Mourning Morning

Fandom: Shadowrun

Pairing: Feral/Ghost, Feral/Red

Rating: R

Warnings: frank discussion of sexual topics, drug abuse, depression, self-harm, violence

Archive: Ask

Author: Lily Zen

Notes: Takes place after An Angel. Companion pieces include Eye for an Eye and Steps on the Road by Alex Kade.

Go check out The Beta Branch- thebetabranch (dot) prophpbb (dot) com

Disclaimer: Shadowrun stuff belongs to Shadowrun peeps. Original characters belong to Alex and me.

Brandon was gone.

She was certain of it before even receiving Mrs. Reyes' letter, but now she was sitting there holding the definitive proof in her hands. Wavery lines in old-style cursive on a piece of manila stationary, the kind people kept in their kitchens and tore sheets off of to write themselves little to-do lists. 'We have not seen or heard from your Romeo in weeks.'

Her soycaf was cold. She dumped it out in the sink, ground her half-smoked cigarette out in the ash tray, and went back to bed.

Teva pulled the covers over her head, and just…just breathed. She just made herself keep breathing, deeply, evenly, counting to ten in her head like she was doing reps until she fell back asleep.

She'd been doing so well. Letting herself be angry at Bran for his radio silence was better than giving into the insidious despair that threatened at times to overwhelm her. As long as there was no confirmation, he could still be alive, maybe. She could picture him living somewhere sunny and happy, free of the painful reminders of his hard life.

She could live with being left behind. That wasn't exactly new to her. Tamsin had left; her mother had left. Everybody eventually left Teva behind. She wasn't quite why that was. Maybe her act of strength and self-sufficiency was just too good for even those she loved to see the truth of the matter; how soft she was, how needy.

Teva had been able to continue on with daily life when she imagined Bran being incommunicado as just another person who had decided to leave her. She acted like she would with any break-up, meaning that she ate a pint of ice cream in one sitting, got angry, and behaved waspishly toward everyone unlucky enough to cross her path.

Then Mrs. Reyes' letter came.

Things weren't quite so cut and dry anymore. She couldn't go on deceiving herself. Brandon was dead. He'd have never left without saying goodbye to the Reyeses. He might go on occasionally about how he had nothing and no one, but the fact was that he adored the elderly couple that lived down the hall from him, and he would never just disappear from their lives and leave them to worry about him.

He might disappear from Teva's, but he would never vanish on the Reyeses.

So it was with a sense of crushing loss that Teva went to bed and stayed there. Part of her was disgusted with her own behavior, and tried to kick her own ass out of bed. "Stop acting so pathetic," she'd bemoaned. With her shade drawn, the room was nearly pitch black, and it was impossible to tell time or the passage of it. She existed from one inhalation to the next, from each subsequent realization that Bran was really dead and the corresponding bout of tears, and tried desperately to make herself stop feeling, stop being.

It was with a sense of irony that she turned to the narcotic slap patches she always kept on hand, and whatever alcohol she had in the house. Anything to make herself numb again.

She put her comm on silent, and holed up in her room, ignoring calls and knocks and whatever else.

For her, the world had stopped.

The pounding outside of her cave had finally ceased, and Teva released the pillow over her head with something like relief. Finally. Geezus, she'd never been this popular before, so what the fuck was going on that now people were literally beating down her door to get at her?

Fuck them. People needed to learn how to take a hint. She wasn't interested in company. She didn't want to fucking talk. Teva didn't want to have to pretend everything was okay, because it was so fucking far from okay, it was breaking her heart.

"What the fuck is going on?" the deep, sonorous voice penetrated her cocoon of blankets—her blanket burrito, a sad inner voice reminded her—with somehow more furiousness in it than a bellow could have conveyed. "I have been calling and calling you for weeks, Teva."

The blankets were ripped away. Her numb hands could barely hold onto the fibers, only feeling them slip through her fingers with a faint burning sensation.

She blinked, and stared at Madden, who frankly was looking at her like he was torn between throttling her and pitying her once his eyes took in the sight of her.

