond the statistics and general knowledge? Chuck was the PPDC's top Jaegar pilot. Record holder for most Kaiju kills. Short-tempered, loud mouthed and difficult to work with, but in the end he always got the job done.

Died a hero. Son.

The boy had only ever been born to be a pilot. And contrary to what the shrinks reported, the conflict in their father-son relationship was not due to any real fallout or lack of communication, but rather too much communication.

Even as a child, Chuck was loud and a little too proud for his own good. He regularly got into scraps with other grade schoolers for bragging about his father the superhero and his mother the former supermodel. He absolutely adored his mother and truly believed she was the most beautiful woman in the world, so why couldn't she have been a model? His pride in having larger than life parents, however, shattered the day the Kaiju Scissure attacked Sydney.

Awe and adoration transformed into anger and resentment. In the beginning, Herc accepted the brunt of Chuck's fury because, for a while, he believed he deserved it. He also figured that Chuck would eventually tire himself out, begrudgingly accept that his father was only human, grieve for his mother and move on. But he had underestimated his son's stubbornness and ability to channel his anger. In the blink of an eye, or so it seemed to Herc, his son grew from a petulant boy to a fierce and determined young man; a star student at the Jaegar Academy. The same anger that drove Chuck's success as a Ranger candidate, however, made it difficult for him to successfully drift with another pilot. When the very short list of potentially compatible co-pilots came in for Chuck, Herc recognized an opportunity to fix things with his son. Unsurprisingly, Chuck was not happy when he received his assignment. His reluctance to drift with his father, however, was trumped by his ambition to pilot a Jaegar before he turned 18.

Herc rubbed his temples and sighed. The first Drift with Chuck confirmed what he had long suspected to be true: that both Hansens had only ever loved one woman. He still remembered clearly how, in the headspace materialising within their first neural sync, Chuck screamed. Not Chuck the young man, but Chuck the boy. With dirty clothes, red eyes and a face stained with tears, striking at Herc with his small fists and screaming and screaming and screaming. Just like that day so many years ago. Herc instinctively wrapped his arms around the boy and pulled him tight against his chest. The harder Chuck fought, the stronger Herc held onto him. He knew that if he let go of Chuck for even a second, his son's career as a Jaegar pilot would be over before it started. Desperately, Herc had pushed as much memories and feelings of love he could towards his son, wrapping it all around him like a warm blanket. The advantage of the Drift was that Herc could finally communicate the words he'd always wanted to say to his son but were always getting caught in his throat: I love you, you little hellion. Stop thinking that you weren't good enough to save, because you were and you still are. He didn't lighten his grip until he heard the affirmative confirmation from mission control.

According to the official records, Chuck had lapsed into a R.A.B.I.T. for four seconds before reaching a stable neural-handshake with his father. But time moved differently in the Drift, and in those four seconds, Chuck had relived the entire day of Scissure's attack. He never spoke about his father holding him together in his first Drift, or the fact that Herc continued to be Chuck's anchor for every Drift after that, but a grunt from the younger Hansen and brush of his hand on his father's back as he walked past told Herc all that he needed to know. They would be alright.

And in the beginning, they were. More than alright, they were amazing. Nothing made Chuck happier than being in the Conn-Pod. Herc was just happy that Chuck was happy. Thanks to the Drift, no father in the world had as strong a bond with their son as he did with Chuck. But just as Striker Eureka rose in prominence, other Jaegars began to fall. The tides were turning and it affected Chuck differently than Herc, who was no stranger to the fickleness of war. Chuck became more edgy, impulsive, and quick to anger. It puzzled Herc, because he didn't notice anything particularly different about Chuck when they drifted. If anything, he seemed more focused and calculated in battle.

Then Chuck began to avoid him outside the Conn-Pod. That hurt Herc more than any temper tantrum ever directed his way.

