Warnings: Past character death, bad coping mechanisms, Kaiju war-related violence
Summary: [Pacific Rim au] In the Drift, Jaeger pilots share memories, instinct, and emotions. After the loss of his co-pilot, Sehun doesn't want to let anyone into his head ever again. But with the Jaeger program coming to an end and the Kaiju war nowhere near won, time is running out.
A/N: I tried to keep everything as canon compliant as possible but for things outside of the movie, I had to rely on the Pacific Rim wiki only, so I apologize for any inconsistency. The only thing I wilfully changed was giving the victory over Tailsplitter to our Exo boys (sorry Crimson Typhoon!)
“Hey, Sehun!” Two hands landed on his shoulders, the larger one belonging to Chanyeol, the smaller one with the dainty fingers undoubtedly to Baekhyun, and in no time their identical grins appeared on both sides of his peripheral vision. It was almost creepy how in synch they were even outside of the Drift.
Sehun grabbed his spoon harder and chewed his porridge carefully, knowing he wouldn't get to finish his dinner in peace when his friends sat on either side of him on the bench, no doubt excited about the newest gossip.
“Have you heard that the new pilot's coming tonight?” Baekhyun said.
“They say he's fresh off the Academy, top of his class.” Chanyeol added. “He's young, too. He's supposed to arrive in twenty minutes. We're hoping you guys are compatible. You'd finally have a real co-pilot and could go out with us to kick some blue monster butt.”
Sehun swallowed hard and put his spoon down. “The hell am I supposed to do with some bloody beginner?” he grumbled and collected his tray, walking away from his friends. He was done eating. Co-pilot talk always made him lose his appetite.
“Wait, Sehun!” Baekhyun's foot caught on the bench in his haste to follow Sehun and without Chanyeol's outstretched arm to catch him, he would have fallen flat on the stone floor of the mess hall. “It's been ten months since the Shanghai incident. Don't you think it's time you forgot Lu-”
Baekhyun stopped himself, hissing through his teeth. But the damage was done. Sehun's hands were shaking. He was close to turning around and throwing his tray at Baekhyun. How dare he suggest to forget Lu Han? From the sheepish look on his face, Baekhyun knew his mistake, but he toed around it and barrelled on. “Shit, I mean, come on, you're one of the best pilots we have. You're wasting all your talent. Those goddamn Kaiju out there aren't going to drop dead by letting your Jaeger collect cobwebs! You can't hide behind Marshall Boa forever!”
“Hiding? I'm not hiding. It's not my fault she's the only one in this fucking Shatterdome who's drift-compatible with me. She has to oversee LOCCENT during attacks, so I'm stuck with her here until she goes out in emergency cases like that one time in Taipei. I'm not hiding!”
Chanyeol caught up to Sehun and fell in step with him, walking beside him with an arm thrown over his shoulder in a friendly gesture. “Look, Sehunnie, what Baekhyun meant was that you should give him a chance, you know? This isn't confirmed yet, so don't spread any rumours but,” Chanyeol lowered his voice to a whisper, “we heard that our Dome might get shut down soon. They're cutting fundings everywhere. Too many losses, and Jaegers are fucking expensive. Marshall Boa will probably be moved to Tokyo, and us, I don't know, to the other Domes, I guess.”
Baekhyun nodded quickly. “But they won't take defunct pilot teams. If you don't try, might as well throw in your towel now.”
Sehun put his tray on the conveyor belt that collected and moved used dishes to the kitchen. He sighed with the air of someone who'd had this conversation a thousand times before. “You know I never really managed to let anyone in my head after Lu Han.”
“But Marshall Boa-”
“She's not- she's like a big sister to me. We grew up in the same neighbourhood, we trained in the same Academy class. She knows everything about me anyway.”
The signal of the front gate opening shrilled through the hall. Chanyeol and Baekhyun turned towards it at the same time and pulled Sehun with them.
“He's here. Come on, let's go check him out,” Baekhyun said eagerly.
“The hell?” Chanyeol laughed. “He's not your new racing horse.”
“Like you aren't excited to meet him.”
The two stopped within eyeshot of the open gate, trying to look casual leaning against some huge, black ammunition boxes that were stacked there as their curious eyes followed the figure of a young man who was stepping through the gate.
“What do you think?” Baekhyun whispered eagerly.
“He's cute,” Chanyeol chuckled. “Hope he packs a punch, too.”
“Would be sad if his good looks were the only thing he's got going for him. Haven't heard of anyone charming a Kaiju out of an attack yet,” Baekhyun agreed, then nudged Sehun. “What d'you think?”
Sehun gave the man a once-over, from his army boots and the tight jeans up to his standard issue white shirt, a duffel bag slung casually over his tanned shoulders, sunglasses perched on his nose.
“I don't care,” Sehun concluded. He'd had enough for today. The word 'defunct' from earlier was still ringing in his head and it hurt. He didn't feel like being nice right now. Pushing himself out of his friends' grip, he turned his steps towards the pilot quarters, longing for the quiet of his room.
“Remember,” Baekhyun called after him, meant to cheer him up, “it can't hurt trying!”
Trying. It was easy for Chanyeol and Baekhyun to say. They had each other. Still had each other. They hadn't had to see their partner get ripped out of the Conn-Pod and squeezed to death ten meters above them. Sehun tried to breathe, the old wound in him gaping open once more and filling his lungs with needles.
They had learned the hard way that Kaiju had figured out that the most vulnerable part of a Jaeger was the one that held its pilots. Crush the Conn-Pod and the whole thing would go down. It had felt like half of Sehun's brain was ripped out along with his co-pilot. His heart, too, but that was a different story. What use was some blue-eyed newbie who thought fighting in a Jaeger would make him a rockstar?
