The Pitfalls and Perks of Cohabitation

Chapter 15

Pairing: Ghost/Feral

Rating: R

Warnings: trouble's a-brewin'

Archive: Ask

Author: Lily Zen and Alex Kade

Disclaimer: Shadowrun belongs to the makers of Shadowrun. Original characters (which are all of them) belong to me and Alex.

The day went by slowly, Teva taking a nap after their meal to try and sleep off the last of her hangover. Once she woke up again feeling much better, she hunted Brandon down. She'd heard the water run in the bathroom, and after he came into the bedroom to get some clothes, so she surmised he'd already done his exercises. Thus, the gym was not on her list of immediate places to look. Instead she found Brandon puttering in his craft corner with some of his clay. Unlike usual though, he wasn't using the wheel, instead he was shaping the clay into long, thin cylinders.

Looping her arms over his shoulders as he sat at his little station, Teva whispered, "Do you know the coiling method of creating pottery dates all the way back to the Neolithic period? Imagine, us with all our technological advances, and we're still making earthenware using the same techniques as early Homo sapiens."

Brandon made some noncommittal noise, caught up as he was in his work.

With a little smile on her face, she kissed his cheek. "What are you using for temper?" Teva asked as she straightened up, and headed for the kitchen to make a pot of soycaf. "With that method, you've got to use temper so it doesn't burst in the kiln."

"How is it you know so much about art, but you can't stand actually doing it yourself?" Bran laughed.

"I told you," she replied, "I love to watch art as it's created. I lived with an artist for awhile, you know." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Brandon smirking. "Not like that," Teva admonished, reaching for the soycaf, and scooping the proper amount into the coffee pot. "I told you about how I lived with that sculptor, didn't I? The old guy? I got my leg tattooed as a memorial to him. He did this piece just like it, a three-dimensional wood sculpture, for his wife, who'd passed away two years prior. I loved it so much, I wanted to buy it, but I was pretty broke at the time. Anyway, he did a lot of other stuff too, and I think he liked having an audience. He wanted someone to pass his knowledge onto, so I did what little I could and listened.

"Anyway, what are you using for temper?" Teva went back to her original question before Brandon could even respond.

"Sand," he replied.

"Good choice," she said, nodding as the pot began to brew. "A favorite in the Southwest. You'll see a lot of coiled pots out that way. Don't forget to smooth, otherwise it'll just fall apart when it dries. Speaking of your art, I wanted to run something past you."

"Shoot," Brandon told her as he began to lay his first coil on the base.

"Well-and I don't mean to come off like a bitch, but I'm probably going to-things are kind of piling up here. You have been looking for a way to make money. To me, the natural solution seems to sell your pieces. I mean, you can turn a profit on this, and my snooty friends have connections in the art scene here. This wouldn't be some booth at a craft store operation. I'm talking galleries and idiots willing to pay top dollar. What do you think?" Teva asked, leaning on the counter.

"Ah, well, Switch helped me list some stuff online," her boyfriend responded.

Teva flicked her hand dismissively. "And that's fine, but when it comes down to it, who do you think is going to pay more? Socialites from the second largest city in the CAS or Joe Blow McRandom on Crafty dot Com? At least let me get in contact with some of my people, and maybe they can put out some feelers. Give it a shot, and if it doesn't pan out, it doesn't pan out. But you know, if it does, then that's great! We don't have to pay shipping costs then."

When Brandon was silent for a long time, Teva gave up and went to pour herself a cup of soycaf out of the pot. It was as she was doing that, that he said, "I'll think about it. Get back to me with some more information, and we'll see how it goes."

"I'll need to borrow some pieces to have something to show my contacts. Pick which ones. Try to show your range, but make it cohesive, I guess, stuff that will display well." She sipped her too-hot soycaf, letting it soothe her abused throat.

An art gallery? Brandon thought as he toyed with the piece he was working on. This was dipping into that whole realm of being self-conscious again, of being placed on display. As the artist, he'd be expected to attend, and then people might gawk at him instead of his work. Worse, what if they only bought the stuff because of some sort of pity gimmick?

"Oh, look what the blind cripple can make! Honey, let's support the poor boy. We'll just put the pot out in the back yard where people won't see it."

God, that'd be terrible. No real art lover would buy his amateur shit because they thought it was actually good. He painted them like he did his canvas work, and his art teacher in high school-a real professional-had told him his style was juvenile. Now it was even worse because he had to guess at half the shit he was doing, and he knew damn well that if he tried to paint a horse it would come out looking like an alligator or something. People would laugh, and no matter which character he slipped into to make it seem fine on the outside, it would still hurt on the inside.