The day before they shipped out to the Hong Kong Shatterdome, he resolved to find out what was going on with his son. Without knocking, he opened the door to his son's room and marched in. He found Chuck sitting on the floor, legs semi-crossed, smiling as he used an old sock to play tug-o-war with Max. It'd been weeks since he'd seen his son's dimples, Herc realized. Chuck's smile immediately changed to a scowl. The younger man got up in a huff, opened his mouth to say something, changed his mind, glared heatedly at his father instead and stormed out of the room.

That was when it all clicked for Herc. My son is afraid.

A sharp knock on the door pulled him back to the present. "Sir," said the officer standing in the doorway, "you're needed in Section 24A."

"Thank you," Herc replied distractedly. "I'll head on over when I'm done with this." Or start with this. He stared hard at the blank screen and held his hands purposely over the keyboard.

"Respectfully," the officer persisted. "You'll want to go now, sir."

The news spread like wildfire in the Shatterdome.

Top level clearance following the immediate evacuation of Section 24A (adjacent to the K-Science Lab) sparked gossip and wild speculations. Did they stop the clock too soon? Did Pentecost's operation fail? Just as the fear-mongering grew to the verge of all-out panic, a single clue was let slip by the higher-ups.

The code name was 'Icarus'.

Raleigh caught up with Mako at the open door in Section 24A. He pursed his lips and put a supportive hand on his co-pilot's shoulder. Even if he wasn't still feeling linked with her, the expression on her face as she stepped into the room left no doubt what she was thinking.

It isn't him. She bit her lip and struggled to hide the disappointment in her composure. What she had hoped for was impossible, she knew, but so was what she was walking towards right now.

"The temperature resistant metal compound alone wouldn't have provided sufficient protection from the blast, not even in the one-in-a-billion chance of being in the right place at the right time," Newt was explaining loudly to Marshal Hansen, hands waving to emphasize his point, "which is why I analysed the tissue before it completely decomposed and – oh, hey Mako."

She gave the scientist a small smile and nodded at the Marshal. Raleigh came to stand beside her and acknowledged Herc for both of them with, "Sir."

"You were briefed?" Herc didn't ask so much as require confirmation. There were things even he couldn't trust himself to say out loud just yet.

It was in the remains of Striker Eureka and what was being assumed as tissue fragments of Slattern, the Category V Kaiju, Tendo Choi had told them as he activated their new security clearance. Found by a Salv crew a few kilometres from the Jaegar's last known coordinates. Terminal structural damage. Described by first-response as a 'hybrid pod' of metal and Kaiju. Mandatory quarantine.

"We were, yes," Raleigh confirmed. Herc was visibly exhausted and looked a few years older than he did the last time they saw him. But even now, there was a spark in his eyes and the small curve of a smile teasing on the edge of his lips.

"Good," he said simply and stepped aside to let them approach the makeshift hospital bed. The sheets and pillows were certainly from the infirmary, but all the equipment attached to the 'bed' made it look a lot like a larger version of what Raleigh remembered being called the Kaiju autopsy chamber.

He felt Mako shiver beside him. Her hand slipped naturally into his and squeezed. He squeezed back, all the while staring at the figure before them. I'm sorry he's not Sensei.

The sight was unnerving. There were no visible injuries or scars from the explosion, but Raleigh could clearly make out the bruised lip and cut on the left cheekbone that he'd personally delivered the day before. Most of the receptors were attached to the chest, and a quick glance at the screen showed that the bulk of the equipment in the room was devoted to monitoring life signals; not all of them human. Mako's hand slipped from his as she took a bold step closer. It was then that Raleigh noticed the hairline streaks of blue on the skin below the collarbone, disappearing beneath the receptors and the hospital gown. Mako was leaning forward now, frowning at the small glowing spots scattered like blue confetti on the left side of the neck and shoulder.

"Kaiju blue is toxic, right?" Newt started again excitedly. "It's consistent with the terminal damage on the pod structure and pilot suit. But some chemical transformation must've been triggered when this particular Kaiju tissue touched his skin because… well, it preserved him."

