The Pitfalls and Perks of Cohabitation
Warnings: relationshippy stuff, angst, etc.
Author: Lily Zen and Alex Kade
Notes: This story takes place after the events of Coming Home, and deals with, as the title suggests, Ghost and Feral trying to cohabitate. Yes, these stories are getting increasingly domestic, but hold on, they do get back into the action eventually. Also, you will notice that we, the authors, take more and more liberties with SR game rules from here on out. Writing's more fun that way. ;)
Disclaimer: Shadowrun belongs to the makers of Shadowrun. Original characters (which are all of them) belong to me and Alex.
"Oh my god," Teva grumbled under her breath as she jumped on top of the suitcase, attempting to use her body weight to flatten it a little more. She fumbled for the zipper and tried to close it; it went a whole four inches before it got stuck. With a huff, Teva rethought her strategy, then laid flat on the side that she was trying to zip, and fumbled it closed halfway around the front, where it got stuck yet again. "You have too much shit," she growled not for the first time, and scooted onto the other half of the suitcase, her weight pushing the contents down so that she could zip it the rest of the way. "Triumph!" she shouted, and promptly let her muscles go lax on top of the suitcase.
This was the third and final safe house that they had gone through, and the one they'd been living in for the past several months. Naturally, the accumulation of shit was a little more than in the other properties that Brandon hadn't spent as much time in. Still, working together they had gone through the other two, figuring out what Bran was keeping, what he was selling, and what he was donating. Teva was there mostly to act as his conscience when he tried keeping stuff that he didn't really need. They'd rented one of those moving pod things to ship the majority of his stuff across the borders, then it would get dropped off at her apartment the day after they arrived. Some would go into her storage unit; some would stay upstairs. She was hoping that they wouldn't need to rent an off-site unit as well, but the way it was looking, they just might.
The first two safe houses had been shown and sold as complete 'runner packages, and the third was due to go up for auction tomorrow, which was why they absolutely needed to finish the packing today.
Finally, after months of living like a guest here, Teva was going to go home and sleep in her own bed. There was relief with that thought, and yet she had to wonder if she was relieved, how Bran must be feeling about leaving. He'd been pretty tight-lipped about it, and she was confident that he was putting on a brave face for her.
The mattress shifted under her as Brandon sat down to fold up another pile of clothes into a different suitcase. She tipped her head back further, looking at him upside down. Reaching out, she touched his arm, then said, "You know that feeling when you're trying to zip yourself into a pair of jeans that's just a smidge too tight, and you lay down to do it then have a hard time getting back up? I totally feel like that right now."
Brandon rewarded her efforts at lightening the mood with a little smile, and he shrugged apologetically. "I know, I have too much stuff."
"No! Well, yes, you do, but I expect that. You're a clotheshorse, and you've lived here your whole life. That's a lot of time to accumulate stuff." Biting her lip, she told him a little quieter, "It's hard, moving for the first time. Trying to pack up your whole world into just what fits in your car." Her mind recalled packing up and selling the apartment she and her family had lived in their whole lives, how much stuff had been in there; how much she'd had to sell and give away before the place was just a bare shell. One Army surplus backpack and three boxes. Everything she'd kept had fit into one backpack and three boxes, and it had all gone in the trunk of her car. Over time the items had been whittled down even further, because her car broke down and she could only keep what she could carry. For nearly two years she lived out of a backpack, unable to settle in any one place. The mementos of her old life were down to a few scraps of paper, some old photos, and a little dish that Tamsin had made which had miraculously survived life on the road.
"Anyway," Teva cleared her throat as the word came out sounding rough, "I just want you to know that I get it-how difficult it is, how scary-and that I appreciate you making the effort. You don't have to, not really. It's safe here now, and you could stay if you wanted to, and I-we could try and make it work long-distance if that'd be something you'd want..." She trailed off. Suddenly exhausted in a way that had nothing to do with manual labor, she went limp again until her head touched the mattress, and she stayed like that, a boneless arch over the mattress, laying on top of the suitcase.
"Hey," Brandon said, reaching out for her hand and giving her fingers a firm squeeze, "I want to do this, okay? It'll be great."
His voice sounded a lot more confident than he actually felt, and he knew she saw right through it. With Teva it sometimes didn't matter how good of an actor he was, she knew him well enough to interpret the acts most of the time. He hadn't quite been himself the closer and closer they got to leaving, and now this was it, the last day, and inside he was in a total panic. Thinking about all the shit he'd packed, he realized he didn't even need most of it. Fuck, he'd left more "important" and sentimental things back at his old apartment when he was trying to dodge Gabe. That had been his real stuff, parts of his long life in L.A., and now he was off to New Orleans with a pod full of shit he just liked to keep around as comforts whenever he was forced to lay low in one of the safe houses.