The next day at some ungodly hour in the morning, Sehun had to show up in the Kwoon combat room. No one wasted any time in the Shatterdome, not when the huge War Clock ticking above their heads reminded them how little time had passed since the last Kaiju attack and that the next one wouldn't be a long time coming.
He was told that the new guy was called Kim 'Kai' Jongin and that he'd been handpicked from the Academy because of his top grades and his Drift test scores that matched Sehun's, indicating they should be compatible. But neural connection was only one thing, they had to match physically, as well.
Kai was already standing on the mats at the other end of the small, square arena when Sehun arrived. He looked like he was asleep standing up, staff threatening to fall from his lax grip. But he snapped to attention and his eyes, now no longer hidden behind sunglasses, were surprisingly sharp. From the short briefing Sehun had received on the way from his room, he knew that the guy was a few months older than him, but his full lips and soft-looking, clean-shaven cheeks gave him a boyish look. Beneath them, though, Sehun could see the muscles working as Kai squared his jaw. Determination to stand his ground, prove himself. Well then.
Sehun took his boots off and stepped barefoot onto the mats, receiving a staff from the fightmaster. A few spectators had gathered despite the early hour. Sehun could make out Baekhyun's and Chanyeol's huge grins and the thumbs-up they shot him simultaneously. Even Marshall Boa had arrived to oversee the fight personally despite her busy schedule. She was hoping he and Kai would match, finally providing him with a real co-pilot. Sehun knew her well enough that he could read it in her expression. Out of respect for her, Sehun thought he should at least try, as much as he hated the idea of letting a new co-pilot in his life – and especially in his head.
He and Kai stepped forward, facing each other and bowing in greeting. Then they took their stances, feet sliding on the mats, gazes locked, all muscles taut and ready. The fightmaster counted down from three and in a flash, the combat room was filled with rapid clacking sounds as the two wooden staffs collided, attack, defence, counter-attack, a swipe towards the legs. Sehun jumped up and whirled around, bringing his staff to Kai's bare shoulder, and stopped. One to zero. Kai's half-raised arms couldn't have blocked the blow, but it was against the rules to injure one's partner in sparring. Every strike was to be stopped before it truly hit.
They took up their positions again, and as the fightmaster counted down to the next round, there was a smirk pulling on Kai's lips. Sehun's eyebrows shot up. Why that cocky gesture when Kai had just lost the first round? He charged forward again but this time, Kai evaded his blow in one fluid move like a dancer and his lips pulled up again. It only spurred Sehun on to strike faster. Kai blocked or dodged all of his attacks and returned them at the same breakneck pace. Soon they were soaked in sweat, locked in a stand-off with their staffs pressed together one moment, so close that they panted in each other's faces, the next they jumped apart and circled each other like tigers poised to jump.
Kai charged first, a blow aimed at Sehun's midsection that he parried easily, but then Kai slid the end of his staff between Sehun's legs and yanked his foot up, bringing him to a fall, finishing the move by kneeling over him and pressing the other end of his staff to Sehun's neck. One to one. Kai grinned from above him, chest heaving and skin glistening. He got to his feet and offered Sehun a hand to pull him up, muscles flexing subtly in his arm as he did so. Involuntarily, Sehun returned Kai's grin. It was fun, sparring with him, almost like a dance, all fluid grace and harnessed power. Even the spectators cheered and shouted, Sehun registered at the back of his mind when they took up their positions again. Round three, he knew, was mostly for show. His and Kai's compatibility was already proven.
“Welcome to the team, ranger,” Marshall Boa said and Kai, albeit sweaty and out of breath, grinned proudly at his new rank. Chanyeol and Baekhyun jumped on him and patted his back, inviting him to the mess hall to have breakfast together. Sehun trudged after them grumpily. They treated Kai as if he'd done a great heroic deed or something, when Sehun deserved just as much credit. Sparring, drifting, piloting Jaegers, those were all team efforts, not a one-man-show.
“At the Academy, we analyze every Kaiju attack that ever took place. We study all the active pilots' fighting styles. I know all your tactics.” Kai was talking animatedly to the other pilots while he wolfed down his breakfast. Sehun tried to remember the last time he'd felt something like appetite. When Kai turned to him, the excitement sparkling in his eyes twisted Sehun's gut in disgust. “Your technique is brilliant! It's an honour to be your co-pilot.”
“Oh yeah?” Sehun threw him a dark look. “Why don't you suck my dick, fanboy?”
Silence fell over their table, shocked faces turning towards Sehun. He hated this. He was seething and he wasn't even sure why he was so goddamn angry. Had been for ages. It wasn't even anything personal. Kai was gaping at him, one hand poised in mid-air holding his food-laden chopsticks, mouth open like a stupid fish and he still looked so pretty. Not pretty like Lu Han who had small pink lips and beastly football thighs that could wrap around Sehun's waist and big eyes that held a myriad of sparks in them, but still pretty. And Sehun knew he needed to get out of there.
Sitting high up on the metal grid floor of one of the construction bridges in the Jaeger hangar, the deafening noise of maintenance and repair work drowned out Sehun's thoughts and he managed to draw slow, aching breaths into his constricted lungs.
In his own way, Lu Han had fit the Jaegers, the Kaiju battles, the neuroscience, and the mind-melding with machines to punch an alien beast into the toxic blue abyss of its monstrous jaw two hundred feet above the misting waves. Sehun remembered that he had looked at Lu Han sometimes and thought he was ethereal, as though he himself came from the stars. Kai looked like the earth. He looked like summer days spent playing at the beach before the sea had become deadly. He looked like the boy next door who walked his puppies and waved hi to you when you stepped outside to get the newspaper. He was like the only thing this war hadn't broken yet, and Sehun would lose him, too.