Online he'd stay anonymous, and the Joe Blow McRandom buyers wouldn't know the difference between Picasso and Crayola. If they looked at the pictures and laughed then he'd never know. If they bought it though, then he'd know they must've liked it on some level.

Then again, there were a zillion other people trying to sell their artwork online. A year could go by without anyone ever having seen his work, but he didn't have a year. His mooching time was up and Teva was still letting him slide by. If doing a gallery thing could bring in his share of the rent and bills in a relatively short time, then it wouldn't be fair to her if he turned down the opportunity just to save himself from some hurt pride. In fact, in this case maybe he should play up the blind cripple gimmick, treat it like any other undercover op. Whatever brought in the cred, right?

That wouldn't make him feel much better in this case, and he knew it. If a potential buyer asked him to explain a piece to them, a little part of his fucked up emotional psyche, he wasn't sure how he'd go about that. He couldn't even remember what he'd painted on some of the pieces, and in the ones that he'd done before his color vision had improved, it was possible that what he was going for wasn't the color that actually wound up on the pot. Yep, he could see it now:

"Excuse me, young man. Can you tell me the significance of this shape here?"

"I don't know. Tell me what it looks like and what color it is and maybe I can figure it out."

Yeah, catastrophe in the making. He was definitely going to get snubbed by the art world.

But, again, money.

By the time he finished sculpting his latest project he hadn't come any closer to making an actual decision. It'd probably be best just to let Teva take a few pieces to see what she could come up with. If by some miracle someone actually thought they had potential, then maybe he wouldn't sweat so much about it. If there was no hope, well, Teva would be the one dealing with that end of it and she'd deliver the rejection in a way that wouldn't make him feel too bad about it. That would probably be the best option.

"Your brain exploded yet?" Teva asked from where she'd apparently been watching him on the couch.

Had he really been thinking about it that hard? Yeah, he had. "Almost," he admitted. "Why don't you pick out what you think is good? I don't even know what I have over here anymore. Maybe take some of the ones I painted and some of the ones I didn't?"

She stood up and strolled over to the semi-organized pile of pottery. "You didn't set aside any favorites?"

Of course he had! She couldn't take those though. If those pieces got laughed out of the art world he'd be crushed.

"N-" he started, but could tell by the look on her face that she wasn't going to put up with another lie. "Yes," he said begrudgingly and pointed to the collection of artwork he was the most proud of. Those he did remember inside and out, even the ones he'd done before his Enhancer had gotten repaired.

Teva knelt down in front of them, smiling as she picked up a small, squat little thing that was probably more bowl than pot. "Do you want to sell these or keep them?" she asked.

The question took Brandon off guard a little bit. He'd assumed he'd have to sell everything; there just wasn't room in the apartment for stupid trinkets he'd made when the mood struck. He was kind of attached to some of them, but then again, if they were his best then they'd probably sell for the higher price (if they sold at all). Money was sort of a priority right now.

"Sell them," he said, a little quieter than he had intended to. Christ, they were just chunks of fired clay with some paint slapped on them. He was acting like he'd just agreed to sell off his journals.

Teva gave him that scrutinizing look again. "You didn't list any of these online, did you?" It was a statement, not a question.

Brandon merely shook his head as he poked at some tiny fault he found in his current pot. He knew this had to be like pulling teeth for her, but he couldn't help it. This was a matter of trying to do the right thing even though the whole process would be insanely difficult for him, making it hard for him to give her the exact answers she was looking for.

"Look, B, if you want to keep them, keep them. There's not that many. We can find homes for these," Teva told him, and moved on to ponder over the pieces that weren't in his favorites pile. "Maybe one day when you're rich and famous we can post up photos of the 'Private Collection.' People sometimes pay good money for duplicates."

A burst of laughter escaped Brandon's control at that. "Rich and famous? Are we talking about the same art?"

"Yes. You're better than you give yourself credit for," Teva answered very seriously. She stood back up and draped her arms over his shoulders, then asked thoughtfully, "Did any of those girls you coerced into your bed have any idea how insecure you really are?"

"No," Brandon smiled. "There's a reason they call people like me 'Confidence Men.' Tricked you that first time, didn't I?"

He could tell by the tiny twitch in her eyelids that she was rolling her eyes at him. "Yeah," she snorted, "Right up until you were acting like a weird little kid when you were-"

Infected, Brandon finished mentally, shying away from the memory. Eventually he'd be able to put that whole Horizon incident behind him, and it didn't affect him quite so much anymore thinking about it, but it was still a sensitive subject. Teva had been the victim, yes, but it was him who had very nearly died over it. One day he'd be able to talk about it without feeling that sudden rock of guilt dropping down into his chest, but it still wasn't today.