The thought struck a chord though. Comforts. That's exactly why he was dragging all the unnecessary crap with him. He was trying to stuff L.A. into suitcases, pack everything he could that would remind him of home. Life hadn't exactly been full of pleasantries for Brandon growing up in the city, but still, it was home. There had been plenty of good memories there too; ones that helped offset the bad. New Orleans had no memories at all, so he was doing his best to bring some along.
"We got all my journals, right?" he asked for probably the ten thousandth time.
"Yes," Teva assured him also for the ten thousandth time without sounding at all annoyed about it. His angel had the patience of a saint with him right now, and Brandon was that much more grateful to her for that. He needed it. "Your books, paintings, and both your little boxes are in your duffel, plus your pottery stuff. Your weapons are in the other bag next to the couch. Your tablet's on the coffee table."
Okay, that definitely took care of the most important things...except- "What about the hard copy of-"
"Your medical files? That's in my bag. You asked me to hang onto it, remember?" Teva sat up and took the rest of the clothing that he'd forgotten was sitting on his lap, putting it in the suitcase for him. "I have Eric's exercise regime too. Everything that really matters is already packed and ready to go. We just have to finish up in here."
He already knew that, of course, so why was he so frantic?
Because once they were done with that last room, they'd be done. Then it was just a matter of getting everything in the car and saying goodbye. They'd already had their last words over at the clinic, and that had been a teary, traumatic event. How was he supposed to get through parting with his adopted grandparents? He'd just found them, for Christ's sake. Then there was Nate. Brandon had asked Teva to run him by the grave site one more time as they'd be heading out of town. It was sort of a silly thought, but he felt like he was abandoning his cousin, like yakking at a slab of stone was the only way to communicate with him. Who would keep him company once Brandon was gone?
"B, you want me to finish this?" Teva asked, interrupting his downward spiral of thoughts.
His first instinct was to protest, to question whether she might forget something, but there was nothing left to forget. The rest of it was just...stuff. Clothes he could replace if need be, some shoes he couldn't bend down to pick up off the floor in his closet. Wait, he wanted those. And did he fully check through the bathroom? What was in that bottom cabinet?
"No, I need to help," he answered, and stood up again on the forearm crutches he'd traded his walker for just last week. They were less bulky so he could get into smaller places, and they also forced him to work on his balance a little more, continuing his gradual evolution back into a human being...even though he was still in the chair a lot more than he'd like to be. That stupid thing was going to take up valuable space in the car, space that could've been used for something more important.
No, your chair is one of the most important things you own right now, he reminded himself.
Why as this whole moving thing so fucking hard?
Finally, after far too much time spent biting her tongue as she watched Brandon comb through the apartment time and again, and a few trips to the dumpster to toss out what he'd decided he really didn't need to bring with-mostly that involved weird little odds and ends like an old razor, a mostly empty can of shaving cream, a few pairs of socks with holes in them, et cetera-they were ready to go. The safe house was totally empty of everything except the bare bones of the furniture, and man, that felt weird. For the past few months, this had been Teva's home as well, not just Brandon's, and seeing the desk cleared of all the clutter, the coffee table where she liked to prop her feet up and paint her toe nails while watching and transcribing soap operas for Bran, the empty kitchen where they'd made meals together...it was weird. All of it was weird.
She loaded up the car, playing Tetris with the amount of space they had, and trying to keep the cooler inside so they at least had drinks and snacks readily available-holy fuck, they were about to drive across two countries, essentially, and even after they got through the Pueblo Corp Council territory, it was still a long drive across the Texas panhandle, then down to New Orleans by way of Dallas. All told, it was a thirty hour drive, and that was without stops and border inspections. And there would be border inspections, at least along the main highways. They could avoid them by going far out of the way, but that was just a pain in the ass. So Teva forked out the cash for some high-quality invisibility charms, and slapped them in the false bottom of the trunk with the weapons to keep both magic and technology from finding them.
Accounting for the extra time at the borders, and stops to stretch their legs, it'd probably be closer to thirty-five hours in a car, and that was way too long for any one person to drive. Unfortunately, though Bran's glasses gave him some eyesight, he couldn't see through glass, so letting him take the wheel was out. Mentally, Teva adjusted their route to take them through Lubbock, where they could stop for the night, maybe get a cheap motel room, and crash for a few hours in a bed.
