Warnings: schmoop, a little smut, angst, physically disabled person
Author: Lily Zen and Alex Kade
Notes: Last chapter, guys! Don't worry though, you haven't seen the last of these two crazy kids. Alex and I have plenty of other adventures for you to read.
Disclaimer: Shadowrun belongs to Shadowrun peoples. Original characters belong to us.
Once they got back to the safe house and Brandon made sure his clothes were all put in their proper homes (he may have had to bite his lip a few times to keep from being too OCD about it), he directed his comm to dial up Switch's number, feeling strangely nervous now about talking to his sort-of friend that he barely knew, but was oddly kind of bonded with after the Horizon incident.
"This is Switch," the tech answered in overly polite fashion.
"Hey, man, it's Ghost-"
"Holy fuck! I've tried to call you like a million times! Where was your comm? Where were you? I mean, with Teva obviously, but what were you doing? Not with Teva, I mean. I don't need to know what you were doing with her. That's...private. Anyway, how are you?"
Brandon had the comm on speaker and shot a highly amused look in Teva's general direction who was quietly sitting on the couch next to him. Wanting to avoid the main subject of the call for a few extra minutes-okay, so that translated to stalling-Brandon flipped the question back around. The last time they'd talked, Switch was having a hard time getting a job anywhere because of his condition.
"Uh, better," he answered vaguely. "What about you? Did you figure out how to get off the blacklist?"
Switch jumped into a rambling, excited explanation of how he'd gotten back in the game with Ally's assistance, using terminology that even Brandon had some difficulty following, and he was fairly tech savvy. Poor Teva was probably completely clueless.
Almost at a whisper, Brandon leaned over to talk in her ear. "Are you following this?"
"No," she answered, "but I talked to him about it the other day and he explained it to me in English. I'll translate for you later."
Nodding, Brandon went back to listening in polite fashion until Switch wrapped it up with, "So, yeah, basically that means I'm pretty peachy. What does 'better' mean, anyway? Were you sick?"
And there it was, right back on the table. With nothing else to talk about, Brandon answered with a "sort of," and started to go into his story, leaving out anything that had to do with Lonnie. Not really wanting to lie, but not feeling the need to tell the whole truth, Brandon simply described Gabe and his guys as just a bad crew that he'd gotten tangled up with, and who finally caught up to him for a little vengeance party. The more he described about his time in the clinic and his condition, the quieter and quieter Switch became until by the end of the story Brandon had to check to see if the tech was still on the other line.
"Why didn't...anybody tell me?" Switch asked softly in response. Geezus, the guy sounded like his feelings were actually hurt. Brandon was doing a fantastic job at rolling in the guilt today.
"I'm sorry, Switch, I honestly didn't really think about it for a while, then I knew you had your own problems, and I didn't-"
"Is Teva there?" he interrupted.
"Yeah, right here," she answered. It was the first time she'd spoken up since Brandon had made the call.
"I just talked to you! Why didn't you tell me anything?" Now he sounded a little less hurt and a little more genuinely upset.
Teva responded in a casual manner, taking on a tone that sounded so devil-may-care that it reminded Brandon of Rip for a moment. "It wasn't my story to tell. The important thing is that you're in the loop now, so can you help us or not?"
"Of course I can!" he scoffed. "Ally and I will get you the best stuff out there, then we'll make it better. I can even bring it to you in person if you want."
"No, that's okay, you can just ship it," Brandon assured him. "How much will this cost me?"
"Nothing, I'll do this one on the house."
"Switch." Brandon was not going to take advantage of the guy's overly helpful nature.
The hacker didn't sound at all fazed by Brandon's tone. "Do I have to remind you again that I still owe you for saving my life?"
Brandon rubbed his hands down his face. He knew that was somehow going to come back and bite him in the ass. "You don't owe me anything, Switch. At least let me pay half."
"A third," the tech bargained. "We'll split it between you, me, and Ally. She'll want to help too. Trust me."
Teva spoke up again. "A quarter. I'll throw something in. Four way split."
Brandon didn't know whether to shoot her one of those kill looks or a grateful one, so he settled for just closing his eyes. "I don't get a say in this, do I?"
"Nope," Teva and Switch answered in unison.
"Can you at least tell me what you're getting me?" Brandon asked.
As Switch jumped into a windstorm of different ideas, Brandon couldn't help but get a little excited right along with the hacker. With the possibilities Switch was laying out in front of him, his blindness wouldn't be such a huge issue, after all. He'd actually be able to see again! Sort of. But sort of was better than what he had now, and that was more than good enough for Brandon.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. Teva watched a little bit of the trid, then called Madden to check up on him while she was making dinner-soy-meatloaf, and Brandon was damn well going to like it; she was an expert flavorer. They discussed their regular soap operas, and how things were going in New Orleans, then Madden asked the question that she was becoming familiar with: "When will you be home?"
She was making the usual vague answers while dancing around the question when Brandon rolled into the kitchen and asked for her comm.
"Hey, Madden," Brandon greeted the troll, "Been a long time."
He pushed himself back out of the kitchen, talking the whole while about just what was going on saying, "Apparently, Teva decided not to tell anybody what had happened because she wasn't sure how I would feel having my personal business spread around the like that. Yeah, no, I don't mind. It probably explains a lot though, right? ...Yeah, it hasn't exactly been a party for either of us, but I'm getting better slowly."
After her comm was returned to her, Teva discreetly said to Madden, "I think it goes without saying that you can't gossip about this."
