Zuko

Aug. 20th, 2007 06:59 pm
ultracosmicrays: (the riviera)
[personal profile] ultracosmicrays
Cosmic!Rays AU, Part 16, this one's probably an R for sexual violence, sort of. Tell me if I'm being too harsh.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15



The kid had told Frannie as much as he knew, including his own name, and they'd left him to sleep. Once he'd convinced the other kid that Davey had talked, Ray'd had no problems confirming the story. He had a contact, a place and a time. They couldn't move now. By the time Davey spilled his guts it was already dark. Nuorlayon Port was on lockdown after SOL-set, a precautionary measure in place across all the major ports of the System. The Contingency were not great risk takers. They would have to wait until morning.

Ian had cooked dinner and they'd eaten a quiet meal, Vecchio conspicuous by his absence. Frannie had taken his food downstairs but he hadn't answered so she'd left the containers outside the door. She'd pushed her own food around her plate and hadn't said much. For once Ray had been grateful for Ian's nonstop chatter.

After they'd cleared away and made sure the prisoners were settled for the night there were no excuses left. Ray had to find out what was going on whether the Vecchios liked it or not. Someone had to do their job.

"You wanna tell me about this Zuko guy?" asked Ray, lounging on a bench, bouncing his knees up and down.

"Not really, no," said Frannie, both hands wrapped around a hot cup.

"Zuko? Why are we talking about Zuko?" Ian lifted his head from the Slab he was reading and looked at Frannie. Ray couldn't quite figure the expression in his eyes. What was going on here?

"He's the contact for the prisoners. They gave him up."

"Zuko? Seriously? But he's not a terrorist. He's a criminal, for sure, illegal fingers in illegal pies all over the place, but a terrorist? There's nothing in it for him. Terrorists fight for a cause. The only cause Zuko has is himself."

"You know him?"

"I know about him. I know that he's more slippery than a stove-eel that's been coated in engine lubricant. If you manage to catch him he wriggles out of every charge. Shares representation with the Shans."

"What's that got to do with Vecchio? He pissed that he can't keep hold of him?"

Ian and Frannie exchanged another look.

"It's Ray's story," said Ian. "You'll have to ask him."

"Maybe I will."

"I'm going to bed." Frannie stood abruptly. "Do we have a plan for tomorrow?"

"Way I see it, we take the ship to Nuorlayon. Me and Vecchio we go track down Zuko. You and Ian dock with the CourtShip and transfer the prisoners then come back and pick us up when we're done. Sound okay to you?"

Frannie shrugged.

"You'll have to check with Ray, but yes, fine. Whatever. See you in the morning."

Before she could make it as far as the ladder, Ian had leapt up and grabbed her in a big hug. He murmured something in her ear and she nodded against his shoulder, lips set in a tight line. Ian let her go and turned towards Ray.

"Shoot some hoops? I'm too wired for bed."

This whole thing was weird. Ray knew he should go talk to Vecchio but for some reason he balked at the idea.

"Sure. Let's play ball."

Ian lifted up a piece of seating and retrieved the ball from a storage cabinet.

"Speaking of bed, what happened to you last night? One minute I was telling you about the time I was asked to become a flight tutor despite having only been at the academy for two weeks and the next you were gone."

And now Ray remembered exactly why he was reluctant to visit Vecchio in his cabin. He needed his mind on the job and there were certain unruly parts of him that were likely to cause a distraction. Stupid unruly parts.

"Come on," he said, snatching the ball from Ian's grasp and bouncing it across the rec room to where the hoop was attached to the edge of the gym platform. He shot and scored. Raising his arms and grinning he caught the ball on the second bounce and passed it off to Ian.

"Insert trash talk here," he said. "I'm not wasting words on someone who'd going to LOSE so hard."

Ian bounced the ball around him in a circle while Ray danced in front, blocking him.

"Did I ever tell you about the time I won the one on one record in the Junior section back in school by thirty points? No? I have now."

"In your dreams, MacDonald," said Ray but Ian had already dodged past him and slammed the ball through the hoop. Ray collected the ball, looking impressed.

"Would this be one of the times you're not lying?" he asked.

Ian smiled enigmatically.

"You'll never know."

*

The game left Ray buzzing despite his heavy defeat and after a quick shower he was ready to face Vecchio. He had mastery over all his parts, ruly and unruly; he had a job to do. Besides, it was that or get into bed with Ian which was an even worse idea than yesterday seeing as how he'd now have victory-crowing to add to Ian's Epic Adventures.

"Don't wait up," he told Ian and went next door.

There were empty containers outside Vecchio's cabin which if Ray looked at it one way was a good sign, he'd eaten so it couldn't be that bad, or if he looked at it the other way was a bad sign, the guy wasn't in the mood for visitors. Tough shit. Ray knocked and then entered without waiting for a reply.