Of course, a route through Aztlan would have taken a few hours less, but the Aztlanian government was suspicious of foreigners, particularly ones without ancestral ties to Aztlanian lands. They had a better chance of getting through the Pueblo territory unharassed than they did Aztlan. Not for the first time, she disparaged the way the political divisions had formed in the Western hemisphere. It made getting anywhere a giant pain in the ass. Even trains had to stop at territory borders and suffer through inspections by authorities, adding hours of travel time to their routes. The only thing safe-ish was air travel, and that was because getting through airport security was a nightmare in and of itself.
She and Brandon drove over to the Reyeses apartment, and parked downstairs in the lot. It was a lot safer than leaving Rena on the street, especially as loaded with goodies as the car was. "Do you want your chair?" Teva asked as she turned off the engine.
"No," Brandon shook his head, "It's only a short walk to the elevator, then their apartment isn't too far from there. I'll be fine." He'd become more and more subdued the closer they got to leaving, and Teva wondered not for the first time if they were truly doing the right thing. After all, coming to New Orleans had been initially suggested as a way to escape a bad situation. Now that the situation was resolved... Brandon had friends here and 'family'; was it right to take him away from all that? Knowing that in New Orleans, his only support system would be her, and what people decided to accept him into the fold, namely her friends? He kept reassuring her that this was what he wanted, but did he really want it? Or was he just doing it for her sake, for the sake of a relationship that may fall apart once there were no more crises to hold it together?
Teva knew she was just working herself up, sliding back into old insecurities. It didn't escape her that Brandon was the first real relationship she'd ever had, and she guessed that she was probably the realest relationship he'd ever had either. Neither of them was particularly experienced with the every-day trials and tribulations of being in a relationship, much less cohabitating, and they were pretty much jumping right into the deep end of the pool with weights strapped to their chests.
Brandon squeezed her hand where she was clutching the shifter and smiled at her. "Come on, let's go up."
"Okay," she agreed, a little weakly to her ears, but who knew? So they got out of the car and locked up, walking slowly to the elevator so they could punch the button to go up. Teva was quiet as they rode the lift, focusing on her breathing while her mind whirled. She prayed she wasn't about to have a panic attack, because that certainly wouldn't be a good way to say 'hello' and 'goodbye' to Brandon's adopted grandparents.
Despite the carpeted hallway, Brandon's crutches echoed off the floor like footsteps on the way the executioner's chamber. Of course, sounds were always enhanced with his earbuds, but it's not like he had them turned up very high. Nope, this had very little to do with the technicalities of his hearing. It was just plain old, simple dread. For the first time in his life since Nate died Brandon had family, and he was about to say goodbye to it.
As loud as the crutches had been, his knock on the door came out astoundingly quiet. Despite that, the wooden barrier that was acting as a shield between his impending departure and the people he didn't want to depart from swung open. Nana took one look at him, turned her head just slightly to look at Teva, and let out one of her sweet little laughs.
"Dios mio, my children, you look so glum. Come, it will not be so bad. This is a good thing!" she chirped and ushered them inside. Tata came out of the back room to join them as nana, in her mother hen fashion, guided Brandon to the couch so he could sit, then was immediately off to the kitchen to get him and Teva refreshments. Brandon couldn't help but smile at that, and the way tata was also eyeing both him and Teva.
"Did somebody die?" he asked, and lowered himself into his recliner.
A small sort of bark burst out of Teva's mouth, and she quickly covered it, seemingly startled by her own noise. "No, I think we're just..."
"Not good at goodbyes," Brandon finished, the humor he was feeling a second ago slipping away again.
Tata looked back and forth between Brandon and Teva again, then up at his wife before standing and tapping Brandon on the arm. "Come with me."
Brandon did as asked, following tata back into the bedroom where the old man closed the door. He had just enough time to look out and catch a glimpse of nana sitting down beside Teva on the couch, drink in hand. It looked like both he and his girl were about to get some last parting advice from the elderly pair, which seemed right. Maybe they could just do this instead of actually saying goodbye.
Teva got the feeling that she should get up and run away very quickly when Carl took Brandon in the bedroom for a little guy talk, and Adelle shuffled over quietly with a cup of hot chocolate, the real stuff with all sorts of spices and milk in it, for each of them. The older woman sat carefully on the couch next to her after Teva had plucked both cups out of her hands, then took hers back.
Mrs. Reyes took a deep drink of her beverage, then sighed happily. "Nothing like a little cocoa as an indulgence."
Cautiously, as though the woman may have poisoned the brew with a truth serum, Teva took a sip as well. The two women stared at each other over their mugs. Adelle smiled slowly, her face wrinkling up like a little raisin in the sun. It made Teva even warier of her intentions.
"You are excited to be going home?" the older woman asked casually.
