Closed RP Gourd Vibes Only

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Phoenix

Member

Sam finished wrapping herself up in layers, trying to make herself appear a normal level of cold. Pittsburgh falls were colder than Columbus ones. Sam already struggled to layer appropriately to appear as though she felt the chill of the weather. Trying to dress so as it got increasingly cold outside was even more of a challenge. She had to judge based on what others wore whether or not it was cold.

As she looked in the mirror, her mind wandered. Pitching the pumpkin patch as a date idea to Todd had been done with hesitancy, but as they had both considered it, they had come to a realization at the same time. “Let’s bring Addy with us!”

Sam was happy it had turned out this way. She loved Addy, and any excuse to see her again, especially after Halloween, was welcome. The event had been trying, but they had all made it out. And now, Sam just wanted something normal for them. A nice, normal day. A day where they didn’t have to be Phoenix and Cryptid, a day where Addy didn’t have to be afraid of people. Just Sam and Todd and Addy. No muss, no fuss.

Looking in the mirror, she shook her head. She didn’t feel… festive enough. Or maybe she just didn’t feel like she looked happy enough. Not in her plain layers of a hoodie, a leather jacket, and a long-sleeved shirt. She swallowed and looked into her closet and the three boxes that sat on the ground. Very slowly, she walked over and opened the top one. It was big, and heavy, and full of neatly folded clothing. She gave a soft sigh. She hadn’t worn any of these in so long.

Maybe, just today, it would be okay.

After a bit of searching, and trying clothes on, and searching, and trying clothes on, and searching, Sam finally walked away in something she felt confident in. She bit her lip as she pulled her tangled curls up into a ponytail. She felt a little uneasy. She hadn’t dressed up in ages, but, maybe, it really would be fine. She took a deep breath and then grabbed a brown striped scarf, topping the outfit off and covering the high neck of her suit underneath. Her brown hiking boots completed the outfit, and with her purse slung over her shoulder, she was off.

She made her way out of her apartment, locking the door behind her. She paused outside Todd’s door but felt no vibrations from inside his apartment. He was already downstairs then, in the Malibu. She hurried out the hall door, locking it behind her before scurrying down the staircase. She saw his car, parked exactly where it always was next to her bug, and she saw his head, resting back on the top of the headrest. A smile came over her face. She needed this. Sam knew she needed this. A day for the three of them to just be them and not have to worry about anything. No fighting, no problems, no weird demon men.

She jogged over to his car and pulled open the passenger side door, climbing in. She was careful to keep her sweater tucked into her slacks as she swung into the seat, her hand holding the roof of the car. She pulled the door shut behind her in a smooth motion, smiling in Todd’s direction as she started to buckle in. “Hey, sorry that took me so long. Let’s go pick up Addy.”
 
Todd had no problem waiting in the Malibu, no matter how long it took Sam to get ready. With November hitting hard, the old engine needed the chance to warm up before taking them anywhere. It gave him a few seconds to collect himself, to put his thoughts in order, and to make sure he looked appropriately cold.

Thankfully, his usual style of dress was much better suited for November than it had been for June. Several layers, from a turtleneck to a thicker collared flannel to a pullover sweater to two jackets, helped pad out his thin form and created the illusion that that was what kept him from shivering when the wind blew too hard. I’m from Montana had also proven to be a reliable, if only partly true, reply.

He hadn’t seen Adelyn since Halloween. He hadn’t been avoiding her, exactly, and it was both his and Sam’s idea to bring her along on this. But something in the back of his mind was off about the whole situation. She’d been different, since she’d shifted from cat to reptile. He didn’t mind it – it just took a little adjustment for him to recognize her scent, but that wasn’t an issue, not a real one. It didn’t have anything to do with her change. No, something had happened that day. There had been three trials, and Todd… Todd couldn’t remember one of them.

As always, there was the vague sense of warmth, of bliss, the flashes of bone and blood. But something about Adelyn’s new scent made his head throb a little. There was something missing. It had something to do with the trial. It had something to do with Adelyn. And it had something to do with the hunt.

