Kim Doyoung thinks it is almost insulting to him when he was told to co-pilot again after years of not sharing what is in his head with someone else. Now, don’t get him wrong. He started out as a Jaeger pilot himself. He had many years of training and so much blood, sweat, and tears were shed. Not to mention how mentally affected the man was himself. He had been lucky that his co-pilot during the time of his pilot years was his older brother, Kim Gongmyung, and not anyone else who he had to share his past with. Not that he had any traumatic experience per say, but it was just easier to drift when his Jaeger co-pilot is someone who grew up with him almost his entire life; someone he had already been too comfortable with and doesn't feel as vulnerable.
But now as he gets into his gears, going for a battle with Johnny, someone he least expected to be paired up with, he doesn’t complain, or more so, he can’t. Or not loudly at least. Marshal Lee would express his disapproval and as much as the former is his best friend, he is first and foremost the Marshal of the Jeju Shatterdome. And the world needs Kim Doyoung right now to fight this Category III Kaiju.
The battle didn’t take long as always. Doyoung and Johnny weren't the best pair of pilots together. But unlike the days where Doyoung piloted with his brother, conversely Johnny and Jaehyun piloting the beauty that is White Jazz, their Mark IV Jaeger—it had only been easy for the duo to finish their battle due to their years of experience, being quite the veterans themselves in the Jaeger scene.
Doyoung steps out from the Conn-Pod first, followed by Johnny, who sweeps his brown locks aside after removing his head gears and as soon as the taller male is done, Mark comes running, hugging the tall male with the tightest embrace possible while leaving Doyoung to stare at the warm exchange.
“Sorry, he just wanted to make sure Johnny comes home safe.” Yukhei smiles awkwardly at Doyoung who stands aside with the younger as they watch the other two males’ hold each other.
Doyoung nods in acknowledgement as he knew. He sees it in the link that he shares with Johnny during their drift exchange before each and every time they gear up for war. He knows about Jeong Jaehyun, how White Jazz had also been out of commission for a long while and even when Jeno, an aspiring yet the youngest J-Tech Jaeger engineer whom Doyoung is fond with, had also offered to fix White Jazz up to get the beauty back in its glory years, deep down Doyoung knows Johnny won’t want that. No, Johnny will never ever pilot White Jazz with anyone else if they aren't his former late co-pilot. White Jazz is what was left of his only physical memory with Jaehyun, and Johnny has no intentions of sharing that magical moment with anyone else. Or so to even leave any further scratches on the ‘junk’. Doyoung knows that really well and respects Johnny and Jaehyun by asking to pilot Star Blossom instead when he and Johnny were partnered up.
Someone clears their throat and Doyoung sees the Marshal coming in. Mark breaks off his hug with the taller male, moving to immediately salute the head of the Shatterdome as Yukhei follows suit immediately.
“At ease, Cadets.” Marshal Lee voices out, soft yet firm and with control while he makes a motion as the two young Cadets fall back but still alarmed, if not careful around the higher authority figure. “Doyoung. Johnny. Welcome back safely.” the higher authority male smiles welcomingly as the two pilots approach him.
“Marshal Lee,” “Taeyong,” the two pilots greet simultaneously.
Johnny nudges his co-pilot by the arm over the informality addressed to the other male. Doyoung hisses softly, although the nudge was done in a light manner, in no way inflicting any ounce of pain, but rather Doyoung just likes being dramatic.
“Oh, you drama king.” Taeyong laughs, giving a light squeeze to both the two pilots' shoulders, a sign of appreciation with lack of words from Marshal Lee himself. Doyoung knows what this means, a praise . Taeyong has always been more of a person of action rather than using his words when it comes to showing appreciation.
Johnny smiles while Doyoung, on the other hand, just hums appreciatively as a returned gesture.
“A word with you two in my office?” Taeyong asks over the fond exchange. Doyoung blinks. Something is up.