"Yes," Teva agreed unhesitatingly. She was tired of wearing the same clothes all the time, and living uncertainly in someone else's home, missing her friends and all her favorite places to go; she missed her gym and her sparring partners, and her combat instructors. It was silly, but...it was still there.
"But...?" Adelle gently prompted.
"I know this is hard for Bran, and it makes me feel..."
"Guilty?" Mrs. Reyes offered up when Teva's words stalled out.
"Yeah," she agreed, and took another sip of cocoa. The old lady was right, some hot cocoa was definitely the trick to relaxing. Note to self.
"There is more," Adelle stated knowingly, a little twinkle in her eyes. "What is it?"
Shooting her a wry grin, Teva shook her head. "Look, as much as I appreciate you trying to help, delving into my psyche is going to take a lot longer than the two minutes we have until Bran and Carl come back in."
Adelle held up a hand, then patted Teva's knee with it. "Very well. I will try to respect your privacy, though I am terribly nosy." She let out a little mischievous cackle, which made Teva smile as well. "Don't worry so much," Mrs. Reyes said as she stood back up, "The two of you will be fine."
"Sit," tata instructed in the bedroom, and waited until Brandon perched on the edge of the mattress, then sat down beside him. "Tell me, be honest, are you not happy with your decision to leave?"
Brandon instantly shook his head. "No, that's not... I want to go. It'll be good for me starting over somewhere else, somewhere new where I don't have anyone that might take advantage of my, uh, condition, or at least nobody that I know. Plus, Teva, you know? She's been wanting to go home for a while now, I can tell. She doesn't say anything about it, but...I can tell."
"And you're choosing to go with her."
Oh, the old man was playing this game, making Brandon sort through the steps in his own head. That was fine, Brandon would play along, see where this went, though he already knew it would wind up with him feeling a lot better about his decision. It always did when he sought out advice from his tata.
"I can't not go," Brandon answered. "Staying here, it wouldn't mean anything if she wasn't with me."
Tata smiled at that. "Then she is your world, not the city you live in. If you are happy with her, you will be happy wherever you are."
Inside, Brandon knew that already. Between going with Teva back to New Orleans and having to watch her walk away at the airport again, hands down he knew what he wanted. There was no way he was ever sending her off without him again, not for anything short of a job that she'd be coming back from (the thought of her not returning from a 'run was neatly locked away in the back of his head somewhere as a non-possibility). Still, though...
"You are scared," tata said quietly, reading Brandon's thoughts.
He snorted a little at that. "Honestly? I'm terrified. Is that normal? I mean, I should be happy, right?"
The laugh that rolled out of his grandfather's mouth was strangely calming, giving Brandon relief instead of making him feel like Mr. Reyes was mocking him in any way. "Ask any man who has been married what the most terrifying day of his life was, and he will always tell you it was his wedding day. It is also the happiest day of his life."
Brandon thought that over for a second, understanding the sentiment completely, but he couldn't help but let his smartass side show a little bit. He needed the little bit of tension release. "Until his wife kicks him out and asks for a divorce. Then it's just the most terrifying and biggest mistake of his life."
"Then he can always go back to the home he started from," tata responded smartly, and wrapped his arm around Brandon's shoulders. "I think you both will be fine, but know there is always a place for you here."
Maybe it was a little bit childish, but Brandon leaned into the hold, and tipped his head a little so it rested against his grandfather's. "You guys should come with us," he half-joked with a sigh. He'd miss these little talks tremendously.
Tata squeezed him a little harder for a second. "But then who would you visit when you fly back home? We'll stay here, hold down the fort. We're only a call or a plane ride away."
"Or we could meet up online somewhere," Brandon suggested, pulling back a little so he could see the look on the old man's face. As expected, he didn't look very enthused with the concept. Mr. Reyes, though no less digitally knowledgeable than the average person in their time, still preferred traditional methods of communication. Jumping into VR on a whim wasn't something he readily did...or ever did as far as Brandon knew. That was why the man's actual answer to the offhanded comment surprised him.
"I might be willing if we met somewhere that looked outside, not in one of those flashy bars," Mr. Reyes grumbled.
Tata's willingness to do that for Brandon touched him on a deeper level than he could imagine, and he couldn't help but fully return the old man's hug. "I would love that," he admitted, his voice a little wispy as he spoke into tata's shoulder. He stayed that way for a long time before he was able to choke out a tight-throated, "Thank you. For everything."
"Thank you for letting two old busybodies feel needed again," tata answered, and unless Brandon was mistaken, the old man's voice also sounded a little tight. After another second, tata broke the embrace and sat Brandon back. "Come. Let's see if the women are done with their talk, then we'll have a proper visit. Nana baked pineapple cake for you. She also insisted on packing you enough food for three trips to your new home."
