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i.

Morgan gets a full four hours of sleep, figures that’s as good as it’s going to get, and rolls out of bed. It’s not quite five in the morning when he gets to the mess hall.

He’s usually the only one getting breakfast at this time – he does it on purpose, no line for the coffee machine this way – but today he hears noise as he comes down the hall, high-pitched chattering.

Patrick’s standing by the cereal, looks over his shoulder as Mo gets into the room. “Morning,” he says through a yawn. His youngest is buzzing around in his footie pajamas, waves at Mo and beams.

Mo tries for a smile, ‘cause a kid’s a kid, and that’s what you do. “You guys’re up early, huh?”

“I woke up and I wanted krispies,” Caleb says brightly, swinging on his dad’s arm so the bowl of cereal teeters precariously.

“Gotta have the krispies,” Mo agrees easy enough, because he can’t begrudge the kid. If you’re three years old and living in one of the last safe zones west of the Atlantic, he figures, Rice Krispies are about as good as you can hope for it to get.

He sets about getting his coffee, only half-listening to Caleb rambling and Pat murmuring the occasional agreement. Mo’s going through his day in his mind, everything on his list to get done – he’s got to check on the crew in maintenance and see if they’ve figured out the washing machine, can’t forget that – and mostly tunes out the voice over the PA, only really starts paying attention when Pat reacts.

“Oh, man.” Patrick’s looking at his watch, clearly taken aback. When Mo raises his eyebrows, he explains, “New neurologist they’re bringing in for Sixer. He wasn’t supposed to be in ‘til later.” He’s visibly hesitating, not sure what to do with Caleb.

“I can show him around,” Mo offers. He likes welcoming new people. Likes helping out, too.

“You sure, Mo?” Pat asks, but he sounds grateful enough that, even if Mo hadn’t been before, he would be now. Breakfast can wait.

“Yeah, ‘course.” Mo ruffles Caleb’s hair. “Enjoy the krispies, eh, bud?”

Pat claps Mo on the shoulder as he heads out of the mess hall. Mo forgets his coffee, only realizes it when he’s halfway across the base, but- he’ll live.

He takes the stairs a couple at a time, shoves open the big steel door to the roof with his shoulder.

A gust of wind hits him right in the face as soon as he’s out. It’s usually strong up here, this height and this close to the water. It’s spitting rain a little. Where he’s standing, Morgan can just barely see over the edge of the roof, the lights from the base cutting through the early morning fog stretched out over Lake Ontario.

“’scuse me, Mo.”

Mo steps out of the way, holds the door to make room for Nat to head down, carrying a bunch of crates. “Flight from the city?” he asks, and she nods over her shoulder, directing him towards the other end of the roof. “Thanks.”

The base isn’t what it used to be, hasn’t been in a while, but the landing strip is still a hub of activity, ground crews rushing around to deliver supplies and personnel. It’s easy enough for Mo to figure out where to look, once he gets closer: it’s not one of their own couple of bucket-of-bolts jets, but a real nice one, rain glimmering on the wings. And, he notices with some interest, the first person out is General Babcock, chattering to the man who emerges behind him. Must be a pretty important neurologist, to get a personal escort from the general.

Mo watches them approach. The new guy is big. Orange hair, shockingly bright even in the fog. A coat with the collar buttoned all the way up.

“Good flight?” Mo asks once they get within hearing range, and Babcock gives his usual grunt, which is probably a yes, or something close.

“Dr. Frederik Andersen,” he says without preamble, nudging the new arrival forward. “Neuroscience, works with the Mark-5’s.”

“Welcome aboard,” Mo says, and holds his hand out to shake. “Morgan Rielly. Mo’s good.”

Dr. Andersen shakes his hand, nods a hello. He looks at Mo for all of half a second before his gaze is flitting elsewhere, even before he pulls his hand back. It’s fair. There’s a lot to take in, planes taking off, people running around talking into headsets.

“You sticking around, sir?” Mo asks the general, and Babcock shakes his head.

“Got enough to deal with in the city,” he says, already drawing back. “You can take it from here?”

“Yeah, ‘course,” Mo says, and shoots Dr. Andersen a smile. “You want the tour? Someone’ll drop your stuff at your assigned quarters.”

“Thank you,” Andersen says, and he follows obediently enough when Morgan gestures for him to follow.

Their footsteps on the metal staircase are the only sound – apparently the new guy’s quiet, which is just fine by Mo. He figures he’ll show him around the hangar first. That’s the exciting part, ostensibly, except that once they get there, Mo can’t help but be aware of how empty it is in spite of the people starting to mill around, the occasional shower of sparks from where the night crews are still working. He follows Dr. Andersen’s gaze to the out of service docking bays: one empty, then another where Striker Fury used to be, then the third where the shell of London Knight is sitting dormant, the way it’s been for months.

“We were never really at capacity even before we lost Fury and Knight broke. Just the one jaeger for now,” Mo explains as they walk, trying to be a good tour guide. “I’m trying to fix up Knighter for Naz and Johnny, you’ll meet them, but it’s really old tech, like, analog, so. It’s slow going.”

Andersen looks at him, and his brow is furrowed the tiniest bit, the suggestion of a frown. “You’ve been holding the line with one jaeger?”

Mo shrugs a shoulder. “The rest of the pilots have just been flying support in the old planes for now, it works okay.” Which- it’s technically the truth, he figures, because they’re all still alive, but ‘okay’ is maybe pushing it. There’ve been too many near misses, too many almosts.

Andersen looks like he’s about to say something else, but then they round the corner and he gets distracted. Mo gets it.

Andersen’s tall, taller even than Mo, which doesn’t happen often. Even so, he has to crane his neck to look at the jaeger in front of them, even at this distance. It’s something straight out of science fiction, metallic cobalt plating up the legs of a nearly-humanoid robot; brighter than anything else in the hangar and bigger too, with three arms, each four times the size of Mo’s house growing up, a head barely visible dozens of stories up. The reason anyone on the base or in the city is still alive.

“Blue Six,” Andersen says, and he sounds impressed like he hasn’t before.

“Sixer, yeah.” Mo shoves his hands in his pockets, stares up at the jaeger. A little proud, in spite of himself. It’s not the kind of sight you get used to. “She’s a beauty, huh?”

“I consulted on her neural profile,” Andersen says. Mo realizes for the first time that he’s got an accent, just slight. Not from anywhere Mo can identify, and almost hidden, Andersen’s voice is so fast and soft-spoken. He glances at Mo, looks him properly in the eye, like he’s interested for the first time. “You work on the interface?”

Mo shakes his head. “I mostly do the mechanical stuff, drift interface is the guys in the lab.”

Andersen’s already looking away from him and back at Sixer. So much for interested. The wheels turning in his head are practically audible.

Mo’s stomach growls. He never did get breakfast. “You’re here to work with her crew, right?” he asks, trying to, like, subtly nudge Dr. Andersen back into walking and talking, preferably towards the mess hall.

Andersen nods, distracted, still staring up at Blue Six. “If there’s anything I can find to replicate their results in the drift...” He trails off. Mo gets the message.

Things are getting urgent, probably, if they’re bringing in specialists from overseas. Probably past urgent. Kaijus have been coming more and more frequently since the west coast fell. Toronto was never supposed to be the front line, not this far inland, and they’re not equipped for it, obviously, but with just three out of five Great Lakes bases left standing since they lost Huron, they’re just about the last line of defense. Sheer dumb luck they’ve got Sixer and her crew, or they’d be long gone. They’d need about a dozen of them to make a real difference.

Mo doesn’t say that part out loud. It’s too early for pessimism.

He tries to muster up an interesting, or at least useful tour of the base, pointing out the main stuff as they walk. Labs, training facilities for the pilots. They pass Johnny working out on the old gym equipment, the way he’s probably been doing since near four. Mo grabs a towel and leaves it on the door handle so John won’t have to go searching for one one; takes them back the long way so he can bang on Kappy’s door and wake him up, since he always sleeps through his alarm. Andersen trails along after him, watchful and silent.

The noise from the mess hall travels all the way down the corridor. They bump into Hutchinson outside the doors, and Mo makes the introductions, relieved to have someone who’ll actually talk.

“Hutch,” Mo says, offering a smile. “Dr. Andersen, new neurotech guy. Hutch is the GP, keeps us alive.”

“They don’t make it easy,” Hutch says, friendly, and holds out a hand to Andersen. “Nice to meet you.”

“You as well.”

Hutch meets Mo’s eyes, jabs a thumb towards the way he came. “Mo, before I forget, Wicks was looking for you. Something about a change of quarters…”

“Thanks, man,” Mo says as they round the corner and enter the hall. It’s busier now than the first time Mo was here today, base staff milling around and chatting. The atmosphere’s more relaxed than usual, everyone taking advantage of the relatively quiet spell – by any model they have, another kaiju’s not predicted to be on its way for a couple of days.

There’s a familiar peal of laughter from the centre of the hall.

“There’s your guys,” Mo says to Dr. Andersen, nodding in the direction of the laughing. “Sixer’s crew.”

It’s the three of them together, because it’s always the three of them together: Willy leaning his chin on Auston’s shoulder, Auston toying with Mitch’s shoelaces while Mitch is perched on the table, oblivious, gesturing animatedly with his fork and narrowly avoiding taking someone’s eye out in the process. The other two are laughing at whatever he’s saying, genuinely losing it. Anyone seeing them would know them for pilots at a glance, the way they exist effortlessly in each other’s space, like orbiting planets, coordinated without trying.

Morgan knows he and Andersen aren’t the only ones watching them. Something about being the last hope of a probably-doomed species tends to draw attention.

Next to Mo, Andersen’s expressionless, still, but his jaw tightens. “These are the pilots of Blue Six?” he asks, disbelieving enough that Mo bristles. “They’re kids.”

“Kids with the highest kill rate this side of the equator,” Hutch says, good-naturedly enough.

“They’re only four years younger than me,” Mo adds, and he’s not being defensive, honest-to-god, but it gets him a sidelong look from Andersen. So, whatever, if Andersen thinks Mo and the guys are kids, it’s probably a good thing the rest of the Marleau clan hasn’t shown up for breakfast yet. Not like it’s made a difference – they’ve held the line. They’ll keep holding the line.

So. Morgan was... maybe being a little bit defensive.

It doesn’t turn into anything. Mo’s not immature enough to let it, and anyways, Hutch offers to introduce Andersen to Sparks and the rest of the med-sci guys. Mo doesn’t linger once they leave – Marshal Wickenheiser is probably already busy, and if whatever she wants to tell him is urgent, she knows where he’ll be – just grabs a handful of protein bars and heads back toward the hangar, taking his regular shortcuts this time.

He’ll check on Sixer later, swing by the labs and make sure someone took care of the flickering lightbulb. Now, though, he makes a beeline for London Knight. Not many personnel allocated to her, but Mo can see his crew working over on the right foot, crouched next to an open panel.

He hits the button for the elevator as Jazzy winds her way around his legs and nearly trips him. She’s really not supposed to be in the hangar, around all the machines. Or in the base in general, actually.

Mo gives her scritches on her head the way she likes, anyhow, because it’s not her fault Naz is an asshole who ignores regulations about pets on base. The noise of the elevator creaking down – add that to the list of things to fix – is loud enough that the crew realizes he’s there. Travis waves a wrench at him, cheery.

“You’re late,” he calls over at Mo, and Martina keeps working, rolling her eyes, because she’s too smart for his shit and they don’t deserve her.

“I was giving the grand tour,” Mo says, and Travis catches the protein bars Mo tosses over, shoots him a grin.

“What a tour, though,” he says, putting on this too-polite tour guide voice. “Welcome to Lake Ontario, we’ve got granola bars, a robot and a half, and alien dinosaurs trying to kill us, please enjoy your stay.”

“Eat your breakfast,” Mo says, instead of dignifying that with a response, and ignores the two of them laughing; just makes sure Jazzy’s safely in then pulls shut the door of the elevator to bring them up the scaffolding.

He likes his work. It’s as close as he ever gets to thinking straight, drowning out everything except what’s right in front of him, wiring and screws and nuts and bolts. Things he can fix.

Good with your hands, huh, is what Jake’d say if he was here, all joking, bright eyes, and maybe he’d ruffle Mo’s hair, but he’s not, so he doesn’t, and Mo hears it anyways, deals with that same as he always does. Hallucination’s a really dramatic word, so it’s not that. It’s not anything. He keeps busy.

---

Then:

Mo gets back to his room and nearly trips over a suitcase. “What the-”

He looks around, confused. The room’s shoebox-sized as is, just Mo since Jakey left, and he doesn’t have enough personal possessions for there to be a mess, but now there are bags stacked up by the door, even some official-looking crates. Mo’s first thought is that it’s some kind of long-belated hazing, and his second thought is just irritation, because sure, he never sleeps great, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t looking forward to collapsing into bed after a day’s work.

There’s a cough from behind him, and Mo looks over his shoulder to see the new guy, Dr. Andersen, standing in the doorway, one last bag over his shoulder.

“Is this all your stuff?” Mo asks, at the same time that Andersen asks, “You live here?”

There’s a broken-off moment of confusion, and then Mo blinks, shaking his head.

“Yes,” he says, trying to muster up the energy to sound polite. “This is- can I help you find somewhere, or-”

Andersen wordlessly hands Mo a sheet of paper. A room assignment. This room assignment.

The quarters thing that Wicks wanted to talk with him about, Mo realizes.

Fuck.

“You share rooms?” Andersen asks, and Mo doesn’t think he’s imagining how unimpressed he looks, and that’s twice in as many conversations, now.

“Usually,” Mo says, instead of the probably-bitter comment that springs to mind, because he gets it, rationally, that seniority only goes so far and it’s not fair that he’d be the only one without a roommate. Not Andersen’s fault. Speaking of-

Mo remembers his manners and springs into action, starts hauling his laundry off the top bunk. “Sorry, I’ll just-”

“Thank you,” Andersen says, and he shuts the door behind himself, and Mo tries not to feel trapped.

“Sorry,” he says again, after a few minutes, to fill the quiet. “It’s just been me for a while.”

“It’s fine,” Andersen says. Still standing uncomfortably still in the doorway. “I’m sorry to just-”

Mo shakes his head, cuts him off. “It’s fine,” he echoes; then, trying for a smile, “Some company’ll probably be nice, right?”

Andersen looks entirely unconvinced. Mo relates.

It’s late enough, at least, that it’s practical instead of rude for Mo to get ready for bed after the minimal amount of stiffly shuffling around each other while Andersen unpacks. The room’s too small for two people, really, especially two people who don’t know each other, and it’s a relief when Mo can finally shut off his light, sinking into his pillow with a sigh. “Night,” he says.

“Good night,” Andersen echoes.

He doesn’t turn his light off. As Mo listens, there’s the sound of a page turning, then a pen scratching on paper, obnoxiously loud in the silent room.

Mo yanks his pillow over his head, squeezes his eyes shut and bites back a decidedly unwelcoming comment. He’s been spoiled too long, gotten used to having his own space. It’s fine.

Eventually – a hundred years later, it feels like – Andersen turns his light off. Mo does the usual lying around waiting to sleep. Mostly expects what’s coming.

He’s a kid this time, and it’s one winter day out of dozens the same, sun blinking off the snow while he ducks behind a snowbank, dodging out of the way of snowballs. Laughing so hard the wind hurts his lungs, icy cold.

“C’mon, stop cheating,” Connor’s ragging on him, all older-brother bossy, and then like nothing, a different voice, “There you go, Jakey!” and Mo’s hands aren’t quite his anymore, and he’s taller than he was, running a little faster. Still tossing snowballs.

He can never quite pick out where their memories blur together. They’re all mixed together in Mo’s dreams, experienced firsthand one way or another so that lines are faded, where Vancouver turns into Minnesota and one blonde sibling turns into another. He remembers it sure as anything, is living it, now, and they’re- he’s skidding down the icy driveway, laughing, and then he’s looking over his shoulder, catching a glimpse of himself in the car window, and there’s a flash of startlingly blue eyes, his eyes, and-

Mo wakes up with a start, sits bolt upright and nearly bangs his head on the top bunk.

It takes him a few seconds to realize where he is, who he is. The darkness of the room is jarring, after the world in sparkly white. Jakey is pulsing in his head like a heartbeat, reaching out. Mo ignores it best he can, which isn’t all that well at all; lies down same as he does every time this happens, almost every night.

He only remembers that he’s got a roommate when he realizes it’s not quiet. He can hear Andersen breathing, slow and unfamiliar and the loudest thing in the world.

---

Mo doesn’t dwell. He never dwells.

It’s not as bad as all that, honestly. For all Mo’s worries, Frederik Andersen’s the least obtrusive roommate he’s ever had. The guy even okays it with Mo before he requisitions a desk and crams into a corner, like an MD and a PhD aren’t just about a pass to do whatever he wants; and from then on, just about any time Mo sees him, he’s either working there or lurking around the labs.

They’ve both got jobs to do, important ones, and the end result of that is that they don’t get a chance to talk much after that first day, outside of exchanging good mornings and good nights and not much else. Mo doesn’t think there is much else to Andersen, honestly.

It’s not a priority. Not even on the list of priorities. Mo rewires the lighting in Sixer’s cockpit, barely has time to sit and work on Knight because half the computers on the base start randomly shutting off and he gets roped into dealing with that. Plus side of it all is it’s an excuse to avoid Naz, who’s been giving Mo shit about not sleeping, and everyone remotely connected to the medical staff, who’re bugging him about coming in for his psych eval.

You should, Mo. Safety first, Jake says, all responsible, like he’s not the one who needs a psych evaluation, crazy fucker who actively enjoyed piloting giant robots and nearly getting killed in the process.

Didn’t, he pouts, when Mo thinks that.

“I was in your head,” Mo reminds him. “You can’t lie.”

“Mo!” someone calls, someone not a figment of Mo’s imagination, and when Mo glances over, Nursey’s poking her head through the door.

She jams a thumb over her shoulder. “Some of the young guys were looking for you, they don’t know how to fix the showers off the training room.”

Mo was just in to fix them last week. He was supposed to check on London Knight this afternoon. “I’ll get on it.”

“There’s another call for you, too, from off-base.”

“Thanks, Sarah,” Mo says. It takes more effort than it should to muster up a smile, but nothing’ll get done if he doesn’t do it, so he patches up the frayed wire – chewed through, he’ll need to get someone to put down traps – and heads off to deal with the showers.

He ignores the call thing, because he knows who it’s from, and Mo doesn’t have time for that. Not even close.

(“Who’s Jake?” Andersen asks, one morning, when Mo’s pulling on his socks.

Mo nearly trips, has to catch himself on the bedframe. It’s like a switch is flipped somewhere inside him, his heart hammering against his ribs, his whole body tense. The kind of thing he should be able to control, by now. “Sorry?”

“You talk in your sleep,” Andersen says. He sounds curious, like the first time Mo showed him around the hangar. “You say ‘Jake’, most of the time.” And Morgan can feel Andersen watching him, looking for something.

Mo meant it, when he said he doesn’t have time for this.

He keeps his voice neutral. “Old friend,” he says.

It’s not anything. Mo heads to the hangar and holes up with whatever broken thing he’s responsible for fixing today, and he has to hug Jazzy until his head quiets down enough for him to work, but he still doesn’t dwell. He can’t dwell on this, because he’s got people depending on him, and because if he does, he’ll-

He’ll-

He’s okay. Nothing’s attacked the base in nearly a week, and it’s only the eye of the storm, maybe, but.

He’s okay.)

---

It doesn’t last, because it never really does. Morgan doesn’t get a chance to look at the time, when the sirens blare out through the base, but it’s got to be after two in the morning. Not particularly convenient, even as far as the apocalypse goes, but there’s a routine in place for this reason, so Mo drags himself out of bed and to his post.

He’s the head of maintenance, for whatever that’s worth, so he’s in the ops room during the attack, trying to stay out of the way of the people who are actually useful, here. It’s a big operation, still a little weird to see from behind the scenes instead of out in the thick of things. Lots happening. Still, they’re a well-oiled machine by now, Wicks presiding over everything from the front of the room, Pat at her shoulder, Zach manning the comms while they watch the grainy feed on the screen. Naz is leaning out of the jet, flashing a searchlight at the kaiju while Johnny flies them around just far enough to avoid getting swatted at like a fly.

“Here, boy,” Naz taunts. “Come get the pretty airplane.”

The kaiju’s roaring, grabbing for the plane as Naz and Johnny lead it away from the shore. It’s a hundred near misses, too close for comfort, but John must decide that the thing’s sufficiently distracted, because he says, steady as ever, “When you’re ready, Sixer.”

“Copy,” Auston says, his voice crackling to life over the comms. “Boys.”

There’s a beat, a moment that somehow manages to be anticipation instead of dread, but only because Mo knows what’s coming – the lake parts with a sound like an explosion, and Blue Six surges out of the water, brute force and bolted metal that somehow manages to be beautiful. The kaiju staggers, surprised, and doesn’t have a chance to react before Blue Six knocks it off balance with a massive uppercut, and then they’re locked in. Every action is decisive, the reflex-fast by-product of three minds in sync, doing what they’ve been training to do better than anyone else.

“This guy’s uglier than usual," Auston observes from the cockpit, as one of Sixer’s massive arms jabs into the kaiju’s mouth, sending a spray of blood and god-knows-what-else arcing out over the horizon.

“Looks kind of like you,” Willy says. Auston snorts a laugh.

“So like, super hot, then,” Mitchy says, loyal to a fault, and the audio devolves into three voices laughing and chirping all at once, in stark contrast to the life-and-death scenes they’re all seeing.

Wicks sighs.

Patrick steals the mic from Zach. “Less flirting, maybe, boys,” he suggests, the way he always does, and it doesn’t matter, the way it always doesn’t – Blue Six has got the kaiju on its heels, going blow for blow, flirting and all. They make it look easy.

The kaiju reaches out for Naz and Johnny’s plane again, one clawed arm moving lightning-fast, and Mo’s heart leaps into his throat. John sends them into a barrel roll to avoid getting snatched out of the air, and Naz whoops like he’s having fun, because he’s Naz and he’s insane.

It’s maybe thirty seconds of that, the plane darting around, distracting the kaiju long enough for Blue Six’s crew to lunge closer, only then the kaiju turns and takes an unsteady step, right for the camera. Right for the base. There’s something intentional about it.

“Sixer,” Wicks says, calm as ever.

“Got it,” Auston says, and he and the guys grunt with the effort as Blue Six takes two huge bounds and yanks the kaiju back into a headlock, choking it out with two of its arms while the third gets its eyes. The creature roars in fury, loud enough that the audio feed goes all staticky.

It’s a matter of time, once the kaiju is blinded. There’s the usual relief, exchanging congratulations at a successful kill.

“They don’t usually do that,” Zach says to no one in particular, frowning. “They never turn away from a fight.”

No one has a good answer for him. It’s not even really a question. Mo’s going to worry about it anyways, probably. Although – he thinks about the city just a couple kilometers inland, the people hiding in their shelters and praying that they can hold the line.

Should probably take the wins when they get them.

