Stephen Murray Posted December 6, 2013 Share Posted December 6, 2013 Stephen frowns at the blackboard that looms over him, fingers wrapped loosely around a bit of chalk, as he tries to find the error in the sequence. The writing is his, fastidiously neat, but the problem isn’t that he’s having difficulty reading it--it’s that Doctor Gottleib had spared no more than a handful of seconds looking at it before he dismissed Stephen with a curt, “Master Murray, do not deign to pester me with equations that are clearly wrong.” Stephen was no genius, but he was of a bright enough intelligence to have attracted the attention of the PPDC, so it was always a shock to the system to be dismissed in such a cold manner. Gottlieb was the most brilliant man Stephen had ever met, but he was still a monumental ass the majority of the time. “Fuckin’ Sassenach,” Stephen swears under his breath, eyes catching and holding on particular piece. He has to strain up on his toes to reach it, smearing it away with the flat of his hand to scrawl the correction in. “Hopefully this will be up tae his standards now.” He rolls his eyes so hard it hurts, and drops the chalk back into the tray. Of course, Stephen can’t judge Doctor Gottlieb too hard--they were in the middle of the goddamn Kaiju War, after all, and things were only getting worse. Stephen stretches and winces at the way his back cracks, reaching to scratch at his collarbone and straighten his loosened tie. The mess hall at the Shatterdome was relatively informal, but he had a reputation to maintain--Jaeger pilots tend to lump scientists together, and Stephen wasn’t about to be lumped in with the likes of Doctor Hermann Gottlieb, who had a reputation for being neurotic at best. Stephen thinks he’s nothing like Doctor Gottlieb, but it’s a flawed thought at best; they both believe in the sacredness of numbers, in the beauty of perfect equations formulating to create the newest and best advances in Jaeger programming. He’s every bit as dedicated to his work as Doctor Gottlieb, and, well, Jaeger pilots aren’t entirely wrong when they class all K-Science officers as a little off. He can feel eyes burning a hole in his back as he takes a seat at a table in the mess, but Stephen doesn’t dare turn to look. It’s far better to keep his head down, to just get on with his work, but when he gets up to return his empty tray, he catches a hint of a shit-eating grin out of the corner of his eye, and goes red all the way to his ears before scurrying away as fast as he can while still maintaining his dignity. Neal Munroe, half of the newest Jaeger team, is rumored to have a string of groupies. Jaeger pilots tend to have that effect on people, especially when they’re running the first Jaeger the United Kingdom’s ever built. Whisky Delta is cutting edge, with the newest plasma cannon technology, and they’ve already been racking up Kaiju kills. It’s enough to make them international sensations, and even Stephen knows about Munroe and Abernathy, the so-called “Terrors of the North”--Scottish and charming and arrogant, the pair of them. And yet, Neal is stupidly attractive. Stephen isn’t blind; Jaeger pilots are always in top physical shape, and Neal’s no exception. With dark hair, blue eyes, and a clean-cut appearance, it’s no wonder that everyone’s fallen in love with him, the newspapers and television stations alike clamoring for interviews and photographs. Stephen has one of the articles taped to his wall, but only because they mentioned that Gottleib’s group of mathematicians had coded the programming for Whisky Delta--the fact that Neal Munroe’s face is there is just a coincidence. Completely and entirely coincidence. -------- Stephen scowls down at the stain on his tie like it has personally offended him, already anticipating Gottleib’s snide remark about not being presentable, and swabs at it with a napkin. “Vinegar’ll get that out, ye ken.” Stephen’s mouth goes dry, and he twists around, stammering out a, “Thank ye for yer help, but…” Neal Munroe cuts him off with a disarming smile and an offered hand, “Neal Munroe, Whisky Delta.” Stephen takes it after a moment, trying to ignore the tingling that races up his arm, the quickening of his heartbeat. “A pleasure, but I ought tae go, Mr. Munroe.” “Ye’re from Scotland!” Stephen resists the urge to roll his eyes, but nods, quite unable to maintain eye contact. “Fancy that, eh? I thought the scientists in Hong Kong were mainly Chinese or American.” He’s wearing a leather jacket and a tight t-shirt and Stephen wants to kiss him senseless; the realization is like a shock of cold water, and Stephen just wants to run away from it, pretend this never happened. Stephen turns on his heel, stammering out an apology, and beats a hasty retreat. His fingers shake as he fumbles with his tie, and once he’s rounded a corner--well enough away that Neal can’t hear him--he tears the knot free with a strangled, “Jesus fuckin’ Christ.” ----- He finds the scrap of paper tucked under the door to his room later, and when he opens it, Stephen nearly drops it. We’re taking Whisky Delta out on a practice run tomorrow at 0900 hours, if you’re