Whatever This Is


melissa_icon.gif russo_icon.gif

Scene Title Whatever This Is
Synopsis Upon her release from DHS custody, Melissa calls Russo for a ride. But a simple ride turns into a conversation as Russo takes care of her.
Date October 4, 2010

Russo's Apartment.

It's early Monday, around 9, when Brad gets a phone call from a number he doesn't recognize. Mostly because it's a payphone on a sidewalk. On the other end is a very exhausted and apologetic sounding Melissa, asking if he can give her a ride. The address to where she's at is given, a thank you murmured, and she hangs up. It's very short and to the point, just missing the sweet.

When Brad gets there, she's wearing clothes, rumpled enough to look like she's slept in them at least one night. Not something a neat freak like Melissa does. Beyond that, her hair is mussed and her face is devoid of makeup. And her face is devoid of color. There are even small indications that she's in some pain, and whatever she's been through the last few days, it hasn't been fun.

There wasn't much of a reaction from Brad at the call, save for minor puzzlement. The host had gotten in his black SUV and driven to the location without delay. His appearance is somewhat more put together than hers, with the exception of some odd stain on his shirt — not wholly unusual for a man who enjoys cooking. The sight of her does, however, warrant some concern masked in a semi tough guy exterior. While most men might just pull over and allow her to climb into the vehicle, Russo can see she's been through an ordeal, at the very least through careful assessment of her clothes and general appearance.

He puts the vehicle into park, and slides out of the driver's seat. Within moments he's by her side, tilting his head at her while arching his eyebrows. "Hey Miss." In her state, there's little he can do except offer her his shoulder and open the door for her to usher her safely into the vehicle. Oddly, for a man who makes his living asking other people questions, he says little other than try to operate as some form of physical support for her to lean.

At first Melissa doesn't seem to recognize the SUV, despite having ridden in it several times. It's not until he's standing next to her that she blinks at him and works up a little smile. She lets him get her in the car and leans her head back, eyes closing. It's not until he's in the vehicle as well that she speaks again. "Sorry to bother you, Brad. Just…didn't want the family seeing me yet." Seeing me like this. "It's not gonna be a fun conversation, and…was hoping to maybe borrow your shower before you took me home?" she asks, in the tone of someone expecting to get told no.

The car pulls away from the car at her words, Brad's own thoughts bearing some weight in its otherwise silence space. "You're not a bother," he states simple before glancing from the road to her and then back again. "It's really not a problem." She's shot a flicker of a smile, just a flicker as he continues en route, his own eyebrows knitting together with unspoken concern.

He opens his mouth to speak as his lips edge upwards again. The smile is tight and doesn't really belong on his face, but it's there just the same. "And I'll do you one better. You can have a shower, a bowl of soup" which is evidenced by that stain, "and a rest if you need it before you see them." There's a small pause before the question finally leaks out, "What happened?"

"You're an angel. And too good to be true," Melissa murmurs before she sighs softly, shifting in her seat to turn slightly towards him, eyes opening. "Spent the last…four? Five? days in jail after a visit with my uncle. He's DHS, and apparently my name was on a list of people who escaped Moab when the prison disappeared. The last two days have spent with them testing my ability in day long tests." Eyes flutter closed again. "It's given me a migraine. At least the nosebleeds stopped, though."

She shrugs a little. "I'll go home, but I can't stay. Part of my probation. So I just…they know I was in jail, but I don't want them to worry, so I wanna look alright before I go home, you know? If I show up, say hi, grab some of my stuff and leave, they'll just worry themselves sick."

"Nah. I'm just me," Brad counters quietly, all too aware of his own vices that he manages to keep hidden. Pressing his lips together he takes a slow deep breath and merely nods. Jail. His jaw tightens slowly before she's shot a more sympathetic smile, likely more than he intends. "What did they require for your probation? Where are you staying?" he quirks an eyebrow before glimpsing at her again.

"And it's okay. My shower is underused and I pay too much for it," his smile turns a little lopsided as his grip tightens on the steering. "And… you're welcome to a shirt… I'm pretty sure anything else I won won't fit you." And he's not staying in his condo — where Karolina had lived with him so her clothes are off limits.

"Twelve months, reduced to five for time served. Gotta do the whole visits with a probation officer thing, and they assigned me a place in Summer Meadows." Melissa shakes her head. "I lived in Summer Meadows when I first moved here. Moved away to avoid this sort of thing," she says, a touch of bitterness in her voice. "It's ridiculous anyway. I never should've been in Moab. And I didn't escape it, I was transported elsewhere."

A deep breath is taken and she glances over to him, smiling faintly. "Sorry. Don't mean to rant at you. The last few days have just been hard. Shower, soup and a shirt sound wonderful."

"You can rant at me," Brad counters before pulling up to his apartment block and into the bottom of the building to park. And then, finally he answers, "You look like hell. Anyone who would leave someone looking a mess deserves for than a rant." The words are stoic, but their full meaning is far from neutral, even coming from a television host who prides himself on his supposed neutrality.

The black SUV pulls into his stall before he's jumping out of his seat and sliding around the vehicle to help her out. "Are you okay to get upstairs?" Even at the question, with the pain he'd seen her in at the pay phone, he's offering his shoulder for support. And then, implicit in the first statement, he tacks on, "I can carry you. Believe it or not."