---

It’s a pendulum, same rhythm Morgan’s gotten used to living these past few years: A kaiju attacks, they manage to survive, he spends the next week and a bit trying to repair everything the kaiju destroyed. Repeat ad nauseum. There are little changes, here and there – the kaijus are still acting a little strange, the base lights keep malfunctioning – but that’s what it is and what it stays, mostly. It’s this tentative kind of stasis, where staying the same feels like a victory, because other than them, the only other Great Lakes bases left now are at Superior and Erie. Erie’s puny, same as here, while Superior’s further west than any of them, the front line powerhouse reduced to chasing kaijus from behind, trying to slow them down. Jake’s there, is the most important thing about them.

No further east. Mo knows his priorities.

They all fall into patterns, which Mo doesn’t hate, except for how Naz’s pattern involves hanging around the hangar, harassing him like they’re back in training.

“It’s gotta be green,” Naz is saying, lying on his back with one leg dangling over the edge of the scaffolding. He could touch London Knight’s panelling, if he leaned down. “With the name on the arm, this is really important.”

“Can I get her functional first, please, Nazem?” Mo asks. He picks Jazzy up from where she’s napping on his toolbox and plops her down in Naz’s lap, ignoring the dirty look she shoots him. “And can you keep your fucking cat out of my workspace, maybe?”

“You love her,” Naz says, which is true, but no way Mo’s admitting that, so he just flips Naz off, turns back to the circuit he’s working on, and promptly gets zapped by a frayed wire. He hisses, jerking his hand back.

“Don’t say anything,” Mo warns, but Naz doesn’t even try, just leans on his hand and stares at Mo kind of thoughtfully. Nothing good ever comes from that look on Naz’s face.

“Know what you need?” Naz says, with enough relish that Mo already hates whatever’s coming out of his mouth next. “You, my friend, need to get laid.”

Mo scoffs. “We live on a secure base, no one gets laid here.”

“Oh, buddy,” Naz says, horrified. “Oh, Morgan, you sweet, innocent little baby chick.”

“A chick is already a baby, you probably don’t have to specify-”

“I’d have sex with you myself if I thought you could handle it,” Naz muses, ignoring Mo completely, even when he starts making gagging noises. “Maybe Johnny, but the collective angst would be a lot,” Naz goes on, “and Patty’s taken, and Dermy’s straight, and the wonder triplets are definitely having too much sex for anyone else to join in. How about your new roomie?”

“He doesn’t talk,” Mo says, firm, even though he saw Fred walking down the hall with Auston the other day, smiling. Actually smiling. Mo didn’t know he was physically capable of it. “Also, stop telling me about our friends’ sex lives, please.”

“I’ve seen him talk,” Naz grumbles, all petty, but then Jazzy butts her head against his chin, demanding attention, and he’s maybe the only one more a sucker for her than Mo, so he gets distracted. Cat’s a hero, in Mo’s opinion.

(“You could call-” Naz starts, after, and Mo doesn’t let him finish.

“No, I couldn’t.”)

He manages to not think about it the rest of the day, but it takes effort. Only lasts ‘til he’s back at the room, and then he caves and gets a hand around himself in the shower, closing his eyes and pretending it’s someone else’s. He knows what Jake giving a handjob is like ‘cause of that one time when he did the experimenting thing after high school; and sure, it’s probably equal parts morally iffy and pathetic that Mo’s still getting off to a blurry stolen memory but he is and he does, because a morally iffy, pathetic orgasm is still an orgasm, and he comes with a groan that he can’t quite bite back in time. Stays under the water until it goes cold.

If Fred heard anything, he doesn’t mention it when Mo slinks out of the bathroom and crawls into bed, just stays sitting at his desk bent over his work. Mo listens to the scratching of pen on paper, tapping keys on a keyboard. They don’t talk.

Mo finds himself staring, mostly without meaning to, at Fred’s back, the way the planes of his shoulders stretch the fabric of his shirt. He has this weird urge to just put his hands there, to reach out and touch. He suspects it’s more a human thing than a Frederik Andersen thing. It’s been a while.

Mo’s still lying awake when Fred pushes his chair back and shuts off the light to head to bed forty minutes, an hour later.

“Good night,” Fred says, same as always.

“Night,” Mo says, same as always.

He dreams Jake’s hands, that night. Wakes up and wishes he hadn’t. Same as always.

---

They were supposed to save the world, before.

Not- okay, so not them, personally, maybe, because they were just running defense, but they kicked ass, one of the first pilot duos to get assigned to the new Mark Fours after they tested for 93% drift compatibility. Mo was eighteen and an apprentice in a garage, and Jake was fresh out of the naval academy, the American one, but Mo didn’t hold that against him: Jake was twenty-two years old, sometimes an idiot and most of the time the most beautiful thing Mo had ever seen and all of the time his best friend, ever since the first time they drifted and their minds clicked together like they’d been waiting for each other.

Mo was stupid. He was young and stupid, and he’s neither now, so he can look back and see the way he opened himself up to it, practically begging for a punch to the gut and still somehow not expecting it when it came.

Most people don’t get it, what it’s like being a pilot then not anymore. Most crews stop together or die together. Mostly the second one. It’s just- Mo’s situation isn’t the kind of thing there’s words for, really, because once people drift they’re together ‘til they die, because once you share your brain with someone else, there’s no going back. It’s memories and hopes and dreams and fears, being closer to another person than should be possible, all while strapped into a giant robot and tossed into the mother of all life and death situations.

We both survived, though, Jake says, cheery enough. That’s pretty fucking great, huh?

“Maybe save it, kay?” Mo says, tired. Jake, who’s pretty accommodating as far as recurring hallucinations go, goes quiet.

Mo’s pretty certain he’s going crazy. Gone crazy. Thinks he might just be better if he could just hold onto someone for maybe an hour or ten. Just touch, press his face into skin and breathe in and prove he’s still here.

He shakes his hands out, wills himself to loosen up. People are relying on him. He’s okay.

---

He gets roped into supervising Sixer’s status while Fred runs his tests on her crew. Mo goes where he’s told to go. Any opportunity to work with Blue Six is worth it – Mo’s got a soft spot for Knight, sure, but Sixer’s completely fucking gorgeous, as a feat of engineering and even just symbolically, all the hope she represents. An honour to work on her, really, for someone like him.

Better without a million scientists lurking around, taking up space with all their tech. Better when it’s just Morgan and his machines, his team somewhere in his peripheral where he can keep an eye on them.

Sparks is tinkering with the wires attached to the guys, feeding in results to the enormously complicated screens that Fred’s looking at. Sparky’s maybe the only guy on base weirder than Fred. Scientists have to be, probably, to make sense of it all, the images of three brains lit up like heat maps, numbers scrolling past, whatever intricate tech makes up the drift.

Even Mo can see the way the pulses start to synch up, once Blue Six hums to life. It’s loud in the confines of the hangar, even with only basic drift protocols running.

“Lift your head,” Fred requests, typing into a tablet. “Now nod for me.”

Mitch, Willy, and Auston do, in sync, and Blue Six does as well, the giant head of the jaeger copying their motions. A series of numbers appear on the screens, and they must mean something, because Fred makes a sound like ‘hm’.

“The cortex, d’you think?” Sparky asks, and Fred’s nodding, scribbling something in his notes.

“Maybe with finer temporal resolution,” he says, then looks up. “You three don’t mind waiting if we adjust?”

Sixer shrugs as her crew does, all in unison.

“No rush,” Willy says, supremely undisturbed. Used to being poked and prodded by scientists, probably. “Not like we can get bored. Three arms.”

“One arm’s a dick,” Mitchy says, at once. “One is absolutely a dick.”

“One’s not a dick,” Auston says, firm, like they’ve had this discussion before. “We’re not fighting monsters with a giant dick.”

“Kind of cool if we did, though?” Willy says, thoughtful. “Like, ‘suck it, kaijus’.”

“Freddie,” Auston whines, but he’s laughing, maybe in spite of himself. “Make them stop.”

“No, please, keep going,” Fred says, dry. “A report on the neurology of three connected brains making dick jokes could get me tenure, once the apocalypse is over.”

It still catches Mo off-guard, hearing Fred joke around. Which- it shouldn’t. He knows that Fred and Auston are close, and that Fred knows enough Swedish to get Willy’s jokes, and that he’s all indulgent around Mitch, same way they all are, either ‘cause of Mitchy’s freak of nature drift compatibility with everyone they’ve tested him with or just because he’s Mitchy.

Auston laughs at Fred’s joke, and Mo doesn’t have to be a neurologist to see the way the other two physically react to it, smiling like they don’t even realize what they’re doing. Mo’s happy for them, honestly. It’s rare to get the chance to drift without fighting for your life. Feels like coming home, like being one person, the best high Mo could imagine.

He’s jealous. So jealous it hurts.

“Systems, Mo?” Fred asks, and Mo doesn’t quite manage not to jump.

“Yeah, all good,” he says. Maybe a little too fast. “Normal.”

Mitch grins at him, inviting him into the conversation the way he tends to do. Auston elbows Mitch and Sixer copies the movement, nearly takes out a wall with one giant elbow, and Willy loses his shit laughing while Auston apologizes.

Mo returns Mitch’s smile, tries his best not to be faking it.

---

There’s not much to celebrate, objectively. Kaijus are attacking more and more frequently, still going head-on at the base more often than not, and contact with the base at Superior is spotty, but they get London Knight’s core functional and celebrating happens anyways.

She’s not operational yet. Mo doesn’t even know what state her drift tech is in, none of that stuff, but they run the start up protocol and he feels her creak to life under his hand, and then Martina and Trav are whooping from the other end of the cockpit, dancing around all excited, and Mo can’t help but smile. They did it. They did something.

There’s so, so much left to do to get Knight functional, but Mo can’t get out of showing up at the party. He doesn’t really mind. It’s been too long since they’ve had something to get excited about. It’s good for the guys, for keeping up morale.

“-and then,” Naz is saying, all low and dramatic, “then, this thing comes out of the water, whoosh, and JT’s like-”

“-no, you’re telling it wrong, the lake was frozen,” John corrects, and he even cracks a smile. The two of them are thrilled at the possibility of getting out there again for real, back in the drift. There’s a whole group formed around them as they trade probably-exaggerated stories about all their kills, Naz acting out the part of a dying kaiju with way too much enthusiasm, for an enthralled audience of the Marleau boys while Patrick and Christina look on, laughing. The two of them probably have more kills than anyone else here combined, in their day.

Morgan scans the mess hall, the lights low, a radio playing loud over the loudspeakers. He sees all the guys from maintenance playing some drinking game with the med-scis, cheering on Sparky as he does a line of shots; sees Blue Six’s crew swooning into each other’s space, all tipsy, Willy with a finger hooked in Mitch’s belt loop as Auston murmurs something low in his ear, and Mo’s willing to bet that they’re going to disappear off to their room in a matter of minutes.

It feels like a guilty thing, absurdly, like Mo’s eavesdropping on a moment that doesn’t belong to him. A moment that might’ve, before, when it would’ve been him and Jake laughing, telling stories, being everyone’s hope.

No one notices when Mo leaves.

He knows it’s not on purpose, that none of them are the kind of people to rub it in his face that they’ve still got each other when Mo doesn’t. It feels like it anyways, this hollow kind of annoyance in Mo’s stomach that won’t go away even when he wills it to. There’s something wrong with him, there must be, that he can’t even enjoy a night like this, that he’s been working towards for months.

He spares everyone the drama, figures it’s probably for the best that he escapes to his room to shake off being a bitter asshole without ruining anyone else’s night. Only-

Not him again, Jake bitches in Mo’s head, and Mo would laugh at the face he’s making, but he manages not to, because as soon as he opens the door Fred’s there at his desk, bent over god-knows-what charts he’s currently working on. He looks up, surprised, when Mo comes in.

“Hi,” Mo says, on the spot. He thought everyone else would still be celebrating.

“Hi,” Fred says, maybe a little caught off-guard as well.

“Didn’t want to join the party?” Mo asks. He doesn’t even know why he still bothers, because-

“No.” Fred doesn’t offer any other explanation.

Mo sighs, bites back a snarky comment. Just leans on the wall as he takes his shoes off, places them side-by-side by the door. “You still working on Sixer’s stuff?”

Fred nods, staring down at his screen. “There are more than two hundred unique hits between William and Auston, and I thought Mitch might be acting as a conduit to reduce the threshold, but their brains are too intertwined…” He sounds mostly like he’s talking to himself, a little crease between his eyebrows.

“Dunno if I’d try to separate that,” Mo offers, trying to be helpful. “It’s more- it’ll be like sharing, between the three of them. Like a connection.”

“Yes, that’s how they describe it in the recruitment ads,” Fred says, and his tone doesn’t leave any room for doubt about what exactly he thinks of those ads. Which- Mo’s not stupid. He gets that it’s science. Doesn’t mean it’s not anything else as well.

“You never drifted, huh?” he says. Maybe with a bit of an edge, an implication there.

Fred scribbles something out on one of his charts. “Why would I want someone in my head?” he asks. It’s a rhetorical kind of question, like he doesn’t need an answer, and maybe he doesn’t mean it to be as dismissive at it comes across, but it does, and between that and everything else tonight, Morgan can’t help but be irritated with him.

“It’s not an invasive thing,” Mo says, trying to keep his tone even. “That’s the point of drift compatibility, is you fitting with the other person.”

Fred doesn’t even glance at him. “I think the point is supporting complementary neuroconnective software, actually.”

Condescending fucking-

“You’re wrong,” Mo says, more forceful than he intends, and that, finally, gets Fred to look at him, eyebrows raised. “You’re- that’s not all it is, software. Look at Sixer’s crew, you think-”

“Mitch is equally drift compatible with John, it’s only a fluke that he wasn’t paired-”

“It’s not the same,” Mo cuts him off. “How can you even suggest-”

“The crew’s romantic relationship has nothing to do with Blue Six’s-”

“It has everything to do-”

And that, that must touch some nerve Mo didn’t expect, because Fred’s jaw tightens, irritable, like Mo’s some annoying kid he’s having to explain things to. “With all due respect, I’ve spent my life studying this. You’re a mechanic.”

He turns back to his notes like Mo’s nothing.

Mo doesn’t realize how tight he’s clenching his fists until he’s reeling, actively putting effort into not swinging at Fred right there. And- and he knows, he gets it, that Fred doesn’t know Mo used to pilot, but the way he said it, “you’re a mechanic”, the ‘just’ so heavily implied it may as well have been there. Like Mo doesn’t know better than anyone what he’s talking about.

“Yeah,” Mo says. A little incredulous, maybe. “Yeah, alright.”

He hates the way his voice sounds, when he’s angry. Hates the way it makes him feel and feels it anyways, now, so he turns on his heel and leaves. Slams the door behind him and immediately regrets how childish it is, because he knows that’s how Dr. Frederik Andersen will see it, but hey, fuck does Mo know anyways, he’s just a mechanic.

The hangar's drafty, no one around to bother Mo as he bypasses the jaegers, heads straight for the staircase and up to the roof; he gets there and gulps in breaths of air like he’s been dying for it, like his head was going to explode if he stayed inside a single second longer.

There are no planes taking off. No nothing, the world pitch-black except for the glimmers of lights from the base reflected along the surface of the lake.

Just a fucking mechanic.

Mo shuts his eyes, lets the wind and spitting rain push him around.

The thing is-

The thing is, they were supposed to save the world, before. Him and Jake. They were the pilots people looked at like Pat and Christina, like Naz and Johnny, like Auston and Mitch and William, more than blood brothers, more than anything anyone else could imagine.

Mo thought-

He doesn’t know what he thought. Doesn’t suppose it matters, anyways, because he’d felt Jake loving him and he’d felt Jake start loving someone else, loving her so much that Mo couldn’t help loving her too. She was smart and beautiful and the only thing on Jake’s mind every time they drifted. The two of them, piloting the greatest technological achievement known to man, the last thing between humanity and whatever came next, and all Jake was thinking was how he had to get back safe to her.

Jake made his choice, is the end of it all, and Mo wasn’t it.

It sounds really simple, when he puts it like that. Feels simple too, this blunt, always-there kind of hurt, like missing a limb. It didn’t used to be so noticeable, being by himself. Having nothing but quiet in his head.

Don’t be sad, Jake says, proving Mo wrong without even being here. You know I hate when you’re sad, Mo. Mo can see what his eyes’d look like, big and blue like saucers, nudging Mo into smiling back without even meaning to.

Mo makes himself take a breath, then another. Makes himself step back from the edge, because he hadn’t realized how close he got, and he’s no use to anyone like this.

“You’re okay,” Mo tells himself, stern. “You’re always okay, stop being a baby about it.”

He can deal with an asshole roommate. He’s dealt with worse. He’s dealing.

---

Erie goes offline, and it was inevitable, maybe, but it still stings.

They all sit around staring at the map in the ops room, most of the continent red as the kaijus advance toward them.

“Just us and Minny left,” Zach says from his desk, and Mo stares up at the little spot of green that’s the base at Superior in the sea of red. Jake’s luck, to find the one place still alive out west.

Aw, Jake says, all teasing, in Mo’s head. You’re worried about me.

“I’m worried about everything,” Mo corrects, and he doesn’t realize he does it out loud until Zach looks up at him, understanding.

“We all are, man.”

Which- fine. Sure.

They’re deploying Blue Six every couple of days, escorting waves of refugees from the prairies or down south and running supplies into the city. They methodically dismantle every kaiju they come across, and the guys are exhausted but Sixer is hardly worse for the wear, just a few scratches across her chrome plating.

“They keep acting weird,” Mo overhears Sparky telling Sarah in line for dinner. “The kaijus, like, heading straight for the base. If one decides to go for us and we’ve only got one jaeger…” He trails off, ominous.

It’s on Mo. And the rest of the maintenance crew, yeah, but it’s on Mo, getting London Knight up and running. Naz is restless, still stuck in his plane, checking with Mo every day to see if Knight’s limbs are working, if her weapons are functional. Johnny’s quieter about it, but still watchful, still longing to get back in the drift, and Mo knows that Wicks is preaching patience but feels her waiting as well.

Mo’s trying. He knows how many lives another jaeger would save, knows that every day he can’t get her operational is another step closer to not being able to hold their ground. He’s the leader, that’s on him.

Patty tracks him down midway through the week; waits until Mo’s busy signing off on his admin stuff before saying, all gentle, “Hutch said you haven’t been in for your psych eval.”

Mo doesn’t need gentle. “Haven’t had the time,” he says, light. “I’m okay.” He doesn’t need a doctor telling him he’s crazy. No one has time for that.

“Haven’t answered your calls, either,” Patrick pushes. “Jake keeps-”

“He can do what he wants,” Mo cuts him off, and Pat still doesn’t quit, bless him, except for how this is literal agony.

“Freds works with brain stuff,” Pat says. “I could ask him about your evals, if you’d prefer someone other than-”

No,” Mo says, and this time it’s emphatic enough that Pat takes notice, shooting him a curious look. Mo can feel himself going pink, embarrassed, but he doesn’t apologize. He’s aware he’s just a mechanic. Aware that Freds – because apparently he gets nicknames now – has more postgrad degrees and clinical experience than he has personality, however he’s managed to convince Auston and Pat otherwise. Doesn’t give him the right to be a dick.

“He’s a good person,” Pat says, quiet.

“That’s good for him,” Mo says. Across the mess hall, as if on cue, Fred walks in. Mo meets his eyes mostly by accident. They both look away without speaking, a silent mutual agreement.

Mo can feel Pat watching them both. “Not that different from you,” Pat says, thoughtful. Which- no. Just no.

“He’s very different from me,” Mo says, blunt.

Mo’s a lot of things – probably clinically depressed, having more conversations with the imagined version of his old co-pilot than anyone else – but at least he’s nice to people. Nothing in common with Fred, not there and not anywhere else.

Pat sighs.

“It’s okay,” Mo says; then, when Pat shoots him a look like he doesn’t buy it, “Can I go?”

It comes out younger than Mo means it to. Not nearly as sarcastic. The Patrick Marleau Effect, probably.

Pat takes pity on him. “Go.”

Mo doesn’t ask twice.

---

Winter blows through the base like the walls aren’t there at all, announces its presence with a bout of colds and flu that’s got the medical staff run off their feet, capped off by the heating choosing right then to go to shit.

It’s pretty miserable, even by their standards. Everyone on base is bundled in sweaters, clutching cups of tea and watery coffee. Mo takes the blankets off his bed for the Marleau kids, and half of med-sci has taken to wearing their lab coats as an extra layer. Sixer’s crew just stays hunkered up in their room. Mo very deliberately does not think about what kind of creative ways they’ve figured out to generate body heat – ew – and focuses on doing what he can to be helpful. He doesn’t sleep for nearly two days straight, trying to fix the heating, and whatever time he’s not spending getting up close and personal with the backup generator, he’s dashing around making sure everyone’s got soup and blankets, because no one’s freezing on his watch.

“I’m really fine,” Sandin’s saying, like the base is going to fall apart without a junior engineer who can’t stop sneezing. The kid’s barely out of high school, and he looks it, too, after Mo forcibly confiscates his tools and jams a toque onto his head.

“Take night shift off and go get warm,” Mo says, forceful enough to ward off any arguments. He’s pretty good at pulling the parent thing on the young guys, ‘specially the ones who don’t know how old he actually is. “And get someone to check out that cough, ‘kay?”

“Okay,” Sandin says, and he can’t even hide the relief in his voice.

Mo keeps going. And going, and going, and then yeah, he stops, but only because Hutch threatens to have him put on official medical leave, and he’s not exactly intimidating but Mo knows he’ll do it. Mo figures he’ll catch a twenty minute nap up in his spot then get back at it; he stops by the room, intending to get his pillow and get out.

Fred hardly looks up when Mo opens the door. He’s at his desk, wearing the coat he was wearing when he first got here, buttoned up all the way. Things have been frosty between them – no pun intended – since their not-fight the night they got London Knight up and running, and that’s more than fine with Morgan. A silent roommate’s the closest he can get to a non-roommate. Mo’s firmly planning on continuing to ignore him now, and he even manages it at first, crossing the room to grab his pillow from his bed. When he glances over at the desk on his way out, Fred’s eyes are still on his work, but he’s cupping his hands and breathing into them, even though he has to be smart enough to know that that doesn’t really work.

When Mo took the blankets off of his bed for the Marleau kids a couple days ago, Fred insisted Mo take his as well. Was just matter-of-fact about it, like there wasn’t another option.

Mo hesitates at the door.

You’re such a sucker, Jake says, fond, and Mo would love to argue, he truly would, but it’d be kind of disingenuous, because the room’s so cold he can practically see his breath, and Fred’s just sitting there, and it’s not like he can just leave him.

Mo sighs.

“Come on,” he says, before he changes his mind.

Fred looks up, blinking and glancing over his shoulder, like he thinks Mo’s talking to someone else. “What?”

“Trust me,” Mo says, and there’s a long second’s pause, but Fred’s either cold enough or curious enough to go with it, because he puts his work down and lets Mo lead the way.

The elevator creaks down toward them, echoing through the empty hangar. Jazzy’s not around tonight, probably cozied up with Naz.

Mo steps aside so Fred can get into the elevator first, and he shoots Mo a suspicious look, but he does.