"If word got out and he still has enemies..." Madden let the thought trail off.
"Exactly. Discretion is appreciated," she told him.
Later that night, they went to the gym together, and she did laps while Brandon stayed in the shallower end of the pool. He swam or floated leisurely, and sometimes did the exercises that Eric had made him do when they'd gone to the pool before.
When she was done, she swam over, and they played together for awhile, laughing and joking, and sometimes kissing in the mostly empty gym. It felt good, normal. Teva may have accidentally sucked a hickey onto his neck, then apologized frantically as he chased her down to 'punish her' for it.
They were both tired by the time they left the gym, and slept heavily throughout the night.
Saturday brought with it another run in the morning, and as she filled up a travel mug to take with her to her lesson-this week is was Tantojutsu with Master Keniichi-Teva suggested idly, "When you're closer to full speed, you could run with me." She hurriedly shoved half a bagel in her mouth, saying as she chewed fast, "I'll take it easy on you the first few times. I usually do anywhere between four and six miles a day."
"Oh my god," Brandon groaned over his own breakfast, "Angel, I'm struggling with walking around the apartment still."
"I know," Teva replied in her 'duh' voice. "I'm saying when you're walking consistently on your own, and you've built up some endurance again. It'll be good for you. You'll have had your tech for awhile by then, so it's not like you'll be bumping into things."
"Alright, we'll see," he sighed.
She dropped a kiss on his head. "I'll be back in two and a half hours, then I've got to shower, and we'll go see Eric. It will be magical."
"Bye," Brandon turned his head so that he could catch the brush of her lips with his own, then the door shut as she hurriedly took off.
Two and a half hours. All by himself. With really nothing to do. For a moment Brandon thought about doing some exercising like he did the day before, but he couldn't risk expending all his energy before his session with Eric. Instead he did his best to just casually surf the net in audio fashion, which was fine for a little while, but then he wound up getting frustrated when he was having trouble accessing some things without the use of his eyesight. That would take some getting used to, he knew, just another of those challenges that he would get the hang of once he knew exactly where his limits were.
He spent the rest of his time just kind of rolling around the apartment, solidifying exactly where things were in his mind so he wouldn't have to be so cautious about running into stuff. That would still take some practice too, both in the chair and out of it, but a few more times of mental mapping and he might be able to move around a lot more smoothly. Feeling a little too confident a little too soon, he was in the process of trying to go straight from one end of the living room into the hallway at a steady speed when Teva came back in, just in time to see him come up a little too close against the wall, scraping his knuckles on the plaster.
"Shit," he hissed, maneuvering himself so he could get his hand out from between the wheel and the wall. He sucked on his knuckles for a second before Teva came up beside him.
"Let me see," she said, taking his hand before he had a chance to protest. She seemed to inspect it for a minute before placing a kiss on the part that burned the most. "There, that should make it feel better."
"Right, painkiller spit magic," Brandon grinned. Strangely enough, it did already feel better. "I take it I didn't do too much damage?"
"No blood. I think you'll live. What were you doing anyway?"
"Navigating," he answered. "Poorly, apparently."
He found himself being wheeled back out towards the door. "You'll get there, but we can work on that later. Right now we've got to get you to the clinic. My class ran a little over."
"Uh oh. If you made me late, you're going to be in trouble." He drew out the last word in sing-songy fashion.
She scrubbed her hand through his hair. "Shut up. You won't be late. It just means I don't get my shower."
They did make it on time for the session, and everyone at the clinic greeted Brandon as if he'd been gone for a year instead of a day and a half. It kind of felt good, having a whole group of people that were genuinely happy to see him, but at the same time it was a little sad knowing he'd finally attained that after all his years living in L.A. only to have to turn around and start all over again in a new city. On the other hand, there was no one in New Orleans who knew his 'bad' side either, so he'd be starting off with a fairly clean slate. He could be whoever he wanted to be and no one would know (aside from Teva) that he wasn't acting as himself. It wasn't like Madden or Red would really know the difference, unless Brandon was really laying it on thick.
Or maybe he'd actually go through his new life not pretending for once. That'd be different, but maybe in a good way. He'd have to see what felt right once he got down there. Sometimes the characters just slipped on so naturally that he almost couldn't help it.
PT was just like it had been any other day. Eric made him to do the bars again all the way to the end, then ran him through some normal exercises. They talked about what would be reasonable on the weights at the gym and when Brandon should progress, as well as more tips for building up strength with the walker. Once they were through, Brandon set the time for Monday's session around Teva's schedule, which the troll had no problems with, and then Teva and Brandon were on their way again.
After a stop home for lunch, and for Teva and Brandon to take a quick shower, they went to visit with the Reyeses a little bit, brightening Brandon's mood tremendously. He was right; being at the old building was insanely comforting. He just wished it was in his own apartment instead of nana and tata's, but that had been rented out to someone new seemingly ages ago. It was okay though; just being with the older couple in their familiar home made him feel at home, and he was almost disappointed when they had to leave. They'd stayed long enough though, and had worked out an acceptable schedule on days where the older couple would be more than willing to come get Brandon after PT, letting him accompany them with whatever they were doing for the day until Teva was available to claim him again. Before they left, Nana remembered that she still had the unopened letters that Teva had mailed to Brandon back when they weren't certain whether he was even still alive, which Teva tucked away for the time being.