Chuck Hansen's face was peaceful and very, very still.

Raleigh glanced back at Herc, brow raised. "Does the U.N. committee -"

"No," the Marshal answered before he could finish the question. "I haven't submitted the report yet."

"But then…"

"I will send the report once the Research Division has concluded an initial analysis on the Kaiju remains." There was an unmistakable bluntness in Herc's tone. "The new PPDC directive is Kaiju biotechnology. Everything else is strictly need-to-know, and those who have the need-to-know clearance are standing in this room." He met Raleigh's, Mako's then Newt's eyes with a look that made it clear that what went unsaid was not up for discussion.

"Da?" The rasped voice was just barely over a whisper.

Mako stepped back in time to avoid a collision with Herc, who'd rushed immediately to the bedside. He put his free hand on his son's arm and squeezed. A hopeful smile formed on Herc's lips as Chuck responded to his touch and struggled to full consciousness. He was severely disoriented and it took a few moments for his eyes to focus and find his father, but when they did he held the gaze. Raleigh looked away, out of courtesy and out of embarrassment, as a wave of raw emotions crossed the Marshal's face. The connection between father and son was intense and undeniable.

Mako also looked away when she saw a single tear roll down Chuck's face. She caught Raleigh's gaze and, together, they quietly slipped out of the room with Newt in tow.

She was watching him again.

This time, she didn't even try to hide it. The little girl had followed them outside, settled on the flat surface of a rock just a few metres away, placed a bento box in her lap and ate the musubi she'd packed as she watched. Her large, dark eyes absorbed every attack, every parry. His every move studied and assessed. A sharp jab of pain to Chuck's ankle and then to his chest momentarily knocked him off-balance, but he managed to catch himself from stumbling and sneered at the old man.

"Focus," his father instructed.

"Does she have to watch?" Chuck complained. He lunged forward and struck twice with the hanbo staff. He had speed, but his father had experience.

Herc parried both hits easily and smiled, "I thought you liked the attention."

"Not from her," Chuck muttered as he attacked his father again. This time, he came in fast AND hard. A flurry of strikes pushed his father back a few paces before he swung his stick low and, with a triumphant cry, managed to sweep one of his father's legs from under him. He immediately glanced back for her reaction.


Herc got up and put a hand on his son's shoulder. "Best you get used to seeing her around. She's Pentecost's ward now."

Chuck woke up with a grunt. Something heavy had plopped itself onto his lap and was moving around clumsily for footing. "No, Max!" a voice scolded, and after a few whines and whimpers, the weight was lifted off him.

He opened his eyes wearily. Mako was standing nearby with a very guilty-looking Max in her arms. She smiled sheepishly and stepped closer to the bedside. "Your father said you might want visitors."

Sure he did, Chuck thought as Max got close enough to lick his face with a generous amount of drool. Mako grinned and put the bulldog down on the floor. It gave a happy bark before pattering over to its pillow at the foot of the bed. Mako then crossed her arms behind her back and tried very hard not to stare at the glowing blue scars poking from beneath the covers.

"I don't need a babysitter," Chuck said and nodded at the equipment around him. "I'm being looked after just fine."

Mako pursed her lips and, much to his disappointment, pulled a chair up next to his bed. "It's not just that," she insisted. "You shouldn't be alone."

The normal Chuck response would have been something snarky and maybe even a little mean towards her. But then their eyes met and Chuck came to a realization that stopped the words cold in his throat: She's here because I was with him in the end. By default of physical proximity and the Drift, he was now the closest thing to Stacker Pentecost for her. Even now, she was unconsciously leaning towards him. The realization left an ugly feeling in his gut and he hated it. Chuck Hansen was not a man to be depended on for kind words or elocution. His discomfort must have shown though, because Mako's cheeks flushed and she turned her head to look away. "Sumimasen," she mumbled. I'm sorry.