"What the fuck?" he growled, and grabbed her wrist, yanking her up to a sitting position. "Teva, your plants are all dying; everyone is worried about you; you've been out of contact for weeks; I've been trying and trying to get through to you, but I just keep getting your mailbox. You smell, and you're dirty, and is that a fucking bottle of vodka in your bed?"

She swayed, and almost fell back down onto the mattress, but a hard jerk kept her upright.

The troll glowered at her. "And what the fuck is this?" Carelessly, he stripped off one of the slap patches on her arm.

Weakly, Teva tried to pull away, but she just didn't have enough energy in her to fight him. Madden was enormously strong. Even at her best, she'd never be able to take him in a fair fight. With his curling horns, and strangely colored skin, frowning thunderously at her, she easily saw why people feared him. He was tall, so very tall, almost a foot taller than her, and broad, covered with thick muscle that was strangely beautiful on him. His thick, dark hair was pulled back, as per the usual, leaving the austere lines of his face and glittering bone deposits over his arched eyebrows bare. His goatee was well-groomed, and Teva thought with a cool, detached air that he looked a little like what she'd expect Satan to appear as. All he was missing was a tail.

"Teva," he shook her out of her daze, "I am talking to you! Say something, you fucking bitch!"

Frowning, she wet her parched throat, and sighed, "He's dead."

It was the first time she'd said anything in days, and the first time she had declared the knowledge aloud. The pain of hearing those words aloud was astounding. It took her breath away, and her face screwed up in agony.

Madden's grip eased, and he tilted up her chin, staring down into her small, pale face, seeing the devastating look reflected there in her dark, honey-colored gaze. "Who's dead?" he finally asked, though it hardly needed to be asked. This was what he'd always feared in Teva, feared for her, and known with a sense of finality that someday it would come to pass. His friend, his daughter, though not officially adopted, had closed herself off from the world, from her emotions, and Madden had always understood that when she finally let someone in, they'd be the only person whose loss would destroy her; the only person close enough to her heart with the power to do so.

Someone had hit her self-destruct button, and it could only be one person.

If Ghost had still been alive, he'd have wished he was dead, because seeing Teva like this brought every suppressed parental instinct to the fore. Madden would have liked to hunt that little bastard's carcass down, and flay his skin from his bones for this.

Instead, knowing that was a futile desire-an impotent wish for the man was already dead-Madden sat down on the edge of the bed, and tugged Teva into his arms. She settled there, so tiny and fragile, with her head on his chest. Carefully, he peeled the patches off of her arm, angry all over again as he saw the reddened rectangles of skin, all in a neat little row. He understood what she'd been trying to do, and it made him even more upset that he did, that he could hardly condemn her for her actions because he knew what it felt like to want to be numbed from the inside out, how you'd do anything to make the pain go away.

"He's dead," Teva repeated quietly.

A moment later she began to sob, and it was like somebody had uncorked a raging torrent of sorrow never given a voice. She shook, and wailed, and could barely breathe past the messy tears. It went on and on, seeming to never cease, only wane for a moment before starting up again like a terrible storm battering the mainland.

Madden did the only thing he could, holding her, rocking her slowly back and forth until her voice faded into hoarseness, and like a child, her breath evened out as she fell into unconsciousness. He didn't leave, knowing that was the last thing Teva needed at the moment. Instead, he leaned up against her padded gray headboard, and slid his fingers through her greasy hair. She'd need him when she woke again, need somebody to kick her ass out of bed, and get food in her system, and make sure she took a bath.

They'd start with the little things like that.

A few hours later Teva stirred, glancing up at her pillow, then up further in order to actually look at his face. It seemed like Madden had fallen into a light doze, but woke up as she tried to escape his grasp. "Where are you going, kid?" he grumbled, and tightened his arms around her.

She fell against his chest bonelessly with a little puff of air, then murmured into his cotton t-shirt, "To pee. I don't fancy having to clean the bed sheets. Do you?"

He grunted. "Not particularly," Madden quipped and released her. "Need any help?"

"Do I look like a fucking invalid?" she replied, but the words lacked their usual heat.

Her friend didn't answer her, just shot her a pointed look.