Once they got back home, Brandon insisted she read all of them to him, even the ones that she seemed a little reluctant to. She had sounded pretty pissed off in those last couple, but he couldn't blame her for that. That had been a terrible time for her, and a lost time for him, but just the same he wanted to keep them all. He took them from her and located his bag that still contained his journals and both his memory boxes, opened one and lucked into it being the correct box-the one with Nate's ring-and stuck them in with the rest of the letters. Even the ones having been written anger he considered to be 'good' memories, proof that she had cared. Besides, they belonged with the others, not split apart. It would've broken up the story.
Teva and Brandon lounged around for the rest of the night just doing normal things, meaning Brandon was writing or listening along while Teva watched the trid, and both of them worked together to make up a simple dinner. Brandon was, as he had pointed out before, still pretty damn handy with a knife. They were his weapon of choice, after all, right up there beside a good, ol' fashioned, long range rifle (not that he'd be using one of those again anytime soon).
The next day was another easy day, starting with the gym right after Teva's run. There was a minor incident with some asshole who was getting impatient with Brandon's slowness, despite the fact that he was honestly doing his best to let people use the machines before him if they were on a rotation. That particular man had already been on the leg press while Brandon had patiently meandered off to use something else while he waited for his turn. It was when Bran was on his last rep, going slow and easy like Eric had instructed, that a gruff voice had grumbled about "fucking cripples taking up all our gym time, should have their own building to go to."
Brandon had tried to ignore the man, doing his best to just finish his last set without rushing as per Eric's directions, until the guy stepped into his space.
"Hey, other people want to use that, ya know? If you're gonna hog it all to yourself, at least put some actual fucking weight on it so it doesn't look like you're just screwing around. Thing's not a toy."
Looking genuinely apologetic, Brandon promptly removed himself from the machine and may or may not have 'accidentally' stumbled getting off it, latching onto the guy and falling on him rather hard when they hit the ground, his elbow conveniently digging into the man's rib. There might have also been another 'accident' later involving dropping a weight on the man's foot. Possibly there was one more involving Brandon having 'accidentally' backed his chair up rather quickly into the man, knocking him back against one of the other machines. That resulted in Brandon finding himself spun around and a fist latched onto his shirt.
All he did was smile at the man. "You're not really going to hit a blind cripple in front of all these people, are you?"
He didn't have to do anything more as the gym staff were suddenly at his side, escorting the man from the building with strict orders that he'd been warned about his attitude before, and how that was the last straw, and orders never to come back.
Teva nudged Brandon's arm with her elbow. "Smooth, B. Let's not make more enemies, okay?"
It sounded like there may have been a hint of a smile in her tone. Brandon simply grinned in return. Yeah, he could still handle himself against a bully if he needed to...in a very passive aggressive way, but still, mission accomplished.
They may or may not have made a detour to buy another body paint kit on their way home.
The next few days went by quickly. Teva got to enjoy her regular schedule, and Brandon got used to having huge amounts of free time. He was learning how to entertain himself with his new condition. He couldn't just sit down and watch the trid. Oh, sometimes he sat with Teva while she was watching, and listened to the dialogue, but that was mostly for the company. He'd do other things a lot while they did that, like write on his tablet, and he had made a study of finding out how the tablet could interact with his comm and the matrix, spouting off some jibberish that Teva didn't quite grasp.
They experimented with painting some of the pots he'd made in the pottery workshop, and Brandon announced his intention to sign up for a more regular pottery class now that he was out of the clinic. He searched for everything on his own, and set it up. "You'll have to drive me, at least until I have my tech, but then I can learn how to take the subway so you don't have to-"
"If you say 'inconvenience,' I'm going to kick you," Teva interrupted.
Brandon's teeth clicked as he shut his mouth very fast.
She grinned, and reached out to touch his arm. "You are never an inconvenience," Teva reassured him, "And I don't mind driving you if you'd rather not brave the train."
That was the end of the pottery discussion.
Of course, it was not the end of the paint. They did have another messy night with the body paints, and then Teva grumped that she needed some caloric intake. That all the fake sugar was giving her a stomach ache. "And I think I see love handles," she gasped in mock horror. The day after she ran eight miles instead of six.
Later that night, she surprised Brandon with a very sweet dessert consisting of chocolate sauce, caramel, whipped cream, and cherries on skin. "I tried to find honey, because that's really my preference," Teva commented idly, "But the store only had that fake stuff. I think if I want the real deal, I'll have to hit up the farmer's market."
"Honey and what?" Brandon asked curiously.
She detected a note of plotting in the seemingly idle question, but answered none the less. "There's this company in New Orleans, a local thing called Organic Confections. They make real bakery, and sweets, and such, but they also make specialty products that you can take home with you to do your own baking. My favorites are the vanilla crème sauce and the cinnamon glaze. They're pricey, but so delicious."
Maybe it was kind of weird thought, but she thought the fact that their sex life was so healthy could only mean good things for Brandon. After all, people used a lot of muscles in sex, and it was great cardio. Not to mention the fact that it released happy chemicals and hormones into the blood stream.
Everything was going good between them.
Then it was injection day. They both woke in a somber mood. Teva went through her morning routine rotely, and she noticed that though Brandon did his exercises, he too seemed to be lacking in enthusiasm. He packed a bag of clothes so that he'd have something clean to wear when he left the clinic, but only stuff that would be easy to get into. Sweatpants and a t-shirt seemed to be the order of the day, because he knew he wouldn't be feeling up to putting on a ton of layers or dealing with complicated zippers and buttons after a day of non-stop seizing.