Wanting to change the subject to something safer, and hoping to put the smile back on Teva's face, he brought up something else he'd been thinking a lot about lately. He'd only just made his final decision that morning after they'd talked, realizing he was finally ready to take the next step in this sort of fucked up relationship. Based on her side of the conversation, it seemed maybe she was a bit more open to trying to make things work as well.

"So...where does a person need to go around here to get their citizenship changed?" he asked casually, hoping to god he wasn't wrong about this. It wasn't an engagement ring by any means, but there'd be no easy going back after this one.

She almost burst into tears when Brandon asked her, and found it hard to maintain an unemotional facade. Finally, Teva had to turn away for a second, busying herself with straightening up the kitchen counter, which tended to accumulate more and more of their daily detritus as time went on, while she composed herself. It wasn't that she was sad, strictly speaking, but more or less that she hadn't thought he'd ever ask. At first, she'd just assumed it was because they were so busy; with the move, with his treatments, with life. When things had begun to settle though, Teva began to suspect that maybe the reason Brandon was content to live with his visa status was because he didn't think he'd be staying.

That doubt, she realized suddenly, had begun to underscore all of her interactions with him. Teva treated Brandon like he wasn't going to be a permanent fixture in her life because he didn't act like he was going to.

"I think," she began slowly, shuffling a few stray papers into order, "that you have to fill out the correct forms on the CAS government website, and they'll contact the PCC registry for your information. It's mostly just a matter of waiting once you fill out the forms. They should notify you when your SIN has been officially registered with the CAS database."

Teva turned and smiled briefly, but moved on quickly, straying back to, "Have you tried saving your slip and decorating your pots with it? Each clay batch has a slightly different color, so you can come up with some beautiful decorations. You use it just like paint."

In some dark part of her, she really hadn't thought he'd want to stay.

Smirking a little, noting the diversionary tactic for what it was, Brandon decided to let Teva off the hook and roll with her subject change back to the pottery discussion. She hadn't freaked out at his question...well, she had a little bit, it seemed, but not in the kind of way that made him feel like she didn't want him to stay. It had been a good choice, he thought, and maybe something that would bring them closer together again. He'd have to look into the registry thing tomorrow, and prayed that his Criminal SIN wouldn't cause too much trouble for him.

"Show me," he suggested, bending over to grab one of the newer pots that he hadn't decorated yet. It was a simple thing he'd made when he was toying with a new technique, so if they messed it up playing with the slip he wouldn't exactly be heartbroken over it.

Teva seemed to deliberate on it for a second before strolling back over beside him, leaning over him to grab one of the brushes. "I'm going to remind you again that I can't paint worth shit," she said right beside his ear.

Brandon turned his face just enough to give her a peck on the cheek. "That's why I picked a pot I didn't give a shit about," he responded with an impish little smile, then nodded at the blank piece. "Show me," he urged again.

So she did, offering up some techniques that she'd learned but didn't really have the skill to practice. Brandon followed her directions and simple demonstrations, pleased that the slip was actually visible if he put it on thick enough so he could form his shapes better. Then he got a little more curious and took out some of his textured paints that he liked, but didn't use much because he didn't want to take away from the normally smooth surface of the clay. Experimenting, he painted tiny rough shapes over the top of the slip, adding onto the doodles that he and Teva were creating. By the time they were finished playing, the poor little pot looked like something that might've come out of one of those old Dr. Suess books with its crazy patterns sticking up all over it.

"You know what?" he said, admiring their handy work. "I think this one's my new favorite. Go awkward pottery teamwork."

At his prompted high five, Teva blinked at him for a moment before bursting into laughter and slapping his hand back.

"See?" Brandon chuckled. "The high five thing is kind of dorky."

"Only when you do it," she sassed back, which turned into a loving kiss, which turned into a trip to the bedroom where things came to a disappointingly screeching halt when Brandon was harshly reminded of his bruised torso. Teva apologized and eased off him quickly despite his insistent proclamations that he was perfectly fine, and instead set about doing her thing with her magic hands while she continued to kiss him in places that were making it exceedingly difficult for him to stay still.

"Angel," he gasped. "This isn't...fair!"

"That's the point," she breathed out against his neck, the air cool against his wet skin.

He stored that in his head for a later time, when vengeance could be his.