“Hey.” Steps clanged on the metal and the bridge swayed lightly. Sehun didn't look up.
“I'm not gonna apologize,” he said, although the construction noise probably swallowed up his voice.
“No need to.” The other sat down next to Sehun. It was Kai. “In a few hours we have our test run. Then I'll see everything that's in your head anyway.”
Sehun faced Kai who returned his look with a lopsided grin. It was achingly beautiful on his full lips. It'd been so long since Sehun had even thought of kissing someone.
“So, who's yours?” Kai asked, dangling his legs over the edge and pointing at the Jaegers with an arm outstretched through the railing.
“Mine was called Ocean Valkyrie. That name... I didn't chose it.” A hollow laugh escaped Sehun's throat. “Though she did go to Valhalla, damn right. Took my co-pilot. The 2nd of January, Shanghai.” Sehun punched the metal grid floor next to him. Pain shot up his fist and travelled through all his bones.
“I'm sorry, man,” Kai said. Sehun felt the touch of a careful hand on his fist and suddenly his vision was swimming with tears. He swallowed and forced them back down. They burned in his throat.
“I pilot that one now,” he said and pointed to hangar number 7, “Cheonsa Showdown, Mark 4. It was Boa's but now that she's marshall, she rarely takes him for a ride. The other teams always get deployed before us. That's supposed to change with you, 'cause Cheonsa's actually a mean war machine. See those things in his shoulders? They're jet engines. They give you one hell of a speed boost. And those horns on his head are like a huge taser gun. When they're switched on, it looks a bit like a halo. Our J-tech team got the inspiration from the name Cheonsa – angel. They built it in when we learned that Kaiju started targeting the Conn-Pods. If any Kaiju tries to go for our Conn-Pod, it's gonna get it's talons fried.”
Kai whooped. “We're going to be so badass!” It made Sehun pull the corners of his mouth down. A daredevil was the last kind of co-pilot he needed.
The Drift, however, taught Sehun that he had misjudged Kai. He didn't seek out the Jaegers for fame and glory. Fragments of memories that felt like Sehun's but weren't flashed by as their minds were connected in the test run. What Kai would see in his, he already knew. From his lacklustre college days onward, there was barely any memory that didn't revolve around Lu Han. They'd met and clicked and dropped out together to pilot giant robots, not really having any other plans for their lives.
In return, fragments of Kai's life flashed through Sehun's mind. Shyness and excitement making his six-year-old heart pound as he peeked into a ballet studio, the teacher waving him in, rows of students with their heads bowed over their nerve-wrecking high-school exams, and that moment four years ago when Atticon attacked Seoul and brought the greatest imaginable horror of their time to their doorstep, a family of five crying in each other's arms out of sheer relief that they'd all survived. “The wall's not going to hold,” he screamed into his father's face who had signed up for construction, “and it's not going to take them down. We need the Jaegers!” The memory of their silent parting as father and son went their separate ways was filled with bitter regret. Sehun let all the fragments flow through him and felt them become one with his own memories.
“Calibration complete.” He was in the Drift. Turning his head, he wanted to throw a grin at Kai who was doing well, too. But right in that moment he felt a tugging in the flow of memories as if he'd snagged his sock on a splinter in the wooden floor.
It was Shanghai. But this time the one living through his worst nightmare was Kai.
“Hey man, get out of that moment,” he yelled over the pilot-to-pilot intercom. But Kai wasn't listening. He was piloting Valkyrie with Lu Han by his side. They ploughed through the ocean and Kai-
“Pilot number 2, don't go out of alignment!” It was Marshall Boa who called them through LOCCENT Mission Control, overseeing the test run. “Do not follow the random access brain impulse trigger. Do you copy, pilot number 2?”
-Kai raised his giant fist together with Lu Han, tons of metal colliding with tons of Kaiju. The beast let off of them for a second, then it whipped its gigantic head around, jumped, clawed into Kai's shoulder, searing pain as cables and tendons were ripped apart, one side of the Conn-Pod gaping open, a moment suspended in time as Lu Han faced him with a soft smile, too soft for the blood dripping red down the side of his face, his moving lips forming words... “I love you.” And he was yanked out into the air. “No! Lu Han!” A flash of red as Crimson Typhoon sped past them and collided with the beast in a deafening boom, and Valkyrie fell, tearing Kai down with her into the deep, cold waves crashing overhead, and then darkness.
Sehun ripped his helmet off his head. Beside him, Kai had already taken his off. He was crouching with his trembling hands on his knees, covered in sweat and breathing heavily.
“You fucking moron, didn't they teach you anything? Don't chase the fucking rabbit,” Sehun shouted over Cheonsa's computerized voice announcing, “Neural bridge exercise unsuccessful. Drift sequence terminated.” Sehun stormed out of the Conn-Pod, leaving his pale-faced and guilt-ridden co-pilot behind.
After his official debriefing with Marshall Boa, Sehun holed himself up in the combat room and exercised until all the blind anger had drained from his burning muscles. Normally, cadets would spar together but after he'd roughly pushed Chanyeol and Baekhyun away, no one was too keen on approaching him anymore. The evening wore on but Sehun stayed after most other cadets had trickled out of the room until only one other person was going at the punching-bag next to Sehun's. Though Sehun had purposely avoided making any eye contact, not wanting to talk, their punches had fallen into the same rhythm and it was oddly soothing. Right left, right left, their punches fell with thudding noises almost like two heartbeats. Growing curious, Sehun turned his head and saw tanned, muscular arms and graceful wrists.
