When the kaiju came, everyone said they were too old for the jaeger program.
On the TV, when they called him too old, Ian just laughed and said he agreed with that - he was north of fifty by then just like Alan was and they'd both seen better, fitter days - but Alan knew that what he'd said didn't mean he intended to say no. If Ian had meant no, he would've said no; what he meant was yes and Alan knew it.
Frankly, the idea of Dr. Ian Malcolm beating up monsters inside a giant robot was the most amusing thing that Alan had heard in years. He shook his head at the television and he went back to his work.
When they came for Alan, he said no - he was too busy to go playing Transformers with teenagers who didn't even know what Transformers were anymore, and his work was too important for him to leave behind. He was working on the kaiju specimens back then, wrist-deep in organs though his field was still properly paleontology, working with the brightest minds from around the world. He was making a difference by day, and dreaming of simpler times by night, days when the end of the world had been the end of his funding and not something far more literal.
When they told him Ian had asked for him, he laughed out loud till he almost choked. That sounded like Ian. They'd kept in touch, now and then. Ian's math was part of how the jaeger program worked.
"We can't find anyone who's drift compatible with him," the PPDC captain said, standing there in the lab in front of everyone, frowning at Alan's strange reaction.
"I can believe that," Alan replied. "What makes you think I am?"
"He says we won't know unless we try," said the captain. "And he says with what's at stake, you won't refuse to try."
And damn him, Ian was right.
Three days later, they drifted, and it worked like a charm; Alan wasn't sure if he was relieved or disappointed, so he settled for shaking like a leaf. They said that could happen the first few times, until their minds became acclimatized to the link, but that wasn't reassuring - he wasn't sure he wanted to acclimatize. Besides which, he was sure his reaction was more to Ian Malcolm than it was to the drift.
"Just think of them like oversized dinosaurs," Ian said, the next day, as they climbed into their brand new jaeger. Alan's suit felt three sizes too tight and he kept tugging at the collar, frowning, but Ian wore his well.
"I remember what the dinosaurs were like," Alan said.
"But this time it's a fair fight." Alan raised his brows; Ian shrugged. "Fairer, at least."
When they fought their first kaiju three weeks later, a two-jaeger drop with Cherno Alpha and the Kaidonovskys who'd been flown in from Vladivostok, Alan had to agree; this time, the fight was fairer.
Once again, Ian was right.
They trained together during the day, during the off-time, when they weren't suited up and fighting monsters from the bottom of the sea like something from a Jules Verne novel Alan had read at school, fifteen years old then and not fifty. And inside three months Alan was in better shape than he'd been in years. He had muscle where he'd never had it before, even in his youth. He was stronger than he'd ever been, faster, sharper, harder than a paleontologist really needed to be. Ian was just the same as he was. And it was just as well, he thought – the jaegers didn't exactly run themselves.
"We'll make a good team," Ian told him, and they did. Alan's pragmatism balanced out Ian's self-sacrificing hero streak. Ian's essential optimism drew Alan's world-weariness back into line. They were good together. Ian was right.
They showered together every morning. They ate together at every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner, day on day. They slept in the same quarters just like all the teams did, on bunks at opposite sides of their small room. And, unlike certain other jaeger teams, they talked. They talked for hours, or Ian did and Alan listened. They took over a lab upstairs much to the scientists' chagrin and Ian wheeled out a whiteboard and they both took up pens. They argued out loud, though they were so far inside each other's heads by then that their ideas began to bleed together. In the end, the arguing was just for sport.
Six months in, in the winter, the Anchorage shatterdome's furnaces died and the air inside was freezing cold. They worked in the lab in woolen hats and fingerless gloves and wore their jackets to bed at night. Ian's tyrannosaurus-mauled leg bothers him whenever temperatures drop and until the furnaces were finally repaired, two weeks later, Alan warmed Ian's scarred thigh with his hands at night. They pushed their two single beds together with a god-almighty scrape of metal legs on metal deckplates, and they lay side by side in the dark. Ian talked, night on night, until Alan put his hand over Ian mouth, Ian's lips pressed to his palm.