They go high enough on the scaffolding that Mo can hear the wind whistling outside, rattling the roof. It’s utterly silent up here, this time of night, but it’s also something close to warm once Mo fires up one of Sixer’s background protocols, just enough that her core heats up. It’s glowing through the cracks in the metal panelling, just enough light so they can see. They’re still in their coats, but Fred’s not shivering anymore, and neither is Mo, as he sits down next to him. He leaves a good few inches of space between them, and for a few minutes, it’s quiet.

“This was a good idea,” Fred says, eventually. It feels like an olive branch, if a little awkward of one.

“Yeah, well,” Mo shrugs off the compliment. His dumb luck to have override access to an accidentally-heat-generating giant robot. “Spend enough winters on drafty military bases and you get creative.”

“Are they all like this?”

“Winters on base?” Mo asks, and Fred nods. “Pretty much.”

Fred sort of makes a face. “There’s nothing good about winter.”

“No, c’mon, there’s got to be something,” Mo says, automatic, and Fred shoots him a look.

“Please,” he says, and makes this little gesture, like ‘be my guest’.

Mo really has to think about it. Winters have been getting steadily worse, recently. “Hockey season?” he comes up with eventually, and he’s not even really joking, but the corner of Fred’s mouth quirks up. Mo’s seen him smile before, but never directed at him. It’s a good smile.

“Alright,” Fred allows, ducking his head and drawing his coat a little tighter around himself. “One thing.”

Mo half-laughs, awkwardness momentarily forgotten. Hard to hate someone when you’re talking sports. “You play?”

“We used to spend all winter at my town’s rink,” Fred says. “My whole family played.”

It’s never something that occurred to Mo, imagining Fred as a kid with a family. He sort of just assumed the guy sprung into being as a too-serious twenty-something year old. “What, everyone?”

Fred nods, just once, and his eyes are soft at the memory. “My parents were both pro, before,” he says. “My little sister, Amelie, she’s a defenseman.” Then, after a moment. “She was.”

Mo hesitates. “Are they...” Denmark should be safe, comparatively, he thinks, but no one’s a stranger to losing family, anymore.

Fred shrugs a shoulder. The little line between his brows is back, the way it usually is. “I don’t know. We haven’t spoken in a while.” He stares at the light of Sixer’s core, and Mo stares at him, the way the shadow on his jaw shifts when he swallows and adds, barely audible, “I worry about them.”

It’s instinct really, more than any charitable impulse, because Mo’s never been able to sit by and watch someone hurt – he reaches out, puts a hand on Fred’s knee, some clumsy attempt at being comforting.

Fred looks down at Mo’s hand, gets this odd expression on his face, like he’s surprised at himself. “I don’t know why I told you that,” he says. Maybe a little bit embarrassed.

Mo gets it. They aren’t friends, and this is the most they’ve ever talked, really talked, not just niceties as one of them leaves in the morning. He knows what it is to keep stuff inside. He just- it never occurred to him, really, that Fred would be doing the same.

So it’s the same not-quite-charitable impulse, or trying to make things square, or maybe the fact that they could be the only people in the world, up here, but-

“I used to be a pilot,” Mo says.

Fred looks at him, sharp, eyebrows flying up. It’s as much of a physical reaction as Mo’s ever seen from him, and he can practically see him thinking, the mildly-unflattering amount of surprise on his face. That part’s fair, probably. Mo knows what he looks like, sitting here in his coverall with grease under his nails and a week’s worth of stubble. Not exactly like the action-figure grins on the jaeger pilot recruitment ads.

“Nova Alpha,” Mo says, because now that he started, it’s all bubbling up, and it’s all he can do to keep his voice steady. “We mostly ran defense, when they were trying to save Vancouver. I transferred to maintenance a couple of years back.”

Fred looks back into Sixer’s core, away from Mo. Like it’s a safety net away from whatever this conversation’s shifted into. “I didn’t know,” he says, after a minute. The light flickers on his face.

“I don’t really tell people,” Morgan says. Doesn’t explain why. It’s self-evident. “Naz knows. Mitchy. Pat.”

“Your co-pilot,” Fred says, and Mo knew this was coming, still has to swallow around the bile in his throat. “They died?”

“No,” Mo says, and now he’s looking into the core too, anything except eye contact. “No, he’s fine.”

“Jake,” Fred says, like filling in the blanks.

“Jake,” Mo says.

Fred doesn’t give the pitying look Mo’s gotten used to, when people realize he got ditched by his co-pilot. Doesn’t say anything, no platitudes but none of his science stuff either.

Mo can’t remember the last time he said Jake’s name out loud. It feels familiar in his mouth, memories pressing in, like he wants to close his lips around the four letters and keep them there on his tongue forever.

“Thank you for telling me,” Fred says, eventually.

Mo just nods. This dumb, mannish thing. Can’t quite muster up any more words.

Fred hesitates, then reaches out and puts a hand on Mo’s knee, just for a second before pulling back. Acknowledgement, maybe.

They sit, quiet, by the glow of the jaeger’s core. Mo holds his hands out, feels them warming fingertips-in, slow but sure.

---

The thing about becoming friends with Frederik Andersen is that Morgan does it pretty much by accident, but he wouldn’t take it back even if he could.

It’s like- one moment they’re up in the hangar, the lake frozen and covered with a foot of snow to boot, the next the melting ice sounds like rain, Fred’s Freddie, and Mo’s life gets at least marginally better.

It’s better being friends than not. That’s true pretty generally – Morgan doesn’t like conflict, has never quite been able to get his mind around disliking people – but especially with the person you share quarters with. It’s a big difference, waking up and being able to have a conversation rather than edging around each other, wondering if Freddie hates him for waking them both up with another nightmare.

“I was reading about you,” Freddie informs him, matter-of-fact, as Mo’s towelling off his hair from his shower one morning.

Mo snorts. “Yeah, right.”

“I was.” Fred’s sitting on his bunk, legs dangling over the side. It makes him look younger than usual. “Nova Alpha had twelve kills when you were piloting her, in the highest density front on the planet.”

“Yeah, I was there,” Mo reminds him, a little gruff, but not mean. “She’s not still active, is she?” He can’t tell if he’s relieved or not when Freddie shakes his head, no. The idea of someone else in his and Jake’s jaeger feels wrong. It was theirs, stamped with their memories.

“Decommissioned after Alberta.”

“They kept her going after the coast?” Mo asks, surprised.

Freddie nods. “Your jaeger’s history is really cool.”

“It’s cool,” Mo echoes, bemused. He doesn’t let himself dwell on your jaeger. “Is that the scientific term, or-”

“Absolutely,” Freddie says, very serious, but his eyes are bright like they’re both in on the joke. Mo’s getting the hang of figuring it out, when Fred’s joking. More often than he would’ve thought, is the key.

Mo doesn’t see him much during the day, what with Fred in his office and Mo working on the jaegers or fixing the latest broken system around the base. The kaijus are still acting up, a little, but they’re not Mo’s job anymore and he’s a little skeptical about their ability to predict the behaviour of murderous alien monsters with any real accuracy anyways, so he pushes it to the back of his head and focuses on what he can do.

Sixer does patrols around the city. They hold the line.

The last of the snow’s been lingering, piling up in big drifts along the lake shore. If Mo stands on the roof, he can’t see a thing but white, the blanketing snow only broken up by the lights from the base. He always wishes he could stay up there and just not see anything but those little lights, but he never does; always heads back down to work on Knight or check on whoever’s looking stressed or help Freddie carry stacks of printouts and scribbled-over files back and forth from his office.

“How can you know this much?” Mo asks, once, because it seems impossible. He’s not expecting Freddie to huff a laugh, mostly humourless.

“We don’t know anything,” Freddie says. “Wartime science is for function, not understanding.”

“What, no clinical trials on the giant robots?” Mo asks, and Freddie does this disapproving little face.

“No one would subject a brain to what pilots go through if there was a choice,” he says.

“We volunteered,” Mo says. He’s not quite sure why. Some misguided sense of loyalty.

Freddie shoots him a look, and Jake shoots him a matching one, and they look similar enough, just then, that Mo has to dig his nails into his palm so he won’t reach out.

It feels heavy, pressing in like a weight. Doesn’t go away, not when Mo drops the papers at the med bay and says bye to Fred, not when he ducks into the nearest supply closet and has to lean on the door until he catches his breath again.

It’s not a panic attack, because Mo’s not the kind of person who has panic attacks, especially not for no reason when he’s walking down the hall. Never has been, isn’t starting now. He’s fine. He can see Jake looming over his shoulder, real as anything.

He’s late getting into the hangar. His team’s already there. Morgan doesn’t deserve them, probably.

“You’re late,” Travis reminds him, like the joke’s going to somehow start being funny the fifty-millionth time he makes it. Morgan just rolls his eyes, walks away and leaves Trav trying to explain it to Martina, who at least gives a smile. Humouring him, it looks like.

They get Knight’s left arm functional, start figuring out her weaponry a piece at a time. It’s not enough, not soon enough, but then there’s two kaiju attacks in three days and Mo’s got to pull an all-nighter to try and patch up the damage Blue Six took, ‘cause one jaeger is bad but zero jaegers is a death sentence, and the repairs on Knight fall by the wayside, and there’s just not enough time.

“Wait, did you go to bed last night?” Trav asks, the next morning, and Mo doesn’t make a ‘you’re late’ joke right back at him, because he’s the bigger person here, ostensibly. He’s used to not sleeping, anyhow. It’s actually kind of a convenient excuse to avoid dreaming about Jake, and to hide from Patty’s increasingly dogged attempts at getting him in for a psych eval. Still- he’s only human, so he does eventually drag himself back to his room once a pipe bursts and he’s soaked through with enough coolant that getting changed isn’t really an option.

“You look terrible,” Freddie informs him once he walks through the door, that blunt way he has.

“Thanks, Fred,” Mo says, weary, and accepts the towel that Freddie hands him. “Thanks,” he says again, more sincere. It’s a tiny, cosmically insignificant gesture, the towel, and Fred just nods and goes right back to his work after. Still a nice thing. An intentionally nice thing, Frederik Andersen style. Mo understands him better than he did before. Thinks the opposite might be true, as well.

---

(And sometimes:

Auston tears into the mess hall, skidding around tables, chased by the Marleau kids in a flurry of noise. Brody’s perched on Mitch’s back, cheering him on, and Willy strolls in a moment later, trying to look disapproving but laughing too hard to really pull it off.

“You’re a child,” Fred snarks at Auston as he sprints past, full speed, and Auston flips him off good-naturedly. Mo has to grin at the two of them giving it to each other, finishes filling up Fred’s cup of tea and hands it off to him.

It’s a nothing moment, really. Barely enough to count as stalling, but they do, standing there and watching the kids laughing, Auston dragging William in front of him just in time to get slide-tackled by Mitch so that a half-asleep Zach nearly drops his plate trying to get out of the way.

Moments like that are the dangerous kind. The kind that almost manage to feel like home.)

---

The thunder wakes Mo before the kaiju does. He’s disoriented, at first, still half in a dream, at his grandma’s house or Jake’s grandma’s house or some mix of the two that his brain made. It’s one of the more pleasant memories that Mo’s seen lately, tinted hazy pink in this cozy, nostalgic sort of way.

The change from that to reality is abrupt; Mo lies awake for one heartbeat, then another, and the thunder rumbles again, and then the alarms go off, shattering the silence.

He groans, but gets up, bangs on the top bunk as he does even though he can already hear Freddie stirring. Least the apocalypse could do is wait ‘til a decent hour, Mo thinks, only a little bitterly. He reaches blindly for the light switch, hits it, and nothing happens.

“Damn it,” he says, trying a couple more times. If the power’s out here, odds are it’s out elsewhere on base as well, byproduct of the storm or the kaiju or god knows why else.

They’re up and ready in less than a minute, practiced efficiency. “Odds we survive this one?” Mo asks, shoving his foot into a shoe that he’s almost sure is his.

“Slim to none,” Freddie says, half-awake gallows humour that Mo can’t help but grin at; he holds the door for Freddie and follows him out.

There’s no time for humour, gallows or otherwise, once they’re in the command room. Mo was right about the power being fucked: the emergency lighting is all that’s left, bathing everything and everyone in an orange glow that makes Freddie’s hair look like it’s on fire, but Mo doesn’t let himself stare, can’t – he’s crawling under the desk by the wall to get to the fuses without wasting any time.

They’ve planned for contingencies, so the lack of main power is inconvenient instead of damning. There’s no video, so Wicks and Patrick are coordinating the attack over an audio feed that Zach’s patching through his headset. The sound’s bad, like listening over toy walkie-talkies, but it’s functional.

Focus, Mo, Jake tells him, so Mo does; trusts his hands to fix something he’s fixed a dozen times. He’s only half-listening to the feed from Sixer, who’s already locked in combat. The crashing of flesh on metal is audible when they take a hit.

“Hey, watch the dick,” Willy says, offended, like the kaiju can hear him.

“I thought Marns’ arm was the dick,” Auston says; then, “Sword-”

“Yep,” Mitch says, and it’s already engaged, and the three of them grunt with the effort as they slice into the creature and send it stumbling back with a blow that sends shockwaves. The lights flicker on and off as the base trembles.

“Mo,” Wicks says, and Mo’s already nodding, ducking back under the desk.

“I know,” he says, focused. “I’ve almost-”

“We’ll finish it when it charges, okay?”

“-got it.” Mo finishes, relieved, as the base is bathed in light again. The video feed flickers back to life, just in time for the screen to show Sixer’s view of the kaiju picking itself up and heading right for the base again, like Blue Six was nothing more than a brief distraction, one that doesn’t matter anymore. They bound forward, grab the creature by the tail and pull, but it’s still struggling toward the shore.

“It’s not engaging,” Auston says, frustrated. “It keeps trying to head for you guys, like- it won’t make up its mind.”

And it doesn’t make sense, because kaijus are intelligent, of course they’re intelligent, but they can’t know to target the base specifically, there’s no way for them to know that. And it’s not just now, it’s been weeks that they’ve been acting weird, ever since they lost the base at Huron, and then it kicked up after Erie, almost like-

Almost like they’re learning.

“The lights,” Mo realizes, then louder, audible, “It knows the lights mean people, it wants the lights.”

Wicks makes a split-second decision, the kind that’s kept them all alive this long. “Kill the power.”

“We won’t be able to-”

“Everything except basic systems, now,” she orders, terse, so Mo undoes everything he just fixed. The place goes dark for a long moment, and then they’re all bathed in orange again as the emergency lighting kicks back in.

Patrick is already on the comms with Blue Six, tugging the mic from Zach. No more video footage. “Sixer, it wants lights.”

“Johnny,” Auston says, at once. “Can you get it to open water and-”

“-distract it,” John’s voice crackles to life, reading the play. “Copy. Naz?”

“Put on a show for it, I got you,” Naz says. “We broadcasting?”

John gives the affirmative, and Mo hears the click of their floodlights turning on; then, a moment of quiet before the plane’s speakers are blasting a guitar riff that it takes Mo a second to recognize as old school Bon Jovi, blaring out across the harbour.

“Nice choice,” Auston says, approving. The roar the kaiju lets out is audible even over the music.

“Hook, line, and sinker,” Naz says, smug, which Mo assumes means that luring the kaiju further into the lake worked. “All yours, Sixer.”

“Time to dance, big guy,” Mitch says, because the kid literally never stops talking, even when he’s locked in mortal combat with an interdimensional monster. He apparently sings too, under his breath but loud in the mic as Blue Six grapples the kaiju, “Woah-oh, we’re halfway there-”

“You sing so bad-” Willy bitches, but he’s laughing as they dodge a blow, and for a moment it’s like they’re dancing, Blue Six and her crew invincible and loud and the biggest thing on the horizon, and there’s a reason that these three are supposed to save the world, ‘cause if anyone can do it, it’s them.

Mo hears Auston singing along, barely, and then everything happens at once.

“Behind you!” John shouts, and there’s a metallic screech that echoes through the room, cuts right to Mo’s core, and then everyone’s shouting over each other, on the comms and in the room.

“Status, Blue Six, we’re blind here,” Wickenheiser orders through the mess of voices. “Status, now.”

“There’s two m-” Willy’s scream gets cut off with a sickening tearing of metal, and then he and Mitch cry out in pain, these awful, guttural things.

Mo flinches so hard he drops his toolbox, stunned. Its contents clatter to the floor, and no one even hears it, the entire room in complete chaos.

“Auston’s gone,” Freddie says, cutting through the noise, and when Morgan looks over at him, he’s silhouetted against a bright red screen, eyes wide. “He’s offline, I don’t have readings-”

“There’s three of them!” Naz is yelling across the comms. “They were waiting, two more fucking kaijus, they pulled Sixer down-”

“William, Mitch, come in,” Wicks says, loud, and there’s no answer. “Blue Six, come in.”

“They’re hooked up but the drift’s corrupted, if they’re alive they’re catatonic,” Fred says, eyes darting back and forth as he types without looking, and everyone in the room is doing something, all noise and desperate attempts to help, and Mo just-

He just stands there, frozen, because he remembers being out there, can’t remember anything but that, and it’s like this roaring wave of white noise in his head, memories pushing at his temples like they’re pressurized. He knows what it is to be out there, knows what the guys are feeling right now and can’t do a single thing to help, and everything in him is just Jake and Jake walking away from him and get out get out get out, cowardly and louder than anything.

“Give me eyes, guys,” Pat is pleading. His voice sounds like it’s coming from far away. “Are the kids-”

“Sixer’s cockpit is ripped right off,” Naz says, and he sounds pained. “It’s in the water, I can see the lights-”

“Distract the kaijus,” Pat says at once. “We’ll retrieve them, you need to buy time-”

“No we don’t,” John interrupts, and Mo wants to throw up – they can’t be dead already, not like this – but then John continues. “They’re leaving.”

“What?” Mo asks, and for one wild moment he thinks that John means Sixer’s crew, and then the entire building shakes, and then again, each time with a booming noise louder than anything Mo knows.

The kaijus arrive on shore, footsteps crashing down right outside.

The building rattles.

“The lights are off,” Zach whispers, petrified. “Can they still-”

Everyone shushes him at once, and the room falls into an awful silence, everyone holding their breath. The footsteps are like earthquakes, every single one. They’re slow, too, deliberate, like the kaijus are making up their minds, deciding if they’re worth the effort. Mo’s heart is beating out of his chest – he doesn’t give a shit if he dies, it would be a relief, but the other people here, his crew, the fucking kids, they’ve got lives ahead of them if they survive this.

There’s another step, then another.

They keep coming, and the base shakes less with each one.

They’re leaving. They’re leaving, Mo realizes, as the footsteps grow more distant, and he’s more relieved than he thinks he’s ever been before, only then it hits him, what’s waiting for the kaijus inland.

Oh, Mo, Jake says, pained.

“The city,” Mo says, horrified, and his throat’s suddenly dry, because the base has always been the only thing standing in the way. “Guys, the city lights.”

He looks around, sees it dawn on Freddie’s face, and then-

“We need to stop it,” Pat jumps into action at once, the reflexes that made him a pilot in the first place, turning to Mo. “Turn the power back on, lure them so they’ll go for us instead-”

“No,” Wicks says, before Mo can do it.

Patrick gapes at her. “Excuse me?”

“Lights stay off.” She never pulls rank like this, especially not at Pat.

He’s drawn up to his full height, his voice raised the way Mo’s never heard it. “That city is full of civilians with no defenses-”

We have no defenses,” Wicks snaps back, just as loud. “Sixer’s destroyed, our only other crew is trying to fish them out of the water. We go lights up, everyone in the base dies, then the city dies anyways, and everyone out east who’s relying on us to hold the line.” Her voice wavers, just for a second. The smallest glimpse of emotion.

She’s right. Mo knows she’s right, and he hates it more than anything, because-

“Most people will survive, in the shelters,” Wicks says. “We’ll regroup, get them out after. We hold the line.”

And Pat’s shaking his head; he looks wrecked, close to tears, but he doesn’t have an argument. They’re the last functional base in the country. If they die, everyone they’re protecting dies.

Still. Most people, Wicks said.

Most isn’t all.

Mo’s had a lot of times he wishes he could forget and knows he never will. This is the worst of them, sitting in the command room and listening to the kaijus making their way inland. Letting them, and if he was a coward before he doesn’t know what the fuck he is now, what they all are.

Morgan knows he can’t hear screaming, from in here or from all the way in the city. Knows it’s just his imagination, but- it’s not, is the thing, even if he can’t hear it.

They failed.

The place is dark, everyone in the room at a loss for words. Maybe numb.

Mo doesn’t know how much time passes, seconds or minutes or hours, before John’s voice comes in over the comms, breaking the silence.

“Guys,” he says. “Guys, we got Sixer’s crew.” Then, “It’s bad.”

 

 

ii.

The Pacific is stretched out towards the sky, waves huge with the wind as they crash into the base onshore, inaudible from up this high in their jaeger. It’s still surreal for Mo to wrap his head around, that Nova Alpha is theirs. Naz makes fun of her ‘cause she’s not all finesse like London Knight, but Mo doesn’t have eyes for anything but Nova, sturdy and strong and, best of all, his and Jake’s.

“Ready to see all my embarrassing memories?” he jokes, to Jake at his side where he belongs. “For me to see yours?” Mo waggles his fingers, scary story style.

“Wait, I’m not good at remembering stuff,” Jake says, frowning all concerned as the neurotech crew straps him in. “What if I don’t have any memories? Will the drift still work, d’you think?”

“I think you probably got at least a few memories, Jakey,” Mo says, and he’s only eighteen to Jake’s twenty-two but Jake looks reassured anyways, and it’s a nice feeling, being able to do that for him.

Mo knows this day, the first time they drifted, can feel everything precisely as it was, the excitement bubbling under his skin, months of training and testing all leading up to today. It’s an elaborate operation, tech from every government and scientific body in the world coming together to facilitate the drift, technicians hooking Mo and Jake up to more machinery than Mo knew existed.

He knows the jaeger pilot mortality rates as well. Course he does. Can’t bring himself to care, really. End of the world, he figures, if he’s going to die, he’s going to die fighting, not sitting on his butt at home. Blaze of glory, the whole deal.

“Alright, boys,” the general says, over the speakers from up in the control room. Nova Alpha hums to life under Mo’s feet, start-up protocols kicking in. “Remember, this is a test run, we just need to make sure the drift tech holds.”

 “Copy,” Mo says, and he can see all the wires shaking as Jake nods, rapid fire, psyching himself up.

“Initiating neural handshake,” comes over the comms, and Mo glances at Jake one more time – he’s already looking back, even offers a crooked grin – before doing what he was taught, closing his eyes and doing his best to clear his mind. There’s a shimmering moment of anticipation, the instant before waves crash into the shore, and then-

Jake’s five and skating around on a frozen pond, wind whistling in his ears; he’s eleven and punching a bully; he’s fourteen and seeing a kaiju on the news for the first time, destroying Australia’s coast like it’s nothing; he’s nineteen and enlisting straight out of high school because he’s not good enough at school for college; he’s twenty-two and standing next to one of the other guys who volunteered to get tested to pilot a jaeger, one of the Canadians, Jake thinks, real sturdy-looking and not quite grown into his ears yet, and someone in a lab coat is telling the both of them that they’ve tested off the charts for drift compatibility, and Canadian boy smiles when he hears that and Jake can’t help but smile too when they lock eyes, and-

“You’re in my head,” Jake says now, amazed, and he’s beaming, and Mo feels it. He doesn’t- there’s no language that he knows for this, for the way he can feel Nova Alpha’s limbs like they’re his, can tell everything Jake’s ever lived, memories like they’re Mo’s own, and all that was to lead him here to Mo, and Mo- he’s himself but he’s Jake too, feeling all that, everything Jake’s thinking and has thought.