Todd shook those thoughts off as Sam pulled the passenger door open. He glanced at her, and smiled. She always looked good, of course, but compared to her usual outfits, she’d clearly dressed up a little. He leaned across the center console, and pecked her cheek.

“I like the scarf.”

He pulled out carefully, and set off toward Adelyn’s grandparents’ house.
 


A faint voice rouses Adelyn from her slumber. Gentle shuffling footsteps lightly shake the ground under her. “Adelyn. Dear, you need to wake up now. Your friends will be here soon.”

“Huhhh?” she mumbles, very eloquently. Rolling over, she can see a shadow lingering outside of her blanket fort. “Gramma?”

She half crawls half slides her way under the edge of one of the blankets, poking her head out. Soft laughter echoes from above her. Looking up, she sees that it was indeed her grandmother who had woken her. And who was now laughing at her bedraggled appearance.

“And Gramps, though I understand if you’ve forgotten me,” comes a rumbling voice from nearby. Adelyn slides her arm out so she can rub her eyes, still groggy.

“Of course I haven’t!” She protests, crawling fully out of her cave. She’d draped a blanket - or two - or ten - over the side of the couch closest to the fire, and she finally feels sunbaked and warm.

A large hand drops down to ruffle her hair as she stretches, and she can tell how warm she must be from the temperature difference even though her grandfather doesn’t say a word beyond, “Warm enough now?”

“I think so. I’ll go finish getting ready.” Finding her feet, she stands. As she’d predicted, it’d only taken a little while for her to get used to her new reptilian limbs. She has to be just as careful of her claws as she always has, but her family has never minded. She kisses her grandmother on the cheek, darts past the couch to do the same for her grandfather, and then scurries away to her room. “Thanks for waking me up!”

Her room used to be her grandfather’s office, and he still keeps his desk and papers in there. She doesn’t mind, as she has her own bed and closet and that’s all she really needs. She’s already mostly dressed - she’d gotten ready before she took her nap - but there are a few finishing touches she wants to grab.

First and most important, a white winter hat with a little rainbow pom pom at the top. Her grandmother made it for her, and it’s just the thing to hide her new ears. It isn’t too muffling, which is what made her avoid it when her hearing was better, but she really loves it, honest!

When she goes to put on her gloves, she can’t find them. She dons her white parka and slides her grandmother’s old jeans on over her leggings, but when she digs through her closet she discovers that her boots are also missing.

“Gramma? Gramps? Have you seen my boots and gloves?” She can’t really go out without them, after all. Especially not in this cold.

“I sure have. I’ve got them right here for you, Ad.”

Oh good. Returning to the living room, she sees her grandfather holding out her gloves. There are boots on the floor beside him, but they aren’t her boots. Still, she accepts the gloves and starts to slide them on. “Oh!”

The gloves fit perfectly, much snugger than her previous pair. “I woke up early this morning to tailor them for you,” he explains. “I found these old boots in my closet too, I think they should fit you a little better.”

Locking eyes with him, she can see nothing but acceptance in his cloudy white gaze. She can feel tears welling in her own eyes, and she flings herself into his lap to hug him. He and her grandmother had been so worried when she came home late and shifted, but only worried for her. Nothing has changed. “Thank you.”

It almost doesn’t feel like enough, but she can feel the rumble of laughter in his chest as he embraces her. “Oh, don’t cry. Just go and have fun, alright?”

And so she finishes getting ready and goes outside to sit on the porch step until Sam and Todd arrive. She isn’t quite sure what kind of car a ‘Malibu’ is or what she’s supposed to be looking for, but she looks regardless. As bundled up as she is, with her hat and scarf and puffy jacket and heart glowing warm, she finds she doesn’t mind the cold quite as much.

 
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Sam and Todd talked in the car. Of course, they talked in the car. Even if they had nothing new to tell each other, they always managed to find something to talk about, or they enjoyed the soft and peaceful silence that existed between them. They talked about Sam’s gym, and how it had started to really boom, and how she’d found an instructor to help her with some of the classes she wanted to have there. She talked about her employees and how thankful she was for the help. And Todd talked about his job at Vik’s, and about the different cars that had been coming through recently.

