A/N: Technically my first Gen Kill fic – technically. This is just to satisfy my need for Rudy/Ray until the warbigbang I'm co-authoring with emocezi gets written. ;)

Safety Net

Ray remembered Iraq in reactions and dreams, small traumas that came and went in random flux. He didn't remember everything in dynamic hi-definition, a start-stop series of action and reaction, cause and effect. Most of his memories were less clear than he would have thought they'd be, looping through his daily thoughts like the grainy footage from some cheap, 8MM snuff film.

Some things Ray remembered in moments that were fleeting, chased from the spaces of his mind by choking instinct and the scream of arty in the sky. Ray could indistinctly recall the flash, the crash, and the smell; those memories slid between his dreams, knifing through his sleep fast and sudden.

Other things Ray couldn't remember - not exactly - unless caught the glint of something metal shimmering in the distance, or the smell of something that reminded him of desert wind When he did, he felt those memories with his skin and bones; he was instantly back in the thick of it. He could fairly taste the grit and sand of the desert floor beneath his tongue.

Those sorts of memories were the worst; distinct, keen, and as vivid and real as the Iraqi dirt caked into the soles of his combat boots. If he closed his eyes, he could feel the vibrations of bullets as they slammed into the Humvee; he could hear the pop-pop-pop of Trombley's gun as he fired near his shoulder, almost shattering his eardrums. He could hear Brad's voice to his right, abrupt, efficient, and as cool as ice.

-VVV-

One of the first times it happened, Ray was sitting on a park bench with Rudy, shooting the shit and drinking a beer, offhandedly watching a group of kids play tether ball. There was a little girl in a shorts and a t-shirt, sporting some bullshit name brand logo. Her hair was in a ponytail high on her head. There was something about the little girl's legs, as she stood on the sidelines and watched her brother and his friend play the game, that caught his attention. It was something about her socks that bothered him; something about the way the dirt stained the fabric that made it look like blood.

He remembered the little girl that Christopher had filmed with Lilley's camera, lying dead on the side of the road, uncared and unwanted, like a broken and discarded doll.

Ray hadn't really realized he was panicking, until Rudy's hand closed over his. Rudy squeezed his fingers, firm and reassuring, and as Ray looked at his fingers encompassed by Rudy's, he inexplicably recalled the time he'd asked him to wipe his ass after he'd taken a dump outside of a home outside Nasiriyah. He remembered the amused look on Rudy's face as he'd replied, 'Use your hand, you nasty thing.' Ray had snickered at the time and wheedled Rudy about it for awhile afterward, but now it seemed almost ludicrous that Rudy should be there, sitting next to him, holding his hand in comfort.

When they left the park a moment later, Ray realized that his hand was still folded into Rudy's, their fingers loosely tangled. He found that he didn't mind, though he did make sure to tell Rudy that he was Special Olympics gay and he should just give up and get with the program already.

Rudy smiled at him; it was the first time they'd held hands in public.

-VVV-

That night Ray dreamed of dead children with blood on their socks and their legs blown clear off. He slept restlessly, tossing, turning and tangling the blankets around his legs until the sound of the stairs groaning out a creak cut through the flash of images. He sat bolt upright, reaching for the gun that wasn't there, blind in the darkness. He began to scramble to his feet; the lingering vestiges of his nightmare were slow to filter out, catching in the corners of his vision the like the dregs at the bottom of a wine bottle. He coiled automatically, going still as his eyes began to adjust to the blackness, nearly lashing out when Rudy's hand came down heavily on his shoulder.

"Relax, my brother," said Rudy, his voice as soft as shadow, "I got your six." Rudy sat on the couch next to him, squeezing his shoulder and then letting go. "You're safe, Ray."

Safe.