Johnny just nods without much of a thought and soon after, Taeyong is already walking off to where his office is at, the taller pilot easily making a beeline following the other male. Doyoung thinks for a bit. Taeyong never goes all the way out to meet them at the Conn-Pod anyway. The only time he did was when Doyoung and Johnny first went on the ‘warzone’ together, and now, today that they were back from their 7th time or so since piloting together for almost a year.
Doyoung spares a look over at Mark, who immediately retreats away with Yukhei from the Conn-Pod and back to their room, or the combat room as where he knew the two Cadets usually spend their time together when they aren't commissioned off to the ocean. The pilot soon follows after the other two older male whose backs were already facing him.
“Johnny is retiring.”
Marshal Lee announces as short and simple as he could, yet such words felt like it had ripped and trampled all over Doyoung’s heart.
“What?” Doyoung questions, looking at Johnny for some sort of explanation. The taller pilot only looks apologetically.
“It’s on a short notice, and I’m sorry. But Johnny really made a hard decision on this and I support his decision knowing it is for his own good.” Taeyong explains instead, arms going to soothe Doyoung as if the pilot is going through a heartbreak. Maybe Doyoung is, but neither Taeyong nor Johnny needs to know.
“And what will happen to Star Blossom then? Who’s going to co-pilot with me if it isn’t Johnny, or do I go back to the K-Science department?” Doyoung questions, eyes a little teary as his brows furrow, exasperated.
“We found someone to replace me. To be your co-pilot. Since I was thinking about retiring a while back.” Johnny explains calmly.
“So you were thinking of retiring but you never told me or discussed it with me? I’m your co-pilot even if we don’t get along too well, like you do with Mark. You think I would have stopped you from retiring?” Doyoung feels like he's going to pop a vessel. This is all too much.
“Doyoung—” Johnny tries to approach the other male.
The other pilot takes a step back, holding a hand up as a sign for Johnny to not come near. “How come I never knew of this? The talks of your retirement. Taeyong knew and he said it was a while back. You could have thrown hints or something.” Doyoung retorts.
“Nevermind. I need to clear my head for a bit. I’m not mad, just disappointed that nothing was discussed with me when it involves me too,” Doyoung states, turning to Marshal. “Permission to be dismissed, Marshal Lee.”
Taeyong stands numb for a while. Doyoung rarely uses formalities on him, much less in private conversations like this. He sees Doyoung hurt and how the latter seems to be holding back on his emotions as much and Taeyong does not blame him for such valid feelings. “Permission granted.”
Doyoung exits the room silently, leaving Johnny and Taeyong behind with the lack of words to exchange at the tensed air.
When Doyoung opens his door, he never expected Mark to visit him.
“Can I come in…? I’m really sorry for the sudden visit. Especially coming from me out of everyone else that you know of.” Mark looks down a little, almost embarrassed.
“It’s fine. Come on in. Apologies for the slight mess though, I wasn’t expecting a visitor.” Doyoung side steps to let the younger in who only flusters as he realises how impulsive he had been running all the way from the combat room to Doyoung’s room.
The two sit on the bed awkwardly and with some distance. They were not the closest but they have spoken to each other once in a while due to some mutual friendship, and Mark respects Doyoung as his senior in this Shatterdome.
“So what’s bothering you, kiddo?” Doyoung starts the conversation, projecting an air of friendliness, if not closeness in his words.
Mark has been absentmindedly drawing against his thighs. He felt unsure on how to start saying everything or anything.
“It’s about Johnny. Have you heard about ‘it’ ?” Mark almost whispers his question as if whatever he's asking is taboo.
So this is about Johnny’s retirement, Doyoung thinks. “Yeah, I did. How are you feeling, kiddo?”
Mark looks at Doyoung, mouth opening midway as if he has something to stay or that his words seem to still be formulating in his head, thinking about what would be right to say to respond to the older male.
“It’s hard to take in. He’s just… you know, he and Jaehyun had been there for me since day one when I came here, and not having the two of them near me anymore. It feels like it’s starting to sink in.”
