ultracosmicrays: (the riviera)
[personal profile] ultracosmicrays
Cosmic!Rays AU, Part 10 (with thanks to one or both of the Pauls for a couple of lines of dialogue - ah, homage, where would we be without you?)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9



"Okay," said Frannie. "I can give you the long version or the short one."

"Short," said Vecchio.

"Yank it out, stick the new one in."

"Little bit longer, maybe."

Ray heard a definite snort from Frannie before she began to explain how to replace the external power relay in a manner that suggested she was speaking to a small, not particularly bright, child.

"...And then you connect the load connection to the NC connection. Easy. Want to repeat it back."

"Yank it out, stick the new one in," said Ray before Vecchio could tell her where to shove her repeat.

"I've isolated the power circuit and switched it off, so you shouldn't fry yourselves or anything. Tell me when it needs to go back on. If I don't hear you, just shout; it's going to get noisy in here for a while."

The two men looked at each other.

"We can do this," said Ray, not sure if he was asking a question or making a statement.

"We hope," said Vecchio, extracting pliers from the toolbox and placing them in Ray's hand. "All yours, Doctor Kowalski."

"The technical term for this operation is 'yank it out'. Watch and learn, Vecchio. Watch and learn."

"Consider me in awe," said Vecchio. "And not at all scheming to put the blame on you should this not work out."

"Classy."

"Always."

Ray felt Vecchio watching him as he worked. Determined not to show himself up, he wielded the pliers like a pro, only just stopping himself short of twizzling the tool and holstering it. What a dork.

"You're a natural." Vecchio slipped his hand under the wires and tried to shift the relay. Nothing doing. "You done stuff like this before?"

Ray added his strength to Vecchio's. Hanging on tight, they attacked the ex-relay.

"I got around."

"Yeah?"

It was an invitation, Ray knew. Vecchio had opened up a little; let Ray see parts of him he usually kept well-hidden behind a prickly wall that was two parts sarcasm to one part bluster. Ray should return the favor. Wanted to. But some things, he wasn't sure how he should say them. Or if he could.

"This isn't working," he said, stilling his hand.

Vecchio stilled too, gave him a funny look. He did realize Ray was talking about the relay, right?

"Let's try something different. Hand me that chisel."

"Yes, Doctor."

"Okay, I'm gonna need two hands here. Flying off into space each time I hit the thing I do not need. So here's what we're gonna do ..."

When Ray finished, Vecchio just stared at him.

"You think of a better way?" Ray challenged.

"No," said Vecchio and began to move.

He swung behind Ray and pulled in close. He reached round to the front of Ray's belt and Ray felt the cable krab slide around to the back and then a hand on his back as Vecchio connected the two krabs together so that they were as closely linked as possible. No give. If one went, the other went.

"Ready to brace?"

"No."

Good to know Vecchio was on board.

Ray felt Vecchio's legs cradling his own, lifting towards the surface of Riviera.

"I feel like a hammock," muttered Vecchio.

"Hammocks don't wriggle."

"Do the job already."

Okay, so Vecchio had a point. This was weird. He was practically lying on the guy and despite the fact that at no point were their actual bodies touching it was weirdly intimate. It had been a long time since Ray had been this close to someone. He reached for the hammer.

"Here we go."

Ray struck the chisel with the hammer and could feel the resistant force trying to push him out into space. But Vecchio's body was behind him, hands and feet bracing against the ship and he wasn't going to let Ray go anywhere.

For a while there it looked like the relay wasn't going to budge, no matter how hard Ray hammered. But eventually it pinged out and flew off into the black. Ray wasn't sorry to see it go. Vecchio cheered and then let his feet drop, Ray floating back down with him. He felt, rather than heard, the disconnect and then Vecchio's arm was sliding back around front.

"You're breathing kinda hard there, Kowalski." Vecchio's voice was teasing.

"It was a classic battle. Man versus relay. Someone will write a song about it."

"Whatever. Just don't use up all your oxygen. We're only halfway there."

Vecchio appeared in front of him again. He peered into the box.

"I declare Operation Yank It Out a success," he said. "How about we move on to Operation Stick It In?"

About a thousand dirty jokes ran through Ray's head at that moment. He couldn't pick and then it was too late – the moment had passed.

"Ground terminal first, yeah?" asked Vecchio as he placed the relay in the box.