"Oh, man," Brandon groaned in exaggerated fashion despite his smile. "Teva's going to make me ride on the roof to make room for that. She can't turn down nana's food."
"Neither can you," tata pointed out.
Brandon shrugged. "I'll hold it on my lap. It'll all be gone before we reach Albuquerque."
Laughing, tata led the way back out into the front room with Brandon following behind feeling much better about his decision. The old man was right. No one was dead, there were always calls, and Brandon had a home to come back to if things didn't work out. Things would work out though, he was sure of it. His whole world was sitting on the couch chuckling at something nana had said, and as long as she was with him, he'd be fine.
The Reyeses treated that last visit pretty much like any other, which Brandon greatly appreciated. Knowing that Teva hated goodbyes twice as much as he did, he was willing to bet it put her at ease as much as it did him. They joked around, drank hot cocoa, ate cake, and made small talk. The only real difference was that nana sat much closer to Brandon than usual, and kept making contact with him through a light touch on the shoulder, a gentle hand on his knee, a hug to his arm, and other subtle, physical ways of saying goodbye. When it was actually time to leave (and Brandon knew Teva had let him have more time than she had wanted), the Reyeses did that parental thing where they ran through a checklist of everything Teva and Brandon would need to remember for the road, things like, "You have a roll of toilet paper just in case, right? You never know!" Tata hadn't been kidding when he said nana had packed them a lot of food, and with the leftover cake cut up into squares and stored in tupperware ("Which you'd better return to me when you come to visit, young man!"), Brandon had a feeling he really would be riding with the food on his lap. Teva didn't seem to have any objections to that.
They never once said goodbye as Brandon and Teva were headed out. It was all "I'll call" or "Send us pictures" or "Have fun!" and "You better hold tata to his word that he'll chat with me online." The hugs, however, were extra-long, the handshakes extra firm, and nobody's eyes were completely dry by the time the door was shut. On the elevator back down to the car Teva leaned her hand on Brandon's shoulder, her arms too overloaded with food box to do anything more than that.
"You okay?" she asked quietly.
He gave her a genuine smile, albeit a little sad. "Better than I thought I'd be, actually. They made it easier on me than I thought."
"Yeah, they're good at that."
All he could do was nod in response. The Reyeses always seemed to know exactly what to do to help cheer him up and he'd miss that. Calling wouldn't quite be the same. Still, he was going to make an effort to call no less than weekly. No offense to the couple's actual family, but Brandon's goal was to do better than them. It was the least he could do for the Reyeses taking him in as one of their own despite who he was and all the hassle he'd put them through during his bad days in recovery. Maybe when he had money again he'd send the pair on a cruise or something. Yeah, a nice, relaxing retreat would be a great way to pay them back for everything.
Back at the car, Teva performed a feat of Tetris magic to get the food stashed in such a way that it didn't have to ride on Brandon's lap after all. He told her she was a genius. She responded by telling him that she knew that and ruffling his hair up, a means to try to lighten up the mood even more. That was good, because they still had one last stop to make.
Brandon hadn't ever taken Teva to see Nate before, not really being physically able to do so while he'd been regaining his strength. The gravemarker was in a back corner of the grounds, up on a nice little hill where there was a great view of the main city. Like Brandon, Nate had been a city mouse through and through, so Brandon had chosen that particular spot for exactly that reason. The downside of being up on the hill was that the incline was too difficult for Brandon to manage on the crutches. Teva was forced to dig the chair out, which she had kept as accessible as possible, but she still had to do some rearranging to get to it. She complained about that a little, but in that way where she was still trying to take some of seriousness out of the atmosphere. On the actual way up the hill though, both her and Brandon had grown just as quiet as they had been on the lift up to the Reyeses.
Once he was actually confronted with the tombstone, Brandon closed up even more. He didn't really know what to say.
Teva broke the silence first. "Do you want me to...leave you alone or something?"
"Yeah, just," Brandon's voice broke, and he had to take off his glasses for a second to wipe his hand across his eyes. "Give me a minute, okay?"
She gripped his shoulder supportively for a few seconds, then meandered off to check out the view on the other side of the hill. Slowly, Brandon slid down out of his chair so he was kneeling in front of the grave marker, and placed one hand on the stone.
"Hey, big brother," he started, plastering on a smile. "Long time no see. If you've been watching me at all, I guess you already know what happened. I got Lonnie. We got Lonnie. You were definitely there. I was going to bring the gun back up here and bury it with you just so you could hang onto it. Kind of morbid, I know, since that's the one you used to... I still thought you might want it since I got Lonnie with it, but Gabe ran off with it and now it's in some evidence locker somewhere. Sorry. No souvenir."
