Growing up in Alaska, I knew I was an omega but I was never really treated like one. I was never told I should act or be a certain way. All I knew was that Yancy was my big brother, an alpha, and my hero and I wanted to be just like him. Even on our few family trips as kids, I didn’t realize how much I had been sheltered until Yancy and I enlisted in the jaeger Academy.
Yancy nearly took off the head of the officer who tried to immediately shift me out of the pilot program and into the tech program on our first day just because I was an omega. Someone intervened and Yancy was named my alpha guardian. If I didn’t keep up I would be shifted to the tech program immediately.
I kept up.
Then Yancy and I were deemed Drift compatible and nothing else was said about moving me.
We were assigned to Gipsy Danger, the best jaeger ever built. We were on top of the world, an unbeatable team.
Until we weren’t.
The day Yancy died I lost everything, including part of my soul.
* * *
"Tell me, Mr. Becket, where would you rather die when the apocalypse comes? On some wall? Or in a jaeger?" Marshal Pentecost shouted after him.
Raleigh paused at the doorway, staring up at the skeleton of the half-built Anti-Kaiju Wall stretching out into the distance. He’d been working on the damn thing for almost five years now and, despite the risks he continually took, he was still alive. He knew the rate at which the kaiju were taking down jaegers. Stepping into one again was pretty much guaranteeing his death. Could he do that to whatever poor schmuck they stuck in the conn-pod with him? It was the end of the world according to Marshal Pentecost. They knew what they would be getting into.
"Hey, Becket." Raleigh barely twitched when Tommy came up next to him. "Listen, I got four kids..."
He knew the instant Tommy saw the black-banded green pendant around his neck. "Man, sorry, I didn’t mean..."
Raleigh fished his ration cards out of his jacket, dumped them in his hard hat and shoved it at the shorter man. The spluttering behind him was only so much white noise as he walked up to the Sikorsky and climbed in. Wedging himself in the far corner, he barely flicked a glance at Marshal Pentecost.
"You realize I’m probably not even capable of Drifting anymore, right?"
"I think that you are not nearly as damaged as you believe you are."
He let out a harsh laugh. "You have no idea, sir."
* * *
At the Hong Kong Shatterdome, meeting Mako Mori, it took Raleigh all of about five minutes to figure out that she planned to be his copilot. Whether or not the marshal was happy about it. Maybe even whether or not Raleigh wanted it. Looking at her, the intelligence in her eyes, the fierceness she hid behind a polite mask, Raleigh believed she would make an exceptional jaeger pilot. But he was damaged beyond repair and he couldn’t bring himself to even consider burdening her with his mess.
Listening to her assessment of his fighting skills while he unpacked his few meager belongings, Raleigh couldn’t help feeling amusement, resignation, and even anger at her words. It wasn’t anything he hadn’t heard before but coming from her, from someone who’d never been out there on the frontline, who’d never lost what he had, it made him angry. Yet he couldn’t bring up the energy for more than sad resignation. He flipped through his stack of photos until he came to one of him and Yancy grinning at the camera, arms over each other’s shoulders. His beautiful alpha brother who’d protected him from the world until Raleigh had gotten him killed.
Raleigh looked up at Mako, almost surprised to see her still standing there. "When you’re out there and you know you’re the only thing standing between a kaiju and millions of people, you do what you have to. If it means taking risks then you take them because you have to make a decision right then. You can’t stand back and weigh the options." He looked down at the photo, his thumb brushing over Yancy’s smiling face. Raleigh , listen to me! "Sometimes you make the wrong decision and it’s something you have to live with for the rest of your life. It’s all you can do."
He turned away from her, grabbing the package of photo tack he took everywhere with him, and began putting select photos on the wall where he could easily see them from his bed. For a long moment, she stood in the doorway with her tablet clutched to her chest, watching him until she finally said softly, "My room is across the hall. When you are ready, I will show you to Medical."
He didn’t acknowledge her words as he put up a photo of his little sister Jasmine, victim of a drunk driver.