“I’m in your head,” Mo echoes. He’s only distantly aware of the teams of scientists scurrying around them, calling out measurements and adjusting connections. Mo doesn’t care. He doesn’t have to be a scientist to know that he and Jakey are as drift compatible as anyone. They fit, and they don’t care about the apocalypse and the fact that they’re doing this to fight monsters, because it’s them, together, and nothing’s ever been more beautiful.

“You too,” Jake says, and he’s responding to the beautiful thing, and he laughs at Mo’s surprise when he realizes that they’re talking through thoughts.

“I don’t ever want to leave this,” Mo says, or thinks, or feels, and the world flickers in and out of focus and the memory shifts into a dream, because it wasn’t like this, it wasn’t this dark, but it is, and Jake’s leaving when he was never supposed to.

“Wait,” Mo begs, “Don’t go,” and then the world tilts on its axis as a clawed arm bursts into Nova Alpha’s cockpit, shattering glass and twisting metal and Mo looks to Jake for help only to see Jake’s face contorted into something grotesque, something furious, and he’s lunging at Mo and Mo doesn’t have time to defend himself and he wouldn’t anyways, not against Jakey, not ever, and then he’s just falling and falling and-

Mo wakes up as he’s rolling straight out of bed, and he lands hard on the cold floor. He’s sweating, his shirt sticking to his back and his heart racing as he gasps Jake’s name, propped up on his hands and knees.

Not real.

It wasn’t real.

Mo flexes his fingers, tries to feel like he’s here in his own body. Doesn’t manage it, not fully.

The dreams have been getting worse, recently.

He picks himself up off the floor, slow. The room’s empty, Freddie already back in his office, or maybe he never left. Mo glances at the clock. He can’t have slept more than an hour and a half.

His knees ache where he landed hard, but he makes his way into the bathroom and splashes cold water onto his face, desperate.

“Suck it up,” he tells his reflection, firm. “You’re okay.”

That’s the spirit, Jake says and Mo looks into the mirror and expects to see Jake at his shoulder, and he doesn’t, just gets startled by the dark circles under his eyes, and then there’s a knock at the main door to the room.

“Generator blew again,” Trav hollers from outside, muffled so he’s hardly audible. “It smells explodey.”

 Mo drags a hand down his face. Just a dream. It wasn’t real.

“Coming,” he calls, and he goes.

---

The world has gone even more to shit since the three-kaiju attack, which Morgan didn’t actually think was a possibility.

They’re surrounded on all sides by kaijus, the ground shaking under them more often than not with seismic activity or footsteps or both. The windows are boarded up so they won’t attract any kaijus with the light, but it feels like too little, too late. The power lines must be fucked up beyond even Zach’s ability to repair them, because off-base communication goes dead and stays that way.

They’ve gone dark in every sense of the word. Means Mo doesn’t have to make excuses to ignore Jake’s calls anymore, because they stop coming, and he can’t tell if he’s happy about that or not. Not like it matters. Any chance they had at talking to the base at Lake Superior is dead and that means Jake probably is too, and if Mo thinks about that too much he’ll lose it, so he doesn’t.

For the first time in ages, no one is bothering Mo about his sleep schedule, because no one else is sleeping either. All personnel are engaged, helping with repairs, taking inventory of suddenly-limited supplies. Fred’s been working around the clock, filling in as the on-base medic in addition to his regular neurotech stuff, because Hutch is still away helping the civilians in the wreckage of the city and Fred’s the only other one with an MD. Mo’s got his crew working overtime to make the generators something resembling sustainable, to keep the base alive. They get London Knight up and running. Or- moveable. That’s about all Mo can say.

They’ve got Johnny and Naz rushing to drift together and pick up the slack, escorting convoys out of the city to get evacuated to one of the safe zones out east, running interference in case a kaiju gets curious about the base. It’s not ideal, not even close. London Knight’s tech is old and malfunctional, and she’s held together with what may as well be duct tape. Naz and Johnny are familiar enough with each other to make it work, but they’re both wincing when they step out of the drift, and Mo doesn’t want to know what it’s doing to their brains.

They keep going back in. Everyone knows there’s no other option.

Sixer’s crew still hasn’t woken up.

They’re lying there in the med bay, three in a row, varying degrees of banged up. Auston took the worst of it, physically, flung against the wall when the kaiju broke through Blue Six’s cockpit. Overloaded the other two when he got ripped out of the drift.

No one says the words ‘brain damage’, not to Morgan at least, but it’s impossible not think it, when the three of them are still unconscious and hooked up to a million different machines and so, so still. It’s harder to believe they’re alive than the opposite.

The blow feels worse than usual, worse than other times they’ve lost crews. Not- it’s practical on some level, because Blue Six was the one thing they had stood a real chance, but it’s more than that. It’s like a collective punch to the gut, the three of them lying there looking smaller and younger than they ever did when they were awake, because they were the last hope anyone had, and now that hope is gone.

They look so young. Mo feels young, like a fucking kid, entirely out of his depth in a war they were never going to win.

He keeps getting up early. Does maintenance around the base. Keeps the power going, keeps London Knight functional, tries to keep his team’s morale up. Doesn’t let himself stop, because if he stops, he thinks he might just give up, and people are relying on him.

It’s hard to know what he’s fighting for, at this point. Feels like treading water, just barely staying afloat.

---

Mo doesn’t realize how late it is until Jazzy scratches his arm with her claws. Gently, if scratching can be gentle, like, hello, Morgan, pay attention to me.

“Don’t do that, kitty,” Mo says, but he looks up from Knight’s right elbow joint for the first time in hours. “Naz didn’t teach you manners, did he?”

He sits back and leans on his hands. Scratches behind Jazzy’s ears, then holds onto her when she crawls into his lap, unbothered the way only cats can be. The weight of her is comforting. Real. Mo’s mind is still mostly swimming, the daydreaming place he goes when he’s working and his body knows what to do. He can’t place what memory it was this time, if he’d been picturing Jake’s first car or his own. Whichever it was, engine was shot to hell.

The hangar’s dark around Mo, pitch black save for the couple of spots of light where night crews are working on urgent repairs, islands in the sea of nothing. List of repairs keeps growing, recently. Things breaking faster than they can fix them.

Morgan splits his dinner, a packet of only-slightly-stale peanut butter crackers, with Jazzy. She looks at the crackers disdainfully.

“If I’m on rations so are you,” Mo reminds her.

She scratches him again, not even a little bit gently, this time. Ingrate.

Mo only works a while longer, just ‘til the little patches of light go dark and everyone else goes to bed. Leader should be the last one to leave. Least he can do.

By the time Mo does, dragging himself back to the room, he’s mostly sleepwalking. The base feels impossibly silent in that surreal way that’s the joint result of being extremely tired and the only one awake.

Mo stays quiet as he opens the door, sliding it open slowly and expecting to have to get undressed in the dark. He expected wrong – the lamp’s still on, the light jarring enough after the dim hallway that Mo has to squint to see. The screensaver’s up on Freddie’s computer, and there’s paper crumpled up on the floor. Fred himself is asleep at his desk, face-first in a pile of printouts, medical information that Mo would bet belongs to Sixer’s crew. Morgan can’t remember the last time he’s seen Fred outside of the med bay, let alone asleep.

It tugs at something in Mo’s gut, a melancholy sort of feeling he can’t quite place. He crosses the room, lays a hand on the nape of Fred’s neck.

“Hey,” he says, quiet. “Freds.”

Freddie wakes up with a start, sitting up fast. “What- what is it?”

“You fell asleep,” Mo says, and Fred’s still blinking at him, half out of it.

“Did they-”

“No,” Mo cuts him off, before he can get to really having hope. “No, everything’s the same.”

There’s a beat, processing maybe, then Fred’s shoulders slump. He looks almost like he wants to laugh at himself, the kind of morbid humour they’ve all gotten good at recently. It’s too much for one person, trying to be enough of a doctor to fix everyone.

“You should get some rest,” Mo says, like a hypocrite, and Freddie’s already shaking his head, rubbing at his eyes.

“I need to finish this.”

“Fred, c’mon,” Mo says, quiet and not quite chastising, and he’s expecting to get shrugged off, but his hand’s still on Freddie’s neck and Freddie leans into it. Just a little bit, like he doesn’t even know he’s doing it. He looks exhausted, pale enough to make the bags under his eyes stand out, to make the weeks’ worth of a beard on his face more obvious. His skin is warm under Mo’s hand.

“It’s alright,” Freddie says. Not as good a liar as he thinks he is, or maybe Mo’s just intimately familiar with this lie in particular. “I’m okay.”

Mo ducks down and kisses him.

It’s not-

He doesn’t plan on it. It isn’t something romantic, isn’t even close. He just- Freddie’s there and he looks exactly as hopeless as Mo feels and Mo just needs to feel something, anything, other than that, and it’s barely anything, lips on lips and Fred kisses back, Morgan’s pretty sure, but not entirely, because it’s after three in the morning and barely anything and then they both break off.

It’s immediately, immensely, intensely awkward. Mo clears his throat, rough, and they nearly bump heads, Fred gets up from his desk that fast. Mo steps back, watches Fred straighten the pile of papers on his desk, close his folder a little too deliberately. His movements are less smooth than Mo’s seen them, like he doesn’t know what to do with his limbs.

“…Sorry,” Mo says, after he recovers from being surprised at himself.

Freddie shakes his head, just once, quick. “It’s fine,” he says, balanced as ever. “People seek human contact after trauma.”

“I’m not traumatized,” Mo says, automatic. Fred raises an eyebrow, and there’s something snarky enough about it to feel like relief, because post-kissing awkwardness isn’t good, exactly, but it’s better than literal crushing despair. Lighter, somehow, like some tiny piece of the weight on their shoulders is gone, or at least focused on something else.

“I’m also not secretly in love with you or anything,” Mo adds, because he’s not. “Just for the record.”

“Good to know,” Freddie says, and Mo knows he’s not imagining the hint of humour in his voice.

If anything good comes of it, it’s that apparently sleep is a preferable alternative to trying to talk about it more, because Freddie gets into bed at the same time as Mo, his clothes for the morning folded neatly on his chair. He’s moving around more than usual, on the top bunk, like he can’t quite get comfortable. Mo fixes his pillow approximately forty times. Touches his mouth and wonders if this is a side effect of the whole ‘going crazy’ thing.

“If something kills us in the night that’s the shittiest last kiss ever, huh?” he says, when the silence gets too loud.

It takes Freddie a second. “If something kills us in the night,” he says, mild, “we won’t have to discuss this ever again. So that’s a positive.”

“Here’s hoping, I guess,” Mo says, and it’s a stupidly morbid joke, even for this ungodly hour of the morning, but it makes Freddie laugh, quiet. Mo can’t remember the last time he heard Freddie laugh. He closes his eyes and just listens.

He didn’t see any of this coming, really.

Mo’s not quite sure when he falls asleep. He says good night at some point, he’s pretty sure, and then there’s a stretch of nothing, and then he’s dreaming Jake’s first kiss and then his own and then Freddie at his desk, his skin warm under Mo’s hand and Mo wants to press his mouth to it, to hide his face in the crook of Freddie’s neck and just stay there and take a few really deep breaths, but then Freddie’s holding him at arms length and his face isn’t the same and it ends the way it always does, with-

“I gotta go,” Jake’s saying, and he’s got tears in his eyes, because he really did love Mo – Mo felt it from him for years – but not enough. “I gotta go where she’s going to be, Mo,” he said, and Mo was trying so hard not to be crying that his chest felt like it was about to explode, feels like it, now, and their foreheads are pressed together, not close enough to get back into Jake’s head.

“What am I supposed to do?” Mo asks, pathetic, and Jake doesn’t have an answer but he leans in and presses his lips to Mo’s, just once, and it’s what Mo’s been wanting and Jake knows it, he knew it and he did it anyways.

“You’ll be okay,” Jake says, and Mo wants to hate him for it, but he genuinely means it, earnest as anything, like he’s trying to convince the both of them. “You’re always okay, Mo,” is what he said, begging as much as telling, like Mo’s ever had a choice, and-

The room’s dark when Mo wakes up, eyes wet. He can feel tears drying on his face that he doesn’t remember crying, but he doesn’t move, just lies there and listens to Freddie’s breathing to calm himself down. Wonders when he started getting used to the sound.

---

They don’t bring it up.

Nothing to bring up, really. A kiss is a kiss, and they’re adults, and they’ve got more important stuff to worry about than Mo being a freak who doesn’t know how to navigate the space between affection and desperation.

 Important stuff like the monsters closer and closer outside their doors, monsters that snatch a plane right out of midair as it’s flying over the lake. Stuff like the lack of communication with the outside world meaning no more supplies from the city, that food is rationed more than before. Mo watches Freddie eat a couple bites of his own breakfast before passing the rest to the Marleau kids, quiet, so no one will see. It makes Mo’s heart ache.

He brings Freddie a cup of tea, later that day, just marches right through the med bay and into his office and sets it down on his desk.

“What’s this for?” Fred asks, and Mo shrugs. Neither of them is the gushing type.

“No one else drinks that stuff,” is all he says, and Freddie rolls his eyes, this little half-smile tugging his lips up.

“Noted,” he says, and Mo wants to keep him smiling. “Do you want to sit?”

It’s a tiny, nothing little pocket of a moment, but it’s the most grounded Mo’s felt in weeks; gives him this ridiculous urge to just curl up and stay here for a little while, maybe just take a nap because he hasn’t slept since Thursday, if he’s keeping track of days right.

Mo, Jake says, and the memory flickers in front of Mo’s eyes, Fred kissing him and pulling away, all tense, then him and Jake having lunch together in a different mess hall in a different base, Jake laughing so hard he was clutching his stomach and doubled over, because of Mo.

“No,” Mo says, answering belatedly. “No, I got stuff to do. Thanks.”

It’s getting worse. Mo doesn’t know if it’s the lack of sleep or the stress of being closer to death than usual, but he’s seeing Jake more, recently, like right after he left. He’s at Mo’s shoulder wondering about the food options in the mess hall one week, sitting at the foot of his bed while Mo gets dressed the next. It’s getting harder to tell when he’s real or not.

Or-

Mo knows he’s not real. When he’s a memory or an invention, that’s what he meant.

Mo knows he’s not real.

“He’s not even subtle, Marts,” Travis is rambling, good-natured, and Mo’s trying so, so hard to listen, to focus. “Every day, some excuse to come by-”

Jake’s heart pounding, terrified, as a kaiju shrieks in pain right outside their jaeger-

“I think he’s sweet,” Martina says, voice strained with effort as she undoes a valve on Knight, and Travis tugs on her ponytail, all fond, before leaning down to help.

The tearing of metal as Blue Six’s head is torn off and Mo doesn’t move, doesn’t help-

“I mean, yeah, I bet you do,” Travis teases, then puts on this high-pitched voice while Martina laughs, all bashful. “Ooh, Sandy, you’re so sweet-

He’s too old for her, Jake chimes in, not a memory this time, just him, a part of the conversation because he always is, right at Mo’s side, in front of him, all blue eyes and the only thing Mo can see.

Mo drops his wrench, staggers back instinctively and knocks over the bucket of coolant they’re supposed to be using. The bucket skitters across the floor as it rolls, creates a quickly-pooling puddle of sickly coloured liquid.

The other two are staring at Mo, worried.

“Sorry,” he says, after a second. “Sorry, I’ll go get a rag.”

“I can-”

“No,” he cuts Martina off, feels bad for it, and tries for a smile. “I’ll go. I’ll-”

He escapes to the elevator, forces himself to stay upright until he’s out of sight of his crew.

“Fuck,” he says, then, because he can’t even do harmless gossip about his junior engineers anymore, he can’t do this. “Why do you keep-”

I didn’t know you’d drop it! Jake protests. Jeez, Mo. Grumpy.

Mo leans his head against the grated door, hands shaking as the cabin creaks downward.

“Why are you getting worse?” he whispers, annoyed with himself. “Stop getting worse. Stop getting worse.”

He doesn’t go to get a rag. He walks straight past everyone and everything in the hangar and then the hallways, cuts through the med bay right past Sixer’s unconscious crew without stopping to look at them and stops in the doorway of Freddie’s office.

Freddie looks up, almost startled.

Mo imagines just saying it; just coming right out and asking if, hypothetically, there’s a way that a former copilot could leave a copy in the drift and exist in someone’s brain even once they’re dead, if there’s a reason that he’s seeing Jake or if he’s really and truly lost his mind.

He opens his mouth to say it, and the words shrink into nothing.

He doesn’t think he wants an answer. He doesn’t want to know what it would mean for how people would look at him, for whether or not he can be useful to his crew, to everyone on base. He already can’t pilot, if people think he can’t be a mechanic either-

“Tea?” Mo asks instead, and this time, when Freddie asks if he’ll stay, he thinks, fuck it, and does.

---

 “And today we’ve got a specially prepared gourmet meal,” Mo announces, setting the tray down with a mostly-unappealing thud. It’s rehydrated rice and beans. Mostly-unappealing is about as good as it gets. “I asked around, if you eat it really fast it’s apparently almost tolerable.”

Freddie offers Mo a half-smile, sliding his papers out of the way of the food. Eating together has become a habit quietly, without Mo meaning for it to. He thinks that might be a Freddie Andersen thing. “Thank you.”

“And-” Mo passes him one of the cups of tea he brought. He’s never been a tea person, really. That’s grown on him, too.

Gross, Jake says. The room’s crowded, with the three of them. Would be.

Fred stares at the tea for too long, like it’s presenting some conundrum he doesn’t know how to approach. Ever the scientist.

“It okay?” Mo asks, pausing in shovelling food into his mouth. “You can have mine, if it’s not-”

“You don’t have to bring me food,” Fred says.

“It’s lunchtime, Fred,” Mo says. “We both know you weren’t going to take a break to go get it for yourself.”

“Right,” Fred says, frowning. “But you realize you don’t have to- give, always, in order to-” He trips over his words, and it’s uncharacteristic enough to get Mo’s guard up. He knows when he’s not wanted. He has to know, by now.

“If I’m bothering you, I can-”

“No,” Fred cuts him off, and he looks frustrated, but more at himself than at Mo, Mo thinks. “That’s not what-”

At first, Mo thinks it’s the base’s sirens going off, warning of an incoming kaiju attack. The wailing noise isn’t loud enough, though, is much too close. It takes a moment for him to place it: the monitors out in the med bay, the monitors hooked up to Sixer’s crew, are going wild. After weeks of nothing but dull, rhythmic beeps, the sound is alien, terrifying.

“Freddie,” Mo says, stunned, and Freddie’s already out of his office and into the main room, lifting Mitch’s wrist and feeling his pulse. It’s Mitch’s monitor that’s making the noise, Mo sees when he gets close enough to look at the screens.

“What’s happening?” Mo asks, and his brain’s going to all the worst places, like in old hospital dramas when someone flatlines, and he’s going to have to watch Mitchy die. “Is he-”

“He’s alright,” Freddie says, eyes darting between Mitch and the screen. Then, stunned, “He’s awake.”

And they both look down, and Mitch is looking back.

Mitch blinks up at them. He might’ve just woken from a nap.

“Hi,” Fred says, gentle as Mo’s ever heard him. “Hi, Mitchy. Do you-”

“Auston,” Mitch interrupts, and his voice is rough with lack of use. “Will. Are we dead?”

We, Mo realizes, and his stomach drops.

“No one’s dead,” Freddie’s saying, calming, but the monitor’s beeping faster, and Mitch doesn’t look convinced, shaking his head like he’s trying to get water out of his ears.

“Where are we?” he asks, all disoriented, and he’s slurring his words, “Where are- it hurt, we were fighting- where are we, I can’t-” He winces, tries to sit up, but Freddie holds him in place, gentle but firm.

“We need to do some tests on you,” he says. “You’ve been out for a long-”

Freddie,” Mitch interrupts, and he looks terrified. “Why’s it so quiet?”

His voice breaks, and Freddie says, low, “Get Sparks,” and Mo takes that as the life preserver it is and gets the hell out.

He all-but-sprints for the hallway and, when the door swings shut behind him, has to lean on the wall so he won’t fall down. His breath is picking up again, irregular, and please, not now, he can’t be doing this now.

Mo knows what Mitch is feeling, is the thing, feels it almost every night, that sickening spiral of panic when the person you’ve been sharing your thoughts with is gone and shouldn’t be. He knows how deafening that silence is, since the day Jake left. The worst sound in the world, and- it’s like a hole, something dug out of him, and the look on Mitch’s face-

It took Mo nearly a year to stop saying ‘we’. A year of keeping himself busy, of doing everything he possibly can to fill the gaps where he and Jake used to drift. It doesn’t work. It never really works. He can feel Jake watching him now, and it’s like a vise around his throat, around his chest, pressing in on him.

He’ll get help. He has to- he’ll get help.

“You’re okay,” Mo tells himself, because staying busy is all he has, because Mitchy and Freddie need him to not be a mess, right now, and he forces himself away from the wall and down the hall to find someone who knows what to do.

---

The mess hall’s been doubling as ops centre for a while, since they’ve basically given up on anything resembling military protocol. It’s loud now, crowded full to the brim with people speculating about Mitch being awake. News spreads fast around here, way it’s always seemed to.

“Hey.” Naz appears at Mo’s shoulder, trailed by Johnny like always. “It’s true? He’s awake?”

Mo nods, distracted. He can’t make his brain shut up, not since freaking out in the hallway. It’s white noise in the background of everything, roaring up into the corners of his eyes. “I was there.”

“Jesus,” John says under his breath. There’s a lot there. Mo gets it. It sounds bad to say they’d all given up, but.

There’s the screeching of a chair on the floor as Patty stands up. Mo looks toward him and Wickenheiser and sees why – Freddie just walked in, Sparks trailing behind him.

“Update, Doc?” Pat asks before any of them because they all know Sixer’s crew are basically his kids, and the whole room goes quiet, expectant.

Freddie looks uncomfortable with a room full of eyes on him, but he hides it well. “He’s sedated,” he says; then, “He was upset.”

Morgan gets the feeling it’s an understatement. It’s not a good feeling. He can’t shake the look in Mitch’s eyes.

“But he’s alright?”

“I can’t speculate about the results of being pulled out of the drift,” Freddie says, but allows, “He’s stable.”

“Thank god,” Patrick exhales, weary, collapsing into his seat, and Christina hugs him, kissing the top of his head. There are similar celebrations happening around the room, like one big collective exhale. Naz gets tugged into a one-armed hug by Johnny, still manages to clap Mo on the back, bracing.

“Tough fucking kid,” Naz says, and Mo exhales, half a laugh. He doesn’t even know what he’s feeling – so relieved he’s kind of dizzy, that Mitchy’s alive and going to stay that way, but-

“The other two?” Wicks asks, eyes still on Fred, who nods like he was expecting this line of questions.

