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King of Fools

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May 19, 2025

Mako slipped into Raleigh’s room after a perfunctory knock. He was packing, taking down the photos he’d put up five months ago and sliding them back into the plastic bag he used to protect them. At the sound of her entry, Raleigh turned to face her.

“I don’t think you should go. Chuck doesn’t know how to be in a relationship.”

“So don’t think,” Raleigh countered. “And not knowing how to be in a relationship doesn’t give him a free pass to be a dick.”

Mako sighed. “I still need you.”

Raleigh looked at her. Aware she appreciated blunt honesty, he said, “No, you want me, because I’d be the perfect end to that goal you’ve had since you were a little girl. Getting to pilot a jaeger was only the first step. You want what the Kaidonovskys had – perfect compatibility inside and out of a jaeger. I’m not going to pretend for your sake.”

She closed her eyes briefly, regret etched on her face. “Even if it gives you some security by having someone who understands you that way?”

“You’re too principled and disciplined to be happy in that kind of relationship, Mako,” Raleigh said gently, pausing in his packing to step closer. He placed his hands on her shoulders and pressed his forehead briefly against hers. “And I love you, but not like that. I can’t be that guy for you.”

“I’m sorry, Raleigh,” Mako said softly, meeting his eyes.

“So am I.” Stepping back, Raleigh tucked the bag of photos in his duffel bag, which sat on the bunk next to another equally full duffel, and then zipped it shut. He hesitated a moment, then turned to hug his copilot. “You’ll find that guy someday, Mako.”

She offered him a half-smile as she returned the hug. “Be well.”

Grateful they hadn’t Drifted since a post-Pitfall check, a week after the battle, Raleigh stepped back, bowed to her, and picked up his duffel bags. “You too, Mako.”

She bowed to him as well, and then stepped aside to let him pass.

Raleigh was halfway to the jumphawk when Herc caught him. “Where the fuck do you think you’re going?”

“Nothing for me here,” Raleigh said evenly.

Herc looked at him, startled. “Thought you and my son were together.”

Raleigh buried the quick pang of hurt those words produced. “Nah, we were just having fun, nothing serious.”

Herc’s eyes narrowed. “And where are you going?”

“Like I said in my email, back to Anchorage,” Raleigh replied. “Got a job waiting.”

“Thought you were going to stick around, help with the reorganization.”

“Sorry, Marshal, but you can’t match what I was offered,” Raleigh said apologetically. “Need to be moving on, now that the kaiju aren’t a threat.”

“Damn it, Raleigh, I know my son’s an asshole, but –”

“This isn’t all about him,” Raleigh interrupted. “Yeah, he’s a reason, but he’s not the only one. I need to think about the rest of my life, not just live in the moment. Didn’t you read my email?”

Herc studied him a moment, blue eyes assessing him before he sighed. “Yeah, I did. I can’t convince you to stay?”

Raleigh shook his head. “Sorry,” he said again.

“Then don’t be a stranger,” Herc said, and pulled Raleigh into a hug, somehow managing it despite the duffel bags Raleigh had slung on each shoulder. Relying on the pickpocket’s skill he’d developed as a fifteen-year-old and honed in five years of living without PPDC support, Raleigh quickly stuffed his PPDC-issue phone into one of Herc’s open vest pockets, hoping the older man wouldn’t notice. “You need anything, you call me, yeah?”

Raleigh nodded. “Thanks, Marshal.”

“Told you before, it’s Herc,” Herc corrected, but he stepped back and shook Raleigh’s hand.

Raleigh half-smiled at that, but turned before his composure could fail him and headed briskly towards the waiting helicopter.

Twenty-four hours later, the jumphawk landed in Anchorage. Raleigh thanked the pilot, and then walked through the terminal, fully aware of the fact that he had lied about having a job waiting. He just wanted to disappear; he’d done it once and thought he could do it again. Unconsciously, his hand went to his stomach. He knew it was going to be harder to hide his condition in a few weeks, but the only person who’d know was the one person he knew wouldn’t tell anyone else.