Teva rolled her eyes in response, and slithered off the bed to the bathroom. When she'd finished and had washed her hands, she emerged to find Madden puttering around in her kitchen officiously.

"Hold it right there," he barked over his shoulder.

Teva froze at the threshold to her bedroom.

Turning, he snapped his fingers and pointed at the breakfast counter. "Sit your ass down."

She thought about bearing her teeth at him, telling him to fuck off and leave her alone, but in the end any resistance seemed like too much effort. The easiest way to make him leave faster would be to simply comply. With that thought in mind, Teva obeyed the command, commenting internally that she was not a dog, dammit, but slumped in the chair none the less.

"Now, what do you want to eat?" he asked. The words came out gruff, yet caring.

His only answer was a shrug. Teva reached for her cigarettes, and lit one up out of habit. She exhaled, then set the cylinder down in the ash tray, and pillowed her head on her arms. She was still really out of it from all the pain meds, feeling lightheaded and floaty. Nothing much was penetrating the thick fog wrapped around her brain.

Madden observed her behavior with a frown, then told her sharply, "Fine, then you get whatever I make."

She didn't reply.

"Go take a fucking bath," he snapped and slammed around in her cupboards looking at her food stores.

Teva very slowly and deliberately turned one hand, raising her middle finger defiantly.

"Kid," Madden stated very slowly, each word spaced deliberately, "You do not want me to shove you in the shower, and scrub you down like some obstinate toddler. Trust me." He slammed a pan down on the counter, and willed her with his eyes to look up at him, to see the seriousness on his face. If nothing else, he figured Teva's pride would pipe up and tell her there was no way he was going to strip her down and hose her off. Finally, she glanced up at him, blinked, and sneered. It was a normal expression of distaste for her, and Madden was flooded with relief at seeing it.

Then she slipped off the stool, and headed back to the bathroom. The door slammed. A moment later the shower came on.

Madden sighed and turned back to the range, already having concluded what he was going to make.

Teva preferred fresh produce, and had some interesting trade arrangements with local home growers. He wasn't sure how she accomplished it, but there always seemed to be something whole and organic in her kitchen. This time it was a sweet Vidalia onion, which he sliced and fried up. Everything else was fake and canned, but by the time he was done he'd made hot "roast beef" sandwiches with mushrooms, onions, and provolone soy-cheese on toasted bread. He managed to scrounge up some frozen french fries too, and baked those.

By the time Teva was done, he was going to have such a fragrant feast ready she'd be hard-put to ignore it.

Teva leaned her head against the wall, and let the water beat down on her. It was a little too hot, but she found that she didn't mind it. She imagined it was disinfecting her, killing off the germs on her skin.

Yeah, okay. She'd let things slide a little more than she should have. She could admit that, at least to herself. But that was no reason for Madden to come busting in her apartment and hostilely take over her life. It wasn't like she was hurting herself, not really. She just needed a little vacation from reality until she could deal with this huge hole in her chest that was slowly growing wider and wider. She wondered if all her insides would just come spilling out eventually.

The searing heat and water sliding over her dirty skin felt surprisingly good. Teva raised her face up to the spray, and let it sluice off the oil that had built up there over the days. God, now that she was in the shower, she was actually paying attention to how disgusting she felt. Maybe Madden had been right to threaten to throw her in the shower if she didn't go willingly.

She reached for her shampoo, and squirted a dollop in her palm, then rubbed it into her hair until there was enough lather. After that had rinsed away, the conditioner followed, but just a little bit because it was highly concentrated and her hair was so short it barely needed any.

The whole process seemed to get a little easier the further she went, and she wondered if this was what it felt like to move on. Was she just supposed to keep going like nothing ever happened? It seemed that was what expected of her.

Once she had rinsed her skin clear of all traces of body wash, Teva turned off the water, and stepped out from behind the shower curtain to wrap herself in an oversized towel. Tucking the ends, the grieving adept emerged from the steamy bathroom to find herself bombarded with the smell of food.

Her stomach twisted, and warned her that she'd better feed it or else.

Obviously that had been Madden's intention all along, and she glared balefully at him as she went over to pick up the plate he'd set out for her.