“Stable, physically,” he says. “Auston- we don’t know how mobile he’ll be ‘til he wakes up.” His lips tighten, hardly a reaction. Hardly noticeable, unless you know him. Mo does.

“Will he?” John asks. “Will they?”

Fred’s back to being detached, delivering a diagnosis. “Each of them experienced three brains’ worth of physical and psychological trauma. There’s no precedent for a three person crew surviving something like this.”

It’s as many words as he ever says at one time, and every one of them hits the room like a cannonball. The silence that follows that is the worst Mo’s ever heard. Then-

“Who’s going to tell Mitch?” Christina asks. And it’s quiet, concern that morphs into dread as every pilot in the room winces, and most of the non-pilots, too.

Any relief that there was is gone, dissipated in the space of a second. Mo can’t picture it, Mitch without Auston and William. He doesn’t even know what that looks like.

No one speaks. There’s nothing to say.

“That’s that, then,” Wickenheiser says, finally. “We keep going.”

Mo wants to say: why?

He doesn’t. He doesn’t see the point of that, either.

Mo’s so fucking tired.

He’s tired of not having hope, tired of the idea of hope getting taken away before it’s had a chance to become anything but an idea. He’s just- he’s tired of this being his life, this infinitely long day, this impossibly long year that’s somehow eclipsed everything that came before.

It was stupid to think that Mitch waking up would change anything. What could it have changed? That’s the thing about hope, in a time like this, is that it’s never anything but a hail mary, a blind shot in the dark. Maybe a million things go right and Mitch’s boyfriends magically get better and they can win the war against an enemy that hasn’t shown signs of stopping. Maybe they can hook people up to giant robots and rewire their brains without knowing the consequences and it’ll all work out just fine and Morgan will be able to sleep through the night.

And the maybes, the twenty-four-seven pinning everything on the idea of a maybe end to all this, it’s just- Mo’s just tired tonight, of all of it. Of only half existing, the world shrunken down to this base and everyone on it, the people Mo loves more than anything and is completely powerless to help.

Freddie shuts the door behind them, once they’re back in their room, and it clangs shut, heavy. He leans his forehead against it while Mo stares, watches the tension in Freddie’s shoulders that’s been there for weeks, maybe months.

Mo makes himself look away, finds himself staring into their room. The walls feel like they’re pressing in. He’s never felt this helpless in his life, has never hated the feeling this much. He needs-

He needs to-

Mo doesn’t realize he’s moving to punch the bedframe until he already has. “Fuck,” he says, because he’s always known how to hit and it hurts, bad, but it’s something other than a gaping, empty space in his heart, so he hits it again, then again. He can feel the skin at his knuckles splitting, and it stings, leaves a little smear of red behind the next time he hits the bed, and then-

Someone catches his wrist, stopping him, and Freddie’s at his side.

“You’ll hurt yourself.”

“I don’t care,” Mo grits out, and he tries to pull his wrist free, but Freddie holds on, stronger than Mo expects.

“You should,” Freddie says, quiet, and Mo wheels on him, ready to- he doesn’t even know, to yell or shove him away or maybe to fucking cry, because he can’t be mature and restrained and do the Freddie thing tonight, only their eyes meet and Freddie looks just as wrecked as Mo and it’s disconcerting, looking and seeing something he recognizes.

Mo opens his mouth to speak, and it takes him a couple tries to make something come out. “What’s the point?” It sounds helpless even to him. He doesn’t know if he’s asking about himself, or about Mitch, or maybe the whole base, because-

He genuinely doesn’t know.

Freddie drops his gaze. Looks like he’s steeling himself, thinking, and the quiet stretches out into five seconds, ten. He’s still holding onto Mo’s wrist, and now, without saying anything, he looks down at Mo’s hand and turns it in the space between them, examining it from every angle. Nearly studious.

It takes Mo a second to realize what Freddie’s doing. It’s considered, clinical, the way Freddie checks on the bones in Mo’s hand, like he’s going through a set of steps. It doesn’t feel like anything’s broken. Still aches when he presses, careful, on the place where Mo’s knuckles are split, testing.

Mo just watches, taken aback enough that he doesn’t try to pull his hand away. Somewhere along the line, his brain stopped making noise. It’s just quiet.

He doesn’t remember them standing this close, but they are now, bent into each other’s space. Mo can feel it when Freddie speaks, so, so quiet, like he’s talking mostly to himself.

“First, to do no harm.” He’s quoting something, it sounds like. Mo doesn’t know what. Doesn’t know if it’s an answer to his question or not.

Freddie lets go of Mo’s hand. Mo didn’t realize he was still holding on; hardly notices the hurt when he flexes his fingers, testing. There wasn’t a lot of blood to begin with. What little there was is beginning to dry, sticky across his knuckles. When he looks up, his hair brushes Fred’s forehead, and then they’re eye to eye.

The moment shifted, somewhere along the line; shifted into something unfamiliar without Mo noticing. It feels- it’s deliberate, when their eyes lock. Deliberate, when neither moves away; and it’s the slowest thing in the world, every millisecond stretched out for a decade.

Mo’s heartbeat is loud in his ears, the only thing keeping time. The moment’s a precipice.

Their noses brush, barely.

“Is this…” Freddie starts, and then nothing else.

The world is impossibly still around them.

Mo’s not- he did this once and he’s got enough good sense left not to do it again, but it doesn’t end up mattering; this time, Freddie kisses him.

It’s a brush of lips, hardly even there, like asking a question. Mo chases Freddie’s mouth, and they’re apart for half a second before coming back, a joint decision without needing to talk about it, and from there, it’s a switch flipped, something or a lot of somethings pent up and spilling out all at once, hands on necks and fingers pushed up in hair, crashing into each other in a press of lips and teeth that nearly hurts, it’s so intense.

It’s not like before. Mo doesn’t know how he thought kissing Freddie, really kissing Freddie, would ever be like anything else.

It’s lots of things all at once, too many to keep track of – Mo tugging at Fred’s shirt, Fred walking them back towards the bed. It’s too desperate for what it is, rushed and nearly frantic, but Fred doesn’t stop to overthink so neither does Mo, he doesn’t think a single thing.

His breath catches audibly when he feels Freddie’s hand on his back, and it’s embarrassing as anything but Mo can’t help it. It’s been a really, really long time, and it’s not- there’s more important things than sex, there are now and always have been, and Mo knows that, but he also hasn’t been touched this much by anyone in literal years, and it’s overwhelming in a dizzy kind of way, like stepping out of the drift.

Freddie notices, because of course he does. “You’re shaking.”

“It’s okay,” Morgan says, because he just needs- he needs to not be talking now. “I’m okay, just-”

Fred’s lips are on his again, and his tongue, practiced like he knows what he’s doing. He barely breaks the kiss enough to tug his shirt off in one fluid motion, and Mo does the same, maybe less fluid. He just has a second to take in the view, an expanse of pale skin in front of him; he thinks Fred might be doing the same, even though he for sure got the worse end of the deal in terms of what to look at, and then their eyes meet and the next instant they’re kissing again, stumbling backwards and having to duck to fit onto Mo’s bunk.

“Watch your head,” Mo remembers, and Freddie nods against him.

“I know,” he says, and that’s the last talking either of them does.

Morgan’s whole world is one sensation after another, overlapping at the edges. No sound at all except their breathing, not quite in-sync; and his skin’s warm, burning hot, the way they’re crowded into each other between the bunk and the wall; and Mo’s got his hands in Freddie’s hair, maybe the wrong side of too rough. He feels clumsy, gasping wetly into kisses the way he is, but it’s just- he hasn’t had sex in an embarrassingly long time, hasn’t been the smaller one ever, and it’s still not that he’s small, not at all, it’s that Freddie’s big, everywhere at once, solid enough that Mo can get lost in it.

He’s fumbling to undo Freddie’s pants, and Freddie’s not-fumbling to undo his, because of course he’s good at this too. And there’s something to be said, maybe, for how sex manages to put people on the same level, because it’s not sophisticated at all, just the two of them jerking each other off, trading handjobs like they’re in high school.

Freddie’s eyes are dark when Mo glances up at him, and it’s too much, so he lowers his eyes, just focuses on making it good, on keeping his hand moving, listening for the little hitches in Freddie’s breath that mean he’s doing something right; and it’s more effort than it should be, to keep going when every nerve in Morgan’s body is centred at his dick, at the loop of Freddie’s hand. It’s different when it’s someone else’s hand, noticeable the way Fred’s is smoother and less calloused than Mo’s own. Fred’s capable at this the way he’s capable at everything, and the mattress creaks as they shift their weight, as the pace picks up, as the world turns into caught breaths and slick skin-on-skin.

“I’m-” Mo says, and Freddie nods, wordless, and works Mo through it as he comes all over himself, shuddering all helpless; he remembers himself just enough to keep his grip tight, and it’s no time at all before Fred’s coming too, his hips stuttering where he’s been fucking into Mo’s fist, and Mo’s probably staring like a freak but he just- he feels it, sticky-hot and all because of him, the only real and tangible thing left in the world.

Fred’s out of breath, it looks like, propped up over Mo on one bent arm. He’s flushed pink right down his neck, his hair sticking up in a million different directions, just the brightest thing in the room. It’s the most imperfect Morgan’s ever seen him, tugs at something in his chest that he can’t quite name.

“Good?” Freddie asks, finding his gaze, and Mo nods.

“Good,” he says; then, because he can’t hold onto a single thought, but he’s still got manners, “You?”

“Good,” Freddie says. “I’m not-” He wets his lips, just the tip of his tongue. “I’m not secretly in love with you, or anything.”

Mo recognizes his own words, and it’s that or the way Fred’s big enough to block out the lamplight, stretched over Mo like he is, but the complete surrealism of the exchange and the entire situation sets in and Mo tries to laugh, can’t quite make a sound. Can’t quite care, either.

For the first time in ages, his mind’s just quiet.

---

The worst part is that Naz was maybe right all those months ago, in retrospect, about Mo needing to get laid.

Not that Mo’s ever, ever going to tell him that, ever, because god knows the guy doesn’t need another thing to be smug about, but-

He forgot what it was like, is all, to have someone touch him that much, to have all of someone’s attention and nothing else to worry about, at least temporarily. It’s nice to be reminded. The orgasm part is good too, that first time, and then a few mornings later, and then every time after, too, and Mo stops thinking it’s a fluke.

Freddie’s professional about it, or- not professional. He’s Freddie about it, which means he goes about his business same as always, except for how they’re getting each other off semi-regularly, enough that he starts peppering in the occasional deadpan joke, and it’s not quite a cure for insomnia, but it’s sure as hell a better way to pass the time than staring up at the ceiling and waiting for Auston and William to wake up, for Jake’s leftover memories to hit like a truck.

Mo learns that pretty well. He learns that Freddie’s a considerate person to hook up with, takes turns being the one to clean them off instead of just expecting Mo to do it; and that Freddie reacts quietly, but obviously, if you pay attention. He learns that Freddie’s big, thick enough that it’s straddling the border of too much when he finally pushes into Mo, a few times in, but he’s also good, hitting Mo’s prostate every thrust and taking Mo at his word when he tells him to go faster. Neither of them’s particularly gentle with the other. They don’t have to be.

Mo’s never really done it like this before. It feels- grounding. Not what he expected, really. It’s the good kind of ache, after, the kind that’s a reminder. Morgan feels it and keeps feeling it, even the next day when he’s in the hangar with Jazzy.

“I had sex,” he says, because he has to tell someone or he thinks he’ll explode. Jazzy looks at him kind of judgey. Mo presses his face into the fur at the top of her head. “I didn’t even pretend he was Jakey, hardly.”

Jazzy’s pretty non-committal about the whole thing, most likely because she’s a cat, but Mo’s kind of proud of himself anyways.

We both know I’d be better, though, Jake says, kind of pouty, and Mo ignores him, or tries to, but Jake’s still there in the back of his head, looking on. Jake is straight, mostly, Mo thinks.

Was.

Zach’s still sending out calls to Superior. Mo doesn’t have the heart to tell him it’s probably a lost cause. He probably knows.

The Jake in Mo’s head doesn’t know that real-him is dead, or if he does, he doesn’t seem to care – straight thing aside, he’s been louder recently, keeps hitting Mo with memories when he’s not expecting it. Not bad stuff, either, just Jake getting ready in the morning, Jake looking like the picture of a nice American boy, handsome in his uniform with his hair all combed. It feels pointed, something jealous about it, as if hallucinations can be jealous.

Wishful thinking, maybe. Mo hits new levels of pathetic every day, so it’s kind of nice to know his dead copilot is with him, there.

Don’t have to be mean about it, Mo, Jake sulks.

“Shh,” Mo says, and Freddie glances over his shoulder at him, halfway into the bathroom to shower. He’s got a red mark on his neck where Mo’s mouth was.

“Didn’t say anything.”

“I know,” Mo says, and Freddie raises an eyebrow at him but doesn’t push it, and the shower turns on a few moments later.

“Why’re you so loud?” Mo asks, not to Freddie this time, and this time Jake’s the one to shush him. He wasn’t this annoying, when he was alive.

---

Lunch is lukewarm tea and a definitively mediocre sandwich, but they eat together in Fred’s office. This, their routine, is comfortable than Mo ever expected to feel in the med bay. Still a little wary, like someone’s going to pop out from behind the desk and try to psychoanalyze him.

It’s mostly Mo who talks while they eat. He doesn’t mind filling up the quiet, sometimes. It feels worthwhile, trying to get a smile out of Freddie. He doesn’t smile enough.

“-and I told him to come by the hangar if he needed anything, but now he’s always showing up, like it’s not ridiculously obvious what he’s doing,” Mo’s saying, tearing off a chunk of bread from his sandwich. ”And obviously Marty can handle herself, but really, she’s a kid, and I don’t need an army of Swedish teenagers flirting with my best mechanic.”

Freddie scratches something out on the page in front of him. “An army.”

“I mean, one of them,” Mo relents. “Still! If I tried that shit when I was a recruit-”

 “You talk like you’re so old,” Freddie observes, bemused. He sets down his pen to take a bite of his sandwich. Mo’s never seen him not work through lunch.

“Shut up, I don’t,” Mo says; then, because he’s never been much of a liar, “It’s not like I’m young.” That’s closer to the truth. Fred still looks skeptical, chipmunk-esque with food in his cheek.

“Younger than me.”

“Now who’s talking like they’re old?” Mo retorts, a little bit playful.

“Older than you,” Freddie counters, quick, and Mo has to bite back a grin. It still feels out of place on his face, every time. Their ankles brush under the table. The office is a small space, just barely bigger than their room and filled up with enough filing cabinets and spare lab equipment to more than make up the difference. It’s like an escape, almost.

Almost. When Mo looks outside through where the door’s cracked open, he can see into the main part of the med bay, over to where the beds are pushed together, Mitch lying in between Auston and Will. He’s got headphones in, nodding his head just a little and drumming his fingers on the back of Auston’s hand.

It’s easy enough to stop smiling, after that.

Mo doesn’t think Mitch has left their sides, the other two, not once since he woke up. Not even to sleep – he’s got his own cot just like theirs, wedged into the space between the monitors and machines keeping the guys alive. Mo’s heard him talking to them more than a couple of times, at breaks in the steady stream of visitors. When he thinks they’re alone. Probably for the best, that he keeps that a private thing.

It gets around, anyhow.

“Kinda creepy, though, right?” Nursey is saying, when Mo bumps into her as she’s digging through one of the supply lockers later. “I swear the blowtorch was here-”

“It’s just gossip,” Kap says, but he sounds concerned too, moving out of the doorway so Mo can head in. Nursey shakes her head.

“Yeah, but he talks like they can hear him.” And it’s Nursey, so it’s genuinely concerned instead of vindictive, but it’s still immediately obvious what she’s talking about. Still rankles. People who aren’t pilots shouldn’t talk about shit they don’t understand. “Like, d’you think he knows-”

“Maybe shut up and do your job, Sarah,” Morgan interrupts, too mean. He shoves the blowtorch into Kappy’s arms on his way out. It was in the bottom corner drawer, same as always. He can feel them staring at him as he leaves, stunned and maybe a little worried, and Jake has the audacity to sound reproachful.

You shouldn’t take it out on them, that’s not you, Mo.

“Maybe it is,” Mo says, and knows even as he does that he’s going to apologize to them later, because that’s what a leader’s supposed to do when they fuck up and yell at their team just for talking.

Not for the first time, Mo thinks that he could just- he could stop, probably, quit being head of maintenance and maybe the rest of it too. He thinks the base could manage.

“When’s the last time you slept?” Freddie asks later that night, all understated concern.

“Don’t,” Mo says, because he’s okay until he admits that he’s not, and he’s not doing that, tonight. Doesn’t need Fred looking at him the way the guys did today, all careful, like they think he’s about to break. “Don’t, with me, okay?”

And Freddie frowns like he’s not quite happy with that, but Mo kisses him and gets kissed back, after a moment, and he ignores Jake sitting watchful in the back of his head, loud with all the things he’s not saying, and it’s tugging at Mo, insistent and fucking deafening-

“D’you want to, just-” Mo says, against Freddie’s mouth, and he doesn’t think he’s the kind to beg to get fucked but they both know that that’s about what he’s doing now. It’s embarrassing, or it would be, but Mo doesn’t care, he just wants to not think.

Freddie swipes his thumb along the hollow of Mo’s throat, eyes dark. Like he’s making up his mind. “In a while,” is all he ends up saying, and Mo huffs a complaint, but the snark dies on his tongue as Freddie lowers himself down the bed.

They’re pretty good at figuring out what the other one needs, by now.

Mo gets his wish not to think: Fred rims him, mouth and fingers and not a single second of wasted time, ‘til Mo’s biting down on his pillow to avoid literally shouting as he comes; and then Mo barely has a chance to catch his breath before Freddie’s pushing into him. He’s already opened up, already oversensitive, and he makes some noises that he maybe wouldn’t be overly proud of, if anything in his brain was even a little bit coherent.

Mo can see how Fred got all his degrees, if he applies even a little bit of the singleminded focus he’s got during sex to studying. It’s a lot, too much and not enough all at the same time, the way Freddie’s a wall of heat along Mo’s back as he fucks him, keeping up a merciless pace. It’s good, and Mo’s apparently not over the novelty of being the smaller one – who fucking knew – because he’s hard all over again before long, craning his neck to try and catch Freddie’s lips, just needing more however he can get it.

“C’mon,” he says, and Freddie nods against him, pulls out and flips Mo over and gets a hand around him before he’s got a chance to complain. He comes fast enough to be a little embarrassing, watches and rambles vague encouragements as Freddie jerks himself off and adds to the mess on Mo’s stomach.

It takes Mo ages to catch his breath, flat-out.

“Shit,” he says, winded. “Fred, shit.”

Freddie breathes a laugh from where he’s all sprawled out. Angle he’s at, his feet are hanging over the edge of the bed – it’s really not big enough for the two of them – but he doesn’t move, just smirks at Mo a little smugly, like he’s pleased with himself.

“You react a lot,” he informs him. “To little things.”

You do, Jake says, delighted, in Mo’s head. It’s jarring, a little. Out of place, here, like Mo forgot about him until he spoke.

“Yeah, well,” Morgan says. He doesn’t have a cool comeback. His limbs are jello. Maybe his brain too. “What do you think one of your brain scans would look like?” he asks, without really thinking. “If you got one during sex?”

Freddie grins, just a tiny one, and traces a zig-zag shape in the come on Mo’s stomach, and it’s gross, kind of, but it’s also just very him. Not really eloquent, not really at all. Just companionable, stilling something restless in Mo enough that he can ignore it.

His head aches. That part’s nothing new.

He should get up and get cleaned off, but for now, Mo doesn’t move. He knows if he does it’s only a matter of time before he starts thinking again, so he just-

Doesn’t.

---

It’s a stupid, nothing mistake that tips them over the edge. Spark in a tinderbox, probably.

Morgan should see it coming. He doesn’t, but he should’ve, and he knows that London Knight’s an old and way past her best-by date machine, he knows, but he also knows that he’s going to be going through it all night, everything he could’ve done, all the checks he missed.

They’re escorting a group of civilians, Naz and Johnny in Knight, when a loose bolt flies off one of the valves and hits Naz in the temple, concusses him and knocks him right out of the drift.

John barely gets them back alive. The fact that he does is nothing short of a miracle. Morgan doesn’t have to look at Freddie’s scans to know that piloting alone isn’t something a brain should be able to do, not with that kind of neural load.

“Is he okay?” Mo bursts into the mess hall slash de-facto ops room, still in his work coverall and filthy with grease. He nearly crashes into Christina, who’s standing by the door with Mitch, and the rest of the department heads look up from where they’re gathered around a table. It’s immediately evident that Mo’s walked into the middle of an argument, people half out of their seats and looking, almost without exception, more stressed than usual.

“Naz is recovering in the med bay,” Patrick says. “He’ll be okay.”

Mo exhales. The idea of his friends dying isn’t one he’s managed to come to terms with. Naz is okay. “And Johnny?”

He can answer his own question, at least partially, just by looking: John’s sitting at the far end of the table, clutching a bloody cloth to his nose while Fred – the one exception to the more stressed than usual thing, because he doesn’t do stress, when he’s got a patient – is shining a little flashlight at his eyes, checking for who knows what. John’s conscious, which is better than Mo could’ve hoped for, but he looks like he’s been to hell and back, eyes bloodshot.

Patrick’s the only one to respond again, an edge to his voice. “John’s fine, aside from a complete lack of interest in not dying-”

John shakes his head, pushing Fred’s arm out of the way. The movement makes him wince; he looks like a living corpse even as he argues. “We’re not stopping. There are thousands more people to evacuate, we’re the last hope anyone has.”

He still wants to pilot. Mo stares at him, incredulous. “You can’t pilot a jaeger alone, it’s a miracle you even made it back.”

“So we find me a new co-pilot.”

“It’s not that easy,” Pat says, clearly trying to talk sense into John. “Pilot selection takes months, we’d have to magically produce a trained jaeger pilot-”

 “The problem is drift compatibility,” Wicks says, terse. She’s massaging her temple, her one last hope out of her hands. “The odds of finding someone-”

“We wouldn’t have to,” Sparks pipes up. If he feels embarrassed at cutting off the marshal, he doesn’t show it. “Just- we already have a pilot who’s compatible with John. We have Mitch.”

Everyone turns to look at Mitch. He’s been silent up ‘til now, off to the side with Christina, and he’s looked a little sick the whole time, inching closer to the door like he’s been on the verge of running back to his boys in the med bay. A near-miss in a jaeger too close to home, Mo would wager. Mitch looks back at them all now, kind of cagey, like he wasn’t expecting everyone’s attention. He’s the only one in the room who isn’t an authority figure in one way or another.

“You did your training in a Mark 4 Knight, you know the hardware,” Sparks goes on, addressing Mitch directly, now. “You’re compatible with anyone, at least in theory, and you and Johnny match in the 91st percentile on paper.” He glances over at Fred. “Am I making sense here, Doc, or-”

Fred nods, slow, like he’s thinking through it. “I’d have to look over their profiles, but 91st percentile is- they would have been piloting together already, anywhere else.” His voice is calm as ever, but he has that look in his eyes, the one he gets when he speaks about his research. Almost- excited.