"It was the testing. Using my ability so much gave me a migraine. I've got pills for it at home," Melissa assures him with a faint smile as she swings around so her legs dangle out of the car. "And as tempting as having you carry me might be…My legs are fine. Promise. It's just my head."

She slides out of the car. "See? All good. So long as it's not like oodles of stairs anyway. If that's the case, then I may give in and let you carry me." But as it is, she does accept the offer of support, leaning lightly on him, more so she doesn't have to think about where she's going, letting him guide her.

"We do have an elevator," Brad quips with an ironic grin. "Apparently they put those in buildings these days or something." He winks at his own irony while guiding her to it and promptly pressing the button for the fourth floor. Not high up, but then he's never thought of himself as actually living here, it's just where he hangs his hat.

Slowly he guides her off it when it comes to the right floor and he shuffles her just down the hall. With a jingle of keys and a distinct CLICK, the door is unlocked and she's brought into the sparsely decorated apartment, greeted by white walls and a lack of furniture. "Sorry. It's… " he shrugs a little. "…it is what it is."

"No need to apologize. It's what my new place is gonna look like," Melissa says, shaking her head lightly as she looks around, then back at him. "And I know you said I wasn't a bother but…seriously. Thank you. Not your fault I'm in this mess." Then she gives him a hopeful look. "Got any headache meds? To help until I get home to my meds?"

Brad nods slightly as he leads the way into the kitchen. Once there, he's opening cabinets, "It may not be my fault…" only to find one loaded with half-drunk bottles of various liquors, either he entertains a lot or he drinks alone a lot, either way, there they are, "…but it sucks what happened to you. And regardless of Moab or whatever… no one should come out of jail looking like you do." He reaches around a bottle of scotch only to draw out a small plastic bottle of ibuprofen. It's nothing fancy but there it is.

He passes her the bottle before holding up a finger as he opens another cabinet to find glasses, one of which is filled with water from the tap. "It shouldn't be possible to come out of a prison in your condition in the United States."

Melissa shrugs a little as she takes the bottle, slides four pills into her hand then pops them back, swallowing them with the water. "Well if I had a different ability I might not have. But how do you test the range of someone whose ability is pain manipulation? It's not like they can give me stuff to move around or burn, or see if I can poke around in their minds. And no one in their right mind would let me use it on them to test."

"Can't say I'm happy about it though. All day testing was a bit extreme. Very extreme, really, I think." She shakes her head. "And they kept claiming they weren't the Company. That the Company were the bad guys," she says with a sigh, leaning against the counter.

"The Company…?" Brad's eyebrows knit together. "That conglomerate or whatever that went down a little while ago?" His lips press together and he shakes his head. "How can any government get away with that? Did they at least let you have your phone call? Get you a lawyer?" By now his lips are pursing as he walks towards a crock pot on the counter and moves to another cabinet to fetch a couple of bowls. And then, as if his behaviour requires explanation, he quips, "Eating might help your head."

As an aside, while he looks for a spoon, he queries, almost like it's the most normal question to ask, "So… they made you use your ability on yourself?" it's punctuated by a frown, not that Melissa can see it with Brad's back turned to her, but she can, perhaps, hear it — only a little. "Cowards," he murmurs.

"Yeah, I got my phone call, got my lawyer to pass on messages to work and home," Melissa says, nodding. "And…she had a bit of info too. On Primatech. It seems Primatech was…well, it was a front for the Company," she says apologetically. "And no, they couldn't make me use my ability on myself. It doesn't work. Wish it did. I'd be pain free more often," she says quickly, as if to detract from her bombshell.

He freezes at the mention of Primatech and the Company. Well that is unfortunate. Not only is his father a terrorist, but he'll be next to impossible to find. But Brad manages to reanimate moments later, rifling through a drawer for his ladle. Managing to find it, he pulls the lid from the crockpot and puts a scoop of soup into each bowl. It's borscht, pinkish in colour and fragrant from the moment he pulled the lid from the pot.

With a quiet shuffle of steps, he's moving to the fridge, opening it, and removing sour cream from it. Another tug on the freezer drawer and he's pulling out an ice pack. The sour cream is abandoned to the countertop as he steps towards her and tilts his head, holding out the icepack as an odd kind of offering, something to press against her head, and perhaps, numb the pain.

The icepack is taken and pressed against the side of her head as Melissa gives him a sympathetic smile. "I'm sure it's not that bad. And we'll find him. You can ask him about it. Maybe he just worked at Primatech, rather than using it as a cover?" Not that she really believes it, but it's something to say. As the ice pack starts to help some, she sighs softly and lets her eyes closed. "You really are too good to be true. Feeding me, giving me meds and an ice pack. And the rest you've said you'll do. Maybe I'm still in jail and just hallucinating someone being so nice," she murmurs.

Brad strains his lips into a smile, "Nah. He's just a glorified sperm donor anyways, right? I mean… all I ever got from him was a Y chromosome, which while I'm thankful for…" he shrugs slightly. He's all nonchalance at this topic because he needs to be, hopefulness brings risk of pain. "And… I'm just doing what any decent person would. It's nothing, really." He shrugs again as he's ushering her towards his table — complete with only two chairs, both of which are lawn chairs. Carefully he places both bowls of soup on the table before disappearing back into the kitchen for spoons. "And I'm not hallucination, I promise. If I were, I'd be much better looking and… less pasty."