Turning his head to look over his shoulder, Brandon smiled at the look on his angel's face as she peered out over the city. He thought maybe she might miss it a little more than she let on.
"So that's my girl. Teva. I think you would've liked her. She's-" he ducked his head and had to take his glasses off again, making sure to keep his eyes shut, but it didn't stop the stray tears from falling down his cheeks, or his voice from wavering even more as he continued speaking. "You would've told me she was perfect. That's why I know you won't have any hard feelings for me leaving you here so I can go be with her...right? I mean, I'd invite you to come along, but..."
He couldn't crack the joke. This was too hard, and his throat closed up on him for several long seconds. After scrubbing his arm across his eyes again he reached into his pocket and pulled out a little clay piece he'd made at home and fired with a hand torch. It was a simple little thing, just a small replication of one of the journals that Nate had started him on, that had kept Brandon alive even when they failed the very person who invented them. The cover had been painted with Teva's help, a mixture of colors and shapes that had been on all the actual covers of the journals. For a piece small enough to fit inside his pocket it was rather complex; he'd worked on it for several long hours to make it as perfect as possible. He had to leave something behind for his cousin, something meaningful since he wouldn't be there to talk to Nate anymore.
"Here," he choked out. "I made this myself, and Teva, she helped me a lot with the colors. It's probably...stupid, but I wanted you to have something a little more permanent than flowers. You did used to kind of like my paintings, so I thought this...Christ...I can't do this." His hand wouldn't let go of the sculpture. Once he set it down that'd be it, and he'd be leaving his cousin behind for good. Being able to come up here, to talk to the stone, in a way it was like he could still make that connection. Once he left, that link would be severed. After all these years he'd really, truly have to let his big brother go.
A gentle arm snaked over his shoulders, which he hadn't realized had been shaking until then. Teva's hand traced down his wrist to the hand that gripped the clay journal hovering over the dirt, helping him guide the departing gift down to the ground. Once his fingers released their hold on it, he turned and buried his face in her chest, holding her tight. She didn't say anything, just let him cry until he was done, then helped him get back into his chair. Before leaving, she turned back and placed her hand on the tombstone as well, and was quiet for a second before she spoke.
"Thank you for watching over Brandon all these years. I'll take over from here. Enjoy your rest, okay?"
Maybe it was just because he was overemotional at the moment, but in that instant Brandon could've sworn he felt something change in the air. He couldn't say if it was himself letting go, or Nate finally walking away, but it definitely felt different, somewhat peaceful and somewhat lonely at the same time. It made him want to start crying all over again, but instead he simply whispered under his breath, "Bye, big brother."
It was the very first time he'd allowed himself to utter those three words out loud, and it was the hardest thing he'd ever had to do in his life.
Watching Brandon say goodbye to his cousin kind of made her feel pretty nostalgic herself. Her mom had been cremated in Bucharest, and her ashes interred at the same cemetery where her parents had been buried. Teva had only gone to see it once on her twenty-second birthday. It was just a plaque on a wall. She remembered being so disappointed by the simplicity of it, by how cool it was. Looking at it, it was just a thin piece of metal with her mother's name engraved on it, and the dates she'd been born and died. There was no emotional connection there. Her mother was gone.
So she didn't quite understand why the thought of not being able to see a slab of stone had Brandon so torn up, but she knew that it did. Obviously, it pained him.
Teva was more of the thought that spirits were everywhere, not bound to a physical marker.
But she said goodbye anyway, because it seemed like Brandon needed to hear the words.
They left LA on a melancholy note, and she drove for four hours before pulling off the freeway into a rest stop parking lot. Both of them got out to stretch, grateful for the reprieve. They ate leftovers from the Reyeses at a picnic table, and talked about anything but how freaked out they were that they were actually doing this, taking this step.
Then it was back in the car for another three hours, when dinner demanded a potty break, and Teva told Brandon, "Why don't you get some sleep. I'm gonna try and drive straight to Lubbock from here. It's gonna be around five hours."
"Alright," he agreed, and reclined his seat back the few inches he could.
It was full dark by that time, and Teva was drinking crappy gas station soycaf out of the hugest size they'd had available while she drove.
As they crossed into Texas, and thereby into the CAS, the car was scanned, but the charms held up to the inspection, and they were allowed through after paying the toll.
Lubbock was dead when she pulled off the freeway and rolled into the city. There was a motel not far off the freeway with a few semis in the lot, a U-Haul-It truck, and some cars. The vacancy sign was still lit up, so she pulled in, and shook Bran's shoulder while stifling a yawn.
He started, murmuring, "Wha?"
"Do you wanna stay here while I check in?" she asked.