She was about to take it back into her room when he serenely cleared his throat and informed her, "Eat at the table like real people."

Teva sighed, and shot him an exasperated look. "How long are you gonna keep this up?"

"Until you snap out of it," Madden replied, and took a precarious seat on one of the stools. "Life doesn't stop because we lose someone we love. Sorry, sweetheart, but that's the way things are. By the way, I watered your plants. You're welcome."

A moment later, she joined him at the breakfast counter. Halfway through her sandwich Teva finally muttered grudgingly, "Thanks."

A few days later things were looking a little better. Teva was waking up on her own, and watering her plants all by herself.

Madden had stealthily emptied the apartment of slap patches and liquor, and she was already threatening to take it out of his cred account. He didn't seem particularly upset by this.

That was when she happened to check her comm and notice the message from Ally, Switch's girlfriend. Migraines, no medication. She sent her Rip's number on the way to the grocery store, and had to hope that would be enough. Otherwise Teva wasn't opposed to transferring some money to Switch's account. It wasn't like she used it for much.

Picking out products at the grocery was a bittersweet process. It reminded her of the time she went shopping with Brandon, of course, and how they rode the scooters. It also brought to light that she was actually quite fond of grocery shopping, and food in general, and then she felt guilty because there she was having fun picking out fruit while Brandon was dead. Shit. Life just wasn't fair. She had finally found somebody who, well, was kind of perfect for her in a we're-both-fucked-up sort of way, and in an instant he was gone, and she was alone again.

Thoughts like that felt incredibly selfish, but she couldn't help having them.

She checked out, and went back home to put the groceries away, finding Madden asleep on her couch.

He'd stayed for the past few days, probably to make sure she didn't try to fling herself off the roof or something.

Teva kicked his thigh to make him wake up. "Hey, there's more groceries in my car downstairs. Go get 'em."

"Your apartment," he grumbled.

"You wanna sleep here? Eat my food? You schlep the groceries upstairs," she countered succinctly, setting the two bags on the counter, and beginning to unpack.

With a petulant huff, Madden levered his bulk off of the sofa, and tugged on his boots. A second later he was closing the door behind him.

Teva grinned. "Yup, I still got it," she chirped to the empty room, and shoved the mint chocolate chip ice cream in the freezer.

No one could say that Teva didn't have her own way of doing things. She was an individual, and tempestuous, and often contrary in her reactions to things. If somebody tried to tell her what to do, a lot of the time she seemed to choose the exact opposite. It was a personality flaw, and one that she had no trouble acknowledging.

So it came as no surprise when she moved backward through the stages of grief rather than in order. Depression melted into anger; fortunately, Madden had agreed she was well enough to be left at home without a babysitter, and gone home. Therefore, he wasn't around to watch her snap.

There was nothing special about the way it happened, or the moment. Nothing remarkable about it at all. One moment Teva was fine, running a comb through her hair after a shower, and the next minute she was so damn angry, she'd punched her left fist right through the mirror, and spiderwebbed the glass. Slowly, she became aware of a horrible sound coming from somewhere. High, unyielding, and rough. It took her a moment to identify the source as her own throat, and wide-open mouth.

Finally, it seemed, the uncharacteristic solemnity with which she'd found herself engulfed had abated, and underneath the icy silence lay a deep, embittered pit of rage. It was the beast the drove her, that occupied her core, the part of her that people rarely saw because if it did it meant they were about to die a horrible death.

As a 'runner, hot rage was a luxury she couldn't often afford. That kind of furiousness was a liability on a job, and it led to fatal mistakes being made. It was more practical to keep it all locked down, and hidden away where no one would see it. She wasn't sure what had put that deep cavern of molten lava within her, but she suspected it held the unexpressed effects of every moment in her life where she'd felt slighted, reduced, offended, and outright wronged on her own and others' behest. All of that anger had to go somewhere if it wasn't permitted a voice, at least that was her logic behind the reason for its existence.

Apparently, Brandon's death had finally broken through her defenses and unlocked the creature's cage, because now all she felt was wrath, all she dreamed of was making someone pay. The culprits, however, were already jailed, and lay safe in their cells. The uncle was dead. There was no one left to blame.