Ray nodded and they got to work. Somewhere along the way Ray found himself humming a tune; it was a cheerful little ditty about ice and snow and hunger and cold. One of the songs Fraser used to sing. 'To keep the spirits up,' he always said. Ray was never sure if he was serious. The only spirits that would be kept up were those that couldn't sleep what with all the singing about death and woe, Ray had replied. That got him a cryptic smile. Ray missed that smile. And all the others.

"What the hell is that? Is that supposed to be a tune or has a fly come to life in your helmet?"

And just like that, Ray realized that he was sick of carrying this whole thing by himself. Tired of waking up sad and frustrated and angry. Always angry. And maybe it was better Vecchio knew the truth about him, give him a chance to cut and run before they got to be buddies. Although maybe it was too late for that.

"My last partner, he used to sing it. Whatever life vomited up at us, he had a song to match. Most of them involved ice at some point. Ice was his thing. He liked ice." Ray didn't even try to keep the affection out of his voice. He hoped Vecchio would ask the question.

"What happened, if you don't mind me asking? Frannie told me ... well, she told me. If you don't want to-"

"Nah, it's okay." Oddly, Vecchio giving him a get-out just made him want to talk more. He started to connect the live wire to the V terminal.

"I ship-hopped off-world soon as I could. Mom always said my feet were too itchy to stay on the ground. I was all 'ooh space' and skill-free back then which wasn't going to get me far or fed. So I picked stuff up, did a little this, did a little that. Bobbed, weaved. Bobbed and weaved. Even weaved and bobbed sometimes. It was a whole bunch of fun until it wasn't."

Ray moved on to connect the temperature sensors.

"Some bad shit happened and I wound up on Europa. Broke, hungry and cold enough to cause a full-scale retreat if you know what I mean. And then I stumbled into Fraser. I mean I actually stumbled into him. Wasn't looking where I was going and ended up on my ass. He was all polite and 'can I help you, sir?' and I was trying to hustle him, get some money for a meal and a bed. How was I supposed to know the guy had this crazy helping complex? Ended up back at his place, belly full of stew, snoozing on the couch with a big lump of fur called Dief cutting off the circulation in my feet. Power, Frannie!"

*

Frannie counted to three before replying. That way they wouldn't know she'd been listening in. She could do subterranean with the best of them.

"It's coming. You guys doing okay out there?"

"We'll see when the power comes back on, won't we?"

"Turns out Kowalski's nifty with a pair of pliers. Who knew?"

Frannie was sure Kowalski was nifty with a lot of things. She flipped a couple of switches.

"You're on. Be careful, I don't want you frying the circuit."

"Pump seal replaced yet?"

"Good as new. Better even."

Looking down at her filthy nails, Frannie wondered whether she should get cleaned up. But then she'd miss out on hearing about Kowalski's past and if she was working towards breaking Ray's rules regarding fratricide on the ship that was something she needed to hear. She decided to clean her tools instead. Settling down, she grasped her wrench and a rag and began to wipe the metal in smooth, long strokes.

"Mid setpoint, low setpoint, high setpoint. That right?"

At Kowalski's voice, Frannie stroked a little faster.

"Uhuh. I'll be here if you need anything. Anything at all."

Really. Anything at all.

Frannie listened.

*

Ray attached the voltmeter and started to adjust the setpoints.

"Where was I? Oh yeah. With all that no-eating and being inappropriately dressed for the climate, Ray I got sick. Big shock. The green-stuff-hacking, sweating-when-you're-cold, hallucinating-giant- robots-who-call-you-Bob kind of sick. It was pretty gross. Fraser took care of me. He was a stand-up guy. So it made sense when he said he was in law enforcement. Me, I'd been on the wrong side of the law more times than I could count but I figured if this guy was working on the right side then there might just be something to it."

He switched the connections over.

"The first time he suggested I work with him I nearly died laughing. Literally. Forgot how my lungs were still full of crap. But he worked on me, kept telling me I had a sense of natural justice, though how the hell he worked that one out I don't know. I gave in in the end. I mean, I was eating his food, using his heat, drinking his disgusting herbal medicines. I owed the guy. Had to do some basic training and then we were partners."

Ray moved on to the final setpoint.

"I had a blast. He showed me all this survival stuff and we'd spend weeks out on the ice, tracking down a murderer here, a rapist there. Even picked up one of the Shan family one time."

Ray didn't need to look to know that Vecchio was impressed. He took a deep breath; this was getting to the hard part.

