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The Little Shatterdome Around the Corner

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To: jaegerpower
From: offthewall

Hey, I hope you have a second. I know you're busy and all, but sometimes it feels like you're the only person who actually knows I have something to say. Okay, it looks really pathetic when I put it out there like that, but it's true. The guys at work -- I told you I work construction, right? -- don't really know me and honestly? I don't want them to. I don't want to know them, either.

Sometimes, I don't want to know anybody.

I'm rambling, I know, and I know you don't have a lot of time to read a bunch of bullshit. Sorry. It's just really fucking cold outside and I'm pretty sure my life flashed before my eyes at least twice today, and there literally isn't one other person in the world who would know (or care) I'm dead except you, and even you probably wouldn't get worried for a few days. We're not exactly on a schedule with these messages, right?

Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for writing back when you can. It means a lot. I dunno who you are, but you're a good friend. Thanks for that.

--

Raleigh Becket had definitely seen better days. Better years. Hell, better decades. Then again, he wasn't the only one. The whole world -- well, mostly the coastal areas surrounding the Pacific Ocean -- had seen better decades. Just because he'd lost everyone he ever loved didn't mean he was unique.

God, he missed Yancy. They might have still ended up on the Wall after the Knifehead fuckarow, but at least they'd have been--

He didn't dare think about that right now. He was already too low to let himself dwell on how it was always Yancy who came up with ways to haul him up out of the dumps, who was the Idea Man, who thought up all the trouble Raleigh so gleefully and recklessly got them into.

It'd only been worse when they Drifted. They hadn't even needed to verbally consult on shenanigans then, the ideas and the follow-through so instantaneous it could have come from either of them.

But that was over. That was done. As he tapped his tablet to sleep, he stared at the snow outside and felt more alone than he'd thought possible before Yancy suddenly screamed his way out of his mind and soul.

The temptation to log back in and send another pitiful, meeching email to his weird pen pal jittered his fingers, but he abruptly shoved up out of the rickety chair and headed for a shower instead. He knew he'd become entirely too attached to a stranger, but something about the guy seemed so familiar.

Sometimes, ol' Jaegerpower sounded painfully like the Raleigh of five or even ten years ago. Brash and cocky and full of fight, but with... something... behind it. Some sort of offhand kindness that kept him messaging back and forth with a washed-up nobody. Someone who could read an email like the one Raleigh had just sent and, instead of snorting, hitting delete, and moving on with his life, actually take the time to write him back.

Not that Jaegerpower really addressed any of Raleigh's sometimes-too-emotional gambits. He never got a "Don't let yourself get too down, mate", with that oddly British turn of phrase, or a "Hey, I'm here for you" or anything so overt. He definitely never got a "Tell me you're okay" or any kind of prompt for his touchy-feelings.

But somehow, even without getting all emotional, the stranger with the nicely ironic username always made him feel better, either with a story about the other techs -- maybe he was in engineering? -- or some new trick he'd taught his dog or some lavish, absolutely exaggerated tale of one of his "firsts".

Jaegerpower's firsts were usually of the epic, hair-raising variety. The guy seemed to be something of an adrenaline junkie. It did, however, make for hilarious reading.

By the time Raleigh stood under the exactly four minutes and twenty-eight seconds of hot water he could squeeze out of the showerhead before the spray turned into needles of freezing rain, he actually found himself grinning. It almost felt like when Yancy used to catch him moping in his room and drag him outside to do something stupid and dangerous and awesomely fun. Like try to build a bicycle ramp from the lowest branch of the big tree in their backyard. Or parachute out a second story window with a pillowcase duct-taped to a hula hoop.

God, he missed those days. However, remembering Jaegerpower's recent story about the first time he'd tried to climb a tree -- only to realize that getting up to the highest branch meant having to climb back down -- was almost as good. He could see his own father doing as Jaegerpower's "old man" had done -- white-knuckle-climbing the tree to rescue the little brat who kept insisting he was fine and wanted to stay right where he was, that he was perfectly comfortable standing (as he had been for the last three hours) on a branch thinner than his wrist that bowed and creaked with his every shift of weight.

It was a good story. And it seemed like par for the Jaegerpower course that it wasn't good enough for the first tree ascension to be into the comfortable, safe lower branches. No, Raleigh may not know his pen pal in the flesh, but he knew enough to know that only the highest branch of the tallest tree would do. Go big or go home.

Still grinning, he cranked the water off just as the steam started to fade and toweled himself off. He didn't waste time before hustling into his thickest pajamas -- electric heat was a luxury, and it'd been a long time since he could afford much luxury -- but he did pause by the chipped, scarred end table that served as his desk and debated logging back in to see if ol' Jaegerpower had messaged him back.

Surely, it hadn't been long enough. He knew the guy traveled a lot and worked insanely long shifts sometimes. It was highly unlikely that his pen pal had even noticed a new message yet, let alone had time to read it or, saints preserve us, answer it.

But the temptation was strong.

Eventually, he tightened his fingers into a fist and walked over to the threadbare blanket-piled bed, still grinning. He'd check in the morning. It'd give him something to look forward to.

And, if there was a message, it'd give him something to think about during the long day on the Wall. Something to keep him from looking out at the Pacific Ocean and wondering if any of Yancy had washed up on that shore. If any of his brother had made it that far. Or if the other half of his soul had just ended up as so much kaiju shit polluting the ocean.

Shuddering, his grin long gone, Raleigh slumped down into his lumpy, spring-pokey mattress, cocooned himself to the chin against the cold, and resolutely willed himself to sleep.