“Kai.” He let his fists sink. Kai mirrored him and then rubbed one end of the towel slung around his neck over his sweaty forehead.
“Sehun. I'm sorry. I'll make it next time, I know it.”
“Next time?” Sehun said with acid in his voice. “If it were up to me, there wouldn't be a next time. Loser.”
“Fuck you.” Kai burst out suddenly and stepped into Sehun's space, shoving at his shoulders. “I know why you're so angry all the time. You can keep ignoring me and looking down on me but I saw it all in your head. You're just a fucking coward, so scared of losing your memories of him that you don't even dare to make new ones.”
“What did you call me?” Sehun hissed sharply as if hit by a physical punch in the guts. It didn't stop Kai.
“Yeah, you heard me! You're already starting to forget him and you hate yourself for it. You think if you accept me, you're betraying him. Replacing him.”
His words tore into Sehun like fish hooks and ripped out his innermost fears, dragging them out into the open. He wanted to scream and fight and stuff them all back inside to keep them hidden but he only managed to curl his fists into the straps of Kai's tank top and tug in a weak plea for him to stop. Stop cutting him open and making him confront his inner demons he'd cowered behind for months.
Kai laid a hand on the back of Sehun's neck, gripping hard and shaking him a little. “Sehun. Look at me! I know how much you loved him, I saw it. I'm not here to take his place. I'm here to pilot a Jaeger with you and help fight those... those things. After this war is over, you still have your whole life ahead of you. He wouldn't... he wouldn't want you to cling to his death so hard that you forget to live.”
“What do you know? You never lost a loved one,” Sehun whispered in a choked voice, burying his face in Kai's shoulder. If Kai felt the wetness seep into his skin, he didn't comment on it. He only rubbed his hand up and down Sehun's back and held him. After a while, he asked. “Shower?” Sehun nodded against his shoulder and raised his head eventually.
“Big news!” Baekhyun announced and grabbed a chair at their dinner table the next day. Chanyeol pushed a tray laden with food towards him, cucumbers picked out of his salad because Chanyeol knew Baekhyun hated them. “You'll never guess what they did.” He paused for dramatic effect. “They closed down Anchorage!”
A gasp went through the small group of people who'd heard him and then everyone started discussing.
“The legendary Anchorage Dome? Why would they do that?”
“So I guess it's true, they're cutting fundings.”
“Well, it is one of the Domes farthest away from the Breach, and Alaska's a sparsely populated area.”
It was only a few days later that they heard of the Shatterdome in Lima getting closed, too. Word was that the United Nations found the costs for the Jaeger program too high and were letting it phase out, closing the Shatterdomes one after the other. By the end of October, only six out of nine remained and in those, restlessness and uncertainty weighed down the mood. No one knew when it would be theirs.
“I can't believe they closed Tokyo down. They're our first responder during Kaiju attacks. We need them,” Kai said, as he tucked the corners of his fresh bed sheet under his mattress. In the lower bunk, Sehun was working on his. After their second and successful Drift test, they'd moved into a shared room in silent acquiescence, as was common among co-pilots. Today was laundry day and they had to make their beds.
“They probably thought Vladivostok could handle westbound Kaiju,” Sehun said. “And they're building the wall.”
“It's just weird that they closed Tokyo before our little Nagasaki Dome.”
“Guess we cost them less money. And we still have some fully functioning Jaegers. If we lose those-”
In that moment, an announcement came on the screen in their room. “Movement in the Breach. All pilots on stand-by. Please await further orders.”
Kai slid down the metal ladder of the bunk bed and almost stumbled as he and Sehun dropped their chores and raced to the screen. It showed all relevant data about the Breach and whatever emerged from it. Sehun threw a quick glance at Kai who was rubbing his ankle. “You okay there?”
Kai nodded briefly, keeping his eyes on the screen.
“Could be your first ride. You scared?”
“Uhm. A little.”
Sehun only nodded, knowing that Kai would catch it out of the corner of his eyes. It was all he could offer at the moment since he had to stop himself from doing something foolish like taking Kai's hand or telling him 'I will protect you'.
The Kaiju headed towards Mexico and by the time it reached Acapulco, Striker Eureka was already awaiting it and took it down. Everything went smoothly and yet, it put everyone on edge. There weren't even months between attacks anymore but mere weeks, with the time spans getting shorter and shorter. When would the next attack happen? In two weeks? One? And the collected data showed that the alien beasts were getting progressively bigger and fiercer, too. They had already suffered so many losses this year. Would their Jaegers still be a match for them next year? Would the Anti-Kaiju Wall hold? If humans ran out of means to protect themselves, they were doomed.
“Sehun,” Kai said after another day of hard training. The air in the Shatterdome had become thick the way it did outside when a storm brewed on the horizon, electricity sizzling between the fine hairs on their arms, and everyone was poised to jump, the pressure rising almost to the unbearable. “Before we die... can I kiss you?”
Water pattered down on Sehun as he stopped soaping his armpits. There was no other sound in the shower room and he could almost feel Kai holding his breath, waiting tensely for his answer. Of course he knew from the Drift that Kai was attracted to him, it had been impossible not to see that. But they never addressed it in their daily life, letting it go on like a fragile but well-oiled machine. Now Kai had thrown a wedge into the cogs and everything came to a screeching halt, the illusion shattering like thin glass.
Sehun wasn't going to kiss anyone ever again. Hell, he wasn't even sure if he would still be here this time tomorrow. Kai wasn't looking at him, head bent under the spray from the shower head, but he was like a tightly wound coil. Probably expecting a rejection. Water dripped from his matted hair, ran in rivulets down the curve of his muscular back, and a fast pulse was pumping visibly through the vein on his neck, heating his face to a deep pink.