"If this is what decent people do, then most of the people in this world are far from decent," Melissa mutters as she lets herself get led to the table, and sits down. "And you're cute enough as it is, Brad. Promise. Not pasty either. So as hallucinations go, this isn't a bad one. Though next time I hallucinate I'd prefer to not have a headache. That'd be awesome."

"Ehn. I think people are too afraid to be decent anymore." There's a distinct pause as he places the spoons on the table. "And with me, well… when you lose everything, there's nothing to be afraid of anymore." She's issued yet another shrug while Russo slides into the second lawn chair. Thoughtfully, he watches her, that careful arch to his eyebrow tries to contain his questions, comments, and concerns, but it fails him as a rather important one comes out. "Are you okay?" it's quiet, nearly whispered and edged with concern. "It's okay if you're not…"

"Okay? No," Melissa says, shaking her head as she picks up her spoon, but she does little more for now than stare down at her soup. "But then, I haven't been in a long time. This is just the latest catastrophe in my life. Better than some, worse than others, but entirely unpleasant," she mumbles before starting to to eat slowly. After just a few bites she looks up at him. "Starting to understand why I told you I was a bad bet the other day?"

With a small lean, he reaches to give her hand a squeeze. It's a small gesture, but it's what he can do in a world where little makes sense. Further, Brad's knight sensibilities inspire such action, any damsel in distress deserves support at the very least; ones that he actually knows? Well they deserve more than that. He swallows hard, rather audibly before lifting her hand to his lips. It's a light brush as he observes quietly, "I was never much of a gambling man." With his opposite hand, he spoons some of the soup into his mouth, lowering her hand.

When her hand is taken Melissa glances to it, or rather to his, and when he kisses that hand, she looks surprised and pleased. She squeezes his hand lightly, smiling faintly. "Not sure how I should take that. The optimistic part of me is hopin' it means you're ignore the bad that comes with me. Even though there's a lot of it, and most of it I can't tell you about."

There's a quiet that comes over him as he shovels the soup into his mouth, an odd thoughtfulness never captured on film, and one that he avoids showing to even his closest friends. Brad turns his head to face her, while his eyebrows furrow again. "I don't… I don't know if I should, but I like your company. And I don't… I don't know if I'm a terribly good bet. I'm a mess. It might not look it, but I am. I know I am." He has been for years.

"Because of her?" Melissa asks softly, only eating sporadically now, the conversation better for her than the soup. "But we should probably not start competing to see who's a bigger mess. Since I can't share most of mine, and I'm betting it wouldn't do you much good to bring up all of your issues right now. Besides, I'm at a disadvantage with the headache and all," she says, smiling a bit.

"Because of me," Brad answers simply. He's supposed to be over his mess. That's what his AA pin means, right? He shrugs again as he issues her hand a squeeze and then shovels another spoonful of soup into his mouth. After swallowing he considers, "You might not be a good bet. I might not be a good bet. But I like spending time with you. Do we need to define that time to make it… to make it legitimate? Can't it just be what it is? And can't we just see where it goes?"

"I like spending time with you too," Melissa admits. "And you were the only one I felt comfortable enough to call to come get me today." Another spoonful of soup while she thinks. "Honestly though, I've never been in this sort of situation, so I don't have any idea what I'm supposed to do. Or what's taboo," she confesses. "Though I think…I'm fine with just letting this be…whatever it is."

"Good. It's decided then. We're wholly undefined," the tone is gentle as Brad gives her hand another squeeze. He sighs before shovelling another spoonful of soup into his mouth. After swallowing he issues her a grin, "So… what do you need? Anything I can do to help you out?"

"Other than the shower and shirt?" Melissa thinks for a moment before she shrugs slowly. "A ride home later? Or…Well, I could use a date for the ball. It's this Friday, and some support and someone to dance with would be nice," she says with a faint smile, giving his hand the squeeze this time.

His cheeks flush as he clucks his tongue. "I… " he considers as his nose wrinkles a little, but Brad nods "… sure." His smile eases some. "I don't know what to wear though. What do people wear? Like… it's costumes, right? Or… can I just wear a suit? I have suits."

"Nope, it's costumes. Masks are required. You don't get in the door without one," Melissa says, giving him a genuine smile for the first time he picked her up. "It'll be fun, though. Edgar, my roommate? He's going to juggle swords, and there'll be other entertainment and a costume contest. Just the distraction I need."

"I have no idea what to wear." Brad hmmms again, "Well.. I might have one idea, but I'm pretty sure it'll paint me as a total dork for the rest of my life." She's issued a quick toothy grin as he spoons more soup into his mouth. "Wait, wait, wait.. your roommate juggles swords?" His eyebrows furrow tightly while he shakes his head slightly. "That's… an unusual talent, isn't it?"

"What sort of idea?" Melissa asks curiously. "And yeah, he does. It…he's really good at it. You'll see. He's a sweet guy too. Protective, like…I dunno. I'm his sister or something. But those people are my family, more than my parents or anything are. Kendall's the same way."