Teva threw some of her own clothes in the bag when Brandon was distracted in the living room, knowing that she was going to end up spending the next two days at the clinic too. Oh, Bran would try to get her to leave, but she would say 'just a few more minutes' and keep saying it until the seizures started, by which point Brandon wouldn't be arguing any more.
She was getting a lot better at dealing with seizure day. She stayed in the room most of the time by then, sequestered in a little corner of the room, out of the way of the staff as they flew in and out. It wasn't that the seizures ceased to move her anymore, but that she was becoming used to the process, and was minimizing her horror the way she would in a battle. Compartmentalization was a good skill to have.
He checked back in to the clinic, and said 'hi' to all his friends on the staff. Unfortunately, since he was only a short-term visitor, he was put in a different ward from the one where he'd spent the past few months. The girl was there, the one he'd tricked so he could make his daring escape. Brandon apologized to her, and she smiled sweetly and graciously accepted. "Just don't cause me any trouble this time, okay? Darlene will also be here later this afternoon and through most of the night. This here is Sam, and he'll be around too, okay?"
The male nurse stepped up, and took Brandon's hand, pumping it up and down twice. "Hey, man, how's it going?"
"Good," Brandon answered. "It's nice to meet you."
"You too. Don't worry, I know this is a different ward, but we're good people and we'll take excellent care of you while you're here."
"You probably don't remember," Gina interrupted, "But Sam was on your ward during the last treatment too, so technically you've met before."
"Yeah, of course," Brandon agreed, as the nurse efficiently bustled around the room, putting his things away, and setting the room up a little more efficiently.
They took him down to the treatment room a little while later, and Teva let Brandon squeeze her hands until some of her fingertips turned purplish blue and then white. Then she helped him get into a gown, and get situated in the bed while Sam readied the catheter and the medications that would supposedly help minimize Brandon's symptoms.
It was another harrowing twenty-four hours, and then Brandon's big brown doe eyes blinked open, his gaze confused (and it went without saying by then, unseeing), and he asked for Teva, water, and a cheeseburger in that order.
She laughed, and kissed his head, then offered him the water cup. "We'll run through a drive-thru on the way home, okay?" she told him fondly.
Brandon was a little surprised to find that he wouldn't be having a session with Eric before leaving the clinic, the troll having had the day off for some sort of training seminar. Eric did apparently leave some sort of spirited 'I know you can handle it!' message for Teva with the staff, along with a detailed rundown on what areas she was supposed to remember to work on. She'd done it enough times with the trainer by that point that she probably didn't even really need the directions, but still, it was probably better to use precaution.
On the plus side that meant he could be home while she worked on him, probably on the bed, and she'd probably be a little more intimate about it than usual. Not that it would lead to other things, not when he was so utterly exhausted, but it would probably feel even more amazing than usual. He looked forward to it.
Teva got him his promised cheeseburger on the way home, but despite how hungry he felt, he just sort of picked at it instead of scarfing it down like he imagined he would. He only wound up getting half of it down before passing out with it still in his hand, dropping it down onto his lap as his head drooped over to press against the window. The burger had vanished somewhere before Teva woke him up to inform him they were home, but he didn't question it. She'd obviously taken care of the leftovers and cleaned up whatever mess he might've made on his lap from it.
"Angel?" he questioned worriedly as they got inside the bottom door. "I don't think I can do the stairs."
"I know," she answered him, the sureness in her tone making him feel a little more at ease. "And before you freak out on me, I know you weren't fond of the roller coaster ride either. I figured I can piggy back you up. Is that okay?"
He hesitated for a moment, then shook his head against the concern. She knew her body and her limits way better than he did, though he was starting to get a much better idea of what she was capable of. The suggestion wouldn't even have been put on the table if she wasn't certain she could do it.
"Yeah, okay. Just...help me stand up. It'll be easier than you bending down to my level."
She got him to his feet pretty smoothly considering how tired he was, and managed to turn herself around without forcing him to break his grip on her. After that, it was just a matter of her stooping down a little bit to make it easier on him to get up, and then they were on the ascent. She had to bend forward a bit to make sure they didn't tumble backwards, but he found that it was actually far less terrifying than riding up in the chair. He speculated that it was probably due to the fact that he could feel her strong grip on him, utterly determined to keep him from falling while at the same time keeping herself as perfectly balanced as possible, which he could also feel in the subtle shifts in her body.
Bypassing the couch, she brought him straight to the bed and set him down gently, instructing him to stay awake at least long enough for her to go back down and get the chair. He didn't have to stay awake the whole time during the stretch 'n pain relief session, but it tended to go a little smoother if he started off alive enough to tell whoever was working on him if anything was causing him further discomfort.
Teva working on him at home on the bed? It was as he predicted, which was about as far from 'discomfort' as he could imagine. Adding just the tiniest little pecks against his skin when she was finished working on each of the areas that were the sorest, as if adding periods to ends of sentences, it put just a little bit of a sweet, personal touch on the session. The little kisses weren't meant to arouse, just to comfort, and he did wind up dozing off to her careful ministrations.
As per the norm when recovering from Seizure Day, he took it easy the rest of the afternoon and evening, mostly just sleeping between meals. Teva didn't try to make him help with anything or even get up if he didn't want to, and he didn't try to stubbornly push for performing any unnecessary duties just for the sake of being stoic or trying to prove something. Later in the evening he did want to get up enough to meander out to the living room so he could 'watch' soaps with her, but even that ended up with him falling asleep again with his head on her lap. He had no idea how long she let him stay that way until she roused him enough so they could both go to bed, but he was willing to bet it had been a few hours based on the slowness with which she had gotten up. His angel had let herself stiffen up for his sake yet again, but he wouldn't mention it. She hated it when he scolded her for being so nice to him.