With deliberate intention, she dressed well that night in a short, fluttery skirt, with weapons hidden underneath her light jacket. Thinking practically, Teva eschewed heels for chucks. The outfit looked youthful, and with a set of headphones in her ears, she appeared to be a victim ripe for the plucking. She left the apartment that night, and began to walk, itching for blood, for a fight…for an unsuspecting target to channel all her hate.

It didn't take very long before somebody decided that Teva and her sparkly purse were an attractive looking prospect. The closer she walked to the old projects, the more dangerous the neighborhood became. Treme was divided up into two parts: the "restored" section which was closer to the Quarter, and the part that was divvied up and owned by various gangs. It was into this section of the neighborhood that Feral boldly strode, daring them to come at her.

And they did. She was just crossing into 9-8's turf when she noticed two younger guys in colors detach from a stoop and start keeping pace behind her. Teva kept her headphones in, even though they weren't on, and let them get a little closer, herding her along. She glanced over her shoulder pointedly, and sped up a little, knowing they would mistake the action for fear.

A third ganger stepped out between two buildings, the tag on his tipped ball cap reflecting in the streetlight. "Hey, girl, where you goin'?" he drawled, walking up with the stereotypical swagger of urban youth. His skin was so dark she could barely make out his facial features. That didn't matter. He didn't need to have a face.

Feral kept moving at him, picking up pace until she was close enough to get within swinging distance. His nose crunched under her already-damaged fist.

Sensing movement behind, she pivoted slightly, kicking one boy's knee out and driving her fingers underneath the other's ribs, twisting slightly to hit the nerve cluster that would cause him an unbearable amount of pain. He could hardly draw breath to scream, just released a choked, wounded noise and dropped to the ground.

Not letting herself feel the rush of victory yet, she kicked the kneeling would-be assailant in the head with her knee. The guy behind her grabbed a fistful of her denim jacket. With barely a pause, she cocked her arm, and struck him in the temple with her swinging elbow. "Bitch!" he shrieked, and let go of her clothing.

She laughed. There was nothing nice about it.

Grinning nastily, Teva turned slightly and wrapped her hands around his arm, pulling, twisting, and ducking her body all at the same time to dislocate his shoulder and throw him over her shoulder into his friend.

They tumbled to the ground like bowling pins.

Moving smoothly, the adept fished a cigarette out of her jacket pocket and lit it. "You guys should go to a hospital now," she rumbled, smoke escaping her lips in little puffs with every word. "Maybe this'll teach you a little lesson about bugging girls who just wanna get to where they're going."

"Fucking…cunt…" one of them wheezed. His fingers twitched, reaching for his waistband.

With a cheerful grin, she casually stepped on his hand, and bore her weight down on it. "Yeah," Feral agreed. Turning away with a little flounce, she walked off into the night, feeling a little better, a little high on life.

The natural climax—pun definitely intended—to this high of course culminated in sexual arousal.

Sex and violence. The two had always been closely linked for Teva. They were opposite sides of the same coin, just like love and hate.

There was something about fighting, about the rush of a battle, even as brief and inadequate as that one had been, that set her on edge. It always did, though in the past Feral had valiantly ignored it.

She was done being valiant, done with nobility. Who the fuck wanted to be an angel anyway? Teva lived here on earth, and couldn't—wouldn't—just shut that part of herself back down again. Brandon wasn't the only man who'd ever touched her, just the most recent. Chances were he wouldn't have been the last either. 'Runners, like law enforcement officers, and pretty much any career involving alcohol and attractive people, tended to have a pretty high turnover rate of significant others. Something about never being home and constantly being thrown into life-threatening situations…

Might as well get back on the horse now.

She thought about going to a bar and picking up a stranger, but couldn't bring herself to do it. The last time she'd attempted such a thing, she had wound up drugged and date-raped with a new set of scars.

So her thoughts turned to Red.

Before she could talk herself out of it, Feral was on his doorstep, ringing up to his apartment for entry. When he failed to answer after the first buzz, she leaned on the button.

