|NPCs||Jane Takahashi, Grayson Wallace|
|Summary||Jeremy and Richard make it to California.|
In the interests of subtlety, one of the first stops that Jeremy insisted they make in California was to rent a car. Jane's mother's house is not actually inside San Bernadino, but in a suburban center where visiting without a vehicle might be noticeable, and then there's also the part where flying in out of the sky is also not really all that subtle.
The house and the business are ... attached. Therefore, when the little rental car rolls up on the street, there's no room in the driveway because there are several cars parked in it. There's a hovercar on what is plainly a roof parking spot next to a stepladder. Looming over the fenced back yard, an enormous tree hosts what is clearly a treehouse.
Jeremy turns off the car and sits there staring at the house through the window for a moment like a creeper.
Richard didn't argue about the car, but really his reasoning probably had a lot to do with the chance for him to actually relax after two days of flying with a passenger. He actually managed to doze a little on the short trip to the house, and he kind of jerks back awake when Jeremy turns the car off. He turns his head, blinking bleary-eyed in the car and then out. "Oh. Are we here?"
"Yeah." Jeremy sits there for a moment with his hands painstakingly correct on the wheel. Then he says, "Yeah," and unbuckles his seatbelt, moving to get out of the car. "I texted her. She says she'll be out in a sec."
There's a moment where Richard's shoulders tense, like he's about to start taking on Jeremy's nerves, but then he reaches to set a hand on Jeremy's knee and squeeze. "Great," he says, aggressively upbeat about the whole thing (which is usually supposed to be Jeremy's job). "I could use a stretch." He slides out of the car and does exactly as he said, stretching his long, lean body in a dramatic arch and pull of muscle.
Jeremy smiles a little at Richard, more tense than appreciative, although there are elements of both to his glance. He scrubs his hands over the back of his jeans and then surreptitiously checks his sleeves to make sure that his deodorant is still working (it's fine, Jeremy, settle down). He does this as the backyard fence gate swings open and a small, fit woman swings out from the back.
Jane's black hair is trimmed very short, and there's a blue headband in it serving no visible functional purpose, because her hair is too short to possibly get in her eyes. She's wearing a black tank top that reveals the clean lines of muscle in her arms -- the girl has guns; possibly Jeremy always favored people who could visibly kick his ass -- and a pair of jeans. She's also wearing heavy work gloves smeared over with black grease, which is also -- as she approaches -- visible on her face and across her shoulder and over her collarbone.
"I guess you're keeping busy, huh," Jeremy says as she strides up the grass.
"Yep," Jane says. She smiles. She doesn't part her lips when she does so. It's a thin, close-lipped smile. Her gaze catches on Richard. It pauses there, distinctly, and her eyes are a little wider when she looks back at Jeremy again.
Richard is a bit distracted with his surreptitious examination of Jane -- not leering, but the deep-set curiosity of a man presented with the serious ex of his current paramour -- that his smile comes a little suddenly when he finds himself the target of her gaze. "Hi," he says, starting to lift his hand for what will surely be an awkward finger-wiggle before he abandons it to try stepping forward and offering his hand instead. "I'm Richard."
"Uh. Hi. Richard." Jane's lips do part then, only to purse as she blows out her breath. She looks down at her greasy work-gloves, and then holds them up, thumb to thumb, in the air before her. "Sorry, uh, my gloves are all messed up."
"And she can't take them off, because then you'd know she's a mutant," Jeremy says helpfully, his thumbs hooking into the belt loops of his jeans. "Which would be terrible and bad, for some reason."
"Errgh." Jane flashes her teeth at him. Her fangs gleam in the warm glow of late afternoon bordering on evening. "Fine." She clamps her teeth around one the middle finger of her right handed glove, and then holds out her hand to shake Richard's. Her fingertips are rough, a little abrasive, but with practiced care, she can ensure that the tiny spider hooks in her skin won't catch on his skin and stick.
"Oh, that's okay," Richard says, voice wry but his eyes bright. "I am, too." Hah! Hah hah. We're all mutants here. He clasps her hand firmly, curious about her rough fingertips, and then drops it. "So are all my friends, really."
