Author's Note: Hello, lovely people! It's been far too long since I've published any fanfic that is solely my own, so I've begun this story. Right now, I'm not sure how many chapters it will eventually end up being, but I have at least three more planned out. Basically, the sub-genres of this fic will change chapter by chapter, but overall, this is a romance, a series of scenes in Connor and Risa's relationship. This first chapter takes place during Unwind, between sections 6 and 7. Please read and review! :-)
Disclaimer: The wonderful book Unwind is not my legal property. Neither are the characters of Connor and Risa. I simply like to play with them in order to have some shameless fluff that Shusterman would never allow us.
It is in the sleepiest hours of early morning when Connor and Risa begin the return journey to the Graveyard. The ordeal at Happy Jack is finally over, all things have been settled, and with a bit of sketchy reasoning and bribery, every last piece of paperwork has been submitted. A kindly nurse at the hospital had managed to secure a wheelchair for Risa, and while it's a fairly clunky model, it will have to do for now. Lev has been hauled away to some kind of prison, and Connor's new identity has been serving him well. E. Robert Mullard even had a driver's license, buried underneath all the rubble from the explosion. All that securing it took was a little more digging.
Now, they drive on a desolate Arizona highway in an old white Toyota as the sun peeks over the horizon, illuminating the dashboard and making Connor squint. The car had been a gift from a tired old radiologist whose wife had recently passed away. He had informed the couple that two cars in the family were no longer a necessity, and the nondescript vehicle would be perfect for their purposes. Connor drives with one hand, munching on a warm doughnut with the other, having already drained his coffee. Good thing Dunkin' Donuts is open 24 hours, he thinks. Caffeine and sugar are pretty helpful for driving at this hour.
In the passenger seat, Risa dozes against the window, awake enough to keep her eyes open (well, sometimes), but not coherent enough for conversation. To Connor, she looks exhausted. The past few days have been stressful for both of them, and she's really been struggling with her paralysis. Successfully manipulating a wheelchair did not come easily for the feisty and independent girl, but she's learned, once again, to adapt to taking care of herself. In the back of Connor's mind, some selfish part of him had almost wished she would require his assistance for longer than she did. But the full impact of her disability on their relationship hasn't yet been established, so he figures it's best to stay out of her way.
The digital clock on the dashboard has just struck 6:30 when Risa pushes herself to a sitting position, and stretches, widening her eyes to let in the light. Connor looks over at her and smiles.
"Good morning," he says.
"Good morning, Connor," she yawns.
"Did you sleep well?"
"To be honest, no," she replies, a hint of annoyance in her voice. "You're not really the best driver, you know. Lots of sharp turns and sudden stops."
"Hey!" Connor exclaims, feigning offense. "I never even got my license! Obviously, my parents never taught me, because, well, they signed the unwind order, so what would have been the point? Not to mention that I haven't driven since November or so. I'm trying over here!"
"I know," she says, cracking a smirk in his direction. "It's a good thing there isn't anybody else on the road, though."
"Wouldn't want me running over any innocent civilians."
There's a brief moment where the only sound is the rushing of the freeway beneath the tires before Risa speaks again.
"So, Connor, do you have any doughnuts left? I seem to recall that buxom girl at the counter giving you a few extra on the house."
"You almost sound jealous," he teases.
"Of some chick working the midnight to eight A.M. shift at the Peoria Dunkin' Donuts. Yeah, I'm really jealous."
This makes Connor chuckle.
"I don't know, she was pretty cute."
"Shut up," she laughs. "So do we have any more doughnuts or not? I'm hungry!"
"Um..." he says, peering into the box. "I seem to have eaten most of them, but we have one jelly left."
"You're unbelievable," she snickers. "Raspberry?"
Connor nods in response.
"Good boy, you've left me my favorite. Now hand it over."
He obeys, choosing to simply drop the greasy box in her lap. Risa pulls out the oozing confection, and takes a bite, sighing in pleasure.
"I haven't eaten one of these in years," she declares, her words muffled by her full mouth. "Sometimes, my favorite nurse in the StaHo nursery would sneak me treats when I helped out there."
"Oh, yeah, I remember you telling me that you used to work with the babies," Connor says, nodding. "That was how you knew all those tricks to take care of Didi."
"Yeah, I'm glad to know that all those hours volunteering taught me something. I miss Didi," she suddenly confesses.
"Me too," he mutters. "But I know she's in good hands. Hannah's far more capable of child-rearing than we are."
"Well, right now," Risa says, afterwards looking like she wishes she hadn't said anything.
"Of course. I mean, I guess I could have kids at some point, I mean, we could, I mean... oh, forget I said anything," Connor trails off awkwardly.
"The good news is," Risa jumps in, trying to spare him any further embarrassment, "She's in a good home, with a good family, who can raise her in an actual house, and not a plane in the middle of the desert. And besides, we'll have to go back to Sonia's to get our letters eventually. Maybe we can see Didi then."
"Yeah," Connor murmurs. "I'd like that."
"Me too," Risa says. "That'll help with the 'Where do babies come from' discussion too. Can you imagine? 'Mommy, was I brought by the stork?' 'No, sweetie, you were brought to us by two screwed-up teenagers running from the Juvey-Cops!'" And with this, the two erupt into fits of laughter.
When the last of the giggling has ceased, quiet finally returns. Risa looks over to Connor, and meets his gaze.
"I love you," she says simply.
At first, Connor doesn't know how to respond. Certainly, the feeling is mutual, and she knows so. But isn't that the forbidden phrase? The point of return-only-by-heartbreak? Is Risa, Little Miss 'Don't Touch Me', and 'I Can Take Care of Myself' really opening herself up to the possibilities of a long-term relationship with him? And suddenly, Connor realizes the answer is yes. She loves him, and that is that.
"I love you too," he says, meaning it wholeheartedly. He puts his arm around her and pulls her close. She leans into him and this is how they stay, enduring the repetitive miles back to the Graveyard together.