He was mesmerizing. His body was like a sanctuary of signs of life and, god, Sehun needed to feel that heat under his palms. One step and he was pressing Kai's back against the tiled wall, hands slipping through Kai's wet hair. He fastened his lips to the exposed side of Kai's neck and the water running over his pulsing veins flooded his mouth. Like a parched man he drank it all down to the sound of the small moans that fell from Kai's lips but soon he moved up to kiss the droplets from his fluttering eyelashes. Then he cupped his hands around Kai's jaw, cradling his face, the pads of his thumbs pressing into his supple cheeks. As Kai opened his eyes, his deep, rich brown orbs so close they filled Sehun's whole universe, their gazes became entrapped in each other. Warm and wet, their lips connected and Kai's arms came up to wrap around Sehun, to pull him as close as humanly possible.
“Finally,” he sighed into Sehun's mouth. He was so close, so hot and hard in Sehun's arms, skin slippery as they moved against each other, pulling desperately although all space had already been eradicated. It made Sehun realize how starved for contact he was, wanting more and more, and it was so overwhelming that he had to tip his head back to escape from Kai's lips giving so much, so fast. A deep ache was lodged in Sehun's chest.
“Why does it feel like you're all I have left?” Sehun cried. Kai held him and Sehun could feel him everywhere, touching from thighs to stomach to chest, arms wound tight around the back span of Sehun's ribcage. His head was lowered so he could press his forehead into the crook of Sehun's neck.
“I love you.” Kai spoke with a pained voice. “If we make it through this, if we win this war and someday you're ready to let someone in your life again, will you consider me?”
“Yes,” Sehun said without thinking, pulling Kai's head up to kiss his lips again, hard and long. He loved the way they yielded so readily under his. “Yes.” They kissed until their whimpers softened and their fears quieted.
Sehun was awoken by someone shaking his shoulders. “Sehun, get up, get up,” Kai called him and placed a folded set of deep blue cadet clothes on his bed. “Movement in the Breach. There's a Category 3 heading north along the Mariana Trench. It's going to hit Japan in about six hours. We're being deployed.”
Sehun ripped his eyes open, immediately awake, and swung his legs out of the bed to pull his clothes on. Kai was already dressed and ready to go, only his hair was still sticking up in every direction but no one was going to say anything about that at 4:30 in the morning. As they hurried along the corridors towards the Drivesuit Room, Kai said. “We're going out together with Baekhyun and Chanyeol.”
“They're taking Thunder Pulse?” Sehun asked. The thought of his friends in their huge Mark 4 beside him was reassuring.
“Of course.” Kai nodded. “And Hong Kong is on stand-by, they're going to send us reinforcement in case we need it.”
They were dressed in their drivesuits, high-tech armour that relayed the electric impulses from their muscles to the Jaegers and supported their spines and major joints on a bumpy ride. It always made Sehun feel a little more invincible, a little less fragile, even after he had seen how little the drivesuits helped when faced directly with a Kaiju's claws. But as long as they were inside the Jaeger, they were good.
From there on, everything went the way the technician teams and the pilots had practiced countless times. Inside the Conn-Pod, Sehun and Kai were strapped into their harnesses and started up the system until all the displays around them glowed blue and orange, then they radioed in to LOCCENT as the door of the Conn-Pod was secured, and soon they were ready to be dropped and fastened onto the shoulders of their giant war machine that they would lead out into battle.
“Rangers, this is Yuta from LOCCENT. Prepare for neural handshake.”
“Preparing for neural handshake,” Sehun and Kai replied and initiated the sequence that would take them into the Drift. Sehun emptied his mind of all thoughts and let Kai's conscious wash into his, memories that were by now almost as familiar as his own streaming around him, and warmth, an incredible, intense warmth that bloomed in his chest with fragments of a thought that didn't originate in his own head. “...better than sex” and “it's not our bodies, it's our minds merging.”
“Dude, the fuck is that train of thought,” Sehun said to Kai and smirked.
“Sorry, can't help it.” Even through the visor of his helmet, Kai managed to look sheepish. God, he was cute. Kai lifted his head and blinked hopefully at Sehun. Of course Kai had to catch that one, damn the Drift for leaving none of his thoughts private.
“Neural handshake initiated,” Cheonsa Showdown's computerized voice sounded out.
“Drift stable and strong,” Yuta gave the feedback from LOCCENT Mission Control and so the two pilots calibrated their systems, brought the Jaeger's arms up in front of its armoured and weapon-packed chest to slam the left fist smack into the middle of the right palm.
“Beautiful,” said Yuta, “okay gentlemen, listen up. At the rate the little guy is going, we're expecting him to hit Japan in the area of Kushiro. We're taking you out to Hokkaido and keeping Thunder Pulse closer to Tokyo in case he changes his course. As always, the safety of the civilian population is our primary concern. Once we're certain where he's headed, the Jaeger that's further away will be brought to join the other for backup. Copy all of this?”
“Copy, sir.” Sehun and Kai replied as the hangar gates opened up into an ash black morning before them. To their left, Thunder Pulse was also wheeled out of the Shatterdome and strapped to high-speed helicopters.
“Good morning!” Chanyeol's deep but cheery voice sounded through Sehun's headset. “Ready for a play date at the beach?”
“Bit cold this time of the year,” Sehun replied and Kai pulled up the most recent weather report of Hokkaido on one of their screens. It looked crispy cold but clear. At least they wouldn't get into a snow storm by the looks of it.