A minute later his voice came at her through the intercom. "What?" he snapped.

"Let me up," she answered.

There was a long pause, then the video feed snapped on. "Feral?" She knew he was probably just verifying what his ears had already told him, and waved at the tiny camera lens by the door. "What the hell are you doing here? Are you in trouble?"

"Mm," she hummed, then held up her hand, palm flat, and wobbled it back and forth. "You gonna let me up or what?"

The door unlocked, and she proceeded quietly up the stairs to Red's floor.

He already had the door open as her she rounded the final flight of stairs, and was standing there in blue flannel sleep pants and a white t-shirt with his arms crossed. His stance didn't really look angry, but more like he was still half-asleep and very confused. That was a good sign. It'd probably be harder to convince him to have sex with her if he was upset. Red tended to get a little non-compliant when he was feeling bitchy.

"Hi," she chirped as she bounced up the last few stairs.

"Feral, what are you doing here?" He shook his head, strands of vibrant red hair from his sloppy ponytail sliding over the pristine white cotton.

"Can I come in first? This isn't really hallway-conversation material," she drawled as she came to a stop in front of him.

He raised his eyebrows.

Teva cocked one of her own in reply.

With a sigh, he waved her inside his apartment.

It was still neat, comfortable, and neutral, reeking of expensive taste. She toed her shoes off without being asked, slipped her jacket onto one of the empty coat hooks, and shrugged off her custom holster, setting it on the seat cushion of a recliner. The action left her in only a layered chiffon skirt, navy in color, patterned with tiny white flowers whose buds had vivid orange centers and miniscule polka dots, and a loose, white camisole without a hint of a bra underneath.

Red reset the locks on his apartment door, and turned to her expectantly.

She folded her arms underneath her chest. The action drew his gaze down, as she knew it would, and Teva nearly smirked as she saw him register the fact that beneath her hardly relevant shirt was nothing but bare skin.

When his eyes returned to her they were dark with the knowledge. "So?" he asked, keeping his voice clipped.

"So?" she mimicked.

He sighed. "Feral, what do you want? It's late. I was asleep. You don't look injured aside from the cuts on your hand. In fact you look kind of…well…"

As Red hesitated, Teva took advantage of the break. She dropped her protective stance, and put a hand on her hip. "I want to have sex," she stated succinctly. When his jaw dropped, she added for clarification, "With you. I want to have sex with you right now."

"Teva, I—" he stuttered, falling back into the habit of using her first name in his shock. "You—what?"

Responding with equal informality, Teva said slowly and with surprising gentleness in her tone, "Damon, you heard me the first time. Don't make me repeat myself."

"But you…" He cleared his throat, and straightened up, a hint of Red's usual cool aplomb settling over him. "I heard about Ghost."

Madden. That gossip.

"Did you?" she raised her eyebrows curiously.

"Yes," he nodded succinctly. "My sincerest condolences."

"Thank you," Teva acknowledged with a little inclination of her chin. "If you'd like to give me a sympathy gift, get naked." Her grin was slow and hot, gaze matching the rest of her expression in intensity.

"Teva…" Red shook his head slowly. "You're grieving. This isn't exactly a good time for starting something new."

The look she shot him was scathing. "What? You think I'm trying to get all romantic with you?"

He winced.

Feral forged onward, saying lightly, "You had your chance. You all but said you didn't want me, couldn't give me what I needed. Well, my needs have changed. I don't need you to love me or even really like me. I just need you to get an erection." Stepping closer, and closer, she backed him up against the wall right next to the door, and looked up at him. The heat from his skin was so close to hers, seeping through her thin clothes. She grinned sassily. "I just wanna fuck," she whispered throatily. "No strings, no repeats. Just a one-time thing."

Reaching out, she laid her palm flat over his abdominals, and felt him breathing. He still looked indecisive, hesitant, but not outright refusing. Teva lowered her lashes, looking up at him coyly through the dark fringes. "Just a good time. Curiosity satisfied. You can go back to your eternal penance, and I'll move on with my life."

