For Roxy Lalonde, the military had been an escape from a shattered family and a grim future.
They had sent her to school, six years at the academy transforming raw talent into precision and skill. Then they’d sent her to Iraq, eighteen months of active duty, but in a relatively low-combat zone. She had internet access and hot showers through most of her deployment, and made it home with only a teensy bit of post-traumatic stress.
At first she’d been thrilled with her assignment to Materiel Command. She imagined she’d be working with some of the brightest minds in information technology, finally getting her career underway. She would even admit, occasionally, to being pleased that being at Wright-Patterson meant close proximity to the new PSII-Tactics research and development facilities, and by extension her old friend Sollux Captor.
But soon excitement gave way to bitter reality, and Roxy spent most of the next three years doing basic lab work for the information directorate. It wasn’t bad work, and it more than paid the bills for her off-base townhome, but to call it unfulfilling would be kind. Still it felt like being back in grad school, running tests and collecting data based on someone else’s ideas, and despite her requests for reassignment, for consideration for future projects or at the very least more authority in the projects where she was assigned, Roxy’s always felt like her potential has just been ignored.
It’s driven her to rage and to tears, and on more than one occasion to both, and she can’t say she’s proud of the nights she’s spent sobbing into Sollux’s chest, drunk beyond coherency, as he fights himself in his head about whether it would be okay to touch her. He’s always tried, bless him, to understand what she means when she says that science is a white boys’ club, and that she should have expected this, forcing herself in the way she did.
And on those nights, when she asks why she keeps going and he says because she has to, she has to, whether out of determination or out of spite or just to make them have to waste their fucking time to tell her no, it can be easy to feel like her ambition is being deliberately crushed out of her.
Most of the time, though, it feels more like she’s being kept on ice. She can’t explain it, but she feels it, that sense of apprehension and anxiety despite countless disappointments, that feeling that she’s waiting for something, or maybe something’s waiting for her.
It’s late at night when she gets the call, requesting her presence at the sensors directorate the next morning for reassignment. By the time she hangs up, Roxy isn’t sure whether she’s dreaming, or why her hands are shaking, or if she’s getting too excited too fast, but what she does know is that she’s been waiting years for a break in her career and that this might finally be it.
The directorate has put together a fresh team for this project, a small group of researchers and engineers that Roxy has never met before. She’s sure she’s seen two of them around the base -- Dr. Phillip Hong, the project director, and Dr. Richard Morrow, both of them older and more seasoned scientists who seem to be there for their knowledge of policy and protocol at least as much as for their technical expertise.
The two younger scientists she’s never seen at all. Martin Korzhev and Dr. Elena Sandoval are both civilians, fresh graduates recruited for the program for their innovative studies into applied electromagnetics, Korzhev in computational science and Dr. Sandoval in biomed. It’s exciting to be working with a team of experts, and more exciting to be one of them. Roxy’s experience assisting with various projects in the information directorate, combined with her unwavering drive to prove herself amongst her peers, has left her with an unmatched familiarity with the nuances of the Air Force’s latest information technology, most especially in tactical airborne networks.
It’s a scattered, but highly specific assemblage of talent. When they’re briefed on the project, over weak coffee in a minimalistic boardroom, it soon becomes clear that nothing else would quite cut it for the nature of this assignment.
They’re presented with a set of schematics and data compiled by another team of researchers from the Edwards base, that outlines what appears to be a foreign piece of sensor and transmission technology. The device responds to electromagnetic impulses almost organically, and transmits information to an unknown receiver in much the same fashion. Their intent, Dr. Hong explains, is to research and hopefully replicate the technology, and to create a method by which its output renders usable data for tactical applications.
It’s kind of a rush, sitting on the board and creating a research plan for a project she’s actually interested in, and almost unreal to have her questions addressed, her ideas considered, her concerns documented and her intelligence acknowledged. Roxy hardly notices that General Crowe steps in briefly to observe the meeting, as caught up as she is in imagining her name on the project reports.
She’s exhausted by the end of the day, but a satisfied sort of exhausted from a day well-spent rather than the achy, beat-down sort of tired that comes from a job you hate. The windows of the flight sim lab are dark -- they’ve probably gone home for the day, so there’s not much chance of running into Sollux on the way to the parking lot. She lights a cigarette and takes her time, checking her phone as she makes her way to her parked motorcycle. There’s a text from Sollux, which makes her smile, though his infuriating way of typing immediately has her rolling her eyes.
:wor2t day ever at work. ii need two be 2wiimmiing iin booze by o-now-hundred hour2. you iin?