“Guys,” Mo says, because he can see the look on Mitch’s face, too. Not excited, not even close.

“And we still have the tech to initiate a new drift?” Wicks asks, talking over him. She’s sitting up straighter, energy back in the room with a new idea.

Sparks nods, grinning, and Johnny’s already halfway to his feet, all business. “If we’re going to do this, it should be soon, so we can get back out there as soon as possible and-”

Guys,” Mo says, but then-

“No.”

Mitch says it loud, too loud, and the room goes quiet.

“Mitchy?” Pat asks, uncertain.

“No,” Mitch says again. “I’m not doing it.”

“People are dying every day we aren’t out there,” Wicks says. “We’re going to run out of food eventually.”

“Mitchy,” John says, quiet. “I don’t know if we have a choice here.”

“It’s my brain,” Mitch says. His shoulders are up, all tense. “You gonna force me?”

“Like hell,” Mo says, protective just on instinct, and he’s not the only one; Christina’s got a hand on Mitch’s arm and even Johnny looks resigned.

“Obviously not,” Wicks interjects, calming in that way she has, where calm’s not as much a request as an order. “Obviously no one’s going to make anyone do anything, let’s just calm down.” She turns to Mitch, speaks low and kind. “This might be our best shot, if you two could co-pilot London-”

“I already have co-pilots,” Mitch cuts her off. “I have two.”

Sparky speaks before Mitch’s words can really impact, all impatient. “Mitch, come on, you can’t seriously still think-”

“They aren’t dead,” Mitch snaps, bullish, and Sparks is rolling his eyes.

“You need to get over this, Mitch, they’re as good as-”

And Morgan’s on his feet without realizing it, shouting him down, and so is every other current or former pilot in the room all at once. It’s almost a relief, the white-hot anger Mo feels, because it’s something different, something other than helpless panic or dull nothingness, and it’s not something he’s feeling alone, either. He’s just maintenance, now, but some things about being a pilot don’t leave you, and this – the knowledge that your copilots are your partners, the one thing you’d hold on to ‘til the bitter end – this is one of them. As good as dead, as if any self-respecting pilot would ever even consider giving up on their copilots without being forcefully pried away.

A flash of a shared memory, Jake walking away, Jake making his choice, no prying necessary. Mo’s chest tightens.

Get over this, Sparks said, as if that’s possible, either.

Mo’s eyes find Fred, mostly without meaning to. It’s a mutual thing – Fred’s standing there, staring hard at Mo from the opposite end of the room, and Mo has this absurd urge to tell him to come stand on the right side, to stop looking at Mo like he’s asking a question and not liking the answer; and then everyone’s still yelling over each other and Wicks is in the middle, raising her voice.

Enough,” she orders, and it’s punctuated by the door slamming shut behind Mitch. The sound echoes, damning.

John staggers back and leans on the table, exhausted by the exertion of standing.

“I didn’t say anything that’s not true,” Sparky says, but even he looks guilty, and Christina scoffs, derisive, the closest thing to angry that Mo’s seen her.

Patrick drags a hand down his face, weary. “I’ll talk to him,” he says; then, after glancing at his wife, then at Wicks, he looks further down the table. “Fred.”

Freddie drops Mo’s gaze. Nods, after a second. “I can start the prep for the neural handshake,” he says. “John, if-”

“No,” Mo says, loud, once it hits him what they’re saying. It feels like betrayal, from Fred, from all of them. “No, Mitch said no.”

No one even pretends to pay a shred of attention to him.

They can’t do this. They can’t make him drift with someone else.

“It’s settled, then,” Wicks says. “Dr. Sparks, if you could leave the talking to the rest of us, in future.”

“He can’t do this,” Mo says, but no one’s meeting his eyes, and he just stands there, stunned, as the meeting disperses. “John.”

“We have a job to do, Mo,” John says, and he looks pained, but resigned, and Mo knows he won’t convince him of anything, once his mind’s made up. John yelled at Sparky with the rest of them, but he would face down a kaiju with a wooden sword, if he thought it’d save civilians; he holds everyone to the same standard. Mitch too.

“Marshal,” Mo turns to Wicks, desperate. “Please.”

“I’m sorry,” she says, and Mo shakes his head, blinking, hard.

“No,” he says. “You don’t understand, you can’t make him just move on like that, that’s not how it works, it’s-”

“Morgan,” Wicks says, and he hates her for how kind her voice is, how pitying. “If you need to talk to someone, we can ask Fred to help, we understand that you’re under stress.”

“I’m not stressed,” Mo snaps. “Fred, you-”

But Fred’s already gone, slipped out of the room when Mo wasn’t looking.

The anger from before roars back into Mo’s ears. He doesn’t hear whatever else the others say from behind him. Doesn’t know how he leaves the mess hall or makes it through the maze of hallways to his room, propelled forward all-but-blindly.

Mo, Jake says, more serious than he usually is. Don’t-

Mo ignores him.

“’Get over it’?” he demands, and the noise rings out as he slams the door shut. “You think we need to get over it, is that-”

“Sparky obviously didn’t mean that,” Fred says, completely, infuriatingly normal. He’s barely further into the room than Mo, obviously just arrived. “He’ll apologize.”

“After you permanently fuck up Mitch’s brain, is that the plan?”

“Don’t be dramatic,” Fred says, and Mo laughs, loud and incredulous, because if Fred doesn’t see this then all his degrees are for shit, because when drifting is right, it’s the best thing in the world, but when it’s wrong, or when it’s gone, it destroys you, and that’s not dramatic, Mo’s been on the receiving end of that, he knows.

“You’re not doing this,” he orders, fierce, like he’s the kind of person who gets to order anyone around. Who gets to order Frederik Andersen around. “You’re not setting up this drift.”

Freddie doesn’t even look at him. “No one else on this base can, so-”

“You know that’s not what I mean,” Mo cuts him off. He knows Freddie enough to know this is him avoiding eye contact on purpose, trying to head off a conversation before it starts; and Mo might usually let him, but not today. “Mitch doesn’t want to pilot again, you can’t make him.”

“He’s being selfish, Mo,” Fred says, and Mo throws his hands up, completely done.

“Last time he drifted he felt his boyfriends get brutally mauled by a kaiju, I think some selfishness is understandable-”

“So we all die, then?” Fred asks, an edge to his voice. He’s staring right at Morgan, now, piercing. “We slowly starve to death and leave everyone inland to die, because we want to protect Mitch?”

Mo scoffs. “Yeah, except you clearly don’t.”

“You think I want this for him?” Fred demands. It’s more emotion than Mo’s ever heard in his voice, barely restrained. “After everything, do you think I enjoy asking this from him?”

“I think it’s a science experiment, for you,” Mo says, and he hates it, being mean on purpose, the way it makes Fred’s jaw clench, even though that’s what he was trying to do.

“You’re wrong.”

“I’m not,” Mo says; then, when Fred opens his mouth, “No, you’ve never drifted, you don’t know what it’s like.” He’s louder than he means to be, the wrong side of yelling, everything pouring out at once. “You drift with someone, they’re part of you, you’re not just you anymore, and you lose that you’re ruined, damaged goods, we don’t just get to pick back up and slot someone else in and make things okay-”

It’s the closest he’s ever heard Fred to raising his voice, when he interrupts, sharp, “And you don’t think you might be projecting, Mo, about what makes a person ruined?”

Mo flinches.

The silence is terrible. Fred shuts his eyes, looks like he’s counting to ten. “I’m sorry,” he says, eventually. “That wasn’t fair.”

And Mo just- the only reason Fred would cave that fast is pity, and he’s the one person Mo doesn’t think he can handle that from, or at least he doesn’t trust himself to handle it without his voice breaking or saying something he’ll regret, so he just shakes his head, turns around in a blatantly transparent attempt to hide his face.

He can’t think straight. He can’t- it’s too much at once, in his mind, Freddie and the look on Mitch’s face and Jake’s back walking away and every authority figure in Mo’s life trying to get him to talk out his problems like it’ll make them go away, like any of it is for anything at all, like Mo has any room left to be anything but embarrassed at being reduced to what he is.

The room is dead silent. Mo can’t make himself stop shaking, furious and ashamed and as lonely as he’s been in forever.

He doesn’t know how long they stand there.

When Mo finally turns around, Fred’s standing by his desk, a hand on a stack of papers. He’s not doing anything with them. Just standing, his back to Mo. Maybe hiding as well. They’ve never argued like this before. Mo doesn’t argue with anyone like this. He’s nice, he’s not this.

His mouth feels dry, voice rough when he speaks. “You can’t be okay with making him do this.”

Fred looks beaten down, hunched over his desk. “It doesn’t matter,” he says, quiet. No fight left. “I don’t know how- this is literally our only option. There’s nothing else to protect anymore.”

“There’s this,” Mo says. “There’s people. Family.”

He doesn’t stay to see if Fred turns around.

The hangar’s where he always escapes, and it’s where he goes now, and he waits to calm down, for his heart to stop trying to hammer out of his chest, but it doesn’t, he doesn’t.

Fred thinks he’s projecting, and it’s- fuck him, fuck him for saying that like Mo’s so far gone he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Of course he sees himself in Mitch, how could he not, how could he be any kind of decent person and not want to stop this. It’s bad enough losing your person – people, he corrects himself – without fucking scientists thinking they just can swoop in and make things fine.

Jake is there, beside him, and Mo swears to god he can feel his arm around his shoulders. They’re not us, Mo.

“Shut up,” Mo whispers, exhausted, hands over his ears. “Please shut up.”

It’s okay, Jake would say, if he was here. C’mon, Mo, you’re okay, except Mo isn’t, is the thing, no matter how hard he’s been trying to convince himself, lunches with Fred and getting used to touching again, to having someone. It was stupid of him to think that he could fuck it out or drown it out or whatever the hell he’s been trying to do, because nothing works, he’s just- this is him now, this is all that’s left of him.

Still got me, Jake says, and Mo thinks it’s supposed to be comforting, but it’s a fucking nightmare, that’s all it is, and something in him just snaps.

“I hate you,” Mo says, and it’s not the kind of thing that he says, ever, but it feels good coming out, this rush like he can tell Jake wasn’t expecting it. Fuck him. “I- god, I hate you,” Mo says again, and he doesn’t stop, “You’re not even really here. You chose not to be here, with me.”

That’s not what it was about, Mo, is what Jake would say, is saying, all pained, like he’s really and truly hurt by what Mo’s saying, like he has any right at all, like he’s not just some leftover echo of himself in Mo’s head.

“I wish you’d just fucking died,” Mo spits, ragged and harsh and ugly, and he regrets it as soon as he does, snaps his mouth shut and bites his lip so hard he tastes blood. It doubles him over, folds him up inside like someone’s trying to carve out anything that’s left. He can’t breathe.

Jake probably is dead, is the thing, along with everyone else on base at Lake Superior. He probably died hurting and scared and with a million unanswered phone calls, because Jake’s the kind of idiot who doesn’t know when to quit, except for the one time he did, and Mo never even said goodbye to him and now he’s thinking the most hateful, awful things, like Jake deserves that. Like Mo’s the kind of guy who’d think them, even if Jake did.

He doesn’t recognize himself, sometimes.

And that’s- the word ‘unfair’ is stupid, childish, but that’s what this feels like, like a deal Mo didn’t ask for, the drift taking all the best parts of him and leaving all the spare pieces of Jake in their place. Leaving Mo useless.

“Sorry,” he says, and this time he hardly hears himself. Nothing left worth yelling. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

Jake doesn’t say anything else. Mo misses him more than life.

That’s the problem, probably.

---

“I don’t ever want to leave this,” Mo said, that first day they drifted, feeling on top of the world.

“I know,” Jake said, and laughed out loud. “I know, so don’t, ‘kay?”

“’kay, Jakey,” Mo said, and he didn’t know his voice could come out that soft, didn’t know he could be that happy, but he was, there with Jake with the whole world in front of them waiting to be saved, and that’s how he wakes up now, happy and listening to his best friend’s laugh, to music quiet from somewhere in the distance.

Mo blinks, comes back to reality to the sound of Martina humming, which is actually kind of peaceful, and to Travis looming over his face, which is decidedly not.

“Jesus!” Mo flinches, firmly awake.

“Just Travis,” Trav says, and he at least has the courtesy to back away and give Mo some room to sit up. “You okay?”

Mo massages his neck, blinking himself awake. Just about every bone in his body is aching – he must have passed out curled up on the scaffolding next to London Knight; hopes to god he doesn’t look as wrecked as he feels, in front of his crew. He doesn’t remember falling asleep, doesn’t remember being able to breathe normally beforehand.

“Time’s it?” he asks, instead of answering the question, and Travis shrugs.

“Late,” he says. “Everyone was looking for you.”

“Everyone,” Mo echoes, flat, and Travis counts on his fingers.

“Johnny, Patty, all four of the kids, Marshal Wickenheiser-”

“And you wake me up now?” Mo asks, immediately running through all the worst case scenarios. “Did they say what it was about?”

Travis shrugs. Mo groans, scrambling to his feet.

What he finds waiting for him in the ops room is not, contrary to what Travis said, everyone. Not even close, actually: it’s Wicks sitting at the head of the table, Mitch across from her. Freddie between them. They all look up when Mo walks in. Freddie looks back down, fast.

“Sorry,” Mo says, because it looks as though they were waiting for him. He doesn’t know why he’s here. Just a mechanic.

Wicks beckons him to sit, which he does, a little cautious. “You said Morgan had a potential solution to our problem?” she asks Fred, and he nods, which is news to Mo.

“Something he said made me think,” Fred says. He doesn’t look at Mo. It feels deliberate. Mo glances at Mitch, questioning, but Mitch just shrugs, still looking wary.

“We know that you have exceptional drift compatibility,” Fred continues, speaking to Mitch. “Almost universal.” He slides a page full of diagrams across the table like it’s some sort of explanation. Mo wonders, with a pang, if Fred thinks that anyone but he can read them. Wonders if it’s possible to feel lonely for someone else, by proxy.

“I think we could use that, Mitch’s compatibility, as a stimulus, if we implemented a sort of- mock drift,” Fred says; then, when Mitch opens his mouth to protest, “Not in a jaeger. Not with John. With Auston and William.”

Mitch is the first one to get it. “You’ll put us back,” he breathes, staring up at Freddie as awake as he’s looked in weeks. “You’ll put me in to wake them up.”

“It’s risky.” Fred warns. “It might not have an effect, I don’t even know if your brain could-”

“Do it,” Mitch says, like there isn’t another option, because for him, there isn’t. “Please.”

Mo stares between them – Mitch looking at Fred like he’s offering the world, Fred looking down at his charts, carefully inscrutable – and tries to make sense of what Fred’s proposing. He can’t fathom the logistics of it. A drift outside of a jaeger, a drift where two out of the three participants are unconscious, it all sounds impossible.

“You think this is feasible, technologically?” Wicks asks.

“Worth trying, at least until Naz is okay to pilot again,” Fred says.

“And it’ll work?”

Now, finally, Freddie’s gaze flickers to Mo. “It’s worth trying,” he repeats, like that’s enough, to him, and Mo thinks, oh.

Oh. He listened.

Wicks glances at Mitch, then, like that decides it for her, says, “We’ll try.”

No one’s going to make Mitch pilot again, Mo realizes. Fred made another option out of thin air, from where they had nothing at all.

Fred doesn’t look as if he’s gloating, just barely returns Mitch’s smile as he and Wicks head out. Just gathers up his papers, standing in his spot, looking even bigger than usual. Two announcements in front of multiple people in as many days – he hates it, Mo knows he does.

They’re the only ones left in the empty operations room. The moment feels big.

“Thank you,” Mo says. It doesn’t feel like enough, things still oddly formal between them. It’s a strange kind of vulnerability, standing face-to-face with someone after a bitter argument. Mo didn’t know what to expect, if they’d just go back to hating each other. This doesn’t feel like that.

“It hasn’t worked yet,” Freddie says. No heat behind it. “Even if it does, it won’t help us if they can’t pilot.”

“Still,” Mo says, because they both know his point, and Freddie finally looks up at him, does this little nod, like acquiescing.

“You were right,” he says, simple. “About family.”

He doesn’t- it’s not some big thing, some weepy apology. Not an apology at all, really, just- he listened to what Mo said, and he obviously considered it, enough to change his mind. And that means- it means everything, really, because Mo gets it, that this is a risk, that, if Freddie’s right, they’re gambling with the potential to save a lot of lives to give Mitch a chance to bring his crew back. A heart choice, not a head one.

Mo keeps being surprised by him. He maybe shouldn’t be: the thing about Frederik Andersen, the thing Mo couldn’t ignore even when he tried to hate him, is that he’s good. The type of man whose first instinct is to be rational and whose next instinct is to be kind, and the type of man to let the second instinct win out when the two are in conflict. And that’s as much as Mo could hope for, for someone entrusted with the lives of everyone he cares about. Their family.

A kind of understanding passes between them. Mo reaches out and squeezes Fred’s hand. It seems better than words for what he’s trying to say. He doesn’t know that he could put it into words if he tried.

Freddie leaves his hand in Mo’s. He looks- not uncomfortable. Just a little bit torn. Awkward, maybe, like he’s not quite sure how to react. They both know what it looks like, them standing like this in a mostly public place.

“If this is where you tell me you’re secretly in love with me,” Fred says, tracing the curve of Mo’s nail with his thumb. “Can we please wait until tomorrow?”

Mo takes himself by surprise with a laugh he can’t quite help. Maybe a little from relief. “Odds we survive that long?”

Fred tilts his head, sort of makes a face. “Same as always.”

“Not great, then.”

“No.”

And they’re both smiling, now, just small, and Freddie’s still got the kind of smile that’s mostly in his eyes, the kind Mo never quite expects. Still feels like something to earn. It’s not- he doesn’t feel in love. He feels steady, steadied, and Freddie laces their fingers, real deliberate about it. If his idea’s right, they’ve got a shot at getting them back, Auston and William, and that’s- that’s everything. More.

Mo would give up anything for that shot, he thinks, chewing his lip. And he keeps thinking, mostly absently, until he looks up and sees Freddie already looking right back, almost-frowning like he’s trying to figure something out. He looks away quick when Mo looks at him, like he got caught.

“What?” Mo asks.

Freddie shakes his head.

“What, Fred?” Mo asks again, quieter than he means to.

It takes Freddie a few seconds, like he’s trying to find the words. “You always look sad after you smile,” he says, finally, and something in the way he looks at Mo as he says it, like it’s a question, makes Mo the one to look away, now. “Every time.”

Mo understands now why he was hesitant to say it. It’s a personal thing to notice, almost too intimate to point out out loud. Not the kind of thing you see unless you’re paying attention, and closely, at that.

“It’s okay,” Mo starts, but Freddie shakes his head again, more forceful this time.

“I think that you feel you’re failing people in some way, by- by feeling? Or going through whatever you’re going through?” he says, and it comes out like something he’s been waiting to say, like he’s still not sure he’s doing it right. When Mo looks at him, his brows are knit, and he’s looking down at their hands. “But you aren’t, and if there’s anything I can do to help, I wish you’d let me do it. That’s all.”

Mo doesn’t mean to pull his hand back, but he does. He feels- he wasn’t expecting that, Freddie seeing through him like that. People aren’t supposed to be able to tell.

You’re okay, Mo thinks, and he can’t tell if it’s himself or Jake, their voices blurred together, but it doesn’t stop, a mantra by this point, you’re okay you’re okay you’re okay like trying to convince himself.

“Jake’s still-” Mo says, all impulse, then bites his tongue, hard.

It’s embarrassing. Being this much of a mess, this long after Jake left, it’s humiliating, and he doesn’t know how to say it. People rely on him, he’s capable, he’s- he’s a leader, he doesn’t want to be the kind of person who sees things that aren’t there.

Freddie waits, silent. Mo can’t lose him. Doesn’t know what he’d do, if he scared him away.

Mo flexes his fingers, tries to will his hands not to shake. They do anyways. They never used to. He’s okay. He’s okay. He’s-

“He’s in my head, still,” Mo blurts, and doesn’t mean to have his eyes squeezed shut, like that’ll make it easier, but he does. “I don’t know if it’s a leftover drift thing or if I’m crazy, but he’s there.”

“When you say he’s in your head,” Freddie says, slow.

“We talk,” Mo says, and it feels like admitting a crime, and he waits for the world to fall out from under him. “I see him.”

Freddie just nods. “We can run some tests,” he offers, maybe the most him thing he could say, and he looks like he’s really thinking about it, wheels already turning to try and find a solution. Nothing pitying there.

Something about it nearly makes Mo want to laugh. More hysteria than humour, probably, but it just- he waits and waits, then and the rest of the day and even once they’re back in the room at night, for the other shoe to drop, and it just doesn’t. Freddie doesn’t act any different, doesn’t start handling Mo with kid gloves the way he was afraid of. It feels like the world should’ve changed, like someone knows that Mo is crazy and the sky should switch places with the ground to match.

They don’t have sex, tonight. Don’t do anything, really. Shoe still doesn’t drop.

“Night,” Mo says, one normal thing once all the lights are out.

“Night,” Freddie echoes; then, like catching himself, “Good night.”

Mo just lays there in his bunk. He knows already that sleep is a lost cause tonight, and not even for the usual reasons. Someone knows.

Jake’s been quieter since Mo yelled at him, and he’s quiet now, even as Mo can feel him there, reaching out with his mind. That part’s the same as always.

Mo can’t shake the feeling that something’s changed, all the same.

 

 

iii.

“Lift your head,” Fred says, and Mitch does. “Now nod.”

Mitch does that, too. Carefully, so he won’t dislodge the intricate setup of wires and electrodes connecting him to the artificial drift interface Fred and Sparky rigged up, to the instruments monitoring his neural activity and vitals, and, criss-crossing between the three beds, to Auston and William.

It’s nothing like the usual drift setups Mo’s accustomed to. More cramped, for one thing, all of them crowded into a corner of the med bay. The drift took smoothly enough, but no one knows what to expect. The moment feels weighty, all of them aware that they’re attempting something entirely new.

Mitch’s monitor beeps steadily, in perfect unison with the other two. Mo holds his breath, watches Mitch’s eyes move behind his eyelids. Freddie is watching him intently, in full doctor mode. This is a big deal for him.

Finally, after an eternity, Mitch opens his eyes. “They’re still here,” he breathes.

“They’re… conscious?” Freddie asks, and he’s trying, Mo knows he is, but he doesn’t get it.

Mitch is already shaking his head. “No, they’re not awake, they’re just- I feel them.” Fred looks at Mo, and Mo nods, reassuring. He knows what Mitch is talking about, the sense you get of the peaks and valleys of someone’s mind. It wouldn’t be there if Auston and Willy were beyond help, Mo thinks. It’s something.

It feels like a page turning, the changes that come as the days and weeks pass.

With Mitch drifting and Knight still out of commission, evacuating people from the city falls to John and most of the cargo pilots in the old planes. It works well enough – most people who survived this long are safe out east by now, off the front line. There are still kaijus everywhere, still the occasional roar from outside that makes Mo’s hair stand on end.