“Stork moms ready to deliver these steel babies,” the chopper team radioed in and were given the ok for take-off. It would take close to five hours for them to reach their destination, and Sehun and Kai agreed to take turns napping for two hours while the other kept watch. When Sehun felt Kai's mind slip into a slumber, he wondered if this was what migratory birds felt like when they let one half of their brains rest during flights. He was equal parts relaxed and alert. Outside, the sky slowly turned steel grey, then a soft rose, and finally a vibrant pink and orange as the sun's fiery ball pushed over the horizon.
Kai blinked his eyes open and looked at Sehun, making him inhale sharply as he felt Kai's stomach clench with longing. A quick picture of them kissing bathed in the glorious morning light, a product of Kai's imagination, surged through Sehun.
“Great, a sappy romantic on top of everything,” Sehun said sarcastically. “Try not to stare at me longingly while I sleep.” Sehun turned his head away and closed his eyes but he knew Kai would feel his fond smile through the Drift even if he couldn't see it.
About an hour before their arrival, when they had just passed the northernmost part of Japan's main island, LOCCENT called them with urgent news, cutting Sehun's nap time short.
“The Kaiju took a sharp left instead of continuing north. He passed through the Tsugaru Strait and is going around the southern tip of Hokkaido. You're being rerouted towards Sapporo. Thunder Pulse is on his way, too. Your orders are to hold Ishikari Bay. Don't let the Kaiju within ten miles of the shoreline. Just watch out, he's a fast swimmer.”
Sehun and Kai confirmed that they'd received the order and got ready to face the beast. They took the remaining time to scan Cheonsa's systems for any glitches but everything was running perfectly. The closer they got to the Kaiju, the faster their radar beeped, showing one bright green dot racing towards them. It seemed the Kaiju had spotted them already. The choppers dropped them with a huge splash and the impact of their feet on the rocky ocean floor threw the two pilots hard into their harnesses but they were used to being jostled around in the giant robot and got it into an unshakeable defensive stance, awaiting the clash.
And then the moment came that a huge, monstrous head broke through the waves as the Kaiju reared up with a mighty roar, jaw full of abnormally large teeth like an ugly deep sea fish. It dove back down and shot up in a slithering motion, bending its body in a curve to whip its tail around and hit Cheonsa right across the chest but Sehun and Kai were faster, ducking down so the tail swished through the air above their Jaeger's head. With the beast still visible right under the water surface, they lost no time and shot a salve from the missile sleeve of their right hand, tearing wounds into the Kaiju's nape that leaked toxic blue blood. It made the beast go into a rage and draw itself up on its hindlegs, towering over Sehun and Kai. It was thin compared to other Kaiju but long, flexible, and fucking fast. It extended one arm with claws longer than a truck and the two pilots didn't have to think before activating their 'halo', electricity buzzing over their heads as high voltage ran through the taser gun that would sizzle into the Kaiju's arm should it aim a strike for their Conn-Pod on Cheonsa's shoulders.
Sehun had an attack plan and knew that Kai could see it in their shared mind. It was a risky move.
“You sure?” Kai called over the intercom.
“Trust me,” Sehun shouted back, showing him a quick flash of his martial arts training. This was his best move. And trust him Kai did. Before the Kaiju could even yank its raised arm down and attempt to slice them with its claws, they dashed forward, grabbed it by the wrist and threw their weight into a punch against the outside of its elbow. With a terrifying crack, its arm was bent at the wrong angle. So Kaiju joints apparently worked similarly to those of creatures from the Earth.
“Let's finish this!” Sehun shouted and they geared up for the final blow but the Kaiju slipped out of their grasp and dove back under water. Watching the waves it drew in its wake carefully, the figured out where it was going, drawing a half moon shape and taking up speed.
“It's going to jump again! Activate the shoulder jets!” Sehun called, and this time they braced themselves to lunge at the beast and snatch it right out of the air before it could whip its tail around. What they didn't expect was that it jumped a lot lower this time, slashing through the crowns of the waves and splashing Cheonsa with a huge amount of water that hindered the pilots' sight. They yelled and threw themselves forward, grabbing onto the monster that thrashed wildly and tried to escape their grip.
“Guys, what's going on out there?” LOCCENT called in suddenly. “We're getting two signatures now. I repeat, two Kaiju signatures!”
“That's impossible,” Sehun panted as they wrestled with the struggling beast. “We've got it! Taking it down right now. There's no other!”
“No, the second one is heading towards the shore. What's happening out there? Thunder Pulse, we need you ready for whatever's coming out of that water.”
“Something's not right. It's too light for a Cat 3,” Kai called to Sehun. With a huge burst of strength they managed to rip their arms up and lift the wriggling thing out of the water, confirming Kai's suspicion. “Shit! This is only its tail. Just drop it, we need to get to the main body. LOCCENT, did you hear that? It's like a lizard! We grabbed its tail and it just threw it off. We're chasing the main body now to hold the Miracle Mile. Keep an eye on the tail's signature for us.”
They raced after the second signature showing on their radar and as they scanned the water in the distance for a shadow that would betray the Kaiju's position, they recognized Baekhyun and Chanyeol's Jaeger silhouetted against the sun now standing high on the zenith.
“Hey, Thunder,” Sehun called their friends, “we're driving the little fucker right into your arms but don't let him jump at you, he's got some mean claws.”
Between the two Jaegers, they managed to take the Kaiju down without any losses, safe for a few nasty scratches along the hulls of their Jaegers. Soon, the huge rump fell lifelessly into the water and waited for Kaiju harvesters to snatch whatever pieces they could before the official clean-up commando moved in. The tail part wouldn't stop twitching no matter which type of ammo was blasted into it but the movements ceased on their own eventually and the Jaegers were brought home.
“Welcome back, rangers,” Marshall Boa greeted them, her stature impressive despite her lack of height. “Congratulations on your victory.”