"Ha ha," Jane says without laughing. "Yeah. New York state of mind. Mutants everywhere." She stares at Jeremy for a long moment like she's not sure what to do about him and doesn't know how to react to him being here. She folds her arms across her chest. "Grayson's up the tree. You can take him for four hours. He's Grayson today. He said he wanted to be Grayson for his daddy. Don't make it weird."
"Why only four hours? The thing said overnights," Jeremy begins to protest. "C'mon, Janie--"
"Because it is fucking--" Jane stops, breathes, and pins her nose between middle finger and thumb. "Bring him back in four hours. If he wants to sleepover with you and -- and your boyfriend that he doesn't know, he can ask permission when you bring him home. And I'll say OK." Her gaze narrows on Richard and she says, "I'm assuming you can pass a background check when I say that. If you can't pass a background check, then no offense or anything, but fuck you."
"I'd honestly be pretty curious to know what my background check came up with," Richard says with a half-weary grin before realizing maybe that's not the kind of thing he should joke about to a mother. His smile falters. "Um. Not in a -- bad way. I mean, it's clean. Ex-NYPD. Ex-fed. That -- sort of thing. Super wholesome." He slides a glance off towards Jeremy, hesitant. "But I also don't -- need to stay."
"Shit," Jane says, in the tone of one impressed despite herself. "No, I mean, it's fine. If you can pass a background check. I know Jeremy wouldn't bring somebody who isn't -- look, sorry." She stares at Jeremy for a moment, and then says, "If Gray wants to come home you bring them home, okay?"
Jeremy looks like he might be about to bristle and take offense, but his glance at Richard and the fact that he has an audience right now of besides just Jane might very well be what keeps him from escalating. He just says, "I promise."
It visibly soothes her hackles. Jane nods, and then turns around to stride back for the fence. "Come on."
"I'm pretty sure nobody's charming enough for Jeremy to bring here if they're not a safe person," Richard says in his best reassuring voice. He glances back over at Jeremy, fingers twitching like he wants to reach for him to quell that bristle but -- doesn't. Fortunately, he quells it himself. Richard nods back to Jane and hangs back a bit to let Jeremy go ahead of him.
Jeremy follows Jane over the grass, through the fence and into the back yard. There's a truck in the backyard up on a lift that she's clearly been working under. The weighty old tree is their destination, though, and Jane goes to pull on the rope by the ladder to effectively ring Gray's doorbell. It jangles with the eerie tinkling clatter of a windchime that has been repurposed for this, and then a young voice comes out of the treehouse: "Yeah?"
There's a clear note of trepidation to be heard.
"He's here," Jane says, trying not to look at Jeremy while she does so.
Grayson lunges out the treehouse in an instant. For a moment it looks like he might be in danger of flinging himself into the air, but he catches himself on the rope ladder and skims down it with ready ease just as Jeremy makes a strangled noise in his throat. Under Jeremy's breath he goes, "Safe."
Once Grayson is on the ground, he tries to look nonchalant. The boy is still young and small and slight, his hair thick and black, his features a medley of his parents', kind of like mostly Jane but with Jeremy's nose. He's wearing a San Diego Zoo T-shirt with a tiger on it and a pair of khaki shorts. He's also wearing little orange stud earrings and a bracelet cuff on one arm with a piece of polished carnelian inside his wrist. He says, "Hey."
Jeremy, dropping to a knee to better interface with this small not-quite stranger, offers him a warm smile. He holds his arms at a slight outward angle, not quite demanding a hug because he doesn't want to press, but in a body language that bespeaks some openness to the idea. "Hey, kiddo," he says. "Long time no see."
"Yeah." Grayson looks off into the middle distance for a moment. He scrubs his arm with his opposite hand and frowns. He says, "You came all the way here."
"I sure did," Jeremy says.
Grayson asks suspiciously: "Did you have a work thing?"
"No, Gray. Just a you thing." Jeremy lets one of his hands fall to his knee, and the other he turns outward, palm up.