Then life carried on as normal as it could beyond that. Over the next week Brandon became fully capable of cruising around the apartment without hardly running into anything (sometimes he'd nick a corner of the furniture or slide up too close to a wall, but his reflexive action to touch and sound via Teva's warnings if she was around became good enough where he could correct himself fast enough to avoid damaging either himself or any inanimate objects). He was able to do more on his own as he got more accustomed to using the walker too, and he did his best to depend more and more on that instead of the chair. The more confident he became with his mobility and utilizing his other senses to determine what was going on around him, the less and less he had to rely on his created character to get through the hard times too. Scott gradually slipped back into the archives of alter-egos, only to come out when absolutely necessary, and Brandon was content with just being himself.
During his light test he actually requested Peters to try something new instead of just the mobility. They already knew he could see movement just fine, and now that it had been a while Brandon could actually see some definite improvement in how he could see the moving form. There was a little more shape to it, just a little, but it was better than just having that feeling that he was just catching shadows out of the corner of his eyes. The new test, however, had very little to do with mobility and more to do with color. Brandon was sure he had seen that bright orange shirt back on that day at The Grove, and he was somewhat certain that the little dots and random flashes of color he'd seen here and there since then were actual objects. Complying with the request, Peters sent Aaron to gather up whatever he could find that was very bright and large enough to play with, then traded off holding things up in the light. After a bit of testing with different scenarios, Brandon found that he could guess the appropriate color about three out of five times if the object was close enough to his face, and typically if it was in motion. Again, he'd only catch it in little flashes, but that was the best confirmation he had gotten so far that his sight was, in fact, improving.
Teva and the Reyeses threw him a party that night at a little place called The Bump. It was mostly a restaurant, but there was a bar and small dance floor in the back of the building that was to be used mostly for special events like wedding parties. The staff turned on the music and let them have the floor, giving Brandon the space to roll around as much as he pleased. The chair having become almost an attachment to his body by that point, he found that he could actually 'dance' fairly well in it, turning himself in little circles and gliding back and forth along with whatever Teva was doing. Sometimes he took the lead and directed her around, and at one point he pulled her down onto his lap so he could turn and twist as fast as he pleased, making her laugh as she held onto him tight.
When they got home, Brandon made sure to pay extra attention to Teva in the bed, hardly letting her return the favor at all. It was a thank you for everything she'd done for him since she'd walked back into his life all those months ago, and for never giving up on him, for pushing him to stay positive, and of course for the dance. Overall, it had been one of the best nights he'd had since he woke up from his coma.
The next morning, completely by himself, he did make her a full breakfast in bed.
Of course, just because he was being all romantic and sweet didn't mean that Teva was any less of bear in the morning. However, after her first cup of coffee and a waffle, she was starting to feel both more awake and magnanimous. Sliding into the chair with Brandon, she decided that the perfect accompaniment to breakfast in bed was morning make-outs.
Parting with heavy breaths, Brandon laughed a little, squeezed his hands around her hips, and said, "So I guess breakfast in bed should be on the docket a little more often?"
"Hm..." she hummed, and rubbed her nose alongside his playfully. "Whatever you want. Doesn't matter to me. Although I do sort of like being treated like a princess. I could get used to that."
He nipped her lip, then sketched out a slight courtly flourish. "As you wish, your highness."
She laughed loudly, tossing her head back, then threw her arms around her boyfriend's shoulders loosely. "I love you," Teva whispered in his ear. Then with an impish grin she added "dork" almost as an afterthought.
Gasping in mock offense, Brandon swatted her on the rear, and she squealed, and scampered off his lap, scooping her running clothes up out of the clean laundry that she'd just kind of piled in her empty suitcase. Really, she was going to have to give Brandon the entire closet in the spare room in her apartment, because he had too many fucking clothes.
They went to the park that day after they'd both done their exercises, and ate a ridiculous amount of cotton candy. They couldn't decide what color they wanted, so they got a bag of each, and swapped back and forth until they were jittery from the sugar high and their lips were sticky and sweet. It made kissing an interesting event.
The day after, they went grocery shopping, and Brandon told her, "I want to try something." He'd been walking a lot more around the apartment with the walker, but this was the first time he had gotten up out of his chair in public. Standing behind the cart, he pushed it slowly up and down the first few aisles while Teva followed him with the chair. It was a good thing they'd managed to hit the store at a relatively slow time of day, because there wasn't much interference. She just had to remember to warn him about displays and distances. He finally sat back down in aisle five, and let Teva take over the cart, though she did maneuver it behind him while he pushed himself along, again for the purpose of giving directions.
Still, the four and a quarter aisles' distance had put a ridiculously happy smile on his face.
Of course, it was time for another treatment. Brandon was checked in again, and then released another two days later. Once more Teva was allowed to take him home, and perform the stretching and pain relieving massage-exercises in their own bed. Brandon seemed to prefer it if the sweet smile he had on his face as he fell asleep was any indication.
The day after, Teva went to the MMA gym. She'd missed her fight on Tuesday, so when she announced that she was leaving, she also decided to stay a little longer than usual. Much to her surprise, Brandon asked if he could come. Aside from the fitness gym where they lifting weights and swam, he hadn't shown much interest in tagging along to her other activities. Teva had chalked it up to not wanting to remind himself of the things he couldn't do right then.