"I swear that kid doesn't like me," Brad quips referencing Kendall with an arch of his eyebrows. "And it's just an idea… " he clears his throat before admitting, "Tuxedo mask. My neighbour swore to me she was Sailor Moon when we were growing up and so she made me watch with her and — " his cheeks flush as he shakes his head. "It's just like the easiest costume ever because I fail at costumes…"

"No idea who that is, but I trust you," Melissa says, smiling. "As for Kendall…He's just protective. He…remember I told you that he died? He died saving my life. He took a bullet meant for me. And don't spread this around, but he'd still be dead, for me, if it weren't for a couple of well timed time travelers. I love the little brat."

"Wait… he's the kid that died?" Brad's eyes narrow considerably as he stares at her, his eyebrows furrowing again. "How… wait… time travellers…. what? Really? So… you like went back in time and rescued him then?" His lips press together as he puzzles all of this together, more than a little concerned and certainly confused.

Melissa nods. "Yeah, he is. And yes, I did. Ling thinks it's just a Refrain trip or something, that Kendall was just hiding up, but I don't touch the stuff. I really did go back, warn him, and we were able to save him. Brought him from the night he was supposed to die to here. And please, don't start going on about the consequences. We were careful to change as little as possible, and there were…special circumstances that made it possible." Namely Kendall's Illusion ability.

"That's… that's not…" Brad's eyes narrow again. Time travel is one of the few impossibilities he'd never really considered. "Can… can a person change anything if they went back? That's phenomenal! Why wouldn't a person want to do that?" His mouth gapes open slightly. "Think of all of the ways life is different because you rescued him. I can't…" His brain is working.

Melissa winces and shakes her head. "No, you can't do it, Brad. Kendall was…he was a special case. His ability made it possible, along with the circumstances of his death. I don't think we changed anything by bringing him back, other than giving him fuel for practical jokes. I'm sorry, honey. I really am."

Brad hmmms quietly as his gaze twitches away from her. He draws his bowl from the table before disappearing into the kitchen again. Gnawing silently on his bottom lip, he fills the sink with water and soaks his bowl with water to keep the soup from sticking. His cheeks flush, and he's grateful she can't see, but then, she can see his rather red ears. There are no other words from him as he turns off the tap.

With a loud swallow, he leans against the sink and turns his head to stare out the kitchen window.

Mentally calling herself ten kids of fool, Melissa watches him move into the other room. After a moment, she speaks up, rather hesitantly. "Maybe…I should go. That was stupid of me. I can get a cab to southern Staten and walk home. My car's there," she mumbles, rising to her feet. She's still pale, but the headache has lessened a bit. A tiny bit, but it's something.

Brad remains silent for some time, his body stiffening with every passing second. His cheeks still flush that red as he sucks in a slow breath and shakes his head. While he might be a panderer to the masses, he makes good on his word, thanks to his mother's raising. It's mandatory that he do what he can to make good on his word at all times. He disappears into the hall before returning with a towel which he holds out to her, his features softening slightly although he still says nothing.

When he disappears Melissa sighs and takes a step towards the door, only to stop when he returns, and with a towel. "Oh. Um…thanks," she murmurs, taking it, holding it to her chest. "I am sorry, Brad. I shouldn't have mentioned it. Especially not when you've been so nice to me." There's a long pause. "Thank you." Another pause, and she leans up to give him a quick peck on the cheek before moving down the hall in search of the bathroom.

Melissa is given a flicker of a smile at the cheek peck, but he's still painfully quiet, wholly unsure of himself in all of this. Finally, as she moves down the hall he clears his throat, croaking a quiet, "You're welcome," before she disappears behind a closed door. Leaning against one of the counters of the kitchen, he combs his fingers through his hair and clucks his tongue and tightens his jaw. There's little for him to do other than reflect. He reopens his liquor cabinet and draws out a bottle of tequila — it's half drunk. The cap is twisted off and brought to his lips in one swig.

The water starts a moment after Melissa disappears into the bathroom. And for the next half hour, she remains in there, getting clean and letting the hot water ease her headache. When the door next opens, it's for Mel to poke her head out. "Hey Brad? You said something about a tee-shirt? Unless you want me wandering out in my bra to come get it?"

Where the bottle was half empty, it's now two thirds empty. Pressing a hand to his forehead, he nods even though she can't see him. "Right. I… just a sec." The bottle is replaced on the counter as he shifts down the hall to the room across from the bathroom. When he emerges, he's holding his favourite grey Harvard shirt which is tossed towards her. With a small shake of his head, he's murmuring an apology, "Sorry bout that."

Melissa snatches the shirt and turns it around so she can peer at it, arching a brow. "Harvard? Impressive." She disappears again, to come back out a minute later with the shirt on over her black pants. "Well, it's better than prison orange. I look funny in anything but black," she mumbles. Then she pauses, sniffing. "You've been holding out on me," she accuses.

"Yeah. I went to Harvard," Brad responds, but he issues her an innocent smile while he shrugs. "You were in the shower, you're welcome to drink as much you want or need… I'm not in want here." That much is true. "There's tequila on the counter. Scotch in the cabinet… vodka… dark rum… " and a lot more.

"Sounds about like my cabinet at home," Melissa says with a faint smile, starting towards the kitchen. "You're..ah…not upset with me, are you?" she asks, the smile turning into a frown, just as faint as the smile. "I really can get out of your hair if you want."