:ok catpor i think i can drop by adn listen to u bitch for a while. wats in it for me??
:how2 the 2atii2factiion that come2 from helpiing a friiend in need? ii2 that good enough for you lalonde?
:noep ur gonna hafta do better than that. we’ll negotiate on my arrival
:work2 for me
It’s about twenty minutes later when she slides her bike into the tiny parking lot in front of Sollux’s building. She’s always liked these apartments, the bi-level lofts that housed the higher-ranking psionics stationed on base. When Sollux first moved in she’d been a little jealous of him, getting to live in a nice single-occupancy apartment while she was still living in unaccompanied housing, but she supposed it made sense in the long run. After all, the psionic airmen couldn’t be expected to stay in the dorms forever, and living off-base usually wasn’t an option for them.
Not that the housing development had been entirely altruistic. At the end of the day, everything is about the bottom line, and requiring trolls above a certain pay grade to rent privatized housing means that the Air Force doesn’t have to pay to house them, and the property management company they contract collects a substantial paycheck from the growing number of psionics living on-base. Still, it means that Sollux has a nice place with high ceilings to buzz around in like a tool, so he really doesn’t have it too bad, all things considered.
Roxy stows her helmet away in one of the bike’s white leather saddlebags, slinging her purse and a paper shopping bag over one shoulder and heading up the walkway to Sollux’s door. He’d been almost freakishly excited, she remembers, to get unit number twenty-two.
He must have heard her bike pull into the parking lot, because when she gets there the door is open. Still, she knocks twice as a courtesy, as startling Sollux had never proven to be a good idea in the past.
“I’m in the kitchen!”
“Of course you are.”
She drops her things on the couch on the way to the apartment’s tiny kitchen, where she’s greeted by the sight of Sollux, clad in pajama pants and an old PT shirt, slicing mushrooms at the counter.
“Damn, Sollux,” she grins, crossing her arms and leaning against the dining room wall. “Are you always eating?”
“Hey!” Sollux looks up long enough to stick out that freaky-looking forked tongue. “Good evening to you, too, Lalonde. I just thought I’d make us some dinner, you know. Make it worth your while for coming over here, since apparently commiserating about our jobs doesn’t do it for you anymore.”
“Really, now? Well I hate to tell you this, but I already have dinner plans for tonight! I was gonna come by your place regardless, since I need to change and you’re en route. Also,” she smirks. “I had an awesome day at work.”
Sollux tries not to look disappointed. It’s adorable.
“Well that means more for me, I guess. So you’re going out with your human boyfriend?”
“Yeah! We’re celebrating.”
“What’s the occasion?”
“Oh man, I was hoping you were gonna ask me that, so we could talk about my awesome life and not your whiny bullshit. Hang on...”
Before he can complain she’s disappeared back into the living room, returning a moment later to sling her right arm around Sollux’s waist and shove her left hand into his face, the third finger now bearing a diamond-studded ring. He looks confused, setting the knife down to grab her flailing hand so he can actually see what she’s trying to show him.
“What?” He says, trying to casually slip her arm from around him, awkward as ever about casual affection. “You bought new jewelry?”
“Oh my god Sollux, why do you have to be such an alien all the time?” He frowns and she laughs, leaning against the counter beside him and gazing adoringly at her new ring. Roxy’s never quite been able to put to words the specific sort of thrill she gets from pushing Sollux Captor’s buttons, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to stop anytime soon.
“It’s an engagement ring,” she explains. “Human boyfriend has officially made the transition to human fiance.”
“Oh.” Sollux sighs. “Well, forgive my lack of excitement, Lalonde. It’s an experience I can’t exactly relate to on, you know, any level whatsoever.”
“Now you’re just being melodramatic.”
“Nah, I just think it’s fucking weird that you’re making some kind of commitment to this dude you’ve been seeing for what? A few months? Not even that?” He snorts. “But I guess if I had the right to have literally any of my relationships legally recognized, I’d flaunt that shit all over the place, too.”
“Hey, Captor? I know this might come as a huge surprise, but this has absolutely nothing to do with you.” Roxy lifts herself onto the countertop opposite Sollux, helping herself to a banana from the hook underneath the cabinet. “The fuck would you want to marry, anyway? That clingy little shit you were dating while I was overseas?”
“Okay, can you fucking not?”
Sollux whips around to see her wagging her eyebrows at him, the tip of her tongue dragging a little circle over the end of the freshly-peeled banana. Before she can bite into it, a crackle of blue and red rends the fruit into yellow mush that splatters across her face and her shirt.