"Thing was ... Fraser was special. Sure he was stubborn and manipulative and snippy as hell, but he was also kind and loyal, thoughtful and smarter than anyone I'd ever met." Ray breathed deep again. Have to watch out for that oxygen.

"And hot. So very hot." he finished in a rush. He didn't wait for a reply. "Frannie, I'm connecting the switch to the COM, right?"

There was no response but Ray heard a crash and what sounded like a muffled scream.

"Frannie? You okay?"

There was a pause.

"Yes." Frannie's voice sounded a little odd. "My wrench slipped, that's all. I was busy doing something with my wrench and it slipped. I may have – I mean it may have – broken something. What did you want?"

"Switch. COM. Yes? No?"

"Yes."

"You sure you're okay?"

"Yes, Ray. Now if you'll excuse me, I have things to do."

Ray looked up to exchange a 'your sister, she crazy' glance with Vecchio but what he got was an intense stare that was like a punch to the stomach.

"You fell in love with the guy," said Vecchio. It wasn't an accusation, just a statement of fact. At least he hadn't unclipped the cable and sent Ray spinning into space.

"Yeah. It was pretty hard not to. I didn't say anything – who wants to get shot down? – but after a while I thought maybe it wasn't just me. So I kissed him. Dumbest decision I ever made."

"He tell you to beat it?"

"No. He kissed me back."

Ray couldn't look at Vecchio any more. He got on with the job.

"So what was the problem?"

"We were after this guy, went by the name of Volpe. Not his real name, no one knew what his mother had called him. Dangerous bastard, linked to the Shan family. He was wanted for all kinds – arms dealing, murder, extortion. We had a good lead so we were camped out on an ice-plateau not far from his last known hiding place. It was night; no one in their right mind would have been out unless they were willing to have an ice statue made out of their body. It was snowing. It was quiet. I was edgy. I kissed him."

Ray made the final connection and signaled Vecchio to help him put the lid down. Vecchio got to work with the screwdriver, Ray placing screws for him one at a time.

"He kissed me. Let's just say things snowballed from there."

Vecchio huffed a laugh and a knot in Ray's stomach eased the tiniest fraction.

"We were ... not careful. No one in their right mind would have been out but Volpe, he was not in his right mind. Not in any kind of mind." Ray rolled the rhyme around in his brain for a second. This was like vomiting your guts up after a night on the bottle but he didn't know if it was going to be the kind where you felt better afterwards or just wanted to keep throwing up until you were wearing your insides on the outside.

"So there we are, two grown men behaving like rutting animals and Fraser's on top of me telling me stuff that I didn't think anyone would ever say and then there's this dark shadow behind him and that sound – phhhhhhht – and Fraser slumps down and he's twitching on me and there's the noise again and this time I see the shot and I know I'm gonna get it only there's a blur of white and a yelp and then I'm alone in the tent because Fraser and Dief are gone. They're gone. Dead. And. Gone."

Ray cursed the pressure suit because he didn't know what to do with his hands. He wanted to shove them in his pockets, run them through his hair, anything to stop them trembling at the memory. Vecchio reached for the next screw himself.

"What happened after that, it wasn't pretty. I tried to track Volpe down but he disappeared – poof – and I couldn't get anyone to talk to me. I lost it for a while. I lost it for a long time and then one day I woke up and I was almost back to where I'd been when Fraser found me. Guy saved my life, I got him killed and now I was pissing away the life he saved. That's disrespectful. I cleaned myself up and got myself across to the COPS recruitment office. And here I am and I swear, Vecchio, I'm gonna find him. I'm going to send him to Punishment with a song in my heart and a kick in the head."

"Is that all you're here for? Revenge?"

"Hey, I'll do my job. I'll do it right. But if he comes my way I'm not letting him go again. Okay?"

"Okay." Vecchio patted the box. "I'm done here. Let's go."

Neither man spoke as they made their way back to the airlock. The second the door was sealed Ray pulled off his helmet, and breathed a sigh of relief at the freedom. Vecchio followed suit. Ray tried to read him, but failed.

"So, you know, with the thing. Are we still ...?"

"Yeah, we're still." Vecchio pressed the Com on the wall and called Ian and Frannie to come and help them. He opened the internal door.

"Falling in love with your partner's a dumb thing to do, huh?" And now Ray was pushing it. Why couldn't he keep his damn mouth shut?

"And yet we still do it," said Vecchio, stepping into his cabin without looking back.

Ray saw dark hair and blue eyes flashing with life. And yet we still do.






Part 11
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ultracosmicrays

August 2007

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