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Our lives are not a linear path

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February 27, 2020

 

 

“She doesn't want to stop piloting after the baby's born.” Yancy starts, one night, laying on the top bunk and staring at the cold, metal ceiling. “Knowing her, she'll be back in Chrome Brutus before the kid's even had his first diaper change.” Raleigh's mouth quirks as he bites at the inside of his cheek. He doesn't think he's met a tougher woman than the lady Yancy found himself tangled with, and he thanks his lucky stars that he's not really into them, because holy crap, Denise Jacobs is terrifying. She's only one month along so far, and Raleigh has to stop himself from making an ill-timed Have fun at the New Years Party? joke.

 

“What are you gonna do?” Raleigh instinctively knows what Yancy's gonna do, but he's thinking more on what they're gonna do. They're no longer just brothers; once they step into Gipsy, they become one unit, one solitary figure in a roiling sea, arms raised and ready to fight. What Yancy does, where he goes, Raleigh will follow.

 

“Me? Hell, kid, I just found out three days ago. I don't even know what I'm going to have for breakfast tomorrow, but in 8 months?” Yance goes quiet above him, contemplating; he's counting all the screws and bolts that are holding the ceiling together, something he's always done in an attempt to clear his mind.

 

He has a feeling once the Marshall finds out, he's not going to be terribly happy that one of Brutus's pilots is going to be out of commission for nearly the next year; they can't chance letting Denise drift, not while pregnant. Gipsy and Brawler are going to have to pick up the slack unless they can wrangle up another co-pilot during Denise's leave, but he thinks it's doable.

 

“I guess I'll... be a dad.” He breathes out, as if it's suddenly really hitting him. Realistically, they both know what a bad idea this is. They're Jaeger pilots, not guys with stable jobs and a mortgage, and Denise doesn't exactly have the same stability either, nor is she really the mothering type. She's already made it very clear to them that she's going to be incredibly hands off, which Raleigh takes as This kid is gonna be your problem once she pops it out. Regardless, there must be something stilling her hand if she's decided she's going to go through with the pregnancy rather than terminating it.

 

Still, there are pilots, techs, engineers, all with children. Between the two of them, they can probably raise a kid and make sure he or she reaches adulthood without too much mental trauma. Maybe.

 

Raleigh knows, however, that Yancy would be a great dad. He'd all but raised Raleigh and Jaz when they'd been growing up, parents long gone, and he thinks the three of them turned out... okay. Not great, but Yancy had done his best, and now Jaz was attending some fancy pants college on the east coast while being a decently well adjusted human being, and the two of them were... piloting giant robots and sharing a brain space. Close enough.

 

“And I'll be the much better looking uncle who takes them off your hands for a few hours but sends them back to you on a sugar high.” Yancy leans over the edge of his bunk to throw a pillow at him, but they're both laughing anyway. They're also probably making far too light of it, but right now, what else do they have to look towards?

 

There's a moment, Raleigh thinks while grinning madly, as he snatches up Yancy's pillow and refuses to give it back, where he wonders whether it will look more like Denise, or Yancy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Yancy Becket dies, his last thoughts are a swirl of broken moments, of Raleigh, of Jazmine, of the baby who he's not going to meet, and raise, and watch grow. He dies reaching out, and Raleigh is left, he's left alone, alone in a space meant for two, a part of himself ripped away, leaving a Yancy shaped hole in his soul.

 

A final, random thought – in between his fear, his helplessness, the absolute worry and desperation he's feeling for his brother – a question that he's not even sure which of them had asked from a previous day that seems so far away now, that flutters through the drift before he's torn away is-

 

 

 

do you think it'll be a girl, or a boy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yancy's son is born at a small hospital south of the Anchorage Shatterdome near the tail end of October, squalling as if the world has personally affronted all 7 lbs, 1 oz of him. One of the nurses has to help Raleigh hold him, his left arm still shot to hell as he gently, so gently, carries in the newborn in his right, focusing all of his attention on him.

 

He looks so much like his father! One of the nurses coos at the infant, Yancy's son, while looking at him appreciatively, and Raleigh doesn't have the heart to correct her. Personally, he's never been around babies much, and he doesn't quite understand how anyone can pick features from each parent out of a newborn. Most of the time, he just sees a baby.

 

He can't help but think he's so full of shit, though, looking down at a finally calm, if not scrunched up and pink tinged face. The baby is so Yancy that it's painful, and Raleigh has a hard time keeping his breath steady as he gazes down at him. How did he ever think he'd reach this point in his life?