"I… I said I'd drive you," Brad counters. "Believe it or not I make good on my promises." With another slow inhalation of breath, he rakes a hand through his hair again as he shifts his weight from one foot to another and back again. "I just don't understand why it's okay for you to go back and change the past and, before I even suggested that… it's kind of hypocritical. And just for the record, I wasn't sitting in prison the last few days. Unjustly or not, what made you think that's even what I was considering?" It was.

When he points out, very clearly, that he wasn't the one in jail, Melissa flinches. "This was a really bad idea," she mumbles. "But I thought that was what you were considering, because it's what I would've been considering," she adds softly, taking a few steps back out of the kitchen, looking somehow more defeated than when he picked her up.

"Look. I have my limits. I…" Brad draws the tequila from the counter again, twisting off the cap again before drawing it to his lips as he guzzles another swig of the liquor. His cheeks flush pale pink now as he takes a few steps after her. "Look." He pauses as he reaches out to touch her shoulder, but he comes up shy, just inches away from her, distance that he's almost afraid to close. "Look. I… I'm sorry. I know… you've had an ordeal that was… insensitive of me." His cheeks brighten, "And… I…" the smell of the tequila radiates from his breath. "I'm sorry," he whispers again.

The apology has Melissa pausing, and slowly she glances over her shoulder at him. "We've both screwed up. I just…I didn't think, before I said what I did. I was just trying to be as honest as I could, since there's so much I can't tell you," she says softly. "What do we do now?" she asks after a long pause.

"You have your secrets and I have mine," Russo states bluntly as his hand lowers, never having actually touched her shoulder. His lips press together again as he just lingers there and watches her intently. "I don't know. Anything. About anything." His hand combs through his hair again before passing the bottle to her with a shrug.

Melissa sighs softly and runs her hair through her hair as well. "Why don't we, like, sit down? We can talk or something. Or watch TV or a movie or something. Or…I don't know. If you want, you can just take me home. It's your choice. Your home, your choice."

"I… I don't know…" Brad answers quietly before he's reaching for her hand to tug her into the small semblance of a living room that he has with its own smallish couch. He sits on it. "I don't know what I want." At all. Instinctively he reaches for the liquor again, it's his one solace in life and the only comfort he permits himself these days.

Melissa lets herself be tugged and sits down next to him. She looks at the bottle when he grabs it, then looks up to him again. "Wanna get drunk and talk like we did in the bar the first time? About nothing and everything? Just…sorta forgetting about everything that bothers us?" she offers quietly.

"Yes. Yes I do. I just want to drink. And talk. And forget. Forget everything." Brad sighs heavily as he reaches forward to squeeze her hand again. "Whyyyy? Why is it so bad? If a person succeeded in changing the past, no one in the present would even know, would they? Like even if it resulted in something 'bad' could it be labelled as such if it never happened? It would be the only reality; the only way things happen…"

Melissa looks pained at the question, and she squeezes his hand. "Because it being the one reality doesn't make it the right reality. For a really severe example…What if someone went back and saved Hitler? Or stopped the allies from ending World War II? It would make the new reality the only reality, but it wouldn't make it right. And everything we change in the past alters the present in some way. Kendall…No body was ever found. And his ability let it seem like everything happened the way it originally did, so we didn't change the month he was gone at all. But if we brought her back…It'd change you. It'd undo all the good you've done, with making people think."

She hesitates for a long moment. "The person who originally sent me back. He wanted me to give a bunch of money to a family, so they could move out of the city after they lost everything. But if I'd done that, one member of that family wouldn't have done a bunch of amazing things, and her child wouldn't have been conceived. All because of a seemingly good act."

"But she would've done more good," Brad replies as he downs another gulp of tequila before passing her the bottle. "Drink." It's not an order, but it's an expletive, he wants her to; drinking alone is the pits. "And maybe I wouldn't be a total ass." And find his solace in the bottom of the bottle. "And mom could tell me about this father of mine…" He sighs heavily now. "And what would be the harm? She'd have a different child and her life could be equally as good… just… different?"

The bottle is taken, drank, then Melissa passes it back. "Or maybe you two would've broken up. Maybe she would've broken your heart, and your mom never would've told you about your father. Maybe you would've died instead, at a later date, and left her alone and heartbroken. There's no telling what you'd change, Brad." which just seems to be depressing her as she thinks of what she may have changed.

"Ha! Brides don't dump the groom with a month to go," Russo quips as he drinks again only to cough around the liquor. "She was strong enough to move on anyways if I'd died." Not like him, that much is implied rather than stated. "And if I'd never found out about the old man it wouldnta mattered." He presses his lips together as he stretches.

"Brides sometimes dump the groom at the alter," Melissa points out softly. "Can we not talk about this though? I've already gotten lectured from one person I considered a friend. Badly enough that I had to ask her not to say any of that to Kendall." She seems very bothered.

"She wouldn't have. Not her style," Brad says honestly as he turns to face her with a small smile, remembering Karolina has an odd effect on him, somewhere between sadness and happiness. He sighs as he nods and takes another swig of the booze before passing it back to her. He closes his eyes and just shakes his head. "So. How will your family feel about you turning all liquored up after spending time with me… again?" He raises his eyebrows.

Melissa shrugs and takes the bottle, chugging a good bit before lowering it. "I think the whole jail and probation and having to move out for five months thing will take precedence. Besides, I think Ling at least will understand why I came to you before them. She's all about composure."