It was soft conversation, day-to-day conversation, and Sam loved every second of it. There was something about it that made her feel warm and happy, that made her heat become summery and soft. But then, there was always something about Todd that made her soft and warm and fuzzy. A word for it floated close to her conscious mind, but she pushed it back down. Not yet. Not now. It was too soon for that word. It was too soon to think that. She couldn’t use the L word so early, even if he was her soulmate.

Before she had to think about it too much, they pulled up to a pretty house in the suburb that Addy had given them the address for. She was there, sitting outside, bundled up like it was the dead of winter and not just fall. Sam smiled and rolled down the window. Leaning slightly out, she waved at the girl and called out to her, “Addy! Hi, sorry if we’re a bit late!”

They weren’t that late. It was maybe five minutes past their meeting time, but that didn’t stop Sam from apologizing. If she wasn’t early, she had been taught, then she was late, no matter how long past the appointed time it was. Ten minutes early was on time, and on time was late. She had taken too long getting ready, and she had made them late.

She leaned back into the car, and with a mischievous grin, before Addy could climb into the backseat, she turned toward Todd. She pushed herself up using the central console and went to press her lips to his cheek. Just a quick kiss before Addy got in the car. She wasn’t sure how the girl was with that kind of thing, and she didn’t want to subject her if she would be uncomfortable. So one little kiss. Just one.​
 
Mundane moments, like the talk in the car, were what really got to Todd. While, yeah, they were running a little behind, he wasn’t going to break traffic laws, and he wasn’t going to throw away time alone with Sam. He wasn’t putting off seeing Adelyn, no matter what his nerves thought they were doing.

The neighborhood had that charming, comfortable, safe vibe you got a lot with suburbs. It was almost exactly the place he’d expect a good kid like Addy to live, second only to a comfortable cabin in the woods. He put his old car in park, and made sure the doors were unlocked while Sam called to their new passenger. He noted her clothes; she was cold-blooded now, so extra layers might not help her, but she could at least dress for the weather. He’d need to see if he could find something for that.

First, he switched the old Malibu’s heater on. He sometimes ran it just for comfort, but he turned both the heat and the fan up to high. It’d be too warm for anyone but the three of them.

He turned his face to say something to Sam, but she caught him off guard (again) with a gentle peck on his cheek. He didn’t have time to reciprocate, but his soft smile should tell her that was enough, that it was appreciated.

Just before Adelyn opened the door, he murmured, “You might want to turn up the heat a little.”
 


A car rolls to a stop in front of her grandparents’ house, prompting Adelyn to glance up from her contemplation of a line of ants marching along the sidewalk. So that’s a Malibu. It’s smoother and smaller than she thought it’d be based on its owner, but she really doesn’t know that much about cars. “Hi Sam!”

She waves back and rises from her crouch, stretching out her legs for a moment. They’re a little stiff, but that should go away once she warms up.

“I wasn’t waiting long,” she adds, because she really wasn’t. She’s been outside for way longer before. It’s just a shame that the cold seems to go right down to her bones these days. Maybe she should do more research on reptiles. It should be easy since she can visit the library all on her own now!

Smiling at the thought, she opens the door behind Sam and slides in. The warmth of the car brings a flush to her cheeks and she sighs happily, glad to be out of the cold.

“Thanks for picking me up!” She scoots over to the middle seat and buckles in, boots braced to either side of the console so she can lean forward into the space between Sam and Todd. She bonks her head affectionately against Todd’s arm before letting her lean angle towards the warmer redhead. “I’ve never been to a pumpkin field before, there weren’t any in my forest.”

Turning her head to look around Sam, she sees her grandfather standing at the half-open door. She waves, and he waves back before shuffling back inside. What a worrywart!