Naz is still concussed and gets dizzy if he moves too fast, so Morgan puts him to work helping the recruits with some basic mods on Knight. Or- he tries. Naz quickly proves to be deeply useless with everything from a wrench to a laser cutter, but he hangs around with his cat and calls it ‘providing moral support’. Mo doesn’t have the heart to kick them out.

“Where you going?” Naz calls after him, when Mo’s taking the elevator down around midday. Then, when Mo flips him off, “Asshole!”

It’s fun, having him around. Not fun enough to make Mo quit on his lunches with Freddie.

They talk about the Jake thing sometimes, now, or about the Mo’s brain thing, which are kind of one and the same. Fred puts up kind of a fuss about it at first, or whatever the Frederik Andersen equivalent of a fuss is. Understated concern.

“This might cross some lines, ethically,” he says, the first time they speak about it, brow furrowed into a V. “For me to be your clinician and your-” He pauses, delicate.

“You’re right,” Mo says, easy, before the silence can stretch into something uncertain. Just because he knows they aren't in love doesn’t mean he knows what they are, exactly. “I’ll just go see one of the other doctors on base, get them to prescribe me something.”

And Fred rolls his eyes at that, but Hutch is still treating civilians and Fred is the only doctor left and not one to argue with logic, so that’s that.

It’s awkward, at least initially. Mo can hardly say Jake’s name, at first, clutches all of his memories of the drift close to his chest, because they’re his, they aren’t some medical thing to be torn apart and analyzed to death.

“There’s not much literature on long-term effects of the technology,” Freddie says, while Mo stares at the scans of his brain up on the screen in Freddie’s office. “Most pilots don’t survive to be studied post-drift, anyways, but we think that it manifests as physical changes to the brain.”

Mo drags his fingers along the screen, traces the before and after pictures, his brain on one side of the screen and Jake’s on the other. He’s not sure what the colours mean, but even he can see that the pictures start to look more alike over time.

“Post-traumatic stress appears in lots of different ways,” Freddie says. “Look at the hippocampus, where memories get processed.” Mo follows where he’s pointing, the little blue region. The shape on the scan changes over time, too. “If you’re seeing Jake, that could be it.”

“So is he a real thing or am I crazy?” Mo asks, blunt.

“It’s not that simple,” Fred says, and he never stops being a doctor but Mo really sees it, now, the guy capable enough at what he does that they flew him halfway around the world to work with them. “It’s- emotional trauma can change the structure of the brain, even on a cellular level, so it isn’t a binary, either psychological or physical damage. There’s feedback.”

“Can you fix it?” Mo asks, because that’s what matters here.

Freddie’s right, because he usually is: it’s not that simple. ‘It’ turns out, actually, to be pretty fucking exhausting, a mix of talking about stuff Mo doesn’t ever talk about and taking medicine that he has to talk himself into taking, because he knows that it’s normal, he’s heard all the mental health talks, it’s just- it’s different, applying that stuff to himself. Hard to ignore the feeling that it’s a failure, that he’s letting down the people that rely on him, that everything he’s worked for is going to fall apart.

It doesn’t happen. Mo waits and waits for it, but he takes his meds and keeps going to work and keeping the maintenance crew running smoothly. No big catastrophe. He doesn’t suddenly forget how to do his job; slowly, slowly, stops expecting to.

The days keep passing.

Kaijus tear up one of the last remaining highways out of the city. Mo fixes up the radio in one of the planes. He dreams, same as always, but when he’s awake, when he’s been taking his meds for a couple of weeks, Jake is quiet, lingering just out of sight.

“You always knew?” Freddie asks, one day, after Mo tells him about the panic attacks, the way his lungs would tighten up and he’d be thrown back into seeing things that weren’t real. “That they were just memories?”

“Yeah,” Mo says; then, honest, “Didn’t always want them to be.” He kicks at Freddie’s feet under the desk. “Point in the crazy column?”

It’s half a joke, half a genuine question. Freddie just rolls his eyes, and Does Not kick Mo back. He’s decent at professionalism, when they’re talking about this stuff. “I’d be more worried if you didn’t prefer memories to our current reality.”

“You know what I remember?” Mo says, on a whim. “Is going to his grandma’s house after school, he’d go all the time when he was little, and her chocolate chip cookies were the best fucking things on Earth, he remembered them all the time. Jake did.” He has to make himself say his name, at the end. He’s working on it.

“Cookies dipped in hot cocoa,” Freddie says. He doesn’t usually offer personal details, when Mo shares something. Mo likes it when he does. “The best.

“Not dipped in tea?” Mo deadpans. “I didn’t think you drank anything else-”

“You drink it too, you’re officially not allowed to make fun of me for it, I think,” Freddie says, but his eyes are bright, crinkled up the way they get when he’s happy, and now he kicks Mo back.

The med bay becomes a familiar place to Mo. He scrubs the grease off his hands after a day of work, heads down to look over blueprints or talk with Freddie in his office. Memorizes the small space, Fred’s desk and computer and papers everywhere, the world broken down into graphs and chemical equations and MRIs. Just outside the door, in the main room, there are get well cards taped to the wall, drawn and coloured in by the Marleau boys. The corner where Blue Six’s crew sleeps is cluttered with things Mitch brings from their room, with the effect that the place is honestly almost cozy. Mitch lets Jazzy in to visit the guys when Fred’s holed up in his office, and Mo is fairly sure Fred knows and more sure that a cat in the med bay isn’t regulation, but she makes Mitch smile. Makes Mo smile too, once, when she gets herself tangled trying to play with the mess of wires.

“What do you know, you guys are good for something,” Mo teases Naz, once they get Jazzy untangled and she’s purring on Mitch’s lap.

“You’re so lucky to have us,” Naz says, because just because his head’s fucked up now doesn’t mean he’s not a sarcastic shit. “Last humans on the continent, baby.”

“I’m sure we’re not,” Mo says. He’s not sure if he really means it or not.

“May as well be,” Naz says, which, fine. Fine, if these people are all that’s left of the world, Mo wouldn’t rather be with anyone else, and he’ll keep trying to keep them alive.

The days keep passing.

The keeping everyone alive thing is easier said than done, especially when Mo ends up crammed into the bathroom, throwing up at three in the morning. The new dosage has been making him nauseous all week. It’s been odd, his new awareness of how physical of a thing his mind is, like it’s always seemed disconnected, abstract, until this, until he’s got a prescription that all at once stops him hallucinating and doesn’t let him keep any food down.

He thinks he might see the appeal of the way that Fred does things. Cause and effect, fixing the broken machinery of someone’s brain.

Mo wonders if it’s been anything like this for Naz and Johnny, Patty and Christina, any other pilots who aren’t anymore. Wonders how many people are like him out there, wanting to save the world and help people and ending up on their knees, staring into a toilet bowl and hearing voices.

He knows how many people they’ve saved; knows it’s more than a fair trade, a few minds for thousands and thousands of lives. It’s the right choice, objectively. Mo wishes they hadn’t had to make it.

He sways under a fresh wave of nausea, ducks back down to heave up whatever was left in his stomach.

“I’m sorry,” Fred says, once Mo’s done. He’s there. He’s always there. It’s unspeakably hard for him, Mo knows, like a personal failing having to treat patients with next to no resources and only whatever drugs are already on base. “The side effects are- I’ll try to help.”

“You do,” Morgan says. It’s little bit too honest, enough to be clumsy. They might be past the point of embarrassment, the two of them.

You’re okay, he tells himself, but it’s not quite right, and for once, he doesn’t force the matter.

He’s getting better. He’s getting there.

The days keep passing.

---

They shouldn’t be drinking tea this close to an exposed circuit board, and probably not at this time of night, but Fred shows up with two mugs and Mo knows enough to know that it’s him asking for company, so they do anyways.

They’re not the sort of people who need to fill every silence. Freddie fills this one, and it’s unusual enough that Mo pays attention.

“What does it feel like?” Freddie asks, and when Mo looks over at him, he looks genuinely interested. “Drifting?”

Mo thinks about it, cradling his mug in both hands. His instinct is to describe it with senses, but he runs through them in his mind and they all fall short – you feel your drift partner, every ache in their muscles and every rush of adrenaline; and you hear them, if thoughts count as sound; and you see them, or- you see as them, and that’s the most bizarre part, is seeing yourself in someone else’s eyes. It’s being two people at once, really.

“Like sex, kind of?” Mo tries. “But better. Different.” It’s not quite right, not quite enough. Doesn’t explain why Freddie makes a face, almost imperceptible.

“Don’t look like that,” Mo chides, knocking his knee against Freddie’s. “You like sex.”

“Oh, you’ve noticed?” Freddie asks, dry. It’s hardly noticeable, but he’s more tense than he was before. He gets like this sometimes, when Mo talks about the ins and outs of drifting. When anyone does, really. Mo can’t put his finger on why.

“I meant that like- like, drifting isn’t scary. You’re compatible, it works.” Freddie doesn’t look convinced, his cheeks just barely red. That’s enough of a reaction from him for Mo to take notice. “Why’re you so freaked out by it?” Mo asks, curious.

Freddie fixes him with a look. “I study it. I’m not freaked out.” He says it like the mere idea of it is ridiculous, and it’s the kind of thing Mo might’ve been offended at, before, but now it’s just- there. Notable, ‘cause it’s a lie, but not with any ill intent, Mo doesn’t think.

For a while, it’s quiet, the hangar deserted and dark around them. Freddie’s just frowning down at his own mug. If Mo knows he’s lying, Freddie knows he knows.

“If you were, though,” Mo says, because this is the kind of thing where he thinks he’s allowed to push.

Freddie shakes his head. Takes a while. “It becomes a love story instead of science,” he says, finally.

“Not all copilots are in love,” Mo reminds him. “Naz and Johnny aren’t.”

“I know,” Freddie says. “Lots of them are.”

Mo drinks his tea, thinks about it. He doesn’t know when the conversation became loaded, something to be careful with, but it’s there now.

“I don’t think it’s possible to not fall in love with someone when you know them like that,” is what Mo settles on, eventually. “When you shared that much.”

“I don’t understand it,” Fred says, blunt, and his eyes meet Mo’s for one long moment before they both look away.

Mo’s not sure they’re still talking about the drift. Not sure they have been for a while. He sets down his mug and picks up his tools again, mostly automatically, steering them back towards something safe. Machines are easier than people.

“People understand different things, I guess,” Mo says, because Freddie looks like he might throw up if he says anything else about love. He makes his tone teasing, very intentionally lightening the mood. “What do I know, though. I’m just a mechanic.”

Freddie gets it, eventually, an echo of a long-past argument. “You’re making fun of me, now,” he says, like he’s unsure.

“Just your blatant elitism, yeah,” Mo says, no real heat behind it. More teasing than anything else, and it works, if the way Freddie’s lips curve up is any clue. He looks relieved, back on solid ground.

“In my defense, you hated me before I said that.” He has the grace to sound at least mildly apologetic.

Mo half-laughs, a little incredulous. “You hated me.”

“Why would you think that?” Freddie asks, like he’s really and truly surprised that the thought would even have crossed Mo’s mind; and Mo opens his mouth to argue that obviously Freddie hated him, he was quiet and hardly spoke and when he did it was sarcastic, he was-

Himself, basically.

Huh.

“You… didn’t hate me,” Mo verifies, uncertain as he tries to wrap his head around having the story wrong this entire time.

“I think that’s impossible,” Freddie says, and Mo hardly has time to register that that was nearly a compliment before Freddie’s continuing, bemused, “How long have you been holding onto the elitism thing?”

“Oh, forever,” Mo says, shaking off the feeling he’d got at the compliment. Impossible to hate. Nobody’s- He’s not- “I’m getting more and more bitter with age, actually.”

Fred’s eyes crinkle at the corners when he smiles. “You’re still not that old.”

“Yeah, neither are you,” Mo says, no heat behind it, and he’s got work to do and if he keeps staring at Freddie’s smile he’ll be useless the rest of the day, so he scoots back towards what he was doing before Freddie showed up.

Neither of them mentions love again, or drifting. Freddie lingers a while, watching Mo work. It’s nice. Peaceful.

“Learn anything?” Mo asks, ages later, when Fred finally gets up to leave.

“Some,” is all Freddie says, cryptic. “Night.”

“Good night,” Mo says, and it isn’t, objectively, all things considered, but just some things considered, he thinks it might be.

---

He sleeps through the night without dreaming, wakes up terrified at how empty his mind is.

“Jake,” Mo breathes, searching, reaching out.

Jake’s not there.

Like- real Jake, obviously, but imagined Jake isn’t there either, or at least, it’s- it’s memories, all the leftover stuff from the drift, but Jake doesn’t talk back and Mo can’t feel him staring, or the presence of another person. Can’t feel anyone in his head but himself.

It’s terrifying.

It’s a lot of things. A relief, under the terrifying part, that the new dosage is finally working. More stuff under that. Mo’s- he’s feeling too much, enough that all he can register is how tired he is, which doesn’t make sense at all, because he hasn’t slept this much in literal years. It’s as if his body forgot how to sleep for longer than an hour at a time and now that it remembers it’s confused.

He thinks this means he’s getting better, and that’s a little bit terrifying too.

---

It’s a kind of give and take, the pendulum that things always become.

Some nights, they don’t talk. Morgan takes to bringing something small back to tinker with, and Freddie sits and goes over the files for Sixer’s crew or trying to find someone to drift with Johnny in Knight, and they work in silence like that, companionable. Jake hardly speaks at all. Sometimes Mo feels him there, silent. A lot of the time he’s just gone.

The rates of kaiju attacks are slowing down. Spreading out, at least, like there aren’t enough people left in the city to keep them entertained.

Mo sleeps one night, and then another.

Some nights, when Freddie asks with a brush of his hand on Mo’s, or when Mo asks with words, they still have sex. It’s not the desperate thing it was, at first. Not an every night thing, either, just shaping slow into something more comfortable than Mo can remember ever having before.

It’s not something Mo knows a name for. It’s- it’s helping each other out, but that sounds like a transaction, something cold about it, and this isn’t any kind of infatuation but it’s not cold either. The opposite, actually, because Mo knows how to read Freddie better, now; knows how he reacts real subtle when he likes something, how he tends to hang around after they’re done, maybe needing touch just as much as Mo. Tender, almost.

“You can fuck me, if you want,” he offers, once, like it’s the most casual thing in the world.

Mo blinks, startled, because give and take is one thing, but- “Do- do you do that?”

“Not usually,” Freddie says. His mouth is pink, his hair sticking straight up where Mo’s hands were. It looks ridiculous. “I have, before.”

“If you haven’t in a while…” Mo says, and he tries really, just incredibly hard not to sound like he’s stupid-eager. He doesn’t think he quite manages it, because Freddie looks amused.

“I’m pretty flexible,” is all he says, mild enough, like permission, and like- he’s not lying, Mo finds out pretty quick, when he’s working Freddie open and still hardly believing what he’s doing.

Mo takes it slow. He likes taking care of the person he’s with, that’s what sex has always been for him, and that’s what he does now, pressing kisses to Freddie’s shoulders, to his chest, lingering where he knows Freddie’s sensitive ‘til Freddie drags his fingers through the hair at the nape of Mo’s neck, pushy.

“Yeah?” Mo asks, and Freddie nods, and there’s a lull, sort of, a pause as they adjust where they are, trying to figure out where they should be positioned, and it’s not awkward because they passed that a long time ago, but it’s- it’s deliberate.

It feels significant, both of them maybe a little thrown by the newness of it, because who does what doesn’t mean anything, objectively, but it’s not exactly nothing, either, and Morgan gets the feeling that Freddie’s aware of that, that they both are.

Mo peers down at Freddie, anywhere but his eyes as he guides himself in, a hand on his dick. He goes slow, an inch at a time, enough that it’s nearly torturous, or would be if it wasn’t so good. He hasn’t had this in so, so long, and it’s a huge, heady thing. Morgan can see the muscles in Freddie’s thighs held taut, and Fred’s sturdy enough that Mo wouldn’t have to be careful with him, not at all.

He’s careful anyways, has to swallow to be able to speak steadily. “Is that-”

“Good,” Freddie nods, the words punched out of him. “It’s good.”

He’s something to look at, and Mo looks. Mo can’t stop looking, and he wouldn’t want to, trying to memorize every single second of Freddie biting his lower lip, Freddie’s hand on the nape of Mo’s neck, Freddie stretched out around him, tight and hot and completely overwhelming.

It’s been a long time, and it’s never been like this. Mo wants to make it good so, so badly; uses every shred of will he has to move slow, to roll their hips together and feel the way it makes Fred’s grip on his neck tighten, his fingers pushing up in Mo’s hair. Mo hardly moves, just shallow, a few times, and his eyes find Freddie’s like a question.

“Do more,” Freddie says, and Mo doesn’t have to be told twice; pushes just enough that Freddie gets the message and tucks up his leg so Mo can push in deeper.

“God,” he says, because it’s overwhelming, so much, Freddie letting him do this. And there’s no room at all in the bed, the two of them close by necessity, wrapped around each other. Not the best angle, but an okay one, Mo thinks, and Freddie wants more so Mo gives it to him, stops holding back.

And ‘fucking’ is kind of a harsh word, not Mo’s favourite, but that’s what this is, or what it becomes, at least, fast and hard and needy, and that part’s mutual. Mo can hear the way Freddie’s breath is catching; can hear his own sounds, not especially dignified but fuck if he cares, right now, when they’re moving together like this.

The pace is quick, more intense than they’ve been in a while. Not quite enough for Mo not to notice Freddie reaching down to jerk himself off, so Mo pushes his hand away, not quite gentle.

“Let me,” he says, ‘cause he’s got manners, and he maybe says the manners part out loud and it maybe makes Freddie scoff, but Mo doesn’t mind. His hands are rough, scratches and scars and callouses, but they must be good for something, because he gets one around Freddie’s dick and Freddie sort of shudders, all breathless, and the sound goes right through Mo, right to his core.

He doesn’t go slow. Neither of them does – he jerks Freddie off, doesn’t stop fucking him and feels it as Freddie gets to the edge and then over, and Mo didn’t think he was this close, didn’t realize, but Freddie goes tight around him and Mo comes with him, spilling with a small cry that he can’t manage to keep back. He all-but-collapses, leaning against Freddie’s chest, and they’re both sweaty enough that Mo should get up and clean them off, but he doesn’t move. Can’t.

It takes Mo’s breath away. That’s a ridiculous, overwrought thing to say, but Mo just-

It’s good. It was good. Felt like something simple.

It takes him a while to realize that Freddie’s laughing, real low. Practically giggling to himself. Mo pulls back, barely, to squint at him.

“What?” Mo asks, trying and failing to not be utterly endeared. It’s maybe the sex thing. Maybe just a Freddie thing. He really does have a great smile.

Freddie shakes his head, and Mo can hear the laugh in his voice when he says, “You really like topping.”

“Oh my god,” Mo says, and he’s suddenly very relieved that the lights are low enough that Freddie can’t see how red he most definitely is right now. “That’s- what?”

“You’re loud.”

“I’m not.”

“Yes, you are,” Freddie says, bemused. “Very loud. There are other people living on this base, in case you-”

“Alright,” Mo says, because he didn’t think he was that loud. “I mean, for what it’s worth, you almost definitely could’ve waited ‘til I pulled out to start giving me shit, but-”

“-You could’ve just asked, you know, I enjoy both-”

“Thank you, smartass,” Mo cuts him off, only barely managing to sound irritable as he ducks down, presses into the crook of Freddie’s neck to hide an embarrassed smile. And- and he can’t stop smiling, is the thing, not then and not when Freddie brushes his lips against Mo’s cheek, this matter-of-fact, easy affection. Morgan feels tethered in his body, hyperaware of every nerve. Comfortable, somehow, too, like those two things should be able to coexist.

It takes him a second to place it, the feeling in his gut. He’s happy.

He feels strange about it. Because it’s been a long time, yeah, but it’s also like- what the fuck gives Mo the right, with everything and everyone they’ve lost, living on a base that’s falling apart faster than he can fix it, the only ones left trying to defend the east. He’s spent the last year waiting for the Jake in his head to chime in, waiting for it ‘til it started to feel like hoping.

Mo knows all that. Can’t shake off the contentment anyways, here in their room with Freddie solid and warm around him.

He exhales against Freddie’s skin. It comes out as a laugh, almost.

Mo’s still a little shaken up the next morning as he heads into the hangar. A little sheepish too, maybe – he’s later than usual, all his crew already hard at work. He slept in. It’s bizarre.

“You’re late,” Martina says, and glances over at Travis. Travis looks thrilled at the acknowledgement of his dumb joke. Just genuinely thrilled, and then Sandy’s passing by, waving at Marty all shy, and they both fall apart giggling like kids.

Mo busies himself by the elevator so they won’t see him smiling.

If this is all that’s left of his world, he decides, it could be a lot worse.

---

(And sometimes-

The med bay’s dark, except for the lamplight from Fred’s office casting everything into shadows. Mo watches Freddie’s silhouette as he packs his things, methodical; tears his eyes away to check on the guys.

Mitch is asleep, still hooked up to Auston and William in the drift. He’s snoring, soft and snuffly, punctuated by rhythmic beeps from his monitor. There are ripples on the other two screens whenever Mitch’s chart spikes. As Mo’s watching, they start to get bigger, closer together.

“He’s dreaming,” Fred says, out of his office and right there before Mo can ask. “Nothing bad.”

“Chasing squirrels, probably,” Mo says, and it makes Freddie’s eyes bright, this secret smile just for a moment. It fades too quickly.

He watches Freddie linger next to the cots, watches him push back Auston’s hair where it’s falling in his face. It’s a tiny, nothing little gesture. Something hopelessly sad about it all the same; tender enough to make Morgan’s heart ache.

“He’s your best friend here,” Mo says. Present tense. Not pushing, just. Leaving it there, so Freddie knows he’ll listen if he needs to talk.

For a long moment, it’s quiet.

“He reminds me of my little sister,” Fred says, hardly even audible; then, offhand, “Amelie, the one who plays-”

“-defense,” Mo finishes. He paid attention, that night in the scaffolding, the first time they really spoke. “I remember.”

He doesn’t know what it means, the look Freddie gives him, then. There’s an awful lot, in that look, and nothing Mo’s got any sort of name for at all. Maybe too many names. Like Freddie’s seeing him for the first time, like he’s surprised by what he sees.

Mo makes himself bite back the ‘It’s okay’ that’s his first instinct.

“Fred,” is all he says instead, and tugs him into a hug. Freddie crumples into it, his arms coming up around Mo. It feels like an admission, a moment of weakness he wouldn’t usually allow himself, bowing under the weight of every impossible thing they all ask from him. Morgan doesn’t know how he ever thought Freddie didn’t care about things, not when he wears it on himself like something tangible to bear.

Anyone else, it would be crying, but Freddie’s just got his eyes shut, his forehead on Mo’s shoulder. Hands gripping Mo’s arms so tight it hurts. He doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t have to.

Morgan just holds onto him, keeps them both upright. He knows how to be strong for people when they need it from him.

Back in the room, Freddie goes where Mo puts him, lets Mo unbutton him from his clothes and shepherd him in until they’re both standing under the showerhead, the water as hot as it goes. It’s a small shower, all military utilitarianism and not even a hint of anything else. Shut off enough from the world that it’s a good place not to think, Mo knows from experience.