"Well that's good at least…" Brad sighs heavily as he reaches out to lift her chin, seeking eye contact, "You're freakishly strong through all of this. I've bailed my share of people out of prison — " all Karolina's connections, "and I've never seen one leave and remain so wholly intact."

Melissa's chin lifts easily, though eye contact is a more reluctant thing. "Five days is nothing compared to seven months, when I was injected regularly to keep me safe," she says quietly. "Five days is nothing compared to most of the shit I've been through in the last few months. And I'm waiting until I'm alone in my new apartment before breaking down," she admits.

"You've got guts, Missy. And, to quote Hemingway, 'By "guts" I mean, grace under pressure.' His fingers remain under her chin, his own eyes inspecting her carefully, unabashedly. "Five days is something if you thought they were going to lead to months in lock up. They mean something if you don't know what will happen." His fingers trail upwards, brushing the stray hairs along her face behind her ear, away from her face.

"It's not that bad. If it'd led to months in lockup, I would've lost a lot more than my freedom. I never would've forgiven my uncle, and he's the only one who's told me he loved me and made me believe it," Melissa says, gaze dropping, but she doesn't shy away from his touch.

And the touch remains. Brad may be an alcoholic, but the alcohol works its magic, lowering his own inhibitions. Where he normally shies away from touch, he doesn't drop his hand, just letting his fingertips linger there. "Hey, hey, hey," he whispers quietly, "The world is a harsh place, but you're good people. Good things will come back to you."

Melissa glances upward again, brow furrowed, and it's clear she doesn't believe his words. "No, I'm not good people. I've done some horrible things, Brad. I'm not proud of them, but they were necessary to protect the people I care for. I don't expect anything good in my life. I expect my life will continue as it is, then probably end before I'm thirty."

"There's always time to change; time to be inspired to do better," Brad lifts his eyebrows expectantly, awaiting some comment. "You can fix your life, change it, and go on a different path. I believe that." He, on the other hand, has little hope for any difference. "Your life could be better. You could have a life all your own if you wanted; you're still young enough to change things."

A sad smile curves Melissa's lips and she shakes her head. "No, I'm not. My life is the way it is because of the government and the people I love. So unless I forsake all of them and move somewhere that the government can't interfere, my life isn't changing much. Why do you think I hadn't had a date until ours, whether real or fake? My life just doesn't work for that sort of thing. You though…I know you can make your life better."

"Ha!" Finally Russo lowers his hand as he turns away, his entire body twisting to face the wall. He presses on his thighs and rises to his feet as he shuffles back towards it, the tequila bottle in hand. "I gave up my hope of a future a long time ago. I have no one other than my producer, and I swear K would throw me under a bus if it'd improve ratings." He shrugs. "Even this stranger of a father couldn't do it."

"If you could pick how your life went from here, and be guaranteed it'd happen…what would you fill your life with?" Melissa asks softly, remaining where she is on the sofa, leaning back now that he's standing.

"Liquor," Brad answers perhaps too honestly. "The only thing guaranteed in life is a buzz." He doesn't even have the imagination left to consider a better future right now, not even in his somewhat liquored up state. "Hope. Maybe hope. That's all?"

Melissa is silent for a long moment, then asks in a whisper, "You don't have hope for anything right now? Not even that…whatever this is…could work?"

"I… can it work?" Brad can't even finish his thought. "I'm inspired to leap. You inspired me to leap into this, but… hope… hope is a different story. Hope is something that once given — " he sighs heavily cutting himself off again. "I'm attracted to you. I'm drawn to you. I'm concerned about you. I don't know what's going on in your life and you can't tell me and I can't even begin to understand what about me makes me want to attach myself tighter to you because I can't know, but to hope… Melissa, to hope and have my world crushed… that… that could break me."

"What about you? That's an easy one, Brad." Melissa rises to her feet, moving to stand in front of him, head tilted back so she can look up at him. "You're sweet, thoughtful, funny, easy on the eyes. You give me what I need, even when I don't think I deserve it. You give me something normal when I have no right to ask for normal from anyone. Because you make me hope that this could work, and that terrifies the hell out of me."

His chin drops to his chest as he looks down at her, goosebumps forming along Brad's skin as his hands once again find their way to her cheeks, a careful caress of his fingertips against her skin. His downward lean brings his lips but centimetres from hers while his eyes squeeze shut tightly. Shyly, he brushes them against hers, his hesitance evident in the motion, but it's there just the same.

When he starts to lean downward, Melissa's lips curve, just a bit as her gaze drops to his lips. There's a bit of hesitance from her end too, but it's a sigh of pleasure and…relief?…that she makes once they are kissing, however gentle and shy it may be. And she's not going to be the one to change that. At least not this time. What she does do is lift a hand, fingers resting on the back of his neck, her touch as light as a butterfly's.

There's a sigh of Brad's own at the reciprocation. Moments later the kiss is broken but his fingertips remain on her cheeks, unsure, but present in the moment. His cheeks flush a light pink while his eyes flutter open amid ridiculously thick eyelashes. It's an odd moment of silence, but one he's comfortable in even as his fingertips brush downwards, scaling the curve of her neck. He swallows quite audibly, particularly at this level of closeness as finally he allows his arms to drop around her, just to hold her for no reason other than he wants to. It's been years since he's warranted himself this level of human contact, and despite what he might say, he missed it.