"Yeah, I'm bored," he admitted. "There's nothing really to do around here, and I know I won't be able to watch you spar, but I can cheer you on from the sidelines."
She chuckled. "We won't be keeping score or anything, you know. There's no winner."
"I know," Brandon agreed, "I just want to get out of the house, but if you're uncomfortable with it-"
"No, you can come," Teva interrupted quickly. "I don't have a problem with that. I'll introduce you to the guys and stuff. I just messaged Jean, and he said he's already there. So's Yuan, so he'll be my sparring partner after."
"You fight men?" Brandon asked with raised eyebrows.
"Usually," she admitted. "A lot of girls get pretty intimidated by the environment at the MMA gyms, I think. It's pretty heavy on the machismo and posturing, and the guys tend to give the girls a rough time at first. When I first started going there, I got a lot of 'little lady' comments and blatant sexual stares, but after I put almost everybody down on the mat, they let it go. Now I'm pretty much one of the guys." Stuffing her feet into her shoes, and swinging up her gym bag, Teva continued, "Plus, I hate to sound sexist, but let's be real: most of the people I'm going to run into on a job where I actually have to physically fight them are male. So it's better for me to get into the habit of sparring with men, because it more accurately resembles the real life differences in size and weight that I'm going to encounter. Notice I did not say strength." She ruffled Brandon's hair.
In the car, they continued talking. "I do have one chick I spar with, but she only goes on Tuesdays. Her name is Laurel, and she's...well, she's pretty tough. She actually does a lot of professional and underground fights here. Most of the guys at the gym can't even lay claim to that."
"So tell me about who you'll be fighting today," Brandon requested as the sped off toward the gym.
"Jean is cool," Teva said slowly. "He's a big guy, six foot two, about two hundred pounds. Cracks a lot of jokes. At first he was really nervous about fighting me, 'cause you know, I'm so much smaller and lighter than he is, but I kind of talked him into it. He used to 'run when he was younger, before he started getting more legit jobs, so he understood the argument I made to him. Yuan is much smaller, but he's also a lot faster and is a master in muay thai, which is one of my black belts as well. Let's see...he's like five foot six, which is actually a little shorter than I am, and around one-seventy. Him, I didn't have to work as hard to convince. I asked him, and he shrugged and said 'you act like a man, you get treated like one; get your gloves'."
The sparring went as anticipated. Brandon sat kind of at the edge of the gym, and was introduced to her sparring partners. Jean was charming; Yuan was polite and serious. Jean worked with her first. His style was slower than hers, and so her penchant for fast, hard hits worked well with him. They traded a few tips on keeping defenses tight and recovering quicker. Jean was trained in a lot of ground-fighting techniques, so naturally most of the mock-fights were finished on the floor. The good thing was that her groundwork was improving quickly. Jean wasn't shy about sharing tips for escaping and executing submission holds.
After a twenty minute break where she let herself cool down, and got some water and a snack from the vending machine, and chilled out with Brandon to make sure he was okay. Yuan meandered back over, and they watched another pair of fighters use the ring-it was polite to share-and critiqued their styles. "He's relying too heavily on those kicks," she noted.
"His balance is off," Yuan agreed. "The left leg is not planted. A sweep would bring him down to the ground." A moment later the fighter was on his back, and his opponent had him locked down with a butterfly pin.
Then it was she and Yuan. They limbered up, and strapped on their head gear and pushed their mouth guards into place. A tap of the gloves, and all civility disappeared. Yuan sparred pretty much the same way he fought, which was giving no quarter. His blows came fast, and Teva had to concentrate on her defense, and bide her time until she saw an opening. Like most muay thai fighters, he made frequent use of elbow hits and knee kicks. Her only benefit was that he seemed to recognize that he shouldn't be putting enough force behind them to break bones. Bruise, sure, but no permanent injury.
He dropped his guard for just a second, and she got in an elbow to the head, knocking him out of his pretty and putting him on the defense as she took advantage of his momentary lapse. Unlike Yuan, Teva had the benefit of having studied many types of martial arts, not just MMA or muay thai, and her creativity allowed her to connect moves from different disciplines seamlessly. One minute she was using a muay thai elbow strike, the next a tai chi push kick to force Yuan to stumble back; a few quick steps, and a leap, and she was bringing a hand strike straight at his face. He went down, and she with him, locking him up in a kuzure tate shiho gatame, legs too close to his body to kick her out, arms pinned between them, tied up like a pretzel with her holding him in place.
He called it, and they started over with a new match.
After three, they were both tired, and grinning ruefully. Yuan admitted with a wry grin, "I may have to work on my ground-fighting more."
"Try Judo," she suggested.
When she and Brandon got in the car all he said was, "That was utterly terrifying. I had no idea if you were getting the crap beat out of you, or if you were doing the beating."
"Not coming with again, I take it?" she grinned.
"Probably not," he agreed.
The following day was Brandon's last scheduled session with Eric. He worked harder than usual for his trainer, wanting to show the troll exactly how far he'd come along thanks to the exceptional care and attention he'd been given. When they were done, Eric still had a list of things that Brandon needed to keep working on at home, and even though they would surely run into each other again when Brandon came back for his treatments, the goodbye was still really hard on Brandon. Not only was he losing regular visits with someone he had come to consider a friend, but it also put an end to his being picked up by the Reyeses after the sessions where Teva wasn't available. Not that he wouldn't see them again, but he wasn't willing to make them come get him from the safe house. The neighborhood wasn't great as it was, but clueing civilians in to a safe house location was never a good idea, especially one that he was aiming to put on the market.