 

He'd helped Denise out as much as he could have during the previous four months, but considering he'd been in a coma before that for another four months and still had some physical therapy to go, he doesn't know how much it could have helped. He's read as many baby books as he can, put together a crib with one arm in a sling, and been laughed at by some techs who took pity on him and showed him how to properly put a diaper on a watermelon (“It'll be much harder when they're squirming around and have legs, I promise you.”); whether or not Denise is going to be there, he's going to do his best to take care of this kid.

 

Yancy's kid.

 

She still won't look at the baby, hair sweat soaked and plastered to her forehead. Raleigh wants to yell at her, scream at her, look, look at your son, dammit!, but then he remembers that he's not the only one who lost someone that day. Him and Denise, they'd never been close, but there had always been a faint camaraderie there, born out of being pilots and fighting side by side to keep the coast safe. Even her and Yancy, while they hadn't exactly had a whirlwind romance (one could barely call them a couple, at times), there had still be something there, between them; two people caught in opposites ends of a storm, reaching out to one another to stay steady.

 

“Harley.” She intones, without much inflection. Raleigh turns his head away from the baby for the first time since he's sat down with him, a question brimming upon his chapped lips.

 

“His name. It'll be Harley.” She looks at him finally, her eyes listless and far away. “I can't... I can't give him anything else, Raleigh.” Her eyes take on a glassy look, now, and Raleigh supposes he finally understands, and he can't hold on to his animosity towards her anymore.

 

He's been fighting nightmares through the fraction of sleep he does get and insomnia when he doesn't, trying to keep calm through the odd panic attack here and there, and going to physical therapy, not because he wants to (because it would have been so easy to just give up), but because of this moment, when he looks down at the baby, at Harley, and thinks, he needs me.

 

Harley needs him like him and Jaz had needed Yancy when they were children. What else can he do?

 

Days later, papers are signed, lines drawn, and Raleigh eventually leaves the hospital with his nephew in tow – his son, son, a voice whispers to him in the back of his mind, because that's what he is now, a father – gently tucked into a baby carrier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raleigh Becket is 22 years old, newly discharged with a busted arm, a neat little description of PTSD and various other disorders he's probably been diagnosed with on his file, a two month old baby, and truly and utterly at the end of his rope.

 

“Jaz, he won't stop crying.” If Harley won't stop, Raleigh's certain he's going to start crying. He's standing in the cramped living room of his tiny apartment wearing nothing but a pair of boxers, lightly bouncing Harley over his shoulder, tucked against his neck, as the little guy does his best to cry his little lungs out, while also holding a phone to his ear with his left hand. He'd nearly fumbled with it once but he doesn't dare hold Harley with only his left arm, because, yeah, no. There's a junky tv in the corner, a live broadcast of Chrome Brutus and Brawler Yukon facing down some ugly thing with way too many eyes and arms playing on mute.

 

What do you want me to do about it? In case you don't remember, I'm like, 9 hours away.” Now is really not the time for his sister to be snarking at him, jesus christ. Maybe growing up with no one else but two older brothers who were kind of sarcastic assholes a lot of the time hadn't been the best thing for her sense of empathy.

 

“I don't... I don't know what to do.” He could be whining for all he cares, but he's pretty desperate at this point. The sleepless nights he has when Harley does sleep are pure insult to injury, because the baby will always wake up wailing the moment Raleigh barely gets into REM sleep himself. Having a baby around has done wonders for his patience, slowly melting his somewhat hot-headed temper; as frustrated as he gets, he can't help but think, Yancy wouldn't get this way. Yancy had somehow had the patience of a saint, and Raleigh wishes he'd inherited some of that.

 

Of course, Yancy's dead and Raleigh's left with probable brain damage and a baby that won't stop crying, so that's a moot point by now.

 

And I would? Bro, just because I have tits doesn't mean I know anything about babies. Have you tried, uh, feeding and changing him?” He makes a face at the tv because Jaz isn't there for him to frown at, while Harley just lets out a fantastically loud cry just then, his tiny voice hoarse enough that Raleigh wonders why he can't just stop.

 

“I already did, checked his diaper twice, he won't eat...” Maybe it's the utter hopelessness in his voice over the phone, because his sister's tone softens, coming through the speaker tinny but sympathetic.

 

Rals, babies just... cry sometimes, you know?” To be fair, Jaz sounds just as equally lost on the other end, and that only makes him feel slightly better about his own incompetence.

 

“Sometimes I just feel like crying,” he mutters into the receiver, turning to the television for a momentary reprieve. Harley has, magically, stopped with his loud sobbing, something which Raleigh is going to treasure for however many seconds it lasts for; the baby hiccups over his shoulder, and Raleigh murmurs some reassuring words to him as he focuses on the tv, eyes following the words running across the bottom of the screen.