Now Chuck was angry with himself for being so transparent. "No," he said through gritted teeth. "I'm sorry. I should have-" What? He couldn't remember the last time he held a 'normal' conversation with another human being. The only reason he was even trying now, he realized, had everything to do with the overwhelming sense of pride the former Marshal had for Mako in the last moments Chuck was connected with him in the Drift. She turned back and watched him curiously.

The words flowed out of his mouth faster than his brain could filter them, "I should have not called you bitches."

Mako stared.

"Before the drop," Chuck clarified. "I was- we were all under a lot of pressure, but I shouldn't have lashed out at you like that."

His jaw tightened as he silently admitted the truth to himself. I was scared. I didn't want to die.

"And Raleigh."

Chuck's eyes met Mako's again and she gave him a reassuring smile. "Yeah," he added reluctantly, "him too." Though he got more from me than an apology. He frowned as he tried to sort through his own feelings and those that were muddled up with Pentecost's.

"There were glimpses. Short flashes of his memories of you and – I mean, I always knew you'd be great. We grew up the same," in the shadow of larger-than-life father figures, "but it never occurred to me that we were both so driven by…" Anger. Revenge. "similar passions." We made ourselves strong, the best of the best, to exact vengeance on kaijus for the family we lost. "I guess you were always just better at keeping your temper."

"And not getting into trouble," she added with a wry smile. The remark earned her a chuckle and her smile widened. She'd had many opportunities to observe Chuck over the years, first as a student at the Academy and then as a Ranger. "You only confronted those you felt challenged by," she explained and gave a small bow of her head. "So it was my honour to have been acknowledged by you, Hansen-san."

He shook his head and returned the gesture with a rare, boyish grin on his face. I wouldn't have seen it as flattery, but... "You are most welcome, Miss Mori."

Officially, Chuck was dead; listed as one of the many names to be engraved on a PPDC memorial. It was better this way, they explained to him. Better to be the lab rat of a select few under the command of his father, than be poked and prodded by the world powers. Chuck was alright with living under the radar, but he wouldn't be himself if he wasn't jealous of Mako and Raleigh.

Tendo had brought him a television as a way to "connect" with the outside world. But as far as Chuck could see, the world was only interested in three things at the moment: Mako. Raleigh. And Mako and Raleigh. Even now, on a live broadcast of the red carpet, PPDC-hosted banquet dinner, the host was interrogating unfortunate PPDC personnel about their 'expert opinion' on the utilisation of Drift technology as a shortcut to finding love.

Their arrival was signalled by a sudden surge of camera shutters and flashing light. For a moment, Chuck didn't recognise the pair who appeared on his television screen. Mako was radiant in a sheer, dark blue gown that shimmered like the night sky. The fabric draped her form in exquisite folds that flattered her athletic physique. Her hair was swept up in an elegant bun and when she moved in her formal-black heels, the dress flowed with her as if she was gliding on air.

The cameras couldn't get enough of her.

Much to Chuck's surprise, his father appeared by Mako's side. The PR office had clearly worked on him too for the event: the haircut, suit, bowtie and shoes were all new. But he had stubbornly kept his beard, most likely to the annoyance of the PR stylists, and allowed only a minimal trimming to tame the 'manly scruff'. As the camera zoomed in on his wary face, the host announced the event as Marshal Hercules Hansen's first official media appearance.

His father hated parties. He hated the media even more. And just as it seemed like Herc was going to tell a journalist where he'd like to shove the microphone being waved in his face, Mako took him by the arm and guided him into the hotel, away from the media frenzy. Chuck watched them go, green with envy.

The screams of adoration from the massive crowd on the street followed her into the building. She could hear some of them now crying, "Where's Becket?"

Distracted, she lost her footing on a hotel step and swore something rapid and vulgar in Japanese. Fortunately, she had Herc's arm for support. The man himself looked amused though, which meant he knew enough about the love-hate relationship women had with stilettos and the Japanese language to understand the gist of her rant. "You know, there are times when I look at you, and I still see the girl in the oversized green sweater in Vladivostok," Herc reminisced as he patiently waited for her to adjust her heel. "But tonight, when I look at you, I just feel like a dirty old man. You look stunning, Mako."