Doyoung looks at Mark with pity. Doyoung feels upset, perhaps angry that Johnny didn’t tell him about his retirement but he never thought that Johnny would leave Mark out of the topic as well. He sees the younger hurt and sad more than he is, which is completely justified. After all, Doyoung knew Mark had been closer to Johnny than he was.
Doyoung feels absolutely bad for lashing out earlier when Mark had more rights to react the way Doyoung did earlier but instead, the younger male is calm, if not more forgiving than Doyoung is. If anything, had it not been him and if in other scenarios where if Johnny had gotten better quicker, or if Yukhei wasn’t Mark’s co-pilot and most compatible partner, Doyoung believed Mark and Johnny would have been the next unbeatable Jaeger pilot partners.
“It’s just upsetting, but like he deserves it, you know? Johnny deserves the rest he can get when he has been bearing the weight of both his and Jaehyun’s on his shoulder all these while," Mark’s words snap Doyoung back to reality.
“Yeah... yeah, he does,” Doyoung mumbles.
“I… I heard… from Johnny that you left halfway in the conversation. He seemed sad, you know,” Mark speaks carefully, eyes flickering with a slight fright upon the call out.
“Yeah, I did. It was just so sudden. All these. I was in the K-Science department before they suddenly wanted me to co-pilot with Johnny. And when I was about to get all comfortable, Johnny just drops it all on me without having the slightest courtesy to inform me… It was too much, you know. A little unfair to me.” Doyoung shrugs.
“I get it. And I mean, like sincerely. If I had been you and had the same bomb drop on me, I would have reacted worse. As if a Kaiju staked my heart, you know!” Mark responded.
“Weird analogy, but I guess you get me,” the older male chuckles, feeling the air lighten a bit over the younger’s word.
Mark smiles a bit but falters before scotting a bit close to Doyoung’s space. “Will you talk to Johnny though. Y’know, before he goes…”
Doyoung looks at Mark and fondly shifts his hand to tousle the younger’s hair affectionately with a smile.
“Of course. He’s my friend as much as he is yours.”
Doyoung finds Johnny throwing fists at the punching bag in the combat room. It wasn’t hard considering just like how Mark is, Johnny has a habit of spending his time in the combat room for whatever reason there is.
“There you are.” Doyoung calls out.
Johnny stops hitting the punching bag midair and finds the source of voice. “Kim Doyoung.”
“Johnny Suh. Working hard even when you’re about to retire soon, I see?” the male approached the other, passing an isotonic drink to the taller male.
“How did you find me?” Johnny asks, taking the bottle.
“I always find you here. It’s the place you go to for whatever reason. And it feels like we’ve come a full circle, huh?” Doyoung chuckles softly, settling himself down on the floor.
“What do you mean?” Johnny furrows his brows together after taking glugs on the isotonic drink and settles himself next to Doyoung.
“We met here the first time. When we joined this Shatterdome, in the same batch, and were pretty much strangers back who had to practice on each other, and when Taeyong had me as one of the candidates for your co-pilot. And that I struck the pole on you in less than 30 seconds in our battle.” Doyoung proudly announces.
“And I struck you back just as soon because you let your left side be open.” Johnny pinpoints with a playful smirk to his face.
Doyoung huffs. “I scored back when I made you trip because you were unstable.”
“To which I intercepted with a lock of your left arm. Doyoung, you know you keep your left side open which is why you took the right side of the Jaeger, no?” Johnny points out, making Doyoung a bit flustered because he knew exactly what Johnny was saying.
“Well, you’re one of the few best co-pilots there is for covering my left as I do with your right because of that. The injury.” Doyoung points out.
Johnny smiles. There were no hard feelings to it.
“You’re the best too, Doyoung. Well, second-to-best after Jaehyun. But you know that.” Johnny softens and flops down on the mat.
Doyoung follows suit, eyes squinting a little at the glaring light of the ceiling before his vision settles. “And you’re one of the best too, I guess. I.. I’ll miss you.”