As Teva slowly ran her hand up his sternum, she confessed, "I'd have picked up a stranger tonight, but truthfully the thought scares me. I had kind of a bad experience when I was younger, and I've avoided that sort of thing ever since." She was downplaying it, of course. That night had crippled her, and it was only recently that she'd recovered enough to begin letting people get close to her again. "So what do you say, Red? Up for a one-night stand?"

Damon was still caught between two choices, doing what he felt was right, and doing what he simply felt like doing. She could read it in the pursing of his lips. Finally, he tried one last rallying defense. "But you're still in love with Ghost."

"And you're still in love with your dead wife," she replied quietly. With a soft smile, Teva confessed, "That doesn't mean we have to be alone tonight. Don't try and tell me you've spent all these years completely celibate."

The little smirk that involuntarily lifted his lips was answer enough. No, of course not. Red may have cut himself off from making any lasting connections, but he was above all other things a man. He'd never have given up sex, just the hope of anything deeper, meaningful. It was the reason that his attraction to her had frightened him. If he'd let himself get involved with Feral for real, then he would have had to give up the ghost of his wife. Teva would never have shared him, not even with a dead woman.

Back then, before Ghost, she had needed a lover, a boyfriend, somebody who cared and could show it. Red knew he couldn't give her that, so he'd turned her down and backed off. The epiphany made her feel a little sad, but mostly it was for him, not herself, not even for what could have been. A strange twist of fate had made his rejection work out all the better for her because she'd had the chance to be with somebody who not only could provide those things she needed and didn't even understand she was missing, but wanted to. Brandon had needed acceptance just as badly as she had, and miracle of all miracles they had found that safety and warmth in each other's presences.

And, Teva realized with a sudden swell of gratitude, even though their time together had been short and rife with other struggles, it had been worth it. Falling in love and letting herself love Brandon had given her back an important piece of herself: the ability to care and to give, even when the possibility of being hurt by her openness was high.

She looked up, locking eyes with Damon, and thought to herself that she wanted to share that gift with him. It didn't matter what he chose to do with it.

"Damon," Teva began, her hushed voice laden with something warm and liquid, "I don't want to be alone tonight." Do you? The question was unspoken, but she knew he heard it anyway.

Finally, Red let out a little sigh, and bent his neck, brushing his lips against her hair, her temple, and her cheekbone.

She raised herself up on the balls of her feet, and tipped back her head, offering her lips which he took with such gentleness that it made her ache in her heart.

Leaning his forehead against hers, the elf asked her, "Where do you want to do this?"

They wound up in the bedroom. Not out of any need for sentimentality. In fact, Teva had reminded him with a little grin, "Remember, no stupid, girly emotions, got it?" No, the decision to have sex in the bed was purely practical. The couch didn't have enough room, and neither of them was in the mood for rug burn. Upon inspecting the dining room table, Feral had shot him a look and said baldly, "That's not gonna last."

The two of them had debated the merits of fucking standing up, and when Red suggested doing her from behind, bent over the back of the recliner, the face she made was enough to make him drop it. "Maybe if I had a guaranteed encore performance," Teva had said slowly, her voice sticky and her gaze hot, "But if this is gonna be the one and only time, then I'd like to have a real partnership performance, not you doing all the work while I take it like a little bitch."

Ground rules were set. "You don't try and fuck me doggy-style, or 'help' me suck you off. I don't take it up the ass. Ever. Piss and shit belong in the toilet—don't make that face, some people are into that weirdness—and if you try to come on my face, I'll punch you in the kidneys and make you piss blood for the next week."

Those were Teva's rules.

"Fair enough," Red had said. "I don't like having my nipples licked or sucked, and don't touch my feet. That's weird. Also, don't bite my ears. The cartilage is a little thin in some parts and bleeds easily. I don't like pain. The only thing I enjoy like that is a little scratching or biting, but only when I'm close. I don't mind a finger in the ass when I'm getting blown, but more than that is a no-go."

She paused in the middle of unzipping her skirt, and raised an eyebrow. "If you want my finger up your ass, you better go wash it. I am not even joking."

"Are you saying you're going to suck me off?" he shot back with a little grin.

Teva frowned at him. "Not if you don't scrub your asshole."