Kel's already almond-shaped eyes narrowed further as he studied Brandon's artwork. Teva had gone the extra mile, and brought fabric to drape over the empty boxes she'd transported everything in, setting up a makeshift display with different heights, certain pieces spotlighted if she thought they would be bigger sells. The golden-skinned Asian man looked up, fiddling with the long, crudely banged into shape metal earring he was wearing in one ear. There were just studs in the other, and a tiny golden ankh that his partner, Dean, wore the mate to in his ear.

"I can sell it," Kel finally answered, and sat back in his seat, crossing his acid washed skinny jean-clad leg under the table. "The real question is how much do you want it to sell for?"

"As much as possible," Teva answered automatically, and picked up her cup of coffee that was sitting just past the edge of the fabric, on the metal grate cafe table. She took a sip of the cooling brew, and raised her eyebrow at Kel, who was practically inscrutable underneath his dark, gelled up hair.

"That's going to be trickier," he answered slowly. "To sell these for top dollar, you're going to need at least one authoritative art critic to write something positive about the collection. Once you get the word out, the people with the deep pockets will come out of the woodwork, or more likely their buyers will. Now, I can hook you up with a reputed critic, but I'll be honest, Teev, he's a real swing voter. You may think you've got him on the hook, then when you read his column the next day, he's burning you at the stake. This guy is a career maker or breaker."

"Shit," Teva sighed. "I don't know if Brandon would be able to take that kind of criticism. Just getting him to let me show these to you took some major arm-twisting. He's really sensitive about his artwork."

"Why?" Kel replied automatically. "It's good. Rudimentary, but good. It has that certain je ne sais quoi that self-taught art usually has. It's raw and emotional, and yet somehow has a light touch. Nothing is overdone. It's perfectly displayable." He leaned forward a little, fluttering his hand over the display. "Honestly, I could probably sell these for about two hundred nuyen a piece right now, but if you put in the effort, you could sell them for closer to a thousand, some maybe a little more than that. Real art like this goes for a high price for a certain crowd."

"So what do I have to do to get this critic to give Bran a favorable review?" she asked bluntly.

"Honestly?" her friend raised his eyebrows. When she nodded impatiently, he continued, "You can buy him, I know that for sure, or rather, make a sizable cash donation to the Arnold E. Wallace Fine Arts Scholarship Program."

"Seriously?" Teva deadpanned.

Shrugging his shoulders in his shiny suede jacket, Kel told her, "So I've heard."

Subsiding into silence, Teva sat back against her chair with a sigh, and lifted her hand to her mouth, nibbling absently at the skin around her thumb nail. "Alright," she finally grumped, "Set up the meet."

"Okay," Kel agreed. "I'll need to take a few of these pieces with me to put up a modest display. If I know him, he'll make a pretense of coming down to look at them anyway. Then once he's got the word up, we'll have a real gallery show. Oh, and you should probably tell your boyfriend to pick a character, any character. These rich assholes are buying the artist as much as they're buying the art. Speaking of, does he want to use a pseudonym? For anonymity's sake?"

Blinking dumbly, Teva shrugged. "I didn't ask. I will when I get home, and shoot you a message when I've got an answer, okay?"

They left it at that, departing with a final "thank you" from Teva, and a last "stop fucking thanking me, you twat, you owe me" from Kel.

Brandon sat across the desk from an elderly dwarf woman who was reading through his files with the diligence of a Lone Star detective picking apart a crime scene. She didn't smile at him, didn't seem interested in engaging in small talk, didn't seem at all impressed with his "what a polite young man" attitude, and barely seemed to register that he was even in the room. Basically, she was one of those types who'd already sat through every kind of bullshit he could think to throw at her, so he didn't even attempt to push his luck beyond his initial methods of feeling her out. He hated the "tough nut" types.

For his part, he wasn't exactly the cracking type either. He sat still with a polite silence and the proper amount of confidence. There was no leg bouncing or finger tapping or chewing on foreign objects; and going the other way, there was no flitting of his eyes around the room in bored, annoyed, or impatient fashion, no clearing of his throat to compensate for the lack of conversation, no pacing, and most importantly, no annoying questions. He was cool and collected without appearing cocky, giving the woman no reason to flag him for exhibiting questionable personality quirks.

Internally, though, he was pretty much the epitome of nervousness. He was being judged for citizenship based on his past record, his time in jail, his therapy results, his various day jobs that he'd picked up and dropped around 'runs with the ease of dribbling a basketball down an empty court, his current medical records and status, his ability to establish himself as a worthwhile citizen of CAS. Even the information about his childhood abuse would be vaguely documented somewhere in accordance with the details about his short incarceration-the woman wouldn't be privy to all of what happened, as those juvenile records were locked, but she'd know he had been a victim of sexual abuse. It was more than most people knew.