She laughed, momentarily surprised by his frankness, and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "Thank you, Hansen-san. I was hoping, actually, that I could borrow your arm a little while longer."

He nodded and chuckled to himself, "I was just thinking of asking if you'd like to accompany me into the banquet hall. A beautiful woman always dissuades politicians from attacking right away. That is," Herc paused to take a cursory glance around the lobby, "unless you're waiting for Raleigh?"

"He's already inside," she said and raised both hands to adjust his bowtie for him. "Snuck in the service entrance. We decided to try NOT being the major focus of the press this evening."

Herc grinned and offered his arm once again to her. "Then I would be honoured. Shall we?"

"Into the lion's den," Mako agreed.

The girl watched him disapprovingly from across the room. "You shouldn't," she said simply.

Chuck grimaced and spared a glance in her direction before hunching over the laptop once more, fingers flying on the keyboard. "Don't you want to see what there is to do around here?"

"Yes, but…" from the corner of his eye, he saw her sit up anxiously and wrap a fleece blanket around her. "They told us to be good."

"Ah ha!" Chuck exclaimed triumphantly. He waved her over to come see the map on his screen. "There's an observation deck two floors up. I bet we could see the new Mark-4 from there!"

A young Mako came over reluctantly, theblanket still wrapped around her small form, and her eyes narrowed suspiciously at the screen. "How?"

"I didn't hack anything, if that's what you're asking," Chuck said defensively, "I'm not that good yet. I just happen to know my way around the servers." She continued to look at him sceptically. "I know my Dad's password, okay?"

She bit her lower lip as she thought about it. Pentecost specifically said they 'be good' while he and Herc Hansen met with the personnel of the Vladivostok Shatterdome. That didn't mean she couldn't leave the room. Afterall, he'd at least expect her to look for the cafeteria when she got hungry. Maybe she'd accidentally take a wrong turn and wander into the observation deck…

"Here, let me help you," Chuck gave her a smug grin and typed a few new commands on the window terminal. A video popped open on the screen showing a live feed from the observation deck. He watched her lips form an 'O' and her eyes widen in awe at the partially visible jaegars. Satisfied with her reaction, he jumped up from the table and headed towards the door, picking up his junior Ranger jacket and waving his temporary security pass in his hand. "Right, let's go!"

"Demo…" But...

"Nope, I've made up my mind. I'm going with or without you so you better—"


Chuck stopped and looked back with one raised brow. She pulled the fleece blanket tight around herself and shyly approached him. "I'm not warm enough to go."

Chuck stared at her and pursed his lips. No, the coverall she had on was thin and the blanket they gave her when they arrived would not be comfortable forbeing on the deck for long. It wasn't outside, but it did overlook the massive hangers where the jaegars were kept, and those were often cold and drafty. Also, this was Vladivostok. Everywhere was just a little cold. Her spare clothes, like his, were still in the helicopter they arrived in. This was only supposed to be a short layover. Hastily, he pulled off the military-green sweater he was wearing and shoved it into her arms. "Here," he said, his cheeks suddenly feeling hot. "This should do."

He pulled his jacket on over his tee while she tried on his sweater. It was a few sizes too big for her, but she rolled up the sleeves and looked snug enough. "It looks better on you than me," he decided. "You can keep it if you like."

"Thank you," she smiled as she wrapped the blanket around herself again. He held the door open for her and followed her out into the hall.

Of course, the PPDC would've installed their own security at the hotel where the banquet was taking place. It was easy enough for Chuck to tap into the video feeds. In one feed, his father was chatting with a few dignitary-types. Nothing too heated (yet), as far as Chuck could tell from his father's body language. In another feed, he spotted Raleigh making his way through the crowd with two champagne glasses in hand. His progress was very slow though, as he was stopped every few steps to be congratulated or flattered by the guests. He stopped briefly to exchange a few private words with the Marshal, who nodded towards a point beyond the camera's view. Raleigh made his way towards it. Intrigued, Chuck flipped quickly through the video feeds to reveal Raleigh's destination.

