It’s not like Raleigh had intended to lose track of his sister or that he never wanted to call her. He just…had no good excuse, really. The PPDC had paid for her to show up at the funeral, but she’d been such an emotional wreck that he’d wound up being alone at the grave while she’d stayed behind in her seat. It had been such an effort for Raleigh to be the strong one for her then, and he admitted to himself now that doing so had made him resent her. He’d intended to just not talk to her until he could talk to her without falling apart, but somehow the time passed and he got caught up in just surviving.
It wasn’t as if Jazmine didn’t know he was horrible at staying in touch, either; Yancy had been the one to initiate the calls with Jazmine, concerned as he was about how she was doing in school without him and Raleigh to be right there to run interference with the bullies. It was easier to stay hidden and lost in his grief, Raleigh told himself. Before he’d quite known how it happened, a year had gone by. He’d tried Jazmine’s cell number then and found it disconnected. He tried again two months later, after trading a pack of cigarettes he’d won in poker for the use of someone’s cell phone and got voicemail. He hadn’t known quite what to say then; the words had died in his throat. In the end, he’d said nothing. As the weeks and months passed, he told himself it was easier this way; he didn’t have much money and he knew Jaz had never had much, either, even with him and Yancy sending her money so she wouldn’t have to worry about depending on their aunt.
In hindsight, he supposed he should’ve called his sister as soon as the medics had cleared him after Operation Pitfall. Mako had suggested it, pointing out that the PPDC had kept records of all jaeger pilots and their families for benefits purposes, but he had chickened out (he never saw himself as brave; just desperate to prove he was still worthy of being called a jaeger pilot) and hadn’t. Of course, Mako would’ve done it for him; she’d been in his head after all. Somehow, Raleigh wasn’t surprised to learn that Mako arranged it so they’d meet up with Jazmine on a post-Pitfall victory tour stop, bringing his sister to the hotel where they were staying, and thereby forcing him to at least have a conversation with her.
Raleigh looked at his little sister (not so little, a voice in his head reminded him) and saw again how she now matched him in height. She’d let her blonde hair grow out past her shoulders. Like Raleigh, she had a broad build and striking features. She’d been an accidental pregnancy, born just nine months after Raleigh. For a moment, his memory flashed to the last time he’d talked to her, two nights after Yancy’s funeral. She’d been crying, and trying to get him to stay, and he’d been at a loss for words, crippled by his own grief. Looking at her now, so composed and elegant, like she’d dreamed of being, Raleigh felt shame at his actions. He wasn’t the only one who’d lost a brother.
“I’m sorry, Jaz. I should’ve called you, tried better to stay in touch.”
“Sorry? You couldn’t even text me? You, who shoplifted so we could eat after that asshole of our father left? Did you lose your brains out there on that Wall?”
“Maybe,” he admitted. “You know Yancy was always the smarter one.”
Jazmine harrumphed and crossed her arms, holding a grudge as only a younger sibling could. She held that pose long enough to make Raleigh wonder if she was truly that upset, then broke. “Come here and hug me, you idiot. I’ve missed you.”
Grinning, Raleigh opened his arms and stepped closer so he could hug her tight. “Missed you, kid.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jazmine waved him off verbally, but her arms tightened on him. “Don’t do that to me again. I lost one brother and then it felt like I lost both of you.” She sniffled. “But I got you back and you did what you said you were going to do, so I guess I can forgive you.”
Raleigh’s eyes widened, then he shook his head slowly. “Jazzy, you’re something else.”
Jazmine met his gaze and lifted her chin. “Of course. I’m a Becket.”
Laughing, aware that meant she’d likely remind him of his mistake for years to come unless he did stay in touch, Raleigh pulled her a little closer. “That you are.” He stepped back, grateful that his copilot had taken the initiative to set up the meeting. “You grew up pretty. You beating anyone off with sticks?”
Jazmine’s lips curved. “Only the ones who don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, just like you and Yancy taught me. What about you?”
“Been a little busy, Jaz, saving the world and all that.”
Jazmine chuckled. “Oh, give it time,” she said breezily. “I’m sure you’ll find someone. You always did before.” She paused and wrinkled her nose. “And here I thought you might have a crush on Mako.”
“You and everyone else,” Raleigh said ruefully. “Drift compatibility does not equate sexual compatibility.”
“Oh,” Jazmine said, disappointed. “So that’s not a thing?”
“Maybe for some of the pilots, but not for me. Told you that before, Jaz. So what are you doing in Seattle?”
“You know Yancy had survivor benefits?”
“Since you refused them, they went to me. I used some of the money on grief counseling and then looked at what I was doing – which was a whole lot of nothing – and decided I’d use the money to study nursing. Figured I was better off not doing it in Alaska, given how every time I looked around, I saw you and Yancy.” Her face was wry with the knowledge. “So I knew a guy who knew a guy, and well, I’m now working at one of the hospitals here.”
“And the guy?”
“Long gone. Apparently he couldn’t handle being with the sister of a famous jaeger pilot, whatever the hell that means. He was all like, ‘invasion of privacy’ and ‘human experimentation’ and ‘civil rights violations up the wazoo.’” Jazmine made a face. “Like climbing into a conn-pod and agreeing to Drift with someone is an involuntary exercise. I don’t know where he was getting his info.”
“Probably one of those sites where they advocated crap like that,” Raleigh replied. “From some of the questions we’re getting asked on this press tour, I’m getting the sense that people think I’m more damaged than I am.”
“And you’re not?”
“Migraines and an inability to stare at a computer screen without getting a headache is a small price to pay for what I did,” Raleigh shot back. “As for the rest – I’m not dead, I’m not going to die of radiation poisoning, and I can deal with maybe forgetting a few details now and then.”
Jazmine looked at him. “I’ll make sure to call you at the same time every week, then. If I leave it to you, you’ll never remember.” She paused. “And for the record: why the hell did you pilot solo again?”
“Because the alternative was not something I wanted,” Raleigh said softly. “And if I was going to die doing it, at least I did it in the same jaeger as….” He swallowed hard and looked at his sister. “I think I heard him, right at the end. I don’t remember pulling the escape pod switch.”
Jazmine smiled crookedly. “I’m sure he helped. It would be his thing to haunt Gipsy, waiting for you to come back.” Tactfully, she changed the subject. “So how long do you have with me before you need to rush off?”
Raleigh checked his watch. “Not sure, but I know we don’t have anything scheduled today. Did you want to grab lunch?”
“Sure. Oh – do we need to worry about paparazzi and security?”
“Yeah. Do you have a place in mind or are you okay with room service?”
“Room service is fine if it means you don’t have to censor what you say to me. Hey, why don’t you see if Mako is free? And are the Hansens with you?”
“Yes, but I’ll warn you – Chuck is pretty self-conscious about his injuries.”
“Not like I haven’t seen the pictures already,” Jazmine said with a shrug. “He’s lucky to be alive, given what they’ve said. I’ve seen worse injuries in the ER than two broken legs.”
Raleigh nodded wryly and reached for his phone to text the others. He knew it be an effort to stay in touch with his sister, but he knew, too, that living without her in his life had been far worse.