Nodding slowly, Brandon murmured, "Need a few minutes to wake up."
"'kay," Teva agreed, sliding out of the car and stretching. She slammed the door. It echoed a little in the quiet parking lot, and the sound of her shoes on the pavement made a steady staccato beat as she walked into the lobby.
The clock above the desk told her that it was nearly three in the morning. The clerk who came out of the back room looked just as tired as she, though he tried for a smile which she just didn't have the energy to return. "I need a room. Preferably wheelchair accessible, but I'll take what I can get," she mumbled, propping her chin in her hand and her elbow on the counter. "And can I get a late check-out?"
"Is one in the afternoon okay? Usually check-out is at noon," the young man replied with that deep Texas twang in his voice.
"Yep," she nodded weakly, and let them scan her comm for payment. "Continental breakfast?"
"'Til eleven am in the sitting room right there," the clerk lifted a finger, pointing at a set of French doors behind her.
"Sweet," Teva sighed, and grabbed the room keys. "Directions?"
"The first door down from the main entrance, second door on the right of the hallway, first floor."
"Thanks, man," Teva grunted in reply as she headed out the door. Brandon still looked hardly awake as she moved the car closer to their room, and she brought in the food, as well as her bag and Brandon's duffle with his toiletries and such in it, and swiped her key over the door lock to push it open. "Oh my god, I'm so tired," she sighed, shoving the food hurriedly in the fridge, and leaving their bags in the closet area so they'd be out of the way.
"Me too," Brandon grunted as he toed off his shoes and socks, and flopped down on the bed. After a moment's thought, he undid his belt buckle, and ditched his pants too.
While he was busy doing that, Teva was stripping off her clothes, and sliding between the sheets, heedless of her own nudity. She wasn't digging through her bag for some pajamas, and she wasn't sleeping in denim shorts either. "Sleep is good," she sighed when Brandon climbed under the sheets with her, hit the light, and took his glasses off.
"Un," he grunted his agreement, and slipped his arm over her waist. That was the last thing either one of them said, and shortly thereafter, they were sound asleep.
The sound of a child screeching in the room next door startled Brandon awake, giving him that "Where the fuck am I?" panic he hadn't experienced in ages. It passed quickly enough though, his brain catching up to all the little cues his environment was giving him, and he cursed himself for forgetting to ditch the earbuds along with the glasses before he had passed out. They were so small and he was so used to wearing them that half the time he forgot he even had them in. He definitely noticed when they weren't in though. Without them it almost seemed like he was hearing through a set of earmuffs.
At whatever-the-fuck-time-it-was in the morning after a long night of broken, uncomfortable sleep in the car, the muffled version was what he wanted. Children screaming in hyper-sound was not something he wanted to listen to. By the unintelligible sound of Teva's mumbling followed by shoving a pillow over her head, she apparently agreed.
Sans earbuds, Brandon was able to doze for a little while longer until his own traitorous body clock wouldn't allow it anymore. This was one of those occasions when being a natural early riser sucked, the sounds of other people getting up to head out on the road making it that much worse for him to just pass back out. With a defeated sigh, Brandon gave up on the notion of more sleep and took the couple steps that brought him over to his chair, plopping down into it heavily. He may not have been able to get back to sleep, but that didn't mean he had make an effort to walk just yet.
As usual, all his moving around briefly woke Teva back up long enough to murmur something about breakfast, lobby, and bringing her back a bagel or a scone or cereal or all the above. Not like it mattered. Whatever they didn't eat they'd just stash in the box nana gave them or in the cooler for later. That being decided, Brandon was a good boy and made sure to put on pants and shoes before venturing out into the world, nearly rolling over one of the excited children as he pushed himself out into the hallway. They were playing tag or something while mom and dad were packing things up, happy as could be about what was probably their first road trip. Even kids got tired of long car rides and hotel rooms after the novelty of the first few trips wore off.
"Sorry, mister," the older of the boys spat out quickly before continuing the chase. The younger one that almost got run over hadn't even slowed down.
Brandon shook his head, but couldn't help but smile. The joys of youth - something he'd missed out on but not sour enough about it to hate seeing it in others. On the contrary, he enjoyed seeing kids get to be just kids...unless he was supposed to be the one responsible for them, or when they were waking him up at the ass crack of why-am-I-fucking-alive-right-now?
Breakfast. He was supposed to be getting breakfast.