 
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As Adelyn leaned into her shoulder, Sam let her heat out, letting the warm and happy glow of the fire inside her burn for the others in the car. She was worried about Todd overheating, but he had told her to do this. And besides, he was cold enough to need the warmth too. His circulation seemed to be completely fucked, maybe, because he was always cold to the touch. But cold for her could have been normal for others. She wasn’t entirely sure just how cool he actually ran.

She lifted a hand and carefully ran her fingers through Adeyln’s newly darkened hair. It suited her just as much as the leopard print had. No matter what the girl became, Sam thought she would always be beautiful. She tilted her head over the top of the girl’s for a moment before letting her go so she could get comfortable.

“I haven’t been to one since I was small myself, but I think you’re going to love it. We’ll get pumpkins and candied apples and we’ll go on the hay ride! And I’ll make sure to keep you warm when you need it.” Her eyes flashed away from Addy to the man driving, and they softened slightly. This was perfect. Addy and Todd and a pumpkin patch. This was going to be a beautiful and relaxing day for all three of them.

This was a reminder of why she did what she did, of what she was trying to protect. There were people all over this city, who just like them were families of a kind, who needed protecting. Families and friends who all loved each other, who deserved peace of mind and freedom and safety. Sam was a vigilante for them, for the quiet moments and the soft outings and gentle affectionate touches.

It was good to have a reminder sometimes.​
 
Todd reached across himself to ruffle Addy’s dark hair as he pulled away from the house. He could feel the old man’s attention – maybe not on him, but near enough, watching them until Addy waved. Something in his gut twisted. Not necessarily in a bad way, either; but the events of the last few days, the post-hunt amnesia that lingered even if it wasn’t a true hunt, left him uncertain.

Then Sam spoke, and he felt the knot untie itself. Whatever happened on Halloween wasn’t him. There were no lasting consequences, and here, he had a choice. No tests, no trials. He was himself again, and he would choose the happiness in this car over any false bliss the hunt could give him.

“Did you know?” he offered, helpfully. He knew Adelyn liked animals. “Pumpkins are sometimes hollowed out and filled with meat for predators in captivity to use as enrichment. The shell is tough and hard enough that they can bat it around like a ball. The meat’s just a reward for finally breaking it open.”

He pulled out onto the main road, careful to use turn signals and observe the speed limit. He always did that anyway — being a mechanic changed his attitude about traffic infringements anyway.
 


“I’m not small,” Adelyn protests, halfhearted in the face of an old argument, “I’m nearly fully grown.”

She subsides quickly, sitting back in her seat and buckling the belt over her lap. Her movements are noticeably more fluid now that she’s warmed up, but something Sam says makes her pause, furrowing her brows and chewing lightly on her lip.

How do you ride hay?

All she can picture is Sam and Todd and herself all sitting astride hay bales like horses. It doesn’t sound that fun, but Sam sounds so excited about it that she doesn’t want to burst her bubble. “Sure!”

Whatever happens, she’s just happy to be around her friends. It’s nice to be with people that are like her, even if she doesn’t think she’ll ever get used to knowing people outside her family who are metas. It’s a good sort of weirdness.

“In captivity? Like a final meal?” Adelyn asks, a little put out. Stuffing meat inside a pumpkin is an interesting way to do it, but it’d be cruel to make a caged animal work so hard for its food. It does sound like fun, though, so maybe it’s an act of mercy? That makes her a little sad to think about, vague memories of the last Trial trailing cold fingers down her back.

 
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“I don’t mean to call you small. I’m just saying I haven’t been to one since I was like twelve.” She looked back over the seat to Addy, smiling at her softly. “I know you’re almost an adult. Hell, you’re bigger than me. I can’t really call you small, can I?”

She smiled as she leaned back in her seat. She could already see the look starting in Todd’s eyes, that little gleam that told her she should sit back and get ready to listen. She adored that look. It meant he had things to say, and things to share, and she did enjoy it when he shared things. It meant she was going to get to learn more about what went on in his head. It meant she was going to get a new piece of him.

She chuckled a little and softly said, “Uh oh. I think you’ve unlocked Todd’s trap card, Addy.”
 