Being held is something Melissa doesn't get very often, but something she not only wants, but occasionally needs. And now is one of those times. Eyes close and she leans lightly into him, her arms sliding around in return. Her cheek ends up resting against his shoulder, and there's no tension to her body, showing that she's comfortable with this, at least for now.

Nothing is said at first, Melissa just enjoying the contact while she can. Finally though, softly, barely a whisper, she says, "This is nice. Can we just do this for the rest of the day?"

There's nothing more than an "Mmmm" in response for a long time, his own eyes gently closing as his arms tighten around her a little more. There's something oddly grounding about his stance and this moment. Brad issues a soft peck onto her forehead, barely there as he sucks in a relaxing breath only to let it out slowly. "I wish we could just do this every day." And forget everything else. He sighs softly before he whispers, "When do you have to go back?"

Melissa smiles, rubbing her cheek lightly against his shoulder before she relaxes. "Any reason why we can't? Mmm…Go back. Later, sometime. No one knows I'm out yet, so no one's waiting for me. Besides, it's still way early. Tonight is soon enough, if you want. And even then…" She tilts her head back to look up at him. "If you wanted to, you could stay when you take me home. You don't have to drop me off and run," she says softly, shyly.

"I could stay," Brad hmmms quietly as his gaze meets her and his hand rubs her back lightly. It's all instinctive, all touches he can barely remember from a life he'd abandoned that day when the bomb had gone off. "I… I don't think they like me terribly… your roommates." He shrugs slightly, not everyone in the world has to like him, he's not one of those people.

Melissa laughs softly and gives him a gentle squeeze. "They just don't know you. And…well, I told you that they're protective of me, and they know I've been through a lot. They don't want me to get hurt. Besides, I can tell you how to win 'em over if you want."

"Good friends." The words are a quiet observation as he finally begins to let go of her, somewhat unsure of himself, even after the reciprocation. "And how can I win them over? Is it even possible?" Karolina was an orphan, there wasn't any family to win over in her case, simplifying their relationship in a lot of ways.

When his arms loosen Melissa glances up, looking a bit disappointed, but she releases him as well. "Yes, they are. And yes, it is. Kendall's easy. Talk video games or play 'em with him. Giving him one is insta-friendship. He's a total gamer geek. Ling…she's all refined class and business. Bottle of nice wine and rescuing her from my Mel Brooks marathons is the way for her. Edgar…" She shrugs a little. "He's a little harder. Just do, like, guy stuff and not hurt me and he'll like ya."

"Games. Right. I don't think I've touched a video game in some time," Brad responds with a small smile, "Used to though. I mean… what teenaged boy didn't. I remember those days of my Super Nintendo. That machine was sick. I'm not even kidding, it was phenomenal. The gameplay was — " realizing he's rambling, he combs his fingers through his hair. "The last one seems hardest…" he winces a little, "but… I don't plan to hurt you if that's any comfort?" His face contorts into an odd grimace. "I'm a mess. I know we're not talking about it, but… I am."

Melissa smiles and lifts a hand, brushing fingers over his cheek. “It's a comfort to me. I'm tired of being hurt. And I like spending time with you. It's…nice. Very nice. And they'll like you. They trust me. And my judgment, most of the time. Besides, they've only met you once, so give them time to get to know you.”

As the fingers brush his cheek, Brad's hands move to her waist, drawing her close again. His arms fold around her tightly in another embrace while his lips curve upwards into a smile. "I normally win people over or not… but I'm glad you like spending time with me. Although I have to admit I was going for something beyond nice. I mean… I aim for fame or at the very least infamy…"

Melissa laughs and lets her arms move around him again. "Consider it something to work up towards. Nice now, then great, then fabulous, and then fame. Besides, you can't have fame until we have a real date that we go into knowing that it's real," she says, grinning. "Though I really shouldn't give you fame anyway, since we're not labeling anything," she teases.

"Infamy I can deal with. Fame is like… normal." Brad shrugs a little before he hmmms, "I'm pretty sure you don't want me to be fabulous. I think whenever that name is used to reference men that it means they bat for the other team. Pretty sure. Almost positive. So… I'll just stick to nice." He shrugs again. "So… if there was anything you could envision and want in your life what would it be?"

While Melissa snickers at his comments, the question has her sobering. "Honestly? For myself? Well…I've told a bunch of friends that what I want, with my life as it is…is just a guy I can curl up with on the couch, in the dark and watch movies. Simple is best for the way my life goes."

"Some of the best things in life are the simplest," Brad comments idly before pressing his lips to her temple gently. His grip around her tightens and he closes his eyes in that embrace. "You are incredible and have a lot to offer. Even if your life is chaos, you can change that. I know I said it earlier, but you have… you have time to be able to change that." His cheeks flush a pale pink. 'You could have that guy… some sense of normalcy… if you wanted it."

Melissa's eyes close as well and she smiles, though it's a big sad. "I do want it. But finding a guy that I like who wants to curl up and watch movies with me…that's not easy," she says softly, letting her arms tighten now. "Unless you're offering, anyway."

The statement is either not heard or moderately ignored as he presses Brad's lips to her forehead again, opting to ask a question of his own instead of addressing the statement. "Well right now… if you could do anything, what would you do? I could cook you like anything… or take you somewhere… or… get you a drink…"

There's a soft sigh at the lack of response, but then Melissa just smiles. "Right now? I think maybe a bite to eat, something more substantial than soup, then…home? And I meant it, about you not having to drop me off and poof. You can stay. Get to know my family better."