 

Raleigh, tell you what; I'm gonna take some time off and come help you out a bit, yeah? How does that sound?” The relief he feels is nearly palpable; even if Jaz is only around for a short while, he needs some sleep.

 

“That sounds... great....” He trails off as his insomnia addled brain finally catches up with what he's reading, with what he's seeing on the screen; Chrome Brutus is little more than a pile of scrap, the conn-pod crumpled like aluminum foil.

 

-...Kaiju threat neutralized by Brawler Yukon; among the confirmed casualties are Chrome Brutus's pilots, Denise Jacobs and Karen Willas...-

 

The phone slips from his hand and clatters onto the floor noisily as he tries to steady his breathing, his hand reaching up to support the back of Harley's head; whether it's to comfort the baby or himself, he doesn't know. He can still hear Jaz's voice, sounding so far away, from the phone on the floor; he doesn't trust himself to go and pick it, instead seating himself on the small couch against the wall, Harley held close to him.

 

Raleigh? You there?”

 

He presses a shaky kiss to Harley's forehead, his downy hair and feather light. Amazingly, Harley hasn't started crying again, which, right now, is a fucking godsend. Even with Jaz yelling at the other end of the phone, he can't stop the thoughts racing through his head. Despite what Denise had told him at the hospital, she'd still sent him some money to care for Harley, still sent some toys and nicknacks for the baby. In her own way, she'd still wanted to be a part of his life, albeit a far away figure in the distance.

 

I'm sorry, I'm sorry you'll never know your dad, or your mom. I'm sorry all you have is a fuck up like me, I'm so sorry.

 

Harley whimpers into his shoulder, blue eyes watery with unshed tears, and Raleigh Becket once again finds himself thrown clear off his own feet, feeling completely and utterly lost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Rals, this kid is like, 100% you and Yance, all the way.” Jaz's hair is a nice, if now faded and somewhat obnoxious shade of pink, but he can see the roots and note exactly when she'd stopped up-keeping it. Probably when he'd told her about Harley, he thinks privately.

 

Harley's gussied up in some ridiculously adorable animal themed onesie (it's yellow, and has floppy ears attached to a loose hoodie; he suspects it has something to do with the fact that Yance used to call him a “golden retriever, always trying so hard to please”, when they'd been kids) that Jaz had brought with her, along with a disgusting amount of baby clothes for babies between the ages of 4 and 18 months. Raleigh's never seen so much clothing in his life, his bed now completely overtaken by brightly colored fabric, blankets, and toys. He doesn't even want to ask how she'd paid for all of it. Probably through threats.

 

“How can he be 100% of the both of us?” He says wryly, barely even flinching at the mention of their older brother now; as much as it hurts, he can't lose his mind every time he looks at Harley just because he's so thoroughly reminded on himself and Yancy as children. Jaz sticks her tongue out at him, trying to get Harley to imitate her; he's not terribly big for a baby his age, but he can now sit and hold his head up, sort of, so Raleigh still has him seated in his baby carrier.

 

Harley just drools happily, reaching out with chubby starfish fingers to grab at Raleigh; he's beyond the point of getting embarrassed by the fact that he pulls out a tissue to wipe it away like a bad habit now.

 

“He can be 100% whatever he wants, goddamnit.” He doesn't have it in him right now to snipe no cursing in front of the baby at her, because god, why not just turn him into a middle-aged housewife already?

 

Still, he's almost deliriously happy that she's here now; Jaz had decided to postpone her last year of schooling to come and help him out, at least until he got back on his own two feet, even though Raleigh had argued against her for doing it (one of them had to finish college, after all), and he'd probably be worshipping the ground she walked on for a while. Or at least until she stopped teasing him about it.

 

“I will take care of the shopping. I'm not gonna touch a diaper as long as I live, I'm gonna wear ear plugs the moment it's my nap time, and I don't do feeding time. If he ever calls me 'mama' my first task will be to make sure you can't create any spawn of your own; I'm gonna be super cool auntie Jaz, got that?” She'd announced when she'd first shown up, nearly breaking down his door because she wanted to get a glimpse of her precious, adorable nephew (her words, not his).

 

“Come on, what about all those maternal instincts? I'm sure buried somewhere deep in your cold, black heart there's gotta be something that'll tell you 'how to baby'.” She gave him a crooked look at that, before gently poking at Harley's tiny little toes, inciting a pleased laugh.

