"So your mom and dad just decided this new treatment was perfect for you whether you liked it or not?" Mal blew out a low whistle, "I couldn't imagine dragging a kid to all those doctors, scattered around the 'verse, simply because some bullshit a hack advertised on the extranet."
"They've been doing it for most of my life. I'd kind of gotten used to them not giving a shit about what I said," Jeff admitted with the hint of a bitter chuckle, "I do kind of feel bad for my sister, Hilary. It's not like she asked for a gimp as a little brother. Every time we've moved somewhere new, she made all of these friends that she's had to leave behind when our parents finally learned that the doctors are full of shit yet again."
Mal, suddenly somber, took a slow drink of his coffee, then gazed at the frail boy before him, "But at least they care enough to stick with it and keep trying to help you. There are a lot of kids out there who aren't nearly as fortunate. Which leads me to my next question: When-if ever-do you plan on going back to your family?"
"Fuck...I don't know," he huffed and ran a hand over his freckled face, "Can't I just stay here for a while? Just until I can get my head straightened out? I promise I won't be much of a burden. I can do laundry, cook, all kinds of domestic shit like that."
The other teen chortled and touched his arm, "Of course you can stay. I'm not going to kick you out and leave you alone to wander around the city so you can have another run in with the Tenth Street Reds."
"Thanks," Jeff couldn't help the blush that inflamed his face at the contact. He had never looked at another boy in a more than platonic manner, but there was something about Mal that sent his thoughts reeling into uncharted territories. The,-to make matters worse-he suddenly realized Mal was still speaking.
"-So I hope you don't mind crashing out in my room with me while you're here but since there aren't a lot of options at the moment. Finding room to bunk six other people can get a little tricky."
Of course there would be others. Mal did say he had a reputation for taking in strays.
"Hell, as long as you don't flail around in bed, I might be able to be convinced to cuddle. If that's what it will take in return for letting me stay," Jeff laughed it off as one more joke, but the look on Mal's face when he turned to look at the other boy...Maybe it didn't have to be.
"Jeff, are you-"
"Yes, I think-" the fragile boy bit his lip as his companion immediately shifted close enough for their legs to touch, "No. Yes. Definitely yes."
"But I didn't get to-" Mal's voice had dropped to a velvety purr.
"Mal!" A woman's voice shouted, startling them to opposing sides of the couch, "Mal, where the hell are you hiding? Open the damn door, I've got food and it's fucking freezing out here!"
"I have to get that or she'll blow the door in. Biotic and all that," Mall stated while he jumped from his spot and rushed to unlock the heavy door, "Inna, where in the nine hells did you-Nevermind, I don't want to know. Take it into the kitchen and say hi to Jeff. Here, let me take that one."
The blue eyed boy wrangled several bags from a dark skinned woman who had close cropped hair dyed a brilliant purple and was obviously dressed to attract a certain kind of attention. As they made their way through the abode, Jeff caught the distinctive scent of chinese food.
"There was this big party over at the Silver Panda and when I saw all the perfectly good shit they were throwing out, I knew I had to act fast," Inna explained while she tossed container after container onto the worn counters, "It should be enough to feed you kids for a couple of days. With this cold ass weather going nowhere anytime soon, I know you could use the hot grub."
"Thanks Inna, I really appreciate this," Mal's gratitude was almost palpable, "How much do I owe you?"
She caught his hand as it dropped to his pocket, "You don't owe me anything hun. I did keep some of the best stuff for me and my gran. It's been a long time since I had some genuinely good bad chinese food so consider us even today. Besides, I know it was you who took care of my little problem last month when that hallix head broke into gran's apartment."
"I have no idea what you mean," Mall replied, his expression the epitome of innocence, "How is your grandmother doing anyways? Staying warm enough?"
Inna nodded her purple head while taking a long drag from her cigarette, "The bruising is almost gone and I swapped a couple of broken omnitools for another space heater so she's snug as a bug in a rug. Now I don't mean to chat and run, but I've got to get back to work before Melody takes all the good ones who have bathed in the last week."
She gave Mal a hug and waved at Jeff as she made her way out, "Have fun kids. Don't burn the place down!"
As quick as she'd come, Inna was gone and the echo of her bright yellow heels rapping on the concrete floor faded from the space. Mal didn't move from the door though and grinned at Jeff when he asked about it. "The kids will be here any minute. They know I've got something for them if Inna's stopped by."
True to his word, less than a minute later, the door resounded with a handful of knocks. "Time to meet the piranhas," Mal's grin broadened mischievously at Jeff's dumbfounded look and flung the door wide.