"Okay." Gray scratches at his neck. He looks back at Jane, and then to Jeremy, and then past them both to look at Richard. He bites thoughtfully at the inside of his cheek, but before either of his parents can move to make an introduction, he just asks, "Who are you?"
"I'm Rich," he replies without really thinking about it. Then, because that might come out sounding like the lower-case version, he clarifies: "Richard." He glances at Jeremy and, of all people, Jane, like he's not sure how to explain further. "I flew your dad here," he sort of -- lands on. He scrubs at the back of his hair.
Grayson solves this problem himself by looking between his father and Richard, and then turning his critical gaze to his mother and saying: "Dad's boyfriend flies?" like-- like this was missing from my briefing.
Jane makes an exaggerated facial shrug.
"Where's your plane?" Grayson demands next. "I want to fly."
"He doesn't have a plane," Jeremy says, giving Jane a distinct look like he's not sure how to deal with the rest of that. "Maybe after we come back from dinner. If your mom says it's okay."
Jane glares at Jeremy like she kind of wants to kill him for making her the arbiter of whether flying is OK or not. "Uh-huh. We'll see," she says.
Richard ducks his head, clearly sensing how he -- or his mutation -- has ended up part of the parental tension. "I don't," he says in confirmation to Jane's point. "I'm self-propelled." He grins just a little like he really thinks that was a funny joke. Which is kind of funny in and of itself.
"Do you have propellers?" Grayson looks intently at Richard, like he's expecting him to transform into a helicopter on the spot.
Jeremy rises from his knees, dusting his jeans off with the slap of his hand. Letting Richard answer that one, he says: "C'mon, kiddo, we're heading to the car now. Think about what you wanna eat."
Jane says, "Don't forget he's allergic to walnuts," with an anxious shift of weight.
Jeremy says, "I know what he's allergic to, Jane," in a voice that doesn't quite manage to stay smiling.
"I don't, actually," Richard says, almost apologetic. SORRY, KID. "But I /can/ make sonic booms." So that's cool, right? He tries not to glance over at the rising tension settling around Jane and Jeremy. Aaaaaaaah.
"My dad makes real booms," Grayson tells Richard, with authority and vague sneerish victory, like -- that's way better than sonic booms get real.
Jeremy laughs and for a moment it's like none of that ever happened. He squeezes Grayson's shoulder as he steers him to the car. "That's true, although not at the dinner table. It would be shocking and probably messy."
Jane stands behind them with her arms crossed. "Have fun, Gray. Be nice to your dad."
"That's true," Richard says with a sudden laugh for the reminder. "I've seen him do it a few times." His expression stalls a moment as he belatedly tries to find one in his memory he can actually mention if pressed. No, not the pillow. Not any of the knees. Not the computer monitor. Not the /planet/. He turns back to Jane as Jeremy steers Grayson to the car. "Thanks for this," he tells her with brief, quiet sincerity.
Jane gives Richard a crooked smile. Her fangs peek out in a slight wink of white before her lips close. She says, "It's for Gray."
Jeremy, meanwhile, opens the back seat of the car for Grayson and lets him hop in. Grayson is complaining, "Why are you even driving a Ford? Gross, Dad!" to which Jeremy can only protest, "It's a rental, and you haven't told me what you wanna eat yet."
"Yeah," Richard agrees quietly, ducking his head in a nod. Then he looks back at Jeremy at the car and strides forward. "Hey, no, Gray can sit in the front. I had to sit with you the entire way across the country." He hesitates a moment, then steps closer to Jeremy and lowers his voice to say, "Maybe you should go just the two of you. I don't want the first time you've been able to see him after so long to be about me."
Jeremy hesitates visibly for a moment, his hand on the driver's door as warring impulses show in his face.
Grayson takes Richard's word for his access to the front seat and tromps around to the front passenger side. "You can come," he says imperiously. "We're getting spaghetti. You get to draw on the table."
"Apparently, we're getting spaghetti and you get to draw on the table," Jeremy reports to Richard with his eyebrows swept high.
"Well, that does sound pretty cool," Richard says, although he clearly hesitates to take Grayson's invitation as law: his gaze slides back to Jeremy with a hint of question while Gray clammers into the front seat.