Knowing he was going to see less of his makeshift family in the following weeks, which would inevitably end with having to say a final goodbye when he and Teva left for New Orleans, it was...he hated to use the term 'depressing' because he knew that for himself, in particular, that word held a more serious connotation than it did for the average person. Plus, if he was already starting to get depressed over the concept of just seeing less of the people who had very quickly become so important to him, what was he going to be like when he left for good? It wouldn't be fair to make Teva have to deal with him being like that again, to make her worry.
Still, he couldn't help but fall into a melancholic near-silence as Teva was driving them home.
"Eric did say you could come back for another session or two when you're on your feet more," Teva reminded him, clearly picking up on some of what was bothering him.
"I know," Brandon answered almost perkily with no trace of sadness in his tone, but he kept his face turned towards the window. Right. Like that was fooling anyone. He couldn't see out the damn window.
Teva hesitated for another second before trying again. "You want to swing by your lockbox on the way home?"
"Sure." The little shrug he gave with his answer might as well have been a whatever. Christ, he was hardly even trying to pretend to be fine. He needed to get his head back in the game or else she was going to start thinking he didn't want to go back home to New Orleans with her. He did, honestly he did, but it didn't mean he wouldn't miss the city that he'd known all his life, or the people in it that he'd just recently accepted as real friends and family. He was getting stronger and stronger every day now, getting him closer and closer to the time he'd have to leave it all behind. It was depressing.
But as Teva came back from the box to his side of the car, opening the door so she could give him a breathtaking kiss followed by shoving an orange cream pop in his mouth, he couldn't help but smile. And that was before she dropped a box in his lap.
"Is this what I think it is?" he asked as he finished his creamsicle, his eyes lighting up as he fingered the tape. He reached down into the sheath he'd started wearing under his pant leg again, drawing out the knife Teva had bought him to replace the one Gabe and his crew had stolen. The box was open in half a second, and his smile got bigger as he dug two plastic cases out of the foam peanuts. One was shaped to hold a pair of glasses; the other was a small, square box that he knew would contain a set of earbuds.
Teva put her hands on his, keeping him from opening his new toys. "Aren't you forgetting something?"
He had to think for a second. "Oh yeah." Pulling out his comm, he instructed it to call up Switch, as he promised he would do when the package arrived. There were apparently some things Switch needed to set up through Brandon's comm in order to enable whatever it was that Ally had installed on top of the normal equipment.
"Switch, I got it," Brandon blurted out before the hacker even had a chance to say hello. Teva laughed, rubbed her hand in his hair, and moved back around to the driver's side so she could probably get them home before the new tech experiment got too involved.
Switch and Brandon did all the setup on the way, and he was growing impatiently eager with the need to try it out. He had a feeling Switch was drawing out the process to build suspense, just like in one of those sims the hacker always talked about. The only thing that got turned on while Brandon and Teva were still in the car was the extra cam feed that had been added in.
"Okay, what am I looking at?" Brandon asked.
There was a hesitation on Switch's end, and for a moment Brandon thought the feed wasn't going through. When the hacker finally answered, it was with a mixture of both apprehension, and a tiny bit of pride if Brandon was hearing correctly.
"You're on the street where Madden and I took out those gangers," Switch answered. "I recognize that green door you just passed."
"And from what I heard, you kicked ass," Brandon complimented, then turned to look at Teva. "Angel, wave hello. Switch can see you."
She grinned and waggled her fingers. "Hi, peanut."
"Hey, Feral," Switch responded. "Um, I know you get all sick with Matrix overlay and everything, but we should set your comm to see the video feed too. I mean, it'll probably be more useful if you have it than me."
Teva let out a little groan, but had to agree with him. It didn't make much sense for Brandon to have to call up Switch every time he needed to verify what the glasses wouldn't show him, which he was still dying to try out. But then Teva announced that they were home, and he needed to focus on getting up the stairs. He could do it mostly on his own now, leaning on the handrail more than he did Teva, but it was still a challenge that required his full attention.
Finally, when they got upstairs, Brandon was able to really try his toys. Switch, continuing with his tension-building ploy, made Brandon test out the earbuds first. They had all the bells and whistles added in-audio enhancer, select sound filter, spatial recognizer, and recording capabilities. As Brandon played with them, he then realized exactly why Switch had made him test those first. It wasn't for the sake of trying to have that glory moment; it was so Brandon would learn how to rely on sounds as much as he would the sight. If he had turned the glasses on first, he would've rushed through everything he needed to know about the earbuds, making them fairly irrelevant.
So Brandon learned. Teva helped him test the different features, seeing what his audio range was (both above and below that of normal human capabilities), how well he could block out background noise (everything else virtually disappeared when he was focused on a particular sound), playing a little with the record and playback features plus the trigger monitor alarms, and his ability to pinpoint exactly where a sound was coming from. Realizing how much just the audio enhancements would help him navigate his world without his sight, Brandon actually tinkered with those past the time when Switch was ready for him to move on, turning the tables a little bit on the hacker. It was for Brandon's own good though. He needed to be able to use one or the other individually, because he figured there may come a time where he wouldn't always have the option to use both.
When it came time to finally turn on the ultrasound feature on the glasses, Brandon actually found himself to be a little nervous. For a moment he was worried that it wouldn't work, that whatever portion of his brain had been damaged might also prevent him from being able to 'see' the image that the ultrasonic pulses formed. He could hear just fine though, so in theory that was the part of his brain that would be controlling what he perceived visually.