"Are you sure? I… don't want to make it awkward." Brad cringes a little before issuing her another smile, "I could feed you something else… I make food. I pride myself on making food. What do you want? I mean… or I could take you out if you want to go out or something…?"

"You won't make it awkward, Brad. I promise. And…I'd be happy with a sandwich, to be honest. Nice and easy and quick. And hell, even I can make a sandwich, since it involves no cooking," Melissa says with another smile. "And I'd be happy if you'd relax a little."

"I am relaxed," he replies as his eyebrows furrow tightly together. Despite himself, Brad is still jittery, even as he releases her to tread back to the kitchen. "I can make you a sandwich. I… I don't get to make anything for anyone else anymore." His cheeks flush brighter as he reaches the kitchen and pulls his bread from the bread box on the counter and then goes into the fridge for other fixings, "Are you a beef or a ham kinda gal?"

"You could be more relaxed," Melissa murmurs as he heads into the kitchen. "I like ham for sandwiches. Lots of mayo, any kind of cheese you've got, no rabbit food," she says, following him into the kitchen and leaning against the doorframe. "As for making stuff for people…You can cook for me anytime. I mostly just do takeout, but it gets old real quick."

"I am so zen, baby, I'm like the Buddha." The quip is almost lost in the rattle of cupboards and the opening sound of the fridge. He pulls out the ham, the mayo, and a package of jarlsberg. "Now this… this is good cheese, my friends." His lips curve into a dimpled grin as he takes the bread and spreads the mayo across it — lots of it across. Followed by the cheese and then the ham. "You know… I have sprouts. Bean sprouts are better on sandwiches than lettuce — " of course, that likely qualifies as rabbit food.

"Sure, I'll try bean sprouts. Mostly 'cause I like 'em in my Chinese food and I'll try almost anything once," Melissa says, now perching on the counter and leaning her head back against the cabinet, eyes closing. "And what's that even mean, anyway? You're so zen? Brad, hon, you're acting like you're expecting me to jump you or scream at you or do some violence or something. I don't know."

"Excellent~ Bean sprouts it is!" Brad peeks back into the fridge and pulls out a container of bean sprouts which he adds to the sandwich. After cutting it on a diagonal, he puts it on a plate before handing it over to her. "I'm not… I don't…" he tries twice to start the sentence before shaking his head. "Look… I… You scare me. Just a little. I've not… I'm not… this is… I mean…"

The plate is taken, the sandwich nibbled, before Melissa cocks her head. "Why would I scare you? I'm harmless." Well at least she doesn't plan on murdering him anyway. "Or you mean this…whatever it might end up being? After so long and all that?"

"This. This is scary. This is downright terrifying. I… don't remember how to do this part. Or how to be happy without faking it. Or the last time I felt so comfortable with someone else. Or… my last kiss." He pauses as his eyes flit towards the living room, "I mean, before that one. I'm just… out of practice… and… I talk to Karolina's picture when I don't think anyone is looking."

"You do? That's…" Melissa considers for a moment. "I can actually see that. I rant to a diary, so why not talking to the picture of your fiance?" she decides with a shrug, following it with another bite of sammich. "And I'm just as lost as you are. I mean, you know I'd never been on a date. Never had a boyfriend. Even just sleeping in the same bed as someone else has happened so rarely that it's weird. But we don't have to rush anything. Like you said, just see where it goes."

"Right. See where it goes," Brad agrees quietly while he runs his hand through his hair. "It seems we have some problems the same and others completely different." His lips press together into a tight thin line. "I miss waking up next to someone; the security of that person there all of the time." He takes a step towards the sink to re-rinse the bowls he'd put the soup in. "Yeah. We'll just see where it goes."

Melissa smiles a bit. "I'd love to be able to go to sleep and wake up with someone next to me. So right there with you." She falls silent as another few bites are taken, polishing off the first half of the sandwich. "Sounds like…we could be good for one another. If this goes well and all that," she muses.

Brad's cheeks flush again as he leans against the counter. His eyes close while his jaw tightens and he sucks in a quick breath. "I like just following wherever this goes, whatever it is." His gaze turns to the sandwich, "I guess we should get you home soon, shouldn't we?"

Another blush. Melissa must be feeling better because she grins. "You're so cute when you blush, you know that? Never made a guy blush this easily. I like it." Some more munching and she nods. "Yeah, probably. Part of me is eager to see 'em, and another part is dreading it. I'm betting Ling lectures me. Which is her way of showing she cares."

"It's… unusual I feel uncomfortable," Brad admits. "Never on air. Never on air. I put everyone else in the hot seat and make them answer the hard questions so I rarely have to think on my feet or deal with my own thoughts or feelings." The shrug this time is more fleeting than anything as he turns on his heel again. "People just don't care what the host has to say is all I'm saying as long as he makes good television in terms of conflict and… and the like." With that, he's putting the sandwich ingredients away.

Melissa smiles. "I'm gonna take that as a compliment. That I can throw you off your game." The rest of the sandwich is finished and she slides off the counter and slides hands into her pockets. "Do hope you can get to be more comfortable with me though. The blushing's nice, but being comfortable with someone is better."

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