"For once in your life, man, just be quiet," Alan said, in the freezing dark, one hand at Ian's mouth and the other at his thigh. He could feel the contours of the scar under Ian's thick military-issue pants, the sort they'd both been sleeping in because anything else was too damn cold. He could feel Ian try to speak against his palm, the words muffled but he didn't need to hear them to understand. Then Ian went quiet, mercifully, for once. He wrapped an arm around Alan's waist, spread one gloved hand at the small of Alan's back, and they went to sleep just like that.
When the heat came back up, they didn't pull the beds apart. They slept like that every night, tangled up together; the only real difference was the number of layers they wore. Sometimes, after that, here weren't any at all. Sometimes, with Ian in his head the way he was, it didn't even feel ridiculous.
Sometimes, Ian talked about the universe like he understood it perfectly, though Alan knew better because he saw inside his head. He said that possibilities were infinite and so the universe was plural, one branch for each eventuality, each stop light missed, each accident avoided. The way Ian talked, there were universes out there where they hadn't survived Jurassic Park. There were universes where they'd never even gone there in the first place, where they'd never met. There were universes where the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar hadn't been created and so there'd never been a park. There were universes where the two of them had met years before, hated each other or loved each other or a stilted mix of both. There were universes where the kaiju had never come. It was meant to be comforting; Alan never felt comforted by it.
A year passed by and then two. They were too old for the jaeger program but in a world where drift compatibility was at a premium, two cranky middle-aged men with bad backs and bad knees and a doctorate each, who had to train twice as hard in the combat room for anything close to the same results as the others, whose hobbies included lab work and writing scathing reviews of academic journal articles as if academia mattered in the fight for the species, their odd relationship was needed. Their odd compatibility was needed. Maybe they were never the program's poster boys, they were never Chuck Hansen or the Becket Brothers, but they were needed. By the time the shatterdomes were closed, they had a record as good as anyone's.
And when the shatterdomes were closed, when all the world was putting up the wall, they could have parted ways. They didn't. They retired to the Pacific coast, together, and argued as they scrawled math on the windows in multicolored dry wipe markers. They only argued because arguing was what still felt right. By then, they usually agreed.
The bomb in the breach was their idea, though admittedly it didn't go quite to plan. And when they heard the news, that the breach was closed, Ian laughed and kissed him on the mouth.
There was a party to celebrate. There were several, in the end. They saw Lex and Tim and Ellie was there with her husband from the State Department, and Alan went up to shake Raleigh Becket's hand. Ian hugged Mako Mori, who looked bewildered enough to knock him down on his ass for it. It wouldn't have been the first time that had happened where Ian Malcolm was concerned, Alan was sure of it. He had a reputation.
And then they went home, and they undressed and went to bed and in the night, Alan's chest to Ian's back, Ian muttering into the crook of his arm because sometimes even now he can't help but talk and talk and talk right through it, even when he's breathless, even if he makes no sense, Alan thought perhaps Ian had it wrong.
There's only one universe, Alan thought, Alan thinks, and it's this one here and now. The dinosaurs came and the two of them survived. The kaiju came and they survived that, too. Twenty years later, twenty years after the breach was closed, they're still in that house. They're still arguing, though they're still inside each other's heads.
They're north of seventy years old now and cranky as the day they met, and Ian's tyrannosaurus-mauled leg still aches in the cold and Alan still warms him with his hands. Ellie's kids have kids and they visit sometimes. Lex and Tim keep in touch. They've survived the end of the world and sometimes, at night, Alan rests his palm over Ian's mouth to shut him up just for a while and Ian chuckles.
There's only one universe, Alan thinks, no other Alan Grants, mercifully no other Ian Malcolms. There's only one universe, and they've made the most of their time in it so far, together - the two of them, plural, in this singular space. There's only one universe, and so they'll be sure to make the most of what's left to them, too.
Ian's wrong, Alan thinks. It's a comforting thought.