Redirecting the images, he thought, just like Peters had said he could possibly do one day on his own if he kept working at it.
"You ready?" Switch prompted.
"Yeah, just tell me when," Brandon answered, and closed his eyes. When Switch gave him the go ahead, he flipped on the pulses via his comm, and slowly opened his eyes to a whole new world.
"Oh my god," he breathed out, an emotional smile slowly growing on his face. He scanned his gaze around the room until his new vision landed on Teva. He froze, glad that the special glasses were built from the same model of his regular sunglasses. The lenses on them were more than dark enough to hide the sudden moisture that sprang up in his eyes.
He could see her. For the first time since watching her walk through the doors at the airport, going home to continue her life without him while he finished ridding his own of his demons, he could see her. He had cried then as he'd driven away, and he was trying awfully hard not to do it again, not right in front of her.
But she was right there. Her entire body was in a sort of brick red, just like everything else he was seeing, the detail of individual locks of hair, the outlines of her pupils and irises, the perfect imperfections on her skin, and the designs on her clothing all still invisible to him, but he could see her. Letting out a little laugh, he used the arm of the couch to push himself to his feet, then reached for his walker. He knew exactly how far away from him it was, and didn't falter in the slightest as he grabbed onto it. He also knew exactly how far away from him she was standing, and brought the back of his hand up so his fingers could brush across her cheek.
"Hi," he said simply, nearly choking on the simple greeting.
"Hi," she practically whispered back, seemingly as caught up in the moment as he was.
Switch babbled out some excuse about having to go, instructing Brandon to call him later so they could go over more instructions or something. Brandon wasn't really listening anymore by that point. He could see his angel, finally, and even without the details she was just as beautiful as he remembered.
The air was laden with an overwhelming amount of feelings. Teva was so happy for him that it was hard for her to speak, and in a way she was also happy for herself, her state of being having come to be so irrevocably tied with his. It was almost too much, watching that smile appear on his face, wide and bright, and just genuinely happy. She realized she hadn't seen its like in all the time she'd been here. Not since before her initial leaving of Los Angeles had Brandon smiled at her like that. It only served to highlight just how much he really had been struggling to keep it together without his sight.
Brandon moved his walker to the side, and threw his arms around her. She caught him up with her arms tight around his waist, compensating with her strength when his legs grew a little wobbly. He was still a little like a newborn colt in spring, all spindly limbs and not quite sure about this gravity thing, and he had to concentrate to stay up for any length of time without some assistance.
She didn't mind though.
His fingers ran through the back of her hair, which had grown longer in the past months.
Brandon lowered his face to the curve of her neck, and placed his lips over the tendon that joined her shoulder to it. He breathed out, "You're so pretty. I could look at you forever."
Her natural instinct was to scoff or somehow deflect that compliment away from herself. Pretty? 'Pretty' was for little girls and women who cared about how they looked, not for warriors. But then he was being so sweet and sincere, and this moment, this infinite hug, was so good and perfect that she didn't want to spoil it with cynicism.
Instead she clutched him a little harder, and said in that same quiet, choked up voice as before, "Thanks." Her lips found the skin just underneath his earlobe, and then his cheek.
He raised his head up so they could share a proper kiss, then broke it laughing as his legs grew tired and too wobbly to stay up anymore, even with her assistance. "Sorry," Brandon said.
She shushed him, and helped him get back to the couch, setting him down on the cushions gently. "No apologies," Teva told him.
"It's kind of a compliment, when you think about it," Brandon joked, pulling her down with her hands in his until she was next to him. "Me getting all weak in the knees for you." Teva rolled her eyes, making Brandon laugh harder. "Oh shit, I missed that sardonic expression." He tugged her close and kissed her again. "We're going to be just fine," he breathed assuredly between one lip lock and the next.
Teva grinned against his mouth, because for the first time he sounded like he really believed it. Maneuvering slowly, they got him stretched out on the cushions, Teva straddling his waist, but before things could get too interesting, he caught her wrists, busy hands trying to push up his shirt.
She tilted her head questioningly.
Brandon smiled. "I just want to look at you," he said.
He wanted to see her, to let his eyes trace over every familiar curve of her body. Not in a rush of sexual need or passion, he very slowly began to do to her what she had been about to do to him. Layer by layer her clothes came off until Brandon was taking in the sight of her full, natural beauty. He couldn't see the scars but everything else about her perfect body was on display for him like a work of art.
Teva shifted a little, smiling at him but with an expression that looked a little self-conscious. He laughed at that too, because it was so good to be able to sort of gauge what she was feeling without her having to say anything.
"Sorry, am I making you uncomfortable?" he asked, amused.
"No. Yes." She shook her head. "A little, but in a sort of flattering way."
"Well, get used to being flattered then," he said as he pulled her down for another kiss. "I don't plan on taking my eyes off you any time soon."
As they kissed, Brandon reveled in the joy and freedom he felt. He could leave his gray world for a red one, one that wasn't by any means perfect, but it was one that he could see and interact with. The box he had existed in for months was gone, and with it all his fears and anxieties and anger and depression seemed to just disappear.
Could he have lived on without any sight and still have been happy? Yes. Eventually. But knowing he wouldn't have to go through that dark struggle made all the difference in the world.
He'd have to remember to tell Switch to wipe the slate clean. Brandon had saved the hacker's life, and Switch had returned the favor by giving life back to Brandon.
He was ready now. With Teva by his side he was ready for whatever this new life threw at him next.