A brunette woman, dressed in an olive green puffy jacket, jeans, and knee-high boots, waited for him in baggage claim. Seeing her, Raleigh relaxed. Jazmine Becket had inherited their mother’s brunette hair and blue-green eyes, and while her height and frame matched her brother’s, she had a more delicate porcelain doll look to her facial features. She was ten months younger than Raleigh; he and Yancy had waited until she was old enough to be on her own without them before enlisting in the PPDC.

“Hey, Jaz, did you miss me?” Raleigh called out as he drew near.

“Nah,” she drawled, a smile tugging at the edges of her mouth. “Only on alternate Tuesdays. Congrats on saving the world, bro.”

Raleigh grinned at that, and fell in step next to her as she headed for the parking garage. “Thanks. How’s work?”

“Eh, it’s work,” Jazmine said carelessly. “More than some people got and it pays the bills. Danny’s a good boss, though; he likes the work I do as his assistant and he has a lot of different projects going on. Danny Miller Construction’s one of the few construction companies that didn’t get pulled into supporting the Wall; Danny said he wanted to be the guy that didn’t get burned by it.”

“Smart man,” Raleigh said. “Only reason I worked on it was because nobody wanted to hire me.”

“You should’ve asked me,” Jazmine admonished him. “Like I told you.”

“Yeah, well, I was in Sitka with no money,” Raleigh shot back. “And a messed-up head, like I told you when I called you from Sheldon Point.”

Jazmine rolled her eyes; it was an old subject. Both knew if pressed, they’d wind up arguing about it, something neither wanted to do in public. “Since you didn’t ask and I know you’ll need money: I talked to Danny and he said if you wanted to work for him, he’ll hire you if you’re okay being a night security guard.”

“Long as I don’t have to lift anything heavy.”

“Shouldn’t. It’s just patrolling the building, make sure nobody gets in,” she said as they reached a battered, 1990s-era pickup truck; somehow, Jazmine had scored a parking spot close to the terminal. She unlocked the truck while Raleigh dumped his duffels in the truck bed.

“Works for me,” Raleigh told her as they got into the truck.

“I figured. I told Danny you’d come in tomorrow with me, and sign all the paperwork. That way, I can leave you the truck if you wanted to run around.”

“Thanks, Jaz.”

Jazmine started up the truck. Before she backed it out of the parking space, she glanced at Raleigh and said, “You’re welcome. You, uh, need any cash?”

“Nah, I’m good,” Raleigh said. “I just need to run by the bank.”

“We can do that on the way home,” Jazmine assured him. “I took the day off, since you said your flight had a two-hour window on arrival. You want to grab something to eat or do you just want to crash on the couch?”

“Crash; I’ve been up too long.” As he said it, he could feel the press of his exhaustion on his body. He might, if he was lucky, sleep tonight. He still had a small supply of the prescriptions the PPDC doctors had prescribed him for his PTSD, but until he knew whether they were safe for him to take while pregnant, he was going to err on the side of ‘don’t’.

Jazmine nodded and carefully navigated the truck out of the parking space. “My apartment’s a small one-bedroom – more like a studio that someone put walls up around the bed area –  so your choices are my bed or a sleeping bag on the floor.”

“You still hog the covers?”

“Probably,” Jazmine said, shrugging, as she shifted the truck out of reverse. “Did you bring a sleeping bag?”

“Yeah, still have the one I’ve been using while I worked the Wall.”

“Sure you don’t want to help dismantle that thing?” Jazmine asked as she navigated the parking garage’s winding exit lane. “You know the UN’s announced they’re funding that.”

Raleigh shook his head. “Can’t risk it.” He took a breath and exhaled slowly. “I’m nine weeks pregnant.”

Jazmine sighed as if she’d expected to hear something of the sort. “Why do all of your visits and phone calls start with some variation of ‘I fucked up?’”

Raleigh burst out a laugh at that. “They do not! I called you after we closed the Breach!”

“Well, that’s the grand exception, isn’t it,” Jazmine mused. After a moment’s thought, she said, “Okay, so not all of them, but still. Of course you’re pregnant. If Mom hadn’t been using those stupid ‘natural vitamins’ while she was pregnant with you, you wouldn’t even have that ability. Thank God someone talked her out of using them when she had me.”