The door closed with a quiet click behind her.
* * *
Sitting on the exam table, Raleigh stared at the floor, his legs swinging slightly while waiting for the doctor to return. Eventually, she slipped back into the room, making sure the door was solidly shut behind her before taking a seat on the stool. She was a small, no-nonsense Chinese woman with a surprising British accent. His rather thick PPDC Medical folder was placed on the table and opened up. Dr. Ting gave him a perfunctory smile. "You are in overall good health though a bit malnourished. Hong Kong is an open port; do not worry about rationing when you go to the mess hall. Eat your fill but stick to lighter foods until your body has adjusted. You are still having issues with insomnia?"
"I’ll prescribe a sleeping pill. Take it for two nights at 9 pm then three nights off. I don’t want you dependent on them. If you get tired during the day and feel you can sleep then do so. I suspect this is something you already know," she arched an eyebrow at him and he nodded. "Good. I see here that you have not been on any inhibitors since you left the Anchorage Shatterdome. Nor have you Bonded. When was the time of your last heat?"
Raleigh’s shoulders tensed, hunching up around his ears. I’m sorry, Mr. Becket, there was nothing we could do. You’re worthless now. Not even a real omega. Just a useless bitch.
"Mr. Becket?" Dr. Ting’s voice cut through the memories threatening to swallow him. "When was..."
"I’m sterile, Doc," Raleigh ground out, jumping down from the exam table. He grabbed his sweater, Yancy’s sweater, pulling it on as he headed to the door. "I haven’t had a heat since before... Since before." He yanked open the door and was gone before she could say anything else.
As soon as he’d escaped the infirmary, Raleigh snagged the first person he saw and asked where the gym was. Directions committed to memory, he hurried back to his room to change into his new PPDC issued workout clothes. He grimaced a little at the loose fit, testament to just how much weight he’d lost since Anchorage. After a brief debate, he slipped off his pendant, leaving it on the desk. The cord wasn’t long enough for it to sit below the neckline of his tank top and he hated having it swinging around as he worked out.
* * *
Finding the gym after only one wrong turn, he taped up his hands and settled himself in a corner at one of the punching bags. For the longest time, he’d had to settle for shadow boxing; neither staying in one place long enough nor having the money to buy a punching bag of his own, but he easily remembered the satisfaction of a fist hitting the solid bag. He fell into a steady rhythm of blows, relishing the burn in his muscles and the ache in his lungs as he worked for each breath. Usually he could lose himself in the exercise, quiet the voices in his head for just a little while, but today they wouldn’t shut up, getting all tangled together.
I’m in your head, kid.
Sorry for your loss.
Raleigh , listen to me.
Nothing we could do.
Always be here for you, Rals.
Useless. Useless. Useless. Useless.
"Going to hurt yourself like that, mate."
"Ahhh," Raleigh cried out, his fist landing wrong as he startled from the unexpected voice next to him. Curling in on his injured arm, he jerked back from the hands that reached for him until he hit up against the wall. When he finally looked up, Herc Hansen was watching him, jaw clenched; though he visibly forced himself to relax when he met Raleigh’s gaze. Herc’s pendant drew his attention and he quickly averted his gaze. Blue with two black bands. A bonded alpha who’d lost their mate. Raleigh wanted to cringe. He could just imagine what the older man probably thought of him, yet there was only sympathy in his eyes when Raleigh looked up again, sympathy and a bit of exasperation.
"Told you, you were going to hurt yourself like that," Herc chided.
"Punch just landed wrong because I was startled," Raleigh defended before he could stop himself.
Herc snorted in amusement. "Sound just like Chuck when he pulls the same shit. C’mon, let’s take you down to Medical to get it looked over."
"No! I mean, no. I’m fine, sir. Thanks. Really. Just a muscle twinge. Like hitting your funny bone." Raleigh snapped his mouth shut when Herc held up a hand.
"Let me take a look and as long as there’s no swelling or obvious breaks, I’ll let it go. Alright?"