Then, of course, there was fact that Teva was gallivanting around the city somewhere with his artwork. He wanted to believe that maybe somebody besides himself and his close friends and family would think his work to be valuable, but he had too many doubts. There were too many scoffs and snubs when he'd experimented in art as a kid, and granted his maturity and new life experiences (not to mention he'd gotten much more adapt at what he could do with his hands over the years) attributed to a growth in talent, he still didn't really have a clue what he was doing. Not being able to see certainly didn't help matters any. If she came home and told him his shit could actually sell, he'd be more than a little surprised.

"How old were you when you got this Criminal status?" the woman asked in what was more grumble than clearly spoken words.

Brandon shifted forward in his seat slightly. "Uh, nineteen when I was officially stamped. I was eighteen when I committed the initial offense."

She huffed in a way that made him unsure whether she disapproved, or if it was just her way of acknowledging and absorbing the answer. "Three months in the system?"

"Yes, ma'am," he answer quickly. "First offense. Probationary house arrest during trial and for a few months after I was let out." He, of course, neglected to tell her that the 'runner friend he'd made on the inside clued him in to how to escape his anklet. House arrest had not been a hindrance for young Brandon-slowly-turning-into-Ghost.

She nodded slowly and spaced off again, further reading into his files before she asked her next question. "Therapist pegged you as potentially violent. You been violent at all since then?"

"No, ma'am," Brandon easily rolled out. Yes, that was one of the most blatant lies he'd ever told in his life. He was a 'runner. Violence sort of came with the territory.

The woman's next question wasn't as easy to answer. "You haven't been back to therapy since, I see, 'least not documented. You willing to go see a doc to update your prognosis?"

Brandon's confident demeanor slipped a little, but he got his mask settled back into place before speaking again. "I don't...see why that's necessary, ma'am. My record's been completely clean for the past nine years."

"All the more reason to update your files then," she answered. "If you're not prone to violence anymore, there's no reason to have this on here muddying things up, making my job harder. It'll be better if you wanna jump ship again to a new country too, better for the records folk over there and better for you." She lifted her finger and made a motion in the air like she was stamping a few things. "Get me a doc's signature-a reputable one-and I'll grant you citizenship. And don't argue with me; I'm only feeling generous today because my worthless husband remembered our anniversary for the first time in twenty years. Normally I'd have bombarded you with questions about your work ethic, 'cause it seems like you don't know how to hold a steady job, and how you plannin' on making a living in the state you're in now."

"Art," Brandon spat out, flustered over the therapy thing and not wanting to give her any more reason to doubt him. "I'm selling some pieces soon."

She snorted at that. "Right. That's what they all say. Good luck with that. Come back with that sig. Now scram, and tell the next sad sap to get his ass in here."

Brandon walked out of the office with a renewed sense of dread. He wasn't going back to a therapist, not now, not ever. It'd be that much worse now that he was all physically disabled; a shrink would be all over that. What the hell was he supposed to tell Teva, though? She'd be so disappointed if he couldn't get his SIN changed over, especially if it was over something as simple as a therapy session. She wouldn't understand.

There had to be another way around this, maybe something from the shadow side of the line. Couldn't be that hard to have someone get in the system and make everything official, right?

He needed to call Switch.

Brandon wasn't home when Teva got there, so she decided to put on her running shoes and go out again. It was just a quick sprint, and a little bit of parkour, nothing that would alarm anyone-no rooftop acrobatics-just something to get her blood pumping while she thought about the whole "bribing someone so they could make some money" thing.

Brandon wouldn't be pleased, she knew, but was it worth the argument, the disillusionment to tell him? Was it entirely necessary?

It wasn't exactly an honest and forthright line of thinking, she realized that, but she was afraid that he wouldn't understand the business of art in the same way he understood the business of shadowrunning, that he was too emotionally involved with his art to be able to see the practical side of it.

Then again, there she was doing that thing he hated again, underestimating him. Maybe Teva would get through her whole "this is a necessary expense" speech, and Bran would just shrug and say okay. Maybe.

Back at home, Teva hopped in the shower again, and got dressed in her typical lounging around the house clothes, a pair of shorts, and one of the t-shirts from the "not sure whose this is" section. She'd noticed that Brandon had a bit of a fascination with her legs, and with a look downward at her calves, Teva had to admit they were pretty nice. Might as well show them off to best advantage as often as she could. It wasn't like she had a whole hell of a lot else going on.