“What do you mean, ‘of course’?”

“Because you’re my idiot brother,” Jazmine said placidly. Unspoken was, “Yancy was the one who made sure we weren’t idiots.”

“I love you too, Jazmine,” Raleigh said dryly.

She shot him a grin. “So who’s the father?”

“Nobody important,” Raleigh lied, and hoped his too-perceptive little sister would take the hint to drop the subject.

“Uh huh,” Jazmine said doubtfully. “But since I don’t want you asking questions about my love life, should I ever have one again, I’m not going to push. You going to keep the baby?”

“Only things I ever wanted to kill were kaiju,” Raleigh said quietly.

Jazmine let out a breath. “Then you’re staying until the baby’s born.”

“I –” Raleigh began to protest.

“If you’re thinking you were just going to stay a month after telling me you’re pregnant, think again, bro. I know you think you’re super capable, but I also know you need medical care. What happens if you get sick?”

Raleigh hated that she was right. “I don’t want to be a bother.”

“No, you’re just going to be my brother,” Jazmine said dryly. “Just don’t ask me to help when you start craving weird shit we can’t get here. Also, please tell me you don’t get nightmares about kaiju.”

Raleigh slanted an incredulous look at her. “You know I’ve got PTSD, Jaz. If I do manage to sleep at all, I’m lucky if I don’t dream of kaiju.”

Mindful of the fact she was driving, Jazmine waited until they were at a light before glancing over at her brother. “Still?”

“Got better drugs to deal with it, but I can’t take them until I know how they affect the baby.”

Jazmine rubbed the back of her neck briefly. “Earplugs for me, then.”

“Look, I know I’m imposing on you a lot,” Raleigh said quickly. “I’ll buy a car by the end of the week. I promise I won’t make you get me anything beyond what you’ve already volunteered.” Jazmine’s insistence on drawing boxes around what she was willing to tolerate had driven him crazy when they were younger; he knew he had to set the rules now before they started fighting again. “And I’ll pay you back for setting up the job by cooking and cleaning. If my nightmares and insomnia get too much for you, I’ll find my own place, but I’d rather not if I can help it.”

Jazmine brightened at that. “Okay,” she agreed readily. “We’ll stop by Fred Meyer then; I burned my skillet and never replaced it.”

Raleigh bit back a groan. “You used to do great omelets.”

“Yeah, well, cooking for one. Easier to use my ration card for a ready-to-eat meal.”

Raleigh said nothing to that; he’d done the same for the better part of five years. “Has rationing been lifted yet?”

“Some stuff still is, but it’s mostly Asian products and rice. You can get vitamin supplements like candy, since California’s farmland’s been nuked so we aren’t getting vegetables like we used to.”

“The Shatterdome was shipping it in from Europe,” Raleigh noted.

“Sure you don’t want go back?” Jazmine asked as she navigated the truck off of the airport access road and onto the highway.

“I can’t, Jaz. It’s too stressful.” He tried not to think about how, for the first time in a long time, he’d felt like he’d come home, and part of that home had been with Chuck. “Not really sure what I could do anyway. I’m not as knowledgeable about the jaeger engineering as Mako or the Hansens. Best I can do there is sit around and try to look like I know what I’m doing, which isn’t much.” Even as he said it, he knew he was going to miss being able to discuss the role of the PPDC now that the Breach was closed, and how Herc was working on getting funding for a new jaeger – both as a just-in-case and as an aid to the Pan-Asian reconstruction efforts.

“Welcome back to Alaska, then, bro. Have you thought of names yet?”

Raleigh stared at her. He’d forgotten how quickly his little sister could shift subjects. “Not really, no.”

“We’ll make a list. Better do it before your hormones get all wacky,” Jazmine said sagely.

“What, hating the fact you grew up with having to remind people your name is different or something?” Raleigh teased her.

Jazmine glared at him briefly before returning her attention to the road, and he laughed. “Trust me, I won’t be naming the baby anything weird.”