 

“You and I both know that Yance inherited all of those.”

 

And that had been the end of that conversation.

 

 

 

 

 

Harley's first words, incidentally, are not 'mama'.

 

Jaz's surprised shout from the living room has Raleigh shooting up from the bed where he'd been taking a short (so, so short) nap, rushing to where Jaz and Harley are. His head is filled with thoughts racing back and forth, panic plain on his face.

 

“What? What? What happened?” Jaz looks at him, an excited grin painted on her face, pointing at Harley with a camera, who's sitting up and waving some Jaeger plushie Jaz had appropriated for him out of nowhere, because Raleigh definitely doesn't remember buying it. Her hair had faded enough where she'd just dyed it brown, but the roots are still showing and she hadn't done a great job at it, showing just how tired she was as well from all this baby wrangling. 

 

“He talked!” His worry slowly dissipates, letting his head fall with a bodily thunk. It would be like his sister to jump the gun like that. The baby babbles as he's wont to do nowadays, but it's all just baby gibberish, right?

 

“Jaz, he's been babbling for like, three weeks. I don't think he's quite up to talking yet.” Harley's 6 and a half months old, and Raleigh's done his research, but he doesn't think the kid will be talking for a while. He can barely sit up straight up without falling over, though he's at least able to support his own head and crawl now.

 

“Shows what you know, Mr. I know everything about babies. Harles, look, it's daddy!” She has the camera lifted up again, either already recording or taking photos; Jaz had decided the moment she'd gotten there that she'd document every moment of Harley's life with the tenacity of a woman on a mission, and while Raleigh was kind of annoyed at all the picture taking (there's more than a few of him shirtless with Harley sleeping on his chest; he's pretty certain Jaz has been selling them to the 16 year old girls who live down the hall for free baby sitting duty), he'd be lying if he wasn't also grateful for it. He's got a few photos of Denise and several of Yancy on display all around the tiny apartment; even if they're gone (and his heart tightens at the thought, because it's been over four months since Denise, over a year since Yancy...), he refuses for Harley to grow up without knowing who they had been, that they had existed.

 

Harley looks up when Jaz calls his name, and looks at where she's pointing, at Raleigh in the doorway, and his expression morphs from the slight and adorable furrowed brows to absolute glee, and he starts waving around the stuffed jaeger in Raleigh's direction; offhandedly, he thinks it's Horizon Brave, from the bulbous cryo cannons and the dull yellow color, and sends off a silent apology to it's pilots for allowing Harley to drool all over it. He's forbid Jaz from pulling out anything Gipsy Danger related for his own reasons, mostly being that he's not sure he can even talk about it himself, and seeing Harley, who looks so much like the both of them, playing with a Gipsy doll... He'll explain it to Harley when he's old enough to understand. Or at least that's what he tells himself.

 

“Da.” That gets Raleigh's attention, but Harley's just babbling it, repeating sounds he hears, it's not like there's meaning behind it-

 

“Da da.” Harley says, says, more firmly, shaking poor Horizon Brave harder now, as if he wants Raleigh to come over there right now. Raleigh obliges, scrambling over to where Harley's cushioned against an estimated billion plushies, varying from stuffed Jaegers to animals and other weird things Jaz had picked up in her spare time.

 

Raleigh crawls in front of him on all fours, close enough now that Harley seems pleased, and the baby giggles, a soft, sweet sound that melts Raleigh's heart, pooling at the bottom of his ribcage.

 

“He was looking for you, and then he said it, and I mean, at first I thought he was just repeating words, you know?” Jaz sounds far away now, because Raleigh's universe has narrowed down to the baby in front of him, and he smiles when Harley reaches out for him, one chubby hand managed to grab at his nose.

 

“Come on, Harles, say it – say 'daddy'.” He knows Jaz is readying her camera again, but he can't find it in himself to care, a wide grin threatening to split his face in two.

 

“Da da!” Harley shrieks with laughter again, louder, and Raleigh moves forward, snatching Harley up and blowing a light raspberry onto the giggling child's belly, a murmured litany of I love you I love you I love you leaving his lips. Jaz looks on fondly as Raleigh picks him after that, plushie Brave dropped to the floor, forgotten now that daddy's within grabbing distance.

 

“That's my boy.” Raleigh says tenderly, love in his eyes; he cradles him with his good arm, peppering kisses on his son's forehead as Harley grabs at his shirt and titters with more childish laughter, his eyes closed but his mouth opened with a toothless smile. For this moment, Raleigh can push aside everything else for the time being, can let go of his sorrow and his grief, for this.

 

For his son.