Strolling into the kitchen, she pulled out the TVP, and the onion, and started making meatless meatloaf for dinner. Teva pulled out a bag of frozen vegetables to go with it, smiling to herself as she heard Brandon's voice going 'there's too much green on this plate, I can tell.' He always bitched about the vegetables, but he was looking like he was better for it. Maybe she'd whip up some instant potatoes while she was at it too. It wasn't going to be one of her more gourmet-inspired meals, but it would taste good and fill them up.

Suddenly recalling the little frozen chocolate torte in the freezer, Teva pulled it out, and ripped open the packaging, letting it sit on a plate near the stove so that the heat would help it thaw faster. Bran would like that.

The door opened when she was about halfway through all the prep, and Teva called out, "Hi!"

"Hey," Brandon stated distractedly, and his strange, three-tap walk went to the front closet. He slipped off his jacket, and put it on a hanger, then closed the door and made his way to the kitchen. Sidling up behind her, he nuzzled into her neck, kissing the nape. After, Bran just stayed there with his nose buried against her, arms around her waist while she cooked.

Slowing in her motions, Teva reached down with her left hand, sliding her fingers along his. "Everything okay?" she wondered, his behavior diminishing her good mood somewhat.

Brandon stayed quiet for a little while longer, still struggling with what he should tell her. He'd gone back and forth on the way home on whether he should give her the full story and deal with what she might think in regards to the therapy situation, or to tell her some partial lie about how the registration office wouldn't approve him, so he'd have to go through Switch. Hell, he could tell a full lie and say it would just take a few days to get his citizenship, have Switch do it behind her back, and she'd never find out unless he or Switch spilled the beans.

He really didn't want to go that route though, and found that the concept of telling even a partial lie bothered him more than he thought it would. After all the arguments and work he'd been doing to improve his behavior, the little secrets and fibs with Teva just didn't roll out of his mouth as easily as they used to. That was probably a good thing, but god, she was going to be so disappointed in him. No matter how he explained things it was probably going to come out sounding like an excuse.

"Bran?" Teva prompted, trying to turn her head so she could look at him.

He pressed his face even further into her neck, not particularly wanting to catch the emotion playing through her pupil-less eyes when he fessed up. It would have to be the truth; anything less would display a lack of trust, the very thing they had just gotten into an explosive argument over just a couple days before.

''I didn't get it," he murmured, unconsciously squeezing his arms around her a little tighter in anticipation of what might come when he told her the reason why.

Teva completely stilled, her voice coming out in an amazing control of forced neutrality. "Didn't or couldn't?"

That really was the question, wasn't it? Could he get it? Probably, if he got a therapist that he could play like a fucking holo-instrument set to "new user" mode. If he got one of those who would see right through him though, he might wind up worse off than when he'd started. Finding just the right person would take a little research, and it was research he frankly didn't want to do. More than that, he just plain didn't want to see a fucking therapist at all. Nate had taught him better. Brandon had taught himself better.

Avoiding the direct question somewhat, Brandon answered around it. "She wouldn't send it through because of what the therapist said."

"The 'prone to violence' thing?" Teva asked, this time worming somewhat out of his grasp so she could turn around and look at him. It made him feel strangely vulnerable, something he didn't often feel with her, and he found himself staring at the ground, the counter, the steam coming from the pot, anything but her as she continued speaking. "They're denying you on that? The guy deserved it!"

"Are you sure?" Dr. Hill asked.

Brandon threw up his arms in exasperation before running his hands through his longish hair. "I know what I saw," he spat out. "Lonnie gave us that same look every fucking time he came up the stairs."

Hill sat back in his big, stupid chair and crossed one leg over the other casually, doing his best to look non-confrontational. Then the jerk gave Brandon what he absolutely hated most about therapists: the 'I know what's going on in your head better than you do' tone of voice.

"Is it possible, Brandon, that what you thought you perceived was a figment of your memory overlaid onto the face of the man you attacked? You had just suffered a very traumatic event, finding your cousin-a brother, really-in the way that you did. It would be logical that you were looking for someone to blame, preferably your uncle, but unable to target him you simply went for the next person readily available. Maybe what you thought you saw in that man was not ever really there at all."

The glare Brandon shot at his therapist could've melted steel if he had that capability, and Hill shifted in his seat as if maybe he was feeling that fire.

"Fuck you," Bran growled, and stood up to storm out of the room, shooting Hill the finger over his shoulder before slamming the door. His anklet dinged him a few seconds later, earning him an extra night in lockdown for breaking the rules of his probation.

"I, uh..." He about choked on the next words. "They want me to get a psych evaluation done before they'll grant me citizenship."