With a little laugh, he walked out of the bedroom. The light flicked on in the bathroom, and narrowed to a thin band around the door as Red slowly shut it. Water ran.

She rolled her eyes, and finished unzipping her skirt, but left it on, sitting demurely on the edge of the bed. Part of her couldn't believe she was really doing this. The rest was like "whooo, doggy!" and yippie-kay-yay'ing internally with excitement.

Red returned a few minutes later, naked but for a white towel wrapped around his hips. "Do you require a personal examination?" he asked, and though Damon was grinning it was a serious question.

"You're fastidious," Teva shrugged. "I trust that your standards of personal grooming are high."

"I even brushed my teeth just now," he confessed with a little laugh.

And that was just too fucking adorable; she didn't know what to do with it. Finally, she just smiled and stood up. "You wanna help me get undressed or do you think that's skirting a little too close to the gray area?" Her skirt slipped a little low on her hips because of the opened invisible zipper in the back.

He chuckled, and helped her wordlessly, slipping the skirt down her long legs, and raising her camisole up over her head. Stepping back a little, he subconsciously licked his plump lower lip as he surveyed her tall, lean body, the golden color of her tan mostly faded from the days spent indoors, taking in the scars and muscle definition, and stopping at the edge of her navy blue panties. He glanced up again as he fingered the lace trimmed top, then pushed them off of her to leave them pool at her feet with her skirt.

While he was busy looking at her, Teva tugged off his towel and let it fall as well. Backing up onto the bed, she looked at him with a little question in her eyes, a tiny 'well?'

Red shook his head wryly and joined her, pulling her close with a hand cupping the back of her head so that he could kiss her again. This time there was no sorrow or mercy in it. He demanded and took, and she parted her lips and gave, feeling herself go liquid between her legs as Damon tugged her closer so that her legs fell open and she rode his thigh.

Her hands slid over his back and lower, then up to the hair she'd always been secretly fascinated with, tugging loose the thin ponytail holding it at the nape of his neck. Even as she slipped her fingers through his hair, his were finding her, swishing lazily over her clitoris in a deliberate tease. Teva panted and moaned into the kiss, and pressed on the soft spot at the base of his skull, feeling the tension he carried there release. He sighed and purred lowly, "Thank you."

She laughed, scraping her teeth very subtly over his lower lip, and drawled, "Don't thank me verbally."

With wordless consent, he nibbled his way down her neck and chest, and took command of her breasts, teasing lightly until she was shivering with both breath, lips, and fingertips, then drawing her puckered nipple into his mouth. The whole time he kept up that barely-there caress of her nether regions, and when he drew back, her dusky tip between his teeth, she seized up and came with a surprised squeak.

"Did you just—?" he drew back far enough to speak, but that was all Red could get out before Teva smashed her mouth down onto his.

"Shut up," she growled, and clasped her hands behind his back, tipping and rolling so his back hit the mattress and she settled over his hips, straddling him. Teva grinned, and offered him a black-covered pillow from the head of the bed. She chuckled at the look on his face, and explained, "Slip it underneath your hips. You'll be easier to get at."

The rest of the night was spent having great sex that somehow never got any more emotionally charged than 'friendly' and 'businesslike.' The goal was the mutual exchange of pleasure, and she and Red had always worked well together. Once they'd eliminated the risk of tripping over unresolved feelings, it was just nice, and just fun.

She left as the sun was coming up feeling sore in some place, but well-used. Strangely, Teva carried with her a strange sense of peace. She felt like she'd proven to herself that she could move on, that Brandon's death hadn't killed her, and it hadn't crippled her either. He'd taught her things, and those lessons would last.

Her presence had made a lonely man happy for a little while last night, and she realized that was really all anyone could hope for was a temporary respite from the harshness of life. She was going to take it as it came.

Later that day when she was checking the mail was when she received her second letter from Mrs. Reyes. Teva slit open the envelope with a kitchen knife, and pulled out a single sheet of paper. Three little lines tore her world apart and remade it.

Just three little lines.

He was alive.

She barely realized she was laughing and crying until the ink on the paper got wet and began to run.