After quickly checking on his car (a mistake, as Mr. Screeching Children decided that would be a good time to ask a million questions about the classic), Brandon was finally able to go peruse the food selection. Taking full, shameless advantage of his chair situation, he was able to get first dibs on a lot items due to people's natural instinct to "help the poor cripple." They were even nice enough to reach things for him that he would've otherwise had to stand up to get. Yeah, the chair did sometimes have its advantages. By the time he left the lobby he had a lap full of food for both himself and Teva, and a much politer, non-screeching young girl who volunteered to carry his coffee for him to his room (with responsible mother hovering close by, of course, who made the girl wait out in the hallway for Brandon to bring in the food and come back out for the cups). Zombie Teva stirred enough to consume nourishment before passing back out, during which time Brandon did some of his exercises in the limited room space and took a shower before rolling back out into the world.
Lubbock, one of the bigger cities in Texas, wasn't a place where Brandon could really just go exploring on his own, but Teva had picked a motel just on the outskirts of town, so he was a little freer to get some air without fear of getting dragged off into an alley or something. That was a good thing, because he really didn't want to just sit quietly around the motel until Teva was ready to go, letting his mind fall into all the dreaded "what-ifs" and other fears of relocating. Instead, he went back to talk to the motel clerk who mentioned a little museum just down the street, so Brandon meandered in that direction and cruised around looking at "ancient weapons of the ol' West." He spent a little time in the gift shop where he picked up some postcards completely at random since he couldn't tell what was on them, bought a popup book where he could do things like pull tabs to make little cardboard six shooters spring up out of nowhere (just because he thought it was funny given the fact that he couldn't read normal books anymore), and headed back after getting a mildly irritated comm call from Teva wondering where the fuck he'd wandered off to.
"One of your postcards has a mostly naked cowgirl on it," Teva informed him once he'd gotten back to the motel. He had no idea whether that was a joke or not, but decided he better not pick that one to send off to the Reyeses just in case. He shoved it in his duffel in a different pouch than the other ones.
After a quick lunch consisting of more of nana's food, Brandon helped Teva pack back up the few things they had pulled out of the car, and they were back on the road. He rolled down the window so he could see the landscape as far out as his glasses would allow, made even more difficult with the speed they were racing past everything. According to Teva there wasn't much to see anyway, so he wasn't missing out on anything cool.
Obviously having been bitten by that "I'm almost home" bug, Teva drove the over five hours to Dallas straight through where they stopped for a break and dinner. Brandon decided in the little bit they were there that he liked Dallas. The air traffic in the city was insane compared to what he was used to, with flying shuttles zipping back forth between the high-rises, and the glimpse he caught of the CAS bullet train passing through was fun. A guy at the "All Mexican" taco stand was explaining to him the differences between Aztlaners and Mexicans, all too thrilled to educate an L.A. boy who was only familiar with the Aztlan concept. The workers came out and did a little street dance demo for him and everything, even though honestly Brandon couldn't really tell that much of a difference between Mexican and Aztlaner music. It was something he noted for himself to look closer into though, just in case he ever needed to pull a job in the area. Knowing all the subtle cultural differences in the people he worked with made a huge impact on the believability of his personas.
It was another three hours to Shreveport, and Teva had turned into a chatterbox the moment they crossed the state line into Louisiana. She began telling him anything and everything that he could possibly need to know about the area, becoming his own personal tour guide, and that actually made him really happy about his decision to move. Seeing her virtually light up at the concept of being so close to home made this whole harrowing experience completely worth it, and he was glad that he'd given that to her.
They stopped more on the way through the territory so she could show him things, once in Shreveport, once in Alexandria, they of course had to stop in Baton Rouge, and they finally pulled into Teva's apartment building around four in the morning. Beyond tired by that point, they'd crossed over into that loopy phase where everything was funny, including the fact that Teva almost rammed the car into the garage's security door before her access code could get it open. The fact that Brandon had laughed at that was even funnier considering how paranoid he'd been way back when she'd first started driving his car, and they had to keep shushing each other so they wouldn't wake up the other tenants in the building.
It was due to this loopy tiredness that Brandon would later blame his utter lack of enthusiasm on when he first entered Teva's apartment. "Oh," he had simply said, the disappointment apparently evident in his tone.
"Oh? What does that mean?" Teva was quick to ask.
"Nothing, nothing," Brandon backpedaled. "I like your plants."
He didn't know what he'd been expecting, honestly. She had told him exactly how her place looked back when he was still in the clinic, but for some reason he pictured...more. Maybe he was just tired. Yeah. It was definitely the loopy factor.
Deciding just to haul up the really important things for the night (with Teva using Brandon and his chair as a talking moving cart), they made a few trips up and down before they called it quits. Loopy only lasted so long before beyond exhaustion settled in, and Brandon slipped into Teva's bed for the first time ever. Teva's bed, in Teva's room, in Teva's apartment, in Teva's city.
Brandon fell to sleep wondering how long it would take before he could call the place his home too.