And again, if his eyes held melting powers, he'd probably be drilling out a nice, neat little hole in the floor right about now. This time, though, it wasn't out of anger; it was out of nervous shame that he couldn't give Teva what she wanted. At least not legally.

"Oh," Teva finally replied, after a long moment of silent, whirling thought. Brandon didn't want to see a therapist, she immediately surmised as being the real issue here. The government was perfectly within their rights to request an updated psychiatric evaluation, considering the fact that someone with a criminal SIN was asking to be let into their borders and granted rights of citizenship. They just wanted to make sure that he wasn't a danger to society. Bran wouldn't see it that way though. He'd see it more as an attack, him versus the establishment.

She didn't want to be disappointed, but she couldn't help herself. If he didn't go through a therapist, they'd be forced to use back channels, shady, illegal channels to get what they wanted, and that...that was expensive, no matter who they knew.

Turning back to the stove top, she stirred the mashed potatoes, using them as a nice distraction so that Brandon wouldn't be able to see the thoughts flitting across her too-expressive face. Nobody else read her quite like he could. That was kind of a problem when she wanted to keep things from him.

So they were back to matters of finance, basically, and it made her feel cornered, that pinched feeling in her throat as she thought about it. A hack into not one, but two governmental SIN databases was going to be pricey. Teva recalled just how much cred Switch had made on the Horizon 'run for stealing those unused SIN numbers and building the IDs from scratch, and tried not to wince. It would be cheaper because it would only be one SIN, and just a move as opposed to creation of a whole new identity, but it still wasn't something she wanted to pay for if she could help it.

And it would be her paying for it.

Brandon didn't have any money. What little he had left from the Kali job was going to pay his medical bills, which were staggeringly high.

It was frustrating, because it was like he just didn't care about how much money she was really doling out every month to support him. Money was a throwaway commodity to him, unlike her, who saved every last penny she could for some theoretical retirement whose date was stretching farther and farther away from actual grasp.

"Teva?" Brandon called, bringing her back to the fact that he was still there, apparently waiting for her to say more than just 'oh.'

What could she say though? What could she say when she already knew exactly how this conversation would go? She'd say, 'And you don't want to see a therapist?' For clarification, of course. Brandon would reply, 'No. I don't. Is that...? Maybe we could ask Switch.' To which Teva's brittle control would snap, and she would say something like, 'And just who is going to pay for this, do you think? Switch shouldn't have to put his ass on the line for free.' He'd shrug and look shameful, but it would be written there on his face. 'I guess you, but I would pay you back as soon as I can.'

'With what?' Teva would snap. 'What are you going to pay me back with Brandon? You have no income. Still. And I have to dole out a few grand just to get you some that's going to have a significant return. Are you going to pay me back for that too? Are you going to pay me back for all the stuff you needed, the antique watches, the fucking clock that I haven't even finished paying off yet, the endless amounts of treats you seem to require? My grocery bill has more than doubled since you moved in, because you are the pickiest fucking eater ever...' And on it would go.

In short, she was going to fucking snap if she went down that road, and it wouldn't accomplish anything. Brandon would feel bad. She would feel worse. And in the end, nothing would change. Bran still would rather shell out thousands of nuyen than spend an hour with a shrink.

By the time she answered Brandon, Teva had already retreated to her place of glacial coolness. "Yes?" Carefully, she set the spoon in the holder next to the stove.

"Are you mad?" Her boyfriend wanted to know.

"No," she answered neutrally, "I'm not mad." More like resigned. Gently breaking his hold, Teva turned to face him, smiling slightly. "Will you keep an eye on dinner for me? The potatoes should be done in another two or three minutes. Cover them, and move them off the burner. They'll stay warm while the vegetables finish cooking. That'll be about five. The timer is set for the meatloaf, which should be six, maybe seven minutes."

"Where are you-?"

Teva broke away, heading for the bedroom, and her running gear. It didn't matter that it would be her third run of the day. She needed it. There was an itch underneath her skin, a driving urge to lose herself in the steady rhythm of her breaths and pounding feet.

"I cut my run short this morning!" she lied smoothly, and ignored the gut-wrenching guilt as she did it. "I'm just going to make it up quickly before we eat!"

By the time she got back out into the common area, changed and with her shoes already on, Brandon was coming to meet her in the bedroom. Teva almost ran right into him, so intent was her focus on getting out the door. She ducked at the last second, and twisted nimbly around him.

"I'll see you when I get back!" Teva called with false cheer as the door slammed behind her.

She didn't wait for a response, just started running down the stairs to the street level, bursting out the door like her ass was on fire.