Todd laughed, just a little, at Addy’s immediate assumption. Of course she wouldn’t know what he meant by captivity – she’d probably never been to the zoo before, let alone heard about other sanctuaries. He’d have to change that, he decided.

“No, no, not at all.” He felt Sam settle in beside him, but didn’t take his eyes off the road except to glance back at Adelyn in the rear-view mirror. His smile had spread into a grin at her comment. “Sometimes, when an animal is hurt or lost, people bring them to these places called sanctuaries. They’re kept in an enclosure that’s smaller than their usual habitat, but big enough for them to move around in while people keep an eye on them. They’re given food, water, and medicine to get better. Then, when they can survive on their own again, they can go back to their homes.”

He remembered visiting an animal sanctuary on a field trip. Or was it with his parents? For a moment, his brow furrowed, just a touch, while he tried to recall. He couldn’t remember its name, but it had an injured condor whose wing had never quite healed. He remembered hearing about its captivity for the first time, and he remembered looking at all the books and podiums, listening to everything the guide said, even if he couldn’t recall the words now. He’d loved the animals, and felt sympathy for them, and, more than anything, understood why they lived the way they did.

And why he, a natural predator, never could.

“Sometimes, if for some reason they won’t get better, they have to stay there to be safe. Animals in sanctuaries like that who are sick, or blind, or can’t move one of their limbs, usually have to spend the rest of their lives there, because we know for sure they won’t survive on their own. It’s a cozy life where everything is taken care of for them, but it can get boring. So people invent things to keep them entertained and safe. Like meat pumpkins, bell toys – sometimes interaction with visitors, if it’s something small like a snake or iguana. And sometimes people can visit these sanctuaries and learn about the animals, and volunteer time or money to help keep the place running. We should go to the zoo someday, Addy, most of them are sanctuaries of a sort, too.”
 


Adelyn looks concerned in the moment before Todd starts talking. His trap card? Did she make him feel trapped? But Sam said it so lightly, and he’s smiling at her rather than frowning. Her claws flex uncertainly in her gloves, and she wraps her hands up in the seatbelt for lack of anything else to do with them.

Sanctuaries, she mouths to herself. It’s a nice word, and it sounds nice too. Much better than a trap-cage with only death waiting on the other side. It reminds her of trapping mice in her paw and putting them in a pile of nuts and berries to see what they’d pick, or of watching injured rabbits and hoping they got better before they got eaten.

“That does sound nice. I’m glad there are places like that.” She knows well that there are many animals who wouldn’t survive for long once they got hurt, and it warms something in her to know that there are people who would scoop them up just to put them back when they recovered. She never knew enough about injuries to interfere that much herself, but maybe she could learn.

“I’d love to go! It’s always good to know about different kinds of animals, in case I need to Shift again. There’s a big difference between reading books and looking yourself.” And being that animal. Sometimes it’s tough to figure out all the little tricks, even if she’s a fast learner. Maybe watching them would help her.

 
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“I think there’s a pretty big zoo here in Pittsburgh! We could plan to go there in the spring.”

Today, it was autumn. Any vegetation had turned red and orange, and there’d been a few snow flurries lately. The cold hardly bothered him, and he knew it didn’t bother Sam, but Adelyn was cold-blooded now. He adjusted his heating vents to point in her direction, without saying anything. She clearly needed it more.

There were lingering memories of a deeper cold, with flashes of heat and happiness, that he had to work to suppress as they drove. He had hunted during the challenges, during that test on Halloween. He’d passed, somehow, though how he’d done it as a thoughtless monster confused him. And he hadn’t felt the temptation of his addiction since then. No more than usual, anyway. It’d all been in his head. So why was he remembering them like it was real?

He didn’t dwell on it. Sammy and Addy were here. He hadn’t hunted since before Arlo. And he wasn’t going to start now based on a half-remembered dream about a test he’d passed. Today they were going to the pumpkin patch. It was autumn, it was cold, and they were going to be happy.
 