interested in watching it from the observation point. N.M. Stephen bins the note with hands that shake, and he resolutely tries to forget it, turning back to the newest academic journal that had come in the mail. ----- He’s watching the recaps later on television when there’s a knock on the door. Whisky Delta is right in the middle of going through the calibration pattern; the way the limbs of the Jaeger flex and move is beautiful, fluid and practiced, and Stephen isn’t happy about being interrupted. “I didna think ye would just not come,” Neal says, inviting himself inside, and something in Stephen cracks, anger rising unbidden. “Ye dinna ken me at all, ye great lumbering idiot,” he snaps, crossing his arms across his chest. Stephen isn’t used to having visitors, especially not here--he’s hyper aware of the way Neal’s eyes skim over the stacks of books, the notebooks full of formulas, the television paused on Whisky Delta in mid-calibration procedure. Neal is staring at something on the wall, and Stephen moves with him, slotting himself between Neal and the rather incriminating article taped to his wall. “Get out,” he says, but the intonation is wrong. I want you to stay, and I want to kiss that stupid arrogant smile right off your attractive face, is what he wants to say but can’t. Stephen settles for staring Neal down instead, mouth drawing into a thin line as he straightens to his full height. “You coded the programming for Whisky Delta,” Neal whispers, eyes transfixed on the article behind Stephen, and Stephen knows it by heart-- Dr. Hermann Gottlieb, assisted by a combination of the United Kingdom’s finest mathematicians, coded the programming for Whisky Delta--the U.K.’s first functional Jaeger since the beginning of the Kaiju War. “Why didn’t ye come, then? See yer code in motion.” Neal doesn’t understand, and Stephen’s eyes flick away, to a point over Neal’s shoulder. “Was it something I said, because, mate, I didn’t mean tae run ye off.” “Ye should go,” Stephen repeats, because he’s not prepared for whatever heart-to-heart Neal is trying to initiate here, and tries to slip past him. A hand, large and strong, closes over Stephen’s shoulder, and Neal’s hand presses over the tattoo that Stephen typically hides beneath layers of clothing. It’s the coding for Whisky Delta’s programming done out the to the two hundreth numeral, beginning at the shoulder and twisting around his arm in a perfect spiral down to his wrist. He’d been convinced into getting it after Whisky Delta’s successful trial launch, spectacularly drunk with the rest of the lads, and he tended to regret it now. He feels naked, dressed in a ratty T-shirt and jeans, floundering for reason where there is none, just a yawning chasm of want and desire and need. Neal is staring at him, but makes no move to leave, and Stephen’s resolve is wavering with every passing second. He dares to catch Neal’s eye, and it’s inevitable, and he’s unable to stop it. It’s fate, and Neal hauls him closer to crush his mouth to Stephen’s, rough and bruising like he doesn’t know what it means to be gentle. Jaeger pilot, Stephen’s conscience reminds him, They tend to be rough by nature. This is Neal Munroe, who Stephen’s been half in love with since he first saw his smiling face on the news, who pilots the one thing that Stephen’s devoted his life to and makes it come to life. He makes the numbers, everything, function--makes them real. Stephen whines into Neal’s mouth, one hand coming up to shove into Neal’s hair, as he kisses him back like his life depends upon it, trying to pour admiration and fear and hope--everything that he feels--into it. It’s the war, it’s the fear of living from day to day, and he is so lonely, so afraid. Numbers can only sustain him for so long, and living in an abstract world is not entirely rational. ----- “I take back everything I’ve ever said about the science department.” Neal laughs, and Stephen rolls his eyes. The bed is too small for the pair of them, and Neal’s half sprawled on top of him, looking smug. “Ye Jaeger pilots think ye ken everything. Ye wouldna be anything without--” Neal kisses him again, tongue flicking at the seam of Stephen’s lips, and Stephen hitches him closer, fingers tangling in Neal’s dog tags. If this is the end of the world, Stephen knows better than to look a gift horse in the mouth. He feels alive in a way that he does when he sees Whisky Delta killing with perfect and precise movement, the adrenaline rush that comes with knowing that he helped create that, the pride of knowing that he did his bit. They all have their roles to play, and while Stephen isn’t a pilot like Neal, he is just as important in his own way. “I’ll keep ye safe,” Stephen says, and it’s a promise. “Whatever it takes.” He’ll code until he can’t see straight, live on coffee, anything--the Jaegers are their only hope, his only hope, for a better world--and Stephen doesn’t make promises he can’t keep. Neal presses their foreheads together, understanding writ plain across his face, and it’s enough. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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