She's mad, Brandon thought, and though he sort of wanted to get angry that she had decided to be all hypocritical again and take off instead of talking to him, he just didn't have the motivation to be pissed. That mopey, empty feeling he knew so well had draped over his shoulders and was wrapping him up in its sorrow-tainted shroud of joy-constricting fog, a demeaning voice whispering in his ear, "Why can't you just be normal?"

It was just a therapist, not something he was afraid of, not a threat to his life, not some pointless dare that would grant him no reward; just a person practicing a profession that he happened to despise with a passion. Therapists were a complete waste of time and money, offering nothing but improvised theories based on partial understandings of a person's inner demons. Not one of them ever actually gave a shit, not about him, clearly not about Nate, and not about his need to have an "all clear" on his record so he could just get a fucking stamp on his file. They'd take one look at his history and see nothing but dancing dollar signs, after which they'd hold hostage his sought-after signature until they tore him open and left him as nothing more than a thin husk of tired flesh. That's what they'd done to Nate, bled him until there was no more life left to drip onto their greedy hands, and left Brandon to pick up the mess.

But Teva didn't understand that. Maybe she would if she watched it happen, stood by when he came back from that first session only to tell her he wasn't cleared yet, that the leech wanted one more session that would turn into four that would turn into ten, each one forcing him to relive his violent childhood over and over again; to walk into Nate's apartment only to find a gory corpse, a box of blank journals, and a suicide note full of wisecracks and no reason why; to go through his years of womanizing and partying, of drugs and booze, of nights he wished he could remember but was too afraid to really try. They'd talk about his brushes with death, the accidents and the ones he had lured in of his own free will, his attack in the park, his blindness, his physical weakness. He'd have to talk about everything that he felt only belonged on paper, not spilling out of his mouth where he'd choke on it until it killed him, the therapist laughing all the while, dancing around in a shower of vomit, blood, and tear-stained nuyen.

Then maybe Teva would understand.

Brandon made his way back to the kitchen to follow out Teva's directions in regards to dinner, functioning on depressive autopilot as he went through the motions of cooking. He was at a complete loss as to what he should do: not go to therapy and have Teva be upset with him, thus keeping him in this depressed state, which would make Teva even more upset with him; or go to therapy and be forced to sit through session after session of spilling his insides for a person who was only interested in his money, also keeping him in a constant state of frazzled depression, which would again make Teva upset with him. It was an ongoing chain in both cases, and either way he was completely fucked.

And what was left of the booze in the cabinet was already calling to him, whispering a siren song that everything would be okay if he just came a little closer.

Making a quick decision to keep himself from going down that road, he went ahead and called up Switch just for quotes, making damn certain that his friend didn't attempt to cut him some sort of crazy discount. Messing with SINs was always dangerous work, and Brandon wasn't willing to let the sometimes-too-generous hacker risk damage to himself for anything less than the going rate...which was a lot. No wonder Teva was mad. There was no way Brandon could pay for that, and that meant she'd have to cover his ass once again. No, he'd have to either figure out a way to make that money on his own, or deal with talking to a shrink. Or not get his citizenship changed over at all, but he didn't really think that would make matters any better.

"You could always enter a contest or something," Switch suggested. "I do it all the time."

Brandon let out a humorless snort. "Right. A contest. What would I do, huh? I can't walk yet, can't exactly step into a fight ring, I'm not top notch at anything online, my aim's off, forget about anything that requires perfect sight-"

"I think you're vastly underestimating what people like to make other people do for money," Switch informed him. "I saw a guy get paid two thousand nuyen last week for sitting in a tiny box for the longest time-all the contestants were claustrophobic. It lasted like two minutes." He chuckled again in memory before he continued. "There's eating contests, holding your breath underwater without using tech or magic, building things; you like to write, right? There's all sorts of writing contests. That's more normal. I can name over three thousand super heroes and villains just from memory. I've won a lot of cred with that one."

That made Brandon honestly laugh, pulling him out of his funk just a little. It wasn't a bad way to go, now that he was really starting to think about it. If he could win money just by shoving the most cookies in his face that'd be awesome on all accounts. It might take a little while to earn what he needed to pay off Switch for the job, but at least he could do it on his own. Then any money from his artwork (if it actually sold; Teva hadn't even mentioned anything about that) could go towards the bills and rent.

Maybe Teva would go for that. He just had to present it in a way that made it look like he was sure he could win these things.

Keeping Switch on the line to help him out, they began sorting through competitions close by or online that Brandon would be capable of doing. He wanted to lay out whatever game plan he had as soon as she walked in that door. This could work. All he had to do was convince her.