Once Grayson is safely in the seat, he leans out to drag the car door shut. Jeremy steps forward to take Richard by the hand, twining their fingers together in a warm clasp. "He doesn't seem overwhelmed," he says. "His cues seem -- pretty open. I don't know the right answer here. What are you thinking?" HOW DO PARENT.
"I -- what?" Are these parenting words. Richard kind of blinks at him. "I mean, obviously if it seemed like he didn't want me to come I wouldn't, but I was -- you know, I was asking for /you/."
"I'm a little nervous," Jeremy says rapidly. "I don't know what I'm doing. I'm pretty sure I can handle spaghetti."
Richard squeezes Jeremy's hand and reaches out with the other to clasp Jeremy's shoulder. "Okay. I am getting the impression that you need moral support here."
"This is dumb. I was a professional educator for like ten years. I know how to deal with kids." Jeremy bows his head a little and laughs on the verge of something breathless. "God."
"I mean, I don't /actually/ think that educating and parenting are the same thing," Richard says. Helpfully. "Hey, it's okay. You're gonna be great." Is this a job interview? "If you want me to come, I'll come."
"Maybe come just-- just for dinner while we're getting used to each other and then you can -- leave us alone for a bit. Like. I'll get him an ice cream afterwards somewhere without any walnuts, and we can meet back up after?" Jeremy scratches at the back of his head.
Inside the car, Grayson leans over and pokes the car horn. Then he startles back into his seat as even this light shove creates far more of a blare than he was expecting.
"Yeah, sure--" Richard sure startles too; horns are /loud/ this close up. There's also just a little bit of a sense of /physical preparedness/ in his startle, like his body's reaction is a bit trained for danger. He relaxes with a blink. "Blue blazes. Okay." He opens the door to the back seat and slides in. "Find the horn, did you?"
"Yeah," Grayson says from the front seat as he buckles his seatbelt firmly. He reaches up and hangs his fingers through the passenger side handle. "That was loud."
Jeremy folds himself into the driver's seat and turns the car back on. "Sorry to leave you waiting, kiddo. What's this spaghetti place you want?"
"We could also," Grayson curates his town for his father, "get swordfish if you want. But you can't draw on the table. Because it's cloth."
"No, no, you've sold me on this table thing," Jeremy assures him. He smiles up at Richard in the rearview mirror.
"Drawing on tables seems like a pretty big plus," Richard agrees from the back seat, where he is totally sprawling out (within the confines of his seatbelt). "And spaghetti's pretty delicious." He smiles back at Jeremy when he catches his gaze in the mirror.
"They have super awesome meatballs," Grayson adds after he provides Jeremy with the name of the restaurant, which Jeremy promptly inputs into the car's locator software and finds not far away. "Mom says they're even better than your meatballs."
"Oho, the gauntlet has been thrown." Jeremy smiles a little wider as he drives down the street.
"When am I gonna have your meatballs?" Grayson demands almost accusatorily.
"Ah ... uh, well, sometime," Jeremy says, uncertainly and already out of his depth. "N... ext time I manage to get out here I can rent a place with a kitchen. Or, uh, sometime if we can figure out how you can visit me in New York..."
"I love meatballs," Richard declares from the back of the car, but quiet and unobtrusively. Mostly he smiles faintly as father and son (for today) slowly get to know each other again in the front seat. He spends much of the drive contributing little to the conversation and much of it letting them talk.
Jeremy and Grayson grow more at ease with each other as time passes. Grayson spends a lot of time over dinner -- with a paper tablecloth he can draw on with crayons and massive quantities of heavily garlicky buttery garlic bread -- quizzing Richard about flying, because Richard is like kid catnip in this regard.
The meatballs are pretty good. Jeremy promises them both that he'll get the chance to show them he can do better.Richard does his best to be cheerfully informative to all of Grayson's questions, although he's a bit careful if any of them start getting close to classified territory. And after they leave the restaurant, Richard -- takes a walk. To give the pair of them time to themselves. He'll be back later.