The light was on but Vecchio was hunched under the cover, back to the door, sleeping. Or at least that's what he wanted Ray to believe. Ray wasn't buying. He decided to go with the subtle approach.

"Who the hell is Zuko and why's he got you all bent out of shape?"

"Fuck off, Kowalski."

Ray shut the door behind him and went to sit on the bed. He pulled the cover off Vecchio's head.

"Nah. You're going to have to up the threat level a little. Maybe stretch out the eff nice and long. Put some venom into it. But I'm warning you, it's been a long time since 'fuck off' made me shake in my boots."

"Do I look like I'm in the mood for your feeble attempts at humor?"

"Who's being humorous? I'm teaching you something here. I teach. You learn. You learn. I teach. It's a whole teaching learning symbiwhatsit thing."

Vecchio shifted round to face Ray. He looked irritated. Now they were getting somewhere. Irritated Ray could handle.

"Symbiosis."

"That's right, mutual benefit. I get the pleasure of imparting my wisdom; you get the benefit of my great experience."

"How about I get the pleasure of seeing you vanish before you get the benefit of my fist in your face?"

Vecchio sat up, illustrating his line of argument with a pointing finger that transformed into a curled fist. Ray smiled.

"That the best you got? Vecchio, I'm ashamed of you. Fist in my face. That's not a comeback, it's an admission of defeat. Tell me about Zuko."

"Kowalski."

"Tell me. We're partners, we're going after this guy and I need to know. I got a right to know."

Vecchio rubbed his hand across his face. He looked tired. Ray wished he didn't have to push it. He gripped Vecchio's upper arm.

"Talk to me."

Vecchio nodded and Kowalski let go.

"Okay, fine, but we're doing this in the dark."

"What? Why?"

"Because that's where this story belongs. Because I can't tell you if I can see you looking at me. Because ..."

Ray got this, he really did. Vecchio was putting up a barrier, keeping himself safe. Safe from Ray's reactions, safe from his own. He nodded.

"Whatever it takes."

He stood and began to undress.

"What do you think you are doing?" Vecchio's voice got squeaky toward the end. Ray couldn't help but grin.

"I figure this might be a long story and it's already late. Might as well get settled before we start."

"You're sleeping with Ian."

"I am not."

He shucked off his sweats.

"We talked about this. You shouldn't be here."

Ray had to concede the point. He could rationalize it as much as he wanted saying that Ian was driving him nuts or Vecchio seemed like he needed a friend right now but this was a remarkably dumb idea considering the happenings of the morning. Somehow the unruly parts of his body had gained control and he was helpless in the face of them.

"No, I shouldn't," he agreed affably, pulling back the covers and getting in. He shoved Vecchio gently. "Hit the light."

Vecchio hit it. Hard.

It took a minute to get organized, Vecchio flat on his back whilst Ray leant up on one elbow, facing him. It was too dark to see, of course, but somehow it mattered to Ray – he wasn't hiding from Vecchio even if Vecchio was hiding from him. The silence began to stretch out between them and Ray wondered if he was going to have to ask again, to get things going. But then Vecchio cleared his throat and started talking.

"Frankie Zuko moved into our neighborhood when I was seven. His dad transferred from off-world to work as a safety officer in our local mine. There was plenty bad feeling, everyone figured the job shoulda gone to one of our own. We didn't understand, we were kids, all we knew was what we overheard. But some of the boys cut up rough at school, started whaling on Frankie because of his dad. He was just a little guy, skinny and scared with a round face and floppy hair. I pulled 'em off, gave 'em what for, helped Frankie get cleaned up. After that we were best friends."

"We ran together for years. He was some fun was Frankie. Always thinking of new things we could do, new trouble we could get into. Always thinking everything was a game. I think I knew which way he was heading even then; I just chose not to see it. Like the time he had us fake-kidnap his kid sister, Irene. Ransom note and everything. His ma was frantic, had everyone in the neighborhood searching high and low while we had her stashed in his den, feeding her shakala and telling her stories to make her laugh. When he got bored he 'rescued' her. He was the town hero for weeks. Irene never said a word. Frankie's ma wouldn't let her out of her sight after that, would get anxious if she didn't know exactly where she was. Frankie thought it was hilarious. I wasn't so sure, but it was Frankie, so I didn't say a word."

Vecchio shifted, cursing as some part of his anatomy thunked against the wall. Ray found himself a little confused. Vecchio had mentioned Frankie before, when they were fixing the relays and Ray had been sure that he was a she. How had he gotten that impression? He racked his brains to try to remember the conversation but then Vecchio started up again and he let it go.

"So we got to fourteen still alive by some miracle and ... fuck ... I can't do this, Kowalski, I can't."

Ray's stomach squeezed at the pleading tone and he reached out letting his hand rest across Vecchio's shoulder.