“Sollux, you fucking freak!” Roxy groans, flinging the empty banana peel at Sollux and snatching up a dish towel.
“Maybe if I hadn’t been freaking out so damn much about getting caught, I wouldn’t have fucked that relationship up so bad. You think of that, Lalonde?”
“Yeah, a little. But, frankly? It just sounds like classic Sollux Captor to me.” She grins. “I mean come on, if it hadn’t been your crippling fear of hugs, your browser history would have come up at some point.”
“Seriously? Did you just come over here to fucking antagonize me, or--”
“Yeah, I did, because I know it makes you feel better, you fucking weirdo.” Roxy sighs, tossing the dish towel over the sink faucet and sliding down off the counter. “So I guess your test flight kinda bombed today, huh?”
“It didn’t even fucking happen,” Sollux groans, shaking his head, shoulders slumping as the fight goes out of him. “Hey, do you want a beer? I’ve had like...three? And I only need one for the reduction.”
“Oh! Uh. None for me tonight, I gotta ride to the restaurant. I’d love to watch you drunk-cook while I do my makeup, though.” Roxy winks, pulling the stained uniform shirt over her head and tossing it up to catch on Sollux’s horns before heading back into the living room. “I’m still listening, by the way! But I’m also naked, so don’t look!”
Sollux rolls his eyes, flinging the black polo shirt draped over his horns onto the cluttered dining table.
“Tell me more about your shitty day, though!” Roxy insists. “Also, is my jumpsuit still here?”
“Yeah, it should be in the closet by the door. I don’t know how the hell it ended up here...”
“Oh, thank god. That would have been one hella awkward ride. So did your flight get postponed or what?”
“Not just that, but the entire project is pretty much indefinitely on hold.”
“You’ve gotta be shitting me!” There’s a thud from the living room, and a bit of muttered swearing before Roxy continues. “Psyclone’s like, one of the biggest projects they’re working on, and it’s just about ready for deployment, isn’t it? I mean especially after the improvements you recommended?”
“Yeah, it’s fucking weird. They’ve got me testing some new flight system now, what the fuck else is new...”
“Shit, Captor, that sucks.” She appears in the kitchen again, her work uniform traded for a pink lace dress with a cutout back, her hair loose from the tight bun she wears at work and held out of the way with one hand as she glances expectantly over her shoulder at Sollux.
“Uh. Wow. Yeah, it’d be pretty awkward. Riding your bike in that, I mean.”
She feels the warm little surge of psionic energy as the closures at the top of the dress fasten themselves, shivering when it flashes across her skin and fades to nothing.
“Don’t get fresh with me, now.”
“Whatever you say, Lalonde. But yeah, this new system they have me working on actually isn’t that terrible. We’ve never used anything like it before, but it looks like the data came from Edwards.”
“Edwards, huh? That’s... interesting.”
“Yeah? Anyway it wasn’t bad until General Crowe came in and started getting in my fucking face about, you know, being a stupid bug and stuff, so all the good feeling was gone pretty much instantly.”
“Man, fuck Crowe,” Roxy mutters, setting herself up at the table to work on her makeup.
“I’d rather not,” Sollux responds with a smirk.
“Ew. Seriously, though, Crowe was flapping all over Sensors today. I think this new project I’m working on might be a big deal. Or maybe yours is. Or maybe they’re related, since they both lead back to Edwards.”
“I don’t know, Lalonde, all I know is--” Sollux is interrupted by the sound of Roxy’s cell phone. “Is that the human fiance?”
“Yeah, hang on...”
“Tell him you have my blessing if I can be your maid of honor.”
“You mean honor attendant?”
“Hell no, I want the dress.”
Roxy shakes her head, taking the call in the living room, and Sollux keeps working at the counter, only hearing the occasional bit of conversation from her end.
Yeah, I’m at Captor’s... of course I told him! … no, why would he be pissed at you? … well, whatever, I’ll meet you in an hour? … oh. Really? This late at night? … No, it’s fine. It’s fine! Love you, too.
She comes back into the kitchen with a sigh, and her eyes immediately settle on the open bottle of imperial stout sitting by the stove. Sollux notices her noticing, quietly pouring the contents into a saucepan on the back burner and dropping the empty bottle into the trash. She slides her arms around his waist, hiding her face in the back of his shirt, and can’t help but smile when she feels him tense and slowly relax.
“Are you sure you’re not the clingy little shit, Lalonde?” Sollux asks gently, and she laughs.
“Is it too late to ask if you can cook for two?” Roxy asks softly.
“Of course not.”