Johnny turns his head slightly to Doyoung who still had his eyes on the ceiling, probably avoiding eye contact with him. He smiles a bit before looking back at the ceiling.
“I’ll miss you too, Doyoung. You and all our fun times together despite the bickering here and there.”
They stayed silent for a minute or two.
“Want to settle the final score for the last time? Loser climbs on top of the Shatterdome and shouts whosoever name of the person they love?” Doyoung sits up and glances over at Johnny.
“Dammit, Doyoung, that was one time and I was drunk, for fucks sake. But you’re on, loser!”
“Race you to see who changes to the combat suit first.” Doyoung gets up and sprints to the changing room.
“Oh, you’re on!”
Johnny’s retirement was a quiet affair. They threw a party amongst close friends. Mark cried a lot and Johnny teased the younger male while he got drunk for the first time since forever. The party went on to almost dawn and while most of them were sprawled asleep all over, occupying Johnny’s space, Johnny and Doyoung were by then sober, finding themselves on the roof of the Shatterdome, waiting for the sun to rise properly over them.
It’s a rarity, Doyoung thinks as he tries to remember when was the last time he had such a peaceful moment to wait for the sun to rise. The two sit quietly, letting only the sound of waves wash upon the shore break their silence. Doyoung thinks if it is possible, he wants this moment to last forever. Maybe he should start considering retirement too.
“Doyoung.” Johnny almost whispers upon calling the other male’s name and if Doyoung had not paid attention, he wouldn’t have heard it. He hums in response.
“It hasn’t been an easy journey partnering with me.” Johnny begins, turning to look at Doyoung. “I just want you to know that I appreciate you for being patient with me, especially during Drifting.”
It feels like Doyoung is hearing their closure as he listens in to the other male attentively at the sudden confession.
“It won’t be easy from here on, if you continue. You may find someone like me, broken but someone you can fix. Like how you fix me, you know. Had it not been you, I might not even be here looking at the sunset with you.” Johnny chuckles.
Doyoung takes in every word to heart and takes some time to respond. “Thank you for giving me a chance, I guess. I know, it wasn’t easy sharing something as vulnerable as that. I know… that you love him.” Doyoung threads lightly into the topic now that they seem to be open to each other.
“I do. I love him a lot.” Johnny confesses, almost bitterly and sad. “He was my world. But I know he would want me to… just do what I want in life. Like retiring and maybe getting a house near the beach, you know. He would like that too… He made me promise him we would get a house there.”
Doyoung nods, smiles slightly even before standing up. Johnny’s sight follows the other male.
“Wanna see White Jazz for one last time before you go off? You know, eventually we’ll have to fix her up for some other pilots' right?” Doyoung says somberly.
“I know. But just having her in that state was the final closure for me and until I leave, I’d like her to remind me of Jaehyun, and maybe of you as well. After all, you did take part in the journey of White Jazz.” Johnny smiles, getting up as they head to see the broken Jaeger.
And Doyoung did. He was the one who detected the Kaiju which brought the fall of White Jazz.
It’s been almost a week since Doyoung was with Marshal Lee to send Johnny off in the copter. And here he is again, waiting for the copter that departed from Japan to receive his new ‘partner’ that he would now have to pilot Star Blossom with. Nothing is affirmative yet, but Jisoo convinced him that the stats she received from the Tokyo Shatterdome as well as the ones she tested on Doyoung shows that their compatibility may be Doyoung’s highest yet. Of course, there’s multiple tests to run before Doyoung could start piloting.
The copter maneuvers downwards and Doyoung has to squint from the sudden wind blowing into his face. The aircraft lands and the door opens with two men coming out of it. One, a representative from the Tokyo Shatterdome who's here to make sure the transition goes smoothly and to deal with some paperworks with the Marshall. Then a man with white shoulder-length haired, dressed in a tank top and a pair of army jeans, descending from the copter and formally greets the Marshal and Doyoung but also with a grin.
“Ranger Nakamoto, reporting for duty.”