Sam was more than happy to sit and listen as two of her favorite people talked avidly about sanctuaries and zoos. It made her happy. She was happy, she told herself. She was happy to be sitting with her boyfriend– god it felt so weird to call anyone that, and it was such a weak word for what she and Todd were– and the girl who she had “adopted”. She was happy.

And yet.

And yet it was there, tugging at the edges of her consciousness. That feeling, of deep and overwhelming loneliness. That feeling, of standing blindfolded on the edge of a deep pit. That feeling, of isolation. She felt it settling in around her, stealing that easy happiness. Her walls started to go up in response, her heat closing off and rolling underneath her skin.

She stared straight ahead, a faint smile on her face. But it was in her eyes. Her eyes were guarded and closed off, were darker than they should have been. There was distance there. She stared dead ahead, unblinking. The heat licked her skin, but she stifled it, suppressing it. Joshie flashed through her mind then, and his voice, low and insistent.

“That’s exactly what I’m going to do, Samantha. I can’t deal with this. I can’t help you if you don’t want to be helped. I love you, you’re my little sister, and neither of those things will ever change. But until you fix yourself, I can’t be a part of what you’re doing anymore, and that means I can’t be part of your life. I’m sorry.”

People she loved learned to hate her. The only way to be safe was to not love. She would never be hurt if she didn’t love them. Todd would eventually leave her, and she wouldn’t hurt if he did if she never loved him. Addy would eventually hate her when her gentle soul found out how much of a monster Sam actually was, and it wouldn’t hurt if she never loved her. If she never loved either of them.

It was safer that way. It was safer if she didn’t. Safer for everyone.

No.

No, she wouldn’t live like that anymore. She didn’t have to live like that anymore. Not now. She had made the choice to stay in Pittsburgh, had made the choice to be happy. Maybe, maybe she didn’t have to build walls from these people. Maybe she could let herself be. Maybe she could exist with them. She turned and looked at Todd, with his tight curls just barely peeking out from under his cap. She looked at him, and everything inside her softened again.

She could be happy for him. She could be happy for him and Addy, if not for herself.

The car pulled into a parking spot and she looked between the two of them, her face still locked in that neutral smile. Then, it broke into a real one, widening and softening. She unbuckled and said with laughter in her voice, “Come on, you slow pokes. Let’s get going. I want to hit everything before we leave.”
 


Adelyn hums her assent and leans back in her seat, her head tilted to look out the window. For as long as the drive was to get to Pittsburgh, she hasn’t been in a car all that much during the time she’s been in the city. It isn’t all that bad. The air is a little stale with the windows up, but there’s a warm breeze that circulates. With her coat and boots and gloves on, it’s almost too warm! It’s a pleasant change from being too cold.

The car lapses into silence, and Adelyn amuses herself by holding her gloved claw up and pretending to jump her fingers over fences and roads as they fly by them. She’s still adjusting to the new fit of her gloves, and her little finger-person runs into posts or across roads sometimes, but it’s all part of the process.

She’s kind of zoned out like that until the motion of the car slows and stops. She blinks open her eyes - when had she closed them? - and stretches out her limbs, which are all cramped up. Weird.

Shaking off the weirdness, Adelyn unbuckles herself and flings herself at the car door. The wind bites her cheeks and makes her eyes water behind her contacts as soon as she levers the door open, but she tumbles into the chill with an eager smile lighting up her face. They’re here!

“You probably shouldn’t hit everything,” she notes practically, her eyes raking over the scenery and lingering on the people milling about. “Some things might break.”

She shuts the door with a lot less enthusiasm than she’d opened it, and then idles there with her hand still on the car. That’s a lot of people. There’s a big group standing near a little hut with a welcome sign over the window, and past the hut and the gate surrounding the patch she thinks she can see even more.

It probably doesn’t seem that crowded to anyone more used to being out and about in the city, but the total amounts to more people than typically appear at Aspen family gatherings, which has always been her reference for ‘lots of people’. Her momma’s lessons echo in her head despite herself, and she nervously tugs at her gloves.

“Is it really okay for us to be here?” She asks Todd in an undertone. He would know, she thinks.

 
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