First Aid

by Tenshi

(NB: I keep saying I don't even know if I'm going to write the beach fic, and yet I keep thinking about it, and what would happen in it, and how programs react to zippers and dust bunnies and farts and ez-cheeze and pink flamingos. And how Ram has no self-control and how Tron is always harshing his squee and how volleyball was never before played to the death. And about Tron's fascination with ice cream--he keeps putting spoonfulls of it directly on the counter to watch it melt-- and Ram keeps flushing toilets all the time. In fact I'm so unsure about whether or not I'm going to write this fic that I just wrote some of it. And it is every bit the large soppy pile of shmoop that you would expect it to be. All you need know is that this takes place in Flynn's beach house, on his nice chunk of private beach, and Tron and Sam in the other room were probably doing exactly what you think they were doing. Either that, or they were playing Mario Cart. If you thought at first they were playing Mario Cart anyway, you're a better woman than I am.)

"I want to help," Ram said, appearing suddenly in the kitchen at Roy's elbow. Roy narrowly avoided cutting his thumb instead of the pineapple.

"Ram!" he exhaled, putting the knife down. "Really, you've got the worst cat-feet of anyone I've ever met."

Ram looked down at his bare toes, but without the consternation he might have had once before. "Wait. That's a User term, right? Because my feet aren't like a cat's at all."

"It means you're quiet," Roy explained, deftly quartering the pineapple.

"Nobody's ever accused me of that before," Ram said, bouncing a little on his heels. "Anyway. Making food on the User world, it's a lot of work, isn't it?"

"Can be," Roy grunted, hewing off the prickly outside of the fruit. "Depends on the kind of food. This is sort of a celebration thing, so it's a bigger deal than most."

Ram leaned sideways to look out the window onto the patio, where Alan and Flynn were engaged in a good-natured argument about the proper application of barbecue sauce, and just how far up his ass the other one could shove his erroneous opinions. "That explains all the rituals involved," Ram deduced, nodding. "So if it's a lot of work, I want to help. What are you doing?"

"Cutting this up for the skewers." Roy looked at the knife, then at Ram, and decided against letting the Program handle it. "How about this." He tugged over a few plastic bowls. "Put these on the skewers for me. The green things are peppers, the red are tomatoes, those are onions and those are mushrooms. Just alternate them. And be careful, these are sharp."

Eager to please his User and delighted at being given a task, Ram set to his work. It took him five minutes just to lay out the pattern of vegetables he wanted, deliberating over his choices like a jeweler selecting gems for a crown. Roy smiled indulgently and kept on working. The rustle of the waves outside and the familiar rise and fall of Alan and Flynn's voices was a soothing backdrop to his chore; for a while he lost himself in the simple meditation of chopping vegetables. It had been a long time since he'd turned his hand to cooking, and he found he missed the simple rewards of the process.

Roy was jostled out of his reverie by a sharp intake of breath from Ram and a clatter of cutlery. The noise brought Tron and Sam in from the other room, and Flynn and Alan to the patio door.

"What's wrong?" Tron said, scanning the kitchen and looking like he expected a phalanx of Recognizers, at the least. The unthreatening sight of Ram cradling his hand to his chest was clearly not the disaster he imagined.

"It's okay, it's okay," Roy said, waving him back. "Just a minor catastrophe. Let me see, Ram."

"Ow," Ram said, in a strange tone of pain, embarrassment, fear, and wonder all commingled. "I did something wrong, I think."

"Got himself on the skewer," Roy said, carefully taking Ram's hand in his own. It was not a bad cut, but it was long across his palm, and bleeding freely. "Told you those were sharp, Ram!"

"First aid kit's in the first floor bathroom, Sam," Flynn said, waving at his son with his spatula. "Run and get it, will you?"

"I'm sorry," Ram breathed, with a little quaver in his voice. "I'm not... I'm not de-rezzing, am I?"

"You can't de-rezz in the Users' world," Tron said, coming over to look at Ram's cut hand. "You might be dying, though," he added, helpfully.

"Tron!" Alan said, putting his hands in the air. "You don't die from a scratch like that, there's no need to scare him any worse than he is."

"I'm not scared!" Ram said, at once, and convinced precisely no one, least of all himself.

"Here we go," Sam said, coming back with the kit. "Don't sweat it, Ram. I got more scars and scrapes than I know what to do with."

"Will it always... leak like that?" Ram stared at the bright red splotches on the paper towel Roy used to staunch the cut.

"Bleeding," Tron put in, as it was something he knew a bit about.

"My burgers are burning," Flynn announced, and marched back to the grill.

"It's minor damage," Roy explained, shooting the cut with a quick burst of antiseptic spray, and then blowing on it to take away the sting. Ram shivered in an ecstasy of new and strange sensations, not all of them unpleasant. "It'll stop hurting in a little while, and heal up completely in a few days."

Sam, well-versed in the contents of the first-aid kit, passed Roy a gauze pad without having to be asked.

"It's not serious, is it?" Tron asked Alan in a low voice, as though not wanting Ram to hear in case the scrape was, indeed, fatal.

"More annoying than anything," Alan assured him. "What were you thinking, just letting him handle those skewers, Roy?"

"Look, he's a perfectly competent warrior on the grid, and I never had kids!" Roy struggled to find the loose end of the medical tape. "How was I supposed to know he'd nail himself on it right off the bat?"

"If you had ever had kids, you'd expect that," Alan said, and patted Ram's shoulder. "Chalk it up to part of being human, Ram. Come on, Tron. Let's see if we can stop Flynn before he turns those burgers into hockey pucks. There's two of us, at least we can out-vote him."

"Hey, I'll throw my vote in, too," Sam said, following them out. "I like mine still mooing."

"Being human?" Ram echoed, as his User swathed his hand in bandages. "But I'm a Program."

"You're in the Users' world now, and that means you're near enough for the difference not to count," Roy assured him. "There." He tilted Ram's hand, inspecting his work.

"Surely that doesn't make me a User," Ram breathed, even his irreverent spark quashed under the weight of such blasphemy.

"No," Roy said, and his fingers traced the pale blue lines on Ram's arm that marked where Ram's circuits were in his true form, now inert as tattoos without their inner light. "But it means you know what being one feels like."

"Painful," Ram admitted, gingerly curling his fingers over the bandages. His breath caught, not in pain, as his User lifted his bandaged hand and kissed it above the crossed x of tape on his palm. There was rushing blood of another sort, as Ram's face was suffused with color, and his breath caught in his throat. "And also amazing," he sighed, in conclusion.

"Well then," Roy said, winking at his program as he picked up Ram's half-finished skewer. "I'd say you've got the gist of it."

"He left out hungry!" Flynn hollered, from outside, "C'mon, man! Where're those veggies?"

Roy rolled his eyes, helping Ram to finish up the last of the preparations. "I'll be happy to go into more detail," Roy added quietly, "but first we'd better feed Flynn."


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