Raleigh considered his options, which really weren’t much since Herc was the marshal’s second in command. Reluctantly, he held out his arm, wincing only slightly at the tenderness in his wrist from the badly landed punch.
"Alright," Herc sighed. "You don’t seem to have done yourself any damage but I’m calling it a day for you. Grab your jumper. Grub’s up in the mess."
"Sir," Raleigh started, stopping at Herc’s look. "Right. Let me just get the tape off."
Herc grinned, slapping him on the back before grabbing Raleigh’s sweatshirt and ushering him out of gym. Herc shadowed Raleigh the entire way to the mess hall then grabbed each of them trays and began loading them up. It reminded him painfully of Yancy and his mother hen tendencies. Think you want some greens on there? And Jell-O doesn’t count.
"C’mon. You can sit with us. Don’t think you’ve met my son Chuck yet."
"No, sir," Raleigh replied, following in Herc’s wake. The last thing he really wanted to do was deal with Chuck ‘I’m the best jaeger pilot ever’ Hansen right now but Herc was in full-on Papa alpha mode and wouldn’t let Raleigh pull a runner if he tried.
Nearing the table, Raleigh felt his stomach start to clench as got his first real look at the younger Hansen. Raleigh remembered Chuck had been an awkward kid with odd features and gangly limbs until one day he’d had a major growth spurt. Then all that awkwardness had turned into a good-looking, graceful young man who’d spent the better part of his life training to be a fighter. Up close now, Chuck practically exuded alpha and Raleigh found himself reacting for the first time since before Knifehead and Paul. He quickly stamped down on those urges. No alpha would want a useless sterile omega like him.
Raleigh barely met Chuck’s eyes as he sat down, instead concentrating on his plate and the food Herc had insisted on piling on it. There was more there than Raleigh could remember eating in three days back in Alaska. Curling his arm around the plate, he began methodically eating what was there, only lifting his gaze to acknowledge Herc’s introduction.
"It’s not going to run away from you, mate," Chuck drawled, making Raleigh want to hunch in on himself.
Manners, Raleigh .
He did manage to slow down a little and uncurl slightly but he still kept the plate tucked in close to his chest. He didn’t see the ‘what the fuck’ look Chuck gave Herc.
"Raleigh," he interrupted him. He knew it was childish but hearing the younger man mispronounce his name annoyed him. "My name is pronounced Raleigh," he said, finally meeting Chuck’s gaze head on.
Chuck’s smug look morphed into a glare at the correction.
"So, Rahleigh, what have you been doing with yourself for the last five years? Must have been something good, I reckon, to turn your back on all the people counting on your sorry ass."
Worthless bitch. Useless now.
"Chuck," Herc growled.
"Leave off, old man," Chuck growled back. "He’s supposed to be protecting our backs down there in that old rust bucket."
“Gipsy is not a rust bucket,” Raleigh interrupted their argument, unable to let the insult to his jaeger slide.
“She’s as obsolete as her pilot,” Chuck sneered. Raleigh began to wonder how he could have thought this jerk was attractive. “What were you doing while we’ve been getting slaughtered?”
“Construction,” Raleigh answered shortly, his fingers tightening on the fork he held until he began to feel the metal bend. If he insulted Yancy…
"Oh, well, that’s just great." Chuck tossed his bread crust on his plate. "That’s just bloody great. So glad to know we’re trusting the fate of the world to a glorified bricklayer."
"Welder actually," Raleigh said without thinking, relaxing his grip on his fork then tensing again at the glare Chuck shot him. He should have kept his mouth shut. The last thing he needed to do was pick a fight with this brat.
"Whatever, Riley," Chuck snarled, rising to his feet. Planting his fists on the table, he leaned towards Raleigh, who held his ground. "You better get your shit together, mate, and keep up or I will drop you like a sack of kaiju shit. C’mon, Max."
Raleigh watched Chuck stalk away, his bulldog hurrying to catch up. Herc sighed, a pained look on his face.