They got a medical check-up after the debriefing and a huge early dinner that Sehun wolfed down as if he'd been starved for a week. He hadn't realized how hungry he was but Kai was digging in no less eagerly.
“Can you believe they codenamed it Tailsplitter? Talk about apt naming.” Kai nudged Baekhyun across for him with his foot when his plate was empty and his stomach pleasantly full. But the pilot who was usually the first to get excited about news and gossip was staring at Chanyeol with glazed eyes. Chanyeol was chewing slowly and a blush was creeping up his cheeks.
“Forget it,” Sehun said to Kai the same moment Chanyeol said, “fuck, Baekhyun.” He swallowed his food down before crashing his lips on his co-pilot's and they started heavily making out in the middle of the mess hall.
“Get a room,” Sehun called in a grumpy voice and threw his dessert spoon at them when Baekhyun tangled his dainty but strong fingers in Chanyeol's unruly hair and tugged his head back to suck on his neck. They shot up from their seats and stumbled towards the pilot quarters.
“You can't make conversation with them right after a Drift,” Sehun told Kai. “They've got this crazy case of ghost Drifting where they can practically communicate through their minds even after the neural connection's severed.”
“Are they, uhm, an item?” Kai asked carefully.
Sehun shrugged. “No one knows, but whatever they see in each other's heads in the Drift makes them jump each other's bones afterwards as if the world's ending.”
He worked a toothpick between his teeth and ignored that he, too, could still feel Kai's heartbeat thumping in his chest alongside his own.
They barely got any rest and the Jaegers had only just been patched up when ten days later, the next attack happened.
Sehun and Kai were sent out again, receiving a quick rundown of information from a LOCCENT officer. “It's a Category 4 headed straight northwest from the Breach. Estimated target is East China.”
“East China, that's...” Sehun looked at the digital map on the display in the middle of the round table and one name of the cities dotting the Chinese coast caught his eye. “No, not Shanghai,” he breathed weakly, feeling his insides fill with ice as the memory of Lu Han's death came crashing back down on him. Bile rose in his throat and his chest constricted, making him gag.
“Sehun, breathe,” Kai's calm voice reached him and an arm was wrapped around his shoulders, firm and warm and real. Sehun managed to force an exhale out, making room for a gulp of fresh air, and his breathing calmed down. Some people were throwing him worried glances but he waved them off and the briefing continued. If the Kaiju didn't change its course, it wouldn't come close to Shanghai, going further north and into the Bohai Sea instead.
“It's going to pass right by our front door,” Kai said, pointing at the dotted red line that indicated the most likely route of the Kaiju. “Can't we intercept it before it reaches China?”
“No, their underwater cruise speed is too high, it would slip right through our fingers. We have to meet it in shallower water where their movements become less agile. Hong Kong will send out Crimson Typhoon but since we can get there faster, they requested our assistance.”
And so Sehun and Kai were flown out to the Bohai Sea on their second mission in Cheonsa Showdown. As Sehun called, “hey, look, Jeju-do,” pointing to a deep green spot in the vast ocean, and Kai admitted that he missed home, they didn't know that it would be their last.
Kojiyama, as the Kaiju had been named, didn't let them wait long. Crimson Typhoon was almost there but they'd have to ward off the first blow on their own. The giant Category 4 was unlike anything Sehun had ever seen. It had a massive horn on its bulky nose and ridged armour plates from its forehead over its flat head and along its back. A deluge of water streamed off of it as if it were a mountain suddenly rising from the bottom of the sea.
Kai's eyebrows shot up and he let out a drawn-out curse. “Holy shit.”
“Better keep your seatbelt fastened, buddy,” Sehun said as he scanned the beast for any weak spot to aim at. He'd rather get a quick hit in before the colossal beast struck. Kai was right there with him as they devised a plan, sharing the same mental space over the neural bridge that connected them in the Drift. They ducked and dashed forward to fire a hefty salve into the underside of the beast where its legs connected with the body, but it had about the same effect as a flea biting an elephant.
“Fuck, watch out!” Sehun called when the Kaiju swathed at them and only missed by a hair's breadth. They wove their way out between the swinging and kicking legs and got a safe distance away.
“Cheonsa Showdown, you okay there?” LOCCENT enquired just as Kojiyama turned its monstrous head and blinked a row of six eyes at Sehun and Kai.
“We're fine,” Kai replied as they took slow steps back to lure the Kaiju farther away from the populated areas along the coastline. “When's Crimson Typhoon getting here?”
“About 15 minutes.”
“Okay, we got it.”
Just then, the Kaiju charged at them. It was clear that its body mass was too much to hold against without risking severe damage to their Jaeger, and they'd rather not take any chances with the lowered head aiming to impale them on its horn. They dodged and aimed an uppercut at its jaw before jumping back to bring some distance between the monster and them again. On top of no discernible fighting style Kaiju had some unpredictable anatomy which made foreseeing their attacks very difficult. The only thing one could reckon with was that a Kaiju had the destructive force of a hurricane, mowing down everything in its way.
One of the clawed frontlegs swung up and hit Cheonsa in the head, jostling the pilots in their harnesses. The taser gun did its job and hit the Kaiju with an electric shock that would've killed a whale. The beast let out a bloodcurdling screech and pressed forward with its body weight, breaking off one of the tips of the taser. Sehun and Kai screamed as the electricity sizzled out, and pushed the heavy beast off their head. It splashed limping into the waves and they moved in to send a good punch after it when the tail shot in a high arch over its back and came piercing into the side of Cheonsa's neck, shaking the Conn-Pod so hard that Sehun was scared the coupling with the Jaeger's body wouldn't hold. There was a tear in the hull on Kai's side who was thrown around so harshly that it knocked him unconscious.