Then he found her.

Raleigh stood at the foot of the steps, his heart pounding hard against his chest. The sight of her had momentarily rendered him speechless.

But only a moment.

"Mako." You look gorgeous.

She turned, smiled at him, and gave him an appreciative once over. He was wearing a tailored, dark grey suit with a simple white dress shirt. The fabric was visibly thin, both to accommodate for the warm Hong Kong weather and to flatter his Olympics-standard physique. His hair was tamed and slicked back, but he wore no tie and left his collar unbuttoned. Raleigh had submitted to a clean shave earlier in the day, but already a 5 o'clock shadow was visible on his face. A slight twist of her lips as her eyes met his revealed more than just approval for his evening look. He grinned with self-satisfaction and made his way to her, placing a champagne glass in her hand.

He then walked around her, openly admiring the way her dress flattered her features, and turned his free hand to lightly brush his knuckles along Mako's free arm. He stopped in front of her, champagne glass held level with hers, and raised his brow in silent question.

She met his gaze, undaunted, and raised her own brow in question. But she couldn't stop the playful smile from spreading across her lips. Mako shook her head and clinked their glasses together. "To us," she suggested.

"To us," Raleigh agreed.

They raised their glasses to their lips and took a sip, not once taking their eyes off of each other. He then took a step back and held a hand out to her. She took it, and he twirled her around slowly, admiring once more how the dress shimmered and flowed around her. An indistinct sound of pleasure came from his throat as he pressed up behind her and leaned into her ear. "You're beautiful," he whispered.

She pressed back against him and brushed her lips lightly across his cheek. "You're intoxicated," she teased. Mako then pulled away gently, took him by the hand, and led him away from the party and the onlookers.

Fuck me, Chuck thought as he stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror.

Behind him was the increasingly desperate beeping of an alarm, most likely from the monitors he'd unhooked himself from just moments before. He'd had enough of watching others bask in the post-war glory— glory that he should've rightly been a part of —and became suddenly impatient to find out when, if ever, he'd get to join the real world.

He gritted his teeth and clenched his fists as the anger swelled inside him. Meanwhile, a secondary set of sensory alarms went off. Dead man walking. That's how you look.

He'd been foolish to believe them when they said he was looking great. That he'd actually been flattered when Newt said the scars and bluish glow reminded him of his childhood favourite superhero, Iron Man.

Like shit, Iron Man, Chuck thought as his whole body shook with a fury that was fast overwhelming him. More like a dying Superman with fucking kryptonite blasted through his chest!

Someone was yelling at him from the other room now, but he didn't hear the words. He couldn't hear them, and he didn't care. He was seeing red with anger now and a scream of pure rage erupted from his throat.

Shards of glass exploded in front of him as his fist went through the mirror. The pain was instant, welcomed and gratifying.

Because it wasn't supposed to be this way.

He was a jaegar pilot.

The best of the best.

And she…

She was supposed to be with him.

Herc glanced at Pentecost pacing by the window, and then back to the psyche analyst results in front of him. There was, definitely, something very familiar about the brain wave patterns on the paper in front of him. He looked again at Pentecost and was pretty certain now how the internal debate was going.

"These are final?"

Pentecost only offered a curt grunt in response.

"It's a very high compatibility score."

Pentecost stopped pacing and turned to look out the window. "Compatible but not advisable," he recited the analyst's recommendation on the final line of the report.

"That's not going to stop her," Herc said, closing the file and standing up. "We both know the type, Stacker. She respects you, but she's not going to give up until she pilots a jaegar."

He received another unhappy grunt in response.