"That one’s my fault. His mum passed when he was little more than a tyke and I raised him on me own. Was never sure whether to give him a hug or a kick in the ass."
Considering the display he’d just put on, Raleigh knew which one he’d have chosen. He kept silent though in the face of the alpha’s distress. What right did a damaged omega like himself have to give others advice on how to raise their kids? Swallowing back a wave of nausea, Raleigh pushed away his half-eaten plate, drawing a concerned look from Herc.
"Thanks for the meal, sir," he said, rising to his feet, "but I better head back to my bunk. The marshal wants me in the kwoon first thing tomorrow morning and the flight and time zone changes are playing hell with me."
"Course. Get some sleep."
With a nod, Raleigh turned to leave.
He was halfway to the door when Herc called out, "Hey, Raleigh."
Raleigh turned back just in time to catch the apple Herc had lobbed at him.
"In case you get hungry," Herc shrugged casually.
You and me against the world, Rals
"Thanks, sir." He slipped it into his pocket and hurried away. He could only deal with so much mother-henning, especially coming from someone who wasn’t Yancy.
* * *
By the time he reached his bunk, Raleigh could feel the Ghost Drift coming on strong. He’d hoped being in a different Shatterdome with so few familiar faces would keep it at bay. He should have known better. Raleigh dropped onto his bed, curling into a ball, staring sightlessly at his pictures.
Don’t get cocky, kid.
C’mon, Yance! We’re unbeatable!
Watch me, YaYa! Watch me!
That’s great, Jaz. You’ll be the star of the show. Won’t she, Rals?
Christ, Becket. What kind of omega loses their baby like that? No one will want you. You’re nothing but a useless bitch now.
We are gathered today to mourn the passing of a bright soul.
I’ll always be here for you, Raleigh.
Reckless insubordination. Are you listening to me, Mr. Becket?
Raleigh , listen to me.
Why did Daddy leave us, Yancy?
No one will want you now.
We did what we could. If we’d known from the start you were pregnant, Mr. Becket, we might’ve had a chance of saving it. I’m sorry.
Nothing but a useless bitch now.
Raleigh , listen to me.
At some point, Raleigh slipped into a restless, nightmare-filled slumber. He watched Yancy be ripped from the conn-pod, felt the sharp spike of fear and pain followed by aching silence where his brother should be. His left arm was on fire, pain screaming along the nerve endings and completely unresponsive. He wanted to give in. He wanted to let Knifehead claim another Becket brother but Yancy would kick his ass if he didn’t finish what they’d started. Charging the plasma caster in his remaining arm, he kept charging it even as his hand began to overheat. If he was going down, the kaiju bastard was damn well going down with him.
Plunging his arm into the wound they’d already created, he fired. Raw satisfaction filled him as he blew a hole completely through Knifehead. It let out an inhuman shriek as half of its internal organs were vaporized or turned into slag.
He waited tensely to be sure Knifehead was really dead this time. When the kaiju didn’t resurface, he turned away with a stagger, heading he didn’t know where.
He had to find Yancy.
Why wasn’t Yancy here?
Raleigh woke with a gasping sob. The nightmare was a familiar demon coiling in his gut until he stumbled from his bed to the tiny ensuite bathroom. He threw up everything he’d eaten that day until all that was left were dry heaves and bile.
Eventually, he slumped back against the wall willing his stomach to settle. He knew the routine by now. And wasn’t it just sad that he had a routine for this?
When his muscles stopped cramping, he’d get to his feet to get a drink of water. Rinse his mouth, take a couple of sips to keep hydrated but not start the nausea again. Stumble out to a chair, or the bed as a last resort, and pull out the copy of Moby Dick Yancy had been reading. He’d get through another chapter before starting to feel restless so the book would be put aside in favor of pushups and sit-ups until exhaustion won out or he had to go to work or, in this case, he had to be in the kwoon for candidate tryouts.
This day was really going to suck.