“Fuck, stay with me!” Sehun shouted but Kai was out like a light. At least his brain wasn't damaged and the Drift was still holding steady, although the only helpful thing Kai's mind could do in his unconscious state was sharing the neural load of being mind-melded with a 280 feet tall war machine. The actual moving was all on Sehun now. He'd never felt every strand of muscle in his body weighed down by something so indescribably heavy before and the only thing firing through his nerves and keeping them moving was the pure adrenaline in his body as he fought for his life.
“Hull was breached! Kai's alive but knocked out!” Sehun shouted, hoping someone in LOCCENT was listening. “Fucking bastard stung me like a scorpion. And- oh shit, what's this?! Damage is increasing! I think it leaked some kinda acid.”
The gap in the hull was widening as the acid ate through the material, some of it dripping on the floor where it slowly started throwing bubbles. Through the hull, Sehun could see the Kaiju lifting one massive leg and aiming the claws right at Kai. Like the cruelest deja-vu, the moment of Lu Han's death flashed through Sehun's mind, about to be repeated.
“No!” he screamed until his throat was raw and yanked the Jaeger's arm up with all his might, gripping the Kaiju's wrist, desperate to stop it from snatching Kai. Its claws swung close like the biggest nightmare version of a cat fishing in a goldfish bowl, missing Kai by mere millimetres. They severed most cables and mechanisms that kept him buckled in. Sehun saw his limp body falling and snapping the few remaining threads in slow-motion, understanding instantly that as soon as he was completely out of the harness, Sehun would be alone in the Drift with the Jaeger. There were only two people known to have survived that and he had no illusions about being the third.
Sehun shouted and, with the last bit of time left, squeezed Cheonsa's fist around the arm of the Kaiju so hard that the engines powering the hydraulics in the fingers overheated and seared into the flesh. It was the limb already damaged from the electrocution earlier and it tore off, sending the Kaiju crashing onto its side, thrashing and screeching wildly.
Inside the Conn-Pod, Kai hit the floor and Sehun's hand flew to the dashboard, managing to hit the emergency button that shut down all systems right before the neural load could come crashing in and destroying his mind. Sehun disengaged his own harness and stumbled to Kai, pulling him away from the acidic spot dissolving the floor. He tugged him to the back where the evacuation pods were located, pushed him into one and launching it before moving on wobbly legs to his own and climbing in. It was ejected, shooting like a bullet far off into the ocean just when Cheonsa's Conn-Pod was completely mauled by the Kaiju.
Days later, Sehun woke up in the medical ward to Kai leaning over him with a crooked smile on his handsome face. For someone with his whole right arm in a cast, he looked pretty damn chipper.
“You saved my life.” Sehun heard the words as clearly as if Kai had spoken them and it took him a while to process that he hadn't moved his lips at all. He shuddered at the thought of such a strong ghost Drift but when Kai laughed at him, face bright like the first morning of summer, Sehun's chest felt incredibly warm. And this time he knew the warmth originated in himself because there was a second one echoing it which had to be Kai's.
Kai was leaning down to kiss him on the lips right when Baekhyun stormed into the room followed by Chanyeol.
“Ahem, not to interrupt you guys-”
“-but at this rate you're going to miss Marshall Boa's important speech.”
They led Kai and Sehun to the mess hall despite Sehun's wooziness from having been out for over 24 hours.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I have an announcement to make, and I'm afraid it will be my last as your marshall,” Boa said and stepped onto a platform so that her voice carried better. It was in her nature to arrest attention easily and everyone turned their faces towards her to listen.
“When the first Kaiju attacked in 2013 we were helpless. But we learned to defend ourselves. All of us here in Nagasaki contributed to keeping our Earth safe for 11 years. We've had losses, and our fallen comrades shall never be forgotten, but we've also had many victories. Today, along with our Shatterdome, the chapter we wrote closes. How the book ends, what fate lies in store for all of humankind, is now no longer in our hands. I want to thank each and every single one of you for your hard work, your dedication, and your endurance. It's been an honour.” She bowed deeply and stepped off the platform to everyone applauding until their hands were numb.
Later, when Chanyeol was singing raucously to Baekhyun dancing on a table in the mess hall, Sehun and Kai stepped away from the farewell party in the Shatterdome to get a lungful of fresh air.
“So... Hong Kong?” Kai asked as they leaned on the railing and blew their breaths like little wisps of fog into the crisp night.
“What are you gonna do if they don't take us in Hong Kong?”
“I don't know. But wherever you decide to go, I want to go with you.” Kai reached for Sehun's hand and took it in his. Sehun almost yanked his hand back at the feeling of their fingers sliding together as if they were made for this. He still wasn't sure if he was ready. Maybe he would never really be.
“Piloting a Jaeger's the only thing I'm good at,” he grumbled to distract himself from the warmth of Kai's palm.
“Then it's time you find something new or you'll become an unemployed bum on my couch after the war.” Kai threw him a grin. “What are you passionate about?” After a moment had passed with no response from Sehun, Kai's grin wavered and he said. “Come on, there's gotta be something.”
In a small voice, Sehun asked. “Hey... Kai? D'you really believe there's gonna be an 'after the war'?”
“Of course,” Kai said, looking straight ahead with a powerful light in his deep brown eyes. His voice was filled with unwavering conviction and it was then that Sehun let himself believe.
Following Kai's line of vision out to where a sharp, bright moon was standing on the horizon, Sehun squeezed Kai's hand tightly and prayed. If there's any higher power among the billions of stars in this universe that cares for the tiny living beings on this planet, please, please protect the one I'm holding on to.