Ray felt the tension begin to uncurl from his body, pulling away from the tightness of his muscles and the rigidness of his spine, until he felt more exhausted than he had hopped up and strung out on Ripped Fuel and adrenaline high. He pushed a hand through his hair, tapping a foot in agitation as he tried to shake the fight or fight (There was no flight instinct left in him anymore; it'd be beaten out of his muscle memory by $2million dollars worth of Recon training.) response, completely from him.

"You startled me, motherfucker," he muttered, fighting to keep his eyes open; when he closed them, the images of dead children, - small legs and arms twisting up from smoking rubble - flickered behind his eyes.

Rudy didn't reply, only curled an arm around him and pulled him down, until Ray was secured between the back of the couch and Rudy's body. He thought to protest, even might have, but all at once Ray felt drained and alone and fucking broken in a way he couldn't articulate. He tucked his head a little and let Rudy cage him in, one arm draped comfortably over his waist.

He breathed out, pushing back with an irritated grunt until Rudy shifted, fitting his body more snugly to his. It was almost like sharing a ranger grave: the closeness, the warmth, and the rise and fall of Rudy's chest against his back, his breathing almost in time to his own. It felt safe in a way that Ray hadn't felt safe for in a long time. Rudy brushed his mouth against the nape of his neck, and Ray closed his eyes.

When he slept he dreamed of driving in the Humvee with the window down, laughing as Brad did his Big Gay Al impression, just for him. He dreamed about singing shitty pop songs just to see the look on Trombley's face; he dreamed about lying back-to-front with Walt in his ranger grave, after Hasser had shot that civilian driver.

He also dreamed about Rudy, and the soft way Rudy had touched his face after their fight in Baghdad. He remembered how he'd let Rudy run his fingers along the edges of the cuts he'd left there, though he couldn't remember why he'd let him, in the first place. He dreamed about Rudy's fingers, calloused and stupidly gently, as he'd cupped Ray's chin and leaned in to kiss the corner of his mouth, mindful of his split lip. Ray remembered his surprise, his anger, and ultimately, his acceptance.

He'd kissed Rudy hard, the taste of blood mixed with their saliva like fucked up sanctification as he sucked on his tongue.

-VVV-

Ray woke late in the morning with Rudy still wrapped protectively around him. After a few minutes of laying there, he said, "I know you're awake, dude." Rudy laughed, confirming the statement, and Ray found himself grinning as he shifted to look over his shoulder. "Now I think a full night of gay spooning deserves some breakfast."

Rudy stretched and draped himself over Ray, dangling one foot off of the couch as Ray pushed at him in annoyance. "There might be some M.R.E.'s in the kitchen," Rudy said, and Ray could just hearthe humor coating his tone. The smug motherfucker. "Feel free to help yourself, brother."

"Fucking christ, you're as bad as Brad," Ray groused, still struggling with Rudy who effortlessly pinned him beneath his weight. "I swear that asshole only keeps military rations in his apartment, just to piss me off - it's why I came to visit you, I was dying of fucking starvation at Colbert's place."

"That's the only reason?"

Ray paused, then rolled his eyes. "Did I hurt your feeeeeeelings, Rudy?" He tilted his head towards the other man, smirking when Rudy obliged him and brushed his lips over his. Ray snorted, grabbed Rudy's face, and kissed him soundly. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it."

Rudy chuckled. "I know, brother, I know."

Ray slapped him on the thigh. "Now go make your favorite Ray-Ray some breakfast, bitch." Rudy slanted a glance in his direction, and Ray smiled at him impudently. "Please? Rudy, pleeeaaassseee?"

Rudy shook his head but got up anyway, and headed towards the kitchen. After a moment, Ray followed, an easy smile on his face – they both knew Rudy couldn't cook for shit, and damn if Ray was going to drink some sort of protein whey shake for breakfast. He leaned in the doorway to the kitchen and watched as Rudy pulled a package of bacon from the refrigerator, staring at it as if he were horrified to even find it there.

Ray laughed and snatched the bacon out of Rudy's hands; the fruity motherfucker.

(The End.)