"You can."

He felt his hand raise as Vecchio took a deep breath.

"Frankie, he meant everything to me; there was nothing I wouldn't do for him. Nothing. And he was the same. Best friends, comrades, brothers in arms. One day we broke into his pa's homebrew and ended up drunk assed and on the floor. I don't know, I don't know, I don't know how it happened but he was kissing me or I was kissing him and it was like that was how it was always supposed to have been. Because he may have turned into a sad, twisted fuck but he loved me then and I loved him."

Ray clenched his jaw in an effort not to move his hand. Vecchio and Zuko had been lovers. That's why his brain had been computing that Frankie was a she. Something in the way Vecchio had talked about her – him – and the way he'd talked about Stella, Ray had lumped them together in his head.

"Kowalski?"

Ray patted Vecchio's shoulder.

"I'm still listening."

Ray felt warm fingers gliding over his own as Vecchio's hand covered his for a moment before dropping away.

"We ... we were together for three, four years. No one knew. Small, God-fearing mining town that kind of thing is frowned on no matter how acceptable it is in other parts of the System. They were used to us holing up in our rooms, plotting mayhem. If anyone had bothered listening at the door they'd have heard a damn sight less talking than before but that was the only difference. But we were growing up, changing. I let ... my feelings for Frankie blind me to what he was becoming. He'd bring me presents, things he stole, and he'd be so proud I didn't have the heart to tell him to stop. Maybe that's why he thought I'd agree; thought I'd say sure, Frankie, let's lead a life of crime and violence, that's just what I want.

"I said no. He tried to change my mind but I said no, I can't, I won't, it's not right. And he said you don't love me so I said you know I do, Frankie, you know how much. And he said prove it so I kissed him and we ... I let him ... he had his ... he was fucking me and he kept saying I love you Ray, do you love me? And he was all I could hear and all I could see and then his pa was there screaming and yelling and pulling him off me and shoving me out of the house, throwing my clothes after me."

Air hissed over Ray's tongue as he drew in a sharp breath. He began to rub soothing circles into Vecchio's skin.

"I thought he was going to tell my parents, I was going to get the hiding of a lifetime from Pa, but nothing happened. Nothing except I didn't see Frankie for a month and when I did he was on the doorstep, flowers in hand asking for Frannie. I'd been frantic. I wanted to ask him what he was doing, what had happened to him, what was going on, what was going to become of us but he made sure we never got even a second alone. Next thing I know he's taking my little sister on a date and I'm standing by the window upstairs spitting with jealousy spying on them when they come back.

"So he's leaning in close and she's giggling, you know the way Frannie does, and he puts his hand on her cheek and she looks up at him and I know what's going to happen because he's put that move on me enough times and then they're kissing and I don't know who I want to kill more. Only then Frannie tries to pull away but he pulls her in closer and he's kissing her hard now, he's putting his hands all over her. And I'm still thinking how could he do this to me? Making it all about me. But it's not me that's struggling and it's not me that's finding hands getting under my clothes and it's not me that's being pushed up against a wall. It's my baby sister. And I'm running downstairs as fast as I can but by the time I pull him off her he's got her panties down, his dick out, one hand over her mouth and the other between her legs.

"I pull him off and I beat him. I beat him good. I know my Frankie; he's always been a coward at heart, needing someone to stick up for him. I was through with that. I beat him and kicked him and things broke. Many things broke. He was going to- In front of the whole neighborhood. Just to prove- I can't. She cried for three days. I sat outside the bathroom for hours while she tried to get clean. I don't know what I thought I could do."

"Mother, Vecchio! What happened to Zuko?"

"Smuggled off world to live with some aunt before he could face charges. Fulfilled his ambition of becoming a crime overlord. Or at least an underlord. He's been on the periphery of some things I dealt with. Never seen him face to face though. Not since that night."

"And now you gotta ..."

"And now I gotta."

Ray had no idea what to say now. 'I'm sorry,' couldn't even begin to cover it, and it wasn't like it was his fault anyway. Everything else he could think of sounded meaningless as soon as it tripped across his brain.

"C'm'ere," he said, sliding his hand across Vecchio's chest and tugging at his side.

"I don't-"

"Don't be a dumbass, Vecchio. You need this. Come here."

He tugged again and this time Vecchio rolled round with him sliding his arm under Ray's. Ray slipped his other arm under Vecchio's neck and pulled him close, holding him steady. He felt Vecchio's grip tighten around his back and the soft fuzz of his hair as Vecchio buried his head against Ray's neck.

"It's okay," he said. "I got you. I got you."

There was no response from Vecchio beyond a choked sound and an even tighter grip. Ray decided maybe he'd figured the right thing to say anyway. Score one for the ruly parts. He held on.






Part 17
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August 2007

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