“I got you,” is all he says, the first time either of them’s spoken in ages. “Okay?”

“Okay,” Freddie whispers, and he’s tense under Mo’s hands but he lets Mo pin him back against the wall and kiss him, real slow.

It doesn’t build to anything. Mo doesn’t think this is the kind of kiss that’s supposed to, more touching for touching’s sake than anything else. He knows what it is to feel untethered in your skin, to need another human like proof you’re still here.

He breaks the kiss, smooths a hand along the planes of Fred’s chest, drags his fingers along his side, tracing the path of the droplets. Freddie’s eyes are still closed, but Mo can feel the tension getting less shade by shade, the way he relaxes, at least a little.

The water’s getting cold, now, eventually, but Morgan just presses his forehead to Freddie’s. Holds himself still while Fred curls his fingers around Mo’s wrist, loose.

They don't really need words, the two of them.)

---

Morgan’s not really in the business of getting his hopes up. It’s hard not to, when the boys send a memory back to Mitch in the drift.

The news spreads fast, because of course it does.

“Think they’re gonna wake up?” Naz asks, tracing the shell of Jazzy’s ear. It twitches a little under his finger. They’re way up in the scaffolding, right next to one of the windows that are London Knight’s eyes.

Mo shrugs. Fred said it was fifty-fifty, might’ve been a freak electrical thing, but it’s not like anyone’s going to tell Mitch that. Not like he’d listen, even, the way he’s been running around telling everyone on base, all half-manic excitement. “Don’t know what Mitchy’ll do if they don’t.”

“He’s lucky to be awake,” Naz says. “Lucky to be alive.”

Morgan’s shaking his head before Naz is done talking. “It’s worse for him,” he says, certain. “Being left. The other two are the lucky ones.”

And he doesn’t mean it as anything, really, but Naz is looking at him funny when it occurs to Mo to glance over at him.

“What?” he asks, suddenly self-conscious. Naz just sighs, doesn’t drop his gaze.

“You say really depressing shit sometimes, Morgan,” he says, frank. Maybe sad, a little bit. Sad for Mo. “And you don’t even realize it, is the depressing part.”

Mo looks down at his feet, a little taken aback. He didn’t even know Naz got sad. “Sorry,” he says. He doesn’t know what for, exactly – for making Naz worry, or for not being better at keeping his shit together. “I’m okay, I promise.” And he’s hardly even lying, really, which is something in and of itself, but-

“You don’t have to be,” Naz says, bumping his shoulder up against Mo’s, and Jazzy butts her head against his knee, and Mo’s caught off guard by the sudden lump in his throat.

John’s pretty lucky to have someone like Naz to drift with, is his first thought, and his second is that he’s never, not in a million years, telling Naz anything that nice. His ego doesn’t need that. Mo just bumps him back, figures he’ll get the message.

“You can let someone take care of you sometimes, y’know?” Naz suggests, after a while.

Mo snorts, in spite of himself. “What, you?”

“Could be, idiot,” Naz says, indignant; then, more thoughtful, “I won’t be around forever. Your roomie, maybe.” Mo knows him enough to know it’s poking for an answer, that this is something he’s been wondering about.

“Maybe,” Mo says. He’s not- he doesn’t know what Naz thinks he’s asking. Doesn’t know that he’d be happy with whatever answer Mo would give, anyways, because- it’s not quite something he thinks he has words for. Jake used to take care of him. Naz does, in his own obnoxious way. Freddie-

It’s something else, maybe.

Naz is ducking his head, grinning to himself. Mo nudges his knee. “What now?”

“Nothing,” Naz says. Still grinning, so maybe Mo’s ‘Maybe’ was some kind of an answer, after all. “I figured. He reminds me of you.”

Mo leans over and scoops up Jazzy, hugs her close so he won’t have to answer. It’s the kind of thing he would’ve been mad about, a few months ago. Now, though…

Maybe.

---

Time passes, and it keeps passing.

Mo sleeps through the night enough times in a row that it stops feeling remarkable, which is pretty remarkable in and of itself. They’ve found a dose that seems to be working, and it’s the kind of thing where- like, Mo knew it was bad, but not how bad until it’s getting better, increments at a time.

He gets through a day without feeling like his body’s going to seize up and panic, and then another. He didn’t even realize how much he was waiting for it, always on tenterhooks. Still is, a little bit. He still hasn’t quite gotten his head around being the kind of person who has to be on medication in order to have a functional brain. He’s working on it.

It’s a morning like a dozen other identical mornings, the mess hall only just starting to stir with quiet conversations as people shuffle in in twos or threes. Mo’s prodding at a bowl of oatmeal with his spoon, trying to imagine at as something more appetizing. More focused on watching Freddie play tic-tac-toe on the back of a file folder with Brody Marleau, the latter mostly kneeling on his seat to lean across the table. Freddie’s been deliberately painting himself into corners for most of the last ten minutes, setting Brody up for the win. It’s sweet. At least a little ridiculous, too.

Mo’s focused on the game, not paying attention to much else, so it takes him a minute to notice when Zach slides into the seat next to him. He’s still in his headset, straight out of the comms room. Looks shellshocked.

“Morning,” Mo tries, and Zach blinks at him. “You good, Hyms?”

“I- maybe? I was fucking around with the settings for incoming and outgoing communications, and-” Zach slides a printout to Mo along the table. “This is real, right?” he asks, in this bizarre, hushed voice. When Mo looks down at the page in front of him, he sees that it’s some kind of transcript, and then he reads the call info at the top of the page.

“Oh my god,” Mo says, blinking, like maybe he’s not reading it right. “Superior’s still there?”

“They’re still there,” Zach echoes, and now everyone else in the room is looking at them too. “They said- they’re still holding out, they have two jaegers. They thought we were gone, too. They’re alive, Mo.”

Jake’s alive, is Mo’s first thought, and then, we aren’t alone, and both things send a thrill right to his core. He didn’t realize how much it was weighing on him, the idea of being the last ones fighting, until right this second, knowing they aren’t. They’re still islands in the dark, still constantly on the verge of being swamped, but there are two of them, now, a light visible in the distance.

Zach takes off his headset, and it’s only when Mo registers Zach’s smile that he clues in to his own. “We’re not the only ones,” Zach says. “You guys, we aren’t the only ones!”

And they’ve always known when to celebrate – the room goes wild, hugging and cheering at the fate of people they mostly have never met. Mo ruffles Zach’s hair, proud; turns and sees John whooping, happy like a little kid, Freddie scooping up Brody and tossing him in the air, the rest of the brothers clamouring for their turns. Mo laughs out loud, wants to wrap this moment up around him and stay in it always.

Jake’s alive. They aren’t alone. He’s not alone.

---

It’s a shot of adrenaline, the news about Superior, a jolt straight to the heart of the base that puts a new sense of urgency into everything they’re doing. Hope’s a powerful motivator: Mo hasn’t seen the place this alive in months, between the comms team maintaining the scraps of whatever communication infrastructure is left, all of Mo’s crews fixing up the planes for supply runs out west, every pilot in the place tripping over themselves to be the ones to fly them.

It’s a better kind of busy than before. Busy with purpose, with some tangible reason for hope. Mo works harder than he knew he could, now that he’s actually getting sleep. Breaks up his days with his friends, with working out, a little, and with Freddie, always Freddie, taking Mo apart with his hands or bringing each other lunch or getting back to the room late and making some terrible deadpan joke that Mo can’t not smile at.

Slowly, carefully, Mo lets himself get used to the piecemeal domesticity they’ve cobbled together in the last year. Tonight he’s the one working late, holed up in the hangar and trying to figure out why one of the pistons in Knight’s leg is stuck in place.

Fred finds him. Doesn’t tell him to take a break, which Mo appreciates. Just sets down a mug of tea, lets his hand linger on Mo’s back in a wordless greeting, the kind of casual reminder of a touch that Mo’s almost getting used to having again.

Mo says it absently, still distracted working on the piston, “Thanks, Jakey.”

It takes him too long to register the look on Freddie’s face, to realize that Freddie’s standing there, frozen, and then too long again to realize why.

Mo freezes too.

“I,” he says, then nothing else. He didn’t-

He doesn’t know where that came from.

“Sorry,” Mo says. Stunned, too stunned to react, or he’d be mortified.

Freddie blinks, shakes his head just once, like he’s waking himself up. “It’s fine,” he says, stiff, and it’s obvious in his voice that it’s not. The air’s thick with awkwardness, the way it hasn’t been between them in ages.

“Fred,” Mo says.

“I’ll let you work,” Freddie says, and his shoulders are up, he’s too big for his skin as he flees. He doesn’t even look like Jake. Mo hasn’t even been thinking of Jake.      

He clutches his hands together so they won’t shake. They shouldn’t. He thought he was done with this – he’s been taking his meds, sleeping more than a couple hours consecutively, smiling without feeling guilty for it. He’s been better, he’s supposed to be better, now, and he’s certain that he is, he’s just-

He let his guard down, he felt like things were okay, like he was maybe becoming who he used to be again, and it still ended with a flash of hurt on Freddie’s face, burnt into Mo’s mind. And if better is this, if as good as it’s going to get is still hurting the people he loves, still Jake under everything he does even now, he doesn’t know the fucking point.

He should be better. He should be okay by now. What’s the point?

“Fuck,” Mo says to nobody, and leans forward, pressing his forehead to London Knight’s metal plating, to the beat-up steel that’s cool to the touch, that stopped being shiny before Mo ever laid eyes on her.

The phrase comes into Mo’s head, unbidden: First, to do no harm.

It seemed inadequate, when Freddie said it months ago. Do no harm, as if that’s anything but the default, what would be happening anyways. It was nothing, Mo thought, not even close to good enough, but tonight he presses his hand flat against Knight’s plating and something clicks where it didn’t before.

She’s not his jaeger, but it sort of feels like it, anyways. Someone less stubborn would’ve given her up for scrap a long time ago.

Mo didn’t.

London Knight works, now, and has saved people’s lives, and that’s because of what Mo did, getting her up and running when it seemed impossible. And that- that’s it, he realizes, that’s the point of it, is him getting up and doing what he could, because it was pointless and tedious and the hardest thing in the world for a long time, but he did it. It kept him here. Gave him something to wake up for.

Nothing good could’ve come without all those months of nothing. Of- of just doing no harm, of fighting for that net neutral when a positive felt impossible, even if it didn’t feel like any progress.

It’s not inaction, Mo thinks. Not quite better, fully, and maybe not even good, but not nothing either. It’s not the end goal. It’s- it’s a baseline. A place to start.

Morgan stays leaning against Knight, his eyes shut. Waits for the world to fall apart, for his head to spin out of control again.

It doesn’t.

He takes a deep breath, in then out.

First, to do no harm.

He’ll start there. He can start there.

---

Mo stares at the satellite phone for a good long while, and then longer. Just stands there eyeing it like it’s the scariest thing in the world. May well be.

You should call, Jake says, in Mo’s head. He’d be leaning on Mo’s shoulder, if he were here, all lanky. His easy kind of affection, trusting Mo to be there to keep him propped up. You know I’ve been trying to talk to you.

“You aren’t real, Jakey,” Mo says, quiet. It’s easier to tell, recently. To recognize the places where memories are blurring into real life, to catch himself.

You’re my best friend, Jake says. As close to serious as he gets. Probably my soulmate, or something.

“Soulmates aren’t real either,” Mo says, then, “You were my best friend too.”

The words are easier to say than he thought they’d be. He’s not as angry as he thought he’d be. As angry as he was, for a long time, more than he let himself realize.

Mo takes a deep breath.

It’s a bad connection, once he dials. Takes ages, too, because Superior’s comms person has to put Mo through, and they’ve got to figure out who he’s trying to talk to, this time of night, and then, after long enough that Mo wonders if the line went dead-

Jake’s voice is loud, breathless like he sprinted for the phone. “Mo?”

It hits like a train.

Morgan’s been hearing Jake for years, ever since he left, memories and hallucinations and whatever’s in between, every second of every day, it felt like, but he forgot what he really sounds like until right this instant. It’s so- he’s so real, not a figment of Mo’s imagination, not some half-Jake in a nightmare. Just real.

Mo ducks his head down, swipes at his eyes with a trembling hand and squeezes his eyes shut. The room’s empty, just him and the phone he’s clutching like it’s going to disappear any second.

“Mo?” Jake asks again, so, so tentative. “Are you-”

“Yeah,” Mo says, and his eyes are still shut, and his voice wavers, but he keeps going. “Yeah, I’m still here.”

---

It’s windy up on the roof; deep enough into spring that the sun’s starting to poke over the horizon, even as early as it is. Barely day yet, but the airstrip’s already bustling. Jazzy’s lurking around the stairwell, though she bolts when the first of the jets takes off, heading west for Lake Superior.

Morgan watches it go, keeps watching ‘til it disappears in the distance. The world seems a shade lighter, in spite of everything, with the knowledge that they aren’t the only ones still fighting. It’s- smaller, somehow. Less lonely, even staring out at the lake.

“How do you do it?” Mitch asks, as the next plane taxis around. “Not drift anymore, I mean.” He’s sitting next to Mo, legs stretched out in front of him. One of his shoelaces is untied.

“I don’t know,” Mo says. It’s the truth. “You kind of just do.”

Mitch chews his lip, doesn’t look particularly happy with that answer. “My head’s too quiet,” he says, after a second. “I can feel where they’re supposed to be.”

“Me too,” Mo says, because that’s the best he’s got to offer.

It’s the kind of thing you learn to live with, the kind of thing they don’t tell you about when you’re eighteen and volunteering to pilot giant robots, how much it’ll change you. That every piece of your mind is going to get tangled up with someone else’s, and it’ll make you wonder how you thought you were living before it and how you’re going to live after it. Not something people can understand, who haven’t been through it.

He wishes Mitch didn’t have to understand it.

“It’s lonely,” Mitch says. Anyone else, it’d sound like admitting something, but Mitch doesn’t sound embarrassed, just sort of observing it. Just sad.

Mo gets an arm around him, tugs him in for a hug and holds on ‘til he feels Mitch exhale. He’s too skinny. Most of them are, now.

“I told them I’ll drift with Johnny,” Mitch says into Mo’s sleeve. “To get people out of the city.”

It hits Mo, and then it hits him that he’s not surprised, and his heart aches. “Mitchy,” he says, pained. “You know you don’t have to-”

“I know that,” Mitch interrupts, and he pulls out of Mo’s grip enough to hold Mo’s gaze, not angry, but firm. “You guys talk like I’m some kid, but I’m twenty-one. I know what I’m agreeing to.”

And Mo’s instinct is to argue, because twenty-one isn’t- it isn’t anything, because sure Mitch has grown up these last few months, but they all have. Mo was an idiot when he was twenty-one, doesn’t even think he’d recognize the person he is now, only it occurs to him, new and strange, that there are fewer years between him and Mitch than between him and Fred.

So.

He guesses- none of them have been kids. Not for a long time.

The plane takes off, roaring past them, louder than thought for a few seconds before it’s gone into the clouds.

“It’s not just a good person thing,” Mitch says eventually, and now, now it sounds like an admission. He tucks his legs up by his chest, hugs his knees. “I’m not like you, I can’t- I don’t want to be by myself anymore, Mo.”

Morgan keeps his mouth shut. It’s not his thing to comment on. Not his choice to judge. Missing people isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, probably.

“Anyway,” Mitch says, something decisive about it. “It’s just until Will and Aus wake up, because I know they’re gonna.”

“Yeah,” Mo says, automatic, caught off guard a little. “Yeah, ‘course, Mitchy.”

Mitch smiles. Just a small one, kind of wry, but it’s the first real one Mo’s seen from him in months. “You don’t have to humour me,” he says, light enough. “I’m not saying it from like. Optimism, or whatever. It’s just the truth. You know when stuff is just certain?” He bumps Mo’s elbow with his own. “Sky’s blue. Sun’s coming up in the morning.” He looks out on the water, all the way out to the horizon, where it’s just barely light out. “We’re gonna be okay.”

Mitch says it like he believes it, even after everything.

He’s stronger than Mo usually thinks of him. More optimistic, too, because thinking anything can be certain is its own kind of optimism, these days. It’s not the kind of thing Morgan can really get his head around. Blue Six wasn’t certain, tons and tons of blue metal that was supposed to save them sitting at the bottom of the lake; Jake wasn’t certain either, not the real him and not the snapshot of him in Mo’s head, shiny and blurry and not a whole lot like the real Jake, now that he thinks about it, not really.

Jake sounded good, when they spoke.

Mo doesn’t know.

It’s not quite happy. Not quite anything Mo’s got a name for. Grateful, maybe, somewhere in him, that Jake’s alive out there somewhere, and so’s his new baby stuck with Morgan as a middle name, and that’s maybe more than Mo’s ready to deal with, right now, but-

He can be grateful for some stuff. Can catch himself off-guard with how strong he hopes the kid has Jake’s eyes, like it matters even at all.

Mo didn’t ask if Jake’s been seeing him too. Neither answer would change things, really. Mo’s still carrying two people’s worth of memories, and the chemistry in his brain is still fucked from three years of being hooked up to desperate-measures machines no one fully understands, and loving someone then losing them still doesn’t go away easy. Morgan’s still figuring out how all of those things can be real at the same time. Can all be him.

The thing is, though, is he’s got Mitch next to him, and the rest of his family inside, a base full of reasons that he’s needed and that he needs, too, and that’s Mo, too, just as much as anything else. He holds onto every one of his reasons, clutches them close to his chest. Hair orange like the sky when the sun’s coming up. A ‘good night’ every night like something certain.

It’s as close to optimism as Mo gets, these days.

Sky’s blue. Sun’s coming up in the morning. That’s something.

He’s got work to do, because he’s always got work to do, but Mo lets himself stay a little while longer. Just sits with Mitch and watches the sky lighten, slow and inevitable.

---

Neither of them is particularly inclined toward dramatics, so it isn’t that, when Morgan gets back to the room that night. It’s like any other night, real late, the base quiet around them. Mo is covered in grease from his work, his t-shirt filthy and looking worse than it is next to Freddie in his button-up, pristine with the sleeves rolled up by his elbows.

He looks up when Mo walks in. Looks like he’s been waiting.

“Hi,” Mo says, and it comes out hesitant in spite of himself.

“Hi,” Freddie says; then, before Mo can say anything else, “Could we speak? If you have time?”

“I’ve got time,” Mo says, and Freddie looks more relieved than he should, like there was really a chance Mo would say no.

Freddie scoots over to make room for Mo to sit next to him on the bed, and then it’s silent. He’s the one who asked to speak, but he doesn’t say anything, just sits there, and when Mo looks at him, he’s already looking back. He looks uncertain, the way Mo’s hardly ever seen him.

“I’m sorry.” Mo takes it on himself to start, because he figures he owes that much. “I know you wanted to say your thing, but I’m sorry for calling you him. I didn’t mean to make this anything you didn’t want.”

“You didn’t,” Freddie says, pained. “I don’t not- want, I-”

He stops. He stops for a long time, and Mo lets him, and when he speaks again, it’s real deliberate. Maybe like he’s practiced. “I don’t feel things like this,” Freddie says. “I don’t understand the appeal of having someone in your head, knowing everything about you to the point where you need them to function.”

“Like drifting?” Mo asks.

“Like any of it,” Fred says. That particular, quick way he has. “Like romance, I don’t- I can’t do that at all.”

It’s not a surprise, not really. “Ever?”

Freddie shakes his head.

“Do you wish you could?”

“No,” Freddie says, without hesitating; then, frowning, “I-”

Mo’s already shaking his head; cuts him off, fast. “No, that was a dumb question, I’m-”

“It’s fine.”

“But still dumb,” Mo says, because he’s self-aware enough to know when he puts his foot in his mouth.

“Maybe a little,” Freddie allows. Not joking, really, but maybe close. Lighter, at least, more normal for them, sucking the nervous right out of the room.

Mo’s not expecting Freddie to continue, but he does anyways, soft. “If it would be anyone, it would be you.”

“You don’t have to say that.”

“Obviously.”

“But you’re saying it anyways.”

Freddie doesn’t falter. “It’s the truth.”

Mo holds his gaze, wary. “I don’t need you to say nice things about me.”

“You should be better at believing them,” Freddie says, and Mo’s response dries up in his mouth, because there’s no pity in Fred’s voice, just honesty, simple as anything. “You see things people don’t, about everyone on this base.”

Mo’s shaking his head, voice thick. “I’m not-”

“You’re the kindest person I know,” Freddie says. “And the only reason the base is still functioning, and the most- the most stupidly self-sacrificing, the way you care about people, you’re-”

“I’m,” Mo repeats, hardly hearing himself. It’s halfway heading off, halfway teasing, or trying to be, and all the way overwhelmed, probably, because- he doesn’t know what to do with someone looking at him the way Freddie’s looking at him right now. Like Mo’s something good, like he’s anything other than a washed-up pilot who tries to keep the people he loves from getting hurt and doesn’t even manage that, half the time.

Freddie doesn’t finish his sentence, looks a little distraught. Mo gets it, that this was a lot, for him.

“I care about you too, y’know,” Mo says; then, certain, “You know.”

Fred nods, the smallest little thing. He looks at Mo, serious, and holds his gaze. “I’m not Jake,” he says. Maybe nearly apologetic. “I can’t be that, for you.”

“I wouldn’t ask you to be,” Mo says. He means it, too. There’s not much the same, Freddie muted softness and sharp edges in turns where Jake was a simple kind of blinding bright, the kind that blocked out everything else. Something that Morgan had once and isn’t going to have again and has to build the rest of his life around. “I wouldn’t want you to be, you’re...”

“I’m,” Fred echoes, once Mo trails into nothing. It’s a callback, playful, maybe.

The kind of thing to build on, maybe.

“You’re different than I thought you’d be,” Mo finishes. It’s not what he was planning to say. Still right, or at least close, he thinks.

The moment’s stretched out between them, and Freddie bridges the gap, at least part of it, taking Mo’s hand. He drags his thumb along Mo’s knuckles, the smallest and biggest gesture in the whole world.

“I’m gonna kiss you now,” Mo informs him. “It’s gonna be great. Brace yourself.”

“You’re covered in machine oil,” Fred says, very delicately, but he lets Mo lean in. “That’s disgusting.”

Mo leans in a little more, just enough to lift their joined hands and press his lips to Freddie’s knuckles. He feels rather than sees Freddie’s surprise. Not the kiss he was expecting, but the right one for them, Mo thinks, and something to hold onto, and they both do, keeping their fingers laced between them. Just close.

Freddie meets his eyes, eyes soft. “If we survive tonight,” he says. “You should do that again.”

“Here’s hoping,” Mo says, and it’s a joke, but for the first time in a long time, he thinks he might mean it. It’s an odd thing to realize, hope sitting like something newborn and a little bit terrifying inside his chest.

He wants to know what comes next.

The bunk is still too small for one person and definitely too small for the both of them, but neither moves. Mo tucks the blanket close, gets comfortable and just listens to the sound of Freddie’s breathing, steady and familiar and solid ground; something he just knows, the way he’d given up on knowing anyone for years.

It’s a constant, or as much a constant as a person can be.

Morgan closes his eyes, lets out a breath, and doesn’t worry about what he’s going to dream.