Herc stretched his arms and grimaced as his joints made several loud cracks. "We're not going to be able to protect them for much longer, you know. These bones aren't like they used to be."

"Is that what you've been doing?" Pentecost said dryly. "'Protecting'?"

"Oi!" Herc snapped, but there was no anger in his voice. "I know my boy's far from perfect, but his heart is in the right place. Mako is the same."

The Marshal's shoulders sagged in visible resignation. "I know. That's what bothers me."

Herc had been considering the possibility for some time now, and the analyst's results were... encouraging, to say the least. "They're strong and more brilliant than we ever were in the Academy," he ventured."No denying that."

"No," Pentecost admitted, but his voice was grave. "They're also the most volatile. Putting them together would be like igniting a spark with a plasma cannon."

"But if they had time to learn how to control their Drift, the power of their sync..."

"We don't have the luxury of time."

"Then maybe we should start believing in them now."

The Marshal pursed his lips for a long moment. Then, "as long as we're both still in the fight, there's no reason we have to consider this now. You will continue to pilot Striker Eureka with your son, and Mako will continue with the Mark-III restoration project. If she succeedswithinouraccelerated schedule, we will have another option soon enough."

It felt strange to be the one doing the watching. When they'd been younger, he'd been so used to her watching him that he'd never thought of doing the same for her. Especially since she'd always been so discrete about her training, particularly when it was with Pentecost. Chuck never doubted she'd be anything short of amazing, though. So when he heard that Raleigh Becket had forgone his original list of candidate co-pilots and was now sparring with Mako Mori, he had to go see.

A smile formed immediately on his lips when he reached the Kwoon in time to see Mako knock Raleigh onto his back and lock his leg with her hanbo staff. His smile grew when she gave an extra push for good measure, making Raleigh wince as Pentecost declared the show over.

Then Raleigh had the balls to announce Mako as his co-pilot of choice.

Chuck crossed his arms across his chest and laughed inside his head. The fool! Pentecost would never agree to that! He could still remember the look of disdain Pentecost had given him when he saw Mako wearing the oversized green sweater in Vladivostok and sneeze. It was the look of a protective father, he knew that now. But back then, Chuck was so miffed by the look, that he decided he no longer liked Pentecost. By association, that meant he no longer liked Mako, either.

Not that he ever did in that way.

He even forgot about them for a while. Being a jaegar pilot meant there was no shortage of female eyes on him.

So there was no clear explanation why he reacted so sourly to the news that Pentecost had changed his mind and cleared Mako as Gypsy Danger's second pilot. When he'd walked into LOCCENT control that morning, he'd fully expected to see Raleigh fail his first neural-handshake in five years. But with Mako!? What the hell was Pentecost thinking?

Anger burned inside him as he helped Tendo pull the cables out to take Gypsy offline. He knew Raleigh was going to crash and burn, but now he'd taken Mako down with him!

He said as much to Pentecost before storming out of his office.

He would've enjoyed saying the same to Raleigh's face when he confronted him in the hall, but Mako stopped him.

His anger flared up again when their eyes met and he realized shewasactually going to defend Raleigh. Theguy who ruined her one chance of ever piloting a jaegar! He heard the words form on his lips before he could even think them.

Bitches, he'd said.

It should've been Mako to throw the first punch. But once again, Raleigh had ruined his plans. Pure malice burned in his eyes and the aftertaste of blood and venom was on his lips.

He would not submit. Surrender was not something a Ranger did; you either won or died trying.

Afterwards, his father shoved him into their common room and shook his head. "That was a bad move, son. Very bad."

"You're going to have to learn to live with your choices," Herc went on.

"I suppose you're the perfect role model for that," Chuck sneered. "Living with bad choices."

Herc was up in his face faster than he thought his father capable of. "Watch it, boy," his father growled. "One day you're going to regret that big mouth of yours."

"No Dad," Chuck growled back defiantly. "With the way things are looking, I'm going to die first."

Life was funny that way.

In the end, both father and son had gotten it right.